Japan in danger of losing moral compass

Updated: 2013-09-04 07:31

By Yang Bojiang (China Daily)

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The words and deeds of Shinzo Abe and his cabinet concerning historical and territorial issues reflect the Japanese right-wing conservatives' distorted view of the postwar international order.

Over the years, Japanese right-wing conservatives have not only thrown dust in the eyes of the world, they have also blinded themselves with self-deception. They disregard the historical background that led to the Charter of the United Nations, which embodies countries' profound reflections on World War II and the will to prevent the revival of fascism and militarism. The UN Charter constitutes an important cornerstone of the postwar international order.

After the war, Japan entered into an alliance with the United States, and it has since used the alliance as a shield for its efforts to subvert the post-war order, taking the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Okinawa Reversion Agreement as the basis for its claim to sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. It should bear in mind that the legal basis for the postwar international order is not the underhand dealings between the US and Japan, but the Cairo Declaration, which stated in explicit terms that "all the territories Japan has stolen from China shall be restored to China", and the Potsdam Proclamation, which states "the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out".

Japan announced its acceptance of the Potsdam Proclamation as well as its unconditional surrender in 1945. When Japan was accepted as a member of the UN in 1956, it was on the condition it accepted the Potsdam Proclamation, and this was also the case when China and Japan restored diplomatic relations in 1972.

However, thanks to the boom in international free trade and the shelter provided by the US during the Cold War era, Japan realized its "economic miracle" and began to brazenly take a revisionist stance toward the post-war international order, which it believes is unfavorable to it.

In doing so, Japan also ignores the moral justice embodied in the postwar international order. The international order consists of not only the distribution of power and institutional design; it also includes behavioral and ethical norms.

Some Japanese politicians have repeatedly made irresponsible remarks about its imperialist past. For example, Abe has argued that a definition of aggression has yet to be established and has cast doubt on the validity of the Tokyo trials. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso has even suggested that Japan could learn from the way that the Nazis changed Germany's Constitution. The wild ambition of Japan's rightists to glorify aggression constitutes direct negation of the postwar international order and shows Japan is in danger of losing its moral compass, without which it cannot chart a proper course for its diplomacy.

Several factors have contributed to this. First, the US in consideration of its Cold War strategic needs made a swift change in its policy from thoroughly crippling Japan to rearming it. This about face by the US brought an abrupt stop to Japan's democratic reform and enabled the country's militarist gene to survive. The Yoshida Doctrine, which emphasized Japan's economic recovery and a reliance on US military protection at the expense of independence in foreign affairs, meant conservative Japanese governments provided long-term guidance for the public and there was little soul-searching attempted after the war.

Meanwhile, Japan's long-term dance to Washington's tune has also directly contributed to its distorted views on the postwar international order. During the Cold War era, Japan's policies were highly attuned to that of the US on major international issues. Japan gradually got used to viewing the world through Washington's eyes. But in recent years, Japan's diplomatic independence has increased, and it is becoming more inclined to insularity.

It is more difficult to change mentality than change policy. Driven by a view of the international order that is full of fallacies, Japanese right-wingers are trying to turn the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil into confrontation and hostility between East Asian countries and peoples. Japan's impatience to get rid of "postwar politics" and its ostrich beliefs and behavior will not only lead to its isolation in the international arena, but undermine the overall situation of regional peace and stability, casting a shadow over the future of East Asia.

At present, Japan's row with its neighbors is developing into confrontation with the international community as a whole. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recent remarks urging Tokyo's political leaders to do some deep introspection over its past provoked a strong reaction from the Japanese government. This in turn recalled the Japanese delegation's withdrawal from the League of Nations Assembly in 1933 and the country's subsequent increase of non-rational constituents in its strategic decisions. Such non-rationality has evolved into a gambler mentality where all risks perish together.

The international community needs to pay close attention to the course the Japanese government is charting for the country.

The author is deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily USA 09/04/2013 page11)

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