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Facing war history
Publication Date : 29-09-2012
The Yoshihiko Noda administration is not seeing the wood for the trees devoting all its energy to the Diaoyu Islands. It is letting its country's diplomatic relations with China stagnate.
By putting these islands under Japanese government control, the Noda administration is trying to fool people into thinking that Japan has a legal right to them.
However, its claim of sovereignty over these islands, also known as Diaoyutai in the Taiwan region of China and as the Senkakus in Japan, is untenable on two historical fronts.
China discovered and controlled the islands from the 14th century. For several centuries the Diaoyu Islands have been administered as part of Taiwan and have always been used exclusively by Chinese fishermen as a base for fishing, both before and after World War II.
In 1874 Japan took the Liu Chiu Islands, known as the Ryukyu Islands or as represented by its biggest island Okinawa in Japan, by force when the Chinese Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was at war with several countries. The Diaoyu Islands, however, remained under the administration of Taiwan, an inalienable part of China. Following its defeat in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, the Qing government was forced to cede Taiwan including the affiliated islands of Diaoyu to Japan under the Shimonoseki Treaty.
After WWII the Japanese government accepted the terms in the 1943 Cairo Declaration and 1945 Potsdam Proclamation, including the one "that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa (as Taiwan was referred to prior to 1945), the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China".
On Sept 2, 1945, the Japanese government accepted the Potsdam Proclamation in explicit terms with the Japanese Instrument of Surrender and pledged to faithfully fulfill the obligations enshrined in the provisions of the Potsdam Proclamation.
All the documents shatter Japan's justification for its claim of sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. The Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation enabled the victorious nations including China to create a post-war international order.
The San Francisco Peace Treaty, which was signed between Japan, the United States and some other countries in 1951 without China being present, placed the Nansei Islands south of the 29th parallel of North Latitude under United Nations' trusteeship, with the United States as the sole administering authority. This arrangement was protested by the Chinese government.
The Nansei Islands placed under the administration of the US did not include Diaoyu Islands. The United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR) issued Provisions of the Government of the Ryukyu Islands on Feb 29, 1952 and Civil Administration Proclamation No 27 (defining the "geographical boundary lines of the Ryukyu Islands") on Dec 25, 1953, arbitrarily expanding its jurisdiction to include China's Diaoyu Islands.
In 1972 the administration of the islands were reverted illegally to Japanese control under the Okinawa Reversion Treaty between the US and Japan.
This control does not necessarily entitle Japan to sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands.
China decided that its contemporary relations with Japan should not be held hostage to history. So in 1972 - 27 years after Japan's surrender, which marked the end of Japanese aggression - China established diplomatic relations with Japan.
To make this happen, the leaders of the two countries were forward-looking and wise. They agreed to put aside the territorial dispute of the Diaoyu Islands.
The minutes kept by the Committee on the International Relations of Japan's House of Representatives on Aug 18, 1978 reveal Japanese Foreign Minister Sunao Sonoda's proposal on joint development of the Diaoyu Islands.
Today's Japanese leaders have the nerve to say there is no dispute on the islands.
Burden of history
Japan has been confused about its place in the world since the late 19th century. In an editorial in 1885, Fukuzawa Yukichi urged his nation to "escape from Asia", where he found bad friends. In his hopes for a strong Japan, Fukuzawa promoted the development of Japan's imperialism through military buildup.
Japan began its expansion in East Asia in 1931 with the invasion of Northeast China and continued in 1937 with a brutal attack on other parts of the Chinese mainland. It made a long series of aggressions into Southeast Asia.
Japan was defeated and surrendered in 1945. The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal prosecuted 28 Class A war criminals, including Toujou Hideki, the former Japanese prime minister and the prime war criminal of Japan, for crimes against peace, conventional war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Out of the 28 Class A war criminals, seven were finally sentenced to death by hanging, including Toujou Hideki; 16 to life in prison; two to imprisonment of 20 and seven years respectively.
In addition to the central Tokyo trial, various tribunals sitting outside Japan judged some 5,000 Japanese guilty of war crimes, of whom more than 900 were executed.
The trials and executions spoke volumes about the brutality Japan inflicted on Asian countries.
Japan has been trying hard to be a normal country since WWII.
After one and a half centuries of efforts to "escape from Asia", former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio wanted to shift Japan's focus from a more America-centric foreign policy to a more Asia-focused policy.
Japan, however, fails to lead Asia as it aspires to. It can't win trust from its neighbours because it is unwilling to do any soul-searching about its past.
Compared with Germany, Japan has allowed a lot of ambiguity to creep into its attitude toward its aggression in WWII.
Take the Yasukuni Shrine, for example, which is dedicated to the soldiers and others who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan, war criminals are also enshrined there.
This is perceived by East Asian countries as a failure of integrity in Japan - a failure to observe the universal standards of right and wrong.
These countries protest when Japanese officials pay homage to the shrine. But the controversy doesn't bother Japan. More than that, some politicians demonstrate a political attitude by visiting the Yasukuni deliberately.
Without a clearly radical departure from its military past and sincere apology for the aggression, Japan can't find a place in Asia in the way Germany has in Europe.
As its moral ground is shaky, Japan is not likely to play a leading role in the region politically.
Up until now Japan has leeched on to its former enemy, the United States, closely. This is a price Japan has to pay.
Japan has made the Diaoyu Islands issue a mine in the bilateral relations step by step in the past six months. The role the uninhabited islands and islets are playing in China-Japan relations and, more broadly, in East Asia is more than people in the West can imagine.
The Japanese government needs to know that its "nationalisation" of the Diaoyu Islands does not have the legal validity in terms of international law.
Its "nationalisation" plan can't bury the dispute.
For Japan and China, these islands and islets are no longer the issue that they can afford to leave for future generations. Now leaders have to set their wits to the dispute with cool-headedness and reason.
The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of China Daily.