JAPAN Forward reaches out in unfiltered English to let its writers inform a wider audience of the current issues and debates in Japan that are influencing its national direction. By doing so, it is hoped that the content in English will help correct misinformation and further the understanding of Japan in the non-Japanese-speaking world.
This official launch of JAPAN Forward brings to mind the Chinese “demonization” campaign against Japan in early 2014. The campaign was a large-scale propaganda operation promoted by the Chinese Communist Party, designed to portray contemporary Japan as a militaristic and dangerous state. It came to be called “China’s demonization of Japan” by the British journal The Economist and some American Sinologists.
The campaign failed, in no small part due to the speedy responses in English from the Japanese side. While JAPAN Forward’s objective is to give voice to the issues and debates inside Japan that are not Japanese government announcements, this turn of events demonstrated the importance of reporting the facts and circumstances regarding Japan in English in order to promote a better understanding of Japan and the Japanese people.
The Chinese campaign began with a salvo launched in early January 2014, when the Chinese ambassador to London contributed an article bashing Japan in the major British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming, the author of the January 2, 2014, article, started by distorting the nature of Mr. Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine a week earlier and alleged it amounted to “actions to deny past aggression, allow militarism to rise and raise the threat of war.” His article further warned that the “incorrigible people in Japan who show no signs of remorse for war crimes pose serious threat to global peace.” The Chinese envoy went so far as to equate Mr. Abe with Voldemort, the fictional epitome of evil in the Harry Potter children’s book series.
Mr. Abe in fact did visit the shrine, but it was to pray for the souls of some 2.8 million countrymen who died in wars for their country while at the same time praying for eternal peace with Japan’s neighbors.
The Japanese government surprised everyone when it reacted to this Chinese attack with unprecedented speed. Merely four days after the Chinese envoy’s article appeared in the Daily Telegraph, the Japanese ambassador in London managed to have his own counter-piece published by same newspaper. Ambassador Keiichi Hayashi’s article was headlined “China risks becoming Asia’s Voldemort.”
Ambassador Hayashi’s article noted that “China increased its own military spending by more than 10% per year for the past 20 years,” and that “China’s attempt to change the status quo by force or coercion has raised concerns not only in Japan, but also among its neighbors throughout the East China Sea and the South China Sea.” On these points, it cited as examples of Chinese militarism China’s destroyer directing its fire-control-radar at a Japanese destroyer, armed Chinese vessels repeatedly intruding into Japanese territorial waters, and Beijing’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone off Japan’s coast.
Photo : Japan Coast Guard’s vessel crashes with a Chinese vessel at Senkaku. Provided by Hitoshi Nakama, Ishigaki city council member
As for Japan’s record on democracy and peace over the past 68 years, the Japanese ambassador emphasized “its respect for human rights, its commitment to peace through a strong contribution to UN peace keeping operations, and its willingness to help developing countries.”
On the issue of the Prime Minister’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine the ambassador’s article reported: “Prime Minister Abe issued a statement at the time of his visit titled ‘Pledge for everlasting peace.’ He said his visit was made to pay his respects and pray for the souls of the war dead and to renew the pledge that Japan shall never again wage war, and by no means to pay homage to war criminals or to praise militarism.”
Ambassador Hayashi went on to say, “It is important to note inconsistencies in China’s stance toward Yasukuni. There have been more than 60 visits to Yasukuni by Japanese prime ministers since the end of the Second World War, nearly half of which occurred after it was made public in 1979 that 14 Class A war criminals had been enshrined there in 1978. China began raising the issue from 1985, by which time 21 of these [post-1979] visits had gone unchallenged.”
The Chinese campaign was immediately expanded to the United States when China’s ambassador to Washington took the next step by publishing an article in the Washington Post bashing Japan in an extension of the exchange that took place in London’s Daily Telegraph. It was January 10, 2014, only four days after the Japanese ambassador in London made his views public.
In the manner of his London colleague, China’s chief envoy to the US denounced Mr. Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine as an act of paying homage to Japan’s aggression against its neighbors. He also accused Mr. Abe of trying to “accelerate Japan’s military buildup” and “imperil regional security.”
Japan again responded swiftly to the Chinese attacks. A week after the Washington Post published the Chinese ambassador’s article, a contributing opinion piece by Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Kenichiro Sasae, was published under the headline, “China’s Propaganda Campaign against Japan.” It led with the following:
“China has been conducting a global propaganda campaign against Japan, the most recent example of which was the Jan. 10 Post op-ed by Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States. But his op-ed was wrong, and China’s leaders clearly misread global attitudes. It is not Japan that most of Asia and the international community worry about; it is China.”
China’s ambassador to the United Nations launched synonymous accusations against Japan in New York that same week, this time in the form of statements to the press. Japan’s UN envoy refuted the Chinese ambassador’s allegations on the same day, also in a press statement.
China’s public criticism of Japan has been frequent, predictable, and virtually unchallenged in recent decades, while Japan’s prompt response in the above three 2014 cases was unprecedented. It had been a long established but tacit policy on the part of the Japanese government to remain silent in the face of allegations related to its past war history, even when it was obvious that the charges were factually wrong. Reasons for Japan’s post-war posture are multifold, beginning with the notion that correction of the record would rock the boat and be too risky.
The Japanese government’s incisive responses through its London, Washington, and UN envoys to the consecutive Chinese denunciations on three world stages in early 2014 clearly marked a major shift in the way Japan reacts to outside attempts to falsely portray it as a modern-day militaristic and aggressive power. The effects of the exchange also continued beyond the immediate interval of the articles and news releases. The August 15, 2015, cover story of the British magazine, The Economist, is illustrative. The article called China’s continuing portrayal of Japan as militaristic and dangerous a “demonization” of Japan and showed an appreciation for the facts as follows:
“The idea that Japan remains an aggressive power is absurd. Its soldiers have not fired a shot in anger since 1945. Its democracy is deeply entrenched; its respect for human rights profound. Most Japanese acknowledge their country’s war guilt. Successive governments have apologized, and Mr. Abe is expected to do the same.”
The Economist article went on to say,
“China’s demonization of Japan is not only unfair; it is also risky…. Many Asians worry that China’s ambitions set it on a collision course with the superpower and the smaller nations that shelter under its security umbrella.”
The governments of liberal democracies, including the United States, Britain, Canada, and Australia, seem to have shared this perspective. All four countries fought vigorously against Japan in WWⅡ, yet all four also turned down China’s invitation to have their heads of state attend the September 2015 ceremony in Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan.
JAPAN Forward, motivated by decades of poor communications with the non-Japanese-speaking world, has set out to provide a forum in English for all of Japan by bringing forth the voices of scholars, experts, and ordinary Japanese engaged in the discussion and debate of issues of the day. May it fill the void with a healthy and vigorous exchange.
Yoshihisa Komori is Sankei Shimbun’s Associate Correspondent in Washington, DC and a professor at Reitaku University. He is also a Special Advisor to JAPAN Forward. Mr. Komori began his career as a reporter with the Mainichi Shimbun and served as its Saigon bureau chief and Washington correpondent. Subsequently he joined the Sankei Shimbun, for which he served as bureau chief in London, Washington, and Beijing. He is a recipient of the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association Award, the Japan National Press Club Award for International Reporting, and the U.P.I. Vaughn Prize for International Reporting.
Mr. Komori is also the author of more than forty books. His past academic experience includes an affiliation with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a Senior Associate and Akita International University as a visiting professor.