The Normalization of Japan-China Relations

Throughout the 1960s, Japan and China made little progress toward normalization because of the Cold War that turned “hot” in Vietnam. The Japanese government allowed the US military to use bases inside Japan to send troops, weapons, and provisions to support South Vietnam, whereas China supported North Vietnam, led by the communist leader Ho Chi Minh. As Japan became more firmly incorporated into the US Cold War strategy in Asia, its relations with China suffered in turn. In November 1964, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, People’s Daily, criticized Prime Minister Sato Eisaku for his pro-American and anti-Chinese diplomacy and accused him of conspiring to “control Taiwan as a stepping stone to reach Southeast Asia and reestablish the once debunked ‘Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.’ ”32 In June 1965, the Chinese government also criticized the normalization treaty between Japan and South Korea by characterizing it as “a strategy of the U.S. imperialism aiming to divide Korea forever, forcibly occupy South Korea, and use Japan and Park’s government to wage an aggressive war.”33

While the Vietnam War continued, more and more governments began to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate China. Given the worldwide trend to recognize China rather than Taiwan, 379 Diet members in Japan, including members of the LDP, formed the nonpartisan group Diet Members for the Promotion of Japan-China Normalization (Nitchu Kokko Kaifuku Sokushin Giin Renmei) in December 1970. The JSP also sent its delegation to China in November 1970 and created the National Council for Japan-China Normalization (Nitchu Kokko Kaifuku Kokumin Kaigi) in February 1971.34 Sato’s government, however, was reluctant to pursue normalization with China because a sizable number of LDP members still supported Taiwan. Sato also rejected the idea of apologizing to China for Japan’s past wrongdoings: “In Japan, some people still feel that Japan has to bow its head to China. But I think those violent and atrocious acts by the Japanese military ceased to matter when the war ended.”35

A breakthrough came in July 1971 when the US government admitted that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had visited Beijing, and announced that President Richard Nixon was scheduled to visit China the following year. In September, the UN General Assembly also voted to recognize China and expel Taiwan. In the midst of rapidly changing international relations, Tanaka Kakuei became the new prime minister on July 7, 1972, and designated normalization with China as one of his highest priorities. Tanaka pursued normalization with China primarily to satisfy the LDP’s constituencies, including businesses eager for China’s huge market potential.36

Prior to the negotiations, the Chinese government had already decided not to pursue compensation from Japan, on condition that the Japanese government expressed remorse for its past wrongdoings. The government’s decision was based on several considerations: China should be as generous as Taiwan, which had renounced its compensation claims in the 1952 Japan- Taiwan Peace Treaty; the renunciation of compensation claims should be used as leverage to make Japan recognize China instead of Taiwan; and China should follow Chairman Mao Zedong’s teaching by distinguishing Japanese citizens from the small group of Japanese militarist leaders who had started the war.37 The last point was reiterated by Premier Zhou Enlai during his welcome speech for the Japanese delegation on September 25, 1972.38

At the first round of negotiations the next day, the Japanese side stated that China had no compensation claims against Japan in the first place, as the Taiwanese government had already renounced them in 1952.39 Zhou angrily responded, “We are willing to renounce compensation claims for the sake of friendly relations between the Japanese and Chinese peoples. But we cannot accept your position that the issue of compensation is already resolved because Chiang Kai-shek renounced compensation claims.”40 At the second round of negotiations on the same day, Zhou also criticized Tanaka’s speech at the welcome banquet, where Tanaka had used the expression “Japan caused much inconvenience to China” (tadai no gomeiwaku wo oka- keshita) to refer to the Second Sino-Japanese War.41 For Zhou, the expression was too casual to address the “extremely horrendous calamity that the Chinese people suffered from the aggression by the Japanese militarists.”42

In the end, the Japanese government agreed to insert the following sentence in the Joint Communique on September 29, 1972: “The Japanese side is keenly conscious of the responsibility for the serious damage that Japan caused in the past to the Chinese people through war, and deeply reproaches itself (fukaku hanseisuru)”43 In the Joint Communique, the Japanese government also recognized the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate China. In turn, “in the interest of the friendship between the Chinese and the Japanese peoples,” the Chinese government renounced “its demand for war reparations from Japan.” People’s Daily celebrated the normalization by emphasizing the importance of extending sympathies and goodwill to Japanese citizens who had been victimized by their militarist leaders.44

Opposition parties celebrated the normalization as an important step toward peaceful international relations in Asia, but they also criticized the way Tanaka Kakuei’s government dealt with Japan’s past wrongdoings during the normalization negotiations. JSP member Nishiura Kan’ichi argued that Tanaka needed to offer atonement for “the atrocious acts that the Japanese military committed against the Chinese people during the Greater East Asia War . . . especially the Nanjing Massacre, which was comparable to Auschwitz, the enormous atrocious act that Nazi Germany committed against the Jewish people. . . . Do you not think you should express apologies for those atrocities as a premise of the normalization negotiations?”45 Komeito member Watanabe Ichiro also emphasized the importance of offering an apology for the Nanjing Massacre and other atrocities, for “the Chinese people are extremely angry because the Japanese government has never apologized since the end of the war.”46

In fact, prior to the 1972 normalization, Japanese citizens had already begun to publicly discuss Japan’s past wrongdoings in China and elsewhere against the backdrop of the growing anti-Vietnam War sentiments.47 For example, the most prominent anti-Vietnam War NGO network, Citizen’s League for Peace in Vietnam (Betonamu ni Heiwawo! Shimin Rengo), demanded that Japanese citizens understand their own past as perpetrators and stop victimizing Asian people again through the military alliance with the United States.48 Perhaps the most important outgrowth of anti-Vietnam War sentiments was a series of articles called “Travels in China” (Chugoku no tabi) that Honda Katsuichi published in Asahi shinbun in August 1971. Honda was motivated by his earlier experience of reporting the Vietnam War and encouraged by American journalists who had exposed their own military’s atrocities in Vietnam. Based on his fieldwork and interviews, Honda detailed the atrocities committed by the Japanese military against civilians in Manchukuo, Nanjing, and other places.49

Around the same time, various eyewitness accounts of the Nanjing Massacre appeared in magazines: to name but a few examples, “Testimo?nies of Atrocities by Photographers” (Satsuriku no genba wo shogensuru jugun kameraman) in Asahi Weekly Entertainment in January 1971, “I Witnessed the ‘Tragedy of Nanjing’ ” (Watashi wa ano Nankin no Higeki wo mokugekishita) in Circle in November 1971, and “The Cold-Blooded Termination Operation: The Nanjing Massacre” (Reikokuna minagoroshi sakusen: Nankin Daigyakusatsu) in Mainichi Sunday in November 1972.50 In addition to these journalistic accounts, Hora Tomio, a history professor at Waseda University, pioneered academic research on the Nanjing Massacre by publishing The Nanjing Incident (Nankin Jiken) in 1972 and two volumes of primary historical materials in 1973.

Japanese A-bomb victims also joined the growing commemoration of Chinese victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings. In July 1970, the Committee for the Commemoration of Chinese Prisoners (Chugokujinfuryo Junansha Irei Jikkoiinkai) in Nagasaki requested that the city government officially commemorate thirty-three Chinese prisoners who had died as the result of the atomic bombing.51 In May 1972, the A-bomb poet Kurihara Sadako also wrote the poem “When We Say ‘Hiroshima’ ” (Hiroshima to iutoki), which urged Japanese A-bomb victims and citizens to commemorate foreign victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings instead of dwelling on their own vic- timhood.52 Moreover, in 1974, Maruki Iri and Toshi, A-bomb victims and painters famous for The Pictures of the Atomic Bombing (Genbaku no zu), began to paint The Picture of the Nanjing Massacre, for they felt that “without confronting the war crimes that we, the Japanese people, had committed, our call for peace and pacifism cannot be authentic.”53 These commemorations by Japanese A-bomb victims confirmed that they had begun to transcend the self-s erving type of cosmopolitanism. As historian James Orr pointed out, Japanese victim consciousness indeed contained “the desire to identify with Asian victimhood rather than deny it.”54

In the meantime, the Japanese and Chinese governments tried to negotiate a peace and friendship treaty by building on the 1972 Joint Communique, but domestic and international political situations interfered. In Japan, Tanaka Kakuei resigned from the post of prime minister in September 1974 after being suspected of receiving illegal monetary contributions from the American aerospace company Lockheed. With the arrest of Tanaka in July 1976, the LDP had to focus on regaining trust from Japanese citi- zens.55 Around the same time, the Chinese government was going through intense power struggles between Deng Xiaoping and his rivals after the deaths of the two founding fathers, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, in 1976.56

In addition to these domestic political situations, the Japanese and Chinese governments had conflicting diplomatic calculations. The Chinese government proposed to include in a peace and friendship treaty an article to oppose imperialism in the region, trying to counter the threat of the Soviet Union. The Japanese government resisted the Chinese proposal since it did not want to jeopardize negotiations with the Soviet Union over the disputed sovereignty of Kuril/Northern Islands.57

The negotiations finally began to make progress in 1978. Prime Minister Fukuda Takeo had been keen on signing a peace and friendship treaty, and the United States had supported it to contain the threat of the Soviet Union in the region.58 Chinese politics was also stabilized in 1977 when Deng Xiaoping began to consolidate his power, and the Chinese government wanted better relations with Japan, given the escalating tensions with Vietnam and the Soviet Union.59 Although the Japanese government was still reluctant to include an article to oppose imperialism, it decided to compromise with the Chinese government by adding another article to clarify that “this treaty has no bearing on each party’s relations with other countries.”60

The Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in August 1978 was decidedly forward-looking and made no reference to the Asia-Pacific War. People’s Daily celebrated the treaty by calling on the Japanese and Chinese peoples to “maintain friendship for generations to come” and downplayed Japan’s past wrongdoings: “Japan and China are neighboring countries with a long history of friendly exchange. During the first half of this century, a war broke out between the two countries, which inflicted enormous damages to the Chinese people as well as to the Japanese. But, the period of war was such a short time in light of two thousand years of history of relations between the two countries.”61 When Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping came to Japan in October 1978 and met with Emperor Hirohito, he also emphasized the importance of future peace and friendship between the two countries.62

In summary, the Japan-China normalization injected a small degree of cosmopolitanism into Japan’s official commemoration, as “deep reproach” was expressed in the 1972 Joint Communique. This shows that even the LDP, a proponent of nationalist commemoration, could adopt cosmopolitan contrition when doing so was politically opportune. The normalization also prompted Japanese citizens to commemorate Chinese victims of Japan’s wartime atrocities, though it did not transform Japan’s official commemo?ration significantly because the LDP as well as the Chinese government prioritized geopolitical and economic interests over historical issues.

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