Growing Strains in Japan’s Relations with China

Relations between Japan and China, by contrast, were friendly on the surface. After the Chinese military suppressed the democratization movement in June 1989, the United States and many other countries, especially in Western Europe, condemned the Chinese government and imposed sanctions. The Japanese government, too, suspended its loans to China but made an effort not to isolate China in international society. In August 1989, only two months after the Tiananmen Square protests, the Japanese government resumed its loans to China and, a month l ater, delegates of the Alliance of Diet Members for Japan-China Friendship visited Beijing.84 Then, Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki visited China in August 1991, reciprocated by General Secretary Jiang Zemin’s visit to Japan in April 1992. These diplomatic exchanges between the two countries culminated in Emperor Akihito’s visit to China in October 1992 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of normalization.

On these occasions, both the Japanese and Chinese sides minimized references to their past conflict and emphasized the importance of future cooperation. At the welcome dinner for Emperor Akihito on October 23, 1992, President Yang Shangkun stated, “I regret that the modern history of China-Japan relations had an unfortunate period from which the Chinese people suffered greatly. It will serve best interests of the peoples of both China and Japan if we remember the past to draw lessons from it.”85 He then devoted much of his speech to reviewing friendly relations between the two countries over the past two decades. Emperor Akihito responded by expressing his “deep sorrow” (fukaku kanashimi) over the unfortunate period and mentioned the Japanese people’s efforts to build a peaceful country based on their “deep remorse” (fukai hansei) for the war.86 Furthermore, when Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihito met with President Jiang Zemin in

Seattle in November 1993, Jiang praised Hosokawa’s apology for Japan’s past aggression as an “excellent attitude toward history” and stated, “Even though we had an unhappy period in our long history of friendly relations, our relations will improve if we take a forward-looking attitude.”87

By the mid-1990s, however, the Chinese government had changed its commemorative position toward Japan. When Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi visited China in May 1995, Jiang Zemin stated, “It is unacceptable that some people in Japan had a wrong understanding of the Asia-Pacific War.”88 Here, Jiang referred to the LDP members who had mobilized against Hosokawa’s statement on the “war of aggression.” But his strongly worded statement also reflected the Chinese government’s campaign for patriotic education that had intensified since the Tiananmen Square protests.89 In July 1989, right after the government suppressed the protests, the National Education Committee had launched the “Three Love Education Program” to counteract the democratization movement by emphasizing love for the Communist Party, the socialist fatherland, and the People’s Liberation Army.90 Over the following years, the Chinese government had issued multiple directives to strengthen patriotic education. As part of the patriotic education campaign, Chinese history textbooks came to emphasize national humiliation brought by Western imperialism and the eventual triumph of the Chinese people. Among the imperial powers that had humiliated the Chinese people, Japan was marked out as the paradigmatic devil that had been historically inferior to China.91

Concurrently, in anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary of China’s victory over Japan, the Chinese government built new war-related museums and renovated the existing ones: the September 18th Historical Museum, to commemorate Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931, was opened in 1991, and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall was significantly expanded in 1995. Then, on September 3, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Japan’s official surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri—and thereby China’s victory over Japan—President Jiang gave a speech at the Great Hall of the People: “The Japanese military killed and injured thirty-five million Chinese people. More than three hundred thousand people were killed in the Nanjing Massacre alone. . . . There is a discourse in Japan that not only denies the war of aggression and colonial rule but also glorifies them. . . . Japan can only win trust from Asia and international society, as well as prevent another tragedy in history, only if the country learns from the history, atones for its crimes of aggression, and maintains the path of peaceful development.”92

While the Chinese government was promoting patriotic education, Chinese citizens also began to seek individual compensation for war-related damages from the Japanese government. This redress movement had already emerged in September 1988 when two hundred residents in Shandong Province had submitted a petition to the Japanese embassy in Beijing, demanding compensation for the atrocities that the Japanese military had committed in their village in 1944.93 Then, in March 1991, activist Tong Zeng submitted to the National People’s Congress a petition arguing that since the 1972 Joint Communique had discarded only the Chinese government’s compensation claims, Chinese citizens still retained individual compensation claims against Japan.94 Tong’s petition was rejected at the 1992 congress, but three years later, when the 1995 National People’s Congress was held at the height of celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of China’s victory over Japan, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen stated that individual Chinese citizens still retained compensation claims for their war-related damages.95 The Chinese government thus changed its position on compensation to accommodate the growing demand from its citizens and align it with the nationwide campaign for patriotism that singled out Japan as the worst imperialist aggressor.

Given the government’s permission and the help of Japanese lawyers, a total of ten Chinese former forced laborers and bereaved family members filed compensation claims against the Japanese construction company Kashima at the Tokyo District Court in June 1995.96 The Chinese plaintiffs demanded that Kashima offer apologies and compensation for forcing them and their family members to work under abusive conditions at Hana- oka Mine during the war. In August, four Chinese former comfort women also sued the Japanese government, demanding apology and compensation. In the following months, more Chinese people came forward to file lawsuits against the Japanese government and corporations, including victims of the Nanjing Massacre, the 731 Unit, and indiscriminate aerial bombings.97

Thus, the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Asia-Pacific War did not bring closure to the history problem between Japan and China. Rather, the history probl em began to simmer, as more and more Chinese victims filed compensation lawsuits, supported by the Chinese government, which increasingly commemorated the Chinese people’s struggle against Japan’s imperialist aggression as the most important historical episode in modern Chinese history. Put another way, the growing pressure from China in the mid-1990s further constrained political opportunities for proponents of nationalist commemoration inside Japan. But this changing structure of political opportunities at the international level galvanized Japanese nationalists, who perceived their government as giving in to foreign pressures.

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