The Future of the History Problem

During this period, the history probl em peaked once in the early 2000s, when Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine intersected with JSHTR’s history textbook and the changing landscape of world politics. It then escalated again in the early 2010s, when commemorations of Japan’s past wrongdoings combined with the territorial disputes over Dokdo/Takeshima and Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. But the history problem had deescalated somewhat by the seventieth anniversary of the Asia-Pacific War’s end, and the governments of Japan, South Korea, and China began to take steps to improve their diplomatic relations and promote trilateral cooperation.

Importantly, Japan’s official commemoration during this period consolidated the trajectory that had emerged in the 1990s: the coexistence of nationalism and cosmopolitanism. To be sure, the LDP regained control of the government and tried to use this political opportunity to reinvigorate nationalism in Japan’s official commemoration; for example, Koizumi and Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine, descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings were reduced in history textbooks, and the government continued to deny compensation to South Korean and Chinese victims. At the same time, however, even Koizumi and Abe reaffirmed Japan’s remorse and apology in their official statements. The new Basic Act on Education also maintained cosmopolitan principles, and the LDP government initiated the joint historical research projects with South Korea and China. This was partly because pol itical opportunities for nationalist commemoration came to be constrained by the growing scrutiny from the governments and citizens in South Korea and China, and partly because the logic of cosmopolitanism had been already institutionalized in Japan’s official commemoration during the previous period. As a result, the best the LDP could do was to compromise, not replace, cosmopolitanism with nationalism in Japan’s official commemoration. In this respect, the LDP turned into a mobilizing structure of both nationalist and cosmopolitan commemorations.

And yet, the future of East Asia’s history problem is still uncertain, because the LDP-led coalition government is still unwilling to decisively i ncorporate cosmopolitanism in Japan’s official commemoration, whereas South Korea and China continue to use nationalism as the dominant logic of commemoration. Given the latest dynamic and trajectory of the field, what actions can Japan, South Korea, and China take to move toward resolving the history problem? The next two chapters will prepare the ground for answering this question by unpacking the most important findings of the field analysis.

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