Japan Must Never Concede on Yasukuni issue

by 岡崎久彦 on 2005年6月 5日

Ever since the crackdown on the democratic movement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, China has undergone a truly drastic transformation. The metamorphosis is due mainly to a policy pursued under the 15-year rule of former President Jiang Zemin in which the fervor for democracy was replaced with patriotism–the main thrust of which is to seek vengeance for the humiliation of the past 100 years–while drastically bolstering China’s military might.

Judging by official Chinese government figures, it seems there are few instances in history in which a country has built up its military for such a long period in peacetime as China has.

One example is Germany’s naval buildup that started in 1887 and continued up until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

There was a lot of argument in Britain, the world’s dominant power at the time, about the strategic significance of the emergent Germany.

Henry Kissinger, in his voluminous work “Diplomacy,” introduces part of the “Crowe Memorandum” written in 1907 by Sir Eyre Crowe, then a senior analyst at the Western Department of Britain’s Foreign Office.

Strength can be a menace

In the book, Kissinger praises the memorandum highly as being “at a level of analysis never reached by any document of post-Bismarck Germany.”

In the memorandum, Crowe put forward two hypotheses: “Either Germany is definitely aiming at a general political hegemony…, threatening the independence of her neighbours and ultimately the existence of England; Or Germany, free from any such clear-cut ambition and thinking for the present merely of using her legitimate position and influence as one of the leading Powers in the council of nations, is seeking to promote her foreign commerce, spread the benefits of German culture, …and create fresh German interests all over the world wherever and whenever a peaceful opportunity offers.”

The memorandum went on to say the latter of the two schemes “may at any stage merge into the first, or conscious-design scheme.”

Moreover, in the event of the latter scheme, which Crowe described as an “evolution scheme,” being realized, “the position thereby accruing to Germany would obviously constitute as formidable a menace to the rest of the world as would be presented by any deliberate conquest of a similar position,” the memorandum asserted.

What Crowe meant by these remarks was that the very growth of the strength of Germany–irrespective of its intentions–was a menace to British interests.

Judgment or evaluation of international relations can always be divided into two approaches, optimistic and pessimistic. Optimism tends to take precedence over pessimism in peacetime.

This is because a pessimistic way of thinking, which often is accompanied by distrust of a foreign country, is apt to be taken as a breach of diplomatic etiquette, and such a prophecy could also end up being self-fulfilling, fomenting an otherwise avoidable crisis.

An absolute must for those in charge of charting a long-range national strategy, however, is to keep national interests intact; in other words, to ensure the security and prosperity of the people. An optimistic mode of thinking is useless if it jeopardizes the security and prosperity of the public.

We should ponder exclusively on the question of how it will be possible for us to protect the people’s security and prosperity by coping effectively with China’s strength and the pressures it has been exerting on this country, which have been increasing year after year.

In light of space limitations, however, I feel we should discuss matters relating to the prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine, putting aside discussion of an overall national strategy from a long-range point of view for another opportunity.

Let’s consider, first of all, the characteristics of strategies and tactics adopted by China. Beijing’s way of doing things in this regard can certainly be said exquisitely well thought out.

When it comes to the Yasukuni issue, the Chinese government has successfully fomented public opinion in favor of Beijing’s official stand, on the strength of a comprehensive anti-Japanese school education and government-orchestrated public relations activities in the past dozen years or so.

Remember that even a fragment of public opinion involving the Yasukuni problem did not exist until this issue was first raised in 1985 in Japan with The Asahi Shimbun as a major flag waver. Given this, the formation of the current Chinese public opinion over the Yasukuni issue is simply the fruit of incessant endeavors on the part of the Chinese government in the past decade. Thus, the Chinese leaders have found themselves in a cozy position of being able to cite in their own way anti-Yasukuni public opinion under any circumstances when explanations are required to be made for external consumption.

On top of this, China since last year has either directly or indirectly been telling Japanese companies having dealings with China that the Yasukuni problem is a “barrier” to boosting friendly economic ties between the two countries.

As a result, 80 percent of Japanese firms operating in China now are said to believe that political tensions in bilateral relations has impeded the expansion of economic transactions.

In fact, top executives of some companies have advised the prime minister to stop visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

China has also been exerting pressure in a similar manner on Japan’s political as well as academic worlds, availing itself of a wide range of exchanges between the two nations.

It still seems possible China’s strategy will be successful.

This does not mean, however, that settlement in one form or another of the Yasukuni problem in conformity with China’s strategy will lead to a lasting friendship in bilateral relations. Such a settlement would, at best, do no better than produce an ephemeral period of calm.

Also, seen from the viewpoint of China, this would signify its success in winning the Yasukuni dispute, which can be likened to China having seized a stronghold in the center of a battlefield.

In other words, the success would be tantamount to attesting to the effectiveness of China’s strategy, making it almost certain that the same strategy would be used to achieve Beijing’s other policy goals.

Nothing definite can be said about what will be China’s next goal when and if the Yasukuni row is resolved.

One thing is clear, though. The Taiwan problem will have to be dealt with in the end.

In terms of China’s real national interests, the Yasukuni issue is of trivial significance. In the eyes of Japanese businesses, too, the issue is not a matter of serious concern.

Taiwan China’s main problem

The Taiwan problem cannot be dealt with lightly, however.

There are a number of strategies to which China may resort to annex Taiwan.

Among them may be one designed to induce the United States and Japan to leave Taiwan in the lurch politically and economically.

Even if this strategy fails to move Washington, Beijing would be satisfied to see Japan turn its back on Taipei.

China also would be able to discriminate against Japan. It was not so long ago that China, when handling the issue of allowing foreign media to set up bureaus in the country, pressured Japanese newspapers alone to choose between taking sides with China or with Taiwan, with approval or disapproval of the establishment of bureaus at stake.

Although China has taken steps to remedy this state of affairs, there is no guarantee this situation will last.

The precedent, however, will be hard to shake: Japanese newspapers bowed to pressure from the Chinese authorities, and the Japanese government did not lodge any protest against China over the matter.

Suppose China’s strength continues to increase to the extent of it being able to offset any retaliation from Japan in the event of a showdown. Should China, under those circumstances, pressure Japan to choose between the two–Beijing or Taipei–Japanese businesses would suffer tremendously from a Japan-China confrontation, and the political repercussions involving the security and stability of East Asia would be huge.

If Japan is able to defend the integrity of its position over the Yasukuni issue, the success would serve as proof of the ineffectiveness of the strategy China has so far pursued. It might even lead China to conduct some soul-searching conducive to creating a new relationship with Japan.

Unless Japan adopts such a policy, China would continue to employ the same strategy in dealing with one issue after another, thus perpetuating the jerky pattern that characterizes Japanese-Chinese ties.

This country should not make concessions regarding the two key principles of noninterference in domestic affairs and the separation of political and economic issues.

Given that businesses are vulnerable to political meddling, the government should exert leadership in safeguarding their interests.

This course of action most likely would win support from the international community.

When a subordinate of Hsu Wen-lung, a Taiwanese business leader known as a strong supporter of Taiwan’s independence, was taken into custody by Chinese authorities last year, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal said China should “at least understand capitalism, if not democracy.”

During the Cold War, which lasted 50 years, the Soviet Union refrained from linking ideology to business transactions, remaining willing to have dealings even with the most anticommunist businesspeople from abroad.

Now, a country is emerging that uses anything available, including business activities, in applying pressure to serve its policy goals. The international community, for its part, should be united in holding such a country in check.

Eradicate source of calamity

Had the Taiwanese government protested strongly when Hsu Wen-lung was arrested last year, China’s persecution of Taiwanese businesses would not have escalated after the turn of the year.

Concerning the Yasukuni problem, Japan should not budge an inch. Any concession would be calamitous, endangering the security and prosperity of Japanese in the future.

If it concedes on the problem, all it can expect in return is nothing more than a temporary period of calm. This would include a resumption of summit talks between Japan and China that would, in essence, fail to touch on substantial matters.

A concession on Japan’s part would only be justifiable if China came up with such specific measures as deleting ill-grounded anti-Japanese descriptions from its history textbooks. If China understood what would be required to settle the Yasukuni problem, it might decide to rethink its strategy.

Then there would be some room for concession to be sanctioned by the spirits of the war dead to which Yasukuni Shrine is dedicated. Otherwise, Japan should absolutely refuse to make a concession over the shrine.