Japan-China island clash: Peace in a common history
The island clash between Japan and China, as well as other island disputes in East Asia, could be more easily resolved if neighbors shared a common view of history.
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Japan has not gone as far as Germany in making the kinds of amends that would satisfy China or the two Koreas. And it has a strong minority that denies many of the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan.Skip to next paragraph
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To the country’s credit, a group of Japan scholars have worked with counterparts in China and South Korea to write a common history. One such history was issued in 2005, but it has not gained official favor in those countries.
In 2006, China and Japan officially helped launch a joint scholarly committee to find common ground on their history. The panel made some progress but faltered over details of events such as the 1937 Nanjing massacre.
South Korea and Japan have also tried to find common ground on their mutual history. But nationalism continues to be a useful political tool in both countries, much to the worry of their key military ally, the United States, that wants their help in dealing with China.
Last week, a study on US-Japan relations by two former prominent US security officials, Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, called on Japan, South Korea, as well as the US to expand the dialogue over the historical issues. It stated: “For the alliance to realize its full potential, it is essential for Japan to confront the historical issues that continue to complicate relations with [the Republic of Korea].”
Coming to terms with past atrocities need not diminish the love of one’s country – by the Japanese or any people. Behavior is a choice, not a genetic given. Current generations need not be like past ones. Acknowledging the past also opens up a willingness among others to respect a country’s efforts to embrace peace, as Japan has clearly done.
East Asia’s many island disputes, driven in large part by an emboldened China, should not lead to dangerous clashes but to solutions, such as multilateral negotiations. One path is to agree on the record of old wars and colonialism, and then leave them behind.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this editorial referred to a visit by the South Korean prime minister. The country's president made the trip.]