Wartime History and Beijing’s Response to the New Defence Minister in Tokyo

In the wake of the Upper House elections in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has completed a reshuffling of his cabinet. As described by Japan hand Michael Cucek, it was not a particularly inspiring set of choices made by the newly-consolidated Prime Minister: Taro Aso (the right-wing former PM perhaps best recalled for his off-the-cuff endorsement of Hitler’s constitutional revision style) remains at the helm in Finance, for one.

The biggest waves internationally are being made by Tomomi Inada, the newly-appointed Minister of Defence. Inada is one of the most prominent revisionist voices in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party; hailing from the Kansai region, she has been a regular visitor to Yasukuni Shrine, authored a book about flaws in the Chinese trial of two particularly deadly Japanese officers at the Nanking Massacre, and was involved in an LDP inquiry into problems with the postwar Tokyo Trials (known formally as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East). Are we seeing a theme here?

This appointment was bound to meet with immediate friction from Japan’s neighbours. Foremost, South Korea, where last December’s controversial but potentially transformative “comfort women” settlement is just now being implemented:

 

But probably more significant in the long run will be Inada’s impact on Sino-Japanese relations. Beijing state media’s response to her appointment has been unsurprising, in part because Inada herself provided so much material in her first two days in office for discussion.

While English-language coverage by agencies mentioned the revisionist views, a look at the transcripts of her conversations with reporters, and a read of the Chinese and Japanese coverage of those discussions, indicates that her appointment has already thrown up a number of new (well, old) historical obstacles.

About two-thirds of Huanqiu Shibao‘s introduction to her appointment, written by Wang Xuan, dealt with history issues and her views. (Readers will recall that Huanqiu Shibao is the Chinese-language Global Times, a 5-times-per-week mainland tabloid owned by People’s Daily and known for its pugilistic nationalism). Let’s take these issues one at a time, in the sequence they appear in the Beijing article:

1. Focus on the Nanking Massacre (1937-38) through the prism of the ‘Hundred-Man Killing Contest’

Quite a way to be introduced to the new appointee, is it not? Is this Beijing blowing the nationalistic trumpet perhaps, twisting Inada’s identity and trying to give the PRC public a completely distorted view of an otherwise moderate civil servant?

Unfortunately, to the second question, the answer appears to be ‘no.’ Inada did indeed discuss the ‘Hundred-Man Killing Contest’ at her 4 August press conference. Huanqiu quotes here as saying that she ‘did not believe in the “Hundred man Killing Contest”‘ and that ‘the number [of victims in Nanking] was very important’; in other words, criticizing China’s stance that 300,000 were killed.

Just for the record, here is the full exchange on this issue in Japanese, from the Ministry of Defence website:

Q:歴史認識の問題で大変恐縮ですが、改めてですね、大臣は南京大虐殺があったのか、なかったのか。そして、百人斬りがあったのか、なかったのかお聞かせください。

A:まず、昨日、百人斬りについて言及いたしましたが、それは、私の弁護士時代の活動であり、防衛大臣として述べるべき立場にはありません。そして、歴史認識に関しては、私は先日も、また、昨日も申しましたが、一貫して客観的事実が何であるか、これをしっかりと検証していくことだと思います。政府の立場としては、昨年の安倍談話、70年談話が全てであると考えております。

Q:関連ですか、昨日、インタビューの中で、大臣は「百人斬りはなかった」という発言をされたようですけれども、ここを確かめさせて下さい。

A:弁護士としての活動について、防衛大臣としてお話をする立場にはありません。

Q:大臣、以前ですね、南京大虐殺は虚構だと、なかったと嘘だったと、つまり日本政府はそれについては謝罪もする必要はないし、そして、慰安婦のことについても戦時中、合法的だったので、日本が謝罪する必要はないと。こういった大臣の立場は、日本外務省の立場とは非常に乖離しているように見えますが、いかがでしょうか。

A:ただ今、指摘された点が、私の発言として、正確ではないと思いますけれども、いずれにしましても、弁護士活動の中で行っていた事柄について、また、歴史認識について、防衛大臣として申し上げる立場にはないと思います。

Sankei covers the issue here. Inada, it should be noted, has a very explicit paper trail on the Nanking issue, and has covered herself more or less permanently from any potential attack from the right. Her 2007 book, entitled The Trial of the Hundred-Man Decapitation in Nanking [百人斬り裁判から南京へ / Hyakunin-giri Saiban kara Nankin he] purports to take apart manufactured elements in the famous ‘Hundred Man Killing Contest’ and the Nanking Massacre narrative generally. Inada NANKING book cover

2. Japan didn’t ‘invade’ anyone in the Second World War

Having gotten that out of the way, the Huanqiu piece moves on through her views on constitutional revision. After which Shinzo Abe’s declaration of semi-apology for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War is covered; Inada suggests that she agrees with the spirit of Abe’s remarks, but also that it is a matter of opinion with respect to the verb one employs when discussing Japan’s actions in Asia in the 1930s or 40s. She does not seem to agree that Japan ‘invaded’ anyone, suggesting that her view is more in line with that of right-wing manga author Kobayashi Yoshinori and others who believe that Japan was an anti-colonial liberating force whose intentions were simply misunderstood.

Again, here is that exchange in the original Japanese, which appears to have been slightly misquoted by Huanqiu (the words ‘invasion /侵略’ or ‘war of aggression /侵略戦争’ are never spoken by Inada at all):

Q:関連です。中国が、大臣は訪中されたいと御意志があると、昨日、機会があれば訪中したいという意思があったようですけれども、ただ、中国が日本政府の立場、特に歴史認識については非常に今まで、執筆してきたこともありまして、常に戦争は侵略戦争であったと、反省すべきだといった、日本政府の立場だったと思うのですが、防衛大臣というのは非常に大事なポストなので、この点については是非とも明確に教えていただきたいと。

A:私は、歴史認識については昨年の70年談話、これが政府の見解であり、防衛大臣としても、その認識でおります。そして、一つ一つの事柄について、私は客観的な事実が全てで、そして、歴史認識については、いろいろなレベルで率直に日本と中国の間でも、話合うことが重要だというふうに思います。中国にはそういった、争いながらも、友達という言葉もあって、言うべきこと、そして、お互いの意見を言いながらも理解を深めていくということが私はできるというふうに思っております。是非、私も機会があれば、中国に訪問して、様々な、もちろん、防衛協力について、信頼関係を構築していくということは非常に建設的な協力関係を強化していくということは極めて重要だという認識にたっております。

3. Leaving room for ambiguity on Yasukuni Shrine visits 

After dealing quickly with conflict with China in the South China Sea (the subject of much discussion on the Ministry of Defence’s website) and the one area where China and Japan are presumably in full accord — North Korean missile tests — the Huanqiu article comes back yet again to the history issue, discussing whether or not Inada will go to Yasukuni Shrine on August 15. This major flashpoint of conflicting war memory was indeed discussed by Inada in her introductory press conference:

Q:靖国の話で大変恐縮ですが、昨日ですね、アメリカ国防省のトナー副報道官が、稲田大臣がこれまでの靖国神社に参拝して来たことについて、歴史問題には和解が促進されるということが重要だと述べているのですけれども、慎重な対応をすることが重要だという認識を示しています。これについて受け止めをお願いします。

A:私としては、安倍内閣の一員として、適切に判断をして、行動してまいりたいと思います。

If all of this didn’t portend enough friction, the Huanqiu notes Inada’s past rhetorical challenges to the legality of the 1946-48 Tokyo Trials, which — in addition to giving Caroline Kennedy and John Kerry headaches — happens to run directly counter to an absolutely massive theme in Chinese propaganda in 2015-16.

Xi Jinping is going to have a whole lot more material to work with these days, so buckle up and mark your anti-Japanese calendars for 15 August, 3 September, 18 September, and 13 December. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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