There could scarcely be a sharper contrast than between the
bonhomie displayed by China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, on his current tour of
South Asia and China's behavior towards its North Asian neighbor, Japan. The
anti-Japanese demonstrations during the weekend, and some only slightly less
nationalistic outbursts in South Korea, are not just forewarnings of future
tensions in the region. They have implications for global governance and the
United Nations system - in which India, in particular, would like to play a
The demonstrations in China may have got
out of hand, but there is no doubt that they were initiated with the connivance
of the authorities. While the old issue of Japanese school textbook versions of
Japan's occupation of China was one pretext, the main trigger was Japan's push
to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
It is always a worrying sign when
students vent their wrath against foreigners rather than campaigning against
injustices at home - and when governments drum up nationalist sentiments to
divert attention from their own failings. The demands for apologies for Japan's
past sins have been highly selective.
It is true that Japan has not been as
contrite as one would wish and the visits by Japan's prime minister to Yasukuni
Shrine, where some war criminals are buried, are poor diplomacy. But plenty of
British textbooks, for example, show scant regard for Chinese views of the Opium
Wars or the destruction of the Summer Palace. Likewise many American ones gloss
over the massacres that accompanied the "civilizing" U.S. occupation of the
Philippines. Queen Elizabeth II has not apologized to Indians for the Amritsar
massacre and statues commemorating the bloody exploits of British imperialists
are two a penny in London. Beijing also likes to forget that for much of Asia
beyond China and Korea, Japan's imperialism was welcomed as hastening the end of
As for the South Koreans, in their
demands for more Japanese groveling they like to forget the fact that President
Park Chung Hee, widely praised for masterminding their economic miracle, was
himself an officer in the Japanese army of occupation in Manchuria.
If none of this historical mud-slinging
got beyond the more sensational news media it could be dismissed as no more
relevant than the childish anti-German antics of Rupert Murdoch's tabloid press
in Britain. But official encouragement of xenophobic attitudes is worrying in a
region where cooperation will be vital when the United States is no longer both
buyer and peacekeeper of last resort. It casts a shadow on much-advertised hopes
of bilateral and regional free trade agreements, and currency cooperation,
particularly for Southeast Asia, which needs Chinese-Japanese accord.
China's stance on Japan's membership of
the Security Council makes nonsense of its claims to represent the developing
and upcoming world. It is a crude and blatant attempt to protect its privileged
position as the only Asian and only developing country that is a permanent
member of the council. If there is to be reform of the United Nations and
expansion of the Security Council to reflect the world today, Japan's
membership, along with that of India, Germany and Brazil, is essential.
Proposals for UN reform are due to be
debated in September. The most favored new model for the Security Council is for
an additional six permanent and three nonpermanent members, none with veto
power. Discussion may get nowhere, as the United States, as well as China,
appears to oppose enlargement, and Britain and France seem unwilling to give any
ground in return for Germany's membership. A more limited enlargement might
attract U.S. backing.
Any country that purports to want greater
Asian representation deserves bitter criticism if in practice it thwarts the
aspirations of Japan and India. Pakistan's objection to India's membership is
just as petty as South Korea's objection to Japan's. They show governments
driven by the most narrow and self-centered considerations.
Perhaps China's outburst of jingoism
toward Japan will persuade the United States to take a more favorable view of
Security Council reform, recognizing that a larger permanent membership (without
veto powers) would be in its longer-term interest. China, of course, could still
veto such enlargement, but is unlikely to do so. Its leaders usually have a
better understanding of its global interests than displayed by the current
outburst in Beijing.
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