Yang Bojiang: It's Time Japan Faced its Militarist Past
18 Sep, 2021  |  Source:China Daily  |  Hits:1048


Saturday marks the 90th anniversary of the Sept 18 Incident, or Mukden Incident, a false flag event which Japan used as a pretext to launch a large-scale invasion of China, and eventually occupy the northeastern region of the country. On that fateful day in 1931, the Imperial Japanese Army triggered an explosion on a small section of a railway owned by a Japanese company near Shenyang, Liaoning province and, accusing Chinese troops of sabotage, responded by attacking the Chinese garrison in the city that night.

To end the hostilities, the League of Nations sent a team to Japan and China in early 1932 to investigate the incident. In its report released in October that year, the team, headed by Victor Bulwer-Lytton, the second earl of Lytton in the United Kingdom, said Japan was an aggressor, which was proved later when Japan "established" the puppet state of "Manchukuo".

Japan adopted a militarist and expansionist strategy to establish its dominant status in Asia after the Meiji Restoration.

The Sept 18 Incident marked the beginning of the 14-year-long Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

The then Kuomintang government signed the Tanggu Truce with Japan in 1933, recognizing the existence of "Manchukuo" and acknowledging the loss of Rehe. Two years later, Japan orchestrated "North China Autonomy Movements". And in 1937, the Japanese invaders used the Lugou Bridge Incident, also known as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which triggered an all-out war, to extend the occupied territories further into China.

To fight the Japanese army, the Communist Party of China issued the Aug 1 Declaration in 1935, calling upon all the Chinese people, irrespective of whichever class or party they belonged to, to come together and build a united front against the invaders. Which strengthened the Chinese people's resolution to fight the Japanese invaders.

The Sept 18 Incident also marked the beginning of the World Anti-Fascist War. Japan's occupation of northeastern China encouraged other fascist forces, mainly in Europe, to invade and occupy other countries despite the Versailles-Washington System being in place since the end of World War I to prevent conflicts between nations.

With Germany and Italy focused on Europe and fighting against the Allied forces, Japan, as the third part of the fascist trinity of Axis, sought to exert its dominance in Asia. And after the United States implemented embargoes on petroleum and other resources that Japan needed, it attacked Pearl Harbor, forcing the US to join the Allies in World War II.

More important, the Sept 18 Incident prompted the Chinese people to unite against fascist Japan and instilled in them a greater sense of patriotism. The national spirit and unity forged at the time helped the country to overcome the chaos, destruction and sufferings that the war brought in its wake.

The then ruling Kuomintang adopted the Program of Armed Resistance and National Reconstruction in 1938 to resist the Japanese invaders. And the goal of both the CPC's call to build a united front against the Japanese invaders and the Kuomintang's armed resistance for national reconstruction program was to realize national rejuvenation.

As the main battlefield in the East, China made great contributions to the Allied victory in World War II. China suffered over 35 million casualties during the war. The Chinese people, through their war of resistance, depleted Japan's resources and thus prevented it from launching attacks on other countries, which played a vital role in realizing the victory in the antifascist war. Without Chinese people's sacrifices, Japan could have joined Germany in the Near East, and blockaded the Mediterranean Sea.

Faced with Japanese occupation, unprecedented violence and brutality, China rose like a phoenix from the ashes to emerge from perhaps the darkest period in its history and achieve victory in the war against Japanese aggression.

The Sept 18 Incident has influenced modern history, and remains a very sensitive issue in China-Japan relations. And since Japan was the aggressor and perpetrator of atrocities, it should draw lessons from the incident, and squarely face its militarist past.

After the end of World War II, the US sought to thoroughly transform Japanese politics and society to ensure that future Japanese governments do not resort to their militarist past and trigger another conflict. But because of the Cold War, the US rolled back many of the changes it had helped implement in Japan and made Japan a stronger military ally. As a result, some rightist and ultranationalist forces in Japan have been trying to whitewash Japan's history of aggression.

Also, the Japanese government has been revising history textbooks in recent years. Japan's duplicitous attitude toward its history of aggression is also reflected in its leaders' visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 class-A and many other war criminals. Tokyo's latest devious move came on Aug 15, which marked the 76th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga sending a ritual offering to the shrine and his ministers visiting the shrine.

What's worse, Sanae Takaichi, a contestant in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's leadership election which will decide who will succeed Suga, is a favorite of conservatives with hawkish views on defense and diplomacy. She has not only visited the Yasukuni Shrine many times, but also said she will continue to do so.

Not content at provoking China and other neighbors through the Yasukuni event, the Japanese defense ministry released a defense white paper on elementary and junior high school students on Aug 16, in which it hyped up the "China threat" theory, obviously to mislead people.

By feeding its younger generations disinformation, the Japanese government will further poison the country's relations with its neighbors. Instead of doing that, Japan should learn from history and avoid taking any wrong steps in the future.

The author is director-general at the Institute of Japanese Studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.