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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Japan's Quarrel with China & Korea: A Singaporean View

I have always told people this story. Years ago, when I was in business school in London, I caught a Japanese classmate telling an European classmate that "actually, we were trying to liberate Asia..." Then he turned around and saw me. A silence and then awkwardness between us. How can I allow that to be said about the 50,000 to 100,000 who were massacred in the first two weeks of Japanese rule in Singapore? I never spoke to him again.

I don't think we should hold present day Japanese for what was done two generations ago. But by constantly revising history textbooks and visiting the Yakusuni War Shrine, they are rubbing salt into an old wound, and insulting the people of other Asian countries.

To those Western editorials that blame China and South Korea for "flaming" nationalistic passions, I wonder what they would say if the Japanese change their textbook accounts of the Pearl Harbour. But maybe the right-wing of Japan have no guts at the moment to do that - yet. It's easier to bully fellow Asians.

As for Yakusuni, I am surprised that they haven't found a more imaginative way of honouring war dead, such as building a new shrine that excludes the names of the 14 "Class A" convicted war criminals, or moving the tablets of the war criminals out of Yakusuni.  It is hard to imagine the German chancellor visiting a war memorial commemorating Hitler or Goering.

Until they stop humiliating Asians via the textbooks and Yakusuni, past grievances would always be a stumbling block to true warmth between Japan and Asia.

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