Toward a Japan-Anchored Asian Order?
Peter Lee wrote an interesting piece at Asia Times titled “India places its Asian bet on Japan” today regarding his take of India’s recent rapprochement with Japan. Before reading this piece, I had regarded Singh’s recent trip to Japan as nothing much more than two second-rate power trying to form a second-rate alliance against a perceived first-rate power. But perhaps there is something more…
Here is an excerpt of Lee’s article:
In a dismaying week for the People’s Republic of China (PRC), India turned away from it, and gave further signals that it is ready to move beyond the narrative of Japanese World War II aggression that has informed China’s Asian diplomacy and anchored the US presence in Asia for over half a century in favor of a view of Japan as a leading and laudable security actor in East Asia.
I don’t know if there is a term in the diplomatic lexicon for “deep tongue kiss accompanied by groans of mutual fulfillment”, but if there is, it seems it would be illustrated by the encounter between Indian President Manmohan Singh and Japanese PM Abe Shinzo in Tokyo on May 27-29, 2013.
Speaking to an assembly of Japanese government and corporate worthies in Tokyo, Singh said:
Asia’s resurgence began over a century ago on this island of the Rising Sun. Ever since, Japan has shown us the way forward. India and Japan have a shared vision of a rising Asia. Over the past decade, therefore, our two countries have established a new relationship based on shared values and shared interests. …
Our relationship with Japan has been at the heart of our Look East Policy. Japan inspired Asia’s surge to prosperity and it remains integral to Asia’s future. The world has a huge stake in Japan’s success in restoring the momentum of its growth. Your continued leadership in enterprise, technology and innovation and your ability to remain the locomotive of Asian renaissance are crucial. India’s relations with Japan are important not only for our economic development, but also because we see Japan as a natural and indispensable partner in our quest for stability and peace in the vast region in Asia that is washed by the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Our relations draw their strength from our spiritual, cultural and civilizational affinities and a shared commitment to the ideals of democracy, peace and freedom. We have increasingly convergent world views and growing stakes in each other’s prosperity. We have shared interests in maritime security and we face similar challenges to our energy security. There are strong synergies between our economies, which need an open, rule-based international trading system to prosper.
Together, we seek a new architecture for the United Nations Security Council. In recent years, our political and security cooperation has gained in salience. Japan is the only partner with whom we have a 2-plus-2 Dialogue between the Foreign and Defence Ministries. We have also begun bilateral exercises with the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force.
The romance was consecrated by an audience with the Japanese emperor and empress for Singh and his wife, and the announcement that the royal couple would be visiting India before the year’s end in only the second overseas trip for the aging emperor since 2009.
Certainly, the Japan-India affair has sound diplomatic and economic bases. India is not happy about its immense trade deficit with China; Japan sees India as an alternative manufacturing base to an increasingly hostile (and costly) China.
Abe also would welcome some big ticket deals with India – hopefully including a dominant share of India’s nuclear power plant imports (see PK Sundaram’s article at Japan Focus) – to keep the economy humming and keep Abenomics out of the ditch.
Various national quid pro quos are at work – several billion dollars in Japanese loans, Indian support for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and a promise to work together to change the structure of the UN Security Council, to date notably China-heavy and Japan- and-India-unrepresented.
But an interested reader – and, indeed, the Chinese government – cannot escape the sense that Singh, encouraged by Abe’s vigorous approach to restoring Japan’s national and regional stature, has decided to place an open bet on Japan – a fellow democracy and, until recent years at least, acknowledged master of the global economic and financial game – instead of obstreperous, state socialist China in the Asian sweepstakes.
Chinese state media has for the most part refrained from criticizing Manmohan Singh and India’s Japan tilt directly. However, references to Radhabinod Pal have appeared in Chinese media and, provide an interesting perspective (and surrogate) for China’s unease with its deepening Indio-Japanese conundrum.
Pal was an Indian jurist on the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1946. Enamored of the anti-colonial rhetoric that accompanied the Japanese “advance” into Southeast Asia, he believed the United States had provoked Japan into war (the Japanese response was therefore not “aggressive”), was concerned about Allied wartime atrocities, and declined to endorse the “triumph of civilization” narrative of Japan’s defeat or the creation of “Class A” war criminal category that the Occupation used to prosecute the Japanese military and civilian leadership. While acknowledging the commission of atrocities in the field (though a Nanjing Massacre skeptic), Pal voted for acquittal of the “Class A” defendants and prepared a 1,235-page dissenting opinion – suppressed by the Occupation until 1952 – stating that the trial was a “victor’s justice” travesty.
So far so good.
After his dissent was published, Pal, unsurprisingly, became a hero to Japanese nationalists. Given the legal and moral flaws of the tribunal, the standard explanation is that Pal was simply a scrupulous jurist whose dissent got cherry picked by nasty nationalists for verbiage that supported their claim that the only thing Japan did wrong in World War II was lose it.
Actually, as an article at Japan Focus by Japanese scholar Nakajima Takeshi points out, in his dissent Pal went beyond challenging the legality and validity of the tribunal to excusing Japanese – activities? aggression? advances? Choose your favorite term – on the grounds that Japan was getting picked on by the West.
This is rather obvious in Pal’s treatment of Japan’s incursion into Manchuria in 1931, which Japan did on its own kick without the excuse that the US was forcing it into war. Pal obviously finds it extremely awkward that Japan, in his mind the front line of resistance to Western colonialism, adopted nakedly colonial policies in its dismemberment of China and subjugation of Manchuria.
After dismissing the Manchurian and Marco Polo Bridge incidents as examples of simple overexuberance by officers in the field and not elements of a conspiracy to justify occupation of north and northeast China, Pal deployed the “delusion” defense, as Nakajima writes:
Justice Pal then critically examined Western Imperialism, which, he asserted, Japan had imitated. Quoting the Survey of International Affairs 1932, he turned the target of the criticism toward the colonial policies of Western Powers:
Was it not Western Imperialism that had coined the word “protectorate” as a euphemism for “annexation”? And had not this constitutional fiction served its Western inventors in good stead? Was not this the method by which the Government of the French Republic had stepped into the shoes of the Sultan of Morocco, and by which the British Crown had transferred the possession of vast tracts of land in East Africa from native African to adventitious European hands?
For Justice Pal, Japan’s “farce” was nothing but the result of imitating Western fashions of imperialism. From this point of view, he questioned why only Japan’s establishment of Manchukuo could be assessed as “aggression”. Weren’t Western countries morally guilty as well in practicing colonialism? If the acts of aggression by Western countries were not charged as crimes, why was the establishment of Manchukuo by Japan?
Justice Pal further quoted the Survey of International Affairs 1932: “Though the Japanese failed to make the most of these Western precedents in stating their case for performing the farce of ‘Manchukuo’, it may legitimately be conjectured that Western as well as Japanese precedents had in fact suggested, and commended, this line of policy to Japanese minds.”
By saying, “[i]t may not be a justifiable policy, justifying one nation’s expansion in another’s territory”, he emphasized that both Japan and the Western countries were morally responsible for the colonization of other nations. Justice Pal explained that Japan was at that time possessed with a “delusion” and believed that the country would face death and destruction if it failed in acquiring Manchuria.
Pal regarded this as the reason for Japan’s attempts to establish interests which it saw as necessary for its very existence. Justice Pal said that carrying out a military operation driven by “delusion” was not unique to Japan as it had been repeatedly practiced on a large scale by Western countries for many years.
Saying, “[a]lmost every great power acquired similar interests within the territories of the Eastern Hemisphere and, it seems, every such power considered that interest to be very vital”, Pal argued that Japan had the “right” to argue that the Manchurian Incident was necessary for the sake of “self-defense”. Japan claiming national “self-defense” in regard to its territorial expansion in China was in step with international society at the time, Pal said, and thus Japan’s actions stemmed from the “imitation” of an evil practice of Western imperialism. Based on this premise, he concluded: “The action of Japan in Manchuria would not, it is certain, be applauded by the world. At the same time it would be difficult to condemn the same as criminal.”
Pal’s brief seems to go beyond the questioning of a dubious legal proceeding by a distinguished and experienced international jurist to rather dishonorable special pleading on behalf of his favorite country, Japan.
In 1966, the emperor of Japan conferred upon Pal – who stated his lifelong admiration of Japan as the one Asian country that stood up to the West – the First Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure.
The Pal dissent is a cornerstone of the recent nationalist tilt of the Japanese government, as can be seen from this Telegraph report of the aftermath of the Liberal Democrat Party’s victory at the polls in 2012:
“The view of that great war was not formed by the Japanese themselves, but rather by the victorious Allies, and it is by their judgment only that [Japanese] were condemned,” Mr Abe told a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Tuesday.
In his previous short-lived spell as prime minister, for 12 months from September 2006, Mr Abe said that the 28 Japanese military and political leaders charged with Class-A war crimes are “not war criminals under the laws of Japan.”
Pal was enshrined at Yasukuni, which gives the lie to the claim that it is simply a memorial to the war dead and not a revisionist shrine. The photo illustrating Pal’s entry in Wikipedia is his Yasukuni stele.
So, by an alternate reading of history, Japan can claim credit for the decolonization of India as well as Malaysia and Burma (now Myanmar).
Prime Minister Singh’s attitude to the potent symbolism of the Pal dissent and the Japanese decolonization narrative was displayed in Singh’s toast to Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi in 2005:
The dissenting judgment of Justice Radha Binod Pal is well-known to the Japanese people and will always symbolize the affection and regard our people have for your country.
On December 14, 2006, Singh upgraded Pal’s judgment to “principled” and an expression of Indian-Japan solidarity in his speech in the Japanese Diet. He stated:
The principled judgment of Justice Radhabinod Pal after the War is remembered even today in Japan. Ladies and Gentlemen, these events reflect the depth of our friendship and the fact that we have stood by each other at critical moments in our history.
This does not look like a matter of parsing the legal and moral flaws Pal detected in the war crimes tribunal. It looks as if Singh’s heart, like Pal’s, was with Japan – and its view that Japan was unfairly stigmatized – and China unnecessarily benefited – by the narrative of Japanese national criminal aggression in World War II.
As generational memories fade of the miseries inflicted as a result of Japan’s rampage through Asia, resurrecting the comforting abstraction of the Japan decolonization narrative is a potent political and diplomatic weapon for 21st century Asian politicians interested in the possibility of a new, more Japan-centric security order – despite the fact that Japan has to be discreet in wielding it in the presence of the United States, which is completely vested in the Greatest Generation/triumph over evil version.
The fact that the overt anti-China/pro-Japan tilt is a risky bet and, to a certain extent, Japan needs early and active Indian buy-in for the Abe gambit to succeed, make it appear that Singh decided to follow his heart and match Abe’s boldness with his own.
Global Times talked tough on the occasion of the Singh visit, putting the onus on Abe once again but presumably also sending a message to India not to end up on the wrong side of (long term) history (as well as reassuring itself that, despite the unfavorable set of current circumstances, the PRC will come out on top in the end):
It will take time for Japan to face the reality that the once only great power in East Asia has to give way to China, whose GDP and marine strength will surpass that of Japan.
The process will be tougher for Japan, which will be sincerely convinced some day. The day will come sooner or later. The little tricks that Japan is playing are nothing but a struggle for self-comfort, which will not affect the development of Asia. Japan is trying every means to hide its decline against China in order to boost its national morale, but China does not need to compete with Japan to regain confidence and prove its strength. The conflict between China and Japan should not be regarded as a “strategic” game. In fact, the overall strategic future of Japan and China has already been determined.
Gains and losses incurred by the frictions between China and Japan make no difference to the futures of either country. There is no need for China to exert too much energy on Japan. As a growing but young giant, Chinese society will unavoidably have to deal with various conflicts with Japan. It will be a long journey for China to become mature enough so that a real great power will emerge with confidence.
This is not a final showdown between China and Japan, neither is it an opportunity for China to mend its broken fences with Japan. All China should do is “take it easy”. China should be aware that Japanese tricks can never impact China strategy. China should take the initiative to decide when and how seriously we respond to it.
But maybe Singh sees a once-in-a-career opportunity for rollback against the PRC with Abe in Japan, the US in Myanmar, and China’s problems with ASEAN on a prolonged, ugly boil.
The PRC appears to have decided it is a good idea to draw closer to the United States (which Abe is discreetly shouldering aside as he pursues his Japan-centric initiatives and promotes his vision of Japan as a victim of “victor’s justice”), and declare allegiance to the World War II narrative that exalts US leadership and Japan’s demotion to self-defense force quarantine.
PRC Premier Li Keqiang found himself in the unlikely position of trying to reawaken nostalgia for the Potsdam declaration – which mandated the return to their owners of territories like Taiwan, the Pescadores, and Manchuria that Japan had stolen – during his trip to Germany. Beyond giving the PRC some kind of claim to the Senkakus, invoking the Potsdam declaration is probably meant to remind the United States of a happier time when the West’s writ was respectfully acknowledged and not covertly defied by the subjugated and defeated nations of Asia.
On the other hand, if the weakened yen and Abe’s frenetic regional deal making fail to keep the Nikkei afloat and the long-expected revulsion against Japanese bonds (and the 240% of GDP national debt they fund) materializes and spikes Japan’s borrowing costs, Japan will be licking its wounds a few months from now and Singh will face some awkward moments in dealing with Beijing.
But for the time being, the vision (or, to the PRC, the specter) of an active Japan-India alliance inciting and recruiting opposition to Chinese strategic and economic penetration in Asia offers the prospect of a potentially far-reaching re-juggling of Pacific relationships.
This is an interesting and insightful piece for me. Can Japan (of the 20th century to boot) really be viewed by India as a political liberator of Asia? Is this an endorsement of convenience or is this a legitimate alternative reading of world history?
I can’t say…
I have seen India writers like Pankaj Mishra write about colonialism with full conviction – to only then confuse China to be a colonial power. And now this – elevating a recognized colonial power as a liberator. India seems to have a serious case of dementia…
I personally feel colonialism (just like genocide) should not be twisted for political convenience. But what makes the current development even sadder is that it shows how even the oppressed of the world, the professed victims of imperialism and colonialism, do not share a common understanding of colonialism and imperialism.
However suffocating I may have thought of the U.S. narrative of itself as pure good in a world filled with evils, I think I’d much prefer the U.S. version over a version that involves an attempt at white-washing history that elevates Japan’s WWII role to the noble – or one involving “deep tongue kiss accompanied by groans of mutual fulfillment”as Peter Lee had put it. Perhaps the recent Obama-Xi Summit should not just be viewed as a photo-op opportunity, or a reset (or creation, as the case may be) of a greatpower relation – but an affirmation by China and the U.S. to continue the current order, to be a co-architect of a common world order, however imperfect that order may currently be…