German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Japan’s perception of the past via the Asahi Shimbun and the voice of Okada Katsuya, the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, when she made a recent visit there.
Merkel said Japan must face the comfort women issue without any delay if its bilateral relations with Korea matters for itself. However, most Japanese news outlets did not cover it. In contrast, major German news channels such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Die Welt, and Der Spiegel were in full support of her.
Even President Barack Obama himself, who has been in pursuit of peace and stability in Northeast Asia based on the so-called Pivot to Asia policy, kept silent about the comfort women issue and Japanese politicians’ visit to the Yasukuni Shrine during his visit to Japan last April. It was only after Obama arrived in Korea after visiting Japan that he criticized the latter for these issues, saying that the things done to the comfort women were terrible and awful infringements of human rights. It might come from the situation that the Shinzo Abe administration has assuaged the United States’ discontent by completely accepting its requests, while continuing to provoke Korea and China.
Korea and Japan were engaged in a diplomatic war in Washington throughout last year. The U.S. government has maintained a neutral position officially, at least on the face of the issues. However, Japan’s aggressive lobbying activities are changing things these days. Two examples are the establishment of a pro-Japanese caucus at Capitol Hill and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s recent remarks biased towards Japan on the historical issue. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is even expected to become the first Japanese Prime Minister to make a speech at Capitol Hill. It could mean that the U.S. allows Abe, who is the most regressive and has continued provocations of historical issues, to be a hero that rewrites the history of Japan.
Dennis Halpin, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), said in his article in the National Interest magazine that Japan’s revisionism may have started from the Nanjing Massacre and comfort women, but would end up at the atomic bombs and former President Harry Truman. “If Japan disguises itself as the victim of the Pacific War, the U.S. becomes a perpetrator, despite the loss of the 1,102 crew members due to Japanese first strikes, and then the war criminal is not Hideki Tojo, who ordered the strikes, but former President Harry Truman who ordered the atomic bombings,” he wrote, adding, “At least 200,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the period, and worshiping Iwane Matsui is comparable to worshiping Adolf Eichmann who killed over 430,000 Jews.”
With a number of experts still not losing their objective perspectives as above, Koreans are paying keen attention to whether or not the U.S. will allow the Japanese Prime Minister to make his speech as a hero to write a distorted history at Capitol Hill, even though he has made no apology at all for unpardonable atrocities against human beings.
The South Korean people have paid respects to the U.S. for its role as the guardian of peace, freedom, and justice as well as the defender of the nation against threats from North Korea. It is well aware that Washington is looking to utilize Japan as a kind of leverage to keep China in check in Northeast Asia. It is common sense that there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends in international relations. Still, Washington would be well advised to remember that it cannot be a global leader any longer once it loses its symbolic significance as the guardian of noble virtues. We do not think the Chancellor of Germany criticized Japan solely in view of its bilateral relations with China as a close economic partner. Rather, her remarks are more about the symbolic significance that will expand Germany’s influence in the E.U. on the global level.