An awkward occasion beckons as China gears up to commemorate victory over Japan
In the confrontational atmosphere pitting Beijing against Washington and its allies in Asia, it is often forgotten that China and much of the west were allies in the region’s defining wartime struggle, fighting their then mutual foe, Japan.
In September, Beijing is planning a massive military parade to remind the west and the rest of the world of that moment, the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in the Pacific War. As commemorations go, it promises to be an awkward occasion.
Vladimir Putin, of course, plans to attend, returning the favour of Xi Jinping’s presence at the Russian commemoration earlier this year of the allies’ defeat of the Nazis. Mr Putin’s presence will not come as a surprise, given his geopolitical bromance with Mr Xi.
But China is after a bigger prize – the country’s top diplomats have made it clear they want to see western leaders standing on the podium alongside the likes of Mr Putin to mark victory in the ‘War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression’.
Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, spent much of a recent dinner with European envoys in Beijing pressing them to send their countries’ leaders to the event.
Other western countries, like the US, the UK and Australia, have not only been invited. Chinese diplomats have suggested they send serving members of their military to join the march.
There is little chance, however, that any of these countries will send their leaders to the event, let alone allow serving military personnel to march. Lower-level officials may attend in their place.
The issue is not that China is commemorating the defeat of Japan. After all, western nations have long marked their victory in the second world war. Why not China, which suffered most at the hands of the Japanese and endured millions of civilian and military casualties in a decade-plus conflict?
Nor is it simply crude geopolitics, western diplomats insist, and the fact that Japan now has its feet, as it did in the first world war, once again firmly planted in the western camp.
The countries being lobbied by Beijing, however, have taken issue with the scale and intensity of Beijing’s plans, which they see as part of a broader campaign to ensure that Japan remains, in the words of one Chinese academic, “an historical criminal”.
In a country in which political speech is intensely policed, Japan has long been one of the few topics that people, including writers and filmmakers, could vent about in China without restraint. But even the ruling Chinese Communist party is worried that Japan-bashing has gone too far.
The party’s propaganda department recently pulled off the air an anti-Japanese drama, ‘Fighting Together Against the Devils’, because it was full of sexual innuendo, local media said.
“We have seen ‘a Chinese soldier slicing a Japanese solider into half using his bare hands’ and ‘a Chinese battalion commander throwing a grenade into the air to down a Japanese airplane’, which can only be described as ridiculous,” said Wu Yixue, a China Daily columnist.
“Such exaggerations – with the icing on the cake being ‘my grandpa was killed by the Japanese at the age of 9’ – undermine the achievements and sacrifices of the Chinese people.”
Chinese academics who follow Japan say that most of the commemorations do not contain the over-the-top tone of these vengeful wartime soap operas. However the event is pitched, in any case, China’s growing power and reach will ensure it is the largest commemoration ever of the defeat of Japan.
There is one aspect of about the anti-Japanese war which is unlikely to be aired, and that is historical controversy over the role of the CCP in defeating Japan. Put another way – is the party commemorating victory in a war it didn’t win?
Stanford academic Andrew Walder in his recent book ‘China Under Mao’ estimates that the Communists suffered only about one in ten of the casualties in the war, with the bulk of the fighting carried by the CCP’s then civil war rival, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists.
The notion that Mao’s doctrine of the “people’s war” won the day is a myth. “The people’s war was hardly used in the conflict against the Japanese,” says Walder.
The Chinese commemoration will be preceded by Japan’s own annual ceremony in early August to mark the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will making a speech on August 15 – the anniversary of Emperor Hirohito’s broadcast which ended Japanese resistance to allied troops advancing on Japan.
The Chinese have chosen September 3, the day after the anniversary of the formal surrender on the USS Missouri.
This article was originally published by FT.com.
(译者/何黎. 原文刊登在 FT中文网.)
斯坦福大学(Stanford)学者安德鲁•瓦尔德(Andrew Walder)在最近一部著作《毛泽东领导下的中国》(China Under Mao)中估计，抗日战争中伤亡的大约只有十分之一是共产党，进行大部分战斗的是共产党在内战时期的对手——蒋介石领导的国民党。
About the Author
Kissinger Institute on China and the United States
The mission of Kissinger Institute on China and the United States is to ensure that informed engagement remains the cornerstone of U.S.-China relations. Read more