Japanese must listen to voices for truth

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2007, 12:00am

Amid all the extreme right-wing talk in Japan playing down or denying war-time atrocities, it is easy to forget that there are other voices. They may not be as vocal or have as powerful backers, but they are there, trying to chip away at the false rhetoric being spun.

As the report on our Behind the News section today shows, such opposing views are struggling to be heard. Nationalists in the government hold sway. Their anti-China stance will make efforts to mend ties between the countries an uphill task, unless the flaws in their arguments can be revealed to as wide a Japanese audience as possible.

In such circumstances, the work of organisations like the Chukiren Peace Memorial Museum have to be applauded. By standing up to those trying to play down or rewrite the history of Japan's aggression against Asians by presenting the facts conservatives do not want to hear or see, they are providing a great service to their country. Japan has nothing to gain, after all, by infuriating China through a refusal by its leaders to acknowledge atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers during the first half of last century. Through stability, the two nations can prosper together; at loggerheads, Japan will lose economically. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would appear to have shed his conservative outlook in trying to improve relations. His meeting in Tokyo with Premier Wen Jiabao next month will build on the steps already taken. With concerted effort, the sides will be able to put in place measures to substantially repair the damage done by Mr Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.

Mr Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Class A war criminals are remembered along with Japan's war dead, outraged China, Korea and other nations occupied by Japanese troops. School textbooks whitewashing Japan's war-time atrocities, the massacre of up to 300,000 people during the Nanking Massacre among them, have further fuelled the anger. A refusal by leaders to fully apologise has hardened the resolve.

As yet, Mr Abe has not said whether he intends to follow Mr Koizumi's lead on the shrine, although there are worrying signs: a government spokesman hinted on Wednesday that he may. He visited there before becoming prime minister and was among lawmakers who backed a school textbook referring to the Nanking Massacre as an 'incident'. As today's report reveals, legislators are also giving financial support to a film trying to prove that such war crimes never occurred.

The bravery of those trying to present the truth is laudable. They are few in number and countering influential people.

Resolving the differences between China and Japan will not happen at one meeting between their leaders. Until Mr Abe and those around him appreciate what is keeping the sides apart and make amends, the prospect of a new beginning will be limited.