In the spirit of the times, China and Japan must seek peace

Phil Chan remembers the painful lessons that past wars have taught

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 9:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 6:14am

Recent disagreements between China and Japan are by no means comparable to the rivalry between Britain and Germany that led to the first world war. Any such comparison is ill-conceived.

Britain and Germany were engaged in a naval armament race, upping each other in their desires for colonial expansion.

Germany was seeking supremacy of the seas and in Europe.

Britain was defending its naval supremacy and colonial empire, and the balance of power in Europe.

Historians now agree that Germany was not alone in precipitating the first world war.

If current Sino-Japanese relations could be compared with pre-1914 British-German ones, then who is Britain, and who is Germany?

Indeed, competition between Britain and Germany was a significant cause of war. But 2014 is not 1914.

We have the United Nations as a forum through which states can have mutual dialogue. There are many international organisations in which both China and Japan participate. China and Japan can settle, if they wish, their maritime dispute through the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on the basis of international law.

Co-operation among states is now a norm of international relations, if not also of international law.

With 2014 being the centenary of the world's first global conflict, it is time for calm reflection, not escalating bickering and manoeuvres that are unhelpful to peace.

The first world war was a result of many causes, chief of which was nationalism.

The outcome was devastating for all sides, with many countries obliterated and millions of peoples maimed, killed or displaced.

Is it wrong or irrational for China and Korea to object to Japan's provocative worship of those who perpetrated mass civilian sufferings?

Could China and Korea perhaps let go a bit of history that cannot be altered?

European countries recovered (following an even bigger conflict) after they realised that, in war, there could be no victor, and it was only in peace and co-operation that their states and peoples may prosper.

While money cannot buy love, China and Japan should increase recent co-operative efforts, on economic issues and on North Korea, through which they could generate mutual understanding and reconciliation.

China and Japan have contributed significantly to development in other regions: China in Africa, and Japan in Southeast Asia. Why should they fight in their own backyard?

If over 40 countries in Europe can let go of hundreds of years of acrimony, and move forward in a spirit of friendship, then should China, Korea and Japan not at least try?

Memories of Passchendaele, the Somme, and indeed Auschwitz, have not been replaced. They are given meaning by European integration and co-operation. Understanding and reconciliation are not about blame or repentance, or forgetfulness, but acceptance and forgiveness.

One who does not learn from a mistake is doomed to repeat it. China and Japan should keep in mind that both Britain and Germany ended up losers at every level.

Only one winner emerged as a result of their self-inflicted decline: the United States.

More importantly, those who have perished in conflicts between China and Japan during the past two centuries should never be forgotten, or allowed to have died in vain.

Phil C.W. Chan is senior research fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven