US and Japan have missed a chance for better ties by not attending China's victory parade

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 August, 2015, 3:34am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 August, 2015, 3:36am

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This Thursday's events in Beijing commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war are outwardly about remembering the sacrifices made, the lives lost and ensuring that those dark days are never repeated. But with China's rise and with the centrepiece being a military parade, the occasion has inevitable become political. Although the world's leaders were invited, only those from countries with close relations have decided to attend, and those with an ambivalent approach have chosen to stay away. It is unfortunate that Japan and the US, nations which could have used the occasion to improve relations, are among the latter.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's parliament schedule was given as the reason for his non-attendance. A predecessor, Tomiichi Murayama - whose landmark 1995 statement on the war has become the standard by which others among his country's politicians are measured - will watch the parade in a private capacity. In place of US President Barack Obama will be ambassador to China, Max Baucus. By not sending their leaders, both nations have wasted valuable opportunities.

South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye, will be among the 30 leaders present. She and President Xi Jinping have opened the door of reconciliation wide for Abe, but he has refused to set aside his nationalist ways and make peace. His statement on August 14 marking the anniversary of Japan's surrender avoided the sincere apology neighbours so badly need. Watching a parade of Chinese military strength would understandably have been awkward, but even the option of visiting around the commemoration has been foregone.

Strained ties between China and the US could also have been eased had Obama been present. His visit would have set the right tone for talks with Xi in Washington next month. Countries in Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe will be well represented, but not so much for Western Europe and Southeast Asia. North Korea's Kim Jong-un will also be absent. Yet two others, Myanmar and Vietnam, have set aside differences for the sake of being good neighbours.

The anniversary is a reminder of the horrors of the war and the bravery of the Chinese soldiers who fought the Japanese aggressors. It gives an opportunity for Beijing to show off its military might, but the ultimate message is about countries standing together. Nations, particularly Japan and the US, should have thought of that when considering their invitations.