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Thursday, August 19, 2010

I'm sorry, so sorry...

Dan Bloom has an interesting commentary in today's Taipei Times. In "Taiwan still waiting for an apology from Japan", Bloom notes that Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan 管直人 recently apologized to South Korea for Japan's annexation of the Korean Peninsula in 1910, and does a little math:

"Substitute 'Taiwan' for 'Korea' in the news reports, and the picture becomes clear. Japan also owes an apology to Taiwan for drafting young Taiwanese men to fight as front-line soldiers for Japanese military campaigns and for forcing thousands of Taiwanese women, many of them Aboriginal girls, to serve as 'comfort women' 慰安婦 in Japanese military brothels. Just as many older Koreans still remember atrocities committed by Japan, many older Taiwanese also remember. Although the issues do not remain as sensitive here in Taiwan all these decades later, the mental and psychological toll of the Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan cannot merely be airbrushed away by Japanese spin doctors."

On the surface, Bloom's demand seems reasonable, but as is often the case in matters like these, what lies beneath is much more complex than might appear from the top. The most obvious difference lies in the circumstances behind the colonizations of Korea and Taiwan. The Japanese, through a series of machinations that included assassinations, maneuvered to replace nationalist leaders with more amenable Koreans, and orchestrated the treaty that resulted in the annexation of a sovereign kingdom by Japan. Taiwan, on the other hand, was a province of China ceded by its government to Japan in 1895 as a result of the Chinese defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War 日清戦争. If Taiwanese are owed an apology for their annexation, as Bloom attests, it should come from the regime that found the island expendable, the Qing Dynasty in this case. In international practice, newer governments are often expected to shoulder the blame for and/or responsibilities of the regimes they replaced, which in Taiwan's case would be the Kuomintang 中國國民黨. The odds of an apology coming from the KMT over this issue aren't too difficult to figure out.

Then there are the questions regarding soldiers and comfort women. Many Taiwanese, being Japanese nationals up until 1945, were drafted into the Imperial Japanese forces from 1943 to the end of the war. Prior to that, however, a number of Taiwanese willingly served in the Japanese military, the most noted being the Takasago Volunteers 高砂義勇隊. The comfort women issue, on the other hand, does seem more clear-cut, and there is a lot more that the Japanese government can, and should, do to address the concerns of those survivors who suffered under the program. Here again, however, it should be pointed out that official apologies have been issued, the most specific being the Kōno statement of August 1993. In it, the government:

"...sincerely apologize[d] and [expressed its] remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable psychological wounds"

and expressed its:

"firm determination never to repeat the same mistake and that they would engrave such issue through the study and teaching of history".

Compensation has also been offered, in the form of the Asia Women's Fund, though many of the victims have criticized the private and unofficial nature of the payments, and have refused to accept any money. As for school textbooks, the Japanese Embassy in Washington, DC has pointed out that:

" 1) Among all high school textbooks, 16 out of 18 among them refer to the issue. 2) All of the 18 high school textbooks describe the suffering that the people in neighboring countries had to bear before and during World War II and Japan ’s responsibility in these matters."

Does the Japanese government owe anything to Taiwan? The Sino-Japanese Treaty of 1952 日本国と中華民国との間の平和条約 officially ended the war between Japan and the Republic of China 中華民國, and waived the right of Chinese (and therefore Taiwanese) nationals to demand compensation. The Murayama statement of August 1995 apologized for the:

"tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations"

which would seem to include Taiwan. The lack of formal diplomatic relations between Japan and Taiwan would certainly appear to be a barrier to the issuance of a Taiwan-specific apology (and would no doubt generate strong protests from China), but the biggest question mark is Taiwanese society itself. Unlike in Korea, there is no consensus on Bloom's description of a "mental and psychological toll". For every one of those who, like my mother-in-law, have less than pleasant memories of the Japanese era, there are others who consider the events of post-1945 to have had a far worse effect on the populace.

Japan has been heavily criticized, and rightfully so in most cases, for not having come squarely to terms with the horrible things that took place prior to the end of the Second World War. The problem lies with the fact that the Japanese disagree among themselves over the extent of what happened, who was responsible, and what, if anything, should be done about it. Year after year, the government and Emperor issue statements of regret, and promises that these actions will never be repeated. Unfortunately, many right-wing Japanese politicians have made absurd remarks over the years that have generated a lot of controversy in the rest of Asia and a lot of continuing resentment toward Japan. These kinds of fools are to be found in all the Western democracies, yet the Japanese are expected to present some sort of common front to the rest of the world when it comes to sensitive issues of its imperial past. As Bloom describes it, Germany has been in "apology-mode" ever since the end of the war, and he criticizes Japan for not doing the same. A valid point, but sixty-five years or a hundred years on, there comes a time when perhaps it is time to move forward, and stop blaming the present generations for the sins of their grandfathers.

One Japanese who does need to apologize to the Taiwanese is this gentleman:

"Shin Nakagomi 中込伸, the Japanese former manager of a Taiwanese professional baseball team, was found guilty of game-fixing Tuesday and sentenced to 20 months in jail, but the sentence was suspended for four years. The Panch'iao 板橋 District Court in T'aipei County 台北縣 also ordered Nakagomi, 40, former manager of the Taipei city-based Brother Elephants, to pay a fine of NT$1.8 million ($56,500/¥4.8 million), including NT$1.5 million that Shin gained in the course of throwing results. The court found Nakagomi attempted to fix game results five times, successfully on three occasions, between April 2008 and September 2009 in conjunction with a number of Taiwan’s best-known players. Nakagomi pleaded guilty on July 13 to all charges after confessing on June 25 to game-fixing, part of a series of scandals that have damaged public confidence in the domestic baseball league. In April, Nakagomi admitted to only one count of game-fixing, but he told the court on July 13 that he changed his plea to a full confession so he could return to Japan as soon as possible to take care of his daughter."
(Kyōdō News 共同通信社 article from Japan Today)

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