China’s might and Japan’s denial of history – a contrast of two Northeast Asian powers

Updated On: Mar 06, 2007

A demonstration of China’s growing importance to the region was unleashed when markets around the world tumbled in response to a near 9% plunge in Chinese shares and the slump in US stocks last Tuesday (27 February).   

Asian stock markets fell sharply in the worst sell-off in years as concern mounted about a US economic slowdown and the health of the Chinese share markets

Shares in JapanHong KongSingaporeMalaysiaIndiaAustraliaIndonesia and the Philippines all fell more than 3% in morning trading following losses on the Chinese stock markets and Wall Street (the latter had its worst day since 911).  And the stock markets continued its slide this week.  Fortunately, the markets were resilient enough to avoid a global meltdown. Most rebounded or recovered fast enough. But this sent another stark reminder of the rising impact of the Chinese economy and market on the region’s well being.   Wall Street is no longer the only economic epicenter where small quakes have the potential to rock the global markets.

Perhaps, this and other reasons have compelled US and China to have a pragmatic relationship based on dialogue.  Hank Paulson in the start of his 3-nation tour toJapanChina and South Korea amid regional volatility warned his own domestic audience against making China an enemy and reiterated that it is essential that both US and China manage their disagreements to maintain strong economic ties.  US trade deficit with China hit a record of US$232.5 billion prompting more calls by the Democrats in the US Congress for the Bush administration to put pressure on China to narrow the deficit.

Indeed it is increasingly clear that US and China need to work more closely together.  Fresh on the heels of the success of the six-party talks on North Korea in which both powers share the same interest in seeing a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, the two are charting courses on new crises.   "We really have lined up our interests with them," top US negotiator with North Korea, Christopher Hill said in a tribute to Chinese efforts in the Peninsula. It seems China is also seizing upon an opportunity which presented itself through a Beijing visit by Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi to urge Iran to cease uranium enrichment as requested by the U.N. Security Council. Such soft powers of persuasion and pressure on Iran to stop enrichment of uranium are highly welcomed by the Bush administration which is under siege from poor public opinions.

However, even dialogue is not enough to stave off some of the tensions that have traditionally plagued the bilateral relations of the two powers. China's armed forces will get 350.9 billion yuan (about US$45 billion) for 2007, an increase of nearly 53 billion yuan over actual spending in 2006. This 17.8 percent increase in 2007 follows the US Vice President Dick Cheney criticism of Chinese military build-up and the recent Chinese anti-satellite test. Issues like these will continue to test the bilateral relations and has to be managed. 

As for Japan, an old issue has returned. PM Shinzo Abe publicly rejected the idea that women were forced into the military brothels in the territories conquered by the Japanese Imperial army, thereby giving strength to the argument by rightwing conservative politicians who support the view that Asian women who were involved in such brothels were professional prostitutes rather than victims. "There was no evidence to prove there was coercion as initially suggested," Abe told reporters. "That largely changes what constitutes the definition of coercion, and we have to take it from there."

In fact, official recognition of this wartime issue was only publicly acknowledged by a top Japanese government official in 1993 and only after incriminating defense documents discovered in 1992. "The Japanese government must not run from its responsibilities," said Lee Yong Soo, 78, who claimed that she was taken as a 14-year-old from Daegu Korea by Japanese soldiers in 1944 to work as a comfort woman in Taiwan. "I want them to apologize. To admit that they took me away, when I was a little girl, to be a sex slave. To admit that history."

To meet the claims of comfort women victims without going through official government channels, the Japanese government set up the independently-managed Asian Women's Fund in 1995 funded by private donations to compensate former sex slaves. But this is inadequate for some of the victims. Many women have rejected the fund and instead demand for a direct government apology and compensation funded directly by the Japanese government.

Joining the fight with the petitioners of sex slave compensation and Japanese official apology, some historians say that up to 200,000 women, primarily from Koreaand China, were compelled to have sex with Japanese military personnel in military brothels while others were raped at gunpoint. In terms of official governmental protests, the South Korean government has already lashed out at Japan. What PM Abe said is "aimed at glossing over the historical truth and our government expresses strong regret," South Korea's Foreign Ministry said. "We once again urge responsible leaders of Japan to have a correct understanding of history," the ministry said.  (5 March 2007)


Soldier confirms wartime sex slavery (Japan Times, 4 March 2007)

China's military budget to rise 17.8% in 2007 (Channelnewsasia, 4 March 2007)

Abe Rejects Japan’s Files on War Sex (NY Times, 2 March 2007)

Most Asian markets down in wake of global sell-off (Jakarta Post, 2 March 2007)

Most Asian markets plunge amid global jitters, but Chinese stocks recover (Jakarta Post, 2 March 2007)

U.S.China, chart courses on new crises (AP, 2 March 2007)

Wall St. Tumble Adds to Worries About Economies (NY Times, 28 Feb 2007)