IN OTHER WORDS : History lessons

The recent protests in Beijing and two other Chinese cities against Japan’s approval of school textbooks that veil Japan’s guilt for past war crimes of the past have less to do with the past than with the future. Behind this linkage is a combustible mix of nationalism, strategic rivalry, and competition for energy reserves. Japanese nationalists have been stoking chauvinist pride for years, seeking to overcome the public’s pacifist leanings and promote a military buildup. Downplaying Japanese massacres in the Chinese city of Nanjing in late 1937 and early 1938 suits the programme of the Japanese nationalists. The Japanese rightists’ inflammatory propaganda and Tokyo’s refusal to apologise properly for atrocities from its imperial past are compounded by Beijing’s transparent bad faith.

The attacks coincide with a dispute over energy reserves in the East China Sea and with a Japanese statement that it would participate with the US in defending Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. The US should be exerting influence to persuade Japan to stop inciting Chinese fears of a US-Japan containment policy and stop alienating Seoul, which both Tokyo and Washington need as an ally. The US message to Beijing should be to avoid threatening Taiwan, because those threats only seem to confirm widespread fears across Asia of an aggressive, ascendent China. — The Boston Globe