As Sino-Japanese relations have tensed over island disputes, both countries are increasingly mobilizing domestic nationalism against the other. Shinzo Abe overturned a legacy of avoiding the controversial Yasukuni shrine with his December visit there—a visit that saw his domestic approval ratings rise.
In China the Chinese Communist Party has been increasingly wielding the history weapon: creating two new anti-Japanese holidays, and comparing Japan unfavorably to Germany’s postwar record of atonement. China’s government protested Abe’s Yasukuni visit and exhorts Japanese leaders to apologize – to Bend it Like Brandt.
But, as I argue in my Al Jazeera America op-ed, it is not German contrition, but Japan’s way of dealing with the past that is far closer to the global norm. More importantly, Japan and its allies should no longer allow China to drive the conversation about human rights in East Asia – making it a conversation about Japan’s human rights violations 80 years ago.
Japan must acknowledge this dark past – indeed, the Japanese government needs to show greater commitment to remembrance and to disciplining officials who deny known historical fact. But at the same time, Japan, the United States, and its other partners should change the conversation: away from 80-year-old Japanese war crimes, to East Asia’s human rights problems today.