The alleged promotion of a positive view in the publication of Atarashii Rekishi Kyokasho (New History Textbook), which was approved by the Ministry of Education in 2001, became a source of diplomatic tensions between China and Japan. While the first publication of New History Textbook in 2001 attracted little public attention, the second publication in 2005 triggered massive anti-Japanese demonstrations throughout China and South Korea in conjunction with protests against Japan’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. The widespread protests in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenyang illustrated the growing public anger against New History Textbook, as the mob accused the Japanese government of portraying chauvinistic nationalism by justifying Japanese aggression as liberation of Asian countries.65 Such public outrage at the backdrop of the controversial history textbook had translated into violent demonstrations with people smashing windows of Japanese consulates and shops and boycott of Japanese goods.

65 Philip P. Pan, "Japan-China Talks Fail to Ease Tensions: Protests Continue as Foreign Ministers Confer in Beijing," The Washington Post, 18 April 2005.

As if to make the matter worse, Japanese Prime Minister, Koizumi Junichiro paid tribute to the Yasukuni Shrine where Class-A war criminals are buried and honored. In response to Koizumi’s Yasukuni Shrine visits, a series of officially tolerated anti-Japanese protests and demonstrations occurred in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities in the spring of 2005.66 This annual visit has provoked strong criticisms from China against the perceived glorification and revival of Japan’s imperialist and militarist past.67 In addition to the growing anti-Japanese sentiment in China, the Chinese government retaliated by suspending major summit meetings with Japan and stated that China would not resume the official talks as long as Prime Minister Koizumi insisted on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. The reasons of official and unofficial protests were multifaceted. Masses paraded with anti-Japanese banners and protested against three issues: the publication of New History Textbook, Koizumi’s Yasukuni Shrine visit, and Japan’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Interestingly, all three issues touched upon the issue of Japan’s wartime past and coincided in a timely manner.

As a result of popular protests in China in 2005, the Sino-Japanese relations hit the lowest point since 1989 during Koizumi’s five-year leadership. 68 While the Chinese perceived Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine as indication of Japan’s non-apologist attitude towards war responsibility, the widespread idea that Japan has failed to learn lessons from its

66 Jiang, Wenran. “New dynamics of Sino-Japanese relations.” Asian Perspective 31, no. 1 (2007): pp. 16.

61 Suzuki, Shogo. “The importance of ‘Othering’ in China natonal identity: Sino-Japanese relations as a stage of identity conflicts.” The Pacific Review 21, no. 1 (2007): pp. 26.

68 Igor Morgulov, "Beijing and Tokyo: Rivalry and Cooperation," International Affairs: A Russian Journal of World Politics Diplomacy & International Relations 51, no. 4 (2005).

past also provoked fear that Japan may again repeat the mistake. Despite Japan’s pacifist Constitution, the recent trend in the Japanese Diet suggests a different story where Article 9 of the Constitution, which declares Japan’s permanent renunciation of the right to war, may risk to be removed. Therefore, in the eyes of Chinese, Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine represent not only the possible revival of Japanese militarism but also a blatant defiance to China’s criticism of Japan’s reluctance to confront its war responsibility. Finally, the protest against Japan’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council challenged the public sentiment that, as a losing country of World War II, Japan deserved no right to have a say in the UN. While the current UN Security Council mirrors the post-WWII power divide, the Council also symbolizes an important source of influence in world affairs that China believes to be beyond the reach of a defeated nation. Perhaps the most important factor that contributed to the public uproar against Japan’s gesture towards the UN comes from the perception that Japan’s inadequate efforts to reconcile its past wrongdoings with neighboring countries, as seen in the textbook controversy and the Yashukuni visits, did not qualify the country for such a high position in the well respected international organization.


The issue of history, specifically the textbook controversy, had a profound diplomatic consequence in China, as the Chinese public opinion in favor of Japan declined significantly from the late 1980s to 2002.69 In addition, Japan’s history problem also spread to other countries with broader political repercussions. In response to the first textbook controversy provoked by Asahi Shinbun's report of the Ministry’s textbook authorization in 1982, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea expressed discomfort at Japan’s attempt to portray distorted history. In particular, the neighboring country, South Korea, reacted to the controversy with massive demonstrations, boycott of Japanese products, and threats of suspending diplomatic relations.70 Contrary to the Chinese experience of officially endorsed media campaigns and staged protests targeted against Japan, Korean protests mirrored anti-Japanese sentiment of popular basis.71 Not to mention the issue of Comfort Women and thirty-five years of Japanese colonization of Korea, public resentment towards Japanese aggression continues to contribute to the popular view of Japan as an aggressor nation. Despite the official acceptance of Chief Cabinet Secretary Miyazawa’s “Neighboring Country Clause” statement, the Korean resentment has been growing.72

Following the publication of New History Textbook in 2001 and the Japanese government’s refusal to correct the controversial textbook, the South Korean government lodged diplomatic protests at a larger scale than China. In addition to the official statement expressing deep disappointment and regret about the Japanese history textbook, angry demonstrators protested in front of the Japanese embassy and on the streets of Seoul. Such a large-scale movement signifies the popular anti-Japanese sentiment stemming from their perceived

69 China and Japan at Odds: Deciphering the Perpetual Conflict, ed. James C. Hsiung (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007).

70 Chalmers Johnson, "The Patterns of Japanese Relations with China, 1952-1982," Pacific Affairs 59, no. 3 (1986).

71 Ibid. P424.

72 "Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kiichi Miyazawa on History Textbooks."

distortion of history in Japan.73 While the Chinese response to the textbook controversy remained critical but moderate in scale, the South Korean government went even further to temporarily recall the ambassador from Japan in 2001.74 Furthermore, the new edition of New History Textbook led to another breakout of massive demonstrations in Seoul in March 2006. These protests over the history problem illustrates South Korea’s firm belief that Japan must continue to apologize for its wrongdoings in Korea, as this insistence is based on an understanding that Japanese colonization of Korea was not only traumatic but also illegal.75

Following China and South Korea’s anti-Japanese demonstrations in 2005, neighboring countries such as Taiwan and Philippines also expressed remorse towards Japan’s handling of history problem. Since Taiwan and Philippines shared similar experience under Japanese military quest, and particularly Philippines with history of comfort women, the governments maintained a critical attitude—though at a smaller scale compared to China and South Korea—towards Japan’s history problem.76 As these critical responses from Asian countries demonstrate, the political repercussions of Japan’s failure to adequately address the history issue have permeated other Asian countries as well. This spillover of Japan’s domestic problem to neighboring countries has serious political implications because the ongoing tensions can endanger Japan’s future diplomatic relations with not only China and South Korea but also Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Philippines. What’s more, the deterioration of diplomatic relations with other

73 "Anger Deepens in History Book Row," BBC News, 10 July 2001.

74 "Japanese History Textbook Raises Concerns," AsiaSource: Asia TODAY http://www.asiasource.org/news/at_mp_02.cfm?newsid=48253#Commentary.

75 Alexis Dudden, Troubled Apologies among Japan, Korea, and the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). P63-64.

76 Carlos H. Conde, "Letter from the Philippines: Long Afterward, War Still Wears Onfilipinos," International Herald Tribute, August 13, 2005.

countries could eventually jeopardize economic relations and thus adversely affect the already shrinking Japanese economy. Consequently, the Japanese government continues to face the challenge of developing stable relations with neighboring countries in Asia by reaching consensus over the disputed vision of its wartime history.

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