Germany’s reputation for peaceful reconciliation with neighboring countries over the problem of history deserves close examination. In case of Japan, the government’s reluctance to allow other countries to meddle with its textbook content has come at price of damaged diplomatic and trade relations. Japan’s unwillingness to compromise and failure to take moral and legal responsibility for its past wrongdoings continue to fuel resentment among Asian countries. Since the end of the Cold War, a considerable amount of literature about Sino-Japanese relations was devoted to comparing Japan’s postwar experience with that of Germany. While Japan is depicted as offering vague apologies and attempting to distort its dark history, Germany has received praise as a role model for confronting the past by offering apologies and compensations to victims of the Nazi regime.77 This contrast between Japan and Germany has illustrated the difference in respective country’s postwar policy concerning war responsibility, as well as the impact on the development of regional diplomacy.78

77 Tsuyoshi Hasegawa and Kazuhiko Togo, East Asia's Haunted Present: Historical Memories and the Resurgence of Nationalism, Psi Reports (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2008). PI8.

78 Ibid.

The comparison of Germany with Japan usually leads to a conclusion where Germany is admired as a model nation for having successfully reconciled history with its neighbors, whereas Japan’s denial of war responsibility has greatly harmed relations with Asian neighbors. A close examination of the two countries reveals that the comparison may not do justice to Japan, which has different postwar experience than Germany.79 Thus, the conclusion based on this comparison model may not provide a fair evaluation of Japan. Nevertheless, much can be learned from Germany’s rapprochement with France by examining major factors that rendered the reconciliation and regional integration of Europe possible. By comparing the postwar experience of China and Japan to that of France and Germany, I hope to gain an insight about the ways of constructing shared history between two historically hostile nations. Such an insight from the European experience can enable China and Japan to discover new possibilities of mutual cooperation and regional integration in the future. We begin with an analysis of geopolitical and economic factors that allowed Germany to regain credibility as a pacifist nation in the eyes of France.


The politics of reconciliation after destructive World War II became a popular motif of Franco-German relations. In particular, Germany and France are two major founders of the

19 Ibid.

European Union—a highly integrated community of economic and political relations in Europe. The path to postwar rapprochement was by no means easy, as two countries tried to overcome historical hostility through various postwar concessions and compromises. With millions of Europeans dead, the destructive result of World War II propelled leaders to seek ways in order to avoid another war at all cost. Especially between France and Germany, who experienced 130 years of constant warfare and conflicts, there emerged a strong anti-war sentiment not only among leaders but also among people.80 The critical question at this time was: “How can Europe avoid another destructive war?” In addressing this question, the United States encouraged Europe to pursue a policy of enhancing economic interdependence in the region so that war would become too costly and unimaginable. Such a proposition gave birth to the Marshall Plan in 1948—an aid provided by the United States to help Europe reconstruct economies and promote regional development by reducing trade barriers.

What’s noteworthy about the European postwar experience is that, aside from the US initiatives to help situations, Germany also actively sought to be re-integrated into Western Europe by agreeing to various treaties, which eventually evolved into the present-day EU. With an increasing military threat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the so-called “German Question” emerged. How can Europe prevent Germany from resorting back to the fascist regime again? How can Germany be reintegrated into democratic Western Europe? How can the Soviet threat be deterred? To answer these questions, it seemed logical to bind Germany institutionally to a collective system of multilateral diplomacy and policy-making, thus the theory of

80 Richard E. Baldwin, "East Asian Regionalism: A Comparison with Europe," in Japanese Ministry of Finance's Study Group on China (Tokyo2003). P 1.

supranational Europe emerged as a means of promoting deeper integration among member states to deter future threats from the Soviet Union and restore prosperity in the region.81

Beginning with 1950, a number of bilateral initiatives aimed at reconciling history and fostering multilateral cooperation took place. The first plan, known as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), linked economically and militarily significant steel and coal industries of France and Germany. The presence of a supranational authority independent of national governments governed the institutional mechanism of the ECSC. The successful institution subsequently gave rise to the European Economic Community (EEC), signed between six European countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, France, and Germany) in 1958.82 immediate benefit of the EEC membership was trade liberalization and reduced trade barriers. As easy inter-state trade allowed member states to prosper, the institutional framework of the EEC became an integral part of Franco-German relations. The evolution of the EEC into the EU signified the successful policy based on institutionalism and spillover effects. Although the Franco-German rapprochement commenced as an economic project with trade liberalization, efforts to push further integration signaled both countries’ recognition of multilateral cooperation as an effective means of healing old wounds of historical animosity. As witnessed in the recent success of the EU, the spillover effect of economic into political realm appears increasingly plausible as the multilateral institutions become more complex and sophisticated. Finally, one must not forget that the EU emerged as a result of efforts by its

81 Ibid, p 2.

82 Georg Wiessala and University Association for Contemporary European Studies., The European Union and Asian Countries, Contemporary European Studies 16 (London New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002). P 36.

enthusiastic founders—Germany and France—to reconcile historical hostility and prevent future conflicts. According to Alice Ackermann, “the creation of a Western European Community through a combined Franco-German effort was one of the earliest postwar confidence-building measures”83 Thus, the EEC represented the first institutionalized setting in which Franco-German rapprochement occurred.84


The lesson from the German-Franco rapprochement for Sino-Japanese relations is evident. Regional economic integration can serve as a means of fostering closer ties between China and Japan. As the EEC had objectives of ensuring peace and stability in the region, member states have always strived to “form an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.”85 For the EU, the intensity of trade has allowed countries to engage in not only in economic interactions but also in exchange of ideas that contributed to the mutual understanding of the past. In the case of Asia, the ASEAN has played and could play a crucial role in promoting trade liberalization and cultivating a sense of unity among Asian countries. This, in return, could lead to confidence-building between countries and reduce diplomatic frictions caused by the disagreement over history. Although the reality of the ASEAN still remains far from the EU’s

83 Alice Ackermann, "Reconciliation as a Peace-Building Process in Postwar Europe: The Franco-German Case," Peace History Society 19, no. 3 (1994). P224.

84 Ibid. P245.

85 Baldwin, "East Asian Regionalism: A Comparison with Europe." P7.

Common Market and political union, China and Japan, as Asia’s superpowers, can cooperate to push for deeper integration in the region. Such an initiative will require bilateral collaboration and consensus over disputed historical narratives. Moreover, regional integration will not occur without convergence of economic and political cooperation. Therefore, it is crucial that China and Japan abstain from the lure of the political gains, and instead seek for a long-term solution to the problem related to history.

Although the case study presents an insightful lesson from the European experience, one also needs to recognize the limits of reconciliation and economic integration. While reconciling the past does not necessarily prevent future conflicts, the existence of institutional links can provide useful forums to resolve potential conflict of interests. In addition, the case study of Germany may not be pertinent to Japan’s case since it neglects different domestic and international factors had shaped Japan’s attitude toward war guilt and responsibility. In comparing Germany to Japan, there exist four factors that address Japan’s inadequate response. First, the delay in Japan’s recognition and confrontation with wartime past is due to the unique arrangements and geopolitical circumstances in the postwar era. The San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951) signed between Japan and the Allied Power, for example, did not oblige Japan to pay war reparations directly to victim countries. Instead, the Treaty asked Japan to direct compensations to the third party organization for distributions to victim countries. Contrary to Germany, who passed legislations to provide legal compensations to victim countries, the Japanese government never passed law of compensations to China, South Korea, and other Asian countries.86 Thus, individuals can only seek compensations by filing demands against the Japanese government, and the provision of the San Francisco Peace Treaty often allows Japan to reject such individual demands. In addition, the onset of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the victory of Communist Party in China meant that Japan faced a difficult choice in Asia. As a close ally of the United States, Japan followed containment policy and minimized contact with China and the Soviet Union. Moreover, Japan had other urgent domestic agenda such as economic development. Aside from the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, the US showed little will to press charges against Japan’s war crimes. Thus, China remained isolated from democratic Japan, and bilateral contacts remained limited during the early period of the Cold War. This unique geopolitical situation has contributed Japan’s sluggishness and reluctance in confronting its wartime responsibility.

The second factor lies in domestic politics and the dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the postwar government. A number of Japanese generals accused of war crimes were released and eventually returned to the postwar government. This political loophole has contributed to the formation of the LDP’s conservative ideology with respect to Japan’s past of military conquests.87 As evidence, the government’s patriotic education campaigns and the Ministry’s textbook screening procedure echo the party’s general attitude. Thirdly, the absence of institutional framework such as the EEC in Europe did not exist in Asia during the postwar

86 Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States. Edited by Laura Hein and Mark Selden. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2000. P5E

87 Hasegawa and Togo, East Asia's Haunted Present: Historical Memories and the Resurgence of Nationalism. P29-30.

period.88 The influence of regional organizations remained minimal and very few social groups were present at that time. As a result, virtually no institutional mechanism existed to facilitate direct dialogues between Japan, China, and other Asian countries. This lack of multilateral forums impeded efforts to foster mutual understanding by discussing and resolving the grievances of victim countries. Lastly, China’s decision to prioritize and pursue economic relations with Japan meant that the problem of history remained a less important agenda in the bilateral relations.89Therefore, China’s deliberate silence put the issue of history under a diplomatic table, at least until the internationalization of the textbook controversy in 1982.

With both external and internal factors, certain geopolitical, domestic, and regional circumstances have delayed Japan’s self-reflection of war responsibility. As mentioned previously, the case study of Germany may not serve as an appropriate model since geopolitical situations differed significantly in respective countries. Nevertheless, the European experience provides an insightful perspective about the importance of institutions, particularly regional economic organizations, to facilitate the process of reconciliation between historically hostile nations.

88 Ibid. P31.

89 Johnson, Chalmers. "The Patterns of Japanese Relations with China, 1952-1982." Pacific Affairs 59, no. 3 (1986): 26. P21.

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