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Japan’s Role And The World Order In The 21st Century

How did Japan pursue reconciliation with the United States, Australia, and European countries during the 70 years after the war?

(1) 70 Years of Reconciliation with the United States

(a) The Occupation Era

Given the unprecedented horrors of World War II that preceded it, it was unavoidable that there would be a punitive element by the victors in the occupation of Japan by the Allied Powers led by the United States. In this sense, it cannot be denied that not a few Japanese had something to be discontented with regarding the occupation by the United States. That said, the occupation, which continued from 1945 to 1952, was overall generous towards Japan and largely beneficial for Japanese people. As the significant harshness of the occupation of East Germany and the Eastern European countries by the Soviet Union shows, occupation could result in a situation akin to looting and exploitation by the victor. However, the United States did nothing in Japan that amounted to blatant exploitation. Rather, the United States came to lend a hand of rescue to Japan in dire straits with food and other postwar assistance. The demilitarization of Japan did have an aspect of punishment of the vanquished by the victor. However, although guiding Japan towards democracy and supporting its economic development served the long-term interests of the United States, overall, they were also very much in the interests of Japan as well, and many Japanese supported this.

The U.S. occupation of Japan can be divided into two periods according to the nature of the occupation policy. The first half was a period during which the United States demanded thorough democratization and demilitarization of Japan. The system under the Constitution of Japan, which was adopted in 1946, symbolizes this. Many Japanese supported this move towards democratization and demilitarization, and there was strong support for the Constitution that had been formulated under U.S. influence. In the background of this lay the continuous development of democracy in Japan since the Meiji Restoration. Democratic values had already taken root deeply among the Japanese people by the 1920s through universal suffrage and Taisho Democracy. Although Japan achieved democracy during the occupation under the guidance of the United States, the United States did not introduce democracy to Japan. Rather, the Japanese people had borrowed U.S. power to recover the democratic values that had been wrested away from them by the military and some politicians in the 1930s. 

Japan-US Bilateral Meeting

However, that occupation policy changed with the advent of the global Cold War. In the second half of the occupation, the main emphasis of the U.S. policy was placed on nurturing Japan as a member of the Western camp supporting the containment policy of the United States by assisting Japan’s economic reconstruction. The emergence of the Cold War, which was a shift in the international environment, greatly changed the relationship between the United States and its former enemies including Japan. As the United States was trying to create as many allies as possible and to seek their cooperation in containing the Soviet Union,Japan achieving economic recovery as a democratic state and becoming a powerful ally of the United States in the international community appeared very attractive. The U.S. strategy of bringing Japan into its camp as an independent country became reality with the coming into effect of the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1952. Freed from the yoke of the occupation and its independence regained,Japan ended up building an alliance with the United States, a country against which it had fought a brutal war only seven years earlier. The Japan-U.S. alliance enabled Japan, which had felt anxiety over its national security with only light armaments, to pursue economic development, while giving the United States a platform for maintaining its military influence that it desired in East Asia in the Cold War. Needing the strong economic power of Japan, the United States focused on Japanese reconstruction; it did not seek reparations at the San Francisco Peace Conference, and it gave powerful support to the reentry of Japan into the international trade system by such means as supporting its membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1955. As such,Japan and the United States built an interdependent relationship in which one was strongly in need of the other in terms of the security and economic aspects, while it was not necessarily an equal relationship.

This shift in the occupation policy of the United States was very drastic, and affected Japan domestically. It also left two afterimages of U.S. policy towards Japan, which in turn had a major effect on the perspectives of the other Asian countries on Japan.

(b) Deepening the Alliance

Having built an alliance in which both countries very much needed each other only seven years after the end of the war,Japan and the United States further deepened this relationship in the 1960s. The revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty that Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi carried out in 1960 elevated Japan-US Alliance from what had been a one-sided relationship to a more reciprocal and sturdy one. The Treaty had obligated Japan to allow the United States to use military bases in Japan, but it had not obligated the United States to defend Japan. When Japan sought to change this, the initial U.S. response was cold. However, recognizing the importance of the long-term stability of the bilateral relationship, the United States unexpectedly came to agree to the revision of the Treaty at a considerably early stage, only a brief eight years after it had come into effect in 1952.

The revision of the Treaty ignited a very fierce movement in opposition in Japan, and the Kishi Cabinet wound up resigning as the result. Paradoxically, however, this headwind for the bilateral relationship created an opportunity to further broaden the scope of the Japan U.S. relationship. Having seen the anti-Security Treaty revision movement in Japan, President John F. Kennedy appointed Edwin Reischauer, a Japan ologist who had suggested a need for a deeper dialogue with Japan, as Ambassador to Japan, and launched the United States-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON) with Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda. The initiative by President Kennedy and Prime Minister Ikeda deepened the relationship by broadening the scope of the Japan-U.S. relationship, which until then had been limited almost exclusively to security and economic matters, and built the basis for bilateral grassroots exchanges that form the foundations of the Japan-U.S. relationship today.

The United States was also initially reluctant about the reversion of Okinawa, one of the most serious problems pending between the two countries at that time, due to the United States strong recognition of the strategic importance of the islands. The fact that Okinawa remained under U.S. occupation was perceived as a symbol, which left people with an impression that the relationship between Japan and the United States was not an alliance but rather a relationship of the defeated and the victor, respectively. Meanwhile, the importance of Okinawa to the United States had ever increased since the outbreak of the Vietnam War in 1960. As the war fell deeper into a quagmire, the reversion of Okinawa appeared to be a matter for a distant future. But just then, in 1967, Prime Minister Eisaku Sato visited the United States and succeeded in inserting in the Joint Statement with President Lyndon Johnson words to the effect that an agreement should be reached “within a few years” on a date satisfactory to both sides for the reversion of Okinawa. Furthermore, in 1969, Prime Minister Sato and President Richard Nixon agreed on the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972. It goes without saying that the tenacious negotiating posture of the Sato administration was behind this outcome, but so was the fact that the United States came to decide that the reversion of Okinawa was essential to the stability of the Japan-U.S. relationship from a mid to long-term perspective.

Japan-US Military Cooperation

(c) Tensions in the Japan-U.S. Relationship

Although Japan and the United States had steadily advanced the foundation of the bilateral relationship, they persistently faced difficulties in the 1970s. In July 1971, Richard Nixon, who had assumed the presidency in 1969, announced his visit to China without giving prior notice to Japan, and visited China in 1972,. This, together with his announcement the following month to cancel the convertibility of the dollar to gold, placed the heretofore steady Japan-U.S. relationship under stress. It was around this time as well that the United States began seeing Japan, which had become a major economic power by then, as a rival. The United States also began to feel dissatisfaction with Japan, which persistently continued its effort to increase exports while protecting its domestic market, despite the fact that Japan was already threatening American superiority in several sectors of the global market.

Furthermore, the United States was beginning to recognize Japan as a country that had no intention of taking its responsibilities in international politics commensurate with its economic power. Although Japan continued to faithfully fulfill its obligations under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty to provide military bases for the United States, the United States had become frustrated with the paucity of the former’s contribution on the security front. Thus, it was also during the 1970s that the United States began demanding explicitly that Japan increase its defense expenditures.

From the end of the 1970s on, in the wake of the Second Oil Crisis, Japanese export of fuel-efficient cars to the United States surged, which caused the intensification of the economic friction between Japan and the United States with automobiles at the core. Indeed, the economic friction became a major challenge to Japan-U.S. relations throughout the 1980s. The friction exacerbated at that time against the backdrop of the launch of Perestroika in the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, making it less of a threat to the United States, and therefore the United States had less need to give consideration to the relationship with Japan. Anti-Japan sentiments swelled in the United States to the extent that in the 1980s, though temporarily, there was even a public opinion poll which nailed Japan as the greatest threat to the United States.

While friction kept cropping up frequently with regard to economic issues and frustration mounted in the United States with regard to the level of Japanese contributions on the security front, the foundations of the Japan-U.S. alliance had been supported by the ties between the two as part of the Western alliance confronting the Eastern bloc in the Cold War. However, as the Cold War came to an end with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, there was growing concern about the coming of a great challenge to the Japan-U.S. relationship.

(d) The Evolution of the Japan-U.S. Alliance towards a Relationship for Global Cooperation

The tensions that began in the 1970s, however, did not reach the point to shake the foundations of the Japan-U.S. relationship. Since East Asia remained a region of high uncertainty even after the end of the Cold War, having Japan within such a region as an ally and being able to use military bases there continued to be highly attractive to the United States. The mid-1980s saw the golden age of Japan-U.S. security cooperation in the “Ron-Yasu relationship” between Prime Minister Nakasone and President Ronald Regan. The demise of the Cold War had led some people to adopt the view that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was no longer necessary, but given the threat from North Korea, both Japan and the United States did not change the policy of firmly maintaining the Japan-U.S. Alliance in the post-Cold War world. In 1996, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and President Bill Clinton announced the Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security, which led to the new Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation the following year, further strengthening the Alliance. in addition, the economic situation of the United States took a turn for the better in the 1 990s and Japanese business moved into the United States in significant numbers. Consequently, from the US perspective,Japan changed from an economic threat to an indispensable partner for its own maintenance and development.

Around this time,Japan’s security policy was undergoing major changes.Japan had made extremely limited international contributions in the area of security up to this point, and the official development assistance (ODA) had been used to make up for shortcomings. However, this reliance on ODA had reached its limits with the burst of the bubble economy. Moreover,Japan was deeply shocked by the fact that it received little appreciation from the international community despite making a massive financial contribution to the Gulf War efforts. Under such circumstances, understanding was enhanced in Japan of the need to make international contributions on the security front, and Japan embarked on its course of proactive contribution to peace with the dispatch of minesweepers to the Persian Gulf after the Gulf War, participation in UN peacekeeping operation (PKO) activities in Cambodia and so on, a course that continues to this day.

The United States greatly welcomed the change in Japan’s security policy. There was nothing inevitable about the robust Japan-U.S. Alliance under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President George W. Bush between 2001 and 2006. Having increased its international contributions on the security front,Japan supported the U.S. fight against terrorism after the simultaneous multiple terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 with refueling operations in the Indian Ocean and other means, and also dispatched Self-Defense Force personnel to Iraq to participate in the reconstruction efforts there. It was the orientation towards proactively contributing to international peace that Japan had continuously presented and the new form of the Japan-U.S. alliance, where Japan and the United States would work together to tackle global security issues, that the United States and President Bush valued highly.

(2) 70 Years of Reconciliation with Australia and Europe

(a) Deeply Rooted Anti-Japanese Sentiment

Since Europe was a central player in World War I and deeply felt the suffering of that war, it led the efforts to set a major trend toward the prevention of war in the international community before World War II through the 1919 Covenant of the League of Nations and the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact (the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy) in 1928. This trend toward the out lawry of war through the League of Nations and the Kellogg-Briand Pact was hit by a serious blow from the Manchurian Incident of 1931. The destruction of the peaceful order by Japan was a huge shock for the United Kingdom,France, and the other European countries, as can be seen in the statement by UK historian E. H. Carr that “Japan’s conquest of Manchuria was one of the most important historical landmark since the end of World War I.”

In the process of Japan expanding its supremacy in Asia, the European countries lost their colonies and many of their own countries’ citizens had been taken prisoner, so antagonism to wards Japan became a sentiment widely shared among their citizens. In Europe, this sentiment was the strongest in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, as they lost many of their own citizens in the war with Japan. The situation was the same in Australia, which had fought Japan in the Asia-Pacific region, and just like Europe, many of its citizens had been taken prisoner.Australia and Europe were particularly shocked by the brutal treatment of prisoners by Japan during wartime. During World War II, the death rate on the battlefields on the European front lines and the death rate of British prisoners in Germany and Italy were both 5%, but the death rate of people who became prisoners of the Japanese Army recorded at 25%, a much higher figure. The treatment of prisoners by Japan, which caused strong indignation among the people of Australia and Europe, remained a major obstacle to reconciliation between Japan and these countries for a long time after the war.

In the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the state of war between Australia and the countries of Western Europe on one side and Japan on the other was terminated, and the problem of the prisoners for Japan was also resolved legally under Article 16 of the Treaty which stipulated payment to prisoners. Based on that clause,Japan paid a total amount of approximately 5.9 billion yen to approximately 200,000 former prisoners from 14 countries including Australia and European countries, but the payments were minor compared to the cruel experiences they had gone through. For example, the amount received by individual prisoners in the United Kingdom averaged no more than 76.5 pounds. This prisoner problem cast a long shadow over the subsequent relationships between Japan and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia. They concluded the San Francisco Peace Treaty, but hatred and antagonism toward Japan remained deep-rooted in Australia and Europe. The governments of each country were fully aware of the fact that the problem of the prisoners had been resolved between governments under the treaty, but among the former prisoners who retained memories of their tragic experiences during World War II and their families, the sentiment that Japan had not sufficiently expressed remorse over or indemnified for its past conduct strongly remained. When Emperor Showa visited Europe in 1971, he was confronted with strong protests from some people, in particular war veterans, in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In 1993, former prisoners’ organizations in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands filed lawsuits against Japan demanding individual compensation. When the reigning Emperor visited the United Kingdom in 1998, some war veterans staged protests. As these examples showed, hard feelings toward Japan in these countries continued until the second half of the 1990s. 

Japanese PM With EU Leaders

(b) The Government and the Private Individuals Working Together for Reconciliation

In this way, the relationship between Australia,United Kingdom, and Netherlands and Japan continued to be tough for many years, but major progress has been seen over the past 20 years. Against the background of the issue of compensation having been resolved by the treaty, the question of how to treat compensation for individual victims is an extremely difficult problem as can be seen in current Japan-South Korea relations. The action that Japan has taken with Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands has been the government providing as much support as possible for private sector’s assistance to the war victims.

In relations with the United Kingdom, various private efforts began in the 1980s such as the invitation of former prisoners to Japan, pilgrimages to cemeteries in Southeast Asia, and memorial services in the Yokohama British Common wealth War Cemetery. The Government of Japan was uninterested in and unaccommodating of these activities toward reconciliation by private sector until the 1980s, but it began to actively support these activities in the first half of the 1990s and finally, the Government of Japan came to offer full support for the activities by private sector for reconciliation between Japan and the United Kingdom. The government’s efforts toward reconciliation subsequently led to the 1994 Peace, Friendship, and Exchange Initiative announced in the Murayama Statement. This initiative disbursed about 90.0 billion yen over 10 years and organized a variety of exchanges and historical researcher exchanges withAustralia, theUnited Kingdom, theNetherlands, and other countries, and played a major role in the improvement of the image ofJapanin these countries.

In relations with the Netherlands, there was also the problem of comfort women in addition to the problem of the war prisoners. Through the Asian Women’s Fund project, the victims received medical and welfare support funded out of the government budget and a letter of apology from the prime minister. Partly due to the existence of the comfort women problem, the Netherlands was a country in which even stronger anti-Japanese sentiment existed than in the United Kingdom, but the sincere letters of apology from successive prime ministers and the support projects for the former victims obtained the understanding of the Government of the Netherlands, and led to a positive evaluation within that country.

Regarding Australia, immediately after the end of the war, the country held an extremely critical view of Japan. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Robert G. Menzies said, “Hostility to Japan must go. It is better to hope than always to remember.”, and concluded the Agreement on Commerce between Japan and the Commonwealth of Australia with Prime Minister Kishi in 1957. Since then, exchanges between the two countries have been extremely vigorous, particularly in the economic sphere, and the image of Japan inside Australia has improved.Japan is a major export destination for natural resources of Australia, and Japanese companies are investing and entering the market in Australia. So as a consequence now, both countries are indispensable to each other.

(3) Evaluation of the 70 Years of Reconciliation with the United States, Australia, and Europe World War II was the most brutal war that the human race has experienced to date, and citizens of each country that became involved in the war experienced deep suffering which cannot be extinguished in a short time. Reconciliation after such a war is not easy, and perhaps full reconciliation may be difficult to begin with. Actually in Japan, there are citizens who are discontent about the Great Tokyo Air Raid, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the treatment of people of Japanese descent, and the nature of the occupation by the United States, and there are people in the United States, Australia, and Europe who are discontent with Japan about the treatment of the war prisoners. Nonetheless, even if full reconciliation is impossible, we can conclude that Japan and the United States,Australia, and Europe have achieved a reconciliation supported even at the citizen level over the 70 years since the war.

For countries that fought the war, there are two options after the war is over. The first is a path of continuing to criticize the other country about the past and continuing to hate it. And the other is a path of reconciling and placing importance on cooperation toward the future.Japan and the United States,Australia, and Europe chose the second path. Why were Japan and these countries able to achieve reconciliation and travel the path of cooperation with enemies with whom they had waged bloody battles? What is the difference from those countries that chose the first path in their relations with Japan and did not travel the path of reconciliation? The answer is that both the perpetrators and the victims patiently endeavored to build future-oriented relations. It is a major premise that the perpetrators compensate the victims with a sincere attitude, but it is also important for the victims to accept these feelings of the perpetrators with a heart of tolerance. This has been demonstrated not only by relations between Japan and the United States, Australia, and Europe but also by the fact that France was magnanimous in Germany-France relations and Israel was magnanimous in Germany Israel relations, each in their own way, and they were positive and forward-looking about improving their relations with Germany, leading to the good relations they have today.

Relations between Japan and the United States,Australia, and Europe today are robust ones bound together by our mutual trust, respect, shared values, mutual understanding, and exposure to each other’s cultures. In particular, we can conclude that the fact that Japan and the United States, two countries that fought an all-out war for four years from 1941, were able to form a robust and good alliance within a short period of time, testifies that our bilateral relations achieved a rare success in the history of the world. This is of great historical significance. However, as stated above, it is still difficult to conclude that full reconciliation has been achieved with respect to World War II, and there are still people in the United States,Australia, and Europe who think that Japan has not yet apologized sufficiently.

We should take pride in the history of reconciliation with these countries over the past 70 years, but at the same time, we must not forget the spirit of consideration for others and humility.




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  • 24 Mar 2016 33°C 22°C
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