Wed, Aug 10, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Ghosts of history haunt East Asia

By Antonio Chiang 江春男

This year marks the centenary of the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and on Aug. 15 many countries will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. Of course, Japan's military dominance in East Asia -- which began with the Russo-Japanese War and led to World War II -- is no more. But the ghosts of this history still hang over East Asia, with each country struggling to find ways to deal with the past.

China is a benchmark. Over the centuries, Japan and China have taken turns dominating East Asia and both now seek to assert regional hegemony. Historically, the Korean Peninsula was the playground for this rivalry, but, with North and South Korea appearing to make peace with each other, South Korea is also staking a claim to regional influence.

Resentment over past wrongs buttresses all of these rival claims for influence.

During his visit to the US in June, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun told US President George W. Bush that China had invaded Korea more than 100 times. His remarks shocked China, which views itself as the victim of invasions (most humiliatingly, by the Japanese) and has forgotten its own history of bullying its neighbors.

Roh also openly criticizes Japan for its cowardice in not facing up to its war crimes, saying that it does not deserve a seat on the UN Security Council. Japan long colonized Korea, and during World War II, Koreans were forced to join the Japanese Imperial Army -- a situation similar to that of Taiwan. But whereas the struggle between China and Japan for dominance over Korea was the focal point of the East Asian drama, Taiwan was but a sideshow, a mere outpost of the imperial Qing Dynasty, while Korea was a vassal paying tribute to China.

After defeating both the Qing Dynasty and Russia, Japan not only gained control over the Korean Peninsula, but also extended its reach deep into Northeast China. As East Asia's "Big Brother," Japan's Kwantung Army founded Manchukuo in northeast China in 1932. Japan wanted Manchukuo to become what India was to Britain or what Algeria was to France -- a crown jewel of the empire -- and sent a million immigrants (800,000 of whom died after postwar Manchukuo was taken over by Russia) while investing huge sums to develop heavy industry.

Japan's government in Nanking under Wang Jingwei (汪精衛) was like Germany's Vichy government in France under Henri-Philippe Petain. Both were treated as traitors after the war ended. By contrast, as a result of long colonization, Taiwan and Korea had developed both resistance toward and reliance on their rulers. With only a few exceptions, the local elite was assimilated into the colonial system.

But the outcome was similar throughout the region following Japan's defeat. Civil war broke out in China, the Korean Peninsula was divided and the other Southeast Asian colonies, with the sole exception of Thailand, resorted to military force to achieve independence.

China has still failed to face up to the history of Manchukuo and its civil war, not to mention opening the secret files concerning Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) decision to send almost 1 million soldiers into the Korean War. South Korea initiated talks with the Japanese government only recently on retrieving the remains of Korean slave workers. More than 20,000 Taiwanese and about the same number of Korean soldiers who died for Japan are worshipped at Japan's Yasukuni shrine.

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