The shocking assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe by a lone gunman on July 8 became an international news event, second only to the war in Ukraine. The next day, Time magazine released an image of its next cover, featuring a black-and-white photograph of Abe.
Meanwhile, countries including Taiwan, Australia, Brazil, India and the US lowered their national flags to half-mast to mourn Abe’s passing.
Abe’s untimely and violent death elicited a strong reaction from the Japan electorate. At the House of Councilors elections held just three days after the shooting, the Liberal Democratic Party, and three other parties that also support amending the pacifist post-World War II Japanese constitution, won a combined 177 seats. This provides the Japanese government with a two-thirds majority in the upper house of parliament to enact a constitutional amendment. Japanese voters have expressed their will in a decisive manner.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said after the election results were announced that he would fulfill Abe’s long-held wish to return Japan to normalized nationhood by removing the second paragraph of Article 9 of the constitution, which states that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
I believe that historians inside and outside Japan are likely to conclude that Abe paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to his nation. Why do I believe this to be the case?
German lawmaker Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “It’s tragic that it took a war like this, but now we Germans have woken up with a bang.”
Although Germany has been reluctant to increase the size of its military given the legacy of the Nazi era, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced a 100 billion euros (US$102 billion) increase in defense spending, saying it is the beginning of a new era.
Now Japan, as another former Axis Power, is following in Germany’s footsteps and preparing to transform the Japan Self-Defense Forces to a fully fledged fighting force.
The two nations are entering a new era and stepping out from the shadows cast by their World War II legacies.
The only major country to ride in the opposite direction is China. After Abe’s death, a number of shops and restaurants in China flew red banners outside their storefronts, inscribed with messages such as: “Yesterday was July 7, today Abe is no more.” Why the emphasis on that date?
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident on July 7, 1937, triggered the Second Sino-Japanese War. Chinese references to the incident in connection to Abe’s assassination is obviously mischief-making by ideologues, and reflects the blind alley of Han Chinese nationalism that many of them have collectively wandered into.
That such behavior occurs in China is unremarkable.
However, a number Taiwanese loudly objected to the government’s lowering of the national flag after Abe’s death. One was former Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Discipline Committee chairman and attorney Yeh Ching-yuan (葉慶元), who said: “If you want to engage in Japanolatry, that’s your prerogative, but please do not violate the law.”
The Chinese term for “Japanolatry” is composed of the characters for “fawn on” (媚) and “Japan” (日). It is a derogatory term used by extremist Han Chinese nationalists.
Yeh’s accusation that the government has breached the law is a reference to the Half-mast Implementation Regulations (國旗下半旗實施辦法).
He is wrong to do so.
That law does not apply when a president issues an executive order to lower the national flag. Also, Article 4 of the regulations provides the president with the authority to lower the flag to half-mast for “individuals with special, outstanding or significant contribution” to the nation.
It is not for Yeh to determine whether Abe has made such a contribution.
The rhetorical formula of “one family on either side of the Taiwan Strait” is founded upon an ideology that harks back to the Chinese “motherland” and is shared by the likes of Broadcasting Corp of China chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康), former KMT chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) and Sun Yat-sen School president Chang Ya-chung (張亞中). They might be physically in Taiwan, but their souls are in China.
The KMT promotes language borrowed straight from China with phrases such as the “war of resistance against Japan” or “eight-year arduous war,” both referring to the Second Sino-Japanese War. These terms have no relation to Taiwan or Taiwanese society, as the nation was a Japanese colony at the time of the war.
Regardless of adhering to a pro-Japanese or pro-Chinese ideology, Taiwanese have always rejected militarism.
Japan today is a thriving democracy, while China is the enemy of democratic principles. Taiwan and Japan must jointly resist Chinese fascism.
Abe coined the term “Indo-Pacific region” as a strategic framework and stated that “Taiwan’s problem is Japan’s problem.”
Taiwanese are grateful to Abe in the same spirit that Ukrainians thank British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his support of their country.
The rest of the world has finally turned a page on World War II. If Chinese wish to wallow in the pages of history, that is their prerogative. Taiwan and Japan can now walk forward into the future, shoulder to shoulder, with the democratic world.
Chin Heng-wei is a political commentator
Translated by Edward Jones
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