Chinese to Japan: Be more like Germany (but not the Nazis)

  • 15 January 2014
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A protester in Hong Kong holds up a sign with photos of current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and World War II Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
Chinese critics think Japan hasn't let go of its imperialist past

The war of words between Japan and China seems to have deteriorated into an international trolling match, what with the level of name-calling and Voldemort-referencing by diplomats on both sides.

The latest bit of over-the-top instigation by the Chinese media compares Japan unfavourably to postwar Germany. Such sentiments have been expressed recently by Chinese officials in print and public statements, but the Chinese papers seem eager to join the fray.

"[Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo] Abe wants to rewrite history to whitewash the atrocities Japan committed on the people in neighbouring countries, especially China, during World War Two, and accord pride of place to war criminals in the country's pantheon," writes Cai Hong in the state-run China Daily.

In contrast, Germany is still on the lookout for Nazi war criminals. In fact, on 8 January, an 88-year-old man in Dortmund was charged with the murder of 25 people, and for aiding and abetting the killings of several hundred residents of Oradour-sur-Glane village in central France in 1944. Germany was an ally of Japan during World War II, but the two countries couldn't be more different today.

China needs to encourage Germany to step in and set Japan straight, according to Ou Wen in Huanqiu Shibao.

"As a third party whose standpoint is relatively detached from the conflict between China and Japan, Germany could teach Japan by example on historical issues," he writes. "China should make use of high-level mutual visits, government consultations and other mechanisms between China and Germany to proactively promote China's stance."

Of course, China also has come up when talk turns to Germany - although the comparison is with the pre-World War One rule of Kaiser Wilhelm II. This rankles the editors of Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times).

"World War One was triggered by a handful of colonial powers which lived in international anarchy and went crazy grabbing land," they write. "But now the world is protected by a set of systems that guarantee free trade and peaceful competition between world powers. China is also involved, observing the rules set by the West. It is committed to self-development by means of a win-win strategy."

Sadly, note the editors, Japan is the real pre-war Germany parallel that the West should be worried about:

Japan today under Abe is similar to pre-World War Two Germany - they are both dissatisfied with the postwar system and are eager to break it and become 'normal countries'; both have fanned nationalist sentiment within their countries to maintain support ratings; and both have strong industrial and technological foundations. Those in the Western media who have compared China to pre-World War One Germany - a growing power uneasy with the current world order - have unfounded fears. The West should cast most of its wariness about China onto Japan instead.

It's the "I know they are, but what am I?" defence, it seems.

So, to summarise: Japan should be more like Germany. But not pre-war Germany. They're already like that. And that's scary.

I wonder how Germans feel about all this.

(From reports provided by BBC Monitoring)