22 September 2019
Chinese troops march past the Tiananmen Gate during the V-Day military parade on Sept. 3. Photo: Reuters/CNSphoto
Chinese troops march past the Tiananmen Gate during the V-Day military parade on Sept. 3. Photo: Reuters/CNSphoto

Decoding Beijing’s WW2 anniversary fanfare

Beijing’s grand commemorations of 70 years of Japan’s defeat in World War Two may have whipped up a new tidal wave of national pride among the masses. 

The Communist authorities, meanwhile, have been downplaying the role played by other forces in ensuring victory for the Chinese people in the battle against Japanese aggression.

Invasion by a foreign power normally entails one of the four different outcomes: 1) the entire territory falls into enemy occupation, 2) invaders get control of most parts of the nation, but a guerrilla resistance movement manages to survive, 3) the war ends in a draw with invaders withdrawing and 4) resisting forces turn the tables on attackers, taking the battle to the invading nation and achieving success.

If the resisting force gets external support, then the scenarios can be further complicated. Japan didn’t gain control of the entire Chinese soil during the war, but China didn’t secure a neat victory either. It was Washington that made Tokyo surrender at the very end, using maritime containment, months of intensive shelling and two atomic bombs in 1945.

Most people in Japan think they were defeated only by the United States, and not China, although Japan handed in a separate Instrument of Surrender on Sept. 9, 1945 in Nanking, capital of the Republic of China.

The move was commended by US President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur in the General Order No. 1, which said that senior Japanese commanders and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces within China (excluding Manchuria), Formosa (Taiwan) and French Indo-China north of 16 north latitude shall surrender to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

Hence the Japanese argue that the nation’s surrender to China was ordered by the United States.

Without the resolute might of the US, the Sino-Japan War might have evolved toward another scenario: a mere draw with Japan unable to win the war and China not defeated.

Faced with a persistent Kuomintang led by Chiang, Tokyo might have opted to pull out its troops, but it might have never surrendered in the way they did after the US pressure.

It’s also questionable whether the Chinese Communist Party would have stuck it out if the Kuomintang were not steadfast in the first place. 

Had it not been for the US and Kuomintang, China might have been thoroughly subjugated, just like how Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler carved up central and eastern Europe.

Beijing’s intent

Beijing’s motive for the fanfare for the war anniversary remains open to question, as 70 is hardly a special number in Chinese culture.

There can be two possible explanations: to win the hearts of senior Kuomintang members who took part in the war, and, to rewrite the past and inject its own version of the party-led defense of the Chinese soil.

Obviously the latter is far more important to Beijing. As the war generation and their stories fade away, editing the history to the party’s advantage can renew nationalism and help the regime consolidate its authoritarian rule under the cloak of patriotism.

The only Taiwan politician that was attending Beijing’s military display was Lien Chan, a former vice president of the island and Kuomintang chairman who has long switched to Beijing’s side.

Given that Beijing deploys numerous missiles and other armaments along the west coast of the Taiwan strait, Lien’s visit has sparked a hefty backlash on the island that may reduce Kuomintang’s odds of victory in next year’s Taiwan presidential election from slim to almost none.

Beijing’s official tone of the war is a dichotomy: Japan’s war crimes can be forgiven but history shall not be forgotten.

Beijing’s logic, while standing on a moral high ground, is self-contradictory as war crimes were indeed history. It’s just like stating “I forgive you but I will never forget your crimes”.

The right stance, from my perspective, should be that “war crimes in the past can never be forgiven but hatred should be cast away”.

War apologies

Another point worth noting is Japan’s war apologies.

It’s often said that in comparison with Germany, Japan lacks sincerity in its apologies over what it has done during World War Two.

In pointing out examples of German contrition, people cite Warschauer Kniefall, an event which saw West German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling down in 1970 at a Polish monument to Nazi regime victims.

But one should note that kneeling down is a sign of regret and penitence in the Christian culture but we all know it means submission and thralldom in Asia. The cultural difference makes it impossible for Japanese leaders to model on their German counterparts.

As we have already seen, Japanese people are more implicit with their apologies, rather than being overt.

Action speaks louder than words. To be fair, Japan has made substantial contributions to the international community in the post-war era.

One proof is its contribution to the United Nations Regular Budget, which has been much higher relative to the nation’s share of the global economy and going beyond the general norm.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 31.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former KMT chairman Lien Chan (second from left) and his wife Lien Fang Yu witness Beijing’s grand military parade. Photo: Internet

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal