What's the point of commemorating victory over Japan?

May 14, 2015 14:49
Former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten (left photo) attends a Liberation Day ceremony. Chief executive CY Leung pays tribute during the 69th anniversary of Japan's Sept. 3 surrender in World War II. Photos: Xinhua, Apple Daily

September 3 is a statutory holiday in Hong Kong to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

That makes Hong Kong one with China in celebrating the event. The government said as much when it made the announcement on Wednesday.

The arrangement is only for this year and would have to be approved by the Legislative Council, but given that legislators from both sides of the political divide have no objections, it's as good as a done deal.

In following Beijing's example, the Hong Kong government is trying to promote patriotism in the former British colony, hoping the public will see it as an opportunity to reconnect with the mainland.

From a narrow perspective, it's good news for people seeking an extra day off, especially those who have a day to spare to link it to a long weekend (Sept. 3 is a Thursday).

The wider implications are something else.

Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-Kai thinks the Hong Kong government was quick to follow Beijing's lead because it had no choice.

There's a sense that this is all part of China's efforts to gain the upper hand in its public relations tussle with Japan over the historical context of the war and Hong Kong is being co-opted as a reluctant player.

But what exactly is the significance of Japan's surrender for Hong Kong?

Compared with Liberation Day, which had been celebrated in Hong Kong every year on Aug. 30 until the handover, Sept. 3 holds no special meaning.

Hong Kong used to have two holidays in August to mark its liberation from Japanese occupation in 1945 and its return to British administration.

Both were historically important for Hong Kong people in honoring their own who died fighting in defense of the territory.

And the celebrations were more in line with the Allied victory in the larger theater with the liberation of Europe and Asia, not just the defeat of the Japanese empire.

The Sept. 3 commemoration may have great significance for the mainland but even that is being overshadowed by the political motive being ascribed to it.

Imagine the impact on the world of a grand military parade, complete with China's weapons of war, and the message it could send to Tokyo.

Even if Beijing decides on a more low-key observance, its intended audience will hardly miss it because everything in China is on a large scale.

Since President Xi Jinping came to power three years ago, Beijing has been increasingly projecting both hard and soft power, particularly over its supranational issues. 

Territorial disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu islands and with other claimants in the South China Sea have seen increased assertiveness by China. The Sept. 3 observance is perhaps an extension of that.

Ultimately, however, it's both a national event and a rest day.

Many Chinese are already planning to spend a long weekend in Japan, their newest holiday favorite.

You couldn't miss the irony.

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EJ Insight writer