Fingleton vs. China: The empire strikes back

East Asian officials don’t take it lying down when a foreign correspondent investigates their guilty secrets.

Below is an article I wrote for the International Herald Tribune‘s editorial page on the seventieth anniversary of the Nanking Massacre. The article noted not only that the victims and their heirs have never been compensated but that Beijing has actually cooperated with Tokyo in this policy (among other things, as I point out in my new book In the Jaws of the Dragon, Beijing has blocked victims from bringing suit in international courts). As someone who in 1995 broke a long-standing taboo about writing about Japan’s extraordinarily parsimonious war reparations policy, I knew that retribution would come quickly (discussion of Japan’s war reparations policy is to East Asian studies roughly what the third rail is to the New York subway). I was, however, unprepared for the brazenness with which vengeance would be administered. It took the form of two letters to the editor suggesting completely falsely that I held that Japan had not committed any war-time atrocities. The letter writers also preposterously suggested I had advocated that references to the Nanking massacre be deleted from school textbooks. The Herald Tribune, in its innocence, published these letters without checking either what I had written or whether the writers of the letters were legitimate (in fact they have proved untraceable). Basically I was framed. Yet in reality not only are my true views the opposite of those attributed to me but this was obvious from my article, which among other things described the Nanking massacre as “one of the worst atrocities in military history.”

As if this were not enough, there was a sequel to the sequel when I discovered about ten days later that my original article had suddenly disappeared from the newspaper’s website ( Meanwhile the letters remained. Anyone checking into the affair would be forgiven for believing that the original article was so vile that the “embarrassed” editors had had to take it down. I notified the newspaper and the article has now, after a delay of several weeks, been restored.

There is a special significance to this in that many books editor who are considering reviewing In the Jaws of the Dragon are likely to consult the Nexis database of news clippings. The first thing they will find there are two letters preposterously presenting the book’s author as the East Asian studies equivalent of a Holocaust denier.

Letters to the IHT/Thursday, December 20, 2007

Memory and war crimes

Regarding Eamonn Fingleton’s column, “The rape of Nanking: A quiet anniversary” (Views, Dec. 17): It is despicable to suggest (and praise) Chinese and Japanese officials for being pragmatic in ignoring the anniversary of the massacre in the name of mutual economic cooperation. The idea that such an outrageous human tragedy inflicted by an invading force upon innocent civilians not be taught and remembered is itself a bigger tragedy.

Has the author ever suggested that the Jews should stop reminding their children and the world about the Nazi concentration camps, or that the Holocaust Memorial in Tel Aviv be moved to a kibbutz far from the tourist track, lest some visitors be offended?
Yes, it is practical and necessary to forgive and to forge new human relationships, but never to forget – in order that truth and history prevail for the sake of civilization and humanity.

C.W. Young, Fuellinsdorf, Switzerland

I quite disagree with the Fingleton’s viewpoint. In his discussion about the 70th anniversary of the Nanking massacre he is surprised by the lack of anti-Japanese sentiment around China. He further suggests that China should be thankful for Japanese investment and international support. I give credit to Japanese businessmen for investing in China since the 1970s. But it is a quid pro quo – the Japanese should also be thankful to China for opening its market for imports and investments; China also helps in convincing North Korea to give up its ambition to develop nuclear weapons – a threat to Japan.

However, that does not mean Japan was not guilty of wartime atrocities, especially in China. Unlike Germany, Japan has never admitted its guilt, and certain members of its government continue to mask the truth about its actions during World War II.

Kwok-Yin Chan, Austin, Texas

The original article is below:

A quiet anniversary
By Eamonn Fingleton
Monday, December 17, 2007

NANJING: For observers of Sino-Japanese relations the big news in the past week has been that there has been no news. Although last Thursday marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the notorious Nanking massacre, political activists in both Japan and China have been notable – so far at least – for their restraint.

Given that the massacre, which began on Dec. 13, 1937, and continued for six weeks, was one of the worst atrocities in military history, the Chinese people would be forgiven for expressing their feelings in less muted terms. On conservative estimates, at least 150,000 people were annihilated in what was then the Chinese capital of Nanking (the city now known as Nanjing) and in many cases their deaths took place in circumstances of almost unbelievable cruelty and depravity.

Although it may be too soon to conclude that the Chinese people have forever put recriminations behind them, relations between Japan and China actually have grown considerably closer than is generally understood in the West.

The story goes back to the early 1970s, when just months after President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing, Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka made a similar visit. Amid burgeoning trade links, the once icy Sino-Japanese relationship immediately began to thaw. Japanese corporations started making substantial investments in China in the 1980s and, as the years have gone by, Japanese officials have become ever more generous in permitting large transfers of advanced Japanese manufacturing technology. They have also advanced vast amounts of official economic aid. For decades, China has been by far the largest beneficiary of Japan’s huge aid program.

Japan moreover has been highly effective behind the scenes in helping China take an ever more prominent role in world affairs. As early as 1972, six years ahead of the United States, Japan recognized the Beijing Communist regime as the true government of China. Japan went on to help China join the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and crucially the World Trade Organization.

Japan’s careful behind the scenes diplomacy in support of China’s WTO application began in the 1980s.

After the Tiananmen massacre, Japanese officials took the lead in rehabilitating the Beijing regime and crucially they insisted that the West should de-link human rights from trade policy.

Clearly Beijing has much to thank Tokyo for. However, the rapprochement has hardly been entirely one-sided. The Japanese have insisted on important quid pro quos. In particular, though this has been little reported in the West, they have induced Beijing to acquiesce in an intransigent Japanese policy of refusing to make any official compensation payments in respect of war-time atrocities.

Chinese leaders have also cooperated with Japan’s agenda in another important respect: trade. While other developed nations bitterly complain about Chinese trade barriers, the Japanese have proved spectacularly successful in exporting to China. Thus, according to the CIA’s figures, China now buys more than twice as much from Japan as from the United States and, as of 2006, actually incurred a deficit of $8 billion on its bilateral trade with Japan (compared with a surplus of $232 billion with the United States).

In a remarkable irony, evidence of the Sino-Japanese rapprochement is widely apparent even in Nanjing. On a visit to the city last summer I was startled to see how large the Japanese economic footprint had become. The best hotels seemed to be teeming with visiting Japanese executives. So were the best eateries, not least the city’s many Japanese restaurants.

Meanwhile there were virtually no visible reminders of what had happened in 1937 – at least not in the city’s main commercial districts. True the city boasts a memorial museum but, located far off the beaten track, it requires a special trip across the Qinhuai river. That is not something visiting Japanese executives are likely to have time for. Nor is it something their pragmatic Chinese hosts are likely to suggest.

Eamonn Fingleton is the author of “In the Jaws of the Dragon: America’s Fate in an Era of Chinese Hegemony,” which will be published in March.

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