By Bhaskar Roy*
On September 3, China will hold a huge military parade in Beijing to commemorate its victory over Japan, and the end of the Second World War. The Chinese people will see this parade, foreign dignitaries will also be there, and the event will be reported all over the world.
China has reasons to celebrate, even if it is the 70th anniversary. Around 15 million Chinese died during the Japanese aggression from 1937 to 1945. It is true that Chinese civilians suffered enormously at the hands of the Japanese army, including women who were taken as “comfort women” or “sex slaves”. The Koreans suffered as much at the hands of the Japanese.
Other countries also suffered under Japanese occupation, including prisoners of war (POWs) who were expected to be treated differently. Those who survived the infamous Japanese “death rail”, railway line constructed for the Japanese army, lived to tell terrible tales of torture and deprivation. Many of them later suffered from mental disorders. They were not Chinese but nationals of other countries, who also need to be remembered. Yet how long can retributions and demand for reparations continue?
Post Second World War, occupation armies have committed unpardonable atrocities on the occupied people and those who resisted them. For instance, during the war of liberation in 1971 which led to the birth of Bangladesh, the Pakistani army committed comparable atrocities on the Bengali people of East Pakistan. An estimated three million Bengalis were killed, three hundred thousand of their women raped, and thousands of children, the old and infirm massacred. Bengali children were rounded up for target practice by the Pakistani army. The Bangladeshis too require closure and reparations.
At least some Japanese leaders were executed as war criminals. No Pakistani leader or war criminal was ever called to account because Pakistan had powerful international supporters, especially the USA and China. It would only be in the fitness of things if China’s president also mentions such crimes against humanity in his address on September 3.
These do not take away, in any way, the sufferings of the Chinese people. The war against the Japanese was fought not only by the army of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who were peripheral. The nationalist army of KMT fought the main war on China’s soil and although the KMT was defeated by the Red Army in 1949, they deserve congratulations, praise or at least a mention.
It was the American nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that broke the back of the Japanese war machine. Post-war Japan signed on a peace constitution dictated by the Americans. The war and how it ended had a profound impact on the Japanese people, who renounced militarism and war. This sentiment still prevails largely in Japan.
Germany made a clear apology for the holocaust unleashed by Nazi Germany. Japan’s best apology came from Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995. China was happy with this but China senses insincerity and revival of militarism in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His long apology and expression of regret for “aggression” on August 14 this year was somewhat suspect to not only Chinese eyes but also in the view of some international experts. Abe tried to work a fine line.
But there are other parts to the story. For decades China unleashed its massive propaganda machinery to name and shame. Initially, Japan did not protest, it tried to pacify China through economic means, Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), and investments. It remained within its constitutional obligations, maintained only a Self Defence Force (SDF) under its supervision, and its forces followed the constitutional requirement to operate only for defending the nation within its territorial waters and air.
Something went wrong. From 2008 China became emphatically aggressive over its maritime territorial claims in the region, including with Japan. In 2012-13 Japan articulated that China’s military policy was opaque, perceiving a threat from China. This not only altered Japan’s view but also the view of countries of the region and the larger international community. Japan also wanted to exist as a normal nation.
The world has moved a long way since the Second World War. Even China has dropped its theory of a possible Third World War and Japan is not seen as a threat any longer. But it has to defend itself and act with other nations if required to maintain peace, stability and keep the global commons open.
There is a strong perception that China is militarizing faster than any other country. It wants to build a military to counter the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, to start with. China’s military build up is not a reaction to the US pivot in Asia. In fact it is the other way round.
China may claim its military modernization is for self-defense. But the “self-defense” can be extended far away from China’s shores. Further, its aggressive pursuit of territorial claims like the Spratly islands, based on nebulous historical claims, does not inspire confidence in the “peaceful rise of China”.
The military parade will display new advanced weapons made in China, accordingly to the Xinhua. This display of military power will not be missed by anyone, especially the neighbouring countries which have territorial issues with China and are already under pressure. South China Sea is an important maritime route for global trade. There is a suspicion derived from official and semi-official Chinese statements, that China may ultimately control the South China Sea.
The parade, however, has a greater importance for China’s internal problems and issues. It is an ace for President Xi Jinping. President Xi is in a hurry to save the communist party which fell into disrepute with the people because of massive corruption.
Xi has taken on the corrupt in the PLA, which had begun to harm the morale of the armed forces. To win over the PLA he has to promote to the people the strength and capability of the military. Every army loves new and powerful weapons, especially when these are displayed to the people. They feel proud and elated, and naturally rally around the leader who gives them this power and respect. The PLA is a very important pillar of the Chinese Communist Party. The party commands the gun, and the gun protects the party. It has happened several times in the past. Especially at this juncture when Xi has made powerful enemies with his anti-corruption drive which has a huge political edge, he needs the PLA firmly on his side.
Finally Xi wants to establish himself as the next Mao Zedong but without a Cultural Revolution or a Great Leap Forward. He is building a personality cult quietly. The coming party plenum will be very important for Xi, and he is preparing for the 19th Party Congress in 2017, when he expects to establish his leadership.
For this, great pomp and show is required. No other leader before Xi Jinping has commemorated the victory over Japan with such splendour. He brings forth more clearly China’s contribution to the Second World War victory. None can beat this.
*The writer is a New Delhi Based Strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail [email protected]