by Brian Hioe and Tumin

Photo Credit: US Department of Defense/Public Domain

Mass Spectacle

IT MAY BE IRONIC to note that the Chinese military parade commemorating the 70th  anniversary of victory against the Japanese army claims to be “anti-fascist” in nature. In the words of Xi Jinping, the victory of the Chinese in the Sino-Japanese War the ultimate victory of a battle “between light and darkness, and between progress and reaction”. Rather, the parade strikes an attempt to instill ultranationalism by reminding the world China has “defeated” Japan. The parade in other ways strikes as altogether rather fascistic in nature.

If in contemporary times the word “fascism” is most often thrown around as a term of abuse without reference to what fascism actually meant once upon a time in Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, if certainly authoritarian, contemporary China is not fascistic. But China’s display of grotesque military might cannot help but summon up the specter of fascism, what with PLA soldiers stepping in goose step alongside the finest and most sophisticated military equipment that China has to offer as Chinese leaders spouted platitudes about peace at the same time as they celebrated the military might of the People’s Republic.

A video uploaded by CCTV English Facebook page pertaining to a piece of military hardware on display during the parade stated: “The strategic strikes module displays conventional and nuclear missiles that could carry multiple warheads with strong penetration ability and damaging power. They serve as shields in defense of national sovereignty and dignity, and more importantly, world peace.” It is not hard to point out the irony. Indeed, showcasing the world’s largest congregation of Army forces while engaging in territorial disputes with neighboring countries is not a gesture of peace. The apotheosis of irony may be setting free 70,000 pigeons as a shout out to peace after the ostentatious display of military might between the marches, the rolling out of the tanks, and an air parade.

Indeed, if it was the fascist regimes of yesterday whose acts of public spectacle were of masses of bodies moving in machine-like synchronization to the extent that they barely seem human individuals, it is certainly that China’s recent military display cannot help but recall the fascist past.  If this was the largest military parade that China, has seen in half a century, it may be that in fact that the world has not seen such a spectacle since since the days of German or Italian fascism. Yet this would seem to represent the contradictory impulses at work behind the worldview of the Chinese Communist Party.

What is China’s Message to Japan?

WHO WAS SUCH a military display aimed at?  Given that the parade was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Sino-Japanese War, the most obvious answer is Japan, China’s longstanding historical antagonist and the object of much anxieties in the present. We would do well to remember that according to a 2014 survey conducted jointly by Japanese NGO Genron NPO and the state-run China Daily, 53.4% of Chinese expect war between China and Japan in the near future.

During the military parade itself China claimed that “anti-fascist” victory over the Japanese was in the interest of humanity writ large, even as it advanced the particular interests of China in avenging longstanding Chinese national humiliation. But certainly the military might of China on display as never before was probably aimed at intimidating a Japan which now is no longer constitutionally forbidden from waging war following the Abe administration’s reinterpretation of the “pacifist” Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which historically forbid Japan from waging war.

Actually, the supremely passive-aggressive gesture made by China during the military parade was Chinese president Xi Jinping’s announcement that China would cut troop levels by a monumental 300,000, something around 20% of the Chinese military. Yet given the sheer amount of military hardware on display during the parade which had never before been seen publicly, with more than 500 items of weaponry and about 200 aircraft on display at the parade, China’s message to Japan remains clear.  After all, in the age of modern warfare, does one really need such a large military when it may be technology which counts more than sheer human numbers in times of war?

What does China exactly want of Japan, then?  Perhaps an apology? We might, then, turn to examining Shinzo Abe’s words upon World War II on August 13. Using the carefully chosen words that govern reckonings with Japan’s militarist past, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his country’s official remorse for the catastrophe of World War II in a speech on August 14th.

If the leader of the country makes a speech, it is meant to be representative of the entire country. However, that is not true. In essence, the divide between what the world demands of Japan, and what an individual demands of Japan is different. Indeed, this annual routine of calling upon Japan to make “remorse” speeches for WWII has not ceased since the end of WWII.

Abe, whose pursuit of the reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution seems to be motivated by single-minded nationalist ideology and Japanese imperial nostalgia, would seem to be an outlier. After all, Abe’s policies have made him unpopular with the Japanese public, given that the popular protests of over one hundred thousand which have taken place in Tokyo against what is seen as Abe’s pursuit of resurgent Japanese militarism. But constant demand on the part of China for an official apology, or that there has not yet been a sufficient apology, also needs to be scrutinized.

We might note the difference in how treatment of former Axis Powers has gone. The world has not scrutinized Germany to apologize for what the “previous” administration had done. The Germans acknowledgement of the “genocide” of the Jews during Holocaust, destruction of the war, and the judgement of the Nuremberg trials have largely been all credible actions to convince the world that Germany shows deep remorse for what it has done. So if China summons up the specter of “Japanese fascism”, one sometimes wonders why the specter of seventy years still haunts with regards to Japan, but apparently is not such an issue with Germany or Italy. Indeed, if the Nanjing Massacre was such a crime against humanity, was it not Japanese journalists themselves who first unearthed the historical covering up of the incident?

Certainly, Abe’s speech lacked genuine remorse, although stating:

“Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war.” 

But it is all too predictable that, China and South Korea immediately attacked Japan. Objectively speaking, if 80% of the Japanese population now had no participation in the war, including Abe himself, we might note that much of accusations take place as though the Japanese people of today remain directly responsible. Yet certainly a large part of the reason why the world has been procured to expect and demand an apology from Japan, is because China enforces this demand and needs it for its own political purposes. The act of genuinely apologizing, even if it did happen, would probably never suffice under the framework of  China’s imperial ambition. Actually, it may be very well that China’s pageantry celebrating the defeat of Japanese empire merely marks China’s own ascent to a position of imperial power in the Asia-Pacific region in which it steps into the shoes of Japanese empire in the early 20th century.

Present Geopolitical Tensions as Reflected in the Contestation Over Historical Memory

DURING THE MILITARY extravaganza, thirty heads of states were in attendance, largely drawn from pro-China countries which sometimes are themselves quite authoritarian in nature. The other representatives, mainly those of Western nations, further reveals the power struggle between a rising China and the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the attendance of Korea’s president Park Geun-hye, an ally of the Western nations, seems to reinforce the argument that this parade, and the pressure placed on retrieving an apology, is more of a statement of a struggle between the powers in Asia, rather that of a significant remembrance of the destruction and sufferings caused by the WWII. After all, in the present, as with Taiwan and other countries who have historically been American client states, South Korea would seem to be caught between the thorns of continuing to operate as an American client state or drawing closer to China.

At the end of the day, instead or learning from past mistakes, we are re-interpreting history into a different statement, with sophistication that encapsulates the violence of technological advancement in the facade of peace and hope.

It may be instructive along such lines to note the striving contestation between the PRC and ROC over who “won” the Sino-Japanese War. The PRC and the ROC  are now in an argument that one of them must have had defeated the Japanese. Yet, netizens point out that for a country (PRC) that was established in 1949, how is it possible for them to defeat Japan in 1945? Furthermore, as this country gears to celebrate it’s 66th Birthday on October 1, in what logical sense can it assume the role of the victor of a war that happened 70 years ago?

People from both sides of the straits were quick to point out the irony. The “addendum” to this anniversary is the controversial visit of the former KMT Chairman and former ROC vice president Lien Chan to the military parade in China. Lien’s visit seems to acknowledge that the PRC won the war against the Japanese instead of the ROC, which serves as a huge setback to the KMT’s claim to legitimacy in Taiwan. However, what we can point to is both the PRC and ROC governments are using anti-Japanese sentiment for the purposes of legitimating the China-centered nationalism which both require in order to maintain power.

But all this may just be proof that the history of seventy years ago remains highly charged territory for present politics. Whether China, Japan, Taiwan, or Korea, the specter of history still haunts.

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