Japan's Relations with Neighbors a Concern to U.S. Lawmakers

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Two U.S. lawmakers – Representative Henry Hyde (Republican of Illinois) and Representative James Leach (Republican of Iowa) - voiced their concern that bitter memories of Japan’s role during World War II are hampering alliances in the Pacific and threatening U.S. interests there.

The House International Relations Committee explored this issue during a September 14 hearing entitled "Japan's Relations with Her Neighbors:  Back to the Future?"

In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Hyde said the hearing was called to explore the question of why Europe has been able to bury a contentious past while East Asia has not.

Hyde said Europe has been able to rise from the ashes of World War II and form the NATO military alliance, establish a European Union, and introduce a common Euro currency.  East Asia, he said, “lacks even fundamental regional security and economic institutions.”

Hyde expressed great concern that the Yushukan Museum in Tokyo “is teaching younger generations of Japanese that the Second World War in Asia was launched by Tokyo to free the peoples of Asia and the Pacific from the yoke of Western imperialism.”

Recently returned from a visit to Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, and the Solomon Islands, Hyde reported “not one person in any of these countries told any member of our delegation that they fondly remembered the Imperial Japanese Army as liberators.  The history being taught at this museum is not based on the facts, and it should be corrected.”

Acknowledging Japan as “a good and trusted ally,” Hyde said steps must be taken so that Japan, the second-largest donor nation to the United Nations, “can take its proper place as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.”  He also called for “whole-hearted regional support” for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and a full accounting of abductees from Japan, South Korea and other countries forcibly taken to North Korea.

“The unity of our friends in the region, therefore, is essential,” Hyde said.   Noting that “the history of the 21st century will likely be written mainly in China, India, Japan, and a unified Korea, Hyde emphasized:  “We simply cannot continue to allow history to impede us as a roadblock to destiny.”

Leach, chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said: “Nationalism and nation-state rivalry has been on the rise in Northeast Asia with attendant potential to create uncertainty and foster regional instability.

“Attentive American concern, continued engagement, and steady leadership is vital if peace and prosperity is to be preserved in this historic cockpit of geopolitical conflict,” he said.

“A surprising level of antagonism,” Leach said, “has sprung up between South Korea and Japan over historical issues, including competing territorial claims for a chain of islets that lie between the two countries.  Likewise, Sino-Japanese relations have deteriorated, with the Chinese people reflecting anger at the possibility of Japan becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and the Japanese people becoming increasingly angry at Chinese attitudes toward both the past and competitive approaches to the future.”      

The success of any diplomatic initiatives, Leach said, “will depend much on the political will of leaders in Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing.

“In particular, an important debate is under way in Japan about the lessons of history and their meaning for the future direction of Japanese foreign and defense policy,” Leach said.   “How Japan resolves both the substantive and symbolic dimensions of this debate [has] the potential to shape regional and global security dynamics for generations.”

“[I]t would appear self-evident,” Leach said, “that it is emphatically in the American national interest that the principal powers of Northeast Asia enjoy amicable and productive relations with each other, as well as with the United States.”

For more on U.S. policy in the region, see East Asia and the Pacific.

Full text of the opening statements by Hyde and Leach are available for the House Committee on International Relations Web site.