Bad week for Japan, bad week for China

by Chris Zappone

Japan: The ‘extremely inappropriate’ comments about comfort women during WWII by the incoming head of national broadcaster NHK Katsuto Momii have dealt a blow to Shinzo Abe’s government – and unfortunately, it’s a self-inflicted one. Momii, making what he described as personal comments, during a press conference held by NHK, dismissed the horrors of Japan’s forced wartime sex slavery as not unique.

A firestorm ensued and the Japanese government distanced itself from Momii. According to the Asahi Shimbun, a member of Abe’s government said: “I am extremely angry because these gaffes are unthinkable for the head of a media company…He should immediately resign.” Momii’s comments couldn’t have come at a worse time, on the heels of Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shine, which has inflamed both China and South Korea, who are the victims of Japan’s imperial aggression in the 1930s and before. But possibly the most troubling element is this exchange from the press conference, according to Asahi Shimbun:

When a reporter pointed out to Momii that the news conference was being held to mark his becoming NHK chairman, he said, “I retract everything I have said.”

Isn’t he savvy enough to figure out that if he spouts these views to a room full of reporters, it will become international news? All of this fuels fears that if Abe successfully restores Japan’s position in the world, its leaders will rip off their masks and reveal themselves to be the kind of hard-right, hawkish, inflexible nationalists who people fear. It feeds this mistaken notion the Japan is aiming for a rerun of the 1930s.

It is true that Japan must exit the permanent apology-mode to normalize its foreign policy, much in the way Germany has done. Japan’s relationship today with its past is a legitimate internal issue. And many if not most countries have a core of people who see their nation as superior and beyond reproach – and so the Japanese aren’t unique in these ways. But don’t the LDP politicians and like-minded folk have the wisdom to conduct these discussions behind closed doors and out of the range of a bevy of microphones? Otherwise, they risk eroding trust with Japan’s allies.

China: The Jade Rabbit moon lander seems to have hit a snag. So that good news story has hit a wall – for now.