Quarrels over the record of past aggression by China against Vietnam, for example, have colored how the two neighbors regard their clashes over the Paracel Islands. But it is the raw feelings over Japan’s early-20th-century aggression in Asia that creates the most worry that the string of clashes over the Senkaku Islands (known as Diaoyu Islands in China) might result in serious military confrontation.
To peacefully resolve these island disputes will require a willingness by Asian nations, especially Japan, to agree on a historical record as well as a recognition of how much each country has sought peace and progressed in recent decades.
Germany serves as a model of a postwar nation that embraced its victims, made restitution, and showed contrition through numerous heart-felt apologies. The accuracy of its history books regarding the Nazi era – or rather the true empathy displayed by many Germans – has helped Germany become a leader of the European Union.
Japan has not gone as far as Germany in making the kinds of amends that would satisfy China or the two Koreas. And it has a strong minority that denies many of the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan.
To the country’s credit, a group of Japan scholars have worked with counterparts in China and South Korea to write a common history. One such history was issued in 2005, but it has not gained official favor in those countries.
In 2006, China and Japan officially helped launch a joint scholarly committee to find common ground on their history. The panel made some progress but faltered over details of events such as the 1937 Nanjing massacre.
South Korea and Japan have also tried to find common ground on their mutual history. But nationalism continues to be a useful political tool in both countries, much to the worry of their key military ally, the United States, that wants their help in dealing with China.