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Invasion. Genocide. An utter lack of remorse.

and why there could be a terrifying new war between Japan and China
By Max Hastings PUBLISHED: 00:02 GMT, 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 11:55 GMT, 20 September 2012

A few years ago, nobody in Asia gave much thought to the Senkaku islands. They form a cluster of eight pimples in the East China Sea, mid-way between Taiwan and Japanese Okinawa, devoid of people, culture and by all accounts beauty. Yet suddenly, they have become the focus of a dispute between China and Japan which is growing so bitter that doomsters fear Beijing might even go to war over them. The dispute is one of a dozen involving islands off the Asian mainland some claimed by Vietnam, others by South Korea, others again by the Philippines in which China is wielding a big stick.

Disputed: China is challenging Japan's claim to the Senkaku Islands in the East China sea

In some cases, it covets fish stocks around the rocks, in others there is oil under the sea; elsewhere, Beijing merely wants to extend its territorial waters. What alarms the United States, as well as the regional powers, is the ferocity with which China is pursuing its claims. The row about the Senkakus escalated when the Tokyo government recently purchased them from their owner, a Japanese businessman. In the past week, the ownership of the islands has provoked demonstrations in a dozen Chinese cities, outbreaks of violence and vandalism against Japanese targets which have prompted some of its industrial giants Nissan, Honda, Canon, Panasonic to shut down their plants in that country.

Provocative: Chinese fishing boats set off to fish near the disputed islands, known in Chinese as Diaoyu

Sabre-rattling: China has sent military vessels to the islands

Some Japanese residents of China have shut themselves in their homes for safety. They feel unable to rely on the Chinese police for protection, because it is impossible for sustained vandalism to happen without official acquiescence. Meanwhile, the Chinese government continues to issue tough statements about the islands, which it calls the Diaoyus. Washington, as well as Tokyo, is alarmed by the spectacle of China playing rough. Nobody forgets that in the past, the Chinese have sometimes used force to get their way in border disputes: they occupied Tibet and fought a bitter war with Vietnam. Fears persist about Chinas obsessive determination to reunite the mainland with offshore Taiwan, left in the old Chinese governments hands after the 1949 communist revolution.

Resentment: Chinese protesters march with anti-Japanese banners

The quarrel over the Senkakus has reawakened atavistic Chinese hostility and resentment towards Japan, which goes back more than a century. In 1894, the Japanese seized and colonised the Korean peninsula a staging post towards an occupation of China and sank a Chinese fleet. Chinas Qing regime had to sign a humiliating peace surrendering part of Manchuria effectively north-east China and the Pescadore islands, off modern Taiwan. Then, on September 18, 1931, the Japanese staged a faked attack on their own railway in their sector of Manchuria, blamed the Chinese, and used the incident as a pretext to overrun all of that region. (That date lives in infamy in China which is why violent demonstrations took place in the country this week.)

No surrender: Protesters hold up Japan's national flags at an anti-China rally

The Japanese renamed the area Manchukuo, and installed the emperor Pu Yi as their puppet ruler. In the decade that followed, they extended their empire with a ruthlessness that shocked the world. In 1932, after a Chinese mob in Shanghai attacked five Japanese monks in the city, the Japanese air force took reprisals by bombing the entire city, killing thousands of civilians. In 1937, Japanese army officers manufactured a new incident at the ancient Marco Polo bridge outside the northern Chinese city of Tientsin in which the Japanese had a garrison under the terms of a treaty. Claiming that their troops had been fired on by Chinese soldiers, they launched a full-scale invasion of China. What happened thereafter has never been forgotten or forgiven not least because todays Japanese are reluctant to admit past war crimes. Having fought their way through Shanghai, sacking and killing, they embarked on a campaign which showed the world the nature of Japanese militarism. Tokyos soldiers marched on the Chinese Nationalist capital, Nanking, killing and burning everything in their path in the spirit of Bushido the Code of the Warrior. Their route led them through Suchow, one of the oldest cities in China, famous for its silk embroideries, palaces and temples set beside the Tai Hu lake. On November 19 in heavy rain, Japanese troops overran Suchow, the Venice of China, then spent days sacking the city. Thousands of women were seized to be raped by the conquerors, and most of the rest of the population fled.

The rape of Nanking: Chinese dead litter the street after Japanese forces stormed the city in 1937

Prince Asaka Yashuhiko, uncle of the Japanese emperor Hirohito, took personal command of the 50,000strong army. His men went on to storm Nanking, overcoming a much larger Chinese garrison. Then an order was issued systematically to kill thousands of Chinese prisoners, whom the conquerors despised for accepting defeat, and whom they had no means to feed. A Japanese soldier named Azuma wrote: They all walked in droves, like ants crawling on the ground ... a herd of ignorant sheep ... whispering to each other. It felt quite foolish to think that we had been fighting to the death against these ignorant slaves, some were even 12-year-old boys. On the evening of December 17, 1939, the Japanese herded thousands of prisoners, their hands bound, to the bank of the Yangtze river. There, abruptly, Japanese machine-gunners opened fire. Within minutes, amidst frenzied screams of excitement from the killers, and of terror and agony from their victims, hundreds of Chinese were thrashing wounded or dying beside the river.

Massacre: Japanese soldiers bayonet Chinese prisoners in Nanking

Merciless: A Japanese soldier beheads a Chinese prisoner

The Japanese conducted their slaughters with refinements of cruelty that appalled the world, which soon learned of them. In Nanking, having killed the military prisoners, they turned on the civilian population. Corpses were left in heaps outside the city walls; the river ran red with blood. Soldiers not only bayoneted thousands of victims, but proudly sent home photographs of themselves with their victims. Imai Mastake, a Japanese correspondent, wrote: On Hsiakwan wharves, there was the dark silhouette of a mountain made of dead bodies. About 50 to 100 people were toiling there, dragging bodies ... into the Yangtze. The bodies dripped blood, some of them still alive and moaning weakly, their limbs twitching.

Code of the warrior: Japanese officers celebrate in Suchow after their troops had occupied the city

The labourers were working in total silence, as in a pantomime. After a while, the coolies had done their job of dragging corpses, and the soldiers lined them up along the river. Rat-tat-tat machine-gun fire could be heard. The coolies fell backwards into the river and were swallowed by the raging currents. The pantomime was over. A Japanese officer ... estimated that 20,000 persons had been executed. Another correspondent, Yukio Omata, watched Chinese prisoners meeting their fate at the killing ground of Hsiakwan. Those in the first row were beheaded, those in the second row were forced to dump the severed bodies into the river before they themselves were beheaded. The killing went on non-stop, from morning until night. Westerners know all about Japanese atrocities towards our own soldiers and civilians in World War II, but sometimes forget that 15 million Chinese died during Japans campaigns in their country between 1937 and 1945. Indeed, some Chinese historians claim the total was up to 50 million.

Selective: Japan's twentieth-century history centres around the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (pictured) rather than the atrocities of the Sino-Japanese War

No matter what is the true number, the Japanese behaved unspeakably towards the people of China, and have never shown much penitence. While modern Germans are acutely conscious of the crimes of Hitler, most modern Japanese are oblivious to the crimes of their own forebears.

Some of their apologists claim Japan has said sorry for its role in World War II. But a deafening silence persists in Japans schools and universities on the subject, and there are yawning gaps in their textbooks. Every Japanese is taught that their country was the victim of the first atomic bombs. Few know their grandfathers enjoyed nothing more than chopping off a few Chinese heads. As recently as 2008, the commander of the Japanese air force, General Toshio Tamogami, published an essay suggesting that Japan had done nothing to be ashamed of in the war. Tamogami complained bitterly: Even now, there are many people who think that our countrys aggression caused unbearable suffering to the countries of Asia.

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Not so, said the general: We need to realise that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War. It is certainly a false accusation that our country was an aggressor nation. Tamogami said that Japan was entitled by treaty to act as it did in China, and claimed that Korea, during its half century as a Japanese colony, was prosperous and safe. He rejected the verdicts of the Allied tribunals which convicted Japans war criminals in 1945 for their barbaric treatment of enemy troops, including Britons. To be fair, the Tokyo government sacked the general following furious protests from Beijing. But it remains amazing that one of Japans most senior commanders could make such claims in the 21st century. But Tamogami wrote what many Japanese nationalists think, including some academic historians. Not only the Chinese government, but also ordinary people, are enraged when such things are said in Japan, and when Japanese courts reject lawsuits from Chinese former sex-slaves and forced labourers. Few Japanese, too, recognise the enormity of the atrocities committed by the wartime Japanese Armys biological warfare group, Unit 731, for which no one was ever punished. Under its aegis, thousands of men, women and children including foreign prisoners were killed in gruesome experiments designed to test the limits of the human body. Unsurprisingly, there is real popular Chinese bitterness towards Japan, and it explodes into the open when the Beijing government highlights such a quarrel as that about the Senkaku islands. Whatever are Chinas motives, its behaviour shows a growing willingness to intimidate and bully its neighbours. Nobody is sure just how far Beijing will press its claims in the East China Sea perhaps including Chinas rulers themselves. Their handling of international relations is often clumsy and brutal. They are still groping, as they explore how best to exploit their ever-growing power and wealth. But all this makes China a dangerous nation. Its neighbours think so: they are clamouring for closer defence ties with the United States. Japan is installing new U.S. anti-missile radar systems, which means that the Americans may yet find themselves drawn into the growing dispute. China has gone to war in the past to make good its claims to territory. It is possible that it will do so again. The Senkakus scarcely feature on a large-scale map. Yet one day they, or one of the other disputed island

groups in the troubled waters off China, could precipitate a breakdown of global peace a crisis that would have fearful implications for us all.

Comments (355)
Newest Oldest Best rated Worst rated View all Does anyone else agree china with in massive influx of males hey have been setting up for a new war or have acted in a way that sets that up. - NSGillan , London, 22/9/2012 14:18

Report abuse My Chinese friends teach me this article is only a repetition of typical Chinese conservatism.In short,this article is only a patchedtogether of Chinese conservative opinion and present news.Too cheap and worthless,and far from equal argument!! I feel the limit of a journalist which gather materials at his desk in his home country.He must tend to be lead one side.Real journalists go to actual places and meet people there and gather real materials. And that they can writes truth for the first time. - tam , tokyo, Japan, 22/9/2012 12:30 Click to rate Report abuse c - ex-pat , nerja, 22/9/2012 10:21 Click to rate Report abuse @ Bill, Wasp in the South, United Kingdom: Of all the countries you listed, which one is most likely to desire the destruction of all the people of earth, except themselves? - tilapia muzungu , where, 22/9/2012 04:29 Click to rate Report abuse @Dutch Ovens, Still stuck here: We can only hope that one day, you and your family are struck by the effects of war, destruction and death, as you wish this on other people. - tilapia muzungu , where, 22/9/2012 04:27 Click to rate Report abuse Any war between two of our rivals well away from us and far too serious for even our stupid politicians to poke their noses into can only be a good thing unless you subscribe to the ridiculous "citizens of the world" garbage, which I don't. - Dutch Ovens , Still stuck here..., 21/9/2012 22:02 Click to rate Report abuse the geographic map is wrong, and The red circle should be Ryukyu islands. Diaoyu (Senkaku) islands are located on east of Mainland China, northeast of Taiwan (Taipei), and southwestern end of the Ryukyu islands. - larry larry , Madison, United States, 21/9/2012 18:06 Click to rate Report abuse Dear Hiro, If you really know and understand the crime Japanese troops committed to Asian civilians, during the WWII, then the first thing you should do is to apologize for it, not complaining for much smaller thing. For smaller thing you need recognition, then how about the people killed or deeply wounded? Japanese need to apologize and change. It need to one way or another. Choose your way. - peace918King , Kansas, United States, 21/9/2012 17:34 Rating 3 Rating 4 Rating 3 Rating (0) Rating 2 Rating 4

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if god created humans he also created the devils.....Japanese - Sam , Sussex, 21/9/2012 15:37 Click to rate Report abuse Oh dear me. More blood to be spilt. - Brian F. , nw lancashire, United Kingdom, 21/9/2012 14:45 Click to rate Rating (0) Rating 11