BEIJING – In 1956 and 1957, the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong wanted a Japanese Class-A war criminal who remained an influential figure in the postwar era to visit China in an apparent effort to normalize diplomatic ties with Japan, according to recently disclosed diplomatic documents.
The documents, held at the Archives of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, reveal in detail how Mao’s government approached former top officers of the Imperial Japanese Army, even after the huge damage it inflicted on China during the war.
The Chinese government asked for a visit by Shunroku Hata, former field marshal of the Japanese army and commander in chief of the army’s expeditionary force in China during the war, according to the documents.
After World War II, Hata was convicted of Class-A war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. He was paroled in 1954.
It is widely known that former Lt. Gen. Saburo Endo visited Mao and other Chinese officials in 1956 and 1957 on behalf of ex-Japanese military brass.
Endo had contacted Hata and other former military bigwigs to persuade them to visit China. But the move failed because the Japanese government, namely Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, took into consideration U.S. concerns over closer relations between Japan and China.
Shigemitsu was a Class-A war criminal who had been sentenced to seven years in prison but still served as foreign minister under the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama.
China was also in contact with Masanobu Tsuji, a former staff officer in Japan’s Kwantung Army in Manchuria who later held seats in both Diet chambers.
During 1956-57, Mao tried to normalize relations with Japan through increased contacts with former military brass who were still influential there.
Mao is known to have said in 1956 that had the Japanese army not come to China, the Chinese Communist Party would still be in remote areas and unable to visit Beijing to watch Beijing opera, a comment taken to mean he did not completely reject Japan’s wartime militarism.
In late 1956, Kanzo Uchiyama, then-head of the Japan-China Friendship Association, visited China to meet with Liao Chengzhi, then-vice minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, who led China’s Japan policy under Mao and then-Premier Zhou Enlai.
During the meeting, Liao said he wanted Hata to join a Japanese delegation to China.
After Endo heard about Liao’s hope from Uchiyama, he contacted Hata. But Hata adamantly rejected the offer, saying that while he would like to visit China, it was not appropriate for a paroled war criminal to appear in public.
Endo also asked for a China visit by Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni, who had been prime minister immediately after the war. The ex-general strongly wanted to visit China but declined because of relations with Taiwan.
Endo then suggested to China former Lt. Gen. Rensuke Isogai, a China expert who had been reported as a major war criminal to the Allied Occupation by Chiang Kai-shek’s government.
Isogai told Endo that he wanted to go to China if the Foreign Ministry issued a visa. Tsuji also proposed Isogai as a potential delegate in a letter sent to Liao. This was welcomed by China.
Endo tried to get former ranking officers to accompany him, but they refused. The 19-member delegation he led to China in June 1957, therefore, did not include any big name that China had wanted.