Now that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited Pearl Harbor with U.S. President Barack Obama in a show of reconciliation between the two World War II foes, a U.S.-based Chinese scholar has suggested that Abe take a step further to achieve rapprochement with China over wartime history.

Zhao Quansheng, a professor of international relations at American University, saw Abe’s visit Tuesday to the site of Japan’s 1941 attack on Hawaii and Obama’s preceding trip to atomic-bombed Hiroshima in May as “a win-win for both countries.”

Zhao is now recommending that Abe visit Nanjing, the site of the 1937 killing by the Japanese military of Chinese civilians and soldiers and a symbolic place of Japan’s wartime aggression against China.

He said that a statement Abe issued in August last year to mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end “is by and large appreciated by Asian neighbors” because it upholds a 1995 landmark apology issued by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.

“But China would like to see further actions from Japan,” Zhao said in a recent interview in Washington, citing what he called “words versus deeds.”

“I think the Chinese people will appreciate if Mr. Abe pays a war memorial trip to Nanjing,” said the scholar, who has lived in the United States for more than 30 years.

Zhao cited an agreement Japan struck with South Korea in December last year over the “comfort women” issue — that of Korean females forced into wartime Japanese brothels — as an example of “deeds” for reconciliation with Seoul, which was under Tokyo’s colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

“The agreement cleared the way for improvement in relations between Japan and South Korea,” he said. “If you sincerely handle history issues, I think every country can be reasonable. China is not an exception.”

The Chinese government has called on Abe to visit Nanjing. Citing such locations as the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and the Shenyang museum for the 1931 Mukden Incident, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Dec. 7, “If the Japanese side intends to deeply reflect upon itself and make a sincere apology, there are many places in China where they can pay tribute to.”

The incident, also known as the Manchurian Incident, was used as a pretext for Japan to occupy what was then called Manchuria in northeastern China.

Asked when Abe should visit Nanjing, Zhao said “sooner or later, but not now,” given tensions over a group of East China Sea islets administered by Japan but claimed by China, and strategic competition in the Asia-Pacific region.

“If Mr. Abe manages to improve ties with China, or China and Japan manage to improve bilateral relations to a certain degree, then the time will mature for a very meaningful and significant visit,” he said.

“But now there are a lot of problems — territory and other issues — so it seems the conditions are not mature yet,” he added.

Referring to the possibility that Abe, who returned to power in December 2012, could serve until 2021, Zhao said he truly hopes Japan will achieve reconciliation with China because he sees “much more room for increased cooperation” between the two countries in areas such as the economy, technology, energy and the environment.

“If Mr. Abe were to serve until 2021, he might try to make yet another legacy by visiting Nanjing following this trip to Pearl Harbor,” he said.

One prerequisite, according to Zhao, to managing relations with China — and South Korea — is that Abe refrain from visiting Yasukuni Shrine, a war-related Tokyo shrine the two neighboring countries regard as a symbol of Japan’s militarist past.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.