SAN FRANCISCO — “Apology diplomacy,” a staple of politics in Asia, has made its way to the California State Assembly. Taking action on an issue that has divided Japanese Americans, the state assembly in the capital at Sacramento recently passed a resolution asking Japan to apologize for World War II crimes and pay reparations to victims.
The resolution was approved without opposition on a voice vote — a parliamentary maneuver by the assembly speaker to smooth over intraparty differences — and to avoid polarization of the issue in public.
An unsuccessful last-minute effort was made to broker an agreement between the legislature’s only two Japanese Americans, Democratic assemblymen Mike Honda of San Jose and George Nakano of Torrance.
Both agree that Japan should compensate war victims. But Nakano says Japanese Americans would not be served by public debate that does not educate the public about how Japanese Americans were persecuted.
Both assemblymen were locked up in U.S. internment camps as youths because of their ethnicity, but their positions mirror the differences that linger in the Japanese-American community more than a half-century later.
Expressions of these sensitivities are bound to increase in coming years. For one thing, the ethnic diversity of California’s population is steadily increasing and there are forecasts that minorities will outnumber the current majority Caucasians by 2050, if not before.
To get an idea of this trend, current polls show San Francisco’s population at 40 percent Caucasian, 35 percent Asian and Pacific Islander, 15 percent Hispanic and 10 percent African American.
In the hazy jurisdiction known as “Silicon Valley, researchers have come up with the figures of 50,000 engineers from Taiwan — some of them month-to-month commuters — and a block of 30,000 Filipinos in Daly City. Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Indians and Thai are other large population groups represented.
Of the state’s entire 34 million population, the breakdown is only slightly different: Caucasian, 50 percent; Hispanic, 30.8 percent; Asian and Pacific Islander, 11.5 percent; African American, 6.8 percent and Native American, 0.6 percent.
Just as in Asia, there are voices that want to enact a moratorium and call an end to the “apology diplomacy” that sometimes seems endless and repetitive.
The resolution cites alleged Japanese World War II-era atrocities, from the “Rape of Nanking,” which it says resulted in the slaughter of 300,000 Chinese by Japanese troops, to the 1945 Battle of Manila, where more than 100,000 civilians were reportedly killed by Japanese troops.
The amount of reparations Japan should pay is not specified in the resolution, which requests an “unequivocal apology” for crimes committed by Japan in China, Korea, the Philippines, India and other nations, and against American prisoners of war.
Honda, who drafted the resolution, represents an outspoken faction of Japanese Americans who insists Japan should apologize and pay reparations to victims, like the U.S. government did for Japanese-American internees.
Nakano, who represents a more conservative faction, believes that there remains widespread misperception in the United States that Japanese Americans hold allegiance to Japan.
“The same blurring of facts landed us in the internment camps,” Nakano said in a San Francisco Examiner interview.
Some opponents were concerned that the resolution could damage California’s economic relations with Japan. The Japanese Consulate in San Francisco declined to comment when called by the Examiner.
While some Japanese Americans believe the legislature should not butt into foreign affairs by asking the U.S. Congress to pressure Japan to apologize and make reparations, Honda noted the legislature often weighed in on foreign affairs.
“This is a human-rights issue, and we have a responsibility to speak out,” Honda said. “If this is not a good time, then when will it be?”
Some assembly watchers predict more such demands in a tip-of-the-iceberg type situation.
Edward Neilan is a Tokyo-based analyst of Northeast Asian affairs and a media fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
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.