Tuesday, October 3, 2023

What did the Okinawa Governor say in Geneva?

On September 18, 2023, Denny Tamaki, Governor of Okinawa, Japan under the auspices of Shimin Gaikou Centre (Citizens' Diplomatic Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) testified to the session for the Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order at the 54th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

Tamaki was the first Okinawa governor in eight years to deliver a speech on the problem of military bases on the island at a UN Human Rights Council meeting. In 2015, then-Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga spoke out against the creation of the Henoko airfield as a replacement for the one at Futenma. Onaga stated "the Okinawan people are being deprived of their right to self-determination and their human rights." Tamaki declared the same.

In Geneva, the current governor held talks with officials with a number of officials with HRC. He was to speak again at the Council, at a meeting on toxic substances, but there was not enough time. Some speakers reportedly had gone over their time. Funny how that happens.

His plea to respect of the human rights of Okinawan people and to lessen the burden of military bases on the islands was countered and condemned by the Japanese government and the rightwing press.

FOR AN AUDIO RECORDING CLICK HERE, click the > at the right and click play
For context see: Commentary by Takya Nishmura.

ID with IE on international order
Oral Statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council by the governor of Okinawa Item 3: interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order - Interactive Dialogue
(193 words, 2:28:11 minutes)

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I am Denny Tamaki, Governor of Okinawa, Japan.

I am here today to ask the world to witness the situation in Okinawa, where the concentration of the American bases threatens the peace, and prevents equal participation in decision-making.

Okinawa covers only 0.6% of Japan’s total land area, but 70% of all the U.S. military bases in Japan are concentrated on our small island.

Furthermore, the Japanese government is imposing the construction of a new American base in Okinawa by reclaiming the precious sea areas, which I believe will further increase the burden on my people. The reclamation proceeds despite the fact that it was clearly opposed by Okinawan voters in a democratically-held referendum.

We are afraid that the build-up of military capabilities will increase tensions in the areas around Japan, and lead to unexpected situations. This is totally incompatible with Okinawan people’s aspiration for peace.

We call for the stronger diplomatic efforts by the relevant governments to embody in our region the “right to peace,” which was adopted at the 2016 United Nations General Assembly.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here today.

Monday October 3, 2023 Events on Asia

ALLIED PERSPECTIVES ON SEMICONDUCTOR EXPORT CONTROLS. 10/2, 10:00-11:30am (EDT), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Gregory C. Allen, Editor of the report and CSIS director; Emily Benson, Director, Project on Trade and Technology and Senior Fellow, CSIS; Chau-Chyun Chang, Senior Strategy Executive Director, Industry, Science and Technology International Strategy Center; Francesca Ghiretti, Analyst, Mercator Institute for China Studies; Jan-Peter Kleinhans, Director, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung; Rem Korteweg, Senior Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute; Wonho Yeon, Research Fellow, Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. 


10/2, 2:00-3:30pm (EDT), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Katherine E. Bliss, Senior Fellow and Director, Immunizations and Health Systems Resilience, Global Health Policy Center; Nidhi Bouri, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health, U.S. Agency for International Development; Anthony Fauci, Distinguished University Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University; Eric Goosby, Professor of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. 

INTERNAL SECURITY IN INDIA: VIOLENCE, ORDER, AND THE STATE. 10/2, 2:00-3:00pm (EDT), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Carnegie. Speakers: Amit Ahuja, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center; Devesh Kapur, Starr Foundation Professor, South Asian Studies at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Rachel Kleinfeld, Senior Fellow, Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program; Ashley J. Tellis, Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

BREAKING THE DOLLAR'S MONOPOLY: HOW CHINA'S REGIONAL DE-DOLLARIZATION INITIATIVE IS RESHAPING INTERNATIONAL FINANCE WITH ZONGYUAN ZOE LIU. 10/2, 4:30-6:00pm (EDT), HYBRID. Sponsors: Harvard China and the World Program; Columbia Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Speaker: Zongyuan Zoe Liu, Maurice R. Greenberg fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

THE COST OF CLIMATE: HOW CAN COUNTRIES PAY FOR CLIMATE ACTION? 10/2, 11:00-12:00 (EDT), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Center for Global Development. Speakers: Raphael Lam, Deputy Division Chief, Fiscal Affairs Department, International Monetary Fund (IMF); Christine Richmond, Deputy Division Chief, Fiscal Affairs Department, IMF; Min Zhu, Vice Chairman of China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, and Envoy of Sino-UK Professional and Financial Service for the Belt and Road Initiative; Ruud de Mooij, Deputy Director, Fiscal Affairs Department, IMF; Carolyn Fischer, Research Manager, Development Research Group, World Bank.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Japan at the UN General Assembly

PM Kishida Defends Human Dignity at the UN
Or Does He?

By Takuya Nishimura, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
September 25, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

To exercise Japan’s leadership in the international community, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida focused on “human dignity” in his speech at the General Debate of United Nations General Assembly on September 19th. Citing Japan’s non-permanent membership in UN Security Council and presidency in Group of Seven, Kishida proposed A World Caring for Human Dignity to “respond to the desperate desire for Peace and the pleas of vulnerable people seeking help.” So, what would Japan do for that?

Kishida insisted that Japan had led human-centered international cooperation, based on the concept of human security. In the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori declared that Japan would put “human security” on the center of its diplomacy. Considering the tradition of Japan’s UN diplomacy, Kishida requested further efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, which is highly popular in the business sector in Japan. “The key is to ‘invest in people,’ which is my pollical credo,” said Kishida.

However, does Kishida administration invest in its own people enough? Although he told that “Japan aims to reduce inequalities and overcome social divisions by promoting women’s participation,” his choice of no female State Minister or Parliamentary Vice-Minister earlier this month was criticized as the consequence of woman lawmakers’ shortage in Liberal Democratic Party. He is responsible for achieving more accesses of women to politics by increasing female lawmakers in LDP.

What Kishida emphasized the most in his speech was the nuclear issue. Calling nuclear disarmament his lifelong mission, Kishida touched on the significance of promoting Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and pledged ¥3 billion of contribution to newly establishment of “Japan Chair” at overseas research institutes and think tanks. In the backdrop of General Assembly, Kishida co-sponsored with the leaders of Australia and Philippines a commemorative high-level event on FMCT. “The concept of an FMCT was proposed 30 years ago. Hence, experts have engaged in numerous dialogues over its technical elements. Unfortunately, negotiations on an FMCT have still not begun, but we are in need of an FMCT than ever before,” told Kishida in his opening statement.

In spite of his eagerness to nuclear disarmament, Japan is well known as turning its back to Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which has already been signed by over 90 UN member countries. Considering his diligent effort for promoting FMCT this time, it is obvious that Kishida focuses more on FMCT than TPNW. What we need to see is the number of member countries. If Japan wants to outreach the countries called Global South, the easier way should be joining the treaty at least as an observer at first.

Denouncing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Kishida required reinforced UN. “Initiatives to limit the use of the veto, which exacerbates division and confrontation in the UN, will strengthen and restore confidence in the Security Council,” he said. While the appeal can be paralleled with what Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded to the member countries in General Debate, the intention of Japan is always regarded as connected to its ambition to join the permanent members, whenever it refers to Security Council reform. It would be notable that Russia also hopes to expand the member counties to erode the Western power in the council.

“Facing severe situation of the world today, we need a common language for human beings to achieve an international community for cooperation,” Kishida said, gingerly reading a prepared statement at his press conference after his UN speech. Being the top leader of a nation with over twenty thousand of yearly suicides or pervasive discrimination against ethnical or sexual minorities, was he successful in resonating his words to the people in the world?

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Nothing New

Kishida Preserves His Administration

By Takuya Nishimura, Former Editorial Writer, The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
September 18, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point
You can find his blog, J Update here.

On September 13th, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his Cabinet for the second time since coming to power in October 2021. Although personnel changes are ordinarily made to tackle difficult issues, Kishida focused on the balance of power in his administration. He reappointed most key Cabinet ministers and leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Kishida must have thought that he had to preserve the LDP’s positions in the administration in order to garner their support in the presidential election next year.

The main point of the reshuffle was not about the Cabinet, but the LDP Board. The key structure of the board was maintained. Vice-President Taro Aso, Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi and Chairman of Policy Research Council Koichi Hagiuda from the Abe group were retained remained in the same positions. The new Chairman of the General Council Hiroshi Moriyama leads the smallest faction.

According to the news reports, Kishida once wanted to replace Motegi, who did not conceal his ambition to succeed him. But considering that his faction is only the fourth largest in the LDP, Kishida was afraid that the Motegi group could further distance itself from his administration, if Motegi left the board. Kishida finally decided to let Motegi stay in his current position.

To deter Motegi’s plan to run in the next presidential election, Kishida picked Yuko Obuchi, a daughter of late, former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, for one of the four pillars on the LDP Board, the Chair of Election Strategy Committee. It gives her a chance to sell herself as another possible candidate for president in the Motegi group. Obuchi has strong support from her father’s close colleagues: Keizo’s successor Yoshiro Mori, who still has a considerable influence in the Abe group, and Mikio Aoki, who had not been a supporter of Motegi in the Motegi group.

The Yomiuri Shimbun and other newspapers reported that Kishida considered bringing Hagiuda into the cabinet as Chief Cabinet Secretary, hoping for a closer relationship with the largest Abe group. Hagiuda has been criticized, however, for his close relationship with Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church, FFWPU). The relationship of FFWPU with a number of LDP lawmakers has caused low popularity of Kishida administration. Kishida and his staff finally gave up on the idea.

These decisions show that the main reason for the reshuffling and renewing LDP board members was to establish a firm basis of the administration to ensure victory in the presidential election next year. Kishida naming five women to ministerial positions, equaling the record of largest number of women in a cabinet, also reflects Kishida’s desire to increase public support for his reelection.

Some points in the reshuffling are hard to understand. Japan is the chair country of Group of Seven meeting later this fall, but Kishida chose to replace Yoshimasa Hayashi, the Minister for Foreign Affairs with Yoko Kamikawa. Kamikawa is known as the former Minister of Justice who signed death penalty orders for thirteen prisoners of Aum Shinrikyo in 2018. Both Hayashi and Kamikawa are affiliated with the Kishida group.

Since Kamikawa has little experience as a diplomat, Kishida said that he would lead diplomacy himself. Hayashi’s recent denouncement of Russian aggression in Ukraine and his remarks on the reconstruction of Ukraine might have presented a challenge to the prime minister.

If Kishida wants to raise his support, why didn’t he replace the ministers who faced public unpopularity? Minister in Charge of Economic Security Sanae Takaichi accused the Ministry of Internal Affair of fabricating her remarks in documents over impartiality in the Broadcasting Law. But no evidence supported the attack. It is obvious that she will be targeted by the opposition parties in the Diet discussion.

Elsewhere, the Minister for Digital Transformation, Taro Kono, has apologized publicly for several critical mistakes in registering people to the new healthcare system connected to My Number Card. Cabinet reshuffling was a good opportunity for a fresh restart for healthcare reform led by a new Minister for Digital Transformation, but Kishida missed it.

Blunt political considerations may explain why Takaichi and Kono survived the recent reshuffling. Both were contenders against Kishida in the 2021 LDP presidential election. Takaichi is one of the possible leaders in the conservative group, and Kono can be a candidate for the future prime minister in Aso group. Kishida possibly took the influence of the conservative and Aso groups into consideration.

Given the deference accorded two problematic ministers, it is ironic that Kishida replaced the Minister for Children Affairs and the Minister of Defense, both of whom are in charge of issues Kishida focuses on, in order to bring some element of newness to the cabinet.

Two meanings can be seen in picking Yoshitaka Shindo, an ultraconservative lawmaker whose grandfather was the supreme commander of Japan Imperial Army in the Battle of Iwo Jima and the head of a conservative group called 'League of Lawmakers Taking Action for Protecting Japan’s Territory.' One is a message to the conservative group in LDP that Kishida is taking good care of the conservative issues, including promoting constitutional amendment. But if Kishida is so serious about amending the Constitution, Shindo should stay in the LDP and manage the issue in the Diet. Another approach should be to separate Shindo from Motegi. Shindo has been a firm supporter of Motegi in his group. People will see how Motegi’s leadership in his group will be affected by the latest reshuffling.

In spite of all the above elements on the revived administration, Kishida claimed that his goal was not solely to preserve the political life of his administration. His focus was policy. Kishida said in his press conference on the 13th that he would focus on three issues: economy, society, and diplomacy and security.

While Kishida stresses salary increases for workers, inflation increasingly damages the household economy. The Kishida administration will submit a supplementary budget in the middle of next month. But budgetary resources for his key policies such as raising the birth rate or expanding defense capability have yet to be identified.

With her money scandal unexplained, Obuchi may cause further damage to the LDP. No end is in sight for the War in Ukraine or for disputes with China on the discharge of processed radioactive water in Fukushima. It is doubtful that a vulnerable administration that stands on a delicate balance of power in the leading party can handle all the critical issues inside and outside of Japan.

As long as support for the Kishida administration remains low, Kishida may not declare a snap election of House of Representatives. But there still is a speculation that passing the supplemental budget in this fall session of the Diet will trigger a snap election, because victory in the general election will support Kishida’s reelection in the LDP presidential election. All the calculations are made for preserving the life of this administration.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Lessons of August 15, 1945

On August 15, 78 years ago, Japan's Emperor Hirohito broadcast to his subjects "that our empire accepts the provisions of their [the Allies] Joint Declaration [of the Powers, Potsdam Declaration]." The fighting was to stop. Whether he believed this was a surrender or not, is still subject to debate. What the Japanese people heard that day was a recording of his statement made the night before. The Emperor's voice maintained its divine distance from his subjects as he explained "the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest." He concluded by asking the nation "to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable."

Memories have faded and most Americans are surprised to learn that Japan was an enemy during WWII. One result of this fugue is that governments East and West find little opposition to their rewriting of WWII history and its aftermath. Generally, this has not been for the better and always for personal political gain. Worse, Washington counts many of these countries as allies and remains silent.

These revisionist histories have undermined the values that have shaped the postwar "liberal democratic order."  Authoritarian regimes now erode individual freedoms, human rights, and humanitarian cooperation. Glorifying strongmen, dismissing war atrocities, identifying perpetrators now as victims, and co-opting the victor's history as one's own is upending the legacy and lessons of WWII. A new "glorious history" is being promulgated in Poland, Hungary, China, Japan and other places. Unashamedly, the Polish government claims that Poles were uninvolved with the persecution of Jews and a Japanese diplomat praises the "Bushido Spirit" of the famed Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team to their sons.

Thus, it is welcome that this fall there are a number of seminars and conferences examining the immediate postwar period

In Japan, the revisionist, denialist history has become normalized by two decades of conservative nationalist governments. Western Alliance Managers consequently do not recognize that nationalist populism has consumed the body politic and they have concluded incorrectly that Japan is "stable" and "unscathed from the populist wave" around the world. Little attention is given to how Japan's official war apology has been diminished, voting districts are unconstitutional, or to Japan's well-funded history disinformation campaign. 

Prime Minister Kishida's address at the Seventy-Eighth National Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead yesterday repeated his predecessor Abe's 2015 statement that makes no mention of apology or remorse to Japan's victims. He, like Abe and Suga before him, promises only: "We will not forget, even for a moment, that the peace and prosperity that Japan enjoys today was built atop the precious lives and the history of suffering of the war dead." Ceremony photos and documentsKishida marks 78th anniversary of World War II end without mentioning Japan's wartime aggression, Associated Press, Aug. 15, 2023.

As a new book by a Brookings scholar supports this celebratory view of contemporary Japan, The author sees the Japanese government as having reinvented itself to encourage more political engagement with the world and a greater military presence in the region. This is a new self-confidence that will award Tokyo with credibility and global leadership. To be sure, I have not read the book (then again neither have the folks who recommend it on the dust jacket). I have, however, heard this argument repeatedly over the decades that Japan has changed and it is in our image. Someone once observed that Western efforts to "fix" Japan always result in the tutor being broken-hearted.
See: Japan’s Quiet Leadership Reshaping the Indo-Pacific by Mireya Solis, (release August 24, 2023).

Or watch the book talk: Japan's Quiet Leadership: Reshaping the Pacific, Wednesday, September 6, 89:30-10:30am EDT, Washington, DC, Hybrid. Sponsor: Brookings Institution. Speakers: Mireya Solís, Director - Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies; Kurt W. Tong, Managing Partner - The Asia Group (grandson of Philippine internee Rev Walter Curtis Tong); Yuichi Hosoya, Director of Research, API & Professor, Keio University; Demetri Sevastopulo, U.S.-China Correspondent, Financial Times.

But not everyone forgets: Memorial service for POWs in Yokohama passed down to next generation, August 12, 2023, Mainichi Shimbun

Here are a number of talks and conferences this fall that examine Japan's Pacific War and its aftermath. I hope you can attend in person or virtually. 

A. Friday September 8
MJHA Distinguished Annual Lecture
Tessa Morris-Suzuki on Writing War: History in Occupied Japan and its Echoes for Today

Hosted by The Modern Japan History Association
Speaker: Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Professor Emerita of Japanese History, Australian National University https://researchprofiles.anu.edu.au/en/persons/tessa-morris-suzuki . 

Date/time and registration information:
Online, free.
Saturday, September 9, 2023 | 9:00-10:30 AM Australian Eastern Standard Time
Friday, September 8, 2023 | 7:00-8:30 PM (EST)

As the world edges into a new Cold War, rising political tensions in East Asia are reflected in growing conflict over memories of history, and particularly of the history of the Asia-Pacific War. Increasing nationalism in all the countries of the region finds expression in rewritings of that history. In Japan, a central feature of recent waves of historical revisionism has been a focus on the shaping of historiography in the post war occupation period. The period from August 1945 to May 1952 was the era when historians first struggled to give meaning to the disastrous events of the war which had ravaged East Asia during the previous decade or more. The diverse ways in which they did this has had an enduring effect on the way in which the war is remembered to the present day. In the context of contemporary controversies over history, it is important to return to that occupation era and to reassess the possibilities and limitations of the way in which the history of the war was written by those who had just experienced it in their own lives.

B. Saturday September 16
Annual Symposium
Occupation: The Legacy of the Asiatic Pacific War 

Hosted by The Admiral Nimitz Foundation.  
 Richard B. Frank, internationally recognized leading authority on the Asia-Pacific War; Dr. Xiaobing Li, professor of the Department of History and Geography and the Don Betz Endowed Chair in International Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO); Ricardo Trota Jose, professor of history at the University of the Philippines, Diliman; Mindy L. Kotler is founder and director of Asia Policy Point. Special guest, Marie Vallejo, author of Dauntless, a book about the First and Second Filipino Regiments.

Date/time and registration information:

In person and online. Fee.
Saturday, September 16, 2023, 9:00am-5:00pm (CDT)

The Admiral Nimitz Foundation is excited to welcome you back to this year’s Annual Symposium. The focus this year will be on Japan's occupation of Asia. Titled, “Occupation: The Legacy of the Asiatic Pacific War,” the symposium will explore the nuanced ramifications of the Japanese occupation.

C. Saturday September 23
6th Annual Conference on WWII in the Philippines
War Crimes - From WWII Until Today

Hosted by: Bataan Legacy Historical Society in partnership with the University of San Francisco's Philippine Studies Program, Memorare Manila 1945 and USF Kasamahan
Speakers: James Zarsadiaz, Director, Philippine Studies Program, University of San Francisco; Prof. Mark Hull, Professor of War Crimes, U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth; Philippine Consul General in San Francisco Neil F. Ferrer; Father Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., President, University of San Francisco; Benjamin Hall, Fox News State Department Correspondent, Eyewitness to War Crimes Today (Via Zoom); Jose Custodio, Fellow, Consortium of Indo Pacific Researchers; Christopher Capozzola, Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richard Frank, Pacific War historian, author, Tower of Skulls; Marie Vallejo, author of Dauntless, a book about the First and Second Filipino Regiments; Kate LaFerriere, daughter of Frank Innis, former civilian POW in Los Banos; Cynthia Bonta, survivor of the Los Baños massacre, mother of California Attorney General Rob Bonta; and Richard Foye, author of Foye And The Filipinos Bailout, Escape, And Rescue Of A Navy Fighter Pilot In World War Two Luzon, is the son of Ensign William Foye, an F6F Hellcat Pilot and a member of the Air Group Twenty assigned to the USS Enterprise (CV6).

Date/time and registration information:
In person, Facebook LiveTaped, fee
Saturday, September 23, 2023 | 10:00am - 4:00pm (PDT)

The conference aims to present the war crimes the invading Japanese perpetrated upon soldiers and civilians in the Philippines. A compelling discussion on war crimes in the Philippines and its effects on subsequent generations as well as similarities in today's world.

D. Thursday December 7 to Saturday December 9
16th International Conference on World War II
Finding Hope In A World Destroyed: WWII Liberations & Legacies

Speakers: [there are no affiliations listed on the website and your editor simply did not have the energy to track everyone down]: Jason Dawsey  ; Francine Hirsch  ; Robert Hutchinson  ; Günter Bischof  ; John Curatola, Military Historian at the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy; Rana Mitter, University of Oxford; Yuma Totani, University of Hawaii; Yoshikuni Igarashi, Vanderbilt University; William Hitchcock  ;Blanche Wiesen Cook  ;Jeremi Suri  ;Lizabeth Cohen   ; Krewasky Salter, Pritzker Military Museum & Library; Marcus Cox  : Kara Dixon Vuic  ; David Davis  ;Jeremy Black   ; Robert Citino, National WWII Museum; Richard B. Frank, Pacific War historian, author, Tower of Skulls;  Craig Symonds, Distinguished Visiting Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History for the academic years 2017–2020 at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island; Trent Hone, a Vice President with ICF and an award-winning naval historian, author of Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898–1945; Allan R. Millett   ;Keith Lowe   ;Ronald Spector, professor emeritus, George Washington University; John McManus  : Conrad Crane  ; Steph Hinnershitz  ; Catherine Musemeche  ;Dave Gutierrez  ; Jim McNaughton  ; Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD,   ;William Hitchcock  ;Jeremi Suri  ;Major General Peter Gravett  ;Cameron McCoy  ;Robert Edsel  ;Alexandra Richie  ;Wendy Lower  ; Paul Hilliard  ; Kirk Saduski   ;Donald L. Miller  ; John Orloff

Panel of particular interest (December 7):
Aftermath in Asia
Chair: John Curatola, Military Historian at the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy
“The War That Never Really Ended: WWII’s Long Legacy”: Rana Mitter, University of Oxford
“Justice in Asia and the Pacific Region, 1945-1952: Allied War Crimes Prosecutions”: Yuma Totani, University of Hawaii
“Japan’s Decade After Defeat: Occupation and Democratization”: Yoshikuni Igarashi, Vanderbilt University

Date/time and registration information:
In person only in New Orleans, LA, fee

The International Conference on World War II is the premier adult educational event bringing together the best and brightest scholars, authors, historians, and witnesses to history from around the globe to discuss key battles, personalities, strategies, issues, and controversies of the war that changed the world. The agenda, speakers, and times are not yet set.

Contested History's Shadow

US Moves To Lock In Gains At Camp David Trilateral Summit

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University and APP member

First published in The Oriental Economist, August 14, 2023

When the leaders of Japan and South Korea join President Joe Biden at Camp David on August 18, it will cap a year of remarkable progress in bringing relations in the region back from the depths of dysfunction.

The summit will showcase the attempts by the Biden administration to institutionalize trilateral security cooperation – tying the three countries into a pseudo-alliance built on intelligence sharing, missile defense, cybersecurity and strengthened nuclear deterrence.

For American security officials, these steps have gained fresh urgency from the tightening of another alliance – between North Korea, China and Russia. In an eerie echo of the Korean War, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a highly symbolic visit to Pyongyang in late July, along with a senior Chinese Communist Party official.

The irony is that Moscow is now seeking arms from North Korea, rather than providing them. But in any case, the Kim Jong Un regime now feels emboldened, marrying new missile tests with bombastic threats.

The Pyongyang axis was perhaps also energized by the efforts of the U.S. to shore up its pledge of nuclear deterrence – so-called “extended deterrence” – to both Seoul and Tokyo.

Before the Shoigu visit, the U.S. and South Korea convened the first official meeting of a new Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) in Seoul, attended by senior U.S. national security official Kurt Campbell, designed to reassure Koreans of the American pledge to come to their defense and deter a North Korean nuclear attack. The meeting was dramatized by the visit of an American nuclear missile-armed submarine to South Korea, the first since 1981.

The Camp David summit will offer some new icing on the trilateral cake that has been baking for the past year. That will take the form of a joint declaration, still under negotiation, that will set out a shared security perception and interests, with some reference to North Korea and China, as well as the war in Ukraine. An agreement on mutual consultation in case of crisis and the convening of annual trilateral summits is also on the agenda. Economic security issues like cooperation on semiconductors and technology ties to China will also be part of the summit.

But this is short of what the Americans originally had on the agenda.

The Americans want to create a trilateral extended deterrence dialogue – broadening in effect the NCG created with South Korea. But senior American and Korean officials in Washington told this writer that these plans were opposed by both the Japanese and Korean governments.

Japanese officials are wary of any multilateral nuclear discussions, which are considered beyond the political limits in Tokyo. And the Koreans do not want to dilute the importance of their bilateral Washington Declaration, adopted earlier this year in the Biden-Yoon summit.

The Camp David summit is actually a rescheduling of a meeting that was planned for the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Hiroshima but did not take place due to Biden’s need to rush home to deal with the U.S. debt limit negotiations.

U.S. security officials had hoped to follow up on earlier agreements to share missile defense information in real-time, formalized at the trilateral defense ministers meeting in June in Singapore, and the establishment of trilateral joint exercises for anti-submarine and missile defense.

Locking in the gains

The symbolism of a stand-alone summit at Camp David, site of many famous meetings, will still capture the headlines. But behind this lie serious concerns about the fragility of this progress, no matter how much it will be celebrated in all three capitals.

The Biden administration is trying to lock in the gains of the past year to create structures of cooperation that can endure beyond the current administrations in power in Seoul and Tokyo. Lurking behind that there is a fear, strongly felt in Japan and South Korea, that the U.S. elections could return to power an American president who has no real commitment to these alliances.

There are considerable forces in both Japan and South Korea that seek to undermine, if not reverse, what has taken place in the past year. Both South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio suffer from low popularity and ongoing challenges to their leadership.

Serious unresolved issues in the realm of wartime historical justice could re-emerge at any moment. And there are gaps in strategic perception among all three countries that remain largely unaddressed, especially in Washington.

The failure to forge an effective regional trade strategy on the part of the Biden administration undermines whatever progress has been made on trilateral security. The most obvious and effective vehicle for cooperation remains the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

There is a clear benefit if South Korea joined the CPTPP, particularly if China seeks to join the grouping. But the Biden administration, for domestic political reasons, can offer no public push for that move.

While South Korea and Japan are bound by their alliance with the U.S., they do not share the same priorities.

For Korea, the central issue has been and always will be the division of the Korean peninsula and the ongoing threat of the North Korean regime to seek reunification by military means. While Seoul worries about the Sino-Russian partnership that has emboldened Pyongyang, Korean policymakers are reluctant to be drawn into an overt balancing strategy against the PRC.

For Japan, while North Korea is a shared threat, the main security focus is on China and on the tightening alliance between China and Russia, propelled by the Ukraine war. The possibility of Chinese use of force in resolving the Taiwan question has become a much more urgent issue as a result.

But the Japanese also reflect the same views as Koreans about the need to avoid a path toward full-scale economic war with China and to continue to seek ways to engage Beijing.

“Amid the intensifying rivalry between the United States and China, Japan finds itself in an increasingly delicate situation, caught between its security guarantor and its leading economic partner,” former Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Tanaka Hitoshi wrote recently.

“As a staunch ally of the United States, Japan is committed to reinforcing the alliance framework to deter unilateral changes to the status quo and uphold regional stability. At the same time, despite significant debate and diverse views on its China policy, Japan’s geographic proximity, extensive people-to-people connections, and strong economic ties with China mean that it must carefully navigate tensions and avert unnecessary instability or chaos.”

Ironically, that is true as well for the U.S. although its current political climate does not allow a frank discussion of this reality, though that is changing slightly.

The politics of normalization in Korea and Japan

The greatest source of potential challenges to this progress toward a trilateral security pact is the attempt to push ahead in Korea-Japan relations without really resolving the issues of colonial and wartime history.

The normalization of relations is largely the consequence of the change in administrations in Seoul, though even during the previous progressive administration there was a growing conviction that the severe downturn in relations needed to be reversed.

Yoon has very clearly repudiated the use of anti-Japanese tropes in Korean domestic politics and taken steps to unilaterally resolve the forced labor issue, the Fukushima nuclear wastewater discharge controversy, the export control problem and lingering barriers to security cooperation such as the fire control incident of 2018.

Still, Yoon’s personal popularity remains relatively low, though support for his administration has stabilized somewhat. That said, the polarization of Korean politics remains unchanged. The opposition Democratic Party is gearing up for what promises to be a highly contested and crucial election next spring for the National Assembly, where the Democrats still hold a majority.

The key issues pushed by the progressives are aimed squarely at Yoon’s foreign and security policy agenda, as well as at issues of domestic economic reform. These include the Fukushima discharge, the confrontation with trade unions over labor policy reforms, the unilateral and unreciprocated settlement of the forced labor compensation suits, and the charge that Yoon is undermining Korean independence by subordinating policy to the U.S. and Japan.

The Korean left argues that Yoon’s tilt against China is dictated by the US and Japan and endangers the Korean economy, which is suffering from slowing growth driven in part by a steep decline in exports of Korean semiconductors, batteries and other technology goods to China.

Even among conservatives in Korea, there is a growing concern that while Korea has embraced a confrontation with China, it may find itself alone as the U.S. pursues the resumption of engagement with Beijing. If the economy continues to suffer, with Korean businesses seeming to be put at risk due to the anti-China policy, this may shape the coming election as a potential turning point for Yoon’s foreign and security policy shift.

The politics of normalization in Japan are not nearly as perilous as those of Korea. Prime Minister Kishida’s efforts to improve the optics of relations – the visit of Yoon to Japan, the reciprocal visit to Korea, and the joint appearance at the memorial for Korean victims of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima – are generally viewed positively in Japan.

Within elite policy circles in Japan, based on this writer’s conversations in Tokyo this year, there is recognition that President Yoon has taken serious and even politically risky steps to improve relations and that it is the Japanese interest to support those efforts. Skepticism about Korean commitment to normal relations and the easing of anti-Japanese feelings in Korea has eased considerably.

The history problem will not go away

However, Kishida has been unwilling – and perhaps politically unable – to offer significant concessions on the historical justice issues, most specifically to encourage Japanese corporations to offer contributions to the fund used by Korea to compensate forced labor victims and their descendants.

Nor was Kishida willing to directly address the issues of Japan’s wartime conduct or its colonial rule. All of that was widely noted by Koreans and influenced the view held by Koreans that Yoon made all the concessions on this issue and the Japanese did essentially nothing.

Kishida remains effectively constrained by the strength of the more conservative and historically revisionist elements of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), mainly organized by the former Abe faction but not confined to its members alone.

He may not feel able to take the steps needed on history issues until he holds another general election under his leadership and, if successful, ends the constant discussion of his succession within the LDP. Kishida, however, also shows no personal interest or conviction to confront the history issues more directly.

There is a belief in Tokyo, echoed in Washington, and to some degree in the Presidential administration in Seoul, that the history issues have been effectively contained and even resolved. That will probably be reflected in the outcome of the Camp David summit. But that is an illusion, and a dangerous one.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Japan's Middle East Diplomacy

Kishida’s Halfway Political Leadership

By Takuya Nishimura, Editorial Writer, The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
July 24, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point.

Facing the difficulty of energy price hikes caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was not strange that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited the Middle East early this summer. Through a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar (July 16-18, 2023), Kishida sought stronger economic connections in the region as well as political alliances. However, those Arab nations were mainly interested in acquiring Japan’s technology and investment. Kishida’s geopolitical effort to include the countries called “the Global South” on the side of Western democracy is still halfway there.
In the meeting with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Kishida emphasized the importance of cooperating as strategic partners for regional stability. Saudi Arabia is in the process of socio-economic reform titled “Vision 2030,” a national plan started in 2016, aiming at moving the country away from its dependence on oil profits. Referring to a bilateral framework named “Japan-Saudi Vision 2030,” Kishida hoped for further cooperation in advanced science and technology, medicine, healthcare and other areas. Confirming the establishment of a strategic dialogue at the level of foreign ministers, both leaders agreed to enhance the countries’ relationship to foster decarbonization through technology-sharing that will establish the Middle East as the hub of next-generation energies.
It was obvious that Kishida made the visit to address Japan’s current energy problems. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, the government of Japan has increased subsidies to stabilize gasoline prices. The subsidies originally were part of a program to reverse the economic damage caused by COVID-19. According to a report of Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, Japan’s procurement of crude oil overwhelmingly depends on the Middle East, which provided as much as 97% of Japan’s oil imports this past May.
Kishida did not forget to express his gratitude to Prince Mohammed for the stable supply of crude oil from Saudi Arabia over the years. While Kishida emphasized the need for stability in the international crude oil market, Muhammad bin Salman simply expressed his willingness to work for the benefit of both the oil-consuming and oil-producing countries.
What Saudi Arabia wanted from Japan was cooperation in the energy shift from fossil fuels to clean energy. Based on a Saudi proposal , both leaders issued a joint statement on Light House Initiative for Clean Energy Cooperation, a bilateral framework to showcase Saudi-Japan leadership in clean energy projects and sustainable advanced materials and to support the Saudis’ ongoing efforts to become a hub for clean energy, mineral resources and supply chains for energy components.
For Japan, security in the Asia-Pacific region is crucial; economic development in the Middle East is not. One major reason for strengthening Japan’s relationship with Middle Eastern countries is to limit China’s influence over energy policy. Kishida introduced Prince Mohammed his renewed plan of Free and Open Indo-Pacific, which upholds principles of freedom, the rule of law, respect for diversity, inclusiveness and openness. While Kishida expressed his desire to continue working closely with Saudi Arabia in addressing various challenges in the Indo-Pacific, Prince Mohammed more generally expressed his pleasure to have an opportunity to cooperate with Japan “in various fields.” Although two leaders affirmed that they would never allow any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo by force, the Saudis did not mention Russia in Ukraine.
As the chair of the G7 this year, Japan is responsible for promoting G7 policy that condemns Russia. Yet Japan cannot find any leverage to invite Saudi Arabia into the framework of economic sanctions against Russia. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has cooperated with Russia in keeping oil prices relatively high, In a similar vein, Kishida did not touch on the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, notwithstanding a G7 statement in 2018 that condemned the killing.
Kishida’s meetings with the heads of UAE and Qatar were less fraught: economic cooperation with Japan was the basic feature of both visits. In the meeting with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who will be hosting COP 28 later this year, Kishida stressed that the cooperation between Japan and UAE was not limited to energy but extended to various fields including space. Both leaders issued a joint statement to lead international efforts to tackle climate change, recognizing the role of advanced technologies in accelerating decarbonization. In the meeting with Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Kishida stressed the importance of investment in natural gas. Thanking Kishida for the contribution of Japanese companies to Qatar, Emir Tamim expected further investment and technology transfer.
In the decades after the World War II, the Japanese have been working to improve their image in the Middle East to spur economic growth in the recovery process from the devastations of war including the suffering from atomic bombs dropped by United States. The turning points in Japan’s relationship with the Middle East were the Gulf War in 1990-91 and September 11th of 2001. Following U.S. strategy, Japan shifted its diplomacy from strictly non-military support to involvement in military operations.

In the opinion poll in seven Middle East countries in 2021, 76% of the people acknowledged friendly relationships with Japan. That result surpassed United States (70%) but fell below ASEAN (93%) or India (91%). If Japan wants to exercise its leadership in Middle East, it must listen carefully to the voices of the people there, who are reluctant to be involved in the conflicts among the Western nations. 

Unveiling of Nurse Bullwinkel statue and Bangka Island rapes and massacre

Miniature of Nurse Bullwinkel statue
On August 1, 2023 Washington, DC time or August 2 Australian time t
he installation of the Nurse Vivian Bullwinkel statue will take place. 

It is the first representation of a woman on the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia.This historic event is hosted by the Australian College of Nursing Foundation and the Australian War Memorial.

You can watch the ceremony HERE. 7:30am AEST Wednesday in Australia, which is 5:30pm EDT Tuesday in Washington, DC

Nurse Bullwinkel was the sole survivor of the February 16, 1942 rape and massacre of 22 women who served with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) as well as one British civilian woman who were shipwrecked on Radji Beach, Bangka Island in the Dutch East Indies. They were fleeing the fall of Singapore aboard the Vyner Brooke. There were American women on the ship and Bullwinkel ended up in a POW camp on Sumatra where there were also Americans among the many Allied nationalities of women. The Japanese kept the camps housing women secret, making eventual rescue difficult and late.

Bullwinkel symbolizes the extraordinary service of the Allied nursing corps during WWII in the Pacific and their resilience in face of constant starvation, sexual assault, and abuse.

The statue also rights a historical injustice. In 1946, the American Occupation authorities demanded that the Australian government have Nurse Bullwinkel remove from her testimony at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal her descriptions of the gang rapes on Bangka Island and sexual abuse of the women in the POW camps. As a result, she remained quiet until shortly before she died in 2000. When finally asked to tell the truth, Bullwinkel replied "We were actually tortured and raped – and then they [we were] marched out to sea." What she never admitted, but the POW camp medical records suggest, was that she contracted syphilis from the gang rape and miscarried. 

The perpetrators of the Bangka Massacre were never prosecuted. Reportedly, they were the same soldiers who were responsible for the rapes, mutilations (possible cannibalism), and murders the nurses and doctors at St Stephen's hospital in Hong Kong on December 25, 1941.

After the women were assaulted, the Japanese set up a machine gun on the beach. Senior Nurse Irene Melville Drummond whispered to her colleagues as they entered the surf  "Chin up, girls. I'm proud of you and I love you all." The women were then machine-gunned when they were about waist deep in the sea. Nurse Drummond fell first.

Thus far, there is no indication that anyone from the U.S. government intends to attend the August 2nd event for Nurse Bullwinkel in Canberra. Attendance would be an affirmation of the American commitment to women's rights, victims of sexual violence, and our Australian allies. 

There is legislation honoring American WWII nurses (H.R.3272) pending. Unfortunately, the clauses on WWII in the Pacific are grossly inaccurate and I hope they are corrected. On July 28, 2023, one of the "Angels of Bataan," Nurse Susan Josephine Pitcher was featured as the VA's Veteran of the Day.

Resources and readings on Vivian Bullwinkel and the Bangka Island Massacre.

-A thorough analysis of the Bangka Massacre:  The compelling conclusion, arrived at through the lengthy research conducted in compiling this memorial document, is that the events at Radji Beach were even more complex, cruel, and barbaric than mainstream reports have to date led us to believe. The empathy of those honouring the memory of those women murdered at Radji Beach may need to also consider the torture experienced during their last hours - perhaps even more so than has been the case to date. Nothing detracts from the exemplary behaviour and everlasting honour of these brave and noble women.
-For an overall history of the atrocities on Bangka see the The Muntok Memorial Peace Museum.
-Women Interned in World War Two Sumatra: Faith, Hope and Survival, Hardcover – August 9, 2022, Barbara Coombes (Author). 
Attachments area


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

No surprise here - Chiune Sugihara is not what Conservative Japan wants him to be

Researchers say Japan has exaggerated the story of Chiune Sugihara, 

the ‘Japanese Schindler’

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, BY JORDYN HAIME JULY 19, 2023 

See original for pictures and links

YAOTSU, Japan (JTA) — Three years before the Olympics began in 2021, Tokyo was already developing the national image it would display as the world looked on.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education issued a handout to the city’s public schools in 2018 highlighting “the outstanding achievements of our predecessors” that were meant to “raise [students’] self-awareness and pride as Japanese.”

Occupying a majority of the four-page handout was the story of diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who wrote thousands of life-saving visas for Jews fleeing Europe in 1940. The pamphlet recreates a dramatized version of Sugihara’s life and actions, bolstered by quotes from nameless descendants of the Jewish refugees he saved.

“Sugihara should be remembered and honored as an amazing hero who sacrificed his profession and family to save strangers from a different ethnicity and culture,” one of the quotes reads.

Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat to Lithuania from 1939 to 1940, helped thousands of Jewish refugees flee wartime Europe by issuing transit visas that allowed them to travel across the Soviet Union to Japan. Today, his name and story can be found all over the country, from his supposed hometown in Yaotsu to a museum at the northern Tsuruga port where Jewish refugees landed.

His likeness is found in memorials in Tokyo and in manga series and films, in addition to nearly every modern history school textbook. In 2017, the Tokyo Weekender magazine dubbed Sugihara the “best Japanese person ever.” Some Catholics have even expressed hope that Sugihara will be officially canonized by the Catholic church as a Saint.

But over the past few years, a growing number of researchers — in addition to his own son — have publicly challenged Sugihara’s superhero status and many details of the version of his story pushed in Japan and around the world. Some researchers say that Japan has used him as a symbol of humanitarianism in the face of criticism of Japan’s World War II record.

And some note that Japan is taking the nationalist narrative one step further, by boosting another World War II-era figure whom they believe can achieve a similar level of national fame and hero status — whether or not his story is verifiable.

The Sugihara story

Issuing visas was not part of Sugihara’s job description. He was stationed in Kaunas, Lithuania, from 1939 to keep an eye on Soviet military activity in the region.

But when rumors spread of a Japanese diplomat issuing transit visas, Sugihara one day found a crowd of Jews lined up outside of his home hoping they would be lucky enough to get one. They were running from the Soviets; no one had yet predicted the havoc that would be unleashed on them by the Germans when they finally invaded one year later.

Sugihara issued some 2,140 transit visas, some used for entire households. But Meron Medzini, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Department of Asian Studies, wrote in his 2016 book “Under the Shadow of the Rising Sun: Japan and the Jews during the Holocaust Era” that “Not all of the visas were used, and this makes it difficult to substantiate the claim that Sugihara was instrumental in helping [the commonly accepted number of] between 6,000 and 7,000 Jews leave Lithuania.”

Sugihara’s act was also only one step in a series of events that led to the refugees’ escape. Tokyo required them to have a final destination permit as a condition of their transit through Japan, and those were provided by Jan Zwartendijk, a Dutch consul in Kaunas at the time who stamped thousands of Jewish passports to visa-free Dutch Curacao. Jewish organizations stepped in to pay for the refugees’ transit across the Soviet Union, which was miraculously granted by Soviet authorities.

Andrew Jocubowicz, whose parents escaped wartime Europe with the help of a Sugihara visa, emphasized the importance of Zwartendijk’s role in an interview. In recent years, the Dutch consulate has also attempted to boost the profile of their own Holocaust hero, who is often “hidden” in the shadow of Sugihara.

“The critical person in the whole game was really Zwartendijk,” said Jocubowicz, a professor of sociology at the University of Technology Sydney who has spent four decades researching the conditions of his family’s survival. “Without those visas, it would not have happened at all. There’s no way Sugihara could have cooked up something that didn’t have people moving on from Japan.”

After arriving in Japan, Jews left for Australia, Canada, the United States and other countries. Others were later deported to Japanese-controlled Shanghai, where authorities imprisoned them in a ghetto for the remainder of the war.

The hometown museum that isn’t

Claims that Sugihara helped several thousand Jews; that his requests for visas were rejected “three times” by his superiors; and that he was dismissed and punished for his actions are all important details that make Sugihara a hero. But they are also all claims that researchers have debunked.

Jocubowicz said his father barely met Sugihara, whose visa was just one chapter in a long journey to safety. The survival of this group of Jews was “almost pure luck at every point,” he said, especially their allowance by the Soviets to cross through Russia. After several months in Kobe, his family spent the remainder of the war in the Shanghai ghetto before boarding a ship to Australia, where Jocubowicz was raised.

“My feeling is that it was an extraordinary wormhole that opened up through these essentially conflicting empires, and as they crashed into each other, this little hole opened up and people were able to scurry into it,” he said.

Yaotsu’s claim as Sugihara’s birthplace is also disputed, said Nobuki Sugihara, the consul’s only surviving child. Nobuki said that according to family documents, his father was born in Mino, about 30 miles away from Yaotsu.

“It’s shocking. People come from around the world to visit Yaotsu [but] my father was not born there, he has never lived there,” Nobuki told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “They made a story that he was born in Yaotsu in order to get tourists because in that village there is nothing.”

The memorial and museum in Yaotsu, despite its distance from a major city, receives 20,000 tourists per year both foreign and domestic, according to Ito Yuko, who works in Yaotsu’s regional development and promotion division. She said the Sugihara family once lived in their small town, and elderly townspeople still remember them.

“For our museum, we are telling the truth that we know. Not exaggerated, not right or left, we just tell the story that we think is true,” she said.

Local tourism officials have also promoted a “Sugihara Remembrance Route,” part of a multimillion-dollar effort promoted widely in Israel that is described as “a nostalgic journey of discovery that will take you to places associated with the great man and areas where the Japan’s [sic] original landscape and traditional culture remain strong.” Although sometimes referred to as the “refugees remembrance route,” the route curiously excludes the city of Kobe, where Jewish refugees lived for months before leaving Japan for other destinations.

Sugihara had no connection to many of the areas on this route, Nobuki said. He explained that much of the common narrative about Sugihara comes from his mother Yukiko’s memoir, published in 1995.

“She didn’t know exactly what happened in Kaunas, in Europe. So she asked a ghostwriter. She wanted to make a novel, not a documentary. So she put here and there some fiction stories. And this became famous in Japan,” he said.

The rise to stardom

A decade or two ago, a much smaller portion of Japanese society knew the Sugihara story. Today, he is a household name.

In a recent article for the academic journal American Historical Review, University of Haifa professor and prominent Japan scholar Rotem Kowner examined how Sugihara became a “Holocaust paragon of virtue.” Sugihara, he wrote, “was not the only consul to issue visas to Jews during this period, and not every consul who issued visas turned into a hero.”

As Japan rebuilt and rebranded into a peace-loving nation after the war, said Chiharu Inaba, a professor who researches Jewish refugees in Japan, “The people didn’t know what a hero was anymore. They needed a new hero.”

The legacy of Japan’s wartime actions, including its military’s sexual “comfort women” system, continues to hinder its relations with China and South Korea.

The start of Sugihara’s rise to hero status can be traced back to his nomination as one of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations in 1968. According to Kowner’s research, Sugihara did not earn the honor for 16 years after his initial nomination because of Yad Vashem’s initial doubts over whether he risked his life or professional position to help Jews — normally a requirement of Righteous Among the Nations status. Instead, Sugihara was at first given a certificate of recognition for his actions.

Eventually, though, when a panel was presented with new evidence and testimony from survivors, it determined that Sugihara had taken a career risk, and his Righteous status was granted in 1984. Authorities also saw it as an opportunity to improve Israel’s image in Japan, Kowner argues, as Japanese public opinion about Israel had sharply deteriorated amid the conflict with Lebanon at the time.

A former head of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations department recently disputed the claim that political considerations were involved in Sugihara’s nomination.

Recognition of Sugihara remained scant within Japan until 2000, when the Japanese government for the first time officially recognized him at a centennial celebration of his birth. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — known throughout his 2012-2020 tenure for his conservative politics, revisionist views of Japan’s World War II activities and desire to ramp up Japan’s military — embraced Sugihara more than any other Japanese leader.

In Sugihara, Abe saw an opportunity to not only boost diplomatic relations with Israel and Lithuania, but to make Sugihara a positive representative of the Japanese people in its darkest historical period.

But the process had already started before Abe’s tenure. In the 2000s, revisionist writers began adding Sugihara’s name into texts that denied the Nanjing Massacre — a Japanese attack on the Chinese city in 1937 that resulted in an estimated 300,000 deaths — “to show that wartime Japan did not resemble Nazi Germany,” Kowner wrote.

Sugihara has been a key component of what some have called Asia’s “memory competition” to have documents and memorials receive recognition from UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural heritage authority. In 2017, Japan nominated Chiune Sugihara Memorial Hall, the museum at Sugihara’s supposed hometown in Yaotsu, for UNESCO Memory of the World status; the bid failed.

“Sugihara posthumously allowed his country to shed a long-lasting self-justifying policy of victimization and, instead, rebrand itself as possessing proactive humanitarian values,” Kowner wrote. “Critically, Japan could cast itself in the role of a ‘good’ country that helped the Jews rather than that of an Axis villain.”

The next Sugihara

Sugihara’s vast fame has also paved the way for a new World War II-era Japanese hero to emerge: Kiichiro Higuchi.

Higuchi, a general, allegedly defied orders from his superiors to allow between 2,000 and 20,000 stranded Jewish refugees to cross the Russian border into Manchukuo, according to media reports and his supporters in Japan. This path to safety is now known as the “Higuchi route.”

Though far lesser known than Sugihara, efforts to attract attention to Higuchi have received mild success: through a manga series, media reports, and other commemoration efforts, such as a statue in his hometown of Awajishima. The Japanese embassy in Israel has reportedly been in discussions with Yad Vashem since 2005 about Higuchi’s Righteous Among the Nations status, but efforts have been unsuccessful.

When researchers began looking into the Higuchi story, it started to fall apart. Dylan Hallingstad O’Brien, a doctoral candidate at the University of California San Diego, has found that Higuchi likely facilitated the entrance of “at least 18 people” into Manchukuo. “There’s just no record” of more than that, O’Brien said.

“It just doesn’t add up that you have thousands and thousands of people flooding in and then there’s no record,” he said. “Especially when there are records of other Jewish refugee groups, [that have] receipts, letters, communications, and there’s just nothing for this group that supposedly went the ‘Higuchi route.’”

The website for the General Higuchi Association, an organization created to encourage the commemoration of Higuchi in Japan and pursue donations from abroad, is saturated with nationalism and false statements. Hideaki Kase — a right-wing politician who advised Shinzo Abe — chaired the association until his death last year.

“What would have happened if [Anne Frank’s] family knew of the ‘Higuchi Route’?” the website asks. “Perhaps the family would not have lived in the attic but instead would have sought passage for Manchuria, like so many other Jews did, and survived. At the time, neither the United States nor Britain accepted Jews; Japan was the only country in the world that opened its doors to Jews.”

The goal, O’Brien argued, is to promote the idea that Japan had a policy of racial harmony — in this case, of helping Jews during the war.

The consequences

Japan is far from the only country that has faced criticism for promoting Holocaust narratives for nationalist ends that historians disagree with. Poland has been widely derided for denying the part that many Polish citizens played in the killing of local Jews throughout the war. And in China, Shanghai’s history as a former home to thousands of Jewish refugees has been used as a diplomatic tool, at times to deflect from international accusations of genocide against Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Small inconsistent details or a selective use and omission of certain facts can be dangerous, Jocubowicz said. Holes in Holocaust stories give antisemites and Holocaust deniers ammunition for their arguments that Jews were not in danger, he argued.

“What happens if something is inaccurate and could be corrected is then the readers have no idea whether anything in the story is accurate,” Jocubowicz says. “So anything could be a fake. Maybe it’s all a fake, and maybe this is a signal that the whole Jewish story about the Holocaust is rubbish.”

Rabbi Mendy Sudakevich, a Chabad-Lubavitch movement emissary who has been living in Tokyo since the 1990s, sees the narrative differently. He thinks that the Sugihara story — whether it is 100% true or not — has a positive effect on people and endears them to Jews.

“Kids in Japan grew up not knowing what Japan did in the war. They don’t know the story. And Japan tried to build up a new story,” Sudakevich said. “I want the new generation of Japan to know that saving Jews is an important task. I want them to know that. And if that’s what they know about World War II, it is a good result for me.”

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, many in Japan ventured out to Yaotsu, Kobe or Tsuruga to learn more about Sugihara. Invoking his memory, Inaba and his university students have organized a 5 million yen ($37,490) donation drive for Ukrainian refugees dubbed “donations for life.” The Visas for Life organization, founded by the Sugihara family in 2000, has raised 1.7 million yen ($12,746) for Ukrainian evacuees now living in Japan.

Madoka Sugihara, Chiune Sugihara’s granddaughter and soon-to-be-director of Sugihara Visas for Life, noted the dramatic change in the government’s reception of Sugihara in the past several years.

“The way the government changed their attitude is a very cynical thing,” but “it is a good thing that they regard Sugihara-san’s act very fairly. I’m convinced that it’s a good thing,” she said.