Perhaps I’m overly cynical. But I think it’s probably fair to say that the recent outpouring of Chinese rage over a Japanese textbook has much more to do with an effort to broaden the UN Security Council, in which Japan might gain a permanent seat, than about a textbook. “This is something we Chinese cannot accept. Japan should not be allowed on the UN Security Council. That would be like allowing a criminal to join the police,” says Lu Yunfei, who claims to have gotten more than 20 million signatures on a petition opposing a permanent Japanese Security Council seat. “Only a country that respects history, and takes responsibility for history, can take greater responsibilities in the international community,” said China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
But, according to BBC Beijing correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes:
Young Chinese are taught about the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. They are not however taught about the 17 official apologies that Japan has made to China over the last 30 years, including one from the Japanese emperor when he visited Beijing.
Nor are they told of the $30bn in aid that Japan has given to China since ties were re-established in 1972, aid that has helped build Beijing’s international airport and the city’s new subway system. You’ll search in vain for a plaque on either acknowledging where the money came from.
Wingfield-Hayes points to some not so glorious, more recent, and rarely mentioned Chinese history. He cites “Mao’s disastrous ‘great leap forward’ campaign in which more than 20 million people starved to death,” and a Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979. Does all this match Japanese atrocities in World War II, including the “Rape of Nanjing,” in which “invading Japanese troops butchered tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Chinese civilians in a month-long orgy of slaughter,” and “thousands more young Chinese women were later forced into sexual slavery as what the Japanese army euphemistically called ‘comfort women?'” Perhaps.
But it’s also worth noting that the current UN Security Council’s permanent members have something to lose with a broadening. Both proposals would expand the 15 seats on the present council to 24, diluting the value of any existing vote. There might be more countries with the only real power on the council–veto power, further complicating negotiations.
China isn’t the only country now on the Security Council with history to acknowledge. The United States sought to exterminate Native Americans until late in the 19th Century. The British ran a far vaster empire than the Nazis. France was in Vietnam until throwing up its hands in the 1960s — only to have an anticommunist paranoid United States step in. More recently, “French military intervention in the civil war in the Côte d’Ivoire has been decisive. France not only ordered troops to the country, it also provided military equipment to the badly equipped government army.” Russia inherited its seat from the Soviet Union, notorious for the atrocities of Stalin, and has questions of its own to answer in Chechnya.
If failing to own up to history should disqualify a country from a permanent seat, perhaps Prime Minister Wen Jiabao should begin by offering up his country’s own Security Council seat.