BEIJING — Chinese state media kept up the heat on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the first day of 2014, urging him to learn from Germany in dealing with divisive historical issues. “Abe’s conspicuous lack of historical honesty contrasts shamefully with the courage and vision of late West German Chancellor Willy Brandt,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary Wednesday. It highlighted Brandt’s 1970 visit to a monument in Poland to victims of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising — a revolt by Jews against deportations to Nazi death camps that was brutally crushed by German troops — when he famously fell to his knees. What Brandt did was a “spontaneous act of genuine repentance,” Xinhua added.
“He said no words, but his silent apology spoke a lot: Germany repents its history, is willing to make up for the past, and stands ready to earn the international trust it needs to move on.” China has intensified criticism of Abe since Dec. 26 when he visited Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine. It honors several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II, and serves as a reminder of Japan’s 20th century aggression against China and other Asian nations. On Monday Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Abe “himself closes a door of dialogue with Chinese leaders” and is “not welcome” by the Chinese people. One Wednesday one of Abe’s cabinet ministers paid his own visit to the shrine. Yoshitaka Shindo said he was renewing a wish for peace. Separately, the Beijing News on Wednesday ran photos of Brandt kneeling in Warsaw and current Chancellor Angela Merkel standing before a wreath with her head bowed during a visit to the site of the Dachau concentration camp in August.
The photos accompanied short articles on reactions — including by the German government — to Abe’s shrine visit. “The sincere remorse and in-depth reflection of Brandt and other German leaders paved the way for their nation to be accepted by the international community,” Xinhua said. “The moment Brandt knelt down, his nation stood up.” China regularly takes Japan to task over historical interpretations of the war and calls on it to learn “correct” lessons from history. According to estimates by Chinese government researchers, China lost 20.6 million people directly from the war. Abe came to power just over a year ago vowing to rejuvenate Japan’s long moribund economy and amend its war-renouncing constitution. His views on history — he has previously questioned the definition of “invade” in relation to Japan’s military adventurism last century — have raised fears over the direction he wants to take the country. After his visit to the shrine, he attempted to limit criticism, telling reporters it was not intended to hurt Chinese or South Koreans and should be seen as a pledge that Japan would not go to war again.