By Joe Hhung
An escalating ambassadorial war of words between Japan and China has descended into a kind of “pot calling the kettle black” situation. In an opinion piece published in the Daily Telegraph last Monday, Tokyo’s envoy to the United Kingdom Keiichi Hayashi compared China to Voldemort, the fictional evil wizard from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Hayashi’s letter was a response to an op-ed commentary by Chinese Ambassador to London Liu Xiaoming, published in the Daily Telegraph on Jan. 1, which condemned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine as a symbol of Japan’s militarist past, comparing militarism to “the haunting Voldemort of Japan” and calling the shrine honoring the ward dead “a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul.” A horcrux in the Harry Potter series is a receptacle in which evil characters store fragments of their souls to enable them to achieve immortality.
In a counterclaim, Hayashi wrote: “It is ironic that a country that has increased its own military spending by more than 10 percent a year for the past 20 years should call a neighbor ‘militarist.’ I sincerely hope that it (China) will come forward, rather than keep invoking the ghost of ‘militarism’ of seven decades ago, which no longer exists,” he added.
Of course, it’s ridiculous to liken militarism to the “haunting Voldemort of Japan” and call the Yasukuni Shrine, where thousands of Taiwanese soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy are also honored, a kind of horcrux, like the Den of Subdued Demons (伏魔殿) at a centuries-old Taoist Shangqing Temple on Mount Longhu (龍虎山) in Jiangxi, which had confined 108 evil spirits who were released to become heroes in China’s classic Water Margin (水滸傳) novel. It’s equally ridiculous and childish to compare Beijing to Voldemort. As a matter of fact, both envoys should try to find a better metaphor to use against each other. Mr. Hayashi could have compared China to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, or if he were honest, to the militaristic Japanese Empire.
But Ambassador Liu was somewhat on the right side by mentioning the Voldemort of Imperial Japan who is reappearing. In a sense, the Land of the Rising Sun was like the evil wizard, just as Nazi Germany was. Germany turned militaristic after the First World War because it needed a lebensraum after it had been devastated by the indemnities which couldn’t be paid in a century, but Japan started building up its “invincible” imperial army and navy right after it had avenged the “Triple Intervention” 20 years after the first Sino-Japanese War, at the end of which Taiwan was ceded to it in 1895. Prussia, together with Czarist Russia and France, intervened to compel Meiji Japan to return the Liaotung Peninsula to Qing China after the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki which turned Taiwan into a Japanese colony.
It is true that the People’s Republic of China is on the way to a massive military buildup, but it’s not to the extent that Japan did in the first decade of the 20th century. Remember the arms race which Uncle Sam finally tried to halt by calling the Washington conference where it was decided the ratio of battleships kept by the five sea powers of the world should be five for the United States and Great Britain to three for Japan and 1.5 for France and Italy? Then, Japan started building the aircraft carrier fleet that launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.