This morning an interview was broadcast on ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Commission) with Peter Jennings, Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, where he commented on the recently announced defense agreement between Australia and Japan. This he supported, and interpreted as being directed at China. All in all, he was pleased with the deal, and when asked, stated it would encourage peace between Australia and China.
That the agreement will mean better relations with China is unlikely. Most Chinese will know of the ‘Rape of Nanjing,’ a massacre occurring over about six weeks from December 13, 1937, when soldiers of the Japanese army murdered an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 non-combatant Chinese. They also recall the torture of Chinese and Russians in Manchuria, and the many further abuses enacted by the Japanese state as it sought to colonize China. I once carried out a World Bank consultancy in China. During this time, I asked some of its citizens (admittedly mostly doctors) how they viewed various other nations, including Japan. I remember one older doctor’s response. When asked what he thought of Australia, he said, “Small gold mountain.” America? “Big gold mountain.” Russia? “Older brother.” And Japan? He paused. “Mass killers.” (Koreans hold similar views; one young Korean woman once commented to me that “We hate the Japanese, but we respect them”).
It is unlikely that forming an alliance with a country so hated by many Chinese will help Australia-China relations. As noted in my book ‘Einstein’s Last Message,’ George Saville (1633-1695), 1st Marquess of Halifax and English statesman, once observed, “Could we know what men are most apt to remember, we might know what they are most apt to do”. This applies to China’s memories and views of Japan, and increasingly, of Australia. Personal (or national) affronts are remembered. All politics may be local, but they are also personal.