Escolhas de imprensa

No ano passado, Condoleezza Rice, a Secretária de Estado norte-americana, referia-se assim à ameaça de que a Coreia do Norte viesse a tornar-se na nona potência nuclear conhecida:

«Para dizer com franqueza, acho que os norte-coreanos estão um bocadinho decepcionados por não verem toda a gente aos pulos e com os cabelos em pé.»
[«I do think the North Koreans have been, frankly, a little bit disappointed that people are not jumping up and down and running around with their hair on fire», she told The Wall Street Journal.]

Bom: parece que agora talvez haja razões para ficar com os cabelos em pé. A Coreia do Norte com armas nucleares pode ser uma perspectiva bem mais assustadora do que o Irão (ou, digamos, o Iraque de Saddam). No Cáucaso, a Rússia e a Geórgia ensaiam um conflito de implicações significativas para o Ocidente: basta pensar no Kosovo, diz Anatol Lieven. Por cá, Pacheco Pereira pergunta-se «Por que razão a democracia tem medo de Salazar?», enquanto Fred Halliday, viajando por Barcelona, se coloca questões relacionadas, sobre Espanha. Nas minhas notas de viagem sobre a China, duas semanas atrás, tinha reparado que os documentários que a televisão de lá transmite, noite após noite, não são muito simpáticos para o Japão, e a leitura do special report do Economist sobre a «guerra fria na Ásia» confirma amplamente isso [ver a continuação deste post]. Ainda no Economist, o texto mais surpreendente e trabalhoso da semana anterior é esta longa peça sobre o Second Life, talvez a experiência mais completa até à data para pôr as pessoas a viverem na net.

(…) Japan’s troubles with its neighbours are still vexed by past belligerence. In particular, they remember Japan’s aggression between 1894, when it first went to war with China, and 1945, its total defeat after the second world war. The leader-to-leader summits that Mr Abe is attempting to revive, after all, were broken off by China and South Korea because of the annual visits that his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, made to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine.

This Shinto shrine is a quiet compound, white with cherry blossom in spring, that sits in the heart of the capital’s bustle. It was founded, rather like Arlington Cemetery outside Washington, DC, to commemorate those who died in the mid-19th century civil wars that unified the country. Since then, the souls of 2.5m Japanese war dead have been enshrined there. Unlike Arlington, however, 14 top war criminals from the second world war (including Hideki Tojo, the executed wartime leader) were also enshrined in 1978, after Yasukuni’s direct links with the state had been severed. An adjacent museum paints Japan’s wars between 1931 and 1945, first in China and then across Asia, as the actions of a peace-loving nation liberating the region from Western imperialists.

In fact about 20m Asians died in these wars. In China alone, perhaps 10m died in scorched-earth campaigns, massacres of civilians and biological warfare—all glossed over by revisionists, and still taught at some schools as merely “The China Incident”. Though most of the 5m visitors a year honour family and friends who died, Yasukuni has a deserved reputation in Asia as the site of an extreme and hardline view of Japan’s past and future.

Mr Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits caused protests across China. Yet he is no warmonger. His visits, according to Ian Buruma, the author of several books on Asia, played to a new mood of patriotic populism in a country that sees both China and South Korea as new economic rivals, and that objects to being lectured about ancient guilt by the undemocratic Chinese.

A sharp taste of the new mood can be found in a private bookshop in Kasumigaseki, in downtown Tokyo. The tiny shop is crammed with bestsellers, some of them thick manga comic books. One of the most popular manga authors is Yoshinori Kobayashi, whose first volume of his series “On War” sold nearly 1m copies. In it, he claimed that Japan’s Asian wars were honourable and that Japanese atrocities such as the 1937 Nanjing massacre never happened. His latest book describes how Japan’s Class A war criminals were actually victims.

Titles by other authors explain why South Korea is “the nuisance neighbour” with an inferiority complex towards Japan, and why the Chinese are hated around the world: they are self-centred, have boorish manners (spitting, never queuing) and spread disease. In the manga books, the Japanese are usually drawn with blond hair and Caucasian features—a habit that reflects a long-held desire in Japan to identify with the West rather than with Asia. Koreans and Chinese, on the other hand, are depicted as swarthy, brutish and slit-eyed.

Yoshiko Nozaki of the State University of New York at Buffalo argues in Japan Focus, an online journal, that the ability of neonationalists to make historical certainties such as the Nanjing massacre sound controversial leads the public to feel that these issues remain unresolved among experts. Certainly, such books are so ubiquitous in Japan that the visitor soon ceases to be shocked. What surprises still is that this particular little bookstore sits on the first floor of Japan’s foreign ministry.

The view from China

When Mr Abe arrives at Beijing’s Capital Airport on October 8th, few Chinese will be aware that $250m in cheap loans from Japan helped pay for a big expansion of the facility in the 1990s. In China’s state-controlled media, Japan is rarely portrayed positively. There is hardly a mention of the tens of billions of dollars-worth of low-interest loans and outright gifts that Japan has given China since the late 1970s—loans that China has thought of as its due as a developing country, and which it does not care to see as atonement for the war. When Japan decided last year to phase out its loan aid to China by 2008, the state media published indignant commentaries describing this as an affront, and only in passing revealed details of Japan’s largesse.

For the Chinese Communist Party, it is useful to portray Japan as an unrepentant aggressor with dreams of reasserting military dominance over Asia. The party has always sought to assert its legitimacy by representing itself as a bulwark against Japanese hegemony. China’s school textbooks are filled with stories of communist heroism in the war, and of Japanese brutality. Since the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and the collapse of much of the rest of the communist world in the early 1990s, the party has struggled all the harder to justify its grip on power. “Patriotic education”, stressing the party’s wartime role and the depravities of the Japanese invaders, has played a central role in this effort. (…)

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