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EU can teach Japan about reconciliation


DESPITE the debt woes afflicting and dividing Europe, the European Union has long been a successful model for regional integration.

The largest economic bloc in the world dates its origins to the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

Chinese and German scholars recently converged on Fudan University in Shanghai to discuss the legacy of the EU’s founding fathers in bringing lasting peace to a war-torn continent as well as their implications for other regions fraught with historical rivalries.

Attending the 2nd Shanghai-Hamburg Forum, Dr Rolf Gruner, professor of history at the University of Rostock, said the coal and steel project marked the beginning of a joint effort to lay to rest centuries-old feuds especially between — but not restricted to — Germany and France.

There actually was a French attempt after the war to annex the German Rhineland and its coal-rich Ruhr areas, only to be scuttled by General Charles de Gaulle himself, for fear it might stoke German revanchism, which had led to the World War II, said Gruner.

To truly initiate Franco-German reconciliation, French politicians such as Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer agreed to share their coal and iron resources for common development. The idea was that a Germany embedded in this economic relationship would cease to be a threat to its neighbors, said Gruner.

The joint project expanded in 1951 into an organization that also included Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg, which was the precursor to the EU. Great statesmanship played a decisive role in this process.

Politicians like Schuman, Monnet and Adenauer, instead of indulging in their national feuds, decided to bury the hatchet and contemplate what was in the common interests of the ravaged continent, said Zi Zhongyun, renowned researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Zi noted that we often credit Germans for their genuine atonement for war guilt, but praise should be similarly lavished on French politicians for being far-sighted and forgiving.

The case of Asia

The various moves by Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe and his right-wing allies to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities and violate China’s sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands have severely undone any attempts by his predecessors at achieving reconciliation, such as Yukio Hatoyama, who proposed in 2010 that China and Japan take the lead in constructing an East-Asian Community, said Gruner.

He added that Japan isn’t yet ready to come to terms with its invasion of China from 1937 to 1945. Without duly accepting its responsibility, there will be no grounds for reconciliation, and reconciliation is the prerequisite for building any Asian community, said Gruner.

While it is inconceivable that any decent German would publicly deny the Holocaust, there are always elements in Japan openly denying the Nanking Massacre or who challenge the official death toll of 300,000 people, said Zi.

The biggest lesson EU has to offer, she said, is that in spite of their feuds, Europeans reached a consensus that wars were to be staved off at all costs.