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Japan’s National Identity Gaps: A Framework for Analysis of International Relations in Asia
Region: Asia
Published August 18, 2014
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On December 26 China’s leadership commemorated the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth by bowing before his statue at the mausoleum in his honor on Tiananmen Square. On December 27 Abe Shinzo became the first prime minister since Koizumi Junichiro to visit the Yasukuni Shrine with few in doubt about the historical revisionist thinking behind his visit. Memories that in the 1980s had appeared to be consigned to the “dustbin of history” had come roaring back at enormous cost to prior trust that China was putting Maoism far behind it and Japan was leaving militarism in the past. These were not isolated incidents of recognition of the deep roots of individual leaders and elites, but powerful signals of reconstructed national identities at odds with what had been widely anticipated during the heyday of Sino-Japanese relations, bound to exacerbate bilateral gaps between identities. Confident of its rising power, China was prepared to be more defiant of world opinion as well as assertive in reclaiming its socialist identity in the face of public apathy or dissent, while Japan’s leadership was already treated as a pariah in China and South Korea but had an electoral mandate for the coming three years; so it was ready to be defiant as well. Below I concentrate on how sources in Japan frame relations with the states critical to its national identity, focusing on writings from late 2013 as identity gaps were intensifying.

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