China and the Koreas Can Agree They're Mad at Japan's Definition of 'Invasion'

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There isn't much in this world that South Korea, North Korea, and China have in common. And getting all three on the same side, as U.N. diplomats have learned of late, is like herding cats. Enter Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who's questioning whether the Japanese occupation of those countries was an "invasion"—you know, per se

"The definition of what constitutes an 'invasion' has yet to be established in academia or in the international community," Abe said in parliament on Tuesday. "Things that happened between nations will look different depending on which side you view them from." When you start getting into the semantics of the history books and defer to obscurity, you know something bad happened—only you don't want to call it what it is. Those words are part of Abe's political push to change Japan's pacifist constitution, and they arrived around the time the prime minister paid an offering to the Yasukuni war shrine. Not to mention his efforts to boost approval ratings.

As Abe said, everything depends on how you see it—or at least which side you're on when it comes to the history of global conflict. And China likely sees Abe's attempts to redefine "invasion" as a crass reminder of the period between 1937 and 1945, when the Second Sino-Japanese War became "the largest Asian War in the 20th Century." North and South Korea, meanwhile, take their history and see an antagonistic interpretation of the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula that lasted until 1945.

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"At this occasion, we expressed strong regrets with regards to the distorted understanding of history and anachronistic words from Japan, its government and politicians," South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young says in The Wall Street Journal. And China, which often sides with South Korea's main antagonist, echoed similar sentiments through its own ministry of foreign affairs:

It doesn't matter how or in what role Japanese leaders visit the Yasukuni shrine We feel it is in essence a denial of Japan's history of militarist invasion."

North Korea being North Korea, its propaganda machine has, of course, issued its own stern warning. After all, it's been doing that for the better part of the year 2013. But Pyongyang also echoed the sentiments of China and South Korea, albeit a bit more aggressively. Here's an excerpt from the state-run Korean Central News Agency:

So what, exactly, is the Japanese prime minister thinking? Why would you want to unite three neighboring countries, two of which can't stand sharing the same border, and turn them against you, all over the histrionics of a controversial word? It seems personal. The Journal's Toko Sekiguchi notes that Abe's approval ratings are in the low 70s, which means that he now has an option to do things like question if "invasion" is really the right word for Japanese occupancy. "Whether the general public is ready to embrace this change, however, is another matter," Sekiguchi writes. "A poll by the Asahi Shimbun published April 16 showed that 50% of respondents backed Mr. Abe's economic policies, but only 14% his stance on diplomacy and security issues. A mere 6% were in favor of his constitutional views." 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.