Obama on Wrong Side of History and Gary Locke’s Redemption

Obama on Wrong Side of History and Gary Locke’s Redemption

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On his recent tour of Asia, President Obama's first stop was Japan where he blundered and tarnished the prestige of the Presidency. At about the same time, as if to atone for his former boss's misstep, Gary Locke, the first Chinese American to be a state governor, a cabinet secretary and ambassador to China, paid a personal visit to the Nanjing Massacre Museum.

In his typically understated style, Locke did not announce his intention to visit in advance and thus went to the museum without fanfare. When the media caught up to him, he made it clear that his was a personal visit and had no bearing on the official position of the U.S. government.

This was Locke’s first visit to the museum, which memorializes the tens of thousands of Chinese civilians killed or raped by invading Japanese soldiers during a six-week period in 1937. Keeping his visit a routine matter reflected a sincere interest to see first hand various acts of Japan's WWII atrocities, free of the grandstanding and limelight that politicians crave. He effectively reminded the government of Japan that all Chinese and most Asians are still waiting for the leadership in Tokyo to finally admit their heinous acts of inhumanity and stop pretending to be the victims rather than perpetrators of the War.

In contrast, Obama's visit in Tokyo was bathed in bright lights and he said just about everything Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wanted to hear, including the willingness of the United States to help Japan in the event of a military conflict over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. (In the Philippines, which Obama also visited as part of his four-nation Asia tour, critics derided the president for not offering the same promise, despite long-simmering maritime tensions between Manila and Beijing.)

Until Obama's statement, the U.S. official position was that when the administrative control of the islands was turned over to Japan in 1972, the U.S. government took no position on the rightful ownership of those islands.

China had been demanding that Japan abide by the terms of unconditional surrender as described in the Potsdam Declaration ending WWII. The terms specified that Japan renounce all claims to offshore islands other than the four main islands of Japan.

Not only did Obama show ignorance of history but he got nothing in return. Abe was all smiles but gave no concessions that Obama sought, including on new trade deals between the two countries. Obama gave up the good vibes from the Sunnyland summit with China's Xi Jinping in June of last year for no good reason.

In August 2001, not long after he was elected to Congress, California Representative Mike Honda visited China and he made sure the Nanjing Massacre Museum was on his itinerary. Despite his being ethnic Japanese, Honda understood the right and wrong of history. He has been among the most vociferous members of Congress in demanding redress from Japan for their crimes against humanity.

Later Honda even guided then freshman Congresswoman Judy Chu to the Nanjing Museum so that she could become acquainted with this dark chapter of WWII history. Chu, born in America, was not familiar with the war atrocities committed by Japan's Imperial troops.

At the massacre museum in Nanjing, leis of paper folded cranes made by school children from Japan can be seen as offerings of regret and apology. Schools from Japan still organize periodic tours to Nanjing so that their students do not forget.

Tokyo’s right wing government does not represent the majority of Japanese people. Even if Americans do not pay attention to history, the people of Asia will not let Abe and his ilk forget.

Dr. Koo is an international business advisor and contributor to New America Media.