Why Japan should apologise to neighbouring nations: China Daily columnist

President Barack Obama (right) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after laying wreaths at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, on May 27, 2016.
President Barack Obama (right) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after laying wreaths at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, on May 27, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

By Paul Surtees

China Daily/Asia News Network

Instead of urging the US to apologise, Japan owes Hong Kong an apology for the terrible atrocities it committed during World War II.

It has been interesting to note that just before President Barack Obama recently visited Hiroshima, pundits speculated on whether he would apologise on behalf of the US for dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945; or whether, instead, the Japanese leadership would at last make a forthright apology for starting the Far Eastern part of World War II, and for the numerous atrocities carried out at that period by Japanese forces throughout East Asia.

In fact, neither occurred, though the whole debate stirs reflections on Japan's atrocious actions here in Hong Kong during World War II.

In December 1941 - within living memory - Japanese military forces numbering some 52,000 invaded and soon overran the lightly defended Hong Kong, which had done nothing to provoke this attack or the subsequent cruel occupation.

The historical records of numerous Japanese atrocities committed in Hong Kong during the invasion and subsequent Japanese military occupation stand in condemnation of the perpetrators.

On this same day, Japan also attacked the US at Pearl Harbour, as well as the Philippines, Guam and other Pacific islands - in each case without provocation or declaration of war.

The appalling conduct of the Japanese invaders and occupiers here in Hong Kong, from 1941 right up to Liberation Day in August 1945, provides a representative picture of just what it meant, in those days, to be under Japanese control.

Their brutal wartime military regimes here and elsewhere became a byword for cruelty and depravity throughout Asia.

As soon as they overran military hospitals here, Japanese soldiers bayoneted numerous allied soldiers in their sickbeds; gang-raped many nurses; tortured and mutilated other patients; shot doctors who protested; and murdered many medical staff.

Surrendering members of the Hong Kong garrison were often murdered, against all rules of war.

Large numbers of unarmed civilians were shot.

As a measure of the inhuman behaviour of the occupying forces, many local Chinese civilians were used by the Japanese army for military training sessions.

These unfortunate and innocent victims were used for practice sessions in bayoneting, shooting and beheading.

It is estimated that during Japan's three-year, eight-month occupation of Hong Kong, some 10,000 civilians were murdered outright, with many more tortured, raped, mutilated or starved.

As a reprisal for their resistance, some New Territories villages were razed to the ground.

The many prisoners of war and civilians unlucky enough to be interned in the Japanese camps at Sham Shui Po and Stanley were subjected to a regimen of routine cruelty, torture, summary execution and starvation.

The woefully inadequate diet allotted to them caused severe malnutrition and slow death by starvation.

Some prisoners of war were interned elsewhere: For example, 267 Canadian soldiers captured here in Hong Kong died from cruel mistreatment in other Japanese POW camps.

The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong began with a civilian population here of about 1.6 million.

This occupation included the Japanese authorities taking over most of the main hospitals for their own people, leaving few hospital services available to the civilian population - and those underfunded, and with inadequate access to medicines or food for their patients.

The imposition of forced exchange of currency to Japanese military yen impoverished many Hong Kong people, as this became virtually worthless by the end of the war.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong people became homeless and helpless during the occupation.

It is not, then, surprising that those who could get out of occupied Hong Kong did so, despite all dangers, and fully a million of them had gone by 1945.

Food shortages caused by the occupation cost many more lives, as many Hong Kong people simply starved to death, given that each person was allotted only a daily rice ration of 240 grams.

Japan's blatant invasion of its neighbouring countries and regions and the atrocities committed by its troops represent the true and relevant background to the debate over the justification of the US's dropping two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While it caused hundreds of thousands of deaths among its civilian population, it was undoubtedly necessary to bring Japan's wartime military regime to its knees to avoid prolonging the fight, and ending its hostilities for good.

The alternative was for the Allied troops to mount an invasion of Japan, which would undoubtedly have caused even more casualties among the Allied forces.

So, rather than Japanese commentators and political leaders calling on the U.S. to apologise for using the atomic bomb on Japan to end the war in East Asia, it is only reasonable for Japan, which initiated hostilities and committed untold atrocities against its neighbouring countries, to apologise to all the victim countries and regions and their citizens - including Hong Kong people.

* The writer is a university lecturer and commentator and has been active in Hong Kong's civil society.