China’s Press commemorates WW2: Criticizing the Impenitent by Lauding the Remorseful

This was the commemoration of VE day, but the military parade in Moscow on Saturday rather looked like VJ Day. Chinese party and state leader Xi Jinping took the seat that had been US president George W.Bush’s ten years earlier, and proably would have been Barack Obama’s, hadn’t he stayed away, as most Western leaders did, as a reaction to Russia’s Ukraine policies.

Xi Jinping's Moscow Mercedes: Germany's leaders boycotted the parade, but the German-made car pool didn't

Xi Jinping’s Moscow Mercedes: Germany’s leaders boycotted the parade, but the German-made car pool didn’t (CCTV/Xinwen Lianbo coverage, click picture for Youtube video)

Also, for the first time ever, according to Chinese media, a Chinese guard of honor took part in the parade. Xinhua celebrated the great moment:

Greeting the air of spring in Moscow and marching to the “Katyusha” theme, the 102-strong People’s Liberation Army guard of honor, full of high spirits, passed Moscow’s Red Square, showing military prestige, and manifesting national power. On the reviewing stand, Chairman Xi Jinping stood and waved to them.


But they didn’t only attract the world’s attention for their gallant formation and morale, and not only for their distinctive arrangement rhythmic marching pace, and also not only this was the first time that this was the first time China dispatched a guard of honor to take part in a Red-Square military review.


The Chinese troops on Moscow’s Red Square attracted millions of peoples‘ attention. This guard of honor, representing the Chinese troops‘ image, vigour and strength made people remember the sacrifices made by the Chinese and Russian armies in the world’s just war against and victory over fascism, manifested the strategic and coordinated relationship between the Chinese and the Russian armies, taking the common mission of their two countries to maintain the peaceful development of the world.


As China’s military passed across Moscows Red Square, the sound of their footsteps expressed the solemn promise of forever remembering history.

当中国军人走过莫斯科红场,铿锵的足音里,表达出铭记历史的庄严承诺。 […]

Forgetting history spells betrayal (忘记历史就意味着背叛), writes Xinhua. Probably, this does not refer to the way the article itself celebrates what was the CCP’s Red Army at the time of World War 2, and ignores the role of the KMT’s – then regular – Chinese troops.

To commemorate war means avoiding war. Seventy years ago, Chinese and Russian did immortal deeds in the world’s war against and victory over fascism. In this 21rst century, the two countries are permanent members of the United Nations‘ Security Council, and bear a great responsibility for the protection of the fruits of victory in World War 2 and international fairness and justice, for the promotion of the international order taking a more just and reasonable direction, for regional and global peace, security, and stability.


Kind of naturally, the mainstream Western press is taking a less cordial look at the parade and its supposed implications.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the anniversary to whip up patriotism and anti-Western sentiment; at a parade in Kiev, President Petro Poroshenko said Moscow was trying to hog the credit for the World War Two victory at Ukraine’s expense,

says an article published by the Daily Telegraph on Sunday, and concerning Russian-Chinese cooperation, the Guardian’s foreign affairs commentator Natalie Nougayrède wrote on March 26 that

China has a 2,500-year history of strategic thinking driven by a deep distrust of external players. Don’t expect a People’s Daily front page proclaiming a new era of Chinese openness towards the west. Nor should Vladimir Putin’s Russia think that it will find an amenable partner in Xi’s China if it continues to turn its back on Europe. China sees Russia as a declining power that can eventually be transformed into an economic colony – reduced to the role of oil and gas provider. China believes it can make strategic gains if Europe and Russia continue to clash.

While German chancellor Angela Merkel, just as the majority of Western leaders, boycotted the military parade on Saturday, she did meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday, to hold talks after they had laid down a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier together. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) refers to Merkel as having acted as the West’s chief interlocutor with the Kremlin throughout the Ukraine crisis, which might serve as one explanation why Merkel didn’t avoid meeting Putin altogether. But in its English broadcast on Monday, Radio Japan added another interpretation:

Merkel and other Group-of-Seven leaders cited the Ukrainian crisis for their absence from Saturday’s parade in Moscow, marking seventy years since the victory over Nazi Germany. But Merkel attended a wreath-laying ceremony in an apparent attempt to show that Germany has faced up to the responsibility for the Nazi atrocities.

That, however, didn’t keep Merkel from unusually plain talk at a joint press conference with the Russian leader. While Putin referred to Germany as a partner and friend, and, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung, even suggested that Germany had been the first victim of the Nazis, Merkel said that German-Russian cooperation has suffered a grave setback by Russia’s criminal annexation of Crimea, in violation of international law, and the military conflict in Ukraine (hat durch die verbrecherische und völkerrechtswidrige Annexion der Krim und die militärische Auseinandersetzung in der Ostukraine einen schweren Rückschlag erlitten).

On May 6, in a speech at Schloss Stukenbrock, a prisoner-of-war camp in western Germany’s state of Northrhine-Westphalia, German president Joachim Gauck, known as a fiery anti-communist, made a speech which took many political observers, at least in Germany itself, by surprise. He addressed a fact that is frequently unknown or hardly known among Germans, and particularly West Germans (thanks not least to what China’s media might have criticized as cooked history textbooks, if West Germany had been Japan):

We have gathered here today in Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock to recall one of the worst crimes of the war – the deaths of millions of Red Army soldiers in German prisoner-of-war camps. They died in agony without medical care, starved to death or were murdered. Millions of prisoners of war for whose care the German Wehrmacht was responsible under the law of war and international agreements.

These prisoners were forced on long marches, transported in open goods wagons and sent to so-called reception or assembly camps that provided almost nothing at the start – no shelter, not enough food, no sanitary facilities, no medical care. Nothing. They had to dig holes in the ground and build makeshift huts for shelter – they tried desperately to survive somehow. Huge numbers of these prisoners were then forced to do hard labour which, in their weakened and starving condition, they often did not manage to survive.

The Beijing Evening News (北京晚报) combined a rendition of Gauck’s speech with another laudably self-critical one by Germany’s permanent representative at the United Nations, and a much less laudable one (at least according to the paper itself) by Japan’s permanent representative:

In contrast [to the German permanent representative’s speech], Japan’s permanent representative at the UN, Motohide Yoshikawa, only said: “Our behavior created misery for the peoples of the Asian countries. We must not close our eyes to this.” After that, he made big words about Japan’s “contributions to international peace, and Japan’s support for the United Nations”.



» China invites Russian Troops, Kyiv Post / Reuters, May 11, 2015
» Even closer, The Atlantic, May 10, 2015
» Wo sind die Nachtwölfe, Telepolis, May 10, 2015
» India’s Grenadiers join Parade, Telegraph India, May 9, 2015


7 Responses to “China’s Press commemorates WW2: Criticizing the Impenitent by Lauding the Remorseful”

  1. Do Germans really not know that millions of Russians also died in the concentration camps? That is pretty amazing. Do you consider Germany’s textbooks to be “cooked-up”? I always thought they were the most honest in the world in facing up to the country’s past.


  2. That’s how good “publicity” works, Jixiang. I do think that Germany has “done more” to face its past than Japan, for a number of reasons – cultural, but also geostrategic reasons: not being an island like Japan, trying to soften the impact of its territorial partition (Ostpolitik), the fact that it wasn’t only occupied by the U.S., but also by countries that had been at the receiving end of its aggression, etc..

    But no, I don’t think that our history books are decent when it comes to the Soviet victims among the POW. When I was a student, this part of our history wasn’t even mentioned. (The good thing was that at least, it wasn’t whitewashed either.) West Germany was firmly embedded in the Western alliance, and as long as nazis were good anti-communists, and didn’t tout their attitude too loudly, they got back to their jobs in public service, the press, etc..

    Shouldn’t surprise me if the West German press was much more russophobe than the press elsewhere in Western Europe.

    The Gauck speech was a real surprise here. And its almost forgotten again by now. There’s no continuity when news are rather unwanted. After all, that’s how propaganda works. You can’t tell people unbelievable stories, but you can omit what doesn’t seem fit.


  3. The idea of a Sino-Russian alliance reminds me of the German officer’s comment on the alliance with Austria-Hungary “fettered to a corpse”*. The Chinese are unlikely to actively seek an alliance with a country that is still in decline, even if the Russians do not yet wish to accept that they can no longer dictate the policies of their neighbours.

    As for Japan and Germany, I agree that the Chinese over-state Germany’s contrition, as you say this to “criticise the impenitent by lauding the remorseful”. They also do under-state the degree to which Japan has sought to come to terms with its role in WW2, even if this does not compare to what has been done in Germany, it certainly compares well to what I have seen of Austria and Italy.

    Of course coming to terms with history is hardly an easy process. Something like £195 million was spent on the Saville inquiry into the Bloody Sunday shootings, and the whole process took 12 years, with the result being an apology from the British government that could have been delivered a lot earlier.

    *despite this quote being included in most of the English-language histories of WW1, and attributed to a member of the Germ general staff, I cannot find the original quote in German or who actually made it – is it a real quote?


  4. I believe that NATO will face a different Russia in a few years – either one that turns really nasty (it hasn’t yet, in my view), or a Russia that wants to join the alliance, to secure its borders with China. Both would be difficult and challenging scenarios.

    I seem to remember the quote about the German alliance with Austria-Hungary, too, but I think it has been said many times – and not necessarily by any high-ranking military official or any other prominent person. Maybe the old empire was a liability indeed, but it might have been smart if Berlin had thought about that prior to the casus foederis.

    Still, blaming the ally was probably less malign than the fault-seeking at home.


  5. “They also do under-state the degree to which Japan has sought to come to terms with its role in WW2, even if this does not compare to what has been done in Germany, it certainly compares well to what I have seen of Austria and Italy.”

    The thing is though that Italy was not a major player in WW2 the way German and Japan were, and did not commit really major atrocities by the standards of the time. Having said that, they were part of the Axis, and it is true that most Italians are too ready to see Italy has a hapless victim of the war, rather than a guilty party. They also overplay the importance of the Resistance. Having said that, they can get away with it because they aren’t really remembered that badly anywhere else for what they did during the war, except for Croatia and Greece perhaps. Italian school textbooks also teach what happened pretty honestly, and condemn fascism without reserve.

    I don’t think you can compare it to Japan, where school curricula really do downplay what the Japanese did during the war, and many Japanese will still justify their country’s actions at the time. An inability to admit their own country ever victimized other countries is something which the Chinese and the Japanese seem to share.



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