In one of the many frank exchanges U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had in China this week, General Fan Changlong told him how one of his uncles died as a slave in a Japanese mine during World War Two.
Fan, deputy head of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, spoke about the lessons of history, signaling Beijing’s concerns that the United States was siding with Japan against China.
Hagel replied by saying his own father had helped fight Japanese forces in World War Two.
“The secretary made it very clear that we should be informed by history but not driven by it,” a U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity to recount a conversation on Tuesday that he described as terse.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that China does have legitimate grievances against Japan, and that we forget them at our peril. But that doesn’t mean allowing (or perhaps “inadvertently encouraging” would be more apropos) those grievances to be used as justifications for bad behavior.