How far is it possible for one country to forgive another for its past actions?

How far is it possible for one country to forgive another for its past actions?


Past actions: war time atrocities, political feuds, economic conflicts, social and ideological conflicts

Forgive: the ability to “forget” and to move on with past historical animosities and collaborate with one another on international matters or even domestic affairs.  What exactly entails forgive? This is open to debate. Does forgive mean that we totally forget the whole incident and never bring it up again? Can countries still commemorate these past actions in their national histories but still cooperate with the other nations? What exactly is the yardstick that you are going to set?

How possible is it really for a country to forgive one another really depends on the nature of the conflict, and how easy is it to resolve these conflicts. One has to also consider factors such as whether there is any third party mediation to resolve tensions between the countries and to reduce tensions between them.

Yes it is entirely possible to forgive

1.Due to pragmatic purposes, countries may have to put aside their past conflicts and cooperate with one another in order for their economies to progress. Economic reasons have always been the sole overriding factor for most of the conflicts that occur.

It is no secret that Singapore and Malaysia share a very difficult past due to their separation and that tensions exist between these two neighbours. However, both have put aside their past hostilities and differences and sought cooperation with each other on many levels. One such example is the recent talks cooperation for a high speed railway train.

No, it is not possible to forgive

1.Forgiving is especially difficult when the conflict is one that hinges on racial and religious sentiments, and that the actions of the nations have already been entrenched in their national histories and minds. Such conflicts will shape the relations of both countries for a long time, even after the conflict has passed.

Racial politics could very well undermine the stable sovereignty of another country, especially when the racial hostilities were extended to or created by communities of people instead of played out by the national elites themselves. Government policies which are deemed threatening to another country’s racial policies inevitably lead to tensions between the two countries, because the viability of states may decrease, leading to their loss of legitimacy.

An example would be the case study of Malaysia and the Philippines. Their relations were affected by alleged Malaysian support for the Moro Muslim rebellions in Southern Philippines. Malaysia has been implicated in the Muslim conflicts in the Philippines from the beginning. Sabah’s ruler, Tun Mustapha, was suspected by the Philippines of tolerating, even assisting the provision of military supplies to the Muslim rebels and providing sanctuary for Moro fighters. As chief minister of Sabah, Tun Datu Mustapha allegedly allowed Sabah to be used, during 1972-1976, as a training camp, supply depot, communication center, and sanctuary. The Malaysian government has never publicly admitted its involvement in the Moro struggle. But Malaysian assistance gave the essential incentive to the Moro separatists. The support of Sabah and other Malaysian Muslim sectors enabled the Moros to elevate the level of conflict from a fight for equality and justice to a war of liberation, demanding self-determination. In 1970, Tunku Abdul Rahman promoted international support for the Moro cause. The unofficial Malaysian support for the Moros has been the main reason why the Philippines has not dropped its claim to Sabah, which can be used as a lever to put pressure on Malaysia to curb the activities of its Moro sympathizers.


  1. It is very hard for an aggrieved nation to move on with the past hurt committed by an aggressor nation, especially if the aggressor has chosen not to “remember the incident”.

China and Japan share a very tumultuous relationship due to the war crimes committed by Japan during the Second World War where massive number of people has been killed, tortured and even raped. Things are made worst when Japan has still not apologize for their actions formally to China, and insist on covering up their atrocities committed in their national history textbook. In fact, Japan PM even went so far to deny that the Rape of Nanking even occur though it has been recorded in many history textbooks. The PM repeated visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine has always sparked off tensions between these two neighbours.

  1. Differences in political ideologies have always been a sore point among nations, especially when these differences serve to threaten their existence and legitimacy in the eyes of the international arena. Such ideological differences have the effect of increasing mutual suspicion and tensions with one another, so much so that it is difficult to work and cooperate with one another.

A case in point is the cold war rivalry between USA and USSR. Even though the cold war has long ceased in 1991, tensions between these 2 superpowers are still evident on the international stage.  This is clearly evident today as Obama and Putin clash over Syria.


Students should note that by the nature of the subject, there is several other possible pointers too, so feel free to discuss freely below!

Back to: 2015 A’levels H1 General Paper (8807) suggested solutions

Showing 10 comments
  • Becks

    Hi there, thx for sharing the outline. I wrote that
    1. countries shld forgive due to the close economic ties that binds almost all countries tgt e.g japan is China’s 2nd largest trading partner. By forgiving and hence trading w each other, the people will benefit.
    2. Shld forgive as countries shld nt dwell in the past but instead use the ignominy to spur itself on e.g china is now the 2nd largest Economy in the world
    3. Shld nt forgive as the aggressor country might “relapse” e.g Ukraine had a bitter separation frm ussr, and recently Russian annexed Crimea
    4. Shld forgive on humanitarian grounds e,g china sent lots of aid to japan aft 2011 tsunami.
    Overall: should forgive, but not to the extent of forgetting it.
    Sry for the long list but hope u can give ur comment tho I tink I am scrwed. Thx in advance !

    • HI

      You should answer the possibility of forgiveness and not the obligation to forgive…

    • Christine Chen

      Hi Becks,

      I think points 2-4 need to be tweak a little, as you are focusing on the obligations or the reasons why countries should forgive, rather than the possibilities. Your essay needs to be focused on the nature and type of conflicts, and how these may affect the abilities/possibilities of how countries may forgive one another. This question isn’t asking about the reasons why or why not countries should or should not forgive each other. Hope that clarifies.

      • Becks

        Thanks for the reply, rly appreciate it! Erm so does that mean I am totally out of pt?

        • Christine Chen

          You have point 1 to “save” you and hopefully the bell curve works to your favor! The good news is that point 2-4 are at least topic focused, even if they are not question-focused. Don’t worry, most of my students feel that this year’s paper 1 is really tough. Good luck for the rest of your papers!

          • Becks

            Thanks for the comments!! Much appreciated! 🙂

  • 12345

    Hi there, could you give me comments about my points for this question

    i addressed 3 areas

    1) war time atrocities – japan’s world war II crimes against China have been atrocious, such as the extremely notorious nanjing massacre, but this does not mean that it impossible to forgive. this is given Shinzo’s Abe Yasukuni apology and the recent trilateral trade agreements btween skorea, japan and china showing that forgiveness is possible

    2) political conflicts – singapore and malaysia whereby even after separation of spore from malaysia there seems to be a lack of wish from malaysia to recognize Singapore’s sovereignty. This can be seen from how the malaysians wanted to claim the ownership of Pedra Branca that spore believed was hers and the joint military exercise on Spore’s national day 1991 which seemed to show that Malaysia did not respect Singapore as an independent state. However, there seems to be stronger relations between both countries as Vivian Balakrishnan visited Malaysia and affirmed Spore’s relationship with Malaysia

    3) economic – my pt basically was on how china has been dumping steel in britain recently causing economic problems in britain, but the british were still willing to work with china especially from xi jinping’s recent visit

    • Christine Chen

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your comment. For point 1) you may wish to consider if this “apology” by the PM is even accepted by China and South Korea in the first place. Is it even a sincere apology or a symbolic one? Second, China and Japan and even South Korea cooperating on economic ties could just be for practicality purposes, it does not necessary mean that they have accepted this apology and forgive Japan. 2) Singapore-Malaysia relationship though not exactly on the best of terms, but comparing to international conflicts, we are considered to be pretty good already. But you would need to focus on the nature and type of conflicts we face and how after many years, these conflicts no longer matter, hence easier to forgive. Do note that just because there is “political” cooperation between nations, it does not necessary mean that they have “forgiven each other”. 3) Again, how do you assess what is true “forgiveness”? Just because I choose to work with you does not mean that there is no resentment and tensions between us.

      • 12345

        Hi, thank you for the comment

        I mentioned the fact that countries cooperate doesnt mean that they have forgiven for a more balanced argument

        but counter argued with the fact that the openness to engage in such cooperation means that this is not a forgone situation: that countries can definitely forgive one another, even if they still show signs of hostility

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