Monday, September 22, 2014
Originally meant to be posted it as a Japanese-only column elsewhere on the MIGA website, I'm roasting an old chestnut from the "Japan as Number One" days. Frankly, I was surprised that this particular old culturalist take on robots was still thriving. The conclusion is a little forced, and that is reflected in the even more unsatisfactory title "The Meaning of Robots," but there it is.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Members of a certain Japan-themed forum is up in arms because a good number of Prime Minister Abe’s new batch of cabinet appointees include a large number of Japan Conference members. As a genetically hardwired skeptic and descendent of the peasant farmer class (although my paternal grandfather claimed that we Okumuras could trace our lineage to a samurai family that exchanged swords for ploughshares after finding themselves on the wrong side of the Battle of Sekigahara), I laugh at the claims made on behalf of the right of the Japanese state to force every couple to choose a single surname, in effect demanding mostly women to change their legal names on marriage, and also have no love for many other trappings of the largely top-down nationalism that Western liberals have abandoned that Japan Conference may be advocating. I am also appalled at the groundswell of radical nationalism, both state-sponsored and populist, that has been sweeping much of East Asia. Folks, this is the 21st Century!
Still, you have to be skeptical of the allegedly recidivist tendencies of the Abe cabinet when the culprits include (according to Wikipedia) Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, an avowed moderate on good terms with China, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Takehide Suga, a moderate who counseled Mr. Abe against visiting Yasukuni last December. Then there is Finance Minister Taro Aso, an advocate of segregating the Class-A war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni so that the emperor can pay his respects there in good conscience, a “special advisor” to the Japan Conference. Looking beyond the cabinet, there is Sadakazu Tanigaki, the new LDP Secretary-General and notable dove, counselor to the Japan Conference. Takeshi Noda, the chairman of the powerful LDP Tax Committee, is even further to the “left.” The ultimately irony, though, turns out to be a non-political connection: The only identifiable Japan Conference member turns out to be the chairwoman of an Asahi Shimbun subsidiary.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
My interview uploaded on the China Radio International website on the 27th. In retrospect, I think that I somewhat shortchanged former Prime Minister Fukuda’s visit. After all, his visit must also have been carefully coordinated with the Abe administration. Fukuda would be the last person to engage in freebooting.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Jake Douglas asks the inevitable—from my perspective, not Professor Srasic’s--follow-up question: How? Mr. Douglas says “that the U.S. will most likely provide military aid, and it will most likely be limited.” Fair enough, and the rest of his concise essay is well researched and argued. I don’t see anything at first glance that I disagree with.
I was quoted at some length in an article entitled “Shigeru Ishiba set to decline cabinet post and may challenge Shinzo Abe1.” To add a few more thoughts on the matter…
As the article says, “Ishiba has an interest in defence issues and has long favoured the creation of a basic law on security that would spell out unequivocally Japan's right to exercise collective self-defence. Abe has been more mindful of opposition to such a dramatic move and has stated his government will simply reinterpret the constitution to permit self-defence within limits.” In fact, that is the reason that Ishiba gave for preemptively refusing, in public, to take up a prospective offer to spearhead the legislative efforts to implement the reinterpretation of the Japanese Constitution to allow collective self-defense. He claims that the Diet would be paralyzed as the opposition exploits the difference between Abe and Ishiba in the Q&A sessions.
Nonsense. Abe’s minimalist approach is tactical, forced on him by the need to keep LDP dissenters, coalition partner Komeito and a skeptical public on board. The distance between Ishiba’s publicly stated preferences and the administration’s position is an outcome of the give-and-take of normal politics, not a sacrifice of principles. Now, if the situation had been the other way around, things would have been very different. If Ishiba had been an opponent of collective self-defense but had tried to defend it as the cabinet minister in charge, that would have been a fundamental compromise of principle, something a politician could not have lived down, an issue that could very well have paralyzed parliamentary debate until it ended in the minister’s resignation. But accommodating your allies to arrive at a less-than-optimal outcome from your perspective? If you can’t talk your way around that problem, then you probably don’t deserve to be prime minister.
That said, I am convinced that Ishiba believes in his own story. That is human nature, particularly so, I argue, when it comes to politicians.
What is remarkable, though, is that Abe is still going after Ishiba to fill the position, according to media reports. This relentless sincerity is what separates Abe from his peers, some with better policy chops, and keeps key moderates like Yoshihide Suga (Chief Cabinet Secretary) and Fumio Kishida (Foreign Minister) on board for the long run. Don’t be surprised if Abe manages to coax Ishiba back into the fold.
1. Doing a Sherman is not endearing Ishiba with his LDP peers in the Diet, and there is no doubt that this asocial side of his personality played a big part in his inability to translate his popularity with the more distant party rank-and-file to enough votes among the Diet members to edge out Abe in the 2012 LDP leadership election.
“Panicked Workers Fled Fukushima Plant in 2011 Despite Orders, Record Shows”, the NYT headline reads. Now that’s a very serious allegation, portraying as craven cowards all but several dozen of the TEPCO employees at Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Station at the time of the 9.11 disaster. But the very first sentence of the report lets the first cat out of the bag:
“At the most dire moment of the Fukushima nuclear crisis three years ago, hundreds of panicked employees abandoned the damaged plant despite being ordered to remain on hand for last-ditch efforts to regain control of its runaway reactors, according to a previously undisclosed record of the accident that was reported Tuesday by a major Japanese newspaper.”
Okay, so the NYT posted a meta-report if you will. This made me laugh a little, because I’d always thought the international news in Japanese newspapers that were essentially summaries of one US media report or another being reported ot of New York, Wahington and other chouise locations funny. (Did the Japanese media really need Japanese reporters in New York and Washington and elsewhere producing summaries of newspaper and magazine clippings? At least if they could understand TV broadcasts…) To Martin Fackler’s credit, he had his local staff do a little more reaserch.
“At a regular news conference, the top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, did not challenge the accuracy of the Asahi report. He said the transcripts of interviews with Mr. Yoshida and others involved in the accident had not been disclosed because they were not intended for the public record, though he did not explain why.”
Now, a neutral rendering of Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga’s comments would be along the lines of:
“At a regular news conference, the top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, did not address the accuracy of the Asahi report…”
And that would have been a safer hedge, because—but I’m getting ahead of myself. In any case, Fackler further insulates his report from criticism by writing further down the story:
“A spokesman for Tepco, Ryo Shimizu, disputed one crucial aspect of the Asahi report, saying that company records showed Mr. Yoshida issued a more vaguely worded order to withdraw to “low radiation areas,” a term that could also include the neighboring plant six miles away. Thus, he said, Tepco did not view the fleeing employees as actually having violated an order.”
That said, the article concludes with the following, reinforcing the impression that the TEPCO employees fled the scene against Yoshida’s explicit orders:
“The newspaper said Mr. Yoshida told investigators that he was surprised to learn that so many managers had fled, prompting him to contact the other plant to order their immediate return.
“‘Actually, I never told them to withdraw to 2F,’ Mr. Yoshida was quoted as saying, referring to the second nuclear plant. ‘When I was told they had gone to 2F, it was already too late.’”
Days later, though, Sankei got its hands on the same Yoshida testimony—hard not to think of it as a deliberate Abe administration counter-leak—and launched its own series of articles directly refuting Asahi’s most serious allegation—fleeing the scene of the accident against Yoshida’s explicit orders. We will know soon for sure who is making up what, since the government has apparently decided to make the Yoshida testimony public, which had been withheld at Mr. Yoshida’s request (which explains the laconic Mr. Suga’s refusal to elaborate on the document), after obtaining the deceased’s family’s consent. In the meantime, here is the most relevant part of the testimony (as revealed by Sankei in excerpts):
“Q. In the morning of the 15th, the people who had evacuated to Fukushima Da-Ni return…
“Mr. Yoshida: Actually, I didn’t tell them to go to Fukushima Dai-Ni. When I said to have automobiles at the ready, the person who delivered the message gave an instruction to the drivers to go to Fukushima Dai-Ni. I had thought that I had told them to evacuate for now to some place near Fukushima Dai-Ichi where the radiation level was low, but since they’d gone to Fukushima Dai-Ni, so I was like, oh my. So after they’d reached Fukushima Dai-Ni, we had the group manager-level people come back.”
“Q. The people who’d evacuated to Fukushima Dai-Ni return in the morning of the 15th...
“Mr. Yoshida: I’d said what I’d said meaning that I wanted them to evacuate to a place where the radiation level had stabilized, but when you think about it, they’re all wearing masks. If they remain evacuated for hours [with the masks on], they’ll die. When you really think about it, it was much, much more correct to go to Fukushima Dai-Ni.”
Yes, it’s possible that Yoshida is covering for his subordinates. But the existence of a possibility does not justify the spin that Asahi put on its story. Coming on the heels of its comfort women revelations, it will be interesting to see how it wiggles out of this one, assuming that the government actually releases those document for the public record. In the meantime, Martin Fackler has wisely covered his butt. But not the NYT editorial desk. Now, I guess my questions are: Will there be an Asahi mea culpa (if indeed there is need for one)? And an NYT follow-up?
Monday, August 25, 2014
Just recorded an interview for China Radio International. Went mostly according to my CliffsNotes below. Did very little improvising (which I am not good at). Let’s see if they use it all, or edit it.
1. Up to date Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe have not held any face-to-face talk since they took office. However, the Japanese media Nikkei Business Daily reported earlier this month that Japan and China are trying to arrange two-way talks between their leaders at this year’s APEC Summit in November in Beijing. It might be difficult to verify this, but do you sense any positive changes in bilateral ties?
Yes, I am seeing improvements. Two events. First, in May, Masahiko Komura visited Beijin. He met Zhang Dajiang, and said that he did not think that Prime Minister Abe would visit the Yasukuni Shrine. The fact that the meeting took place at all was important. Mr. Zhang is the Chairman of the National People’s Congress, which makes him the third most important official in China. As for Mr. Komura, he is one of the most important elders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, outranked only by Mr. Abe himself. He served as foreign minister on two occasions and acquitted himself well. He is clearly a moderate but enjoys Mr. Abe’s full trust, who called on him to reel in a reluctant Komeito, the junior coalition partner, as well as reluctant doves of his own party, to support the reinterpretation of the Japanese constitution to allow collective self-defense. Mr. Abe will not say that he will not go to the Yasukuni Shrine; personal conviction and domestic politics prevents him from saying so outright. But Mr. Komura’s comment carries great weight and was certainly closely coordinated with Mr. Abe and his senior advisors. I am reasonably cofident that the Chinese authorities got the message.
Second, a couple of weeks ago, Kishida Fumio and Wong Yi had a bilateral meeting at the ASEAN Regional Forum. The importance of this meeting is obvious; this is the first time that the foreign ministers of the two countries met bilaterally in a long while. Nothing substantial came of it, but that was not the point. It is another gingerly step toward normalization of the bilateral relationship, giving us some hope of a summit that will enable the two governments to tell their people, move along, there’s nothing to see here. That is particularly important for the Xi Jinping administration, which needs to focus on domestic reforms. The islands can wait, I’m sure.
2. Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda paid a low-profile visit to China late last Month and he successfully met with President Xi Jinping. In the eyes of Chinese, Yasuo Fukuda was a friendly Japanese leader when he was in power. How is his trip perceived from the Japan point of view?
People in Japan who welcome any sign of improving bilateral relations must have welcomed that visit, but I do not think that it moved the needle, as far as the Abe administration was concerned. I could be wrong; I am not an insider, and if I were, I probably would not be talking openly about this. And Mr. Fukuda is not quite Mr. Hatoyama, who has also visited Beijing with much less success. But Mr. Fukuda is clearly a dove; Mr. Abe obviously is not. Mr. Fukuda is also retired as a politician, which further diminishes the impact. I think that it was good in the sense that it sent the message to the Chinese public that the Chinese leadership had nothing against Japan itself, or even the Liberal Democratic Party. Such gestures help contain the negative fallout if and when there are incidents down the road.
3. In public Shinzo Abe is calling for “frank and open discussions” with China. On the other hand, however, the Abe government seems to make no concessions on island disputes in East China Sea. How is Abe’s China policy interpreted from the Japanese perspective? Do people in Japan hold a more critical view or supportive view towards his China policy?
The overwhelming majority of the Japanese public support Mr. Abe on his position regarding the Yasukuni Islands. From the Japanese perspective, it is the Chinese authorities that are trying to change the status quo, which is not a good precondition for concessions unless Japan is at a serious disadvantage security-wise. I think here, the Japanese perspective is that the mutual security treaty with the United States is very useful. And this is not just Mr. Abe. Remember, the two incidents that made the bilateral relationship take a serious turn for the worse occurred under administrations led by the Democratic Party of Japan, not the Liberal Democrats. “Frank and open,” sure, but that does not necessarily entail the possibility of “concessions.” The Japanese position is that China should take the matter to the International Court of Justice. I don’t see that changing any time soon.
4. Data from Japan’s foreign ministry show the number of Japanese living in China fell more than 10 per cent in 2013. Do you think that political distrust has a growing spill-over effect on other aspects of China-Japan ties?
We are certainly seeing the results of investment or disinvestment decisions made in late 2012, early 2013, after the December riots in China that targeted Japanese assets and products there. But the downturn in Japanese investment reflects more general problems with regard to China. Remember, investment this year from the United States and European Union has also fallen by double digits year-on-year, just not as dramatically as in Japan’s case. Labor costs keep going up, and there is a sense that non-Chinese businesses are being targeted to their economic disadvantage. The recent crackdown on foreign auto manufacturers and suppliers is the most obvious case from the foreign perspective. Even the McDonalds chicken meat fiasco is seen as picking on a foreign firm. And political risk advisors think that the trend towards favoring state-owned enterprises and national champions will continue for the foreseeable future.
Some of the drop in the number of Japanese living in China may be attributable to a less amenable social context that reflects the downturn in the political relationship, but I suspect that it is more a reflection of a combination of maturing investments—businesses will replace expensive ex-pats with local personnel whenever they can—and quality-of-life issues, such as pollution and food safety. The ex-pat employees that remain are sending their families back to Japan.
5. Amidst the deteriorating Sino-Japan relations, economic cooperation between the world’s second and third largest economies has been suffering. Recent data from The Japan External Trade Organization, however, show Japan’s export to China during the first half of this year actually had an increase for the first time over the past 3 years. At the same time, China’s export to Japan has gone back to the level prior to the ongoing crisis between the two countries. Why do you think the bilateral trade is showing signs of recovery? Will the positive signs in trade pave way for the warming-up of the bilateral relations?
It’s simple. The Chinese economy continues to grow, the Japanese economy continues to recover, and there is strong interdependence between the two economies. The figures were bound to come to this sooner or later.
But the trade figures do not pave the way for a political warming-up. In fact, if anything, I think that it’s more the other way around; as the Chinese authorities have taken ownership of the bilateral political and security conflict, sidelining the Chinese public as far as participatory politics—demonstrations, riots, boycotts and the like—this has enabled the economic side of the relationship to take on a business-as-usual coloring.
Now, I do not think that the Japanese public really connects the politics to the economics. If the Japanese consumer hesitates to consume products made in China, it is out of safety concerns, not because one finds China’s actions around the Senkaku Islands disagreeable. It does not quite work that way the other way around, because of how the dispute as well as the so-called history issues play out in China’s education and media. But the Chinese authorities have done a good job of containing the economic fallout. The real problem in China is more general, and is not a Japan issue.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Sunday, August 17, 2014
The 16 August 2014 WaPo story “In Iraq, captured Yazidi women fear the Islamic State will force them to wed” gives a highly credible account that sweeps away most of my skepticism about reports on what the Islamic State has been doing to the Yazidis in Iraq. A downside of the denial of the most lurid allegations of mass rape is the revelation of a fearsome and chilling discipline and logic that must be a major source of the military and possibly state-building capacities of the IS. The discipline and logic unthinkingly accommodates universal male proclivities—the IS take the young, pretty females, and there is some sexual harassment/intimidation—but they also surely did result in some of the Yazidi women being able to communicate with their cellphones after their abduction.
Meanwhile, stories are replete on how neighbors turned on the Yazidis as the IS advanced, in an all-too-familiar pattern of pogrom/ethnic cleansing/genocide that breaks out when the existing social order is disrupted or swept away, temporarily or permanently.
Friday, August 15, 2014
Riffing on “Sixty-nine Year after the War, Military Songs Are the Rage Again; CDs and Books One after Another, Even Anime”
Robert Dujarric alerts me to an (online-only?) Asahi article on Japanese pop culture entitled “Sixty-nine Year after the War, Military Songs Are the Rage Again; CDs and Books One after Another, Even Anime” (my translation). Specifically, he sent me a link to the image of a “mook,” Japanese-English for a magazine-book hybrid, on military songs with a bonus CD. Actually, this is not the first time that post-war pop culture featured a heavy dose of all things military. In fact, the 1960 saw a big surge in WW II manga—the most popular military manga starred ace pilots for an obvious reason—and magazines, while Combat, an American series featuring US soldiers fighting Nazis (and dubbed in Japanese), was a major hit on primetime TV. Which got me to reminiscing. The following is an edited version of the email that I sent Robert in response.
Growing up, the old military songs, some of them WW II products, were a staple of Japanese pop culture. Later, they would show up on the karaoke song sheets. The two that stand out in my mind are the 軍艦マーチ (Rising Sun flag alert for liberal visitors), once played all day long in seemingly every pachinko parlor until closing time, when Auld Lang Syne, edited for Japanese ears, would be aired (most public establishments including schools aired the tune on the PA system, with the desired Pavlovian effect), and 戦友 (RSFA), actually a dirge that the imperial army tried to stamp out during WW II, to no avail. 海ゆかば (RSFA), reminiscent of the national anthem君が代 (no RSFA) because of its distinctly Japanese scale and lyrics from classic Japanese poetry written from the perspective of the subjects of the liege/emperor, is also notable for remaining in circulation as a requiem. There are, of course, more combative songs that were hugely popular, as any nativist black vans will remind you in passing. People remembered the war differently, evidently, depending on their social backgrounds, temperaments and actual experiences in no particular order that I am competent to identify.
On a more recent note, in 1982, I was a very junior member of the (then) MITI team that staged a Small and Medium Enterprises Ministers' Conference in Osaka. MITI Minister Sadanori "Teisuoku" Yamanaka hosted a dinner (or two) for the visiting dignitaries, at which the Indonesian representative (I don't remember if he was actually a cabinet minister) sang a Japanese military song in a karaoke session, which he'd apparently learned during the WW II occupation. (It was obviously an informal dinner.) Minister Yamanaka for his part entertained his guests with a sword dance, complete with Japanese katana. (There was obviously a lot of alcohol involved.) I do not believe that there was a Chinese representantive; I do not know if South Korea was represented (not that Japan fought a war with Korea, but still). In any case, I was not nearly important enough to attend these dinners, so this is all hearsay.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
The 14 August 2014 hardcopy Yomiuri reports that Japan and South Korea will be competing for a maintenance contract for the U.S. Marine’s Ospreys in the Asia-Pacific region1. According to the report, the Ospreys, first deployed to the Futenma Base in Okinawa in 2012, must be taken apart every three years for full inspection and overhaul, so the competitive bidding will be held this autumn. The Japanese government will be deploying its own JSDF Ospreys beginning in FY2019, and hopes to keep maintenance costs down by servicing US Ospreys as well. It does not believe that it will be politically feasible to have the JSDF Ospreys serviced in South Korea, whose government will provide all out support for a South Korean company’s bid.
A couple of thoughts. South Korea does not have any Ospreys of its own nor, apparently, any plans to acquire them. So is this a replication of South Korea’s belated (and successful) bid for the 2002 FIFA World Cup? It’s possible; if this were Sankei that had picked on this story, it almost surely would include that twist. But South Korea’s prospective bid does make sense in its own right, as it would, if successful, enhance, albeit in a minor way, its own bilateral alliance with the United States.
It would be a nice and potentially fruitful political gesture by the Japanese government in the event of a successful South Korean bid to extend a hand and ask that the South Korean facilities be used for the JSDF Ospreys as well. If the South Korean government takes that hand, it will be a huge symbolic step forward in the Japan-U.S.-South Korea security relationship, not to mention the overall bilateral relationship. If, as is likely, it slaps it away, Japan will have lost nothing while South Korea looks peevish and unproductive. Not that I see any of this happening.
1. It made it to the front page, though. It’s the middle of August, which means slow times for news stories, barring a major accident or two.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Paragraphs (1) through (3) of Article 76 of the Iraqi Constitution say:
First: The President of the Republic shall charge the nominee of the largest Council of Representatives bloc with the formation of the Council of Ministers within fifteen days from the date of the election of the President of the Republic.
Second: The Prime Minister-designate shall undertake the naming of the members of his Council of Ministers within a period not to exceed thirty days from the date of his designation.
Third: If the Prime Minister-designate fails to form the Council of Ministers during the period specified in clause “Second,” the President of the Republic shall charge a new nominee for the post of Prime Minister within fifteen days.
What is so hard to understand, people? If everybody from President Obama to Supreme Leader Khamenei, not to mention all the Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds and many Shi’ites including members of his own Dawa Party wanted him to leave, what harm was there in giving Maliki his 45 days before moving on to the conciliatory alternative?
Constitutional provisions may be a dinar/riyal/rial a dozen business as usual in the Middle East (or not, I have no way of knowing). But I am a little disturbed by the American disregard for the constitutional process when it comes to the consequences of its overseas adventures in the interests of democracy. And I’m also talking about the situation in Ukraine here. (Couldn’t someone make the Maidan protesters wait another year, then vote Yanukovich out?)
Maybe their thinking is that it’s all well if it ends well. But there’s been a lot of grief, including threats to the desired range of outcomes as the result of these “democracy” shortcuts.
Monday, August 11, 2014
According to a 10 August 2014 Reuters wire “Maliki Defiant as his special forces deploy in Baghdad” Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki, a Shi’ite who leads the largest bloc of parliamentarians, will go through the federal court to force President Fouad Masoum, a Kurd, to nominate him to form a government as prime minister. Sounds reasonable. But the wire, entitled “Maliki Defiant as his special forces deploy in Baghdad” and invoking the name of Saddam Hussein, insinuates that Maliki is using force to secure a third term as prime minister. Perhaps. But isn’t it just as likely that he’s taking precautions to make sure that his opponents won’t use force to push him out, or worse? After all, Sunnis, Kurds, a good number of Shi’ites as well as major stakeholders Iran and the United States—talk about an odd couple!—all want him gone, giving the Saddam Hussein analogy a different twist.
With the forces of the Islamic State formerly named the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria a short drive from Baghdad, I can understand why people want the divisive Maliki gone. But a report that gives no thought to how it would look from his perspective has as good a chance of misleading as informing.
There’s another, less obvious but nevertheless misleading piece of information later in the article.
“The group, which sees Shi'ites as infidels who deserve to be killed, has ruthlessly moved through one town after another, using tanks and heavy weapons it seized from soldiers who fled in the thousands.
“Islamic State militants have killed hundreds of Iraq's minority Yazidis, burying some alive and taking women as slaves, an Iraqi government minister said on Sunday, as U.S. warplanes again bombed the insurgents.
“Human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani accused the Sunni Muslim insurgents –who have ordered the community they regard as ‘devil worshippers’ to convert to Islam or die—of celebrating what he called a ‘a vicious atrocity’.
“No independent confirmation was available of the killings of hundreds of Yazidis, bloodshed that could increase pressure on Western powers to do more to help tens of thousands of people, including many from religious and ethnic minorities, who have fled the Islamic State's offensive.”
Now it may turn out to be true that “Islamic State militants have killed hundreds of Iraq's minority Yazidis, burying some alive and taking women as slaves.” But who saw this happen? And get away? It’s plausible that a few Yazidis escaped a large-scale massacre. But buried alive? Enslaved women? How do you get escape that to live to tell the tale? The Iraqi official’s account sounds more like typical rumors that crop up before and after a swift onslaught of enemy forces. And the success of the Islamic State so far suggests that its forces are too disciplined for that to happen. Soldiers, policemen, militia, yes. Civilians? I think that it would first try to collect taxes before it resorted to the sword. Of course it would be easy for the Iraqi authorities to produce witnesses and other evidence. The Reuters report does say that the claim was uncorroborated. But did the reporters bother to ask the Iraqi official, who had every incentive to use any bit of information regarding the urgency and seriousness of the situation regardless of it veracity?
I deal almost exclusively in publicly available information. Experience tells me that it’s exclusive information that can be wildly misleading. But publicly available information has its own shortcomings. The biases of statistics can often be gleaned from the accompanying notes; for less formally rendered sources, you often have to use common sense.
This is a crucial week in the wars in Ukraine and Iraq, the two easily most compelling geopolitical stories of the year—but not of the decade, which belongs to the rise of China.
First, Ukraine. The pro-Russia separatists are doing badly, holding on to Donetsk and Luhansk for their dear lives. Pretty soon, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is calling President Putin, who will soon have to bet raise, or fold. Now, I, like everyone with any interest in this matter, have my own set of plausible outcomes in their order of likelihood. I won’t inflict my thoughts about that on you since my understanding of the region is largely derivative. However, I noticed a detail in the news that appears to be a crucial piece of the answer to the question: How did the rag-tag, poorly-equipped Ukraine military grow a spine and then some? I mean, it was just a few months ago that they’d caved in Crimea, and proceeded to yield to the pro-Russia separatists elsewhere in southeast Ukraine without putting up a fight of any kind. Did air cover turn the trick? Maybe replacing local conscripts with soldiers from the west really helped. Is Porochenko actually Tony Stark after a facelift? Perhaps all of these things helped, but there was no way to sure, since the media was not giving me any clues. But then, NYT provided a great hint in “Ukraine Strategy Bets on Restraint by Russia” (9 Aug. 2014), in which Andrew E. Kramer writes:
“The fighting for Donetsk has taken on a lethal pattern: The regular army bombards separatist positions from afar, followed by chaotic, violent assaults by some of the half-dozen or so paramilitary groups surrounding Donetsk who are willing to plunge into urban combat.”
The Ukrainian military didn’t get any stronger, they just called in their own paramilitary.
This may have some immediate consequences, for Kramer goes on to say:
“Officials in Kiev say the militias and the army coordinate their actions, but the militias, which count about 7,000 fighters, are angry and, at times, uncontrollable. One known as Azov, which took over the village of Marinka, flies a neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag.
“In pressing their advance, the fighters took their orders from a local army commander, rather than from Kiev. In the video of the attack, no restraint was evident. Gesturing toward a suspected pro-Russian position, one soldier screamed, ‘The bastards are right there!’ Then he opened fire.”
The paramilitary harbors potential for battlefield atrocities depending on the severity of the endgame, assuming there is one. But it could be of more than passing importance regardless of the outcome or the process in getting there, for it will have proven itself to be by far the most powerful group man-for-man of fighters in the land. What ambitious politician would not want it to have his/her back in the post-conflict political landscape—assuming that it cannot be easily disbanded, once the hurly-burly is done? It is likely that a disproportionate number of these fighters owe their loyalty to the more radical elements in the Maidan takeover that wound up with Yanukovich absconding the country, elements who will be making demands for a place in the post-conflict political landscape that Porochenko and the rest of the mainstream politicians will ignore at their peril.
Outlook? Somewhere between the Taliban and the French resistance.
Saturday, August 09, 2014
There are matters left untouched, and what I have written below does not have the look of a finished product even as a self-indulgent blogger. But I have other matters to tend to, so I shall let it stand for now, perhaps to come back to it if I have something appropriate for a more formal outlet.
The Kono Statement regarding the comfort women was issued to smooth the way to the 1993 Japan-South Korea summit. Since then, the Korean government, citizens, media and expats and their descendants—I will refer to them collectively as Koreans except where it is necessary to be more specific—have assumed ownership of the issue and have demanded restitution and further apologies from the Japanese government and to secure international recognition of their unique suffering, each to varying degrees of success.
The Korean claim in its purest form is that 200,000 or more young Korean women were taken forcibly and detained to provide sexual services against their will for Japanese soldiers. Japanese revisionism at its most extreme holds that the women were highly paid professionals who performed sexual services of their own free will. The Asahi report falls somewhere in between, a more detailed variation of my conjecture some years ago, which I posted on this blog: a Japanese military and government that procured women from Japan, Korea and Taiwan through middlemen to provide sexual services to its soldiers and officers and engaged in the maintenance of the establishments where the females were sequestered or housed1. As the military pressed forward and secured women locally, the report says that it became more strident and violent for this undertaking, including rape.
The number 200,000 is connected in the Asahi report to a claim that the Korean comfort women were recruited as the Women’s Volunteer Corps. But the Women’s Volunteer Corps of Korea turned out to be the same as their Japanese namesakes, school girls who had been mobilized to work in Japanese factories2. The assertion that the women were taken forcibly stems from the testimony of a Japanese man who claimed to have been involved in the seizure on the Island of Jeju. His testimony, however, was totally discredited by facts that contradicted it and by his inability/unwillingness to produce any evidence to support it. These matters had become widely known by the late 1990s, but Asahi had remained silent until it conclusively rejected them in its report.
Where does this leave the Kono Statement? I continue to believe that it is within the range of acceptable renditions of what occurred or is likely to have occurred. It is certainly appropriate for some of the things that the Japanese military did in China and Southeast Asia. And if what we see and hear even today of the sexual trade held true then as well, then many of the Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese women, the younger ones in particular, and some of their families, should not have been aware of what was befalling them until it was too late; some of them would have surely have left their stations had the military and/or the police not been there to maintain order2.
How then, does the rejection of the Women’s Volunteer Corps-as-comfort women and forcible taking of the women from the Island of Jeju change the circumstances? Well, they were both held up as key elements of the Japanese government’s involvement in the recruitment. Take them out, and much of the power of the narrative disappears. Moreover, advocates of the comfort women assert numbers, the bigger the better, with conviction, while detractors prefer smaller numbers, if any, and emphasize uncertainty. Take the Women’s Volunteer Corps off the table, and the largest estimate disappears.
By remaining silent, Asahi allowed the related assertions to maintain a degree of legitimacy that Koreans could use to give the undeniable story of victimhood a power and Korean uniqueness that it otherwise would not have lacked. For Korea as a nation never fought imperial Japan; it never had the chance. It was seized, then subsumed, with minimal resistance. Then WW II came and went, with only tangential consequences until the release at its conclusion, again at the hands of others. The comfort women, embellished by a misunderstanding and a falsehood, became an indispensable symbol for Korea’s alignment with the victims and eventual victors in Japan’s war of aggression in Asia and the Pacific.
Now that the Korean narrative has lost much if not most of its uniqueness, where does the world go from here? In an ideal world, Koreans would adapt to the new narrative, align with the Japanese, most of their elderly and recent forebears, who felt victimized by the misadventures of the Japanese government and military, while the kind of Japanese who experience schadenfreude at the lawsuits recent brought against the South Korean government by “comfort women” for the US troops stationed there wake up to the fact that this was almost surely another case where the South Koreans had learned well from the example of their erstwhile colonial masters in the archipelago to the east and likewise accede to the new narrative when they have exhausted themselves from flogging the Asahi for its belated admission3. But I am probably grown too old and too cynical to expect that to come to pass or to advocate in the hopes that they will listen.
1. My assertion of “not quite separate, not quite equal” for military service and forced labor held true for the comfort women as well, since only the Japanese women had a minimum age limit of 21.
2. Bruce Cumings’s Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (2005) had a photo of two or three girls in school uniforms surrounding a middle-aged man in a chair, all looking solemn, even dignified. With no provenance, Cumings states that the girls were comfort women. The photo had no provenance, but an armband indicated that the man was an executive at Nakajima Aircraft, the producer of the Zero Fighter among other things. My deceased mother went to a school not that far away, in Gifu and inevitably wound up as a member of the Women’s Volunteer Corps. It is now too late to ask if their paths might have crossed.
3. Yes, it would be nice if the Asahi accounted for what had transpired during its silence. It would be nice if Asahi set out its position as an editorial. (The other major dailies have spoken on it, from predictably Sankei, Yomiuri and Mainichi perspectives.) But self-reflection is not one of the Japanese media’s strong points, Asahi or otherwise. Let it suffice that Asahi has decided to clear the air on the facts at all.
Thursday, August 07, 2014
Seriously, all that I can find is this crapulous loop of an advertisement solicitation. With the following blurb:
The Japan News makes full use of the comprehensive coverage of The Yomiuri Shimbun, while also offer a wide range of information from its feature and other sections.
Looks like English-language copy editor got axed as well.
Hey, if Yomiuri can’t afford it… (And to think it recently published a series of articles warning that China was lapping Japan and then some in the competition for international eyeballs.)
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
My friend—and I’m using this term in the original, non-John McCain sense—Paul Sracic asks “Will the U.S. Really Defend Japan?”
My response: “Yes, the U.S. Really Will Defend Japan.”
I know that I have not had the last word on this. Stay tuned if you are interested.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
A healthy majority of the people of the Ryukyu Islands supported their 1972 reversion to Japan as Okinawa instead of seeking independence. After all, Ryukyu had been an independent state until it was conquered by the Satsuma-han (now Kagoshima Prefecture, not the Tokugawa Dynasty in Edo/Tokyo that was ostensibly the quasi-sovereign of the national government) in 1609. Even then, it was allowed to maintain the façade of an independent state, a pro forma vassal state to both the Satsuma-han and China. Just as important, standard Japanese and the Ryukyu dialect, or the set of Ryukyu dialects, would easily have qualified as separate languages (heck, the Kagoshima dialect would have too, but let’s leave that aside for now), and the Ryukyu culture back then was at least as strongly sand directly influenced by Chinese culture as it was by Japanese culture (which turn was strongly and directly influenced by Chinese culture, but I’m not going to make this narrative no more complicated than I have to).
I used to chalk the 1972 outcome up to the success of three quarter-centuries of education and indoctrination in submerging sentiments of nationhood. There’s certainly that, but an online exchange with a couple of friends about Korea and Taiwan got me to also wondering: What if there hadn’t been much of a sense of national identity to begin with?
The gist of the exchange with Robert Dujarric and Michael Cucek was that imperial Japan gave colonial peerages to high nobles in Korea but did not do so in Taiwan because the latter, as an outlying territory of China largely populated by historically recent immigrants, did not have its own native aristocracy to be coopted or a national identity to be subsumed. Now, the lack of national identity among the Taiwanese also explains the lack of enmity—indeed, nostalgia, even—among the pre-Kuomintang locals towards the Japanese occupation. And here, the point Michael made that the Ryukyu nobility was also inducted into the Japanese peerage has salience. Ryukyu was an independent, if vassal, state until the 19th Century with its own distinct culture. Was less than a century of subjugation enough sufficient to sublimate any sense of Ryukyu as a source of national identity in the majority of the residents there? Or had there not been a widely shared sense of national identity in the first place?
Put yourself in the shoes—or rather the straw sandals, if that—of the medieval serf in one of the Ryukyu Islands. You are certainly aware of your landlord, most likely your landlord’s master and so on and likely whomever rules that island. Heck, you might even be dimly aware of the existence of the House of Sho or whichever holds sway in Shuri on the main island. But most of the last group of people and their immediate retainers have very little presence if any in your life because the modern-era media does not yet exist and the “government” provides few public services. You may take up arms to fight a war to protect your home and hearth, but not out of any sense of duty to a motherland whose seat of ultimate power lies…somewhere. For you and your descendants, for the descendants of perhaps most of the people on the Ryukyu Islands, Japan will be the only source of national identity that they will ever have. It is perhaps not surprising then, that the majority of the people of Ryukyu never sought independence after the American occupation.
This is not to say that the rest of Japan was much different. Indeed, one of the first acts of the new Meiji government was to send proselytizers to the four corners of the archipelago to tell the common folk that they were citizens of a country named Japan presided by a “Son of Heaven” who dwelt in Tokyo.
That must have been the case for the Korean serfs too, as well as the hereditary slaves and anyone else outside the yangban aristocracy there. Why then, do Koreans work so assiduously to align their national myths with China’s, when the experience of their forebears hade far more in common, if in the case of national subjugation with the Ryukyu Islands, if in the case of forced wartime labor or the comfort women with that of the people who called Taiwan or the Japanese archipelago home? I have some thoughts around this question too, but they are not yet gathered sufficiently to put them down in writing, even tentatively in blog-post form.
Sunday, August 03, 2014
A few days ago, I posted that the Abe-Putin summit later in the year would not be happening. According to today’s hardcopy Nikkei, MOFA agrees. Look, if you think the US reaction to Prime Minister Abe’s December visit to the Yasukuni Shrine was bad, a Putin visit will be kiss-the-TPP-goodbye bad. The only question left is managing the retreat.
Saturday, August 02, 2014
Friday, August 01, 2014
At first, I was mystified when a gaggle of Chinese fishing boats circled and rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat that had come too close to the Chinese oil rig planted near the Paracel Islands. So what in the world were fishing boats doing protecting an oil rig? But then, the hard-copy Yomiuri printed a detailed story last month, complete with interviews, on how Chinese fishing boats and their crew had been recruited as part-time surveillance and patrol forces by the maritime authorities. So that explains that… as well as the Japanese donation of five used fishing boats to Vietnam, who will convert them to coast guard vessels.
I’m not sure which is more alarming, the fact that the Chinese authorities are recruiting those unruly Chinese fishermen into paramilitary duties, or that they are freely letting Yomiuri visit and interview the fishermen.
I talked at some length about WW I and the Japanese experience, some of which was taken up in this Le Mondo article. I owe my thoughts to a conversation with Paul Furia, a young thoughtful French diplomat in Tokyo, and his impressions of the historical narrative at Yasukuni Shrine.
Caveat: I claim no expertise on restructuring, so the reason that no one seems to be talking about the following may be that I am just dead wrong. Well. IMHO…
1. You have to hand it to those hedge-fund holdouts, they’re going to make a killing in any of the first six scenarios here and, eventually, most likely in the seventh as well. Which means…
2. Restructuring sovereign debt has become much, much harder. You cannot foreclose on sovereigns; that used to limit the leverage that small creditors could bring to bear on the other creditors in the hopes that they would be bought out by the big boys to complete the deal. Now, holdouts will have power over the rest of the creditors for the duration of the deal. Of course in future bailouts, creditors could drop the “Rights Upon Future Offers (RUFO)” clause. But that incentivizes every small creditor and hedge fund to hovering in waiting for windfall profits after the restructuring deal, making it that much harder to convince a sufficient portion of the creditors to take haircuts to make a worthwhile deal.
3. The Argentinian finance minister may not have an exit plan, but he sure rocks sideburns. Straight out of the fifties.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
A bipartisan group of 140 US Congresspersons sent a letter to President Obama urging him “to pursue the TPP negotiations without any country, including Japan, Canada, or others, that proves unwilling to open its market in accordance with these high standards” with regard to agricultural products. This is a pre-election bluff of sorts. At the end of the day, the agricultural interests will accept what will be a significant improvement over the status quo; to do otherwise will put them at a competitive disadvantage against Australia and other agricultural exporters who sign FTAs with Japan. The key sentence here is: “We owe our farmers and ranchers the best deal possible.”
But before I go on, let me take note of the fact that this must the first time in human history that Japan and Canada has been mentioned in the same side of the same sentence in an agricultural conflict. Now back to the story…
Caveat, I only researched beef, but here’s what happened there. US beef had dominated the chilled beef import market, while Australia had to settle largely for the less lucrative frozen beef market. That all changed when the mad cow disease scare closed the Japanese market to US beef. Australian (and to a lesser extent New Zealand) beef quickly filled that vacuum until US beef was allowed back in (if I remember correctly) two stages. Australia quickly lost ground, and has continued to see modest slippage. The EPS deal that PMs Abe and Abbot struck essentially puts a floor under Australian beef (chilled being the more important) trade as the moving average for the three preceding years (if I remember correctly). That tariff quota is going to be used in combination with chilled beef coming in under higher tariffs (there’s a formula) to undercut US and others competitors. Australia essentially has a fallback position if the TPP negotiations collapse (or, unlikely though it seems, conclude in a deal without Japan) where it will be at a significant competitive advantage against the United States. Does that sound like “the best deal possible” for US “farmers and ranchers”? I didn’t think so.
The bottom line? A better deal than the Australians got. Don’t worry, Aussies, there must be an unwritten MFN clause written into that Abe-Abbot deal. And the Kiwis (and Mexicans) will be the collateral beneficiaries.
If anyone wants me to write a real report, you know where to find me.
Stephen Walt is one of my favorite—possibly the favorite—political scientists. In “It's Not the Guns of August -- It's the Trenches of October,” he asks why WW I lasted so long, and gives what to me seem to be a well-considered, fully worked out and concise answer. But I take issue with his following claim.
“…the only country that emerged from World War I in a stronger position than in 1914 was the United States of America.”
Wrong. So did Japan. If anything, “it fought [even further] from its own territory, and its losses were extremely light compared to the… major combatants [including the United States].”
This is not trivial, since this experience—or lack thereof—helped Japan willfully ignore the fact that imperialism had passed its consume-by date.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
“There’s someone [Akihisa Nagashima, the DPJ defense hawk] who goes the United States and says something about collective self-defense that is completely different from what I’m saying. I want him to desist.”
Well said, Mr. Kaieda. Now, all you have to do is to tell it to his face.
Go back far enough, and most sovereign states have their roots in genocide and ethnic cleansing. Heck, the whole “New” World would look very different today without them. Not that our “Japanese” hands are clean; the Emishi owned half of Honshu during much of the First Millennium (and I haven’t even mentioned the Ainu yet).
So when, why, and how does “history” become history, so that “history” no longer is “history,” but just history?
In case anyone wants to know:
1) Some individuals and organizations to be named later to be added to the list of asset freezes.
2) Vote with the Europeans on any future EBRD loans to Russia.
3) Restrictions on imports from Ukraine.
Now about those plans for Putin’s December visit to Tokyo…
“‘So far, nothing has been decided on President Putin’s visit. [This issue] will be considered in its entirety, taking into account the whole scope of factors. This is our point of view,’ Suga said at a news conference.”
Interesting. I can’t see the White House letting it happen, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Evidently, in the G-Zero world, you do your best to make sure that the friends of an enemy are also your friends.