Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 26, 2010
ASIA UNBOUND is a blog on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations, which also publishes the renowned Foreign Affairs quarterly. The website touts the blog with this line: “CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.”
Their Japan Hand is Sheila A. Smith. Here is her website bio:
Sheila A. Smith is a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), where she directed the New Regional Security Architecture for Asia project. Dr. Smith joined CFR from the East-West Center in 2007, where she specialized on Asia-Pacific international relations and U.S. policy toward Asia and directed a multinational research team in a cross-national study of the domestic politics of the U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. As an Abe Fellow at Keio University in Tokyo, she researched and wrote on Japan’s foreign policy toward China and the Northeast Asian region.
Senior Fellow for Japan Studies Sheila A. Smith’s latest blog post is about the Japanese reaction to the Senkakus Incident. People with those credentials spend a lot of time at conferences, and sure enough, she just got back from one:
I have just returned from a week in Tokyo, where I attended the annual CSIS-Nikkei conference on U.S.-Japan relations.
Sheila A. Smith talked about the debate in Japan:
The debate began with opposition party critique of Japan’s “weak” diplomacy (yowagoshi) in the face of Chinese pressure, but by week’s end, the Kan government had deftly resorted to imagery of willow branches to express their sense that Japan needed to demonstrate more flexibility in its approach to a rising China.
“Deftly”? That’s the first time I’ve seen or heard anyone describe the Kan government’s explanation of their flustered, seat-of-the-pants response as “deft”. In fact, that’s the first time I’ve seen or heard anyone outside of government say anything positive about it at all. Translated into English, the opinion of most Japanese is that their response was “daft”. My opinion is that they choked.
With a whisker short of 80% of the Japanese public giving a thumbs down to the government’s handling of the incident and a similar percentage saying they think the government is lying about how it was handled, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies Sheila A. Smith’s opinion is not going to find many backers here.
Was it the willow imagery that appealed to her, or was it just wishful thinking? Wait, it gets worse:
This conversation kept me close to my Japanese-English dictionary as I sought to understand the nuances afoot in this linguistic battle over diplomatic style.
Do I really have to say anything?
I will note, however, that anyone who uses phrases such as “the nuances afoot in this linguistic battle over diplomatic style” is more in need of an English language style manual than a Japanese-English dictionary.
Sheila A. Smith follows that with several paragraphs light on the insight and heavy on the jargon:
“Multiple avenues of global cooperation are available for this conversation…”
“(Japan) is now well positioned to demonstrate what it means to be a ‘responsible global stakeholder’.”
“Issue by issue, Japan should seek out opportunities and partnerships for collective action as it seeks to address its concerns.”
Are you nodding your heads in agreement with the sagacity of the observations or because you’re trying not to fall asleep?
Sheila A. Smith observes:
(I)n the Diet conversation there seemed little interest in analyzing the interaction or in devising prescriptions for improvement. Rather Japan’s faults were magnified, and the current government chastised. Today’s opposition in Japan was yesterday’s government, and with a half century of diplomatic experience in dealing with China, one would think there would be greater room for advice and constructive feedback than in the past.
Japan hands who pay attention and read newspapers and other periodicals without constantly flipping through dictionaries already know that the DPJ government—whose defining traits were arrogance and incompetence even before this incident—was determined to go it alone and didn’t bother to consult with the Foreign Ministry, let alone the LDP. Yet Sheila A. Smith hints the opposition should have helped more.
Rather than 50 years of political experience, it would have been more practical to rely on the nearly two millenia of cultural experience the Japanese have had in dealing with the Chinese and the common sense most people have developed by the time they reach middle age. But the leaders of the DPJ government ignored the former and have none of the latter.
And yes, the willow imagery did strike her fancy.
In its bilateral relations with China, the graceful elasticity of the willow imagery works in the sense that Japan should be patient and supple in its response to Beijing’s assertiveness.
The latest post on Asia Unbound, by the way, is a comment about the comparative development of high-speed trains in the U.S. and China by Yanzhong Huang. This was of particular interest after last week’s guest post here about China’s semi-extortion of foreign technology to build their own trains. Not a whisper of that from Mr. Huang, however. With traces of an ancient tribal pride, he hails the Chinese:
The development of high-speed train epitomizes China’s rapid emergence as a great power.
And frets over the U.S. failure of will:
Where is that “can-do” and “get-it-done” attitude that had characterized America’s state-building experience?
China shunned standard international business practice and instead demanded that foreign companies transfer the technology to satisfy a 70% domestic production requirement, in exchange for promises of large contracts for other business in the country that never materialized.
Now that tonic would certainly energize any country’s “rapid emergence as a great power” and fuel a “can-do” attitude.
Frankly, the author of the guest post here and the people who contributed comments seem to be more knowledgeable about this subject than the CFR expert.
And Mr. Huang also misses the point of New Jersey Gov. Christie’s cancellation of a project to build additional train tracks between his state and New York City.
This is a think tank? Please. This is a self-congratulatory joke dressed in expensive clothing. They probably do a bang-up job of organizing conferences and selecting après-conference restaurants, though.
America has reached a critical point in the public consciousness with the realization that those who consider themselves to be an educated elite are nothing more than a credentialed gentry. People now understand that most of the experts in fields other than the hard sciences have little in the way of real expertise.
Guess who’ll be the last ones to get it.