AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for November, 2010

Taiwan election

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 30, 2010

HERE’S a fascinating look at Taiwan’s election earlier this week written by John Parker, a freelance writer and entrepreneur based in the PRC. In the first part of the article, Mr. Parker examines the attempted assassination of a KMT official who is the son of a prominent Taiwanese politician.

But I recommend sticking around to the end to read Mr. Parker’s comparison of the attitudes of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public in Taiwan with those of their counterparts in the PRC:

Taiwan’s election was fascinating to witness for this writer, who has spent years of his adult life in mainland China but knows Taiwan only from brief visits…

What was most striking, to an observer accustomed to mainland China, was the public mood. Despite the attack on Sean Lien, the people at these rallies — for both parties — were happy. All one had to do was look at their faces to see the profound importance of the political disparity that has arisen between Taiwan and the PRC…

The contrast with the mainland could not be greater. On the mainland, all the feelings associated with politics are overwhelmingly negative: fear, hatred, rage. Overtly, all this negativity tends to be directed against the supposedly malevolent “enemies” (foreign and domestic) that the CCP is constantly warning the Chinese people about; but in reality, it originates with the frustration that political impotence causes the population to feel, and their helplessness in the face of the contemptuous way they are treated by CCP officials almost every day of their lives. It seems impossible that much of this negative energy would not be directed against the CCP, were it not for the fact that ordinary mainland citizens can, and often do, suffer colossal adverse consequences for acting on any rebellious impulse…

The default public mood in the PRC, as I see dozens of times every day, is a kind of sullen, hostile rudeness; hysterical, atavistic ultranationalism lurks just beneath the surface. To be fair, this is more pronounced in older Chinese who lived through the traumatic 50s and 60s, but it’s not totally absent from the younger ones either.

After becoming accustomed to this atmosphere, Taiwan was a complete revelation to me: I saw more genuine smiles my first day in Taiwan than I had seen on the mainland in years.

And all of this during an election campaign in which a gangster almost murdered a politician.

The article should be required reading for Thomas Friedman. He probably wouldn’t get it, but you will.

Link stolen from Michael Turton at The View from Taiwan

Posted in China, Politics, Taiwan | 1 Comment »

China’s view of North Korea

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 30, 2010

HOW’S THAT for bad timing–within days after writing about my suspicions that the Chinese are guilty of enabling behavior with North Korea, if not more (those North Korean missiles passed through Beijing on the way to Teheran, after all), the Wikileaked documents reveal that even the Chinese might be fed up with Pyeongyang. A website called THE LID has a useful summary, which includes several mindbenders. Here’s one:

South Korea’s vice-foreign minister said he was told by two named senior Chinese officials that they believed Korea should be reunified under Seoul’s control, and that this view was gaining ground with the leadership in Beijing.

There are also suggestions that the Chinese leadership has changed its thinking because of domestic opinion.

The post doesn’t bring up the possibility that Beijing’s geopolitical strategists believe the prospect of Finlandization Northeast Asian-style might not be unwelcome among some elements in South Korea, however.

Meanwhile, just because Wikileaks and Wikipedia have similar names doesn’t mean there’s a connection. Far from it, as this tweet shows:

@wikileaks Speaking as Wikipedia’s co-founder, I consider you enemies of the U.S.–not just the government, but the people.

Finally, the New York Times demonstrates yet again why so many people find them–and the rest of the smokestack media–so loathsome. They refused to publish the e-mails from the University of East Anglia exposing the climate change scam because they said the data were obtained illegally. That didn’t stop them from publishing the Wilileaks documents, which were obtained just as illegally.

More details here. As the poster notes, it’s not a question of ideology–serious people will disagree. It is rather a question of rank dishonesty in the service of ideology while masquerading as a White Knight in service of all that is True and Good.

And with the Climategate e-mails in particular, it was also a case of the Times covering up the collusive behavior of one their reporters.

Posted in China, North Korea, South Korea | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Asiapress International goes international

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 29, 2010

ASIAPRESS INTERNATIONAL is a Japan-based organization that is funding a team of citizen video journalists making clandestine films of life in North Korea. They also publish Rimjing-gang, a compilation of articles written by North Koreans, in Korean, Japanese, and now English.

The editor is Ishimaru Jiro, who trains the reporters and pays them $500 a month, as well as expenses for bribing police and border guards.

Word of his operation is finally filtering out of Northeast Asia, as this interview and article in Britain’s Telegraph demonstrates. It contains a compilation video with English subtitles. One scene shows a 23-year-old woman who lives outdoors foraging for grass, and who says she eats “nothing”. Another scene shows a woman giving a piece of her mind to a policeman in public.

Is the situation in North Korea getting close to a tipping point? Consider the following, found on the Internet:

(He) was showing signs of complete denial of reality. While the country was going through extremely difficult times with long bread queues in front of empty food shops, he was often shown on state TV entering stores filled with food supplies, visiting large food and arts festivals, while praising the “high living standard” achieved under his rule.

It was a reference to Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania in 1989, who was executed in a revolution on Christmas Day that year.

Afterwords:
It’s always worth reading what George Jonas has to write. This time it’s about North Korea.

North Korea is a Chicago-style protection racket with a flag and an anthem. Why did it shell a South Korean fishing village this week? Because that’s what North Korea does. It shells, professionally, for a living. From time to time it launches, or threatens to launch, projectiles at its neighbours, then invoices the world for stopping.

How do I know? Open sources. I’ve written about Korea, travelled in Korea, interviewed Korean officials, had Korean houseguests, married a Korean — well, a Canadian who was born in Korea — and have Korean in-laws, but that’s not how I know. My conclusion of why Pyongyang gave orders to shell the hilly tumescence of Yeonpyeong island on Tuesday isn’t derived from research but from math. I put two and two together.

Putting two and two together has been beyond the mathematical abilities of several American and minimally two South Korean administrations.

And Victor Davis Hanson adds his perspective: “The Korean mess reminds us again of who was and who was not in the ill-famed “axis of evil” as articulated in January 2002.”

Oh, yes, axis of evil. WikiLeaks reveals that the U.S. knew this year that North Korea has supplied 19 BM-25 missiles, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, to Iran. The missiles have a range that puts some Western European capitals in striking distance, such as Berlin. (To attempt to provide what it considers balance to its article, the New York Times also mentions Moscow–a very unlikely target.)

They were shipped through Beijing.

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Posted in North Korea | 9 Comments »

Music class

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 28, 2010

ALL THE BOYS had mixed emotions whenever we heard the sound of the upright piano rolling down the hall as the music teacher pushed it to our primary school classroom. Our initial reaction was delight because we would be spared some the rote drudgery of what passed for public school education even then. But in the back of our minds was the realization that we would be forced to sing some of the most dismal gloop ever put to music. The girls seemed to enjoy the act of singing more than we did, and they have more patience for that sort of thing, but they too must have been disappointed in the school songbooks.

Both the boys and the girls at the Yamagata Daihachi Primary School (P.S. #8) in Yamagata City appear to have more fun with their musical instruction, however. The school held a special class in traditional Japanese music for 91 sixth-graders last week. A local group of six amateur musicians performed on the shakuhachi and the so, and then divided the students into two groups for instruction.

Making a noise with a stringed instrument is easy, but they had trouble with the shakuhachi. Said 12-year-old Oka Fumika, “I play the trumpet and music for wind instruments, but the blowing techniques are different and very difficult.”

Here’s what it looked like:

The song they’re practicing is Sakura, Sakura (Cherry blossom), which all Japanese have long known by the time they reach that age. I’ve even heard some people suggest it would make a good compromise choice as national anthem to placate those Japanese republicans who dislike Kimi ga Yo. (The lyrics to the latter are a millennium old and were originally a love poem, but it’s now associated with the Imperial house.)

Here’s what Sakura, Sakura sounds like without its lyrics—performed on a chromatic harmonica!

Afterwords:

To call that stringed instrument a koto is technically incorrect, as I understand it. A koto was originally something else and is written with a different kanji. The so has moveable bridges, while the similar kin has none. The report from Yamagata called it a so and specified that reading.

And to get linguistically carried away with myself, the Japanese have a different architectural term instead of bridge for the structure of traditional instruments. They use the kanji for column or post (柱), but pronounce it ji instead of hashira or chu.

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Unintended consequences

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 25, 2010

THE NORTH KOREAN artillery attack on a small South Korean island this week has already had one unexpected effect on Japanese domestic policy.

Not long ago, we had a post about the Democratic Party government’s intention to provide the high school tuition supplements received by the parents of students at Japanese schools to the parents of students at the 12 high schools operated by Chongryon. That’s a Pyeongyang-affiliated group known in English as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.

These high schools are not classified as Japanese schools because the institutions do not follow the standard Japanese educational curriculum. That means tuition supplements are in violation of a provision in the Japanese Constitution prohibiting the expenditure of public funds on educational institutions not under Japanese authority. In addition, roughly 60% of the Japanese public is opposed to the plan. The DPJ government’s idea was to give them the money anyway and ask the schools to voluntarily modify their curriculum without requiring them to do so.

That curriculum is based on the juche philosophy. The instruction is in Korean, and textbooks glorify the late Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Some of the texts used deny that North Korea abducted Japanese citizens and claim that the Japanese are exaggerating. They teach that the planting of a bomb in 1987 by two North Korean agents on a KAL airliner, which blew up in flight killing 115 people, is a story fabricated by South Korean authorities. (The South Korean authorities caught the agents, one of whom said the intent was to scare people away from participating in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.) The schools’ history courses teach the Korean War was the result of South Korea attacking the North at the instigation of American imperialists.

After the North Korean artillery bombardment, Education Minister Takaki Yoshiaki suggested the government might suspend the planned provision of payments to the Chongryon schools. Here’s what he said:

“We might have to make a serious decision.”

Didn’t the DPJ already make a serious decision by backing an unconstitutional measure disliked by the people to publicly subsidize propaganda distributed in the form of education?

Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito added:

“We are thinking of moving in the direction of stopping the process now underway, in view of the circumstances of yesterday and today.”

If the party does decide to make a serious decision and stop the process, it will not be because they’ve changed their views, and the decision will not be permanent. The DPJ government, which the Anglosphere press amusingly describes as “center-left”, is now massively unpopular and discredited in the public eye for its failure to defend the national interest against China. They cannot afford another black mark on that side of the ledger now.

Mr. Sengoku was first elected to the Diet as a member of the Socialist Party in 1990. In those days, the party charter still contained favorable references to Karl Marx. The party sponsored annual peace cruises to North Korea. It was their official position that Pyeongyang couldn’t possibly have abducted Japanese citizens. Before embarking on his career as a national legislator, Mr. Sengoku was an attorney who defended labor unions, activist Korean citizens of Japanese birth, and gangsters.

If tensions on the Korean Peninsula revert to the pre-attack level while the DPJ is in control of the government, they will restart the process. That is who they are.

The party will also continue to look for an opening to pass legislation allowing permanent resident non-citizens the right to vote, a measure specifically designed for the zainichi Korean citizens. That group includes a half-dozen Chongryon senior officials who are members of the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly.

The divine wind

The North Korean attack gained a brief reprieve for Mr. Sengoku from being subject to an upper house censure motion by the opposition parties for his behavior in office. Most of the opposition was ready to submit the motion before the passage of the supplementary budget, but New Komeito wanted them to wait until the end of the current Diet session. All the opposition parties are likely to vote for it, with the exception of the Social Democrats. That party is the remnant of the old Socialist Party, whose Diet membership could fit into a minivan.

Mr. Sengoku is the man in charge of crisis management for the Kan Cabinet—such as it is—so the Liberal Democratic Party thought it would be better to hold off for the present.

Meanwhile, someone in the DPJ, identified only as a party executive, thought the reprieve might last longer. Word leaked out that he or she said at a meeting:

“For the DPJ, the artillery attack was like a divine wind.”

“Divine wind” in Japanese is kamikaze, and students of history will understand the statement refers to the storms that destroyed the invading Mongol armadas off Kyushu in 1274 and 1281, rather than the special attack squadron that flew suicide missions in the closing days of World War II.

Is there some sort of coded Esperanto hex embedded in the phrase “Democratic Party” that mesmerizes the members of all political groups worldwide with that name into believing that every event everywhere must first be analyzed from the perspective of how it affects their immediate political situation?

People were killed, homes were destroyed, and the world is holding its breath to see if war will break out on the Korean Peninsula, but a senior member of the ruling party is relieved that a repellent politician of the same party will be spared for a few days the censure his behavior in government deserves.

The party admitted that the statement was made, but said it was not their official position. The comment was made during an informal discussion, they said. They also refused to identify the official.

Maybe it isn’t a hex. Maybe it’s part of their DNA. That is who they are.

The latest weather forecast predicts the divine winds will have died down by the 26th, when the opposition plans to introduce the censure motion in the upper house.

The barbarians across the street

Yesterday I suggested that it was time to disabuse ourselves of the idea that the North Koreans were crazy like a fox in their behavior. Others hold that the North Koreans are acting rationally, from their perspective. I’m sure that’s true, but the same could be said of psychotics.

Victor Davis Hanson, in a post on his website that covers several topics, uses the perfect analogy in a section headlined Korea as the Proverbial Deranged Neighbor:

“I once had a deranged neighbor in the general vicinity out here in rural California. His pit bulls threatened us when we irrigated near the property line. His compound of various itinerant crashed trailers was an eyesore. His kids were near criminals. His message: “I am crazy with nothing left to lose; pay me obeisance or watch havoc ensue” (e.g., your good life will not be too good if you screw with me and my perennially bad life)….

“…Insanity is a force-multiplier in nuclear poker. North Korea is playing the Huns of the 5th-century AD to us, the tottering late Romans, who paid to avoid for a while the misery that was second nature to the barbarians. We are lectured, quite rightly, that Korea is grandstanding at a time of succession, that it is broke and wants a crisis to bring in some more bribe money (as if being unhinged were as good an asset as oil exports), that it shows off a new nuclear plant to garner more cash, and that it is close to implosion and has few choices….”

The next step is for the light bulb to go on in the thought balloons over our heads and to realize that not only are the Chinese delivering all the free liquor they can drink to the deranged neighbors, the delivery man is probably whispering a few suggestions on his way out the door.

Mea maxima culpa

Reader Roual Deetlefs wrote in yesterday to say that he was stunned to meet some Japanese on social networking sites who supported the Chinese (in the Senkakus Incident, I assume). I replied that those Japanese were no different from the blame-yourself-first Americans and Brits whose philosophy is informed by the wish to show how wonderful they are by proclaiming how terrible they are.

There are also plenty of the same type in South Korea. For verification, try this post by Joshua Stanton at One Free Korea, who reports that Incheon Mayor Song Young-gil tweeted the North Korean attack on Yeonpyeong was provoked by South Korean military exercises, and that a local market was shelled because it was a South Korean intelligence facility a decade ago.

Mayor Song later deleted his tweet.

Yesterday I wrote about my reasons for not reading fiction anymore. If you think I was overstating the case, wait till you read which South Korean municipality has jurisdiction over Yeonpyeong.

UPDATE:

The initial report about the “divine wind” comment suggested that it was made in reference to the delay of the censure motion against Mr. Sengoku and another Cabinet minister.

Since then, however, an explanation has emerged that the discussion was not about the two ministers in particular, but about the Kan Cabinet’s reputation as a whole. Some in the party thought they could use the incident as a way to restore their reputation and their ratings. It took them until the next day, but they finally decided to use some strong language by criticizing the attack as “barbaric”.

If true, that’s even more noxious than the first explanation.

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Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Military affairs, North Korea, Politics, South Korea | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Who needs fiction?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 24, 2010

THERE ARE several reasons why I seldom read fiction anymore. Here’s one of them.

* South Korean military forces have recently been conducting long-planned military exercises, part of which involved firing artillery rounds from islands near the border with North Korea. The artillery was fired to the west and not the north, however.

* North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son, the heir presumptive Kim Jong-eun, visited a military installation this past weekend near the same location at the border. Perhaps the visit was to inspire the troops on the eve of battle.

* Four hours after the South Korean artillery exercises ended yesterday, the North Koreans began shelling Daeyeonpyeong Island, which, with the smaller Soyeonpyeong Island, makes up what is considered the geographical entity of Yeonpyeong Island. They have a population of about 1,790.

* The North Korean barrage lasted 50 minutes, consisted of at least 100 rounds, killed two South Korean marines, wounded at least 15 other marines and three civilians, and started fires in 60 buildings and the surrounding forest.

Here’s what it looked like:

The North Korean military said in a statement:

“The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK standing guard over the inviolable territorial waters of the country took such a decisive military step as reacting to the military provocation of the puppet group with a prompt powerful physical strike…It is a traditional mode of counter-action of the army of the DPRK to counter the firing of the provocateurs with merciless strikes…(We) will unhesitatingly continue taking merciless military counter-actions.”

* In March this year, North Korean forces sank the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.

* Siegfried Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S., visited North Korea earlier this month. He was given a tour of a difficult-to-detect uranium enrichment facility. As the Washington Post reported:

“My jaw just dropped,” he said, describing a modern facility containing row upon row of centrifuges, capable of enriching uranium. “I was stunned.”

On the other hand, some people weren’t stunned at all.

In other words, North Korea now has two nuclear weapons programs. Mr. Hecker saw around 2,000 such centrifuges in all, though everyone is claiming they’re for peaceful purposes. Right-o! If they weren’t making an implied threat that the centrifuges are for military purposes, and they’ll use them to make weapons unless they get more cash/fuel/food, they wouldn’t have let Mr. Hecker see them to begin with. Those who bet on form will place their money at the window selling the tickets that say they get the cash/fuel/food and make the weapons anyway.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak considers the artillery attack an invasion and is threatening retaliation. He was especially angered at the attacks on civilians, all the more because the South is was providing the North with humanitarian aid.

No satirist, however–not Swift, Hasek, or Vonnegut–would have dared create a fictional plot device that included this news story from the South Korean government on the same day. The Yonhap report speaks for itself:

Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, the world’s most heavily fortified border separating South and North Korea, got its own mascots Tuesday as part of government efforts to promote it for its ecological value and tourism potential…

As part of such promotion efforts, cartoon images of a butterfly family were developed as the mascots for the DMZ, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said in a press release. The butterflies, named Didi (dad), Mimi (mom) and Zizi (their child) and with blue, pink and green wings, respectively, symbolize a family from an alien planet making their visit to Earth to find its natural charms.

Here’s what Didi, Mimi, and Zizi (DMZ–get it?) look like:

Didi, Mimi, and Zizi

To be sure, the MCST had no way of knowing what else was going to happen on the day they released the alien butterfly cuties from their cocoons. Besides, the planning for that promotion must have been underway for some time. The South Korean government has been trying to encourage tourism to the DMZ, as it is one of the few areas whose natural environment has been spared the intense development in the rest of the country. They opened hiking trails for tourists along the DMZ in May. Guidebooks were printed in Korean and English, so it’s safe to assume they’re hoping overseas tourists as well as Korean nationals come to visit.

On the other side of the DMZ, North Korean military forces have their substantial weaponry locked on Seoul, just 40 miles away. Even granting that the territory is unspoiled and attractive, one wonders how some in the Seoul government could be so oblivious of the potential danger, and why they would tempt fate and the Kim Family Regime with a space butterfly-friendly eco-tourist program. It is perhaps as Dashiell Hammett explained in The Maltese Falcon: People get used to the idea that steel beams can fall any time without warning, and then they get used to the idea that the steel beams don’t fall any more.

But as we’ve now seen, steel beams are ready to drop on the Korean Peninsula at any time, and some Koreans understand that. After all, how far are those tourist hiking trails with the Alien Space Nabi from the machine gun-equipped Samsung robot sentries for which trials were conducted this July? It’s thought the trials will run until the end of the year.

Wasn’t the music cool? Just like an action program on television!

Let’s be frank, shall we? While the recent North Korean moves against the South and the Chinese bravado against the Japanese are an immediate challenge to the political leadership in Seoul and Tokyo, it’s unlikely any of this would have happened if someone other than Barack Obama (or a political soulmate) were in the White House. The political leadership in Beijing and Pyeongyang obviously wants to see what it can get away with, and they’re betting they can get away with quite a lot. The Chinese like to pretend they can’t control the North Koreans, but if similar circumstances obtained anywhere else in the world, people would suspect that at least some coordination was involved. It’s time to apply the same common sense to Northeast Asia.

The downside to their game is that Mr. Obama has become so discredited domestically he might be desperate enough to regain his standing by doing something militarily unwise to prove that the United States in general, and the weak-on-defense Democrats in particular, can’t be pushed around.

Be that as it may, we should all be glad we aren’t faced with the choices of Lee Myung-bak. Were it me, there’s a certain North Korean artillery installation that would no longer exist by the weekend, but then I don’t live in Greater Seoul. On the other hand, doing nothing now likely ensures that something worse will happen in the future. Does he take the chance to find out how suicidally terrorist the North Koreans can be? Does he factor into his thinking that the North Korean move might have been taken with the intent to distract the attention of an increasingly unhappy citizenry?

Perhaps there is something to be gained from fiction after all. In one of the scenes in The Maltese Falcon, the bad guys (Gutman, Wilmer, and Cairo) are negotiating with Sam Spade over possession of the ornament. Gutman and his allies want the bird, and Spade wants either the murderer of his partner or a fall guy in return. During the course of the discussion, Cairo hints that they could physically force the information they want out of Spade without cutting a deal. Said Spade:

“If you kill me, how are you going to get the bird? If I know you can’t afford to kill me till you have it, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?”

Presently (Gutman) gave his genial answer: “Well sir, there are other means of persuasion than killing and threatening to kill.”

“Sure,” Spade agreed, “but they’re not much good unless the threat of death is behind them to hold the victim down. See what I mean? If you try anything I don’t like I won’t stand for it. I’ll make it a matter of your having to call it off or kill me, knowing that you can’t afford to kill me.”

…Gutman chuckled. “That is an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides, because as you know, sir, men are likely to forget in the heat of action where their best interest lies and let their emotions carry them away.”

“That’s the trick from my side,” (Spade) said, “to make my play strong enough that it ties you up, but yet not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment.”

That about describes it, does it not? I could be wrong, but I suspect Mr. Lee is much more capable of dealing with this situation than either Kan Naoto or Barack Obama are of dealing with theirs. I hope I’m right. So do Didi, Mimi, and Zizi. If anyone needs fiction, they do.

Afterwords:

* All those who’ve insisted over the years that the North Koreans are crazy like a fox and aren’t really batso enough to do anything serious should consider taking a punditry break for a while and stand under a waterfall to chant some sutras.

* Isn’t it wonderful what government bureaucrats can dream up when you give them enough money to play with?

UPDATE:

The Japanese media are upset with their government’s information flow and response to the attack. Foreign Minister Maehara was informed first of the attack, even though he was in Australia; Prime Minister Kan didn’t find out until after Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku was told. Roughly three hours later, the American government issued their strong condemnation, and three hours after that, Mr. Sengoku said the attack was (literally) “difficult to permit”, though that could be stretched linguistically to “intolerable”.

The media’s criticism is that the sequence in both cases is the reverse of what it should be. Poor crisis management and the inability to make a rapid response is a perennial complaint of the Japanese about themselves, however.

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Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Military affairs, North Korea, South Korea | Tagged: | 23 Comments »

A comedy tonite!

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GOOD EVENING, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, thank you, oh, it’s so nice to be back in town and see you all again! We’re thrilled that you could make it because we’ve got a really big show lined up for you this evening.

Our special attraction tonight is that zany comedy troupe, the stars of stump, TV screen, and the Internet, those kings and queens of hectic hey-hey who’ve been adding to their Guinness record of 563 straight pratfalls without a net, that weird and wacky gang from Nagata-cho, I’m pleased as punch to present…the Democratic Party of Japan!

Now let’s hear it for our first guest, the current Deputy Secretary-General, Tochigi’s own, Edano Yukio!

“I didn’t realize that the ruling party would be so busy. We talked carelessly about political leadership, and now we’re in trouble. What I want more than anything else is the time to leisurely think about and discuss matters.”

Interlocutor: What about the suggestion by some that you institute income restrictions to limit the amount of the government child allowance paid to parents with higher incomes?

“To say that we should apply income restrictions because our support is falling is a kind of populism.”

Folks, listen, we’re just getting warmed up! Would you believe this DPJ party member’s story about Okada Katsuya, DPJ Secretary-General?:

“Mr. Okada asked Ozawa Ichiro to attend an ethics panel, but he didn’t meet him. When someone asked him why he didn’t meet him and discuss the matter with him in person, he said, ‘I called his office several times, but he never came to the phone.’”

Shout from the audience: Who was that lady I saw you with last night?

Interlocutor: That was no lady—that was Ren Ho!

Veteran DPJ Diet member:

“Her reputation in the party is terrible, even though they’re boosting her as the queen of the policy reviews. She tailors her statements to whoever seems to have the most power at the time, whether it’s Kan or Ozawa. Some people think she behaves like a high-class geisha.”

Younger MP:

“I don’t know whether it’s out of habit or what, but during drinking parties with the other MPs, she often (physically) touches us, on the back and elsewhere. She’s very good at that sort of thing, but she also can be a frightening middle-aged lady (おばさん). When some freshman MPs didn’t attend the policy reviews, she called them up and yelled, ‘Why aren’t you here?’”

Ladies and gentlemen, you remember the late and great Rodney Dangerfield, the man who never got any respect. Well, our next guest makes Rodney seem like the picture of probity and gravitas! It’s Old Smiley himself, Kan The Man Naoto!

(Hisses)

Nay, nay, I kid you not!

You remember Mr. Kan had to beg the Chinese to have those hallway sofa summits with Chinese President Hu Jintao because they wouldn’t agree to hold a formal meeting? Instead of sitting down, looking him in the eye, and talking with him man to man, he read Mr. Hu a memo!

Shout from the audience: Who’s on first?

Interlocutor: No, Hu’s on the couch!

No, seriously, he gets no respect! A source in the prime minister’s office told a weekly magazine about his response to some polling data:

“What? We’re doing the policy reviews, but our polls aren’t going up? Something’s wrong here!”

Hey, he gets so little respect, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s almost as if it were a conspiracy! (Straightens tie, twists neck.) A member of the current Cabinet told the weekly Shukan Gendai:

“He’s completely lost his capacity to govern. He was quite confident that the Russian President would not visit the Northern Territories, but he did. He blew up: ‘What’s this? I had information that he wouldn’t come.’ He got the information from Mr. Sengoku.”

Audience heckler:

“During the prime minister’s days as a leader of student activists, he was known as a ‘Fourth Row Man’. If you’re in the fourth row of a demonstration, you won’t get arrested when you run into the riot police…Now he tries to hide behind Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, the man they call The Shadow Prime Minister.”

(The ushers lead LDP lower house member Hamada Kazuyuki from the hall.)

Interlocutor: And he gets even less respect when he goes overseas. When he spoke at the UN General Assembly in late September, three-fourths of the audience in attendance walked out when he took the podium!

Here’s a Jiji report about part of his speech:

“Prime Minister Kan gave an address to the UN general assembly on the development of small island states. Referring to his support of sustainable development for small island states confronting the threat of natural disaster and climate change, he declared, ‘We want to continue to be powerful supporters.’

“The Prime Minister emphasized his awareness of the urgent challenge faced by the international community for small island states overcoming their vulnerability. He described the support Japan would offer, and used as an example the help given to Haiti after its devastating earthquake in January. He also said that Japan would be providing support for disaster prevention, training personnel, and providing infrastructure.

“He said that rising sea levels threatened the existence of these states, and declared his intention to provide support for developing countries, including the small island states.”

Blogged an aide to LDP lower house member Nakagawa Hidenao:

“Mr. Prime Minister, the small islands you should protect first are the Senkakus!”

Now folks, it’s time for the Senkakus Shtick, which is destined to go down in the annals of comedy history–way, way down–to rank alongside the equally rank Futenma Follies of Hatoyama Yukio!

The government was ready to face the Chinese challenge. Said Sengoku Yoshito:

We’re going to have to confront this problem with China sometime. Japan lacks a sense of crisis, so this will be a good test case.

Interlocutor: And by Jingo it was! Just look at this report from the Asahi!

Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the ruling DPJ, said, “The response by the Koizumi government led China to believe that ‘Japan’s position as a nation ruled by law is only for show.’”

Those within the prime minister’s office were concerned that immediately deporting Zhan would have led to domestic criticism that the government was “weak-kneed.”

An aide to Kan said such a decision “might have sent a message to China that even if a problem occurred near the Senkaku Islands, that would be the extent of Japan’s response.”

Interlocutor: Not only were they weak at the knees, they were weak at the hips!

Hold it, hold it, I know what you’re thinking! It’s true that Mr. Kan tried to warm up the audience with his famous Goofy impersonation. Before going to the U.S. on the 22nd of September, he asked his staff if the Chinese sea captain couldn’t be quickly released. Then he asked if it were possible to take some extralegal measures. You know, like the kind Koizumi took! But then he took charge! Here’s what he told Sengoku Yoshito:

“Take care of this while I’m in New York!”

And here’s what Sengoku Yoshito told Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru:

“You take care of this. (よろしく!)”

Interlocutor: And boy, did they!

Hey folks, I gotta tell ya, these are warm, loving, caring people, just wonderful human beings, but you won’t catch them talking about all the charity gigs they do. Take the Chinese fishing boat captain. His mother died on the day he was arrested. Now, you’ll never hear anyone in the Cabinet come right out and say it, but they did leak to the media the Chinese government request that they release the captain for humanitarian reasons.

It’s Chinese custom to hold memorial services for the deceased 19 days, 29 days, and 39 days after their death. The Chinese signaled the Kantei that it would mean a great deal to the nation and the family if they sent the captain home in time for the 19th day memorial service on 27 September. They also said it would be another great gesture if he could be there for the PRC National Day on 1 October. So respectful of Chinese patriotic feelings! But we wouldn’t have known about their civilized and compassionate response if Toshikawa Takao of Gendai Online hadn’t written about it.

Do you know how self-effacing they are? They didn’t want to steal the limelight for themselves, so they gave the prosecutors all the credit for the decision to release the Chinese captain! Isn’t that touching?

Wait, wait, that’s not all. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when you hear this. There are now reports from China that the captain’s mother wasn’t dead after all! Can’t you imagine how the skipper felt when he came home and discovered that she was still alive? That must have been a special reunion!

Everybody’s tryin’ to get into the act!
- Jimmy Durante

“I must say I think Prime Minister Kan has dealt with this (Senkakus) issue — it’s a difficult issue — in a very statesmanlike fashion. It, I think, shows a vision and an appreciation of how important it is for a peaceful diplomatic process to be conducted on issues like this.”
- Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs

And now ladies and gentlemen, here’s the star of the show, that bouncy and blustering blend of evasions, tough talk, and feigned politeness, the master of wit and repartee, that wascally wabbit himself, the one, the only, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito!

Interlocutor: People are complaining about all the misstatements and gaffes coming out of the Cabinet, but he’s got their backs:

“The (opposition) asks us a lot of detailed questions that they didn’t tell us in advance, and it’s hard to answer them accurately. If a minister is asked about something outside the range of their (responsibility), they haven’t prepared all the data, and it isn’t in their heads.”

Interlocutor: Well, what part of their body is it in, then? Ha ha ha!

The poll numbers for the Cabinet are falling through the floor, but he’s been the Rock of Gibraltar for his fellow cutups. Just this week, he said:

“In the not too distant future, the people will praise the policies, acts, and results of the Kan Cabinet.”

And never a thought for himself, that man—he’s always on the job. Reporters asked him earlier this month whether he would visit Okinawa to see the Futenma air base for himself. Wouldn’t a few days in the tropics be great this time of year, even on a business trip? It would do him a world of good. But he can’t tear himself away from his desk:

“If you (in the media) didn’t bring up the problem of crisis management, I could go anytime, but I can’t move because I have to be in the 23 wards of Tokyo 24 hours a day.”

Don’t let that gruff exterior fool you folks, he’s really a paragon of courtesy. He’s got the greatest respect and deference for our Chinese neighbors. And he shows that regard by using highly honorific language when he speaks speak of them. Don’t you remember how politely he referred to them in September, even though he was very disappointed in their behavior?

“I don’t know about 20 years ago, but it was my understanding that (China) had changed quite a bit—the judiciary had become independent and the relationship between government and the judicial system had become more modern. But they haven’t changed much at all.” (あまりお変わりになっていなかった)

Or how hopeful he was of positive developments after the government returned the 14 crew members to China along with their ship. Notice the respect he pays to the average Chinese fisherman:

(14人と船がお帰りになれば、違った状況が開けてくるのではないか)
“If the 14 sailors and their ship return (to China), that will likely create a different set of circumstances.”

It must be that Socialist background and his sense of solidarity with working men and women everywhere! He did it again when he confirmed that a Chinese survey ship was near the Japanese Shirakaba gas fields in the East China Sea:

(周辺にいらっしゃることは確認している。)
“(We’ve) confirmed (the ship) is in the area.”

Interlocutor: That’s more respect than Kan Naoto gets!

There’s more! Not only does he hold the Chinese in high esteem, but with true Japanese humility he elevates others by lowering himself and the members of his group. Here’s what he said about the political neutrality of civil servants:

“The Self-Defense Forces are also an instrument of violence, as well as a type of military organization. Therefore, based on our prewar experience, their political neutrality in particular must be ensured.”

He quickly caught himself and changed that to “an organization of power”, but boy, did that start a motherbruiser of a pie fight in the cheap seats! Even some of his detractors, including blogger Ikeda Nobuo, rushed to his defense by suggesting that he was paraphrasing the sociologist and political economist Max Weber, who held that the state should have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Others objected that Vladimir Lenin had a taste for the phrase too, not to mention a taste for violence. Old Ilyich used approximations of it several times, including, “The state is an organ or instrument of violence exercised by one class against another …”

But just as Mr. Sengoku was there to defend Kan Naoto when the going got tough, the tough prime minister got going and stood up for the chief cabinet secretary:

“He read communist party-type books in the past. He told me himself that the phrase ‘instrument of violence’ appeared in them. That’s not what he really believes. I recognize that he made a mistake in his choice of words.”

Interlocutor: So it was Lenin and not Weber after all!

But really, trust me, he’s a serious guy with the people’s best interests at heart. This February, when he was still the minister for national strategy, he talked about the goals of his party:

“Our objective is to create a government that the civil servants and the people will be thankful for. The basic concepts are ‘disclosure’ and ‘explanation’.”

Ladies and gentleman, we all know it’s impossible to follow an act like that, but if anyone can, it’s the recently reshuffled Minister of Justice, the Clown Prince of Comedy, Yanagida Minoru entertaining an audience in Hiroshima on the 14th! Heeeeere’s Minnie!

“All I did was remember two answers that have gotten me through Diet testimony: ‘I will refrain from commenting on specific cases,’ and ‘We are dealing with the matter appropriately based on law and evidence.’”

Interlocutor: I say, didn’t he run that joke into the ground? Opposition pols checked the Diet records and came up with six examples of the first and 14 examples of the second in his testimony.

Naw, he’s more than a one-hit wonder. He told another joke to the same Hiroshima crowd that was too hip for the room. It went over the heads of everyone in the media:

“I haven’t been involved with legal matters even once over the past 20 years.”

For an encore, the government brought back the old Alphonse and Gaston routine. Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku said they wouldn’t fire him. People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka said the gags had been the staple of the LDP baggy pants ministers of national comedy back when Henny Youngman was picking flies out of his soup! Then Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku changed their minds. But the Justice Minister said he would stay–to implement his agenda!

And then he changed his mind and quit the next day!

His loyal fan club following still has a crush on him, though. An executive with the Hiroshima branch of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Union—he got where he is today because of union support—said:

“Because I know Mr. Yanigida, I think that was just his way of making a joke, though it wasn’t a good thing to say.”

But the DPJ topped that punch line. Sengoku Yoshito announced he would hold a double Cabinet portfolio and take over the job as Justice Minister for the time being!

Well, that about wraps up our show for tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we do hope you enjoyed yourselves. Thanks for being such a wonderful audience! We’d like to take you home with us! And good night Mrs. Karabashi, wherever you are!

No laughing matter

Most journalists make reasonable allowances for the fact a man is a politician, but there are some like me who don’t. While the condition may be mysterious, and the cause not singular, to me mad is mad. It has several times struck me, in meeting directly with “power,” that if I heard a man speaking like this, while riding on a trolley, I would assume he was an outpatient.
- David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen

It’s only taken a few short months for the audience to head for the exits at the DPJ revue yet again, and that’s got everyone in show business worried. A JNN poll over the weekend in the Tokyo area found that support for the DPJ was down to 18.4%. Meanwhile, support for the LDP, the Tar Baby of Japanese politics (Tar Baby jes’ sit there and don’t say nothin’) has climbed to 30.0%. Those are roughly identical to the relative numbers in 2006 just before Abe Shinzo decided to let the postal rebels back into the LDP.

Support for the Kan Cabinet was at 26.6% and disapproval at 66.2%. A Sankei-Fuji poll taken at the same time had the numbers at 21.8% and 59.8% respectively. 84.6% are not impressed with Mr. Kan’s leadership. One reason Mr. Yanagida had to walk the plank was the concern that the opposition would pass a censure motion in the upper house. 63.2% now think it would be appropriate to submit a similar motion for Sengoku Yoshito.

Last week, Ozawa Ichiro met with his allies who are first term lower house members to warn them that Prime Minister Kan might dissolve the lower house and call an election out of desperation. He thinks the election could come as early as February.

His statement was carried by several news outlets, but only the Asahi reported that Mr. Ozawa said he was troubled by the political climate. He thinks there’s been a breakdown of party politics and sees similarities with the situation in prewar Japan.

But Mr. Ozawa has always been more drama queen than comedian. The state of the Japanese demos cannot at all be compared to the prewar days, and the military has no political influence to speak of. State Shinto and Imperial Japan no longer exist.

It’s not a failure of party politics—it’s a failure of the politicians. More specifically, it’s a failure of the entire political class and a demonstration of the Peter Principle, which holds that the members of a hierarchy rise to the level of their incompetence. Publilius Syrus, who was something of an improvisational comic himself, observed in the 1st century BC, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

Likewise, it takes no skill or competence for opposition backbenchers to stand in front of a microphone and run themselves up while running the government down when the country is at peace with itself. Now that they’ve served in the front benches of the Diet, however, it’s clear that most of the people in the Hatoyama and Kan cabinets aren’t qualified to sit in the national legislature, much less be in government. The Japanese are facing the same crisis of government that people in the West are dealing with, but in their own context. The country’s citizens have discovered that anyone can serve in the Diet when the sea is calm. Subsequent elections are likely to demonstrate the consequences of that discovery, though with Japan’s proportional representational system, the ringleaders in each party will be placed atop the PR lists and sneak back into the Diet through the back door anyway.

Another problem is that the people might not be given a chance to vote anytime soon. There’s talk of a grand coalition between the DPJ (sans the Ozawa element), the LDP, and New Komeito. Yosano Kaoru, a former Cabinet member in LDP governments and the co-leader of the Sunrise Party, met with Prime Minister Kan last week, and the media speculated that a coalition was the topic of conversation. It didn’t help that Mr. Yosano had to play the wiseguy and say it was just a friendly visit.

Former DPJ Cabinet minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a cast member of the Ozawa Ichiro puppet show, also hinted at the possibility when he told the weekly Shukan Post in an interview appearing in the current issue that “many” people “probably” favor a grand coalition. That’s not what the polls say—one released last week found only about 10% of the respondents supporting that option. Another trial balloon being floated was the formation of a grand coalition for three years, after which time the current Diet term would expire and a joint upper/lower house election could be held.

That would be the ultimate in political failure. The successful functioning of such a coalition would require negotiations between the parties to get anything accomplished. (About the only thing they would accomplish is an increase in the consumption tax to have the people pay for their fiscal failures.) Negotiations are a process they already could be conducting in the Diet if they weren’t more interested in slipping whoopee cushions under each others’ chairs. If the opposition in the upper house voted down the enabling legislation required for the budget early next spring, the DPJ would have to call for a new election anyway.

A grand coalition really would smack of prewar politics, particularly the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a government organization that subsumed the bureaucracy, the parties, and the military. A grand coalition—one of the drawbacks of the parliamentary system of government—would be antithetical to the core principles of democracy: The voters couldn’t throw the bums out.

It would be a marriage of convenience to allow failures at governnment to sit at a big table and cut deals on ways to prolong their failure. Serious critics of the government, primarily Your Party and the Communist Party (which is serious in behavior if not in philosophy) would be relegated to the sidelines to squawk. The voters would still be wondering who to vote out when the next election came in three years.

Politics, Charles DeGaulle thought, is too important to be left to the politicians. When the politicians in a Third World country become dysfunctional, the military—the only organization in those places to understand discipline, service, and the pursuit of excellence—barges in to overturn the table and crack some heads. That won’t happen in Japan; while the politicians here play in the Comedy Central sandbox, the professional civil servants of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy will keep the machinery functioning until the political class reaches adulthood.

But that takes us back to the original problem of whether Japan is to be an administrative state run by bureaucrats or if the government is to be managed by political leadership. The solution will require more ability and diligence than that demonstrated by the likes of Edano Yukio and his DPJ comrades, who’ve spent years in the Diet carelessly talking the talk without bothering to learn how to walk the walk.

For the time being, the inmates are running the asylum, and they might yet find a way to lock out the medical staff and swallow the key. That situation calls for the skills of the Frontier Psychiatrist. Here’s a video that might capture the spirit of today’s politics in Japan better than the analogy of a vaudeville revue. Expulsion is the only answer!

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Posted in China, Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Fishy

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 21, 2010

TWO CHINESE SHIPS have appeared near the Senkaku islands, according to this AFP report.

Ships? What ships?

Well, that’s how the headline has it:

Japan says two Chinese ships seen near disputed islands

That’s also what the lede says:

Two Chinese ships were spotted near islands at the centre of a dispute between Beijing and Tokyo, Japan’s coast guard said…

Some details on the ship emerge in the second paragraph:

A Japanese patrol aircraft saw an advanced Chinese fisheries patrol ship in waters near the island chain in the East China Sea around 8:25 am (2325 GMT) on Saturday, a coast guard spokeswoman said, before finding a second vessel 20 minutes later.

Ah. That kind of ship.

They made it all the way to the fifth paragraph before the first error appeared.

Both countries claim the potentially resource-rich islets, known as the Diaoyus in China and Senkakus in Japan, along with the nearby seas.

Gone fishin'

Ignored for millennia by the Chinese and considered little more than a maritime highway sign, the Senkakus were incorporated by Japan 115 years ago. Some Japanese lived there for about 45 of those years to work for a fishery/albatross feather business. The Chinese and the Taiwanese considered them part of Japan until 1971, after it was discovered that they were “potentially resource rich”.

Japan “claims” them in the same way the United States “claims” the Florida Keys.

Then again, maybe that’s not technically an error. Maybe that’s what the journalism trade schools teach as unbiased reporting.

They still manage to slip in their own worldview in the sixth paragraph:

The latest dispute broke out in September and has brought ties between the Asian rivals to their lowest point in years, fuelling nationalist anger in both nations.

There’s that “nationalist” word again. When a Chinese ship enters Japanese territory and attacks two Japanese Coast Guard vessels, and the Japanese public doesn’t care for it, that’s “nationalist anger”. What sort of behavior are they contrasting that with, one wonders. “Break out the K-Y jelly”?

The important information about one of the ships doesn’t appear until the seventh paragraph:

Saturday’s maritime encounter came after a helicopter-equipped advanced fisheries vessel left Guangzhou in China for the East China Sea on a mission that could last 20 days, according to a report Tuesday by the state Xinhua news agency.

But maybe they didn’t bring along the helicopters this time. In the eighth paragraph:

It was unclear whether a chopper was on board because the ship closed the shutter of its helicopter hangar, Japan’s coast guard said.

The AFP finally tells us what the ships did in paragraph 10:

“The two vessels came as close as 23 kilometres (14 miles) to the islands,” the coast guard spokeswoman said, adding that the ships had not entered what Japan considers its waters.

More important information about the ships in paragraph 12:

The ship that set off from Guangzhou, the 2,580-ton Yuzheng 310, is “the fastest (of China’s fishery patrol vessels) and had the most sophisticated technologies”, Xinhua quoted an official as saying Tuesday.

They recapitulate the reason for the dispute in paragraph 17:

The row erupted in September when the Japan Coast Guard arrested a Chinese trawler captain for allegedly ramming two of its vessels in the area.

And John Kennedy allegedly acquired a large, bloody hole in his head in Dallas in 1963. That’s probably how the AFP would report the story if it happened today. Can’t blame them: All they have to go on are films of the actual event made public and eyewitness testimony in both cases. None of the perpetrators in either of the alleged incidents went to trial.

The AFP report was filed on Saturday, 20 November at 2:17 a.m. ET. That was 4:17 p.m. Japan Time. But it’s so hard to keep up with breaking stories in a 24-hour news cycle.

Why, fewer than three hours later on the same day, NT television news in Japan reported that the Nanfang Daily, the official newspaper of Guangdong Province, carried a statement from a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“(Ships) will permanently patrol this area of the sea.”

It looks like they’ll be there more than 20 days.

Just a few minutes before, NT also reported that Xinhua said one of the ships, the Yuzheng 310, had just been placed into service (last month, in fact), and that machine guns were installed on the deck. Their helicopter filmed some personnel on the ship dressed in camouflage clothing.

Slightly less than two hours after the AFP story, NHK reported that there were no Chinese fishing boats in the area.

Almost four hours after the AFP article, the Mainichi Shimbun reported that the Chinese ships were not merely circumnavigating the Senkakus, but repeatedly approaching Japanese territorial waters as if they were going to enter. They kept coming as close as 360 meters before sharply veering away. The Japanese Coast Guard described the behavior as “provocative”.

The Mainichi also reported the Yuzheng 310 was identical in design to Chinese military vessels, according to Chinese sources.

So, Chinese fishing patrol craft under the control of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (which also is responsible for fisheries), identical in design to Chinese military ships, one of which is armed with machine guns and could be carrying helicopters—meaning it could be classified as a light amphibious assault vessel—and some of whose crew members are wearing camouflage clothing, is deliberately testing Japanese defenses independent of the presence of Chinese fishing ships. The Chinese Foreign Ministry says they’re permanently assigned to patrol the area.

Most of the critical informaton wasn’t included in the AFP article. To understand what their intent for this sort of coverage might be, let’s go back to the final two paragraphs—numbers 19 and 20:

On the sidelines of a regional summit in Japan at the weekend, the two sides appeared to take a step beyond the dispute when Chinese President Hu Jintao held a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Hu promised that China was committed to being a good neighbour, as concerns rise over its assertive behaviour in the Asia-Pacific.

Here’s an NT television report showing films of the good neighbor’s ships. You already know the information the news reader is presenting.

*****
Just think how many fish Taj could catch if he used helicopters and machine guns!

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Posted in China, International relations, Mass media, Military affairs | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Edumacated fools

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 19, 2010

NOT LONG after I arrived in Japan, the students in a sixth-grade class I taught at an English school told me about a mock test they had taken earlier that day in their regular school. To say that they were astonished by the test content would not adequately describe their reaction. They had learned something very important, but it had little to do with the subject matter of the exam.

The test given to the sixth-graders was a collection of math problems culled from American textbooks used for ninth-graders, i.e., third-year junior high school students. My students were shocked at how easy the questions were. As one girl told me, “We learned all this stuff a long time ago.”

A few years later, the subject of studying abroad came up while talking casually with another student, a girl who intended to go to medical school. (She is now practicing medicine in Nagano). She wasn’t interested. “The academic level at American universities isn’t very high. The only reason to study in the United States would be to conduct advanced, specialized post-graduate research.”

To be sure, these were students of the local schools for the academically precocious; the primary school the first group of students attended is affiliated with a nearby university, and it accepts only the brightest children. But that is precisely the point.

Today Japan Realtime, the pseudo-blog about Japanese matters that appears in the Wall Street Journal, ran a piece about the sharp decline in the number of Japanese students enrolling in American universities. They—and some in the Japanese government and media—think this is somehow not a good thing:

It is a troubling concern for Japan in what is yet another symptom of the “Galapagos syndrome” afflicting the country — where a complacent Japan is increasingly looking inward while rival countries are globalizing at a clipped pace.

Putting aside the presumptuous bagatelle that (a) Japan needs to “globalize”, and (b) attending an American university is the royal road to globalization, the author of the piece demonstrates the mindset of the frog at the bottom of the well. For example, the article cites concerns that only one Japanese student would be part of this year’s freshman class at Harvard. Meanwhile, Americans realized long ago that the primary reason for attending Harvard or other similar schools is for the members of a certain class—not necessarily economic—to create personal networks, rather than receive the ultimate in educational opportunities. The piece also contains this passage, which I would have called illogical if there were evidence that logic was in any way involved with it:

Worried that a lack of exposure to the U.S., a key Japanese ally, will inevitably cloud future views of the relationship, not to mention the reason behind the heavy U.S. military presence in Japan, the government announced a series of initiatives to increase the flow of Japanese students and others sent to the U.S.

The lack of exposure to the U.S. in Japan is a problem that ranks in seriousness somewhat below that of say…the lack of an adequate supply of fingernail clippers in mass merchandise retail outlets. What is a serious problem is the attitude in some American circles that the slopes and gooks need to come to the seat of colonial authority so that the educationally and culturally deprived can attend a finishing school for the international credentialed gentry.

Might it be that the increasing unwillingness of Japanese to attend American universities is an indication of the intelligence and perspicacity of the Japanese, rather than their complacency? Why spend an enormous sum of money for a degraded education of dubious value? Why would a student wishing to become an automotive engineer, for example, relinquish the opportunity to learn the way they do things at Toyota to learn how they do things at General Motors instead?

There are several reasons for the decline of American universities. Here’s a recently published article by Michael Barone warning that the American education bubble is about to burst:

Government-subsidized loans have injected money into higher education, as they did into housing, causing prices to balloon. But at some point people figure out they’re not getting their money’s worth, and the bubble bursts.

I saw elsewhere within the past week that the tuition at one four-year school in the United States will be raised to $50,000 per year. In 2007 American college costs averaged $31,000 per year. What do the students get for that king’s ransom? Nothing for a foreign student to write home about:

The National Center for Education Statistics found that most college graduates are below proficiency in verbal and quantitative literacy.

And those are American proficiency standards, mind you.

The American Council of Alumni and Trustees concluded, after a survey of 714 colleges and universities, “by and large, higher education has abandoned a coherent content-rich general education curriculum.”

They aren’t taught the basics of literature, history or science. ACTA reports that most schools don’t require a foreign language, hardly any require economics, American history and government “are badly neglected” and schools “have much to do” on math and science.

The students in my small Japanese city had that sussed out long ago.

But if the students at many American universities are no longer being properly educated, what—other than learning how to binge drink—happens to them? Exposure to the great minds and great ideas of the day? I think not:

Far too many of today’s tenured faculty are political activists first and teachers only secondarily, if at all. Their agenda is indoctrinating students in their own political prejudices, while their academic colleagues who are not activists or ideologues studiously refuse to notice the abuses that are going on.

This dry rot has spread far beyond the courses taught or lectures given by the denim jacket and black turtleneck-clad denizens of the Che Guevara Memorial Faculty Lounge, or the empty majors in Gender Studies and Queer Theory that qualify graduates either to teach similar courses at another university or to train for counter work at McDonald’s.

Now students at American universities can take courses in “The Phallus”, “Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music”, or “The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie”. Then there’s the UC Berkeley course, “Pornographies On/Scene”:

This seminar will bring together debates about the nature of pornography with debates about the nature of the visual. Both will be considered in relation to the (mostly unwritten) history of American visual pornographies and with an eye towards imagining, and even contributing to this history. What, for example, is the canon of hard core pornography? We will concentrate on two moments in the history of moving image pornography: an earlier era of “obscenity,” in which explicit sexual images were kept off-scene for the consumption of private elites in the era of the stag film, and a more contemporary, and increasingly electronic era of “on/scenity” in which pornographies of all sorts become available to wide varieties of consumers, including those to whom it was once forbidden. Although moving-image pornographies will be our primary objects of study, this seminar will also consider the different rhetorics of still and image moving images which aim to arouse, techniques of arousal, and related popular images which also aim to “move” the bodies of spectator/users. Approximately one third of the class will be devoted to general readings in the growing “field” of pornography studies, another third to the question of what constitutes the canon of the stag era (here I will invite those interested to imagine a two disk DVD with notes arguing for what constitutes this canon) and another third to the burning question of electronic, interactive pornographies on small screens.

It was no surprise to see that the first among the required texts was written by Michael Foucault (and another was titled, Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy). It was also no surprise that the lecturer added a note to discourage students from auditing the course.

In 2007, Swarthmore students could have taken a course called “Non-Violent Responses to Terrorism”. (The syllabus said the course would “deconstruct terrorism (and) build on promising nonviolent procedures to combat today’s terrorism.”) The Johns Hopkins University—my alma mater—offered a course called “Mail Order Brides: Understanding the Philippines in Southeast Asian Context”. Mount Holyoke College had a course on “Whiteness” and Occidental College—Barack Obama’s alma mater—had a course on “Blackness”. Students at the University of Pennsylvania could get academic credit for a course called Adultery Novel, which offered “various critical approaches in order to place adultery into its aesthetic, social and cultural context, including: sociological descriptions of modernity, Marxist examinations of family as a social and economic institution (and) feminist work on the construction of gender.”

The first sentence of the WSJ “blog” post read:

Japanese students are increasingly content on staying put in the classroom – at home.

And, assuming they put time and effort into their schoolwork, are probably learning a lot more—and wasting a lot less of their parents’ money—because of it.

That The Wall Street Journal thinks this is an important issue is evidence of a nasty strain of cultural chauvinism among the American elites.

There’s an obvious cure for their myopia, of course.

Studying abroad.

******
Afterwords:

* There are problems in other English-speaking countries, too. Asian students in general might find themselves subject to quotas at Canadian universities, as this MacLeans article explains:

When Alexandra and her friend Rachel, both graduates of Toronto’s Havergal College, an all-girls private school, were deciding which university to go to, they didn’t even bother considering the University of Toronto. “The only people from our school who went to U of T were Asian,” explains Alexandra, a second-year student who looks like a girl from an Aritzia billboard. “All the white kids,” she says, “go to Queen’s, Western and McGill.”

Alexandra eventually chose the University of Western Ontario. Her younger brother, now a high school senior deciding where he’d like to go, will head “either east, west or to McGill”—unusual academic options, but in keeping with what he wants from his university experience. “East would suit him because it’s chill, out west he could be a ski bum,” says Alexandra, who explains her little brother wants to study hard, but is also looking for a good time—which rules out U of T, a school with an academic reputation that can be a bit of a killjoy.

Or, as Alexandra puts it—she asked that her real name not be used in this article, and broached the topic of race at universities hesitantly—a “reputation of being Asian.”

* One wonders if the people at the WSJ website have any idea of how many foreign students come to study at Japanese universities. I teach a few courses at my local university, which is a national school. The students and teachers would be the first to admit that it is not the first choice of the academically inclined. Yet they attract quite a few people from abroad to study engineering and agriculture. Among my acquaintances, past and present:

- A Sri Lankan man who received a doctorate in engineering. His Japanese was only OK at best, so after I got to know him I asked him if he had any difficulty with his classes. “Oh, no. All our classes are in English.” He and his Sri Lankan wife enjoyed Japan so much they named their first child Hiroshi.

- An Egyptian man studying for a graduate degree in agricultural engineering. (I don’t know what happened to him; he stopped hanging out after 9/11.)

- A Ugandan woman who told me she was studying “rice”. She left after receiving her graduate-level degree to work for some international agency in New York. While here, she worked part-time at a Country and Western music-themed bar.

- Just last weekend they had a school festival, and I went to see what it was like. I spent about 15 minutes chatting with some Malaysian engineering students there on scholarship and eating the food at their booth.

- The professor to whom I answer at the school is a Japanese man who is an expert in Faulkner (whom a lot of native speakers can’t understand).

- Then there are the many Chinese and Korean students, most of whom have no trouble finding part-time jobs in shops around town.

Ah, but the Japanese have to globalize…

* If they had enough money, the Japanese students wouldn’t have to do any real work at all at an American university. They could easily hire someone else to write their papers for them.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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The world according to China

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 19, 2010

The United States-Japan Foundation recently held a seminar in Shanghai. It invited Americans and Japanese specializing in Chinese affairs, and Chinese specializing in international affairs, for discussions. Kono Taro of the LDP attended, and he offered a summary of the opinions presented by the Chinese seminar participants on his website in Japanese with the English title, The World According to China. Here it is in English. Remember that Mr. Kono is only reporting what he heard others say.

1. The turnover in Japanese prime ministers is too extreme. We don’t know how much longer the Kan Cabinet will survive, so what value is there in working to build communication channels with the Cabinet?

2. We thought that after the Democratic Party of Japan took power, relations would improve in several ways, starting with historical issues. But it seems as if Prime Minister Kan will not take any action against the hawkish statements of Foreign Minister Maehara.

3. People often say that tension in Asia was created by the rise of China and the decline of the United States, but that’s not correct. The tension in Asia was created by the rise of China and the decline of Japan.

4. It should not have been necessary to suspend interaction between the citizens of both countries after the Senkakus Incident. The Chinese government was hounded domestically for that alone.

5. China now has some leeway in its relations with the United States because its power and status have risen.

6. In regard to Taiwan and territorial issues, the Chinese government is being pressured by the people, who insist that it should respond authoritatively to the United States government.

7. The current American-Sino relationship was formed when China was in a weak position, such as during the Tiananmen Square “incident”. China should act more assertively to create a relationship of equality with the United States.

8. From the Chinese perspective, the United States is saying that China should act more cooperatively, but the U.S. has not changed its position at all on Taiwan and Tibet. They are trying to use India, Japan, and Vietnam to maintain a balance in the region.

9. In its relations with the United States, China will take a strong position in regard to the core issues of Taiwan and Tibet. Realistic cooperation is possible in the economic sphere. For example, in exchange for China giving some ground on currency issues, the U.S. should eliminate its restrictions on providing technology to China. More cooperation is needed between the U.S. and Chine for international issues. China’s international role will increase in the future, so it will not follow America’s lead.

10. In regard to the issue of voting rights at the World Bank, the United States convinced a backwards-looking Europe, and China’s status rose. More of this will probably occur in the future.

11. Heretofore, when the United States engaged with growing powers, they were either complete enemies, such as the Soviet Union, or complete satellites, such as Germany or Japan. This is the first time that the United States has had to deal with the rise of a country that is neither, such as China, and they have no experience with it.

12. The United States is becoming frantic because it thinks it can defeat China with both its power and its values. It feels threatened by China’s rise, however. They seem to want to blame China for everything.

13. China must clearly signal its intentions, learn to communicate forthrightly with the United States, and take seriously its role and responsibilities in Asia and the world.

14. The U.S.-China relationship is not a mere bilateral relationship, but a relationship for creating international relations.

15. A new regional framework is required in Asia to handle new, non-traditional security issues while dealing singly with the traditional security issues of Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, and the South China Sea. (The statement was made that Taiwan is no longer an issue.)

16. In Asia, Japan, South Korea, and India have very strong economic ties with China. Nevertheless, their bonds with the United States remain as those with a strong nation. This paradox will present an interesting topic for strategic thinkers in the future.

17. In China too the state strongly intervenes in the economy. Other problems include the central government’s excessive pressure on local governments for the resource economy, and the large income gaps.

18. On two occasions the argument was made that a certain amount of political reform was required. The first time, however, (the leadership) made the decision that it would be dangerous after watching the democracy movement in Poland. The second became linked to the Tiananmen “incident”. It is possible that the current corruption and economic gaps will lead to the necessity for political reform. But that will only involve democratic procedures within the party.

19. There is no question that the party controls the military. There are various problems within the government, however, regarding the relationship between the military and other institutions. For example, the status of the Foreign Ministry in the government is extremely low. It has no Politburo members, nor is there anyone at the deputy prime minister level.

20. Whenever there is a difference of opinion between the military and the Foreign Ministry, the military does not give a second thought to challenging them.

21. The party uses personnel moves and the budget to control senior military officers. The military operated its own business enterprises, but permitting that led to corruption and the loss of the budget as a means of controlling the military. Therefore, controls are being put on the military’s involvement in business.

22. Taiwan has ceased to become a problem, so the military requires a new rationale for budget requests.

Afterwords:

Don’t say they didn’t warn you.

Did you notice how often the word status came up in the conversation? Joshua Blanton at One Free Korea is even more blunt about China than I:

(F)eeding China’s ego also feeds its arrogance and its predatory nature…China’s leaders are the product of a zero-sum world view where preying on the weak is just what the strong do, where the ideology of class equality masks a cultural obsession with status, place, and power so deep that not even Mao could exterminate it…China must have its share of intra-governmental gridlock and negotiations, but those are negotiations conducted within that unaccountable fraction of a percent of the total population that hasn’t been subjugated. The rest of the world is made of lessers you subjugate, and rivals you can’t…(I)n Beijing…there is a long institutional memory of foreign kings bringing tribute.

Be sure to read all of it for the context, though it also stands alone very easily.

******
I much prefer La Femme Chinoise to Die chinesische weltanschauung.

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Should Japanese ODA to China be DOA?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 18, 2010

5. The Government of the People’s Republic of China declares that in the interest of the friendship between the Chinese and the Japanese peoples, it renounces its demand for war reparation from Japan.

6. The Government of Japan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China agree to establish relations of perpetual peace and friendship between the two countries on the basis of the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence.

- Joint Communiqué of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China, 29 September 1972

THAT JAPAN has more than faithfully upheld its part of the bargain outlined in the joint communiqué in the 38 years since its signing is beyond question. That Chinese leadership has never taken the agreement very seriously requires no explanation. The Chinese approach was apparent even before the fallout from the Senkakus Incident. Jiang Zemin, former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President of the People’s Republic of China, delivered a speech in 1998 while still in office to members of China’s diplomatic corps, in which he stated, “We should always emphasize the historical problems with Japan. We must continue to make this an issue for eternity.” The quotation came to light when it was included in a collection of Jiang’s writings published about five years ago.

In November that same year, Mr. Jiang became the first Chinese president to visit Japan. He left an unpleasant impression on the hosts. Observed freelance journalist Nonaka Tomoyo:

(D)uring his 1997 visit to the United States, President Jiang made a reference to “fascism in Asia,” criticizing a third country, one that was not even a party to the meetings. What the Chinese seem to be saying in effect is, “Japan is no strategic partner for us. The countries that move the world are China, the United States, and Russia. For Japan to try to exercise leadership in Asia is presumptuous.” Not only that, but in the talks with Japan I have the impression that there was more of a focus on the past than on working together to open up the twenty-first century, that the Chinese made highly annoying comments and took a stubborn attitude.

Japan paid substantial war reparations to all the countries on which it inflicted damage during the Second World War with two exceptions: North Korea, for obvious reasons, and China, for the reason shown in the excerpt from the communiqué. (They even paid The Netherlands reparations for Indonesia.) Nevertheless, Japan has provided roughly JPY 3.3 trillion in official ODA to China since 1978, which has been considered to be de facto reparations.

Most of the official ODA was supposed to have ended in 2008, but freelance journalist Aoki Naoto claims that Japanese tax yen are still flowing to China. An author or co-author of several books about Japanese-Sino relations, Mr. Aoki wrote a brief article for the 19 November issue of the weekly Shukan Post titled, End the JPY 910 Billion in Hidden ODA to China Now. Here it is in English.

*****
Most Japanese are probably unaware that Japan still continues to provide ODA to China, whose GDP has surpassed that of Japan and which has become an economic superpower.

On the surface, ODA was supposed to have ended to China after 2008 with the complaints from the Japanese public. But large amounts of hidden ODA still continue to flow to China in secret. The source of this money is, of course, our tax payments.

What ended in 2008 were the yen-denominated loans, which accounted for 90% of the amount. The remainder is gratis financial aid and financial support that continues today. In addition, each government ministry has categories in its budget designated as “Exchange with China” (交流), so they have acquired the funds to provide economic support. The aggregate amount provided to China in the three years from FY 2008 through FY 2010 was more than JPY 10 billion.

An even greater sum is the financial aid conveyed through the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank. The financial assistance provided by the World Bank to China in that three-year period was JPY 421.6 billion yen.

Japan has the world’s second-highest rate of contribution to the World Bank, so our country was liable for a substantial amount of that aid. Also, Japan is the largest contributor to the Asia Development Bank, from which China received JPY 480 billion in the same period. The person appointed as president of the ADB is customarily someone whose career began in the Japanese Ministry of Finance. As one MOF official put it, the ADB is a “Finance Ministry colony”. It is through these institutions that Japanese financial assistance flows.

Fifty-five percent of the financing provided by the ADB is used for roads, railroads, and airports. The People’s Liberation Army is given priority for the use of this infrastructure. Japan was supposed to have ended its ODA for transportation infrastructure to China in 2002 due to the expansion of China’s military and nuclear testing. But this is in fact still being provided through the ADB. That means there is no coherency to Japanese foreign policy.

Japan’s hidden ODA to China totals about JPY 910 billion. That is the amount of money they are sending to China without telling the people. It is also a sad fact that the Chinese people have no idea that they are receiving this aid.

The hidden ODA to China should be ended at once.

(end translation)
******
Mr. Aoki seems to have a taste for the bludgeon; you’ve noticed that though he admits Japan is not on the hook for the full amount provided by the World Bank or Asia Development bank, he uses those figures to come up with the JPY 910 billion number. Nevertheless, Japan’s financial contributions are surely substantial.

Then again, he’s rather upset about the issue. He also has a website, and there he recently wrote about the response to his Shukan Post article, both positive and negative. Here’s a summary:

******
Mr. Aoki reports that he has received rebuttals to his article from people who think Japanese aid should continue. He says the rationalizations for their position can be generally classified in four categories:

*Of course there should be financial assistance because Japan did not pay reparations.

*China pays the loans back and Japan is making a profit.

*Measures to combat the yellow sandstorms benefit Japan (which is affected by them), so we should continue the aid.

*Japanese companies are getting the business the aid generates.

Mr. Aoki has little patience for these arguments. He says that he’s used to hearing them (and dealing with them) in regard to a book he co-authored about his claim that Japan has given China a total of roughly JPY 6 trillion in hidden ODA.

He reports that when the yen-denominated loans which accounted for 90% of ODA ended in 2008, the Japanese Foreign Ministry asked the Chinese government for an accounting of how the 30 years of Japanese financial aid had been used, but got the brush-off. They don’t even tell the Chinese people that Japan gives them aid. “That,” he says, “is the true face of Japanese-Sino Friendship”.

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation spent public funds to pay for a notice in the Beijing Airport that the facility was built with the help of Japanese ODA. Japan contributed JPY 30 billion yen, or 1/4 of the total expenditure.

Mr. Aoki says it is standard practice for other countries to acknowledge on their own the foreign aid received for construction projects, and adds that Cambodia, Myanmar, and Indonesia have done so for Japanese ODA.

But China authorized the paid notice for only one year and denied an extension. They told Japan to take it down because it prevented them from making a profit from corporate advertising.

I would be happy to buy Mr. Aoki a drink for his next passage alone. He writes that Japan paid for the notice with public funds despite its large fiscal deficit, and now politicians want to raise the consumption tax to 10%. It is not a partisan issue for him; he writes that this occurred during the LDP administration. He is livid that no one in the Japanese mainstream media discusses the issue at all. He quotes a conversation with the former Yomiuri Shimbun bureau chief in Beijing:

“Reporting the actual circumstances would be a negative for Japanese-Sino relations, delight the anti-Chinese elements, and spur Japanese nationalism.”

This, he notes, was precisely the excuse the government gave for not releasing the videos of the Senkakus Incident. He also notes that the same media often wrote about “the unhealthy relationship between Japanese aid and dictatorial governments in South Korea, The Philippines, and Indonesia, yet they never talk about China.” He thinks this is deceitful.

If Japan really has freedom of speech, demands Mr. Aoki, then write the truth. He believes the self-censorship of the Japanese mass media is more of a criminal act than the suppression of free speech in a dictatorship.

He says that he has written extensively on the system of vested interests of the “Japanese-Sino friendship”, which accrue to politicians, business and the financial industry, bureaucracy, and the media, and that this is contrary to the national interest. The ODA to China, he claims, is only one example.

He concludes:

“The “journalists” who do not write the truth are eunuchs. Their articles lack realism and courage. They are restroom graffiti.”

The Japanese expression for mass media is masu komi, an abbreviation for “mass communications”. Employing the Japanese flair for wicked wordplay, some have taken to using the phrase masu gomi. The word gomi means garbage.

*****
Afterwords:

* Here’s another demonstration of the Chinese commitment to “mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence”: They can’t give Japan credit for its financial assistance, but they’ve had no trouble finding the money since the communiqué was issued to build more than 100 museums throughout the country dedicated to Japanese behavior during the Second World War.

In fact, they are also working to get UNESCO to declare the remains of Imperial Japan’s 731 chemical warfare testing facility in Harbin a World Heritage Site. The UN turned them down, but the Chinese say they will try again. Perhaps that is another aspect of “Japan-Sino Friendship”.

* In bilateral negotiations with Japan, it had been the trump card for both South Korea and China to bring up Japanese wartime behavior as a way to get what they wanted. It usually worked–until Koizumi Jun’ichiro took office. He told both countries privately that those days were over. Note in Mr. Aoki’s article that Japan officially ended ODA for transportation infrastructure in 2002 (Mr. Koizumi’s second year in office) because of the Chinese military buildup and nuclear testing.

And here you thought the reason China and South Korea were upset with Mr. Koizumi was his visits to the Yasukuni shrine.

* The current president of the Asia Development Bank is indeed a veteran of the Ministry of Finance: Kuroda Haruhiko. Here is his profile on the ADB website. Here is an article he co-wrote for The Guardian in Britain with Lord Nicholas Stern—the former Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank—urging that developed nations immediately give ‘lebenty billion dollars to Southeast Asian countries because climate change was going to make them disappear from the face of the earth any day now. Here’s a look at Lord Stern’s background on climate change claims.

And the credentialed elites of government and the media wonder why people are angry?

******
It’s time for some fresh air from the East Wind, courtesy of the students at Waseda University.

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Uesugi Takashi on sengoku 38 and the Japanese media

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 16, 2010

THE MAN who used the screen name of sengoku 38 to post the Coast Guard’s video of the incident near the Senkakus to YouTube has confessed his involvement to authorities. Just before the Coast Guard sailor came forward last week, freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi wrote an article for Diamond Online excoriating the Japanese media for their behavior. Mr. Uesugi does not hide his support for the Democratic Party of Japan, but he also thinks a journalist should have higher priorities. Here’s a summary/translation of most of it in English.

*****
All you read or hear from morning to night is, “Where did it come from? Who leaked it?”

Just what is the Japanese mass media doing? Rather than getting fed up with it all, I can only laugh that the kisha club media still doesn’t get it.

The media always gets suckered by the bureaucrats to handle their spin control, and the Japanese government must be delighted. If politicians overseas knew what went on, they’d probably be envious. There aren’t many countries where the media would work with the government to look for and expose a valuable information source. The Kan administration should take better care of their kisha club, who are such superb spin doctors…

The most basic role of journalism is to monitor authority. Put another way, they should reveal the facts the government would hide and uphold the people’s right to know…That’s the universal rule of journalism and the meaning for its existence, whether in the United States, China, South America, or the Mideast.

Only the kisha club media in Japan is the exception.

Today (10 November) on a morning TV program, commentators and broadcasters thundered that the government can’t manage information. These are the same people who always shout at the top of their lungs about the “people’s right to know”, yet they don’t care about that this time around. They’re falling all over themselves hunting with the government for the perpetrator.

Has the media forgotten the lessons of the past? About 30 years ago, Nishiyama Takichi, a reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun, had a scoop exposing a secret agreement between Japan and the U.S. about Okinawa. The government arrested him and the kisha club media drove him from the fourth estate.

Now, 30 years later, it is clear that was a mistake. In March, then-Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya led a search that discovered the agreement. In short, the kisha club media was unable to protect one journalist who exposed an inconvenient truth that the government had covered up.

It’s the same thing all over again. Someone uploaded the video on You Tube and did us the favor of exposing information the government covered up. That was the media’s obligation to begin with. They’re treating sengoku 38 as a criminal when they should be paying him respect as the man who upheld the citizens’ right to know. But other than the Sankei Shimbun, none of them are doing it.

If the media would completely deny the act of sengoku 38, it is also a denial of their own job. One of the most basic roles for journalists is to expose information that conceals authority and present it to the people. If the media exclude leaked information that was obtained from authority, that job becomes impossible.

Ordinarily, the kisha club media of television and newspapers disseminate news they trumpet as an exclusive scoop or something only they acquired.

In other words, when they do it, it’s reporting, but when it happens on the Net or the alternative media, they want to call it a leak. That’s just a problem of face for the kisha club media, and that is nothing but arrogance.

Incidentally, my position from the beginning was that even if the video was leaked, the information should have been made available. That would serve both the citizens’ right to know and the national interest.

With the exception of non-fiction writer Uozumi Akira, that is also the position of nearly every freelance journalist. (In the 9 November edition of the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun, Mr. Uozumi wrote, “Secrecy is a part of diplomacy, and the right to know the truth should not necessarily take priority.”)

His stand of speaking up for authority is an exception. Unfortunately, Mr. Uozumi has denied the work of Nishiyama Takichi and forgotten the lessons of the Okinawa secret treaty.

I don’t care at all that the government is looking for the perpetrator. But that’s completely wrong for journalism—in fact, they should be doing the opposite.

The media must be united now to stand up against the government’s cover-up and continue to work to expose the truth.

Rather than try to discover the identity of sengoku 38, they should be trying to discover why the Kan administration had to cover up the Senkakus video for the past month.

*****
Here’s a previous post describing Mr. Uesugi’s efforts to break the kisha club monopoly on news conference attendance when the Hatoyama administration took office.

*****
We all know that crap is king.

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Deathwatch

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 13, 2010

THE JIJI news agency polls might be the most accurate in Japan (as we’ve seen in this post). The other major media polls use random direct dialing to collate opinion, but Jiji relies on personal interviews. One problem with RDD in Japan is that it misses the younger demographic that owns cell phones but not wired telephones.

Poll watchers are seldom allowed immediate access to the monthly Jiji results because the actual polling is conducted by an affiliated market survey company. The numbers from their 5-8 November poll have been made public, however, and both the Kan Cabinet and the Democratic Party as a whole probably wish they hadn’t. The Cabinet’s approval rating has fallen to 27%, below the critical 30% line. That means it’s time to send the mourning clothes to the cleaners. That figure represents a 11.4 percentage-point drop from the previous month, while the Cabinet’s disapproval rating climbed by 12.6 percentage points to 51.8%.

Further, the poll found that the Liberal-Democratic Party has regained a slim lead in party preference, gaining 16.5% to the DPJ’s 16.2%. That’s not so much a vote of confidence for the LDP as it a clear vote of no confidence in the DPJ. It’s the first time the LDP has topped the Jiji poll since the lower house election of September 2009 (though it did in the later stages of the Hatoyama administration in a Kyodo poll.)

To see how little confidence the public has in the Kan government, one need only look at the reasons given by those who support them. Here’s the top three in order:

There’s no one else suitable: 12.2%
I trust the prime minister: 6.2%
It would be the same no matter who the prime minister is: 5.1%

One of the primary reasons cited for the non-support of the Cabinet is Mr. Kan’s lack of leadership. In June, 6.3% of thumbs pointed down for that reason; now it’s risen to 28.7%.

What would the public prefer? Here are the numbers, also in order:

A post-political realignment government that does not consist of the current framework: 20.8%
A DPJ-led coalition: 17.2%
An LDP-led coalition: 16.2%
A grand coalition with the DPJ and the LDP: 10.1%

In contrast to other polls, the Jiji survey has New Komeito, affiliated with the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, as the third most popular party, with support in the low single digits. Your Party usually winds up third in the RDD polls, but in the Jiji poll it’s a close fourth.

Again, as is consistent with previous Jiji polls, independents constitute more than half of the electorate. Currently the number is 57.4%.

*****
Don’t look for Mr. Kan to reverse those numbers in a significant way; he doesn’t have the political skills. His lack of leadership soon became apparent after he took office. His reputation, such as it is, depended on the sharp critical tongue he flashed in Diet debates as a member of the opposition. In short, his only talent is for carping from the sidelines.

He might prolong the inevitable and gain a brief uptick by replacing Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito. Mr. Sengoku is the sort of man the anachronistic American weekly news magazines might once have referred to as acerbic. Another way to put it is that he’s a nasty piece of work with the instincts of the gangster lawyer he once was.

Because he is seen as the man really in charge of the government, the media aims their fire at him rather than at Mr. Kan. The weekly Shukan Shincho just concluded a three-part series alleging yakuza ties. Mr. Sengoku filed a lawsuit after the first part appeared, but the magazine was undeterred and continued with the other installments. Japanese weeklies lose more of those suits than conventionally responsible journalists would, but they also wind up being vindicated in quite a few as well.

Thus, in little more than a year, the DPJ has managed to paint itself into a corner as if they were the political equivalent of a cartoon or vaudevillian buffoons. Replacing the prime minister yet again without a lower house election will further damage their credibility; that would be too much like the old LDP. It was only because they weren’t the LDP that people voted for them to begin with.

They’d also have a hard time finding a credible replacement. One possibility would be Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, on the theory that his turn is next, but Mr. Okada is not an inspiring figure either. (Also, whether from overwork or stress, he sometimes looks physically unwell. People sincerely worry whether he has the constitution for the job.)

If they follow the old LDP practice of finding a replacement at the opposite end of the party to give the impression of a new leaf having been turned, one logical candidate would be Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji. He’s already served as party president, though the DPJ left doesn’t care for him. Factor in a lack of gravitas, and it’s unlikely he would find any long-term political traction. (His language as foreign minister has been rather undiplomatic. For example, he called the Chinese response to Japanese actions “hysterical”. While that’s an excellent description of Chinese behavior, it’s a poor choice of words for international diplomacy.)

He might be better off trying a few years down the road as a member of a different party in a coalition government. He has friends in the new Spirit of Japan Party, which couldn’t get off the ground in the July election. One reason was that none of the members are now in the Diet, so they were never invited to televised debates.

If the party wanted to Do The Right Thing, it would dissolve the lower house and call for a new election. That, however, might mean the loss of at least a third of their MPs, and it could touch off a political realignment that would lose them even more.

Whatever they choose to do, they aren’t getting out of that corner without smearing themselves in paint. Let’s hope they keep the mess to a minimum.

UPDATE:

A Kyodo RDD poll conducted on the 12th and 13th found that 88.4% of the respondents think the government should release the Coast Guard videos, while 7.8% think they should not, and 3.8% don’t know.

As to whether the videos should be considered a state secret, 81.1% think they should not, while 13.2% think they are. The don’t knows/didn’t answers accounted for 5.7%. That means there are a few people who are fine with releasing state secrets!

*****

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Model behavior

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 12, 2010

(A) company rated “zero” uses ad hoc, shoot-from-the-hip means to accomplish things more than a level-5 company, and uses more subjective means of “measuring”. This leads to less concrete operating methods, poor perceptions and an inconsistency of approaches. Level-zero companies also waste effort developing their capabilities because they oversimplify the demands of success and learn that the hard way. Then, they promptly forget what was learned when a new CEO arrives and wipes the slate clean.
- Rick Ackerman

AT A NEWS CONFERENCE on the morning of the 10th, reporters asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito about criticism that the foreign policy pursued by Prime Minister Kan vis-à-vis China and Russia was weak, and that the people felt apprehensive about it. He answered:

“The people who are apprehensive are over-conceptualizing the opposition between two countries using a 19th century or Cold War type of thinking. This excessively limits the discussion to whether (foreign policy is) strong or weak.”

To partially paraphrase Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in that backwards 19th century / Cold War way of thinking, but China and Russia are very interested in that behavior and how you respond to it. Reality, as Thomas Sowell likes to say, is not optional. Mr. Sengoku may believe that excessively limits the discussion, but whatever it is the current government is trying to do in the real world hasn’t been effective for dealing with its neighbors. He continued:

“The opposition parties say in unison that (the people are) apprehensive, apprehensive, but from the perspective of South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam, I haven’t heard that they have apprehensions about our current foreign policy, and they rate it (highly).

How like a lawyer to change the subject. Mr. Sengoku still doesn’t understand that it isn’t his job to alleviate the concerns of those three countries. His primary duty is to provide for the security and well-being of his own country and its citizens—91% of whom are worried that the government isn’t fulfilling that primary duty, according to a Yomiuri poll.

Assuming that he’s telling the truth—an assumption I would not care to make—why is it necessary for Japan to seek the approval of the other countries in a matter involving Japanese sovereignty? Singapore is a city-state with a large ethnic Chinese population built on Commerce. As with Big Business everywhere, they will go along to get along. Vietnam hasn’t adopted the Kan administration approach in its own territorial disputes with China. Besides, they share a border with China, they were invaded by China in the 70s, and they are much smaller and weaker—there’s that word again—than the Chinese. Finally, policy makers in Japan have been concerned for years that the South Koreans seem to be too willing to find ways to accommodate the Chinese.

At the outbreak of the Senkakus crisis, the Kan-Sengoku government was eager to differentiate themselves from the Koizumi administration, which acted in ways they considered to be extra-legal. (They apprehended and sent back to China some uninvited guests without a trial.)

Blast from the past

There is a useful comparison between the Koizumi administration and the Kan administration in their handling of maritime incursions. The Koizumi administration behavior that is best examined is not their response to encroachments in the Senkakus, however, but in another part of the Pacific Ocean.

On 22 December 2001, when Mr. Koizumi had been in office about eight months, the Japanese Coast Guard encountered a Chinese-flagged vessel they thought was actually North Korean within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone between Kyushu and China. Smuggling, particularly of drugs and counterfeit money, is a favorite Pyeongyang enterprise for obtaining foreign exchange. The mystery ship ignored requests to stop delivered in several languages, so the Japanese fired a few shots across its bow. It still kept going, so the Japanese fired a few rounds onto the deck, which started a fire.

They eventually wound up in a firefight, during which the crew members of the mystery ship were filmed dumping contraband into the ocean. When a Japanese Coast Guard cutter approached at night, they were told to beat it in both Japanese and Korean. The ship also fired a small rocket at the Japanese.

The crew finally scuttled the vessel rather than submit to inspection, and the sailors literally went down with the ship, lashing themselves to the rails.

Japanese authorities later salvaged the ship and some of its cargo, which are on display at the Japanese Coast Guard Museum at Yokohama. You can see photos on this Japanese-language page.

Recovered during the salvage operation were bodies wearing life jackets with Korean writing, Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons, automatic weapons and rocket launchers thought to be either North Korean or Russian, an English-Korean dictionary, Japanese-made cell phones that had been used to call yakuza groups (presumably their customers), a Kim Il-sung badge, a map of the sea off the Satsuma Peninsula, and a cigarette pack and package of peanut candy manufactured in North Korea.

How did the Koizumi administration handle this incident?

They immediately made the videos available, which were broadcast on news programs throughout the world. (The BBC World Service, then in an extreme anti-Nipponistic phase, thought the portion of the video with the missile fired at the Japanese ship was not newsworthy enough to be broadcast.)

So, did this lead to a resurgence of Japanese “nationalism” that most of the Anglosphere media and some in this country are constantly on the lookout for?

Please.

The North Koreans accused Japan of lying, said they had nothing to do with the ship, and threatened to take counter-measures, which they did not specify. Some might dismiss that as the usual Pyeongyang gasconade, but it had been little more than three years since the North Koreans launched a three-stage missile over Japan in August 1998. Besides, it is not the business of government to dismiss threats by hostile nations as unserious.

The North Koreans never took any counter-measures that we know about. The behavior of the Koizumi administration didn’t prevent them from getting the abductees and their families out of North Korea a few years later.

The Chinese government needed to approve of the salvaging operation, and they initially asked the Japanese not to raise the ship. They said it would “complicate the situation.” But they changed their mind.

The situation remains uncomplicated to this day.

A nation that will not hesitate to defend its legitimate national interests solves a lot of problems for itself and prevents others from occurring. But the Koizumi government consisted of people who understand that reality is not optional. Meanwhile, the leaders of the current government, whose eyeballs start operating independently of one another whenever they hear talk about defending the national interest, prefer to operate in secret, deny their involvement, distrust their countrymen, and ask how high when the Chinese tell them to jump.

The Koizumi government respected and trusted their fellow citizens enough to show them exactly what happened by releasing the video, which is still available. You Tube didn’t exist in those days, but it does now, and the video is there—and here—for anyone to see.

The captions are in Japanese, but here’s a quick summary with the timing:

01:00 L Flag raised, which means “Stop the ship”.
01:06 Stop instruction
02:17 SN Flag raised, which means, “Stop or we’ll shoot.”
03:30 Warning shot across bow
03:45 Warning shots to ship
05:22 Crew dumps contraband
05:32 Ship goes into reverse to put out fire
05:50 Crew member of ship shouts to JCG to go away in Japanese and Korean
06:53 JCG ship attacked
07:24 Rocket fired by mystery ship
08:12 Return fire from JCG
09:10 Crew scuttles ship

Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku could learn something from the behavior of the Koizumi administration, but they’re unlikely to try. Behavior of that sort is inimical to their world view.

UPDATE: Lest anyone think my views toward Mr. Kan or Mr. Sengoku in the Senkakus affair are extreme, reader Camphortree in a comment reminds us of just where these folks are coming from:

When the North Korean spy ship was sunk by the Japanese Coast Guard during the Koizumi Administration, our current prime minister Kan, then an opposition party leader in the diet severely criticized Koizumi for his “failure” of handling the North Korean ship. Kan blasted Koizumi and accused him to be leading Japan to the past dangerous naked aggression toward the peace loving neighbors.

The man is entitled to have his opinions. He’s also entitled to have his face rubbed in them.

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Posted in China, International relations, Military affairs, North Korea | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Good cop, bad cop

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 11, 2010

THE MAINICHI SHIMBUN ran a story in its morning edition of 8 November that, if true, confirms what most people have long suspected. It’s one of the many reasons for the widespread anger with Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, and shows why speculation has begun that Prime Minister Kan Naoto will have to cut him loose if his Cabinet is to survive–though that’s growing increasingly unlikely by the minute.

Recall that in September, private-sector consultant Shinohara Tsukasa was recruited (likely by Mr. Sengoku) to create a channel of communication with the Chinese government. That paved the way for a meeting between Chinese officials and DPJ MP Hosono Goshi. Reported the Mainichi:

“Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku is said to have agreed to the Chinese demand that the video of the encounter between the Chinese fishing boat and the Japanese Coast Guard vessels not be shown to the public, and that the observation tour of the Senkakus by Okinawa Gov. Nakaima (Hirokazu) would be called off.”

One wonders what might have happened over the past two months had someone in the DPJ government been willing to stand up for Japanese sovereignty and its national interest, rather than cede the Japanese public’s right to know to the Chinese, and allow the Chinese government to dictate the travel arrangements of a Japanese prefectural governor within the borders of his own jurisdiction.

One also wonders what Prime Minister Kan was doing when all this was going down.

There have been reports that Mr. Sengoku from the start intended to act as a lightning rod for criticism of the Cabinet to protect Mr. Kan and the younger ministers, such as Maehara Seiji. After the past two months, he’s already absorbed so much electricity he probably glows in the dark.

People who serve as chief cabinet secretaries sometimes team up with the prime minister to work the good cop, bad cop routine. For example, Hirano Hirofumi said several times that he was more than willing to take the heat as the bad cop to Hatoyama Yukio’s good cop, particularly for the Futenma issue, but the latter scattered so many banana peels along his own path he couldn’t make it across the stage.

Though Mr. Sengoku seems to be a natural-born bad cop, even this less-than-dynamic duo can’t get the routine to work. That would require someone credible to play the good cop role, but Mr. Sengoku is stuck with the Japanese equivalent of Barney Fife.

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Posted in China, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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