Japan from the inside out

Archive for September, 2010

Gone fishin’

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 30, 2010

MICHAEL TURTON at The View from Taiwan has another excellent post on Chinese swagger in East Asia in general and in the Senkakus in particular.

He links to an essay at the International Assessment and Strategy Center by retired Vice Admiral Ota Fumio, a former Director of Defense Intelligence Headquarters in the Japan Defense Agency and now the director of the Center for Security and Crisis Management Education at the National Defense Academy.

Admiral Ota makes the point that the Chinese fishing boats are often really naval forces/combatants. Referring to a photo on the site taken from the Chinese Internet, he writes:

The above picture is that of a disguised Chinese fishing boat laying mines. When China took (the) Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974, China used similar disguised fishing boats. In 1978 over one hundred Chinese armed fishing boats surrounded the Japanese Senkaku Islands. When the Philippines Mischief Reef was occupied by China at the beginning of 1990s, China used disguised maritime militia, saying that they needed safety refuges for fishermen. Should Japanese naval vessels attack those maritime militias, it should be expected that China will issue propaganda that the JMSDF killed innocent civilians. Should China invade the Japanese Senkaku Islands, she will use those maritime militias as a spearhead. In their 1999 book Unrestricted Warfare, two Chinese colonels advocated the use of cross border measures such as cyber attack, but also using non-military means including disguised fishing boats.

That should clarify the reason the Americans sent the Sasebo-based minesweeper Defender to call at the Port of Hirara in Miyakojima, Okinawa, last week.

The admiral also offers a theory about Chinese defense budgets:

My estimate is that Chinese Defense Budgets only include development costs, personnel, commodity, maintenance and administrative expenses. The weapon production and purchasing costs are counted as part of national fundamental construction costs. Defense research and weapons developments are counted as part of the education and science research budgets. The armed police administration costs are included in administrative management budgets. Draft and civil military support costs are counted as part of regional finances.

Foreign weapons purchases such as the Su-27 and Su-30 are counted as the foreign currencies foundations. Food and self-sustenance costs are counted as military production activities…

Why does China offer false Defense Budgets? This is consistent with China’s deception practices, such as Deng Xiaoping’s 24 Character Strategy, especially “Hide our capabilities and bide our time.” China wants to defeat the China Threat Theory, project an image that it is a peaceful rising power and seeks advantages in information and psychological warfare. Chinese defense budgets have been increasing at a rate in the double digits since 1989 just when every country started enjoying peaceful dividends.

Admiral Ota’s article is worth the time spent to read it. It goes well with another paper I linked to recently from the Jamestown Institute. Here it is if you missed it the first time:

(C)onsistent with the Chinese tendency toward close integration of civil and military institutions, China’s large fishing fleet is already integrated into a maritime militia that could render crucial support in a hypothetical military campaign, whether ferrying troops across the Taiwan Strait or laying mines in distant locations. The sheer number of fishing vessels that could be involved would present a severe challenge to any adversary attempting to counter this strategy.

Here’s a second paper of interest at the Jamestown Institute site, called the Ryukyu Chain in China’s Island Strategy:

In late August the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) intend to stage their first-ever island defense exercises in December. The maneuvers will be held in concert with U.S. Navy forces to refine plans for recapturing the lightly protected Ryukyu Islands from a hostile—presumably Chinese—invading force (Yomiuri Shimbun, August 20). To date, the response from China has been rather muted considering the stakes it faces (Asia Times, August 31).

The Chinese response doesn’t seem to be muted any more.

Returning to Mr. Turton’s post, he adds this comment:

Yesterday I got another lecture from a Chinese nationalist who informed me that after the Senkakus comes Okinawa, which “was ours before.” This kind of talk, which I have heard many times and which is not limited merely to pimply-faced man-boys commenting on the internet, shows how the stronger China becomes, the more belligerent it feels like becoming.

He also posts an e-mail from American congressman David Wu from Oregon regarding a speech Mr. Wu gave at Georgetown University this week. Here’s an excerpt:

“Historically and geographically the Diaoyu Islands have been a part of China since the Ming Dynasty. Japanese sources have acknowledged Chinese ownership since the late 1700s. Japan laid claim to the islands after its war with China in 1895.

“It is in everyone’s interest, including the United States’, that the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands be resolved promptly and peacefully.”

Chinese advocates will be in attendance. Following his statement, Congressman Wu will be holding a town hall meeting at Georgetown University with foreign students from China.

There was no doubt in my mind about Mr. Wu’s party affiliation before I looked it up. Of course he’s a Democrat—as is Mike Honda of California, who conducted the comfort women hearings three years ago as a quid pro quo for campaign funds from local Korean and Chinese groups, and as was Teddy Kennedy, who for many years funneled money to the IRA. Loyalty to allies is not one of the party’s strong points, as a new generation of politicians is discovering about the Obama administration.

Mr. Wu seems to have trouble leaving the Old Country behind. His parents were from Suzhou in Jiangsu province and later moved to Taiwan. The congressman was born in Hsinchu, Taiwan, in 1955 and moved with his family to the United States in 1961.

A week or so ago an English-language blogger wrote that China really needs that fishing fleet in the Western Pacific to “feed its growing population”.

That reminds me of a scene in the 1953 move Stalag 17 about American airmen in a German World War II prisoner of war camp. There’s a mail call to distribute letters from home, and the soldiers are shown reading their mail. Here’s a snippet of dialogue about one of the letters:

Triz’ Trzcinski:
I believe it! I believe it!

You believe what?

My wife. (Reading) ‘Darling, you won’t believe it, but I found the most adorable baby on our doorstep and I have decided to keep it for our own. Now, you won’t believe it, but it’s got exactly my eyes and nose…’ Why does she always say I won’t believe it? I believe it!

Maybe he also believes they’re using mines to stun the fish instead of catching them with nets. That would explain the story that the Chinese captain of the fishing trawler the Japanese detained is really a captain in the Chinese Navy.


The scene from Stalag 17 is at the 7:30 mark in this YouTube clip. It’s a fine bit of acting by Edmund Trzcinski, the man who wrote the play on which the movie is based. Fans of Mission: Impossible will recognize the actor who appears on the far left at the very beginning of the clip. (The actor with the heavy stubble in the same scene was Neville Brand, who won a Silver Star for combat bravery in that war.)

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The Senkaku plot thickens

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 29, 2010

THE PLOT for the story about the Japanese arrest and non-trial of Zhan Qixiong, captain of the Chinese fishing boat Minjinyu 5179, near the Senkaku islets for deliberately ramming two Japanese Coast Guard vessels earlier this month has just gotten thick enough to cut with a knife.

There is now a report that Mr. Zhan is not really a fisherman, but a captain in the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China.

This arose during an interview on the John Batchelor radio program in the United States between the host and Gordon Chang on 26 September.

Mr. Chang is an attorney and author who follows events in China and East Asia. I’ve linked before to a few of his blog posts on the Commentary website. One of his books, The Coming Collapse of China, was published in Japan as Yagate Chugoku no Hokai ga Hajimaru. (He thought it would happen in 2006.) Mr. Batchelor has a three-hour daily radio program based in New York City that is also broadcast in several other cities.

Mr. Chang said that he had been told the information by two sources he did not identify by name, one of whom is from Japan’s Defense Ministry. He said he is trying to confirm it with a third source.

He didn’t mention that Japanese reporters in Beijing conducted their own investigation into Mr. Zhan’s background and concluded that he was a fisherman. Then again, his sources might be a lot better. I’ve already cited two sources here–Paul Lin for the Taipei Times, and an undentified Chinese quoted in Diamond On-Line–who think the story about Mr. Zhan being just a fisherman is a bit fishy itself.

You can listen to the interview at the program’s podcast site here. Scroll down to the link for September 26, 2010, Hour 2. On my computer it came up in Windows Media Player. Fast forward the program to the 29:00 minute mark. The interview lasts about five minutes.

Mr. Chang’s area of expertise is China, so the interview is conducted from that perspective. He’s been talking about Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea for some time, and he has concluded that the Chinese military now controls foreign policy in that country. In regard to the story about Mr. Zhan, he said, “It really makes sense.”

If true, it would also make sense that the left-wing/pacifist Kan-Sengoku administration in Japan did not want the information to be made public. It might also explain the strange circumstances under which the Chinese captain (fishing boat or navy) was released. It would also make sense that people concerned about the integrity of Japanese national sovereignty would want the information to become widely known. And considering that the government has a certain amount of control over major media outlets in Japan through the kisha club system, it would also make sense that the leakers chose to provide the information to a source overseas.

They spend a little time discussing Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji, whom Japan watchers know to have more robust foreign policy and defense views than the leaders of the oil-and-water Democratic Party of Japan. Is this a hint that he might have had a hand in the leak?

Those unfamiliar with the American media environment might be taken aback by Mr. Batchelor’s semi-sensationalist tone, but he’s actually restrained in comparison to some other people, such as Keith Olbermann and Rush Limbaugh.

Therefore, be prepared to hear comparisons to the start of World War II in Europe. Mr. Batchelor can’t stop himself from saying that “Japan, once aroused, is aggressive,” adding that we’ve already seen what they did in that war. He unfortunately cuts off Mr. Chang when the latter reports that Japan has enough plutonium on hand to build 4,000 nuclear weapons, not to object, but to hear himself talk.

It’s beginning to look as if this ship is about to sail into much deeper waters.

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Posted in China, International relations, Military affairs, World War II | Tagged: , | 10 Comments »

Better late than never

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From a Kyodo report:

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on Tuesday cited China’s official People’s Daily as describing — on Jan. 8, 1953 — the Senkaku Islands as part of Japan’s territory….

The People’s Daily described the Ryukyu Islands as “dispersed between the northeastern part of our country’s Taiwan and the southwestern part of Japan’s Kyushu Island” and as including the Senkaku Islands as well as the Sakishima Islands, Maehara said…

Maehara also noted that a world atlas published in China in 1960 specified the Senkaku Islands as part of Okinawa Prefecture….

China and Taiwan began to make territorial claims to the Senkaku Islands around 1970 as oil resources in the area attracted attention.

How much longer will the media and the commentators in the Anglosphere continue to repeat their boilerplate formulation that sovereignty over the islets is “disputed”?

Isn’t it time to rethink that? They might start by taking a look at a copy of the original article and a partial translation at Michael Turton’s site, The View from Taiwan.

Then again, maybe that’s expecting too much.

Better late than never, guys.

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Japan looks at China looking at Japan on the Senkaku Islets

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 29, 2010

THERE’S A REASON that Rashomon, Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s literary montage, is considered a classic in world literature, and the film version created by Kurosawa Akira starring Mifune Toshiro is rated by some critics as one the five best non-American movies ever made. It’s the story of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife from the perspectives of four people. The four accounts differ so greatly the reader or viewer wonders if they’re describing the same incident. I read the English translation long ago when I first became interested in Japan, and I’m still in awe of its conception and execution today.

That’s a good approach to keep in mind while reading the following accounts of Japanese examining the events of the past month from the Chinese perspective. They don’t necessarily agree with or support the Chinese position–they’re just trying to make sense of it.

Diamond On-Line #1

Diamond is a weekly magazine that focuses on business and economic affairs. They published an article on line last week that brings together views from people in business circles in China.

One Chinese man identified as Mr. B is said to be “familiar with the circumstances” of the situation. Mr. B thinks it’s significant that the arrested trawler captain never said anything about the incident while in custody, except that he didn’t ram the Japanese ships on purpose:

“It’s unnatural for an ordinary fishing vessel to enter this sensitive territory on the initiative of the captain. It’s also inconceivable that an ordinary fisherman would ram a Japanese ship.”

Offering the disclaimer that it’s only speculation on his part, Mr. B. adds:

“Remember that government officials created the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 2005. The majority of the demonstrators in Shanghai were not only students but employees of state-owned corporations. Participants received 500 yuan for joining the demonstrations, and were rewarded with 1,000 yuan if they were particularly rowdy. It’s possible that the government was behind the incident and created the scenario that the captain was acting on his own.”

There is also speculation in the article that the government used the territorial issue as a way to “let the gas out” of popular discontent.

Mr. C., identified as an advisor to Japanese-affiliated companies in Shanghai, refers to recent reports in China of a series of suicides by self-immolation. Some of these occurred in Shanxi and Anhui provinces as protests against the government after the people involved were forcibly evicted from their homes. It’s been widely reported, even in the West, that the real estate market in Shanghai “has gone crazy”, and Mr. C. says the real estate bubble is about to get just as weird in regional cities as well. One of the leading sources of dissatisfaction on the Net in China concerns housing problems.

He also thinks that anti-Japanese sentiment among the population is not as strong as it once was. As an example, he cites the popularity among the Chinese of the Japanese exhibit at the Shanghai World’s Fair.

Mr. C. thinks people are beginning to realize that the Japanese are not riben guizi (日本鬼子), or demons, after all. The term is derived from a work of fiction by Liao Zhai Zhi Yi in the 17th century. It was originally applied to Westerners, but transferred to Japanese after the first war with Japan. People nowadays understand that the term guizi alone refers to Japanese.

More Chinese are traveling abroad, however, and many of them are visiting Japan. (There was a 57% year-on-year increase in Chinese tourists to Japan in August alone, and there’s been a sharp increase in the number of cruise ships calling on Japanese ports in the past two years, particularly at the Port of Hakata in Fukuoka City.) In other words, the so-called patriotic education that depicted Japanese as savage brutes is wearing off through personal contact with the Japanese themselves.

Mr. C. refers to the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 18 September, the anniversary of the Mukden Incident. Considering that the anniversary fell this year when the incident in the Senkakus was still unresolved, the demonstrations might have been large, noisy, and violent. Attendance was down, however, and the participants were relatively subdued. (There were no demonstrations at the Japanese pavilion, and it still remains popular among the Chinese.) Mr. C. suggests this shows the “patriotism” inculcated by older textbooks is not the motivator it once was. He also says the regime finds this troubling.

Diamond On-Line #2

A second article in the same publication focused on the Chinese view of Japanese politics.

Chinese observers thought it odd that Prime Minister Kan Naoto brought up the issue of “territorial waters” and challenger Ozawa Ichiro referred to the Senkaku islets on the same day—5 September—during the campaign for DPJ president. That both Mr. Kan and Mr. Ozawa in particular favor closer ties with China further heightened their interest.

The next day, the DPJ campaign rhetoric was the lead story in the Global Times (affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party). It included a photo of the two pols and this headline on the front page:

Japan’s Democratic Party Political Titans Seek Votes with China Bashing

The day after that, the Chinese trawler rammed the Japanese Coast Guard ships and the captain was arrested.

His detention was extended on 9 September, and 10 September the Japanese Defense Ministry released a White Paper describing plans to beef up the defense of the southwestern islands, which include the Senkakus.

Some in China’s leadership circles think the ship’s captain was used as a pawn to secure the presence of American bases, which in turn was used to win the DPJ presidential election. The idea was to employ the China threat as a strategy to gain support for a strong military buildup.

According to this article, the Chinese filed diplomatic protests over the captain’s arrest, and kept moving higher up the chain of authority, but never received a response from the Japanese government. Meanwhile, the Japanese mass media was steadily bashing China. Some thought the media’s treatment of State Council members was “extremely rude”. The whole series of events struck the Chinese as having been orchestrated.

Meanwhile, the Chinese netroots were livid, charging that China had fallen into a Japanese trap and that the country “had gotten its face muddied”. The flames on the Net were fanned with translations of Japanese-language newspaper articles as soon as they were published. The translators made sure to present only those segments that would further enrage Chinese readers while eliminating the reasonable parts.

Thus, the story goes, Chinese leaders thought they had to take strong action lest public anger spin out of control.

Toshikawa Takao, Gendai Business

Writing for the Gendai Business site, Mr. Toshikawa focused on the political power struggle in China. President and Communist Party leader Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are expected to hand over control to their successors at the 2012 party conference. Xi Jinping, the current deputy chairman of the party, is likely to replace Mr. Hu. He is jockeying for position, however, with Li Keqiang, who has the title of executive vice-premier and is the 7th-ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee. Mr. Li is Wen Jiabao’s top lieutenant, and it is assumed he will be Mr. Wen’s successor.

However, goes the theory, some in the conservative wing of the party, represented by former leader Jiang Zemin, think China’s attitude toward Japan and the U.S. is weak-kneed. Mr. Xi is seen as a Jiang ally, and Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen are thought to be more open to Japan and the U.S. According to this theory, they had to take strong action to fend off criticism from the hardliners.

Mr. Toshikawa also says there has been an enormous amount of criticism of the government on Chinese websites, with many posters claiming the affair was a “total defeat” for the following reasons:

  1. Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji met with American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who confirmed that the Senkakus are Japanese territory and covered under the Security Treaty.
  2. The affair fans anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan.
  3. China did not send the Japanese ambassador home or suspend diplomatic relations even though Japan infringed on Chinese territory.
  4. China did not receive an apology or reparations.

He further notes the military hardliners are just as unhappy with the way things turned out and refers to previous rumors that Mr. Hu does not have their complete support. He thinks this might result in Chinese military exercises in the area in the near term.

Itagaki Eiken

Mr. Itagaki is a freelance journalist who once covered the Prime Minister’s office for the Mainichi Shimbun. It’s best to read his website postings with a full shaker of salt—he seems to think that the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers run the world—but he also clearly has connections with the Ozawa Ichiro camp. That makes his posts worth reading, while keeping in mind they might contain as much disinformation as information.

Mr. Itagaki also brings up the power struggle in the Chinese leadership. He identifies both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as friendly to Japan, but Xi Jinping as a hardliner influenced by the official anti-Japanese education curriculum. Li Keqiang is aligned with Mr. Hu and supported by Mr. Wen, and Mr. Xi wants to dump him. According to Mr. Itagaki, both Hu and Wen moved against Japan to shore up their own position and that of Mr. Li. Since they both favored Ozawa Ichiro in the DPJ election, they found it easier to make life difficult for Kan Naoto, the winner.

Mr. Itagaki then brings up a 25 September editorial in the Asahi Shimbun that criticized the Japanese ruling party for its conduct of politics and diplomacy. He quoted this passage:

What the DPJ government lacks most of all is a channel of communication between politicians of both countries for frank discussion before things get out of hand. One must be built immediately.

He thought this was a pointless thing to say, not only because ties between politicians of different countries aren’t built in a day, but also because there shouldn’t be a need for the DPJ to create a pipeline to the Chinese government to begin with. Ozawa Ichiro already has a “thick” pipeline connected to the highest levels of government. It is, says Mr. Itagaki, as if Ozawa Ichiro is no longer considered to be a member of the DPJ.

He also suggests that Mr. Ozawa is relieved he didn’t have to intervene because he has personal ties with both Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping. He has stayed at Li Keqiang’s home at the latter’s invitation, and his ham-handed insistence on bypassing the usual protocol with the Tenno (Emperor) to get an audience for Xi Jingping caused an uproar in Japan last winter. Mr. Ozawa doesn’t want to get caught in the middle of a Chinese political dispute.

Mr. Itagaki might have a point. Events might have turned out differently had Mr. Ozawa won the election, or had Mr. Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito been willing to put aside their dislike and mistrust of the man and asked him to serve as an emissary. Then again, it might have been better not to involve him at all. Who knows what deals he might have tried to cook up on his own had he been sent to Beijing, and how he might have used them to his own advantage in Japan?

He might have another point. It does seem as if Mr. Ozawa is not a member of the DPJ any more.

Afterwords: Isn’t it interesting that the Western media always finds the content of Japanese textbooks to be a worthwhile topic, yet seldom has time for Chinese textbooks?

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New kid on the block

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 27, 2010

EAST ASIA is already one happening place, but excitement in the neighborhood will climb to breathtaking heights tomorrow when the North Korea Workers’ Party holds its third party conference and the first since 1966 to “single-mindedly unite around the headquarters of the revolution headed by Kim Jong-il” and elect its supreme leadership body. The Rodong Sinmun promises that it “will shine as a notable event in the history of the sacred Workers’ Party.”

One of the elect few is expected to be Kim Jong-un, number three son of the world’s most powerful otaku, Kim Jong-il, as he officially begins preparing to assume the leadership role in the Kim Family Regime.

Then again, nobody outside of the ruling circle knows for sure. As this article in Britain’s Telegraph states:

So secretive are the machinations in Pyongyang that many analysts believe Kim Jong-un’s new role will not even be formally announced at the meeting.

That means veteran North Korean watchers will keep their eyes peeled for an appearance of the CNC code!


Such is the level of paranoia within the ruling elite that his name has never even been officially mentioned as a potential successor. But state-sanctioned poems and songs have been released, praising without name, “the young general”, and dwelling on the importance of “footsteps” – a metaphor for the familial transfer of power.

One reason for the secrecy is that there seems to be a limit to what even the North Korean population will put up with:

(R)are signs of public discontent are emerging from North Korea over news of the likely dynastic succession. Recent defectors and exile media organizations such as Free North Korea Radio and the Daily NK describe growing dismay and alarm within the ranks of the Workers’ party and security forces as the name of Kim Jong-un has been gradually rolled out.

The reports are fuelling fears that the country and its nuclear arsenal will be engulfed by a dangerous power struggle by rival regime factions, some of whom want to introduce Chinese-style political reforms.

The question is whether the 27-year-old Kim III will be able to ride the tiger or be eaten by it. Very little is known about him, but the Telegraph does quote a few stories from friends of the Heir Presumptive when he studied at private schools in Switzerland from 1995 to 1998.

By their accounts, he seems to have been a typical teenager—he enjoyed playing computer games, following American basketball and the career of Michael Jordan, watching Jackie Chan and James Bond movies, and barking at the embassy staff for serving cold spaghetti.

Befitting a boy filled with patriotic devotion and intense loyalty to the party, his friends said one of his favorite songs was Aegukka (The Patriotic Song), the North Korean national anthem.

Now you can enjoy the song too! Here’s a stirring rendition of the anthem from North Korean television with English subtitles. Note the street scene at the 1:45 mark. The Japanese aren’t the only people in this part of the world who love cherry blossoms.

The mountain shown in the video, by the way, is Mt. Baekdu, a sacred site for all Koreans because they believe it’s the site of the tribe’s origin. The Pyeongyang propagandists also like to pretend it’s Kim Jong-il’s birthplace.

But that’s just another Joseon myth. In fact, it really belongs to China and is temporarily in the possession of one of the minor domains on the fringes of the flower in the center of the world. Besides, the Chinese have already bitten off half. How much longer before they swallow the rest?

UPDATE: The KFR decided to make it official, as Kim III was one of several people promoted to the position of general. He’s already gotten gloriously rich, as several reports indicate. If he has the perquisites of his father, he gets to shoot people who displease him (or ship them off to concentration camps), drink the world’s finest liquor, and tool around in expensive automobiles. He’s also just 27 years old.

Some people have all the luck!

Thanks to CB for the Telegraph link.

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Lost in space

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 27, 2010

LOST IN SPACE was a popular brain-dead television program in the United States in the mid-1960s, based on the premise of a lost family of space explorers encountering a series of improbable dangers once a week. Essentially a televised version of a comic book, it also developed a following of fans who watched it for its camp aspects. One of those was a robot whose programmed responses briefly became catch phrases in the popular culture. These included “I cannot accept that course of action”, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!”, and the most well-known of all, “Does not compute! Does not compute!”

Speaking of “Does not compute!”, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito held forth on the Senkakus incident at a news conference this morning. Asked about an improvement in Japan-China relations, which are so cold they’re hot, Mr. Sengoku said:

We’ve released (the ship’s captain), so now we can get to work enhancing our strategic relationship of mutual benefit with China. At the present time the ball is in the Chinese court.

He added:

The result of the prosecutor’s decision is that a toge (thorn, needle, splinter, spine) which (the Chinese said) was stuck in their throat has been removed. We think that in the diplomatic program this fall, they will (do us the favor of) putting into practice a peaceful approach.

So sorry to put your wonderful fisherfolk to such inconvenience and to cause all of our warm friends in your country so much concern. How rude of us to be so thoughtless and make matters worse. I’m sure it was all just an honest mistake.

He also addressed the damage the Chinese fishing trawler did to the Japanese Coast Guard ships it rammed:

I think we will demand that (the Chinese) restore them to their original condition. Regardless of whether we pursue this now through diplomatic means, or pursue it after matters cool down, this of course should be an issue for the Japanese government.

But the Chinese don’t seem to have gotten the message. A report today in the Ming Pao Daily News from Hong Kong says that the Chinese have now assigned two patrol boats to regular duty in the vicinity of the Senkakus to guard Chinese fishing boats.

Said a Chinese official:

These patrols will be regular, the patrol activities will be strengthened, and we will appropriately protect the lives of our fisherman and the safety of their property.

Mr. Sengoku brought up the subject during his news conference and said the patrol boats have been in the area since the 24th. He added that the Foreign Ministry has already made protests to the Chinese government four times, saying, as Mr. Sengoku put it, “We want you to stop this.”

Does the man still not understand? China is playing by animal kingdom rules. He’s already rolled over and showed his belly. He can complain all he wants, but the Chinese will never take him seriously again, unless he panics and does something drastic.

It’s not often one sees a government lost in space, but there you are.

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No touch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 27, 2010

I say a pressure drop, oh pressure
Oh yeah pressure gonna drop on you
I say when it drops, oh you gonna feel it
Know that you were doing wrong.
– Pressure Drop, Toots and the Maytals (Frederick Hibbert)

THERE IS a class of expressions in the Japanese language known as wasei eigo, or English made in Japan. While the expressions consist entirely of English words, none of them are used by native speakers of English.

Sengoku Yoshito: I know nothingk...

One example is the expression “no touch”, which means “I’m not involved at all”. For example, years ago, when I was an English teacher, some parents would tell me they never checked to see if the children did their homework or kept up with their studies. (They considered that to be the teacher’s responsibility.) They spoke entirely in Japanese, but inserted the wasei eigo, “no touch”, to describe their approach.

As astonishing as it may seem, the government of Japan is claiming that their involvement with the decision to release Zhan Qixiong, the captain of the Chinese fishing vessel arrested by the Coast Guard near the Senkaku islets, is “no touch”.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji were in New York to attend the UN blabfest, so Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was responsible for handling affairs in Tokyo. (More than a few people in Japan think he’s running the show even when the prime minister is in town.) He held a news conference on the evening of the 24th after it was announced the Chinese captain would be released. He said:

After the prosecutor’s decision, I received word from the Ministry of Justice that the Naha prosecutors would announce the release this afternoon at a news conference. It was a report that (the detained captain) would be released as a result of the prosecutors’ investigation…I understand the comprehensive judgment of the prosecutors.

He then added a phrase for which he and his party are being skinned alive–by all the opposition parties (with the exception of the Social Democrats), some members of his own party, including former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, and the news media. He said:

The decision was the prosecutor’s alone. I acknowledge that.

Those last three words are the killer. The expression he used in Japanese has the tinge of legalese, which makes it that much worse. The Cabinet’s insistence that they were not involved, and their explanation for it, has stupefied the political class and those who cover it.

One Japanese commentator summed up what seems to be the prevailing sentiment:

You’d have to be a sucker to believe that.

Yet the rest of the government is backing him up. Prime Minister Kan insists that’s exactly what happened. Said Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru:

It is not true that I exercised authority as Justice Minister based on Article 14 of the Public Prosecutor’s Office Act.

Even Foreign Minister Maehara, known to favor a more robust approach to defense and foreign policy, went along with it, though he talks as if he’s trying to avoid the splatter. In New York on the 24th, he said:

The prosecutor disposed of the case in accordance with Japanese law. It’s not for me to say anything about that decision.

(This makes sense if you believe the rumors that Mr. Sengoku promised him he was next in line to be prime minister.)

Sources within the government are leaking a different story, however. Some say it was Mr. Sengoku who directed the effort to find a resolution and called it the “Sengoku Initiative”. Others say that Mr. Sengoku hinted to a few Cabinet members after the Cabinet meeting on the morning of the 24th that the captain would be released later that day. He also held a meeting with Mr. Yanagida at the Kantei before the prosecutor’s announcement.

It gets even worse. Here’s the Naha prosecutor giving his explanation at a news conference:

We could not determine that the act of the captain was planned. (The release) was made in consideration of the effect (of the matter) on the Japanese people and the future of Sino-Japanese relations.

Commenting on the statement later that evening, Mr. Sengoku said:

Based on the comprehensive judgment of the prosecutors, my thoughts on the release (of the detained captain) and the disposition of the case were that this was possible.


The problem is the prosecutor’s second sentence and Mr. Sengoku’s “acknowledgement” of it. Before the release, the government said it would handle the matter quietly based on Japanese law. But the prosecutor instead cited the effect on the Japanese people and relations with China as the reason for the sudden release. If legal procedures were to be the basis for the determination, why is the prosecutor saying that international diplomacy was a factor in his decision? People expect that to be the business of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

The Diet will be called into session on Friday. The opposition LDP has already said they will demand the prosecutor be summoned to testify.

Some members of the DPJ are as stunned as everyone else. Said Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi, formerly of the foreign ministry and the vice chair of the party’s Policy Research Committee (and an Ozawa Ichiro supporter):

The release doesn’t make any sense.

The doubters also include Mr. Kan’s predecessor as prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio:

Some suspicions remain about the release among the public. The government has the responsibility to tell the people the truth, including whether they made any overtures (to the Chinese).

Okada Katsuya, who was foreign minister when the arrest was made earlier this month, but was shifted to the position of party secretary-general after Mr. Kan’s reelection as party president, was pilloried as he defended the process during a discussion on a Sunday TV program. Here’s how some of the dialogue went:

It was the prosecutor’s decision to release the captain. Those who have the misunderstanding that it was done by the government are completely mistaken. President Tanigaki Sadakazu of the LDP said he (the captain) should have been sent home earlier, but would that really have been a good idea? Should we have twisted the law and returned the captain (in the middle of the process)? Japan has done absolutely nothing wrong. Of course it is not necessary to pay reparations or make an apology.

Eda Kenji, Your Party secretary-general:
(The government) said that the release (was made) by the prosecutor for political considerations without making a disposition. This is a suicidal act. You said that the government did not intervene, but verification of that is required. This is an actual crime, and not merely a problem of unlawful entry.

Ishihara Nobuteru, LDP secretary-general:
This is just casuistry. This began with the DPJ’s tone deaf diplomacy. The party was conducting a presidential election (at the time of the incident). You were the foreign minister. This primitive diplomacy made the matter worse.

For the government to intervene and create the impression that the (handling) of the captain was divorced from legal procedures would harm the national interest.

Diplomatic and political strength are exactly the way to handle this. It was a mistake for Mr. Sengoku to say that he “acknowledges” the prosecutor’s political judgment and release.

This was absolutely impossible with the judgment of the prosecutor alone. This is an issue in which the moral position is 100% in Japan’s favor, but after a Chinese victory of 100 to 0 there must be sincere remorse on your part. It is a fact that you have created the impression that the Senkakus are a territorial issue.

True or false?

The government has gotten itself in a rare political mess. They have demonstrated extraordinary incompetence regardless of whether they are lying or telling the truth. If they are lying, as most people think, it comes off as an unwillingness to accept responsibility for an extremely unpopular act with serious international consequences.

The word gutless also comes to mind.

And what if they’re telling the truth? That makes the decision to leave the resolution of the matter to the Okinawan prosecutor an act of sheer stupidity. One Foreign Ministry official called this the most serious diplomatic crisis for Japan of the past 20 years (and that’s probably a conservative estimate). The affair involves an immense neighbor with whom they have extensive economic ties, that admits of no one’s rules other than their own, that has nuclear weapons and military forces 10 times the size of the Japanese, and which is both petulant and very unhappy.

And the government allowed it to be resolved by a minor public official in a provincial city. No touch.

If they are telling the truth, the idea was probably a dull spark from Mr. Sengoku, a University of Tokyo-educated attorney in a country that doesn’t care much for legal hair-splitting. (There’s a reason for the Japanese expression herikutsu, or “fart logic”.)

At the minimum, it is a severe political miscalculation. Schoolteachers used to make their pupils stay after school and write “I will not dip Sally’s pigtails in the inkwell” on the blackboard 100 times. In this case, the government should be forced to examine newspaper articles from the world’s press and see if they can find any story that begins with the sentence, “Today, Naha prosecutors released the captain of a Chinese trawler…”

The Chinese pressure drop

If they thought releasing the captain would resolve the situation and buy them goodwill from the Chinese…really, one can only shake one’s head.

From the Jiji news agency:

The Global Times, affiliated with the People’s Daily, the organ of the Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial on the 25th that while the Japanese released the captain, “An early return to the status quo ante will not be possible.”

“The Kan administration is inaccurate in its judgment of conditions in Asia, and they lack the discernment to protect the mutual benefits of China and Japan…To the current Japanese government, which has so little experience in governing a nation, we should drive home the point that China is not a country that can be opposed so carelessly.”

In other words, the Chinese are going to take their time about lifting some of their sanctions and they’ll continue to rub the Japanese face in it in the meantime.

From the Mainichi Shimbun:

In addition to stopping rare earth shipments, China halted the shipment of construction materials and semiconductors to Japan on the 26th. Government and trading companies are scrambling to discover the details.

Sources say that customs at the port of Xiamen performed a complete inspection of all freight bound for Japan and stopped shipment of construction materials. The local JETRO office reported it was the first time a shipment to Japan had been subject to a full inspection.

Diplomatic sources familiar with China said:

Did they really only verbally ask for an apology and compensation, or did they hit Japan with even stronger demands? This has to be looked at carefully. It is very possible that China will delay lifting their measures even with the announcement of Japan’s rejection.

The Asahi quotes another Global Times article:

Japan’s claims are the logic of an outright criminal, and are ridiculous. It is not possible that the Chinese government will accept them.

They add:

Chinese sources say the Foreign Ministry got the paper to run the articles to apply pressure to Japan.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Foreign Ministry sources think the Chinese believe if they apply relentless diplomatic pressure, the Kan government will lose its nerve and concede even more. They didn’t expect Japan to apologize or pay reparations. But if Japan, which denies there is a territorial issue, responds to a demand to discuss an apology or reparations, they will be a de facto admission there is a territorial issue. That alone would be a benefit.

Eda Kenji puts it all together:

People who do not know the fundamentals of the state and the ABCs of politics are in charge of the government. I can only say that this sudden release of the ship’s captain shows the Democratic Party is fundamentally lacking in the education that all policy makers should strive to attain, that the judicial system is independent of (matters of) territory or sovereignty, and, by extension, diplomacy.

During a recent news conference after the BOJ’s market intervention, Mr. Sengoku was asked if the government’s line of defense was 82 yen, and he said yes. In the worst-case scenario, that statement would result in the intervention going right down the drain. He doesn’t even realize there’s a problem with that.

Even I didn’t think they were this bad. The problem is not limited to their bureaucracy-led politics. The problem is with mistaken politics, with the conduct of politics as if they were children playing house. Their response was even worse than the childish Chinese challenges. If we do not press to have the Diet dissolved immediately and a general election held, and the DPJ government is not replaced, this country is finished.

Japan’s most serious foreign policy crisis in at least a generation is being handled by the people least capable of doing so.

UPDATE: On his Japanese-language blog, Kibashiri Masamizu cites reports that Mr. Sengoku didn’t even want to arrest the Chinese trawler captain to begin with, but had to be talked into it by Mr. Okada and Mr. Maehara. Mr. Kibashiri also wonders about Prime Minister Kan’s seeming abdication of any leadership role, putting him in the “no touch” group as well. He summarizes it this way: Japan has not had a prime minister during the month of September.


Regardless of any diplomatic determination, the government’s decision to release the Chinese suspect without a formal disposition was indeed above the law. In short, it was a supra-legal measure. The timing makes it unavoidable that it will be seen overseas as the capitulation of the Japanese government to Chinese government pressure.

More details on the decision from the Asahi in English, including this, presumably from a Foreign Ministry official:

“It’s a farce to say prosecutors made the decision,” a senior ministry official said. “(The government) is irresponsible.”

The article claims that the Naha prosecutors wanted to indict, but were overruled. It also mentions an “agitated” Kan Naoto, which I’ll have more on later.

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Letter bombs (11): Boomerangs

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 26, 2010

It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exultation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.
– Calvin Coolidge

READER M-BONE has given me permission to quote his comments before, so I’ll take the liberty of quoting two more, because they’re quite good. This time he writes about the reaction outside of East Asia to Japan’s problems with China in the Senkaku dispute. Here’s the first:

China is making like Gamilus – fighting against their own interests in a state of sublime belligerence. (Amp. note: Space Battleship Yamato reference)

They’ve given a huge boost to the US-Japan alliance (arguably at its shakiest since 1960 during the DPJ tenure, now likely to be coming on like gangbusters), spat on some of their best friends in Japan, and this time it isn’t just (Martin) Fackler – everyone from The Economist to tea party trolls on Yahoo comments seem to be calling China the petulant child of current international relations – many of these are the same people who gave China a free pass in 2005 because of the emotive history issue. And for what? A petty domestic PR coup in a media environment that the Chinese government runs anyway? AND Japan gave them the perfect out by releasing the captain and they STILL found a way to screw the pooch by demanding apology and compensation doubling down on their domestic propaganda but leaving much of the rest of the world shaking their heads.

How long before China pisses off Russia and India and finds itself surrounded on all sides by a FCL (F**k China League)?

Two from me:

1. India and Russia have been wary of China for some time, and are probably charter members of the FCL. India came to blows with them in the early 60s, and the Soviet Union almost did.

2. I don’t think it’s just for domestic consumption. As I tried to argue in my Friday post, and as Michael Turton does on his Taiwan website, this is how China will behave as it tries to recreate its hegemony/suzerainty in the future. It’s how they’ve always behaved when they’ve had the wherewithal in the past. The DPJ played into this Chinese conceit with their fawning behavior. The Chinese do not treat other countries as equal partners, and they have no intention of doing so with “Little Japan”.

M-Bone Comment #2

China has not been anxious to get into scuffs with India and Russia yet and if you want to beat on a country for no good reason with no chance of retribution, Japan is probably the world’s best candidate. However, when you think about it, if ANY part of this latest Chinese show was designed to improve their geo-political position and to increase their chance of actually ending up with the Senkakus (instead of a rather banal ‘the captain came home’ moment) what transpired can only be considered a huge failure. China will now (likely) face a surging Japanese-American partnership where it was once waning and the greatest lasting legacy out of all of this will likely be the US’s unambiguous statement that the islands are covered by the security treaty. If the Chinese leaders were really dumb enough to catalyze this, who is to say that some colossal f%”k up with another neighbor won’t be coming down the line?

…Even the domestic Japan bashing to distract from Chinese government problems blah blah argument isn’t a good one in this case. If they had played it stern and waited, the Japanese would still have likely released the captain, giving them a victory without all of the hotheads taking to the streets. Then, if they really wanted to, they could have waited a bit and jumped on a random history issue a few weeks or months on.

My general feeling is that most people are more pissed at China than supportive of Japan, but it seems to me that China, obviously used to manipulating nationalism, doesn’t seem to grasp how quick and how powerful turns in American nationalism can be.

Two more from me:

1. Someone in the Japanese print media (in the flood of information over the past few days) noted that during the Koizumi administration, there was an official with a high position in the Chinese leadership who had a good understanding of Japan. He’s not there anymore, and no one’s replaced him.

2. I suspect Chinese leadership concluded that the U.S. under the Obama administration and with its financial problems became a paper tiger and behaved accordingly. (Or, they suspected it had become a paper tiger and wanted to make sure.) The Futenma issue gave them another opportunity to test that theory.

I think Chinese imperial ambition, hubris, nouveau riche / narikin environment, lack of understanding (at the top) of other countries, and a general we-don’t-give-a-sh*t-what-you-think attitude are all part of the mix.

21st Century Schizoid Man sent in a good comment from a Japanese forum. Here it is in English:

“There is no question that Japan caved in to the Chinese this time, but nevertheless, the negative aspects for the Chinese are by no means inconsiderable. The argument that the Chinese are a threat is bound to increase, so it will be argued that Japan must also strengthen its military capabilities. Japan’s relationship with the U.S. will grow stronger and resemble conditions during the Koizumi era. Even more, the world now knows that if anything should occur, (China is a) country that will respond as if hostages had been taken. This will likely open the eyes of those who harbored fantasies about the Chinese.

“In short, it would be a good idea not to have any fantasies about the Chinese, eliminate any sentimental emotionalism, and create a cool relationship in which we use those aspects we can use.

“Japan has effective control of the Senkakus, If the Chinese seize them it will rupture Sino-Japanese relations, and would, in a real sense, be an act of war, so that is likely impossible right away. For now, we should quietly build up our military capabilities to prepare for any contingencies. It is important to never again be entertained by the fantasy of ‘friendly Sino-Japanese relations’”.

One comment from me:

1. As I tried to argue yesterday, I don’t think we’re going to be hearing any more about yuai and an East Asian entity for a while.

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Posted in China, India, International relations, Military affairs, Russia | Tagged: | 19 Comments »

Snowing in July

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 25, 2010

WHENEVER I do something like vacuum the floor on my own initiative, my wife enjoys pretending that it’s so unusual for me to do housework, it’s like a snowfall in July. (I’ve done all the ironing in the household in the 22 years we’ve been married, including her clothes, so I ignore the wise lips, but that’s another story.)

However, today it’s snowing on this website in July. I’m going to link to a New York Times article and commend the author–in this case–Martin Fackler, for getting it right.

Time to break out the mufflers and the mittens.

Here’s the lead sentence:

A diplomatic showdown between Japan and China that began two weeks ago with the arrest of the captain of a Chinese trawler near disputed islands ended Friday when Tokyo accepted Beijing’s demands for his immediate release, a concession that appeared to mark a humiliating retreat in a Pacific test of wills.

To be sure, anyone with knowledge of the events and the countries involved could have written this article as soon they heard the news of the Chinese captain’s release, but let’s not dim the luster of the New York Times’s deed. It happens so seldom.

It’s also informative: American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reported to have told the Japanese that the U.S. would come to Japan’s assistance if the Chinese attacked the Senkakus. Someone should tell Nicholas Kristof to read his own newspaper.

It also has:

On Friday, members of his own governing Democratic Party joined opposition lawmakers in condemning the decision to release the captain.

True, but the initial DPJ criticism didn’t come from the party’s left, where Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito perch. It won’t be long before the critics have a lot of company, however.

“I’m flabbergasted that this was resolved with such a clear diplomatic defeat for Japan,” said Yoshimi Watanabe, leader of the opposition Your Party.

Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku are going to be hearing a lot of this in the future, and I don’t think either one of them–much less anyone else in the party–has the skills to sell their decision.

Still, Fackler can’t be expected to get everything right:

The setback appears likely to raise new concerns about the leadership of the Democrats, who took power in a landslide election victory last year with promises to improve ties within Asia and reduce Japan’s dependence on the United States.

It already has raised new concerns about the DPJ, but their foreign policy had nothing to do with their election victory.

But at least he includes some comic relief:

“This was a move that Japan had to make or China would have taken further steps,” said Wang Xiangsui, a foreign policy analyst at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Now the two sides can discuss this more calmly.”

Now that the Kan administration has lain on its back and shown its belly, China will never discuss this calmly. They know they’ve found their weapon, and they’ll use it every chance they get. Heck, they’ll create their own opportunities to use it.

For example, the Chinese Foreign Ministry is already calmly demanding an apology and financial compensation. And what will Mr. Kan (or more likely Mr. Sengoku, if some reports are to be believed) do if the Chinese continue the big chill unless they satisfy the Foreign Ministry demand?

Do I need to mention that this didn’t go unnoticed elsewhere in the region? I haven’t looked at the South Korean press yet, but Pyon Jin-il has. He’s a Tokyo native of Korean ethnicity who runs a website examining issues and events on the Korean Peninsula. He wrote:

韓国のメディアは一斉に「中国、レアアース輸出禁止など原子爆弾級報復に日本一日で降伏」「日本中国に白旗?」「中国 レアアース対日輸出中断 資源武器化 紛争国圧迫?」との見出しで、韓国のどのメディアも日本が中国の報復、制裁、圧力に屈したと報じていた。


The headlines in the South Korean media were uniform: “Japan Surrenders in a Day to China’s Atomic Bomb-Class Retaliation, Including Prohibitions on Rare Earth Exports”, “Japan Raises the White Flag to China?”, “China Cuts off Rare Earth Exports to Japan; Uses Resources as a Weapon – Pressure on Other Countries in Disputes?” All the South Korean media reported that Japan had buckled under to Chinese retaliation, sanctions, and pressure.

The Kan administration didn’t roll over for just the Chinese. It rolled over for everyone in Northeast Asia, and no one will let them forget it.

Mr. Pyon makes the interesting suggestion that the Japanese should have modeled their behavior after the North Koreans. They never give in to outside pressure, even if they have to starve.

He adds:


If this were the Japan of the samurai, (they would have followed the proverb) ‘A samurai uses a toothpick ostentatiously even when he doesn’t eat.’ If (Japan) does not have the mettle to withstand and bounce back from Chinese economic sanctions, they will never be able to defend their territory. If they do not have the resolve to reduce their servings by one and their meals from three to two, Japan will never be able to prevail in their territorial disputes with China and South Korea.

He’s right, of course.

Also drearily predictable is that the media in China, South Korea, and some of the Anglosphere will start Hoovering the Japanese media for similar quotes to get all enuretic about the resurgent Japanese nationalism that will be a threat to the region. They’ve been warning of that for, oh, a half-century now at least. The pasty-faced ghouls in the think tanks will get cracking on that, too. Lord knows it’s the only time some of them ever examine Japanese-language sources in detail.

But when an ethnic Korean in Japan, a zainichi, says it, it can’t be blamed on the guys running the sound trucks.

It’s never nationalistic to stand up for one’s country when it’s right, but they’re not the types to get that. Scratch that–the Chinese and South Koreans do. But they’ll even stand up for their country when it’s dead wrong. Ah, but it’s the Japanese who are the East Asian chauvinists.

How long will it be before someone tells the Japanese that already the Chinese netizens refer to the country as 小日本 (Little Japan), as in “I haven’t the slightest interest in Little Japan”?

Yeah, I know I keep saying I hate predictions, so to keep me from making one, perhaps someone can make the argument that Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku haven’t just pulled the plug on their political careers–and very likely the DPJ government too. It’s only a matter of time, is it not? It was only a matter of time before this element of the party kowtowed (叩頭) to the Chinese anyway, considering their historical awareness is based on the pride of being ashamed to be Japanese.

The only question now is when a group of politicians emerge who are willing to stand up for Japan even while knowing that many outside the country are just waiting for another excuse to get it wrong about them.

Why not? It’s already snowing in July.


For those who read Japanese, here’s a link to Mr. Pyon’s website.

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Posted in China, International relations, Mass media | Tagged: , , , | 20 Comments »

Coming attractions

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 24, 2010

The build-up of Chinese military capabilities is a real threat.
– Maehara Seiji, the new Foreign Minister of Japan, speaking in the United States in 2005

In ancient Chinese history, the First Emperor sent his adviser Xu Fu (徐福, Jofuku in Japanese) across the sea to what is now Japan to seek out the elixir of immortality. The account records that he was accompanied by many young men and women. Some Chinese believe that the Japanese are descendants of these early travelers. Does this give China a territorial claim over Japan? Of course not.
– Paul Lin, Taipei Times 19 September 2010

FOR THOSE with the eyes to see, China is offering the world a preview of its behavior when it finally assumes the role of Great Power. The screening started when the Japanese arrested Zhan Qixiong, captain of the Chinese fishing boat Minjinyu 5179, in Japanese waters 12 kilometers northwest of Kubashima. That was near one of the Senkaku islets, which the Chinese decided a few years ago was actually theirs after centuries of ignoring them. He was released today without being formally charged, though he could have been held a few more days before Japanese law required a decision.

One of the Senkaku islets

The Japanese suspected illegal fishing, having caught the Chinese with their pants down, so to speak—their fishing tackle was unfurled—so they hailed the boat to stop for boarding and inspection. The Chinese fishermen usually quit the scene when confronted, but this time someone cued up the theme song to Cops: Captain Zhan zipped up, rammed one of the Coast Guard vessels (the Mizuki), and then hightailed it. During the two-hour chase, he also rammed the other Coast Guard ship.

Try that on a highway after being motioned to pull over by an officer in a patrol car and watch what happens.

What happened here is that the Japanese decided to detain the captain before deciding whether or not to formally charge him. After a few days, they sent the Minjinyu 5179 back to China with the 14 crewmen, none of whom were arrested, but one or more of whom might have been CCP members egging on the skipper. They also found some fish.

The subsequent behavior of the Chinese and Japanese could not present a clearer contrast. The Japanese have been a model of calm discretion, while the Chinese government has responded with volleys of cloddish intimidation and ham-handed irredentism that reverberate with echoes of a less sophisticated age. The bluster puts one in mind of the more restrained North Korean propaganda, with hints of a mustachioed Mitteleuropa paperhanger demanding the return of the Sudetenland. It’s all the more revealing because they’re bullying a year-old Japanese government that long ago declared its intention to develop closer ties with them while tilting away from the United States. Perhaps that aggression is to be expected when one’s military budget has quadrupled over the past decade and one is facing a technically pacifist country with only 10% of the military personnel. The urge arises to start kicking sand in other people’s faces just because one can get away with it.

The recently appointed Japanese foreign minister, Maehara Seiji, is portrayed by some as a “hawk” because he favors amending the Japanese Constitution to permit national self-defense. This hawk is carrying an olive branch in its talons, however. He says the incident will be handled in accordance with the rule of law while emphasizing that “there is no territorial dispute in the region”. At the United Nations this week, he said, “(China) is an important neighbor. We must create a solid, strategic reciprocal relationship.”

While inspecting the damage to one of the Japanese ships last weekend, he added this bit of information:

We have a video of the circumstances of the collision, and it’s obvious at a glance who collided with whom.

Here’s a report from NHK, Japan’s quasi-public television network, using a computer-generated representation rather than the video itself. If you don’t understand Japanese, fast forward to the 1:20 mark; the Japanese ship is shown sailing ahead of the Chinese fishing vessel and to its port side when the Minjinyu 5179 suddenly veers left and smacks into it. (The Japanese Coast Guard is keeping the video under wraps and is not allowing copies to be made.) The announcer says the Chinese ship approached from the rear and turned the rudder sharply to hit the Japanese ship.

The Japanese government was able to hold its ground because it completely understands the motivations for the Chinese behavior, both in general and in this particular instance.

Being neighbors of the Chinese, they’ve understood for centuries that China has never seen itself as one nation among others in a cooperative relationship of mutual benefit. China refers to itself as the “flower in the center of the world”, and with their recent reblossoming they are reasserting the suzerainty they created in the region centuries ago. Not only do they consider the Western Pacific a Chinese sea, they’ve also expanded their reach into the Indian Ocean and are eyeing the other oceans of the world:

Now, one of China’s most prominent policy intellectuals is advocating for the creation of overseas bases. Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, asserts that “it is wrong for us [China] to believe that we have no right to set up bases abroad.” He argues that it is not terrorism or piracy that’s the real threat to China. It’s the ability of other states to block China’s trade routes that poses the greatest threat. …As China emerges as a major global power, it will expand its military footprint across the globe, much like that other great power, the US, whose bases surround China. The rapid expansion of China’s naval capabilities and broader military profile is a classic manifestation of its great power status. China’s new naval strategy of “far sea defense” is aimed at giving Beijing the ability to project its power in key oceanic areas, including and most significantly the Indian Ocean.

The Japanese also know that the Chinese now have access to a port on the Sea of Japan, thanks to an arrangement with their closest ally—North Korea:

China has gained direct access to the Sea of Japan for the first time in 100 years through a North Korean port, leaving the other two regional players, Japan and South Korea, deeply concerned about the communist state’s ambitions.

China made an agreement to lease a pier at North Korea’s Rajin Port for 10 years…The North Korean port city is considered a hub that will help forays into the Pacific region from China’s north-east.

Mikyoung Kim, a North Korea expert at the Hiroshima Peace Institute in Japan, said… “It is possible that China’s lease of the North Korean territory [the port] can be extended over the 10 years into a long-term deal. That can complicate the South’s effort for reunification. The South cannot just sit and watch”…She said she suspects China has a long-term goal. “China has been pursuing the North-east Project, a territorially ambitious project. In case of contingency in North Korea through an upheaval there, China may claim the leased territory as its own.”

Despite Chinese security analysts’ downplaying the matter, some outside analysts view the deal as ultimately part of China’s rising world power ambition, a view China strongly denies.

“Although China is a big country, many of its key areas are landlocked. Other powerful countries in the world don’t have the difficulty of entering the sea China faces,” said Global Times newspaper (of China). “The US directly faces two oceans in its east and west. Russia has a big part of its territory that is coastal. Japan is an island country by itself. India is a peninsula,” it said.

China’s oceanic coastline is approximately 18,000 km long (11,185 miles), extending from the Bohai Gulf to the South China Sea. (The former freezes in the winter.)

The Japanese know better than anyone else that the Chinese conducted its most aggressive show of naval strength ever in the Western Pacific earlier this year. They sent warships twice through the waters of Okinawa Prefecture in an attempt to intimidate Japan while the flotilla headed south to confront Vietnamese dealing with other Chinese fishing vessels in the Spratly Islands:

The news from Tokyo on 10 April 2010 that the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force had monitored ten Chinese warships passing 140km south of Okinawa through the Miyako Strait marked a new stage in China’s naval development. The deployment was of unprecedented size and scope for the Chinese navy, and was the second such operation mounted by China in rapid succession: in March, a smaller flotilla had been deployed on exercises. The two sets of exercises, along with Chinese counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, demonstrate the flexibility of China’s naval forces and their greater prominence in Beijing’s strategic calculations…


The ships conducted numerous live-fire exercises, as well as confrontation drills with elements of the South Sea Fleet. The PLA report said the fleet visited Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, as well as conducting further exercises near the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia. The deployment and exercises were a clear message of the willingness of the PLA Navy to assert Chinese power in the region.

The Chinese may be testing the resolve of the new Japanese government, particularly because the latter is having difficulties with the Americans over their military presence. The Japanese government also remembers how the Chinese tested the new Bush administration in 2001:

Analysts from Jane’s Defense say that two Chinese F8 fighter planes “hemmed in” the larger, slower EP-3 in an attempt to make it change course, and thereby caused the collision; one source reports that one of the Chinese fighters was actually flying directly underneath the EP-3….The aggressive and dangerous behavior of the Chinese pilots is later confirmed by the account of the collision by the pilot of the EP-3, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, who says, “He was harassing us.…The third time he hit us, is that an accident? I don’t know. Do I think he meant to hit us? No. I don’t think he meant to have his plane cut in two and go under the ocean. But his actions were definitely threatening my crew in a very serious manner and we all saw what happened.”

The Japanese are also aware the Chinese themselves have no problem arresting fishermen they think are infringing on their territory. The Chinese fisheries department seized nine Vietnamese fishermen on 22 March this year near the Paracels:

The Vietnamese Coast Guard warned and chased away at least 130 Chinese fishing boats that were found illegally fishing in Vietnamese waters off the central coast on January 29.

The naval unit based in Da Nang confirmed the news last Friday, adding that the fishing boats had been organized in groups.

Coast Guard vessels first apprehended 100 boats just 45 nautical miles off Thua Thien Hue.

Four days later they found the other 30 deep in Vietnamese waters off Da Nang and Thua Thien Hue.

Earlier last year China seized 17 Vietnamese fishing boats and arrested 210 fishermen for straying into its waters before later releasing all the men and 13 boats.

It has not escaped Japanese attention that Chinese aggression is limited to those countries it considers unlikely to resort to military retaliation. They are more restrained when dealing with other nation-state thuggery. For example, when the Russian Navy fired on and sank the Chinese cargo ship New Star in February this year, killing eight Chinese sailors, the Chinese response was rather subdued in comparison to the behavior after the arrest of the fishing boat captain in the Senkakus:

Zhang Xiyun, director-general for the Foreign Ministry’s Department of European-Central Asian Affairs, said, “The attitude of the Russian foreign ministry is hard to understand and unacceptable.”

Vice Foreign Minister Li Hui told Russia’s ambassador: “The Chinese side expresses shock and deep concern over this incident, We call on the Russian side to begin with a humanitarian spirit… and continue to make all efforts to find the missing personnel.”

The Chinese summoned the Russian ambassador to complain once about eight Chinese deaths. They’ve already summoned the Japanese ambassador six times over the arrest of one man, once in the middle of the night on the weekend. But then mobsters are more likely to push around law-abiding citizens; they tend to pick their fights with rival hoodlums more carefully.

Most important of all, the Japanese government understands that the Senkakus have been internationally recognized as Japanese territory for more than a century—including by the Chinese themselves.

The History

The Senkakus are a group of eight uninhabited islets with an aggregate area of 1,700 acres, slightly more than twice the size of New York City’s Central Park. They are 106 miles north of Ishigaki, Japan (and are part of its municipal district); 116 miles northeast of Keelung, Taiwan; and 255 miles west of Okinawa Island.

The red dots on the top row l-r are Shanghai and Kagoshima City. On the second row they are Taipei, Ishigaki, and Naha. The Senkakus are in the box.

The first recorded mention of the islets was in 1534 in Chen Kan’s Records of the Imperial Mission to Ryukyu. Chen, an envoy of the Ming Dynasty emperor to the Ryukyus, described his trip from China to Naha, as well as the customs of the native Okinawans. In his and several other accounts over the next two centuries, the islets were mentioned merely as geographic landmarks. The Chinese never indicated they considered them their territory, or anything more than specks in the ocean.

The first Japanese mention is in the Chuzan Seikan (Mirror of Chuzan), i.e., records of the Ryukyu Dynasty, which dates from 1650. As in the Chinese records, there is no indication they were considered anyone’s territory.

Fukuoka native Koga Tatsuhiro was making a living in Naha, Okinawa, catching and exporting finfish and shellfish when he discovered in 1884 that the islets were the habitat of the rare short-tailed albatross. He started collecting albatross feathers for sale in addition conducting to his fishing business. Ten years later, he applied to the government of Okinawa Prefecture to lease the islands. They turned him down because they weren’t sure who the islands belonged to. Koga then applied to the interior and agriculture ministries in Tokyo, and they turned him down for the same reason.

That did bring the islets to the attention of the Japanese government, however, and Koga’s persistence paid off. The Japanese claimed the islands under the legal principle of terra nullius—any nation can claim as its own, territory that is unclaimed by any other nation—and it became part of Japan. The Senkakus were uninhabited and unclaimed—indeed, they had never been administered at any time by the Chinese government, and there is no record of any Chinese ever living or working there.

The Chinese later charged the Japanese swiped the islets at the same time they wound up with the booty of Taiwan and the Penghu Islands at the end of the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War.

The Japanese Communist Party, nationalist scalawags that they are, addresses those claims on their website:

The Senkaku Islands question has nothing to do with the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. The Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty to conclude the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 decided to cede Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to Japan. This was Japan’s territorial expansion, which can never be justified. But every historical document tells us that the Senkaku Islands question was dealt with separately from the Taiwan and Penghu Islands question. In the negotiations on the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty, the question of title to the Senkaku Islands was not taken up.

The JCP, by the way, also complained that the U.S. military used the islets for target practice.

In addition to albatross feathers, the islets for a time became a center for the production of katsuobushi, or dried bonito flakes, which are often used in Japanese cuisine. Koga finally relinquished the business in 1940, however, when more inexpensive sources were found. Other than that, the islets were ignored. The next noteworthy mention of them comes in 1920. That year, the Japanese rescued 31 Chinese fishermen who were shipwrecked on one of the smaller islets. The Chinese consul in Nagasaki wrote a letter of gratitude to the Japanese thanking them for their help. In the body of the letter, he referred to them by the Japanese term Senkaku islets (尖閣列島) instead of the Chinese name, Daiyutai (釣魚島). In other words, the Chinese considered them Japanese territory in 1920.

You can see for yourself. That document still exists, and here is a reproduction. The name is in the fourth column from the right:

The government of China claimed other islands in the South China Sea in 1932 and 1935, some of which were under the control of the French and the Japanese. The People’s Republic claimed them again in 1949. Despite their insistence that other islands in Japanese possession were theirs in 1935, the Chinese said nothing about the Senkakus.

There matters stood until the end of the Second World War in the Pacific. Under the Treaty of Peace with Japan (AKA The San Francisco Treaty), which went into force on 28 April 1952, the Japanese disposed of all the territory they conquered over the years to create their empire. Some of that territory was Chinese:

Article 2 (b)
Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores.
Article 2 (f)
Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Spratly Islands and to the Paracel Islands.

The treaty gave the United States the right to continue to administer part of Japan after the Allied occupation ended:

Article 3
Japan will concur in any proposal of the United States to the United Nations to place under its trusteeship system, with the United States as the sole administering authority, Nansei Shoto south of 29 deg. north latitude (including the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands), Nanpo Shoto south of Sofu Gan (including the Bonin Islands, Rosario Island and the Volcano Islands) and Parece Vela and Marcus Island. Pending the making of such a proposal and affirmative action thereon, the United States will have the right to exercise all and any powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of these islands, including their territorial waters.

The Senkakus were considered part of the Nansei Shoto, as a U.S. State Department official later explicitly stated:

“The term “Nansei Shoto” was understood to mean all islands [south of 29 degrees north latitude] under Japanese administration at the end of the war … The term, as used in the treaty, was intended to include the Senkaku Islands.” (Suganuma Unryu, Sovereign Rights and Territorial Space in Sino-Japanese Relations, p. 134)

In fact, though several island groups are mentioned, most of the territory here was—and still is—a single administrative unit: Okinawa Prefecture (state/province). In short, everything cited in Article 3 of the treaty is just as much Japan as is The Ginza in Tokyo. (The Nanpo Shoto lie to the east and are part of the Tokyo Metro District.) Uninhabited islands are part of the territory of most maritime nations; not all of the 5,000 islands that are part of China are inhabited either.

The Americans administered the rest of Okinawa until they returned the prefecture to Japanese control under the 17 June 1971 Agreement between Japan and the United States of America Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands:

Article I
1. With respect to the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands, as defined in paragraph 2 below, the United States of America relinquishes in favor of Japan all rights and interests under Article 3 of the Treaty of Peace with Japan signed at the city of San Francisco on September 8, 1951, effective as of the date of entry into force of this Agreement. Japan, as of such date, assumes full responsibility and authority for the exercise of all and any powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of the said islands.

2. For the purpose of this Agreement, the term “the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands” means all the territories and their territorial waters with respect to which the right to exercise all and any powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction was accorded to the United States of America under Article 3 of the Treaty of Peace with Japan other than those with respect to which such right has already been returned to Japan in accordance with the Agreement concerning the Amami Islands and the Agreement concerning Nanpo Shoto and Other Islands signed between Japan and the United States of America, respectively on December 24, 1953 and April 5, 1968.

Neither Taiwan nor the People’s Republic of China were signatories to the San Francisco Treaty, but neither objected to the inclusion of the Senkakus at the time. That’s because they considered them to be part of Japan. To be specific:

8 January 1953: Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) published an article titled “The Ryukyu Islanders’ Struggle against American Occupation” (i.e., Okinawa). The article mentioned the Senkakus, used that name, and stated they were part of the Ryukyus. Here’s a post from Michael Turton’s fine blog, The View from Taiwan, with more more detail on the article.

November 1958: A Beijing company published a map of the world showing the Senkakus as Japanese territory and using the Japanese name.

October 1965: The Research Institute for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense published a series of world maps. It showed the islets as part of Japanese territory and used the Japanese name Senkakus. Here is a color reproduction of the map itself on a Taiwanese website. The poster worries about how the map would affect the Taiwanese claim. Scroll down to see the magical mystery change on the map for the 1972 edition.

6 October 1968: The Taiwanese newspaper Lianhebao (United Daily News) published an article explaining that Taiwanese fishermen were prohibited from fishing in the Senkakus. They used the Japanese name.

12 October – 29 November 1968: Maritime specialists from Taiwan and South Korea conducted sea floor surveys of the East China Sea with the cooperation of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), the regional arm of the United Nations Secretariat for the Asian and Pacific region. The report stated there was a possibility of large quantities of oil and natural gas under the seabed. It was later confirmed that there are at least 92 million bbl of oil available, with estimates of up to 100 billion bbl of oil, roughly equivalent to the 112.4 billion bbl of Iraq.

May 1969: The government of Taiwan provided oil exploration rights to Gulf, planted the Taiwanese flag on the Senkakus, and notified the world’s wire services of its action.

January 1970: The Taiwan government published a geography textbook for junior high school students that called the islands the Senkakus and treated them as Japanese territory. The following is a copy of the key part of the map. (Refer to the respective Chinese characters for the name of the islets above):

September 1970: The Okinawan police sent a ship to the Senkakus, removed the Taiwanese flag, and gave it to the Americans.

11 June 1971: The Taiwanese government claimed the islands as their own territory for the first time. Less than one week later:

17 June 1971: The treaty returning Okinawa to Japan from American control was signed.

30 December 1971: The People’s Republic of China claimed the islands as their own territory for the first time.

In 1992, China adopted legislation that authorized the use of force to enforce Chinese claims to the islets.

The Chinese and Taiwanese change of mind was followed by a few decades of posturing by the Chinese, low-profiling it by the Japanese, and occasional forays by small boatloads of buckos from China, Taiwan and Japan planting flags on the islets. In 1996, a group Japanese put up an aluminum lighthouse. The Chinese excitables stepped up their activity in 2004, which prompted Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to make a clear statement of American policy about the islands. Here’s how the Asahi Shimbun described it on 2 February 2004:

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made the following comments at a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo Feb. 2 with reference to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty: “That treaty would require any attack on Japan, or the administrative territories under Japanese control, to be seen as an attack on the United States.”

The statement simply reiterated the contents of Article 5 of the treaty and is nothing new. However, an expert on East Asian affairs at the U.S. State Department noted that Armitage used the phrase administrative territories under Japanese control instead of simply saying Japan or Japanese territory and pointed out that it connotes the Senkaku islands (Chinese name Diaoyu islands) whose ownership is disputed between Japan and China.

The State Department official added that Armitage’s statement amends the ambiguous stance of a past U.S. administration over the issue, meaning the neutral position of the Clinton administration, which implied that the United States is not necessarily obliged under the bilateral security treaty to oversee the defense of the Senkaku islands.

One month after Mr. Armitage spoke in Tokyo, the BBC ran an article on Chinese swashbuckling on the Senkakus. They noted:

China and Taiwan both laid claim to the Senkaku Islands in the 1970s after oil deposits were found nearby.

They were declared Japanese territory in 1895 and fall under the jurisdiction of Japan’s southern Okinawa prefecture.

The responses this month: A comparison


From Shikata Noriyuki, a spokesman for the Japanese prime minister’s office:

Regarding individual issues, what is needed is to respond calmly without becoming emotional.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito called for calm and warned about extreme nationalism on both sides. Japan is the country least affected by nationalism in Northeast Asia; his inclusion of Japan in the warning of about extreme nationalism is to prevent any incidents the Chinese can use for a pretext.

The political opposition is firm, sometimes critical of the government, but always responsible. LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru thinks the government’s response is insufficient, but then offers the Japanese political consensus: “Since there is no territorial problem, let the courts handle it quietly.” Former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko thinks the Chinese behavior highlights the worst aspect of the security treaty with the U.S.: It makes other countries think the Japanese can be easily steamrolled. The Japanese left was hysterical with their fantasies of an Abe Shinzo foreign policy when he was prime minister, but he too was subdued. He merely pointed out that Japan has to maintain its resolve because the next Chinese step “can only be economic sanctions”.

All of the above statements are representative of the tone in the media, from what I’ve seen.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji might well have encapsulated the sentiments of the general public in a blog post:

There’s no need to respond to every one of the childish retaliatory measures of the Chinese. That’s the sort of nation China is. They don’t realize just how much they lower their standing in the international community, and besides, they’re still just a developing country.

That last one cuts deeper in Japanese than it does in English.

Saber-rattling? The Defense Ministry announced that it’s mulling an increase in the size of the self-defense forces by 13,000 troops from 155,000 to 168,000, the first rise since 1972. They cite conditions in East Asia and the terrorist threat as their reason.

The United States

We’ve seen that six years ago, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage specifically used language to include the Senkakus as Japanese territory the Americans would defend. In Tokyo recently, he said he thinks China is taking advantage of a “chill” in Japan-U.S. relations, and that Beijing is “testing what they can get away with.”

He also said he thought the incident and the Chinese reaction should be a “warning” to other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei about Chinese behavior in territorial disputes.

While the Bush administration stood up for the Japanese through Mr. Armitage, the Obama administration, in keeping with their attitude toward allies, sat right back down.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg now says the American position is “as it was before”, and that they won’t support either side. When “before” was, he didn’t say.

Mr. Steinberg, by the way, coined the phrase “strategic reassurance” to describe U.S.-China relations. That means the United States should reassure China that they will welcome China’s new status, and China should reassure the US and its Asian neighbors that it would not conflict with their interests.

So much for Steinbergian strategic reassurance.

The American Defense Department is more sanguine, however. Though few noticed, the Sasebo-based minesweeper Defender called on the Port of Hirara in Miyakojima, Okinawa, this week. It is only the third time since 1972 an American naval vessel called on a civilian port on a friendly visit and the first ever for Hirara. The port is in the southern part of the Ryukyus 400 miles from Taipei and 110 miles from Naha. Play around with the map at this site to get an idea of the location. The white specks to the northeast of Taiwan are the Senkakus.

The Governor of Okinawa was unhappy about the visit because the American navy is supposed to enter civilian ports only in case of an emergency. About 40 people showed up to demonstrate, mostly from labor unions.

Meanwhile, at a Pentagon news conference, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said:

“Obviously we’re very, very strongly in support of … our ally in that region, Japan.”

Added Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “We would fulfill our alliance responsibilities.”

China, in word and deed


Since the Japanese seized Capt. Zhan, here’s what the Chinese have done:

  • Summoned Japanese Ambassador Niwa Uichiro six times to complain, once in the middle of the night
  • Ended all contact with the Japanese government at the ministerial level and above. There will not be a summit at the UN between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Premier Wen Jibao.
  • Sent a Ministry of Agriculture “fishing observation vessel” to the area near the Senkakus. These ships are often armed and have been active in the South China Sea to back up Chinese claims in that area.
  • Suspended negotiations on joint development of the gas fields in the East China Sea
  • Suspended discussions for increasing air travel between the two countries
  • Suspended discussions about coal shipments from China to Japan
  • Suspended corporate exchanges
  • Chinese customs officials stopped shipments of rare earth elements to Japan by preventing them from being loaded aboard ships at Chinese ports, according to three industry sources. Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Chen Rongkai denied it, but the sources (one of whom was Australian) said Chinese customs notified companies they couldn’t ship rare earth oxides, salts, or pure rare earth metals. Ordinarily, the Japanese could file a complaint with the World Trade Organization, but that will be difficult because the Chinese handled the matter administratively rather than through direct government order.

The Chinese might find this step to be counterproductive. The American House of Representatives is discussing this week legislation to subsidize the reopening of rare earth mines in the U.S.

  • Fined Toyota Motor Corp.’s finance unit for bribing car dealers, a charge Toyota denies
  • Sent equipment to the Chunxiao gas field (Shirakaba in Japanese), according to Japanese sources, apparently to begin drilling. Said Foreign Minister Maehara: “If it has been confirmed with proof, we will take the measures that should be taken.” That would include taking the case to the international maritime court.
  • Postponed the planned five-day trip of Li Jianguo, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese lower house of the Diet.
  • Cancelled permission for 1,000 members of a Japanese youth exchange group to visit the Shanghai World’s Fair

Cutting off their nose to spite their face #1

  • The Chinese arrested four Japanese and one Chinese working for Fujita Corp, a construction company. They are charged with violating Chinese law regarding the protection of military facilities. Chinese authorities said they entered a military zone without authorization and were illegally filming military targets.

    A Fujita spokesman said the employees were in China for a project to dispose of chemical weapons abandoned by the Japanese military at the end of World War Two. Japan has been helping China dispose of the weapons as a gesture to improve bilateral relations. Kyodo reported the men were preparing a bid on the project.

Cutting off their nose to spite their face #2

Words: The government

Dai Bingguo

State Councilor Dai Bingguo summoned Niwa Uichiro at midnight on a Sunday to tell Japan to make a “wise political resolution” by releasing the fishing boat and its crew detained in disputed waters six days ago, and “expressed the Chinese government’s grave concerns”.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu

This incident was incited by Japan. Now they add error to error and escalate the problem.


China is firmly opposed to any kind of investigation by the Japanese side on the illegally detained Chinese trawler…unconditional and immediate release of the detained Chinese citizens was the only way to settle the dispute. Japan will reap as it has sown, if it continues to act recklessly.


The Diaoyu islands are China’s inseparable territory and the Japanese side applying domestic law to Chinese fishing boats operating in this area is absurd, illegal and invalid, and China will never accept that.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu

When the Japanese extended the detention of the ship captain, Ma said it was “illegal and invalid.”


We demand the immediate and unconditional release of the Chinese captain. If Japan acts willfully, making mistake after mistake, China will take strong countermeasures, and all the consequences will be borne by the Japanese side.

Premier Wen Jibao

Threatened Japan by saying China will take ”further actions” if Japan does not immediately release the ship captain.

During a 2007 visit to Japan, Mr. Wen pledged to make the East China Sea a “sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.” A few months later, the Japanese Coast Guard and the Chinese State Oceanic Administration set up a hotline.


Gao Hong, deputy director at the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences:

The inexperienced government of the Democratic Party of Japan will gradually learn that it is important to maintain a stable and healthy relationship with China.

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University:

(China has) more cards in hand than the Japanese, as their economy is largely dependent on China. China should take strong countermeasures.

Jin Yongming, legal scholar with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Chinese Maritime Development Research Center, in the 10 September issue of the China Daily:

“Japan infringed upon China’s sovereignty and territory integrity when Japanese patrol ships chased the Chinese fishing trawler and boarded it forcibly. But the Japanese Coast Guard did not stop at that. It even applied Japanese law in the waters off the Diaoyu Islands, which since ancient times have been Chinese territory. Japan had no right to press charges against the Chinese fishermen according to its domestic laws,” said Jin.

“To strengthen its presence around the Diaoyu Islands, the Japanese Coast Guard has been sending patrol ships for some time now and has repeatedly chased Chinese fishing and survey vessels. But such action cannot alter the fact that Diaoyu Islands belong to China. And history vouches for that.”

He also demanded that Japan should apologize and offer the fishermen adequate compensation.


Li Nan, the China Federation of Defending the Diaoyu Islands

If the Chinese government continues to simply declare the Diaoyu Islands are Chinese territory while avoiding substantive action then I feel the islands are drifting further and further away from us. China should send patrol ships from the PLA Navy, like Japan, and establish (the) Diaoyu Islands as a shooting range.

Print media

The Global Times, an official Chinese newspaper, published a front page article on “severe countermeasures” that could be taken against Japan, including extracting “economic damage”.

It included this passage:

”We should send regular battle-capable fisheries vessels to the Diaoyu area to protect navigation,” said General Peng Guangqian, an analyst at the Chinese Academy of Military Science.

Does not the concept of “battle capable fishery vessels” speak for itself?

Global Times editorial: Finding the Achilles Heel of Japan

Bilateral relations between the two countries have plunged recently due to Japan’s diplomatic recklessness…China’s Japan policy has been based on friendly ties stressing warm public communication since the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two in 1972. But the public emotions of Japanese society toward China have altered significantly recently. It seems that conflicts originating from Japan are continually escalating….It should be apparent by now that China will be forced to endure long-term conflicts with Japan, and emphasizing only friendly relations is not prudent.

China needs to be certain of Japan’s soft spots for clearly targeted reactions. The pain has to be piercing. Japanese politicians need to understand the consequences – votes will be lost, and Japanese companies have to be aware of the loss of business involved. Japanese citizens will feel the burden due to the downturn in the economy. China’s domestic law, business regulations and consumers can all be maneuvered.

There is a lingering question in China: Why do hawkish Japanese politicians who are obviously against China emerge one after another without China provoking Japan?

Suspension of the East China Sea gas field talks, scheduled for mid-September, is the first move of China’s counter strike. Given the decades of relationship building after WWII, China will probably not resort to force over this incident. But, if the protests from the Chinese government and public don’t bring the Japanese back from the brink of a relations breakdown, Beijing has to consider stronger retaliatory measures.

English-language print media

Apart from items that could be found on any police blotter, the English-language news media can no longer be counted on to provide correct information on anything. It’s a bit like shooting dead fish in a barrel, but here are a few examples of their coverage.


The Japanese have been behaving decorously, so they offer no photo opportunities. The Chinese have been the ones to foam at the mind, so photos the media chooses to run seem designed to create associations with the Second World War, such as this one from AP:

News agencies such as Reuters and outlets such as the New York Times like to include references to “lingering resentments” over the war. Everyone in this part of the world, however, understands that Chinese popular opinion toward the Japanese is cynically manipulated like a spigot by the government to deflect dissatisfaction with the regime. Notice how often the phrase “(the Chinese government) allowed some demonstrations” is used.

The Epoch Times has a worthwhile piece here, pointing out that the demonstrations are stage-managed. The Japanese understand this, and usually wait until the Chinese government calls them off when they begin to worry popular discontent will be transferred to them.

Globe and Mail, Canada


Beijing asserts new dominance over waning Tokyo in diplomatic row

That guy in jail—where was he from again?

The dispute over the island chain, which is also claimed by Taiwan, dates to the end of the Second World War.

Possibility #1: The author was too lazy to look it up.

Possibility #2: He believed his Chinese source and was too lazy to confirm it.

The Age, Australia:

Japanese commentators and politicians are responding in kind to China’s increased maritime assertiveness, after China’s rolling conflicts with the United States and south-east Asian nations over control of the South China and Yellow seas. Japan’s Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, said the islands were an ”integral part of Japanese territory”.

Responding in kind?

American screenwriter, novelist, and blogger Roger L. Simon has observed that journalist bloggers at mainstream publications sound so many false notes they’re like white boys trying to sing the blues. Exhibit A is this post at the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof.

Look out—his (or the paper’s) framing of the narrative starts with the headline:

Look Out for the Diaoyu Islands

The Japanese detained the Chinese captain for questioning and the two countries have been exchanging indignant protests.

Readers are hereby invited to send in any examples of indignant protests by anyone in an official capacity in Japan. Good luck finding one.

The other problem is that, technically, the U.S. would be obliged to bail Japan out if there were a fight over the Senkakus. The U.S. doesn’t take a position on who owns the islands, but the Japan-U.S. security treaty specifies that the U.S. will help defend areas that Japan administers. And in 1972, when the U.S. handed Okinawa back to Japan, it agreed that Japan should administer the Senkakus. So we’re in the absurd position of being committed to help Japan fight a war over islands, even though we don’t agree that they are necessarily Japanese.

As you pick out the obvious mistakes in that passage, realize that you already know more about the issue than Kristof, who has two Pulitzer Prizes and has been called “the moral conscience of our generation of journalists…the Indiana Jones of our generation of journalists.”

In reality, of course, there is zero chance that the U.S. will honor its treaty obligation over a few barren rocks. We’re not going to risk a nuclear confrontation with China over some islands that may well be China’s. But if we don’t help, our security relationship with Japan will be stretched to the breaking point.

If the U.S. doesn’t help in the case of a Chinese attack, its security relationship with Japan will cease to exist.

Apart from being the only person to suggest a defense would necessarily be nuclear, Kristof seems to have missed the statements by both Mr. Armitage and Mr. Gates.

Then again, he is talking about the Obama administration.

He also feels his way through the legal issues:

So which country has a better claim to the islands? My feeling is that it’s China, although the answer isn’t clearcut.

He continues:

Chinese navigational records show the islands as Chinese for many centuries, and a 1783 Japanese map shows them as Chinese as well.

Incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial, as we’ve seen.

Kristof’s obviously been talking to Chinese sources without confirming what he heard from Japanese sources. Here’s the 1783 map. The Chinese contend the Senkakus are the same color on the map as the Chinese mainland (red). They are. (They begin at the third island at the vertical line.) But Taiwan is a different color (yellow). The first two islands on the vertical line are also red, but they were at that time (and are today) Taiwanese territory. In any event, the map was rendered by Hayashi Shihei, a retainer of the Date clan in the Sendai domain in the far northeast corner of Japan. He had no relationship with the Ryukyus–which at that time was an independent country–nor did he have the authority to set anyone’s national boundaries.

Note also that because of the different colors used for Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, a Chinese who accepts this map as proof that the Senkakus belong to China must also implicitly accept that Taiwan is independent from China.

Japan purported to “discover” the islands only in 1884 and annexed them only in 1895 when it also grabbed Taiwan.

Guess who whose hired researchers didn’t spend 15 minutes on the web looking anything up.

(You can also make a case that they are terra nullis [sic], belonging to no nation.)

No, you can’t, because that’s the basis by which Japan claimed them. That claim has been recognized by the rest of the world outside of the New York Times headquarters building for the past 115 years—including China for 76 of those years.

As Chinese nationalism grows, as China’s navy and ability to project power in the ocean gains, we could see some military jostling over the islands. You read it here first.

He also seems to have missed the Global Times editorial that says China will take no military action.

Is his degree of self-importance in inverse proportion to the amount of time he spent on research?


What we are witnessing is how a nation with arrested political development and without a sense of morality, with neither real friends nor real ideals–only size, money, and the desire to recreate the world as it existed two millenia ago–tries to seize the territory of another nation in the modern age and create a contemporary suzerainty. The incident seems to have at last focused the attention of people outside of East Asia on Chinese behavior, apart from those who populate the offices of a dying media culture and the fashionable salons of the elite.

Paul Lin of the Taipei Times wrote:

Japan’s response — releasing 14 crew members while keeping the captain detained — is basically designed to be reasonable without being a capitulation of Japan’s authority. In the long term, however, China’s biggest foe remains the US — still the most prominent democracy. Beijing will try to appeal to the common writing system and heritage of China and Japan to dissolve the US-Japan security treaty, so that it can gain control of the island chain. The US, Japan and Taiwan have to keep a watchful eye out for this, and must not show any sign of weakness lest China exploit a chink in the armor.

When he says island chain, it’s possible he is also referring to Okinawa itself, several decades down the road. The Ryukyu kingdom once paid tribute to the Qing Dynasty, and the Chinese never forget.

After the debacle with the United States over the Futenma marine base and this incident with China, Japan’s Democratic Party might yet learn something about the realities of governing. It is unlikely there will be more talk any time soon from the party about an “equilateral triangle” among Japan, China and the United States, much less any of the silliness about yuai and an East Asian entity.

They’re about to get another lesson when Wallace Gregson, the American Assistant Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, shows up in Tokyo next week to ask the Japanese to increase their financial contribution for American bases and personnel in Japan. Several US sources have confirmed he will use as justification Chinese activity in the East China Sea and the Senkakus dustup.

The current agreement for payment expires next March, and the DPJ has long called for Japan’s financial contribution to be reduced.

If we’re lucky, perhaps the DPJ will also realize they might have brought it on themselves with their handling of the Futenma base issue, former party leader Ozawa Ichiro’s annual jaunts to fawn to the Chinese, and breaching the standard domestic protocol and forcing the Tenno (Emperor) to meet with a Chinese political leader last winter.

The authorities could legally have kept the Chinese sea captain in detention for a few more days, so his early release might open the government to criticism for weakness–particularly as the Chinese have been stepping up the economic pressure. One of the Chinese commentators said the Japanese government might have to pay for their acts with votes. He might be right, but perhaps not in ways he anticipated. Then again, what would mainland Chinese know about democracy?

Japan released Zhan Qixiong today, but the incident will likely have repercussions that last for quite a while.


* A Japanese government source who saw the videos of the incident said it would be difficult to prove the malicious intent of the captain at a public trial because the effect of the sea currents couldn’t be completely ruled out.

* Here’s a fascinating and informative paper about how the Chinese are becoming a global fishing power. The author also says:

(C)onsistent with the Chinese tendency toward close integration of civil and military institutions, China’s large fishing fleet is already integrated into a maritime militia that could render crucial support in a hypothetical military campaign, whether ferrying troops across the Taiwan Strait or laying mines in distant locations. The sheer number of fishing vessels that could be involved would present a severe challenge to any adversary attempting to counter this strategy.

* During his 16th century visit to the Ryukyus, Chen Kan wrote about the natives’ fondness for a beverage that can only be awamori, the Okinawan version of shochu.

* Japan has its useful idiots, too.

Even though Suganuma Unryu quoted an American official as stating that the Senkakus were included in the territory Japan was to keep in the peace treaty, he still argues that the islets are Chinese. He’s now at Oberlin University, and here’s the About page on his blog. He used to be a senior research fellow at the Institute of Moralogy.

Go ahead, read that website. I dare you.

A website called The China Desk likes a paper that historian Inoue Kiyoshi wrote on the issue in 1972 so much, they posted it:

(I)n collusion with U.S. imperialists, reactionary rulers and militarist forces within Japan are clamoring that the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory, attempting to drag the Japanese people into a militarist, anti-China whirlwind. This whirlwind is certain to become fiercer after US armed forces return the so-called “administrative right over Okinawa” to Japan on May 15 of this year. We who are striving for the independence of the Japanese nation, for friendship between Japan and China, and for peace in Asia, must smash this conspiracy by U.S. and Japanese reactionaries. As a weapon in this struggle, I am providing a brief account of the history of the so-called Senkaku Islands.

* It’s curious that Japan’s Social Democrats are keeping a low profile. I haven’t seen any of their comments quoted in the media, and they hadn’t written anything for their website the last time I looked. Then again, this isn’t the ideal time to promote their view that Japan can trust its security to “the peace-loving peoples of the world”, as stated in the preamble to the Japanese Constitution.

Thanks to Bender for the Kristof link.

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Posted in China, India, International relations, Legal system, Military affairs, World War II | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 38 Comments »

Getting old

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 20, 2010

MONDAY the 20th is Respect for the Aged Day in Japan, which is a national holiday. One manifestation of the custom of Japanese (and other East Asians) to be deferential to the elderly is that all levels of government provide them with generous welfare services, as well as other gratuities that stretch the role of government beyond its legitimate functions and its means.

The Mainichi Shimbun lamented in an op-ed last week the lack of urgency for the restructuring of the health and welfare system for the aged. Everyone is aware of the critical factors: a population in demographic decline with a birth rate well below replacement level is being asked to subsidize services to older citizens, who constitute a larger part of the overall population than in other countries. That’s part of the reason some politicians and bureaucrats favor the low road of sharp increases in the consumption tax. That’s also part of the reason voters are objecting to those increases.

The government estimates that the large number of baby boomers turning 75 in 2025 will require JPY 30 trillion for their health care. As of last year, health insurance premiums brought in roughly JPY 12 trillion in revenue. To deal with this shortfall, the Liberal Democratic Party government created a new category for health care services and payment for those 75 years of age or older (or the bedridden 65 years of age or older), which total roughly 13 million people. That system took effect on 1 April 2008.

Without going into eye-glazing detail, the objective was to have those elderly able to afford it contribute more to their health care costs (though not by an onerous amount) and to equalize premium payments nationwide. Municipal governments pay for part of the system, and the wealthier governments provided greater financial assistance to their residents. The new system also automatically deducted payments from pensions, rather than have individuals be responsible for their own payments. (Japan’s system of convienient bank account transfers meant this was not a burden to begin with.) The revisions also made it easier for younger people to make the financial contributions to their own health care.

Many of the elderly immediately started complaining as soon as the new system was introduced, whining that it was a “hurry up and die” system. Of course the news media made haste to give them a platform. The opposition parties promised to roll back the reforms, but when the Democratic Party took power in a coalition government, they discovered that local governments and medical institutions didn’t want a return to the status quo ante. The new government was also unable to agree on how to modify the new system. That’s not surprising considering the DPJ’s general incompetence and the coalition partner Social Democrats pulling relentlessly to the left. Thus the system introduced two years ago remains in place.

The taxpayer-funded treats for the elderly extend far beyond health care, however, and some governments, particularly at the municipal level, are finding it difficult to face the facts. Here are two examples.

Shirahama-cho, Wakayama

Located next to the Pacific Ocean, the area is famous as one of the three oldest hot springs resorts in Japan. The Kogyoku Tenno (Emperor) bathed there in 658, and it’s still a popular resort today.

The municipality of Shirahama-cho operates four public baths, but the enterprise as a whole has been losing money. Chief municipal officer Mizumoto Yuzo told the Kii Mimpo newspaper:

I’m going to consult with the town council and the committee with jurisdiction (over the business) to see if there are some measures we can take next fiscal year.

Outdoor bath at Sakinoyu

The four baths are Sakinoyu, Muronoyu, Shirarayu, and Shirasuna. (The “yu” at the end of the first three means hot water, and is often used in public bath names in Japan.) Shirasuna is a sand bath that is open only from May to September.

The municipality’s tourism department says Sakinoyu earned roughly JPY 10 million in profit last year, but the other three are in the red. The aggregate losses for the Shirahama-cho taxpayers total JPY 9 million.

Everyone pays JPY 300 for admission to Sakinoyu. The admission fees at Muronoyu and Shirarayu are JPY 300 for people 12 and older, JPY 130 for children from six to 12, and JPY 70 for children aged five and younger. It costs JPY 100 to take a sand bath at Shirasuna. These fees were set in 1998 and haven’t been raised since.

The tourism department also says they’ve lengthened the operating hours of the baths to respond to public requests—they open earlier in the morning and close later at night—and have cut operating costs and reduced operating staff to a minimum, but they’ve reached the limits of their ability to finance the operation. This has been an ongoing problem for four years, and the lack of funds has caused the town to scrimp on upkeep. One result has been the visible aging and wear of some of the facilities.

Why is Sakinoyu making money and the others losing money? As the photo shows, the former will never have problems attracting customers. The real reason is that admission is free to Muronoyu and Shirarayu for people aged 65 and older. The age threshold was lowered from 70 and older in 1999. An estimated 240,000 people used those two facilities in FY 2009, and of those, 110,000 were old folks who got in for free. The paid admissions to Sakinoyu, meanwhile, totaled 83,000.

So now the politicos of Shirahama-cho have decided they’re going to talk about it. They might raise the fees, and they might start charging the seniors, but they haven’t decided when the changes will take effect.

What’s to talk about? Emperors are the only people who get to bathe for free. Changes to this system are overdue, but they’re still dithering in Shirahama-cho.

While they’re at it, they should come up with a plan for the immediate privatization of the facilities instead of wasting their time adjusting the fee schedule. As long as people aren’t living in mud huts without a modern water supply system, operating bathhouses is not the business of municipal governments, nor is using Other People’s Money (OPM) to foot the bill for the free baths of one age cohort. It’s no surprise that the taxpayers are subsidizing the admission of 45% of the customers at some facilities.

Chiba City

Also dithering are Mayor Kumagai Toshihito and the government of Chiba City. Neighborhood associations in the city hold different events for Respect for the Aged Day, and the Chiba City government provides financial assistance to those associations to pay for the parties. Starting this fiscal year, Mr. Kumagai says that Chiba City will raise the age limit for the per capita contributions to the neighborhood associations from 70 to 75 and lower the amount of the subsidy. He said the municipal government took the step because of an “unprecedented financial crunch”. This will amount to a saving of about JPY 50 million from the previous year’s budget. That’s a lot of ice cream and cake.

Here it is again: The municipal government of Chiba City is abandoning their fiduciary responsibility to all of its citizens by chipping in for the party favors of one group of them. Or, to be more broad-minded, they have an inadequate awareness of that responsibility to begin with. It is not the business of municipal governments to use OPM to show old people a good time.

Yet all Chiba City can manage to do is raise the age limit for the party and reduce the subsidies. What will it take for them to realize they shouldn’t be spending this money at all—municipal bankruptcy?

Suginami Ward

Some local government officials get it, however. Yamada Hiroshi, a former national Diet member and chief municipal office of Suginami Ward in Tokyo, and currently the head of the small Spirit of Japan party, is one of the few who realize the party’s over and is trying to do something about it. He is also one of the few politicians in Japan to preach the importance of personal responsibility.

Mr. Yamada often cites as an example the former practice of Suginami Ward to distribute Japanese confections (red and white manju) to meetings of associations for the elderly. The ward was so deeply in debt one of his first steps to put the government’s finances back on a firm footing was to end the free sweets. (He also cut his salary by 10%.) He was roundly criticized for being “cold” to the elderly, but he used that decision in local meetings as a teaching example to promote his efforts to restore fiscal sanity.

In 1999 Suginami Ward’s debt stood at JPY 95 billion with only JPY 1.9 billion in accessible funds. A decade later, after eliminating or privatizing some programs and reducing the municipal workforce, they were JPY 20 billion in debt with JPY 23 billion in accessible funds—in other words, in the black—and were on schedule to repay all the debt by 2011.

Fiscally responsible governments are possible–when they’re led by politicians who understand fiscal responsibility.

Roundtable Discussion

The monthly magazine Voice presents a roundtable discussion of Japanese fiscal issues in its current (October) issue with four university professors: Takenaka Heizo of Keio University (formerly of the Koizumi Cabinet), Ikeda Nobuo of Jobu University, Doi Takero of Keio University, and Suzuki Wataru of Gakushuin University.

They’re all in general agreement that the system of governmental largesse for the aged has to be reexamined. Prof. Suzuki said that people are not aware of just how generous the system is, and their awareness needs to be raised. Prof. Takenaka suggested that economic incentives are required, and proposed as one measure raising the fees people pay for the treatment of non-life threatening illnesses. He added:

I already know that people will say that human lives can’t be replaced with money, but the situation will soon be of out of control.

Prof. Ikeda said that he discussed the creation of a voucher system (also applicable for education expenses) with a group of DPJ Diet members, but one of them told him:

I understand what you’re saying, but the word “voucher” is taboo with labor unions.

Unions, of course, are the backbone of DPJ support.

Prof. Doi added that people will deliberately create the misunderstanding that such proposals amount to “market fundamentalism”. The idea, he says, is to stop the discussion of the idea by stopping thought.

The realization is growing among the people of the developed countries, if not their governments, that the Bismarkian welfare state funded with OPM (originally intended to head off the desires of a growing middle class for greater democracy) is no longer viable. If Japanese politicians at all levels and the bureaucracy don’t start to seriously examine more practical ways to provide services, and to reexamine their approach to distributing goodies that shouldn’t be free to begin with, before long the working population might get ready to pull the plug on a lot more than confections and the Japanesque bath time.


Here’s a quick video tour of the Shirahama area, with a scene from the Sakinoyu bath that shows why it is so profitable.

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Demography, Government, Holidays | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Purges and predictions

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 18, 2010

PRIME MINISTER Kan Naoto rearranged his Cabinet on Friday, adding nine new members to the 17-person lineup and redistributing a portfolio or two. Everyone immediately noticed that none of the new additions were allies of Ozawa Ichiro, the man he defeated in Tuesday’s DPJ presidential election. The most prominent of his supporters in the new Cabinet is Kaieda Banri, the new Minister in Charge of Economic and Financial Policy. Mr. Kaeda, however, is affiliated with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s group/faction and not with Mr. Ozawa himself.

Newspaper headlines are referring to this as following a course of “disassociating with Ozawa”. (It works better in Japanese.) But the ever-quotable Watanabe Yoshimi, head of Your Party, likened it to a purge during a television interview:

The left-wing government of the Democratic Party will stop at nothing, including killing their rivals. The Liberal Democrats won’t go that far. They just wait until their rivals get old.

That touched off a flurry of comments in the Japanese blogosphere about Robespierre, old Socialists of different nationalities, and other birds of a reddish feather.

Mr. Watanabe added:

That (the new Cabinet lineup) means the switch has been turned on for the breakup of the DPJ.

Reader Raoul asked me earlier this week for a prediction about the timing of the next lower house election. I answered that I don’t care for journalists or commentators making predictions. They’re about as useful as a sportswriter’s predictions of the final standings whenever a new season starts.

But Watanabe Yoshimi’s comment about the switch being turned on for the breakup of the DPJ does remind me of an old observation. Murakami Masanori, former Labor Minister in a Liberal Democratic Party government and the long-time head of the LDP caucus in the upper house (and who should be getting out of jail any day now), once said that if the LDP fell from power, it would break up in two years. I thought that was possible, and I also thought it was just as likely that if the DPJ ever attained power, it would break up in two years. (The Japanese frequently use the term “oil and water” to describe the cohesion of the different DPJ groups.)

It seems Mr. Watanabe thinks so too.

As for the next election, he had this to say a fortnight ago:

The conduct of affairs in this administration will not go well if Prime Minister Kan Naoto continues in office, so it could possibly accelerate the (timing of a) general election.

People in political circles are looking at next March, when the FY 2011 budget has to pass the Diet. The DPJ won’t be able to get the enabling legislation (for deficit-financing bonds, etc.) through the upper house unless they get help from an opposition party or parties. Mr. Kan is better at purging than coalition-building, and, as the current issue of a weekly magazine has it, better at pejorative than policy. The Japanese hold local elections simultaneously throughout the country once every four years, and the next one is scheduled for April 2011.

That’s not a prediction, but it is something to keep in mind.


Consider this: There are 18 posts in the Cabinet, and three of them are Finance Minister, Financial Services Minister, and Economic and Financial Policy Minister.

Now consider the state of the Japanese economy.

If Big Government is the answer, you can bet the question isn’t “How do we improve the nation’s economic performance?”

On the other hand, the Asahi Shimbun drily notes that Mr. Kaieda is one of the few people in the Democratic Party who knows anything about economics.


The opposition is certainly factoring DPJ unity, or lack of it, into its political considerations. On a television program this morning, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru addressed Prime Minister Kan’s statement that he would discuss the particulars of a supplementary budget for the current fiscal year with the opposition parties before submitting it to the Diet. He said:

Even if we submitted a proposal and Prime Minister Kan accepted it, what would happen if Ozawa Ichiro said, “We’re opposed”? (Cooperation is unlikely) as long as we don’t know just how serious Prime Minister Kan is.

When he was named to the secretary-general post earlier this month, Mr. Ishihara indicated a willingness to work with the DPJ, but now says that the nearly even split in Diet member votes between candidates Kan and Ozawa in the DPJ election means events have shifted in an unfavorable direction.

And one more I almost forgot…

On 23 August, Mr. Kan held a meeting with the DPJ’s first term Diet members and told them he wanted to create a “forward looking approach” that included Mr. Ozawa. His objective, of course, was to forestall an Ozawa candidacy or win their support if Mr. Ozawa ran, which he wound up doing.

Everyone knows politicians make promises they have no intention of keeping, but that’s usually for popular consumption–not the members of their own party.

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The greatest mass murderer in world history

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 18, 2010

If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.
– Lennon/McCartney, Revolution

THE RESULT of historian Frank Dikötter’s woodshedding in Chinese historical archives is the book Mao’s Great Famine; The Story of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe.

According to this review in The Independent:

At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years (1958-1962); the worldwide death toll of the Second World War was 55 million…it was a period when a third of all homes in China were destroyed to produce fertiliser and when the nation descended into famine and starvation…the members of the rural farming communities were seen by the Party merely as “digits”, or a faceless workforce. For those who committed any acts of disobedience, however minor, the punishments were huge.

State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off….People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.

Mr Dikötter…said…he felt he could not collude with the “conspiracy of silence” in what the Chinese rural community had suffered in recent history.

At the time, this program was known in China as The Great Leap Forward.

Note the expression, “conspiracy of silence”. The word hansei in Japanese, which is shared by the Chinese and Koreans (banseon, with the same Chinese characters), means serious self-reflection, searching one’s conscience, or reflecting on what one has done. It’s not easy for anyone.

For the same Chinese Communist Party that once glorified Chairman Mao, it’s far better to maintain the conspiracy of silence and to demonize the Japanese instead.

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Posted in China, International relations | 7 Comments »

Reprise: The oppressors and the oppressed

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 17, 2010

THE MARMOT HIMSELF at The Marmot’s Hole links to this article in The Korea Times by Prof. Andrei Lankov about Korean members of the tokko butai, or the kamikaze squadron, during WWII. It’s well worth reading, not only for the facts it presents, but also because it leads to other issues that defy facile explanation. For example, here’s a previous post from March 2008 about an article in the Choson Ilbo of South Korea titled, Were Koreans Oppressors in the War, or its Victims? That piece is a review of a book released two years ago in South Korea called A Metahistory of Korean-Japanese Disputes over Historical Awareness. In addition to Korean kamikaze pilots, it also discusses such subjects as the lives of Japanese women who married Korean men during the period of colonization/annexation.

Here’s a passage from the Choson article:

The editors of this book are Kan-Nichi Rentai 21 (Korea-Japan Solidarity 21), a group consisting of Korean and Japanese intellectuals launched in 2004 to seek a new Korean-Japanese relationship appropriate for the 21st century. They are searching for a means to achieve solidarity by examining themselves and achieving a more mature viewpoint that transcends the antagonistic relationship that has arisen between the two countries. In brief, they now want to leave behind the intolerant nationalism with which one party views the other for a closer study of history. That’s why the authors of this book have chosen to step back from knee-jerk nationalism itself and develop a new viewpoint of their own through self-reflection.

Not all of those commenting on the Marmot’s post–which is here, by the way–are interested in leaving intolerant nationalism behind, however.

But then, they also probably wouldn’t be interested in this post about a South Korean history textbook from the New Right, or this post about the dream of Koreans relocating in Japan, or this post about the days when Japan and Korea were one.

Their discomfort is understandable. Crossing a minefield of inconvenient truths isn’t easy for anyone, especially when it contradicts one’s self-created identity.

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Posted in History, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea, World War II | Tagged: , | 10 Comments »

Be careful what you ask for

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 17, 2010

BE CAREFUL what you ask for, say the gods, because you just might get it. Here’s a case in point.

Toyota must be feeling slighted with the news that residents of the American state of Tennessee will be able to buy the new Nissan Leaf electric car at a sharp discount to the sticker price, thanks to a $US 7,500 federal government tax credit and a $US 2,500 state of Tennessee rebate. In other words:

Taxpayers will subsidize this car to about one-third of its sale price. Every time you see a Leaf drive by, you’ll know someone else is driving it thanks to you. Once again, a technology and product that has no natural market is being favored by the political class at the expense of the rest of us.

Tennessee is chipping in with taxpayer money because it’s the location of Nissan’s North American headquarters.

Back to the lead sentence: The most important political issue in Japan is the fight to wrest control of the government from the dirigistes of Kasumigaseki and put it in the hands of the political class. That’s only proper: Decisions should be made by politicians, who are accountable to the public through elections, rather than by bureaucrats, who are not.

But be careful what you ask for. Shifting control from the civil servants to the politicians is like drinking cyanide instead of hemlock. Americans, as you can see from the link, are now even more upset with political control than the Japanese are with bureaucratic control. They are not in the mood to be bribed by the government with money of the mind to buy anything, no matter how groovy it is. This writer makes it easy to understand: Political control is what’s killing us.

He also answers, in general terms, the objections of those who think using Other People’s Money to facilitate the purchase of electric cars–or whatever–is a Good Thing:

Business is a thing to be pursued and won…A pile of stimulus dollars, dangled on the end of a string, is not a revenue stream.

The Japanese media often cover a lot of trivial political stories about the United States, but they’re mostly staying mum about this big one: If current trends hold, the mid-term elections in the United States in six weeks will not be a wave election–there’ll be a tsunami crashing down on the heads of the party in power. Japanese voters have demonstrated the ability to make their own waves in elections. Now that they’ve lived through the chabangeki of the DPJ in control of government for a year, perhaps the American electorate will stimulate them to create a tsunami of their own in the next election.

But, you might ask, if the bureaucrats can’t be trusted to control government, and politicans can’t be trusted to control government, who can?

The person who looks back at you when you look in the mirror.

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Politics, Science and technology | 1 Comment »