Japan from the inside out

Letter bombs (12): They’re just filled with secrets

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 19, 2010

READER PaxAmericana asks me if I have any “thoughts on the bit in Aera about the secret pact between China and Japan regarding how to handle incidents in that area (The Senkakus).”

He’s referring to an article in the weekly Aera, which is described in this AFP article:

Aera magazine reported that under Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled for half a century until last year, Tokyo and Beijing had made “secret promises” to each other over the territorial issue.

“Under the secret promises, Japan was in principle to prevent landings (of Chinese nationals) on the islets and not to detain them unless it develops into a case of grave concerns,” the magazine said, citing unnamed government sources.

“The Chinese side promised to block (anti-Japanese) protesters’ boats from sailing off to reach the islands,” the weekly added.

In an illustrative case, Japan in 2004 immediately deported seven Chinese activists who had landed on one of the rocky islands, Aera said.

When power changed in Japan last summer, the earlier promises may not have been mentioned to the new centre-left Democratic Party of Japan government, an unnamed government source was quoted as saying by Aera.

Here they are, PA:

One of the nicknames the Japanese media has given Prime Minister Kan Naoto is “Nige-Kan”. The nige means “escape, evasion, flight”. In other words, stepping up and taking responsibility for its actions is not high on the Kan Cabinet agenda. That goes double for this issue, which might have inflicted a fatal wound on both the Cabinet and the party.

Note that this story is from an “unnamed government source” (i.e., someone in the DPJ) who says the promises “may not have been mentioned”.


It strikes me as a third-rate attempt at CYA for several reasons..

First, one would have to assume that the agreement was known only to a few at LDP party headquarters. Does that mean the secret was communicated through personal contact as in some initiation rite?

One would also have to assume that no one else in government circles knew, particularly anyone in the Foreign Ministry. That is implausible on the face of it. The article cites the 2004 incident in which the Koizumi Administration deported seven Chinese bravos after they landed on one of the islets.

That was six years ago. No one in the Koizumi administration told anyone in the Foreign Ministry the reason for its handling of the incident?

Other sources say this is similar to the secret deals made between the LDP governments and the U.S. to allow American ships to carry nuclear weapons when in Japan. The practice stopped in the 1990s. The new DPJ government turned up the documents for these secret deals after it assumed office. Where did they find them?

In file cabinets at the Foreign Ministry.

In addition, it has been widely reported in Japan that the Kan Administration intentionally did not follow the Koizumi precedent (though many second-guessers thought they should have) because they believed it was an extra-legal action and therefore improper. They wanted to impress on the Chinese that they were a nation governed by the rule of law. Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito—seen by many as the real power in government—insisted on it. Again, this report has been all over the Japanese media.

Also, Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji was anxious to demonstrate a tougher attitude toward the Chinese and insisted on detaining and arresting the captain. (Mr. Sengoku was apparently ambivalent about the arrest.) Yet again, this report has been all over the Japanese press.

Further, the sea captain was not arrested immediately after he was detained. That decision was made in Tokyo several hours later. (About 8-12 hours later, IIRC. In fact, the sequence of events and the timing is another matter of contention. At first, it appeared that Mr. Kan wasn’t even told about the arrest for six hours, but the DPJ is now trying to rearrange the history.) The DPJ did not conduct the due diligence required during that interval, including consultation with the Foreign Ministry?

Still further, if there was a secret deal, the Chinese knew about it too. They summoned the Japanese ambassador to complain about the arrest six times. It would be elementary common sense to assume that the first thing the Chinese would have done is to ask the ambassador, or anyone else, through back channels, “Hey! What about our deal?”

If you believe the Aera account, you would have to assume either the Chinese didn’t do that, or that the Kan government ignored them when it did.

Finally, little leaks through a second-tier magazine published by the politically friendly Asahi group is not the DPJ modus operandi. They’re not that subtle–they’d have made a much bigger deal out of it than that, either in a more widely read publication, or bringing it out in the open themselves. Their very legitimacy is at stake.

To return for a second to the secret deals over the nuclear weapons, the reason the new DPJ government found the documents is that they already knew about the stories that such deals existed and created a panel to make a specific search. But we’re supposed to believe they didn’t know anything about a deal regarding the Senkakus.

Keep in mind, this is the same government that has been saying all along they had nothing to do with the release of the ship captain—it was a decision by Okinawa prosecutors. Also, the Japanese Coast Guard recorded a video of the incident, yet Prime Minister Kan still insists he’s never watched it. And Prime Minister Kan just happened to bump into Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in a Brussels hallway a couple of weeks ago.

Credibility is something else that’s not high on the Kan Cabinet agenda.

On the other hand:

There are also reports—again, all over the Japanese media—that the DPJ is upset with the Foreign Ministry as a result of frictions that occurred over the issue of moving the Futenma Base in Okinawa during the Hatoyama Administration, and that Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku decided to keep the Foreign Ministry out of the loop. The DPJ government wanted to make all the decisions this time without any input from the bureaucrats.

Therefore, the Foreign Ministry would have had no chance to tell the Cabinet about any secret deal. If true, that would mean the government was hoist by its own petard.

Meanwhile, in other news, the Foreign Policy website is rapidly becoming the “stay-away-from” site for people interested in reading about Japan. Joshua Keating writes:

(I)t’s certainly starting to seem like the LDP had been trying to avoid public outcry on some of Japan’s most contentious foreign-policy issues and that after decades of unquestioned rule, didn’t anticipate having to let the opposition in on the secret.

Memo to Foreign Policy: Slurping up the froth off English-language journalism about Japan is no substitute for spending some time—a lot of it—with the original sources.


Here’s one more thing to consider. The AFP article calls the LDP “conservative” and the DPJ “center-left” (though left-center is more like it). The extent to which the MSM will go to discredit any government or group of the first persuasion and deflect criticism from any government or group of the second persuasion should not be underestimated. It is always a factor in their coverage.

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7 Responses to “Letter bombs (12): They’re just filled with secrets”

  1. Nigelboy said

    “One of the nicknames the Japanese media has given Prime Minister Kan Naoto is “Nige-Kan”.”

    Don’t know if you picked this up already but Sankei called Sengoku, “健忘”長官 from the recent squable with Maruyama.

  2. PaxAmericana said

    Aera is not reliable, but neither are the mainstream media.

    It would seem to me that a lack of an agreement/pact with China would be pretty incompetent. The Foreign Ministry would definitely know about it, but they may not like the DPJ. Your view that Kan would not ignore China’s backdoor protesting doesn’t convince me. He could be convinced or pressured by others (Maehara?) that China wasn’t really that angry, and, at some point, things would be almost out of hand. And China’s behavior looks like a party that was surprised and angry.

    The idea that politicians and bureaucrats wanted to lecture on the rule of law is risible. This just sounds like a cover story for their amateurishness.
    PA: Thanks for the note.

    Actually, I think Aera is kind of lightweight rather than unreliable. I knew an old guy who smoked Lucky Strikes; when he saw someone else light up one of those low-bad stuff cigarettes with some plastic thing built into the filter, he said, “Oh, you like the smokeless kind.” That’s Aera–the smokeless kind.

    Also, I did not say that Kan would not ignore it. Read it again, please. I said that if there was a secret deal, common sense would lead one to believe that the Chinese brought it up right away. IF that’s what happened, and the Okinawa prosecutors/Sengoku/Justice Minister/Kan didn’t release the captain through six summons of the Japanese ambassador, or when they released the other sailors, they must have ignored the Chinese. The timing of the release after the arrest of the Fujita employees would support that.

    As for the reliability of the mainstream media, that’s why I take so long to write some stories. I try to wait until more of the stuff keeps coming out over time, including contradictory accounts, before putting something together. For example, I doubt that bit about Sengoku and the rule of law was made up. It arose in several contexts and several publications.

    The Chinese didn’t seem surprised at all to me. They want to be hegemons. Look at the articles out today about them shutting down rare earth metal shipments to the U.S. and Europe.

    – A.

  3. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    A: Chinese want to be hegemons? My son would like to be pokemons, so no surprise. I am surprised that Japanese corporations have stock of rare earth while U.S. and Europeans not. How come?
    For the same reasons Japanese people have a higher rate of savings than most Americans and Europeans.

    Japanese companies may have had a better idea of “China Risk” than the Western companies, too.

    – A.

  4. Roual Deetlefs said


  5. Harry said

    Ampontan, you are right about our awareness of various China risks. We have an industrial base producing various materials, components, and machines which require imported rare earth. Also, we have a long history of studying China.

    Do you know the NHK documentary called Dynamic China (激流中国)? I don’t know any Western TV program on China that is better in quality than this. Americans’ understanding of China is sometimes shockingly poor. I mean, some say that the Japanese and the Chinese are the same…
    H: Thanks. I didn’t know about the program, but see that it is on YouTube. I’ll watch it. Americans’ understanding of Japan is worse than shockingly poor, which is one of the reasons I started this site…

    I also suspect a lot of it is done on purpose

    – A.

  6. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

  7. Harry said

    I read the post you linked. That was one of your best posts here.

    Ampontan, now our mainstream media is finally reporting on the biggest China risk: the real estate bubble. Even the Bank of Japan and the Cabinet Office mention it in their economic reports. I have read some.

    China is supposedly growing, but so many students can’t get a job. They are so frustrated that they start riots targeting….us? What’s going on here?

    They are building useless ghost towns to push up GDP.

    Isn’t Century 21 an American company? Is this an example of Americans’ shockingly poor understanding of China?

    Like many other Japanese tourists, a friend of mine visited Hong Kong the other day. She says the city has a “bubbly” atmosphere, which means that she sensed a growing real estate bubble.

    It’s far worse than ours. Seriously.
    Harry: Thanks for the note. Century 21’s website shows they have a Beijing office. They have a worldwide presence. Just speculation, but maybe they figure when the market collapses they can use it as a write-off for the rest of their business. They also could be stupid–many real estate companies are in the U.S. There’s all kinds of crap flying around in the US with real estate now–not only the economic crisis triggered by subprime mortgage securities, but now there’s a scandal over banks illegally foreclosing on mortgages.

    I’ve written here and there about the Chinese bubbles.

    – A.

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