AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Fantasies

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 9, 2011

No one can completely understand the motivations of the North Koreans, but it is entirely possible that their recent revelation of their uranium enrichment centrifuges and Pyongyang’s shelling of a South Korean island Tuesday are designed to remind the world that they deserve respect in negotiations that will shape their future.
– former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

Humankind cannot bear very much reality.
– T.S. Eliot.

THERE’S no better example of the fear and loathing that American politicians feel for the people they serve than the aptitude they exhibit when timing the release of unflattering information to negate or mute media mega-amplification. That practice alchemized into full-blown media manipulation during the Clinton administration. Clinton attorney Mark Fabiani’s preference for document dumps of embarrassing material on Friday evening even led the media to coin the term Fabiani Fridays. President Clinton himself, that staunch champion of the institution of holy matrimony, signed the Defense of Marriage Act, in which the federal government defined wedlock as a legal union between one man and one woman, during the midnight hour on a weekend. How better in the era just before the dawn of the 24/7 news cycle to blunt the anger of one of his party’s constituent interest groups and those people who think elected officials should be straight shooters with the electorate?

The new Japanese Democratic Party government of Noda Yoshihiko seems to have picked up the same playbook. They chose Saturday 17 September — the first day of a three-day weekend — to issue their first definitive statement on foreign policy. The content of that statement is enough to understand their reasons for avoiding public attention.

The Kan government had in April extended sanctions on North Korea and added a ban on all North Korean port calls. Previous Japanese governments had prohibited imports from North Korea, exports of military goods, expensive cars, and the better grades of meat and fish. They also sharply limited financial remittances from Japan to North Korea. Those steps were taken as a result of Pyeongyang’s recalcitrance over working for a final settlement of the abduction issue and that nation’s nuclear weapons program, including nuclear weapons testing and its dissemination abroad.

Here’s how the Kyodo news agency reported Mr. Noda’s decision in English:

The government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda decided Saturday not to impose additional sanctions on North Korea in light of improving prospects for dialogue between Pyongyang and other governments involved in denuclearizing the hermit country, government sources said…Noda’s administration concluded that adding more sanctions could put Japan in danger of being held responsible for throwing cold water on the diplomatic situation as efforts continue to resume six-way talks on halting Pyongyang’s nuclear development, the sources said.

Questions also remain about the effectiveness of additional measures in seeking progress on such issues as North Korea’s nuclear program, ballistic missile development and past abductions of Japanese nationals, they said.

As usual, Japanese-language sources provided more information than the English-language sources.

First, some Japanese were calling for a complete ban on financial transactions between the two countries. A “government spokesman” countered that the effect of such a ban would be very limited. Remittances from Japan to North Korea have been slashed from an estimated $US 300 million to $US five million in the past six years, he said, yet the North Koreans have not improved their behavior.

Some Japanese also called for expanding the prohibitions on reentry to Japan of people who travel to North Korea beyond the six members of the Pyeongyang-affiliated Chongryon (The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) who are officials of the North Korean government.

Said the government spokesman:

“Restricting the passage of Koreans who weren’t involved with the actual crime of abductions is in violation of the clause in the constitution protecting the free movement of people.”

And:

“If we adopt harsher measures, it is possible the ‘related countries’ will see the step as lacking in composure.”

And let’s not overlook this gem from someone in the Foreign Ministry: “Now is not the best time.” He explained that Pyeongyang is likely to take a harder line in negotiations next year, which will be the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth.

In short, the Noda government’s decision might have some merit — for those whose intellectual calendar is stuck on 1960 and who think that Japanese foreign policy works best when it is based on the theory of speak softly and carry a big pocketbook. After the relatively brief period of bad behavior by their great-grandfathers, some still believe the nation must atone by going through an even longer period of diplomatic castration rather than uphold the national interest.

The people of the reality-based community who aren’t playing Rip Van Winkle, however, understand that the bad old days are gone and ain’t coming back. They also understand there are several serious problems with the Noda government’s decision. Here are a few of them:

1. Anyone who entertains the fantasy that North Korea will voluntarily relinquish its nuclear weapons has no business offering opinions in public on foreign policy, much less formulating foreign policy. Try this:

North Korean expert Andrei Lankov tells CNN, “It is positive that negotiations have begun again. However, there is zero chance that these negotiations will ever bring the officially intended result, that is, democratization of North Korea. North Korea is not going to surrender its nuclear weapons.”

If achieving the denuclearization of North Korea were possible through international negotiations, North Korea would have been nuke-free long ago.

2. The idea that Japan could throw cold water on the talks by expanding sanctions is short-circuited logic: Is North Korea behaving badly? Well, let’s encourage them to behave better by failing to hold them accountable for their bad behavior. Pyeongyang’s been sharping that angle since Bill Clinton began playing with cigars in the Oval Office. Encouraging them to behave better through formal diplomatic channels has only encouraged them to behave worse.

3. Which of the other five “related countries” would see the extension of sanctions as “lacking in composure” (other than the hallucinators in Pyeongyang)? The Bush Administration removed North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism in 2008, a decision that still makes people wonder if W was having an acid flashback. The Northerners have reciprocated that goodwill gesture by building a nuclear reactor for Syria, selling weapons to terrorists, and repeatedly threatening to destroy South Korea while attacking it twice.

Everyone knows the Chinese could end this fantasy in matter of weeks if they were so disposed, but they choose instead to serve as a conduit for North Korea’s export of nuclear weapons parts and the import of luxury goods. Meanwhile, the Russians have obtained the rights to a port on the Sea of Japan from North Korea and recently announced the conduct of joint military maneuvers.

Such are the partners in the six-party talks that Japan musn’t upset with rash behavior in defense of its interests because of the fantasy prospects for a fantasy settlement.

4. Japanese Foreign Ministry officials say the cutoff of financial transactions has had a limited effect. Yes, they do have a point — despite the drastic reduction in the influx of yen, the Kim Family Regime still has enough non-counterfeit scratch to pay for luxury cars, liquor, and pets for itself and the ruling elite while the rest of the country is again forced to pick corn kernels out of pig feces to fend off starvation. Indeed, recent reports say they’ve stopped bothering to pick out the kernels.

If that’s the logic, why bother restricting financial transactions at all?

5. Danged if I can find any passage in the Japanese Constitution that prevents the government from restricting the passage of the people. Article 22 does say that people can choose and change their residences and occupations — as long as it doesn’t harm the public welfare. The argument that allowing free passage of people to North Korea and back doesn’t harm the public welfare would be entertaining if the government official hadn’t provided a deliberately incorrect interpretation. That same article also allows people to move freely to foreign countries. It doesn’t say anything about the government preventing undesirables from moving back. How could it? One of the legitimate functions of government is to prevent the admission of undesirables.

6. If now is not the best time, when will be the best time? The Foreign Ministry doesn’t want to upset the North Koreans as they stage their year-long recreation of the Nuremburg Party Rally to commemorate the centenary of Kim Il-sung’s birth? That sounds more like an excuse than a reason. There is no “best time” to deal with the people such as the North Korean leadership. Whack them on the head with a stick now, and when they scream, whack them again.

The underlying problem with this decision by the Noda administration is that it wasn’t a decision by the Noda administration. It soon became obvious to Japanese observers that for any matter of importance, the Noda administration is likely to act as the puppets of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, particularly the Finance Ministry. (The weekly Shukan Gendai has already fingered Finance Ministry vet Katsu Eijiro as the “real prime minister” but more on that another time.)

Just as some American presidents have had to remind the State Department which country’s interests they’re supposed to uphold, Japan’s Foreign Ministry, as well as some politicians, have sometimes taken incomprehensible positions on relations with North Korea. During the Koizumi administration, five Japanese citizens forcibly abducted by the North were allowed to return temporarily after two decades spent as de facto prisoners of that regime. The abductees themselves had other plans for the rest of their lives, however. After having been kidnapped while minding their own business in their own country and held captive in another, it was natural that they would be repulsed by the idea of going back.

Yet that decision annoyed the Foreign Ministry bureaucrats, some of whom publicly criticized it and tried to shame them into doing just that. Their justification for insisting that Japan kick its innocent citizens back into the hellhole was that the country had to uphold its end of the bargain with a country that’s welshed on every important international agreement it’s signed during its existence.

Part two: New York

Mr. Noda followed up that first foreign policy misstep with another head-smacker:

Despite Japan’s soaring debts, Prime Miniters Noda’s administration has boldly offered additional loans amounting to $1 billion to “Arab Spring” in North Africa and Middle East for infrastructure projects, which will ensure to yield employment opportunities and emerging industries.

On Friday in an Annual General Assembly of the United Nations, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda thanked the countries for the support extended to Japan during the March 11 disaster and vowed to contribute for the development and peaceful stability in the international community.

The three specific contributions Mr. Noda offered for the development and peaceful stability in the international “community” were:

1. Provide humanitarian assistance toward relief of the famine in Somalia.

2. Contribute to the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS);

3. Offer $1 billion worth of yen loans to assist the democratization process in the Middle East and North African region.

This bold offer to spend public funds comes as his government is revealing plans to squeeze the country with higher consumption taxes, income taxes, inheritance taxes, and (probably) corporate taxes to pay for the Tohoku recovery and reconstruction. Meanwhile, the Japanese media outside of the national dailies and non-DPJ/LDP politicos are presenting serious alternatives to taxing the general public for raising the money.

While helping with famine relief in Somalia is praiseworthy, the other two proposals are an abdication of fiduciary responsibility. Supporting UN peacekeeping forces anywhere means that it’s close to a cinch two things will happen:

1. More people will die

2. Young women and underage girls will be paid next to nothing to work as hookers with the Blue Helmets as the pimps:

The management of Ban Ki-moon has also been characterized by one of the worst chapters in the history of the United Nations, that of sexual violence. Three years ago, one hundred Sri Lankan “peacekeepers” were accused of abusing Haitian children. Abuses were committed by Moroccan troops in the Ivory Coast and by Indian troops in Congo.

Sex scandals involving UN peacekeepers took place in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, East Timor, Burundi and Western Africa. In Africa the locals now speak of the “peacekeeper babies”, the illegitimate children of UN soldiers.

The mission in Congo was the second largest UN peacekeeping mission. Rape, pedophilia and prostitution are the accusations against the UN. The minors were lured by a dollar. These girls are known as “one dollar baby”.

And just whose pipe dream are they paying for with the loans for the “democratization process” in the Middle East and North Africa? In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was replaced by a military government that promises to hold elections. Yes, that’s always been a reliable path to liberal democracy for Third World countries in the past, hasn’t it? In fact:

The regime, which took over from Mubarak as he stepped down in February, promised it would transfer power to civilian rule within six months, but no date has been announced for presidential elections that would bring an end to military rule.

(Here’s a quick update: How’s this for synchronicity?)

There are two possibilities for what is likely to happen in the Middle East over the near or intermediate term. The first is that there actually will be democratization in the region, which is about as likely as the North Koreans denuclearizing as a result of the six-party talks. But let’s play Pollyanna for a bit and assume that the purple roses of democracy will suddenly bloom in the desert sands. How long will those elected governments last before the military loses its patience and steps in again? More important, how likely is it that those elections will put in power anyone other than a well-manicured thug whose objectives would be inimical to his country’s immediate neighbors and infidels the world over?

The second possibility is that the situation will remain the same as it has over the past several centuries. Another favorite fantasy of the striped pants and commentator crowd is the pursuit of something they call Middle East peace. What they fail to see is that we’ve already got Middle East peace — this is as good as it’s ever going to get.

While it is understandable that the Japanese government wishes to make a gesture of appreciation for the assistance it received after the March earthquake/tsunami, the means and the timing for showing that appreciation are not. First, the assistance Japan received was a partial return on the help they’ve already provided throughout the postwar period. Second, people normally do not expect financial contributions from someone who is putting his own budgetary house in order after an expensive and unforeseen tragedy.

Thus, the Noda government and the Foreign Ministry mandarins have revealed their ignorance of the basics of politics and government. They have forgotten — if they ever knew — that it is the primary business of the Japanese government to facilitate the improvement of conditions in Japan, not to divert the money squeezed out of its citizens to line the world’s unimprovable ordure pits.

One small step forward

Yet despite all this dreary stupidity, the Noda government has taken one positive foreign policy step. That was:

…(the) agreement of Japan and ASEAN, at a meeting of defense officials in Tokyo, to intensify cooperation and consultation on the South China Sea. Japanese Vice Minister of Defense Kimito Nakae said the relationship between Tokyo and ASEAN has “matured from dialogues to one where Japan plays a more specific cooperative role” on a range of regional security issues.”

Nakae also suggested that the recent tensions over oil exploration and military posts in the South China Sea would require more cooperation with the United States and other countries, including India.

Immediately before the defense officials met, Japan and the Philippines affirmed their security links into a “strategic partnership” in a joint statement signed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Tokyo.

Somewhere in Tokyo, someone seems to have turned off the Lava Lamp and opened the curtains.

In the opinion of UPI Editor Emeritus Martin Walker, this agreement was “the third trigger” for:

(A)n official Chinese newspaper call(ing)…for war against Vietnam and the Philippines to uphold China’s assertion of sovereignty over the mineral-rich seabed, estimated to hold 7 billion barrels of oil and 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Specifically:

The lead article in the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times Tuesday carried the headline “The time to use force has arrived in the South China Sea; Let’s wage wars on the Philippines and Vietnam to prevent more wars.”

“The South China Sea is the best place for China to wage wars,” the article said. “Of the more than 1,000 oil rigs there, none belongs to China; of the four airfields in the Spratly Islands, none belongs to China; once a war is declared, the South China Sea will be a sea of fire [with burning oil rigs]. Who will suffer the most from a war? Once a war starts there, the Western oil companies will flee the area, who will suffer the most?”

The article went on to argue that “the wars should be focused on striking the Philippines and Vietnam, the two noisiest troublemakers, to achieve the effect of killing one chicken to scare the monkeys.”

So to sum up, the Japanese Foreign Ministry thinks that if Japan were to take rational steps and further isolate North Korea, other “related countries” — among them presumably the Chinese, whose official newspapers sound remarkably like those from the DPRK, would think it had lost its composure.

Unlike those cool and calm Chinese.

To observe contemporary conditions worldwide and declare that the days of pleasant-sounding fantasies are over would be easy, but it would also be pointless. Those fantasies are the opiate of the political and governmental elites, and they have no interest in getting that monkey off their backs. The rest of us never had to deal with those monkeys to begin with.

The North Koreans, the Chinese, and the Russians have no intention of behaving in any way other than that designed to maximize their power and leverage. It is regrettable that Japan chooses not to do the same. The first three countries contribute nothing positive in a geopolitical sense. Only the fourth country has that potential.

Afterwords:
Note that the author of the article about the North Korean famine blames it again on a natural disaster and “the tangled web of international politics”, another one of the recurring fantasies of third-tier jouros. It seems to have escaped their notice that no one in Japan has starved after an ephocal earthquake and tsunami, followed by an industrial strength typhoon a few months later. Nor is there any understanding that the rest of us have no obligation to feed an armed and dangerous gangster state incapable of feeding itself because it is inebriate on fantasies of its own.

*****
Here’s a nice background tune to play while they pass the the hookah in Tokyo.

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