Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Roh Moo-hyon meets someone who agrees with him.

The great thing about baseball is that there’s a crisis every day.
– Gabe Paul, former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees

THERE’S also a crisis every day in politics, but that’s not a great thing at all. Baseball has two redeeming factors that come immediately to mind. The first is that baseball always has a definite result at the end of the day, love it or hate it. The second is that it charges a fee only to those interested enough to travel to the park to watch it in person. In contrast, nothing is ever permanent in politics, and at the end of the day the players will take your money whether you show up or not.

Europe, the United States, and Japan have been in a semi-crisis state for so long it’s hard to remember the last placid day. After reading the Japanese-language news summaries of events in the world of South Korean politics yesterday, it’s clear the same can be said about the peninsula. Last Friday, the South Korean government chickened out of signing an agreement with Japan to share military intelligence 20 minutes before the ceremony. The politicians are in crisis mode heaven, losing their heads and blaming it on everyone else but themselves. The ruling party and the bureaucratic supporters of the agreement wave their fingers madly in the air, looking for someone to point to and single out for censure. The opposition is just behaving madly:

We will never accept this proposal that runs counter to history.

Speaking of madness, another fascinating bit of news emerged from South Korea yesterday. The Joongang Ilbo published an interview with Saenuri Party member and presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon. Here’s what he said:

“During the previous Roh Moo-hyon administration, the South Korean government made a proposal to the United States government to define Japan as a ‘hypothetical enemy’ common to both countries. He did not use the expression ‘primary enemy’ from the perspective of military strategy, but it was a de facto proposal that Japan be made the primary enemy.

Mr. Chung noted that this information has never been reported, and that the proposal arose in a conference of senior government officials (identified elsewhere as “Cabinet level”).

“He made the proposal because the citizens’ anti-Japanese sentiment is not good, and the Dokdo (Takeshima) issue always creates problems. Both South Korea and Japan are liberal democracies, and the Americans, who would like to see us join hands against states that are not, were baffled….so they probably did not inform Japan. How did the US view South Korea after that? The proposal was so biased.”

What to make of this? From one perspective, the reputation of Roh — dubbed by some in Japan as the NGO president — is such that the tale could well be true. Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo met with Roh during his term and found the lecturing so tiresome he tuned him out and eliminated the possibility of ever working together for mutual benefit.

From another perspective, there is the Chung history. The sixth son of the Hyundai conglomerate founder and at one time the seventh-richest man in the country, Mr. Chung turned to politics after a successful term as president of the Korean Football Association and vice-president of FIFA. He ran in the primary against Roh Moo-hyun to be their party’s candidate in the 2002 presidential election. Roh won the primary, and Mr. Chung supported him in the campaign — until he changed his mind the day before the election and defected to the opposition Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party of President Lee Myung-bak). Roh won anyway.

Mr. Chung is running for president again this year as a Saenuri candidate. Unlike Roh, he is what the soft-horn unicornian wing of the mass media refer to as a “hawk”, and what everyone else refers to as a proponent of effective national defense.

If elected president, Mr. Chung said he would discard the planned transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean troops to South Korea from the U.S. He called the move to transfer that power, made by liberal president Roh Moo-hyun, a “political decision” that’s out of step with the threat posed by North Korea and the fundamentals of leading an army. Under Mr. Roh, South Korea agreed to take that control this year. President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative, delayed the change until 2015.

Under the plan, wartime operations of South Korean, U.S. and other allied forces would be controlled by a “cooperation committee” rather than a combined force command as is now structured.

“Do you think a cooperation committee can be effective in a war?” Mr. Chung asked. “I do not.”

One of the few Japanese media members to comment — Japan is having its own crisis du jour — was Abiru Rui of the Sankei Shimbun, who turned it into a blog post. He said the stories he heard in those days confirm Mr. Chung’s account. In fact, his information came from Washington and not Seoul.

According to his story, Roh was meeting in the United States with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and running down his list of historical agonies and antagonisms when Mr. Rumsfeld suddenly turned to his aides and asked, “What is this fool talking about?”

There’s the answer to Mr. Chung’s question about how the United States viewed South Korea after the Roh proposal. (It’s not possible to know what word Mr. Rumsfeld actually used, as it was translated into Japanese as baka.)

This isn’t a case of Abiru Korea-bashing, by the way. He concluded his post by passing on another bit of information he received from his Washington sources. It seems that quite a few people in the American government considered Kan Naoto to be “worse than Roh”.

That should be consolation for those devotees of the eternal Joseon ideal of coming up with new ways to put down the Japanese as a way to demonstrate their own superiority. There you go: Their whacked leftist president wasn’t as whacked as Japan’s whacked leftist prime minister.
Addendum: They can dish it out, but they can’t take it. Koreans cavalierly do this sort of thing all the time, but turn enuretic when someone does it to them. It’s a stretch to call Mr. Suzuki a “politician”, however. He’s the head of a party that no one’s ever heard of.

Going down the path of the whacked is so much better when you have fellow travelers. My favorite whacko is the dancer.

2 Responses to “Whackers”

  1. toadold said

    The South Koreans do have an awareness about their mental split when it comes to Japan. Japan makes a nice external enemy for politicians because they aren’t as dangerous as the Chinese. They are also tickled when S. Korean entertainment does well in the Japanese market.
    Keep in mind that they haven’t had a representative democracy for very long. It wasn’t all that long ago that they were under what amounted to a military dictatorship. A Korean American who went to S. Korea as an ESL instructor said they had a saying about still being frogs at the bottom of a deep well. They had a constricted view of the world outside and couldn’t get out of the well.

  2. Marellus said


    Have you seen this ?

    North Korea’s state-run media has called South Korean President Lee Myung-bak “human scum” and an “underwit with 2MB of knowledge.”

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