Japan from the inside out

The glossy paper counterfeit

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 14, 2012

The courage to say that Japanese islands are Japanese territory is now required. (Caption on a poster from the Tokyo Metro District)

ONE of the unexpected benefits of extensive study and research into Japan is that it exposes the imposters — immediately and without forgiveness. Also unexpected (at first) was that the worst of the imposters turned out to be the biggest brand names in professional journalism. Now it is no longer unexpected. It’s a handy rule of thumb.

Seated among the inner circle of the hierophantic fabulists is The Economist of Britain. Their ability to offer their consumers worthwhile information on Japan is in indirect proportion to their international reputation. It is as if their objective is to provide a burlesque of news coverage for the entertainment of their readers, rather to provide information and educated analysis.

For Exhibit A, look no further than their short article on the Senkaku islets of Japan. The bologna starts with the title:

Jingoist jangles

The activities they would characterize as jingoist in the piece regarding the Senkakus are exclusively Japanese. Here are the facts: Japan was the only country to have taken an interest in the islets, and both China and Taiwan recognized them as Japanese territory, until it was determined there could well be extensive deposits of natural resources in the seabed nearby. Japanese are the only people to have lived there. The Chinese gave them a name a few centuries ago, but only because they are a maritime landmark on the sea route to the Ryukyus.

But because they insist on territorial integrity, the Japanese are slapped with the “jingoist” label.

The sub-heading:

A row over some goat-infested rocks heats up

Apart from the novel coinage of “goat-infested”, the title and the subheading are an attempt to cop some edgy blogger snark that comes off instead like white suburbanites singing the praises of Jah Rastafari. When you can’t back up an attitude with real ability or knowledge, it’s just a pose.

The point of the goats is revealed in the lede:

IN THE 1970s Japanese ultra-rightists took two goats on a 2,000km (1,250-mile) trip southwest from Tokyo to a group of uninhabited rocks near Taiwan called the Senkaku Islands. In the absence of humans willing to live in such a remote outpost, the hardy creatures would be the vanguard of a new push to solidify Japan’s hold over the islets, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Goats in the vanguard, eh?

The impression they want to create: There go those clazy Japanese ultra-rightists again. The reality they want to ignore: Behavior of this sort is too rare to have any significance other than as media space filler. Some overexcited Chinese buccos have also used the Senkakus as a playground, but The Economist ignored them too.

By the way, the goats — 1978 was the date of introduction — are viewed with alarm by environmentalists worried they are despoiling the pristine natural environment (which is, by treaty, a live ammunition target range for the US navy).

Now the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has signalled a more serious involvement in the dispute, by suggesting on July 6th that he plans to nationalise the privately held chain.

What they mean is that Mr. Noda wants to buy them from the Japanese who own them. They are already part of Japan.

On July 11th three Chinese patrol vessels were briefly spotted by the Japanese coastguard in waters near the Senkakus. That led to a flurry of hot-tempered diplomatic exchanges.

The article implies this “brief spotting” is the reason for all those whacked out jingoist jangles. It contains only a brief reference to the hot-tempered Chinese response in the fall of 2010 when a Chinese “fishing boat” captain rammed two Japanese Coast Guard vessels warning him of approaching the islands, the captain’s arrest, and the Chinese government’s subsequent scenery-chewing performance in the role of Righteously Indignant Great Power on the world stage.

The single reference consists of two sentences at the end of paragraph eight of a nine-paragraph piece, and mentions only “Chinese protests”. In the real world, the Chinese protests included a cutoff of rare earth metal exports to Japan and the trumped-up arrest on spying charges of two men working on an environmental project in China for Chinese benefit.

Mr Noda’s move is a clear political victory for Tokyo’s governor, Shintaro Ishihara. In April the famously outspoken nationalist, who has long warned that Japan could become a “colony” of China, announced a plan to buy the Senkakus on behalf of the city.

The article contains no mention of the revelation that Sengoku Yoshito, the first chief cabinet secretary in the Kan Cabinet — the people who botched the 2010 incident — told another legislator that the Japanese were already vassals of the Chinese. In The Economist formulation, ex-Socialist Sengoku meekly accepting the fate of vassalage is not worthy of remark, but an effort by a prominent politician to maintain territorial integrity requires that he be termed a “famously outspoken nationalist”. One wonders what The Economist would say if the French took it into their heads to claim Guernsey. Goats live there, too.

A private fund raised 1.3 billion yen ($16.4m) in donations, with pledges of more.

That amount is a reflection of public interest and is a direct result of both Chinese behavior and the DPJ government’s limp response two years ago, but The Economist will never tell you that.

The tailwind behind Mr Ishihara’s campaign forced Mr Noda off a fence on which most Japanese leaders have sat since 1971.

What “sitting on a fence” means in this context, I have no idea, and I suspect the author doesn’t either. Japanese national leaders never had to do anything about the islets until the Chinese took it into their heads to resume their occupancy of the chair Evil Western Powers forced them to vacate as the Flower in the Center of the Universe.

That was when China began to make diplomatic noises about what it calls the Diaoyus.

Here is what The Economist considers “diplomatic noises”:

The day after Mr Noda’s announcement, a spokesman in Beijing called the islets “sacred territory” and pledged to defend them.

Want to bet if it were Ishihara Shintaro they’d have found some way to combine rightwing Japanese nationalism with the threat of a holy war?

(Coincidently, this week Apple appears to have removed a patriotic Chinese iPad application, called “Defend the Diaoyu” from its Chinese App store, according to the China Daily, a state-run newspaper.)

Not coincidentally, The Economist fails to mention that the app showed samurai, ninja, and other stereotypical characters “invading” islands that are part of Japan. But the publication thought it was “patriotic” for the Chinese, rather than ultra-rightwing nationalist.

China believes the islands were annexed by Japan as spoils of the 1895 Sino-Japanese War.

Trying to justify hegemonistic behavior causes people to believe a lot of things, and this belief is incorrect. Approximate correlation on the time scale does not mean causation, or even connection. Even the Japanese Communist Party doesn’t buy it.

What is correct: The Chinese and Taiwanese recognized the islands as Japanese in official documents, maps, and even a newspaper article in the Maoist-era People’s Daily, starting in 1895. The boulevard-sized paper trail still exists. China complained throughout the 1930s and during the war about Japanese and French possession of islands in the South China Sea, but said nothing about the Senkakus. The San Francisco Treaty after the war that formally determined which Japanese-occupied territory was to be removed from Japanese possession allowed the Senkakus to remain Japanese. The Chinese had no problem with Japanese possession of the islands until (1) resources were discovered nearby, and (2) the Americans returned Okinawa to Japan, which meant that the Chinese now only had to deal with a Japan hamstrung by a pacifist constitution, rather than the U.S. military.

In 1972, at the end of America’s post-war occupation of the Okinawa islands, they reverted to Japan. It refuses to acknowledge the claims of either China or Taiwan.

What is the reason for the appearance of the second sentence? Why should they acknowledge their claims?

In pushing for nationalisation, Mr Noda may be trying to prevent further tensions.

Mr. Noda is trying to prevent the Chinese from annexing Japanese territory. By doing so, he is also trying to prevent China from prying loose Okinawa and making it a 21st century Chinese fiefdom. But the magazine (which they still insist on calling a paper) ignores the nominally non-governmental efforts of Chinese to accomplish the latter. Investigating that would require reading Chinese newspapers and websites. Too much work, what?

But if China takes it the wrong way, the stakes will become higher than fish and a few scraggly goats.

There is only one way for a hegemon to take rejection, and that is the wrong way. Note, by the way, another desperate attempt to combine cleverness with commentary with the fish-and-goat snark after they already wrote that oil and gas deposits were at stake.

For another example of The Economist’s imitation of a color Sunday comic strip, try this blog post from two years ago by someone whose ignorance of contemporary Japan is exceeded only by his ability to communicate with the ephemera of ultra-rightwing Japanese militarism during a séance. They were quickly put in their place by the person who wrote the comment at the top.

Their explanation of the blog’s title on the right sidebar provides more unintentional humor.

It is clear that getting things right is not the objective of the magazine. Indeed, the consistent extremist slant of their pieces on Japan raises suspicions that they’re still bitter over the early wartime Japanese success that signaled the beginning of the end of the British Empire.

It also raises the suspicion that the rest of their magazine is equally worthless. Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus.

One has to feel sorry for the people who consume the publication and thereby think they know something of what is happening in the world. They certainly won’t know anything about East Asia.

UPDATE: Chinese intentions become clearer still, but some people would rather not get it.

This track has the finest in musical infrastructure — the band, the singer, and the arrangement are superb. All of it is wasted on the lyrical content. It is the perfect analogue for the two articles cited in this post.

One Response to “The glossy paper counterfeit”

  1. Robert Kawaratani said

    Must be British media inbreeding, the FT had a similar editorial this week.

    Save the Senkaku from jingoism

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