Japan from the inside out

The 17% solution

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 13, 2012

President Lee Myung-bak views a concrete flag on Takeshima

One South Korean justification for their claim that Takeshima is their territory is that they actually control it. Would they have accepted the same argument when Japan actually controlled Korea for 35 years?

– A Japanese Tweeter

THAT didn’t take long

This post last Sunday featured a long interview with Kobe University Prof. Kimura Kan warning that relations between Japan and South Korea could grow worse very soon, and that the deterioration of relations would be caused by the South Koreans.

On Friday, a desperate little man with feet of clay traded in the best interests of his country to redeem the final six months of his presidential term and avoid a life of ignominy in retirement. By resorting to the cheap blaring tawdriness of chauvinism, he chose to burrow into a pit even lower and more squalid than the last refuge of the scoundrel – the affectation of patriotism. That action might have brought about the tipping point in Japan, causing most people to realize what many already suspected: South Korea is not interested in close bilateral ties with them.

On Friday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the islets of Takeshima in the Sea of Japan, though the South Koreans use different names for both of those. The islets are now in South Korean possession because that country found it intolerable for the rest of the world to recognize them as part of Japan in the Treaty of San Francisco, which disposed of the territory the Japanese conquered in East Asia during the war. They seized them by force shortly after the Allies ended the occupation of Japan, understanding that the interpretation of the Japanese Constitution at that time and international opinion less than a decade after V-J Day would prevent the Japanese from stopping them. The details are as described in the two articles on the masthead.

A report in the April 2007 edition of the Joongang monthly in South Korea stated that both countries had agreed to disagree about the islets’ sovereignty in a secret codicil to the then-secret 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations that restored relations. Under the terms of that agreement, both Japan and South Korea would allow each other to claim the islands while putting off a resolution of the dispute until later. South Korea would maintain their occupation, but would not increase their presence or build new facilities.

South Korea never upheld their end of the deal, and has been demanding that Japan void the terms of the agreement since it became public. In fact, the Joongang article states that someone burnt the codicil when it was discovered after the assassination of President Bak Jeong-hui.

The Japanese have always maintained a mild-mannered approach to the issue. Meanwhile, the South Koreans have built lodgings, a lighthouse, a monitoring facility, an antenna, and a docking facility on uninhabitable islets smaller than New York’s Central Park. No one had ever lived there because natural sources of either food or water do not exist. All the South Korean military/police forces and a retired couple stationed there as a duty post to legitimize the South Korean claim survive on shipped-in supplies.

The Yonhap news agency reported that fighter aircraft and patrol vessels were mobilized for Mr. Lee’s visit. The military muscle was required because the South Koreans like to amuse themselves with the fantasy that the Japanese are about to launch a full-scale military assault to retake the islands. They also dispatched the amphibious assault ship Dokdo (their name for the islands) to the area to demonstrate they were prepared for any eventuality that was never going to happen.

The Dokdo awaits the revanchists

In other words, they applied more military firepower for this vaudeville performance than they used to deal with actual military attacks when North Korea sank the ROK Navy corvette Cheonan and shelled the island of Yeonpyeong, killing both military personnel and civilians. Confront a real military threat? Perish the thought.

Double secret embargo

There was enough secrecy for a real military operation. The South Korean government asked the country’s media at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon to embargo the news, according to the Chosun Ilbo. They insisted on this security arrangement to prevent the Japanese government and media from finding out, though some fifth-columnists had tipped off the Japanese embassy and foreign ministry by about 5:00 p.m. The Japanese media reported the story at around 10:00 p.m. that night, and the reports included a Kyodo article in English. The embargo on the South Korean media ended at 10:00 a.m. the next day. Therefore, the South Korean public was the last to know.

The Japanese reaction could be described by the expression, “the (fish) scales fell from my eyes.” The scales had already slid considerably after the South Koreans earlier this year cancelled the signing of a planned agreement to share military information 20 minutes before the ceremony, and after the Korean line turned harder instead of softer last year when Japan returned some Korean historical materials as a gesture of good faith. Of course the Koreans have no intention of returning the Japanese historical materials in their possession.

The comment of Tanigaki Sadakazu, the leader of the opposition LDP, is illustrative:

“It repudiates the past efforts we’ve made to improve Japanese-Korean relations”.

The breach was also noted by former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo:

“It defies common sense in the extreme.”

Well, yes, if the intent is amicable relations, but South Korean actions speak louder than words. Mr. Lee offered the usual excuses. The South Koreans used to complain that the Japanese hadn’t apologized for the system of licensing military prostitutes known as the comfort women. Now that the Japanese have apologized, the line is they haven’t “sincerely” apologized. He also says that Japan is not interested in a resolution of the issue. Translated into English from the Korean, that means Japan chooses not to swallow Korean demands 100% in perpetuity. See more here.

Japan now seems to understand that nothing they do short of total diplomatic capitulation will ever satisfy the Koreans, who will keep reinterpreting their subjective standards for a reconciliation. The Foreign Ministry recalled their ambassador from South Korea for consultations, and called in South Korean ambassador Shin Kak-soo to lodge a protest. Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro placed a phone call to his counterpart Kim Sung-hwan to tell him, “Now, we will have no choice but to take appropriate measures.”

One of those steps was the cancellation of a visit to Seoul by Finance Minister Azumi Jun later this year for a dialogue on government finance.

The Japanese will also apply to the International Court of Justice to resolve the dispute over Takeshima, which they have done twice before. The first time they did so, the Koreans refused, saying:

“It is nothing more than a plot to press a false claim under the disguise of civil law.”

The second South Korean refusal came with the last request 50 years ago. While everyone understands that the South Korean government will refuse again (and has already indicated they will), the Japanese are now past the point of humbly withdrawing in the hope of maintaining a facade the South Koreans don’t wish to maintain. Said Mr. Gemba:

“It is natural for the international community to realize that a territorial issue exists.”

Other factors contributing to the Japanese loss of patience are Korean agitation overseas to change the name of the Sea of Japan and to coax the national legislatures of foreign governments into condemning the comfort women system, as happened with the US Congress in 2007. The Japanese government is now of a mood to call a spade a spade.

Mr. Gemba again:

“It might have been difficult for South Korea to agree before (to the ICJ resolution 50 years ago), but now they’re using the slogan ‘Global Korea’, so of course they should respond.”

In fact, the Japanese government considered an appeal to the ICJ last year when the South Korean National Assembly sent to a special committee for the protection of “Dokdo” to visit Takeshima. They chose not to out of “consideration for the effect it would have on Japan-Korean relations overall.” Now, however, Mr. Gemba said the government understands such consideration is “unnecessary”. The Koreans don’t care, so why should they? It’s time to let the Koreans explain why they find dispute resolution by a neutral third party unacceptable when they claim they have an open-and-shut case.

The public response

The attitude of the Japanese public might have been expressed by a Japanese reader and commenter at this site who uses the handle Aceface. Writing in Japanese on Twitter, he said:

“What Japanese should realize about President Lee’s visit to Takeshima is that the visit of a politician to a place that could start an international dispute just to gain popularity is the act of a Third World country.”

He also said this observation applied to Russian President Medvedev’s visit to the disputed Northern Territories north of Hokkaido, and even former Prime Minister Koizumi’s official visit to the Yasukuni shrine. He added:

“South Korea no longer can find the benefits to a strategic relationship with Japan. Hasn’t South Korean importance to Japan also declined? In essence, (the Japanese investment in diplomatic relations with) South Korea is now a nonperforming loan. Even if Japan were to maintain close relations, the only thing it would receive is the bill.”

A comparison of the public response in both countries to the behavior of the other government is instructive. Over the past decade, unhappy Korean citizens have demonstrated in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul by chopping off their fingers (either in whole or in part) to protest Japanese claims on Takeshima or whatever dark cloud happened to be passing through their psyche at the moment. They’ve shot flaming arrows into the Japanese embassy compound and gutted birds they consider a symbol of Japan in front of the embassy.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, someone drove by the Korean consulate in Hiroshima, threw a rock, broke a window, and left.

And that’s it.

The 17% solution

As the second linked post describes, the Japanese recognize the pattern of escalation from a failed South Korean government. This visit in particular is a useful diversion from the falling popularity of a lame duck administration for a variety of reasons. Mr. Lee came into office pledging a focus on economic ties and the future, but the default emotional state of the polity ended that charade.

Public support for the Lee administration is down to 17% due to the administration’s policy failures, severe economic problems, and, the old reliable for South Korean presidents, financial malfeasance. (This time, Mr. Lee’s brother was been arrested and other aides questioned.) The administration has lost so much credibility, South Korean sources say that government agencies and ministries are now starting to ignore instructions and are waiting for the next government, which will take office in February.

Other motivations for the trip include the amplification gained by timing it a week before liberation from the Japanese day on 15 August, and the use of Takeshima as a substitute for a London trip to catch some reflected rays from the Olympics. Some South Korean reports say aides talked Mr. Lee out of an Olympic visit. He would have gone anyway had the South Korean men’s soccer team won their semifinal match, but they lost.

The ink-stained wretches

Yet another worthwhile comparison is the response of the media in both nations. The Tokyo Shimbun printed an unruffled editorial that contained a wish for reconciliation after the Korean election, but said:

“Both Japan and South Korea have avoided a decisive conflict despite their claims to sovereignty over Takeshima. President Lee’s visit could well ruin the cooperative relationship between the two countries.”

The tone is measured throughout, unlike the editorials (not individual op-eds) and articles in Korean newspapers. To be sure, the Korean media understands and is uncomfortable with the implications of the visit, but when the issue is bilateral relations with Japan, they’ll salute any jingoistic banner the government runs up the Joseon flagpole, even if it’s just the same old bloody shirt.

The Chosun Ilbo thinks the visit might rebound to Japan’s advantage.

“Is this an appropriate attitude for a country that actually controls the territory? We have doubts this action was taken with full consideration of the strategic implications.”

Everyone else shares those doubts, but the paper quickly abandoned the pose of mature deliberation.

“The South Korean government has consistently followed a policy of quiet diplomacy in the Dokdo issue, in consideration of friendly relations between the two countries.”

As the islets’ seizure and the infrastructural improvements alone demonstrate, that’s just an exercise in throwing pixels on the screen.

“The old Japanese national strategy that combined imperialism and ethnocentrism was to increase tension among surrounding countries as a way to disperse externally the people’s dissatisfaction with the logjam of domestic politics. Looking at the recent movements of the Japanese government, one is reminded of past cases that are similar.”

And these recent movements of the Japanese government would be? They mention none, because there are none.

Incidentally, this and most of the other selections from Korean newspapers here are translated from their Japanese editions and cited and linked to on the web by Japanese people. Those Japanese who read and think about public issues are well aware of them. It is ironic that the media outlets’ quest to boost website hits has exposed their intellectual breech and caused as much distrust in Japan as anything their politicians did.

“Japan might temporarily employ ethnocentrism as the driving force in its external policies, but once external restraints are released, they may well resort to adventurism that would destroy the overall peace of the region. Japan must always face directly this lesson of history.”

This goes a long way to explaining why Koreans — and the foreigners who live there — are so whacked out on the subject. Japanese adventurism in the region? They might as well try arguing that Britain “may well resort to adventurism” that would lead to the recolonization of Australia, Nigeria, or Malaya.

It’s easy to spot the family resemblance of both countries on the peninsula with the mass delusions, hysteria, and paranoia. The question is one of degree, not kind.

In keeping with the professional practices of the rest of the guild around the world, the Korea Times found some academics to say for them what they wanted to say:

“In Japan, the Dokdo islets dispute has been raised to the same status as that of the Kuril Islands dispute with Russia and the Senkaku Islands dispute with China,” said Jo Yang-hyeon, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA). “Dokdo is frequently used by Japanese politicians to gain popularity.”

The reason Jo Yang-hyeon mentions none of these politicians is because none of them exist. None of them has tried to used Takeshima as a career enhancer, and no one has been successful doing it. In fact, the primary complaint of the Japanese academics and commentators who want the government to take a stronger stand with South Korea over Takeshima is that most politicians ignore the issue.

“The Senkakus incident hardened the attitudes of politicians and government officials there so that they were unwilling to compromise on territorial issues,” added Jo.

He’s got that one right, though it’s not clear why this should be considered insightful analysis. It’s called “defending national territory against a country without a legitimate claim”. But considering the response to the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong incidents, this might be a difficult concept for some South Koreans to grasp.

Meanwhile, the Joongang Ilbo admits Mr. Lee’s trip was designed to negate opposition attacks on the president’s policy of better relations with Japan. But while even hysterians have occasional periods of lucidity, they don’t last long. They added that Mr. Lee had decided Japan had gone too far with new textbooks — without citing the language in the texts or the percentage of their actual use in schools — and eight years of Defense Ministry white papers. You know, it’s that Imperial Japan tactic of imperialism, ethnocentrism, and adventurism. That old black magic got the country under its spell again.

The Joongang also complains that this year for the first time the Japanese objected to the Korean version of white papers, which “intentionally makes conditions worse.” In other words, we can complain when you do it, but you can’t complain when we do it. Another wave of hysteria throws up the suggestion that Japanese right-wingers might create a situation in which the “inconceivable” might happen, so they had better be prepared.

This would almost be as comical as reading the English-language reports of Pyeongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (which thought Mr. Lee’s visit wasn’t fit to print), were it not for the way it stunts the emotional growth of the citizenry in the way the results of the juche philosophy stunt the physical growth of the North’s people.

Global Korea

After South Korea’s victory over the Japanese team for the bronze medal in men’s soccer at the Olympics, one of the players, Bak Jong-soo, grabbed a banner out of the stands reading “Dokdo is our land” and paraded around the pitch with it. It was written in Korean, so no one knew at first what it said.

Take that!

Other photos taken of the incident show the rest of the Korean team smiling and laughing in comradeship at the Bak pitch trot in the spirit of Olympism. In a later interview, the team captain said they first decided they should have “a meaningful ceremony as a team” on the pitch in advance of the 15 August liberation day. It was to have been a Dokdo-themed ceremony, but they changed their minds when some team members suggested, “It isn’t necessary to bring up something that should be viewed as a matter of course.”

It would have been hugely entertaining to have seen the meaningful ceremony the boys would have staged — “men” doesn’t work here —as well as educational for the rest of the world. Bak was banned from receiving his medal and sent home. All 18 might have been put on a plane in disgrace to return to a hero’s welcome. Both the IOC and FIFA are conducting an investigation.

The Japanese-language translation of the Joongang Ilbo article describing the aftermath of the incident was also remarkable. Their inability to severely criticize Bak for his behavior shows that even the Korean print media is capable of a measured and mature tone. Indeed, the tone was remarkably similar to that employed by the Japanese media when discussing Takeshima.

The newspaper did complain, however, that FIFA bore some of the responsibility for the incident because they didn’t properly explain to the athletes that such displays were not acceptable. There was no mention of holding the South Korean Olympic Committee accountable for the same offense.

Adding it up

The Japanese are now drawing conclusions. A poll taken by the Mainichi Shimbun after Mr. Lee’s wonderful daytrip found that it caused 50% of the nation to have a lower opinion of South Korea than it had before. A total of 44% responded that their opinion didn’t change. That should not be viewed as unconcern over the visit, but rather that they consider it to be yet another act in the sequence of behavior they’ve seen all their lives. Why should they be surprised?

They now realize what has been apparent to outside observers for a while: The growth and maturation of the South Korean National Political Establishment and polity is a clinical study of arrested development. This behavior is likely to continue indefinitely because the country’s NPE is inherently corrupt and instable, which means it is in their interest for it to continue. They’ve had six presidents since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1981 (the Fourth Republic ended with a coup d’etat in 1980), and every one of those men has been mixed up in bribery/influence peddling/political funds scandals, whether the miscreants have been themselves, close family members, aides, or a combination of those three. Two were jailed and one committed suicide. Since the introduction of the current electoral system in 1988 with the Sixth Republic, none of them have won an outright majority. Why will the next administration be different?

Complaining is pointless. It is what it is, and they are who they are. One wonders if the nation as a whole is no more interested in bilateral relations with Japan than the Arabs are with Israel.

The question of the Japanese response has assumed even greater importance because of the regional response to Mr. Lee’s trip. On the 11th, the Global Times of China, the international arm of the People’s Daily (the Communist Party house organ), wrote:

“China should support the positions of South Korea and Russia in their territorial disputes and work together to deal with Japan…We should also win the neutrality of the United States. This would reduce the space the Japanese have for causing a commotion over the Diayoutai (Senkakus) problem.”

Let’s carve up Japan together!

On the 12th, a Hong Kong citizens group claiming possession of the Senkakus known as the “Hong Kong Committee for Action to Defend the Diayoutai” departed from Hong Kong in a boat to land on the islets. Hong Kong authorities have stopped previous boats bound for those same shores after they left the harbor, but this ship successfully eluded them and is now beyond their jurisdiction.

One member of the committee said at a press conference before they left:

“The South Korean president went to Dokdo. China should also take action.”

So should Japan.


More vaudeville from the world of South Korean politics: Opposition politician Mun Je-in informed the Korean media on the 2nd that the late Bak told the Americans in 1965 he wished he could resolve the dispute by blowing up the islands. Bak’s daughter Geun-hye, now running for president, said no, no, the Japanese were the ones who said that during negotiations. Mr. Mun responded that the Japanese did say it, but documents indicate Bak said it first in the United States before the 1965 agreement. Bak’s daughter said no, no, you’re ignoring the context.

That’s no way to talk about the Holy Land.

And now South Korean newspapers are reporting that Mr. Lee plans to give a speech on 15 August in which he will say that “now is the last chance for Japan to apologize” for historical matters.


South Korea mobilizes to defend Dokdo from the imperialist ethnocentric adventurers on the far shores of the East Sea.

3 Responses to “The 17% solution”

  1. Gray said

    The problem for Japan is that South Korea has thusfar displayed a better hand at manipulating international opinion on the relations between the two. The Wiki on Korea gives a brief history of the colonial period that, while hopelessly innacurrate (it is Wikipedia after all), accurately represents the international conception of the period. Japan’s huge boosting of the Korean economy, ending of slavery, improvement of women’s and general human rights, establishments of universal education, etc. are not mentioned at all while instead the same lop-sided exaggerations are used to make Japanese rule seem like attempted genocide (which some historians will openly claim it was).

    Any complaints about highschool history texts should be coming form Japan and directed at the almost non-stop revisionism that has occured in Korea since the war. From Rhee up to Roh and Lee, SK Presidents have never been at all hesitant to use anti-Japanese propaganda as tools for nationalist rabble-rousing. Even the right-wing Park, ostensibly a tight ally of Japan in the 1980s, was quick to engage in it when Japan chastized him for the death sentence he imposed on political rival Kim Dae-Jung.

    All South Koreans under the age of sixty have grown up being regularly deluged with anti-Japanese messages and their education has left many with a deeply warped, yet easily disproven, view of their shared history. Japan has to fight not only against populist politicians who will use this sentiment, but also the underlying legacy of decades of bias. Such a battle might be unwillable and Japan’s best bet might simply be to write the South off as incapable of honest dialogue and to focus instead on educating the international community about exactly why this is the case. Unfortuanetly I don’t think there are any politicians with both the strength and finesse to carry off such a feat. The need for finesse relates to the need to attack Korean allegations about Japan without allowing the international press to write the Japanese side off as ‘neo-nationalists'(i.e. their knee-jerk reaction to any Japanese display of backbone).
    G: Thanks for the note. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    – A.

  2. yankdownunder said

    Japan now seems to understand that nothing they do short of total diplomatic capitulation will ever satisfy the Koreans ….

    Japan should understand that nothing they do short of total decapitation will ever satisfy the Koreans.

    Only when there is is no one left to hate will they stop hating.

  3. Bob Sky said

    Korea is a backward third-world nation and needs to be treated as such…the US should dump the defense agreements and leave them to the tender mercies of their new Chinese masters. That would likely wake Japan up as well and get them to grow up and start acting like a real country.

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