AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Yanagida M.’

A comedy tonite!

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GOOD EVENING, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, thank you, oh, it’s so nice to be back in town and see you all again! We’re thrilled that you could make it because we’ve got a really big show lined up for you this evening.

Our special attraction tonight is that zany comedy troupe, the stars of stump, TV screen, and the Internet, those kings and queens of hectic hey-hey who’ve been adding to their Guinness record of 563 straight pratfalls without a net, that weird and wacky gang from Nagata-cho, I’m pleased as punch to present…the Democratic Party of Japan!

Now let’s hear it for our first guest, the current Deputy Secretary-General, Tochigi’s own, Edano Yukio!

“I didn’t realize that the ruling party would be so busy. We talked carelessly about political leadership, and now we’re in trouble. What I want more than anything else is the time to leisurely think about and discuss matters.”

Interlocutor: What about the suggestion by some that you institute income restrictions to limit the amount of the government child allowance paid to parents with higher incomes?

“To say that we should apply income restrictions because our support is falling is a kind of populism.”

Folks, listen, we’re just getting warmed up! Would you believe this DPJ party member’s story about Okada Katsuya, DPJ Secretary-General?:

“Mr. Okada asked Ozawa Ichiro to attend an ethics panel, but he didn’t meet him. When someone asked him why he didn’t meet him and discuss the matter with him in person, he said, ‘I called his office several times, but he never came to the phone.’”

Shout from the audience: Who was that lady I saw you with last night?

Interlocutor: That was no lady—that was Ren Ho!

Veteran DPJ Diet member:

“Her reputation in the party is terrible, even though they’re boosting her as the queen of the policy reviews. She tailors her statements to whoever seems to have the most power at the time, whether it’s Kan or Ozawa. Some people think she behaves like a high-class geisha.”

Younger MP:

“I don’t know whether it’s out of habit or what, but during drinking parties with the other MPs, she often (physically) touches us, on the back and elsewhere. She’s very good at that sort of thing, but she also can be a frightening middle-aged lady (おばさん). When some freshman MPs didn’t attend the policy reviews, she called them up and yelled, ‘Why aren’t you here?’”

Ladies and gentlemen, you remember the late and great Rodney Dangerfield, the man who never got any respect. Well, our next guest makes Rodney seem like the picture of probity and gravitas! It’s Old Smiley himself, Kan The Man Naoto!

(Hisses)

Nay, nay, I kid you not!

You remember Mr. Kan had to beg the Chinese to have those hallway sofa summits with Chinese President Hu Jintao because they wouldn’t agree to hold a formal meeting? Instead of sitting down, looking him in the eye, and talking with him man to man, he read Mr. Hu a memo!

Shout from the audience: Who’s on first?

Interlocutor: No, Hu’s on the couch!

No, seriously, he gets no respect! A source in the prime minister’s office told a weekly magazine about his response to some polling data:

“What? We’re doing the policy reviews, but our polls aren’t going up? Something’s wrong here!”

Hey, he gets so little respect, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s almost as if it were a conspiracy! (Straightens tie, twists neck.) A member of the current Cabinet told the weekly Shukan Gendai:

“He’s completely lost his capacity to govern. He was quite confident that the Russian President would not visit the Northern Territories, but he did. He blew up: ‘What’s this? I had information that he wouldn’t come.’ He got the information from Mr. Sengoku.”

Audience heckler:

“During the prime minister’s days as a leader of student activists, he was known as a ‘Fourth Row Man’. If you’re in the fourth row of a demonstration, you won’t get arrested when you run into the riot police…Now he tries to hide behind Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, the man they call The Shadow Prime Minister.”

(The ushers lead LDP lower house member Hamada Kazuyuki from the hall.)

Interlocutor: And he gets even less respect when he goes overseas. When he spoke at the UN General Assembly in late September, three-fourths of the audience in attendance walked out when he took the podium!

Here’s a Jiji report about part of his speech:

“Prime Minister Kan gave an address to the UN general assembly on the development of small island states. Referring to his support of sustainable development for small island states confronting the threat of natural disaster and climate change, he declared, ‘We want to continue to be powerful supporters.’

“The Prime Minister emphasized his awareness of the urgent challenge faced by the international community for small island states overcoming their vulnerability. He described the support Japan would offer, and used as an example the help given to Haiti after its devastating earthquake in January. He also said that Japan would be providing support for disaster prevention, training personnel, and providing infrastructure.

“He said that rising sea levels threatened the existence of these states, and declared his intention to provide support for developing countries, including the small island states.”

Blogged an aide to LDP lower house member Nakagawa Hidenao:

“Mr. Prime Minister, the small islands you should protect first are the Senkakus!”

Now folks, it’s time for the Senkakus Shtick, which is destined to go down in the annals of comedy history–way, way down–to rank alongside the equally rank Futenma Follies of Hatoyama Yukio!

The government was ready to face the Chinese challenge. Said Sengoku Yoshito:

We’re going to have to confront this problem with China sometime. Japan lacks a sense of crisis, so this will be a good test case.

Interlocutor: And by Jingo it was! Just look at this report from the Asahi!

Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the ruling DPJ, said, “The response by the Koizumi government led China to believe that ‘Japan’s position as a nation ruled by law is only for show.'”

Those within the prime minister’s office were concerned that immediately deporting Zhan would have led to domestic criticism that the government was “weak-kneed.”

An aide to Kan said such a decision “might have sent a message to China that even if a problem occurred near the Senkaku Islands, that would be the extent of Japan’s response.”

Interlocutor: Not only were they weak at the knees, they were weak at the hips!

Hold it, hold it, I know what you’re thinking! It’s true that Mr. Kan tried to warm up the audience with his famous Goofy impersonation. Before going to the U.S. on the 22nd of September, he asked his staff if the Chinese sea captain couldn’t be quickly released. Then he asked if it were possible to take some extralegal measures. You know, like the kind Koizumi took! But then he took charge! Here’s what he told Sengoku Yoshito:

“Take care of this while I’m in New York!”

And here’s what Sengoku Yoshito told Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru:

“You take care of this. (よろしく!)”

Interlocutor: And boy, did they!

Hey folks, I gotta tell ya, these are warm, loving, caring people, just wonderful human beings, but you won’t catch them talking about all the charity gigs they do. Take the Chinese fishing boat captain. His mother died on the day he was arrested. Now, you’ll never hear anyone in the Cabinet come right out and say it, but they did leak to the media the Chinese government request that they release the captain for humanitarian reasons.

It’s Chinese custom to hold memorial services for the deceased 19 days, 29 days, and 39 days after their death. The Chinese signaled the Kantei that it would mean a great deal to the nation and the family if they sent the captain home in time for the 19th day memorial service on 27 September. They also said it would be another great gesture if he could be there for the PRC National Day on 1 October. So respectful of Chinese patriotic feelings! But we wouldn’t have known about their civilized and compassionate response if Toshikawa Takao of Gendai Online hadn’t written about it.

Do you know how self-effacing they are? They didn’t want to steal the limelight for themselves, so they gave the prosecutors all the credit for the decision to release the Chinese captain! Isn’t that touching?

Wait, wait, that’s not all. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when you hear this. There are now reports from China that the captain’s mother wasn’t dead after all! Can’t you imagine how the skipper felt when he came home and discovered that she was still alive? That must have been a special reunion!

Everybody’s tryin’ to get into the act!
– Jimmy Durante

“I must say I think Prime Minister Kan has dealt with this (Senkakus) issue — it’s a difficult issue — in a very statesmanlike fashion. It, I think, shows a vision and an appreciation of how important it is for a peaceful diplomatic process to be conducted on issues like this.”
– Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs

And now ladies and gentlemen, here’s the star of the show, that bouncy and blustering blend of evasions, tough talk, and feigned politeness, the master of wit and repartee, that wascally wabbit himself, the one, the only, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito!

Interlocutor: People are complaining about all the misstatements and gaffes coming out of the Cabinet, but he’s got their backs:

“The (opposition) asks us a lot of detailed questions that they didn’t tell us in advance, and it’s hard to answer them accurately. If a minister is asked about something outside the range of their (responsibility), they haven’t prepared all the data, and it isn’t in their heads.”

Interlocutor: Well, what part of their body is it in, then? Ha ha ha!

The poll numbers for the Cabinet are falling through the floor, but he’s been the Rock of Gibraltar for his fellow cutups. Just this week, he said:

“In the not too distant future, the people will praise the policies, acts, and results of the Kan Cabinet.”

And never a thought for himself, that man—he’s always on the job. Reporters asked him earlier this month whether he would visit Okinawa to see the Futenma air base for himself. Wouldn’t a few days in the tropics be great this time of year, even on a business trip? It would do him a world of good. But he can’t tear himself away from his desk:

“If you (in the media) didn’t bring up the problem of crisis management, I could go anytime, but I can’t move because I have to be in the 23 wards of Tokyo 24 hours a day.”

Don’t let that gruff exterior fool you folks, he’s really a paragon of courtesy. He’s got the greatest respect and deference for our Chinese neighbors. And he shows that regard by using highly honorific language when he speaks speak of them. Don’t you remember how politely he referred to them in September, even though he was very disappointed in their behavior?

“I don’t know about 20 years ago, but it was my understanding that (China) had changed quite a bit—the judiciary had become independent and the relationship between government and the judicial system had become more modern. But they haven’t changed much at all.” (あまりお変わりになっていなかった)

Or how hopeful he was of positive developments after the government returned the 14 crew members to China along with their ship. Notice the respect he pays to the average Chinese fisherman:

(14人と船がお帰りになれば、違った状況が開けてくるのではないか)
“If the 14 sailors and their ship return (to China), that will likely create a different set of circumstances.”

It must be that Socialist background and his sense of solidarity with working men and women everywhere! He did it again when he confirmed that a Chinese survey ship was near the Japanese Shirakaba gas fields in the East China Sea:

(周辺にいらっしゃることは確認している。)
“(We’ve) confirmed (the ship) is in the area.”

Interlocutor: That’s more respect than Kan Naoto gets!

There’s more! Not only does he hold the Chinese in high esteem, but with true Japanese humility he elevates others by lowering himself and the members of his group. Here’s what he said about the political neutrality of civil servants:

“The Self-Defense Forces are also an instrument of violence, as well as a type of military organization. Therefore, based on our prewar experience, their political neutrality in particular must be ensured.”

He quickly caught himself and changed that to “an organization of power”, but boy, did that start a motherbruiser of a pie fight in the cheap seats! Even some of his detractors, including blogger Ikeda Nobuo, rushed to his defense by suggesting that he was paraphrasing the sociologist and political economist Max Weber, who held that the state should have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Others objected that Vladimir Lenin had a taste for the phrase too, not to mention a taste for violence. Old Ilyich used approximations of it several times, including, “The state is an organ or instrument of violence exercised by one class against another …”

But just as Mr. Sengoku was there to defend Kan Naoto when the going got tough, the tough prime minister got going and stood up for the chief cabinet secretary:

“He read communist party-type books in the past. He told me himself that the phrase ‘instrument of violence’ appeared in them. That’s not what he really believes. I recognize that he made a mistake in his choice of words.”

Interlocutor: So it was Lenin and not Weber after all!

But really, trust me, he’s a serious guy with the people’s best interests at heart. This February, when he was still the minister for national strategy, he talked about the goals of his party:

“Our objective is to create a government that the civil servants and the people will be thankful for. The basic concepts are ‘disclosure’ and ‘explanation’.”

Ladies and gentleman, we all know it’s impossible to follow an act like that, but if anyone can, it’s the recently reshuffled Minister of Justice, the Clown Prince of Comedy, Yanagida Minoru entertaining an audience in Hiroshima on the 14th! Heeeeere’s Minnie!

“All I did was remember two answers that have gotten me through Diet testimony: ‘I will refrain from commenting on specific cases,’ and ‘We are dealing with the matter appropriately based on law and evidence.'”

Interlocutor: I say, didn’t he run that joke into the ground? Opposition pols checked the Diet records and came up with six examples of the first and 14 examples of the second in his testimony.

Naw, he’s more than a one-hit wonder. He told another joke to the same Hiroshima crowd that was too hip for the room. It went over the heads of everyone in the media:

“I haven’t been involved with legal matters even once over the past 20 years.”

For an encore, the government brought back the old Alphonse and Gaston routine. Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku said they wouldn’t fire him. People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka said the gags had been the staple of the LDP baggy pants ministers of national comedy back when Henny Youngman was picking flies out of his soup! Then Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku changed their minds. But the Justice Minister said he would stay–to implement his agenda!

And then he changed his mind and quit the next day!

His loyal fan club following still has a crush on him, though. An executive with the Hiroshima branch of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Union—he got where he is today because of union support—said:

“Because I know Mr. Yanigida, I think that was just his way of making a joke, though it wasn’t a good thing to say.”

But the DPJ topped that punch line. Sengoku Yoshito announced he would hold a double Cabinet portfolio and take over the job as Justice Minister for the time being!

Well, that about wraps up our show for tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we do hope you enjoyed yourselves. Thanks for being such a wonderful audience! We’d like to take you home with us! And good night Mrs. Karabashi, wherever you are!

No laughing matter

Most journalists make reasonable allowances for the fact a man is a politician, but there are some like me who don’t. While the condition may be mysterious, and the cause not singular, to me mad is mad. It has several times struck me, in meeting directly with “power,” that if I heard a man speaking like this, while riding on a trolley, I would assume he was an outpatient.
– David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen

It’s only taken a few short months for the audience to head for the exits at the DPJ revue yet again, and that’s got everyone in show business worried. A JNN poll over the weekend in the Tokyo area found that support for the DPJ was down to 18.4%. Meanwhile, support for the LDP, the Tar Baby of Japanese politics (Tar Baby jes’ sit there and don’t say nothin’) has climbed to 30.0%. Those are roughly identical to the relative numbers in 2006 just before Abe Shinzo decided to let the postal rebels back into the LDP.

Support for the Kan Cabinet was at 26.6% and disapproval at 66.2%. A Sankei-Fuji poll taken at the same time had the numbers at 21.8% and 59.8% respectively. 84.6% are not impressed with Mr. Kan’s leadership. One reason Mr. Yanagida had to walk the plank was the concern that the opposition would pass a censure motion in the upper house. 63.2% now think it would be appropriate to submit a similar motion for Sengoku Yoshito.

Last week, Ozawa Ichiro met with his allies who are first term lower house members to warn them that Prime Minister Kan might dissolve the lower house and call an election out of desperation. He thinks the election could come as early as February.

His statement was carried by several news outlets, but only the Asahi reported that Mr. Ozawa said he was troubled by the political climate. He thinks there’s been a breakdown of party politics and sees similarities with the situation in prewar Japan.

But Mr. Ozawa has always been more drama queen than comedian. The state of the Japanese demos cannot at all be compared to the prewar days, and the military has no political influence to speak of. State Shinto and Imperial Japan no longer exist.

It’s not a failure of party politics—it’s a failure of the politicians. More specifically, it’s a failure of the entire political class and a demonstration of the Peter Principle, which holds that the members of a hierarchy rise to the level of their incompetence. Publilius Syrus, who was something of an improvisational comic himself, observed in the 1st century BC, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

Likewise, it takes no skill or competence for opposition backbenchers to stand in front of a microphone and run themselves up while running the government down when the country is at peace with itself. Now that they’ve served in the front benches of the Diet, however, it’s clear that most of the people in the Hatoyama and Kan cabinets aren’t qualified to sit in the national legislature, much less be in government. The Japanese are facing the same crisis of government that people in the West are dealing with, but in their own context. The country’s citizens have discovered that anyone can serve in the Diet when the sea is calm. Subsequent elections are likely to demonstrate the consequences of that discovery, though with Japan’s proportional representational system, the ringleaders in each party will be placed atop the PR lists and sneak back into the Diet through the back door anyway.

Another problem is that the people might not be given a chance to vote anytime soon. There’s talk of a grand coalition between the DPJ (sans the Ozawa element), the LDP, and New Komeito. Yosano Kaoru, a former Cabinet member in LDP governments and the co-leader of the Sunrise Party, met with Prime Minister Kan last week, and the media speculated that a coalition was the topic of conversation. It didn’t help that Mr. Yosano had to play the wiseguy and say it was just a friendly visit.

Former DPJ Cabinet minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a cast member of the Ozawa Ichiro puppet show, also hinted at the possibility when he told the weekly Shukan Post in an interview appearing in the current issue that “many” people “probably” favor a grand coalition. That’s not what the polls say—one released last week found only about 10% of the respondents supporting that option. Another trial balloon being floated was the formation of a grand coalition for three years, after which time the current Diet term would expire and a joint upper/lower house election could be held.

That would be the ultimate in political failure. The successful functioning of such a coalition would require negotiations between the parties to get anything accomplished. (About the only thing they would accomplish is an increase in the consumption tax to have the people pay for their fiscal failures.) Negotiations are a process they already could be conducting in the Diet if they weren’t more interested in slipping whoopee cushions under each others’ chairs. If the opposition in the upper house voted down the enabling legislation required for the budget early next spring, the DPJ would have to call for a new election anyway.

A grand coalition really would smack of prewar politics, particularly the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a government organization that subsumed the bureaucracy, the parties, and the military. A grand coalition—one of the drawbacks of the parliamentary system of government—would be antithetical to the core principles of democracy: The voters couldn’t throw the bums out.

It would be a marriage of convenience to allow failures at governnment to sit at a big table and cut deals on ways to prolong their failure. Serious critics of the government, primarily Your Party and the Communist Party (which is serious in behavior if not in philosophy) would be relegated to the sidelines to squawk. The voters would still be wondering who to vote out when the next election came in three years.

Politics, Charles DeGaulle thought, is too important to be left to the politicians. When the politicians in a Third World country become dysfunctional, the military—the only organization in those places to understand discipline, service, and the pursuit of excellence—barges in to overturn the table and crack some heads. That won’t happen in Japan; while the politicians here play in the Comedy Central sandbox, the professional civil servants of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy will keep the machinery functioning until the political class reaches adulthood.

But that takes us back to the original problem of whether Japan is to be an administrative state run by bureaucrats or if the government is to be managed by political leadership. The solution will require more ability and diligence than that demonstrated by the likes of Edano Yukio and his DPJ comrades, who’ve spent years in the Diet carelessly talking the talk without bothering to learn how to walk the walk.

For the time being, the inmates are running the asylum, and they might yet find a way to lock out the medical staff and swallow the key. That situation calls for the skills of the Frontier Psychiatrist. Here’s a video that might capture the spirit of today’s politics in Japan better than the analogy of a vaudeville revue. Expulsion is the only answer!

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Posted in China, Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Seeing is believing

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Japan is a country in which politics are conducted through free speech. Free speech is the core of our democracy. Therefore, it is the government’s duty to guarantee the people’s right to know, which effectuates free speech.
But I must say that the Kan Cabinet’s refusal to release the video to the public, and its continued refusal to show all of it, betrays democracy by depriving the people of the right to know. It does not inform them of circumstances they absolutely must know—the Chinese act of seizing our territory.
At the same time, this betrayal has allowed the Chinese to control free speech in our country, though free speech is not allowed to its own citizens….in other words, the Kan Cabinet has, by releasing the ship’s captain, ceded our policy in the Senkakus to the Chinese, and, by refusing to release the complete video, placed the right of the Japanese citizens to know under Chinese control.
– Nishimura Shingo / Kobe city councilman, formerly of many parties, including the DPJ, and now a member of the Sunrise Party

(T)ruth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son may, but at the length truth will out.
– Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

A Japanese warship dispatched by the neo-militarist government obstructs the passage of a Chinese fishing boat operating in the waters of Greater China.

SOMETIMES, in the course social and political events, objects assume greater importance than the words and deeds of the actors they represent. One historical example is the Zimmermann telegram from the German foreign minister to the government of Mexico proposing a military alliance against the Americans during World War I. Three months after it was revealed, the U.S. was at war with Germany.

Other examples include the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination, the so-called Pentagon Papers during the American war in Vietnam, the 18-minute gap on Richard Nixon’s tapes, Monica Lewinsky’s stained dress, and the University of East Anglia e-mails that exposed the charlatans of global warming.

Now there’s another—the 44 minutes worth of video excerpted from as many as 10 hours filmed by the crews of three Japanese Coast Guard ships as they encountered a Chinese fishing boat near the Senkaku islets.

*****
The Dunning Kruger Effect was named after the two men who published a paper in 1999 titled, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.

Dunning and Kruger argued, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead…they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”

There’s no better way to describe the behavior of the Kan-Sengoku Cabinet, that sorry assemblage now “governing” Japan, throughout the Senkakus affair. You thought Hatoyama Yukio was bad? Japan’s most serious foreign policy crisis in more than a generation is being handled by the people least capable of doing so. The mismanagement of the crisis exposed the nation’s leaders as naïve and duplicitous incompetents who had convinced themselves they knew exactly what they were doing.

From a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun:

The Kantei was filled with optimism on the 24th (September) when they announced the release of the ship’s captain. Said one government source, “This should completely deflate the Chinese reaction.” Said a source close to the prime minister, “(We) want you to watch Chinese behavior in the future and then give us the credit.”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the only possible explanation.

*****
Sato Takahiro, formerly of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and now a researcher at a think tank, wrote on his blog:

(The government) has demonstrated an inability to handle the situation from the beginning, starting with the arrest of the captain, his release, its response to later Chinese retaliation, and the disclosure of the videos. Many are angry at the government’s ad hoc decisions and dithering irresolution. With all this ineptitude, there has not been one visible sign from Prime Minister Kan about his policies for dealing with this situation, and how he reaches decisions.

Polls have shown that more than 80% of the Japanese public thought the government was lying about how they handled the matter. A similar number thought they were spineless jellyfish, though the pollsters had a more discreet way of phrasing it. Less discreet were some in the audience at the conclusion of the September sumo tournament when the prime minister takes part in the ritual of presenting a trophy to the winner. Mr. Kan was openly jeered, and shouts of “traitor” were in the air. Behavior of that sort is very atypical of Japan.

The videos of the encounter in the waters of Okinawa Prefecture between the Japanese Coast Guard and Zhan Qixiong, the captain of the Chinese fishing boat Minjinyu 5179, rose in importance as an issue after Zhan’s release. The first people to view the images say they were the determining factor in the captain’s arrest. They clearly showed the Chinese ship making a sudden hard turn to port to ram the Coast Guard vessel as the Japanese crew called out to him to stop in both Chinese and Japanese.

Current Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji, then the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport watched the videos and said:

The Chinese ship clearly turned the rudder and hit (our ships). Were it not intentional, he could have taken the step of throwing the engine into reverse and moving away, but there is absolutely no trace of that on the video.

The Japanese public was naturally anxious to see for themselves what happened. Polls showed that 78.4% of the people wanted the videos to be made available to them. But the government didn’t want the people to see any of it.

One of the most incurious people in the country was the prime minister of Japan himself. Presiding over a “no touch” government that pantomimed the charade of claiming it had nothing to do with arresting or releasing the fishing boat skipper, Mr. Responsible didn’t bother to take the trouble to see for himself until nearly two months after the incident.

Reporters asked him what he thought. He answered that the content was as reported by Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and Mr. Maehara.

Q: Specifically, what was that report?
A: No, no, it was just as in their reports.
Q: What did you think of it personally?
A: (It’s like I told you) It was just as in the reports.

Mr. Kan’s Cabinet is filled with the incurious in addition to the inept. Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru, who has developed a national reputation as something of a chucklehead in a mere three months, also said during Diet questioning that he didn’t have to watch them.

A person in the office explained what was in them. I studied marine engineering at university, so I was able to understand what happened from just a diagram.

After further questioning by Ogushi Yoshinori of New Komeito, he said:

I studied shipbuilding, so of course I studied sea routes. I understood (what happened) by looking at a diagram.

What was the government’s problem with showing the videos? No weapons were discharged, no ships were sunk, no one died, and no one was injured.

This published report of a conversation held on 30 September in the Kantei explains part of it:

Kawakami Yoshihiro (Upper house DPJ member): There’ll be serious trouble if we release the video. It will set back improvements in Japanese-Chinese relations two or three years. It’s best to sit on it.
Sengoku: Just as you say. Be sure to tell everyone in the Diet.
Kan: That makes sense.

Others claimed that “discretion is required for the international political situation.” Said Hachiro Yoshio, DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chair:

“Shouldn’t we be careful how we handle the videos, considering that the friendship of Japan-China is in a fluid state?”

An aide to LDP MP Nakagawa Hidenao had the best answer for that:

“Friendship not based on reality is nothing more than a temporary cease-fire until a resolution is achieved by force.”

What was in the video that would cause the Chinese to be upset? People would see the truth for themselves.

While the video was still unseen, the Global Times of China, a People’s Daily affiliate, posted diagrams and other statements claiming it was the Japanese coast guard vessel that rammed the Chinese fishing boat. (We’ve seen the diagram in a previous post.) The newspaper quoted Foreign Ministry official Jiang Yu as saying:

“Japanese patrol boats surrounded the Chinese fishing boat in Chinese waters, pursued it, cut it off, and rammed it.”

In other words, the Kan government chose to support a Chinese lie in public rather than letting the truth speak for itself to the Japanese people. In another published report, a source cited as being familiar with Japan-China relations said a promise was made to not release the video for public viewing in consideration of the strong Chinese objections during the negotiations conducted for the Kan Hallway Sofa Summit in Brussels on 4 October. In return, Prime Minister Kan Naoto was allowed to have a 25-minute accidental encounter with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

You remember the chance meeting in the hallway, right? Strangers in the night it was not. It was so unexpected and unplanned the Chinese just happened to have brought Japanese-language interpreters with them all the way to Belgium. Sources from the Japanese government, however, said they didn’t take along any Chinese-language interpreters because they didn’t want to tip off the media to the possibility of a meeting. Apparently they weren’t interested in knowing what the Chinese said among themselves, either.

Hata Yuichiro, a DPJ MP and son of former Prime Minister Hata Tsutomu, had this to say about the video at a news conference:

“Do we really need to make the video public? We must handle it with prudence, because it must not harm the national interest.”

Now that the video’s been released, the people who want to see it have seen it. Among those who have seen it, the question inevitably arises: Which harms the national interest? The Kan government’s ineptitude or the public viewing of the video?

Or is Mr. Hata confusing the national interest with his party’s interest?

There was a second reason the Kan government didn’t want to show the video to the Japanese public: They don’t hold the Japanese public in very high regard.

The position of the government and the ruling party was that there was a strong likelihood anti-Chinese sentiment would arise among the people if they released the video, because it clearly shows the Chinese deliberately ramming the Japanese ships. One of the parliamentary vice-ministers of a “Cabinet ministry involved with the incident” saw the video and said, “It must not be released. It would only incite an emotional response among the people against China.”

They didn’t trust the Chinese people either. Said a government source:

“If anti-Japanese demonstrations flare up again in China, it will be impossible to hold the Japan-China summit (at APEC).”

To which the only rational response is: So what?

Meanwhile, here’s Mr. Kan answering a question on the 8th in the Diet:

“Ultimately, the people, who are sovereign, determine the course of foreign policy. A stronger foreign policy can be pursued when each one of the people apprehends the issue for himself, not just some specialists, and (issues are) considered by the people as a whole.”

In fact, the Kan government failed to see that it had the upper hand. The Chinese Foreign Ministry demanded on 21 September that the Japanese immediately show the full video from beginning to end without any cuts. They told Japan not to edit the videos to tailor the evidence to fit their side of the story:

“While the Chinese fishing vessel was conducting normal operations in the Daioutai islands, it was surrounded by the Japanese Coast Guard, pursued, obstructed, rammed, and suffered damage.”

In short, all the government had to do is what the Chinese Foreign Ministry, most of the Japanese political class—including many in the ruling party—and 80% of the people said they should do. The nominal leader should have taken himself seriously and let the people be the ultimate arbiters of foreign policy. Showing the videos was a win-win-win proposition. But they didn’t.

Leo Amery, a member of Britain’s House of Commons early in World War II, is remembered for two statements that electrified the chamber. The first occurred on 2 September 1939 when then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain indicated he would not declare war on Germany for invading Poland. The rebuttal to the prime minister was to be given by Labor Party head Clement Attlee, but he was not present. Another Labor MP, Arthur Greenwood, announced that he was speaking for Labor in his place. Amery called out, “Speak for England, Arthur!”

The Kan government has chosen not to speak for Japan lest it offend the Chinese.

Not everyone in the DPJ agrees with that position, however, and one of the exceptions is Ozawa Ichiro. Mr. Ozawa is viewed with suspicion in some quarters because he favors placing Japan at one of the vertexes of an equilateral triangle with the United States and China. He has led large delegations of politicians to visit China every year for many years. Yet he said that he wouldn’t have released the Chinese sea captain before the legal process had run its course. He added:

“The Japanese government must state its position clearly. I’ve stated my position clearly about the Senkakus with Chinese leaders…’For several thousand years, we have never been under Chinese rule’…This was the territory of the Ryukyu Dynasty. That dynasty may have paid tribute to the Chinese government, but it was never Chinese territory…Okinawa is part of Japan. There is no question that Okinawa is Japanese territory…We will absolutely not budge from this position. I only got vague answers in reply.”

Is it not interesting that Mr. Ozawa—at least in his side of the story—felt compelled to tell Chinese leaders that Okinawa was not theirs? And that the Chinese would not give a clear answer in return?

*****
One wonders how Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku made it past the age of 60 without understanding the most elementary aspects of human nature. When people are told they won’t be allowed to know information that they understand is critical to their interests, it ensures that the people will obtain that information eventually.

One of the excuses offered by the DPJ was that the videos were evidence in a criminal investigation. Explained Mr. Sengoku:

“Maintaining secrecy of criminal investigations is the A of the ABCs in the Code of Criminal Procedures.”

Article 47 of the Code of Criminal Procedures states, however, that the public release of evidence and documents is recognized “If it is deemed necessary for the public interest”.

Mr. Sengoku must therefore think it is not in the public interest for the Japanese people to see how the Chinese conceive of Japanese territory and how they respond to Japanese public officials.

The criminal investigation was over, of course. That ended before a decision was reached and the Chinese captain sent home. He was no longer liable to prosecution.

Mr. Sengoku also said:

“The people say, release them, release them, but I wonder what they want. If they support the concept of a simultaneous television broadcast or circulation on the Internet, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

It was obvious what the people wanted—to see the videos for themselves. It didn’t have to be a simultaneous broadcast. Isn’t that what NHK is for?

Rather than calm the waters, the behavior of the government inflamed the public curiosity. Suspicions were aroused of a secret agreement with the Chinese. Stories circulated about the behavior of the captain. J-Cast carried an interview with a Coast Guard source who avoided comment on the story from a Kan aide that the captain was flipping the bird and rather belligerent. When asked about stories that he was drunk, the Coast Guard source said, “The captain was not in a state that impaired normal judgment.” When asked about a Sankei Shimbun report that he deliberately sped up the ship to ram the Coast Guard vessel, the source answered that a collision would have been physically impossible if both ships were traveling at same speed.

Still, the DPJ had no intention of showing the videos. They did not change their minds until after their candidate was trounced in a lower house by-election for a vacant Hokkaido seat, and the opposition made it clear that discussions in the Budget Committee for the supplementary budget would not proceed unless the lawmakers saw the videos themselves. Said LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru:

“I don’t know what will happen with deliberations for the supplementary budget as long as the government does not fully release the video that it has.”

Thus the Kan Cabinet concluded it would have to show some of the video to some members of the Diet, but even that was beyond their capabilities. Ten hours of footage was edited down to six minutes and 50 seconds. It was not specified who did the editing, though some thought it was done by the prosecutors in Naha. The DVD was given to Budget Committee Chair Nakai Hiroshi of the DPJ, who said the Okinawa prosecutors told him:

“Discretion is required, so handle it carefully, including the number of people who see it.”

Mr. Yanagida, the justice minister, added to his reputation for incoherence by claiming that the prosecutors told him they did not want to release all the video because it would hinder future Coast Guard activities in the area and infringe on the human rights of some of the people involved.

No one had any idea what he was talking about, but then no one believed him anyway. The government had already shredded its credibility by maintaining from the beginning that the local prosecutors made all the critical decisions in the case.

The idea of a six-minute viewing satisfied no one. The opposition again demanded that all of the video be shown and that the prosecutors be called to testify in the Diet. They would be asked who edited the video, who decided what was to be included and what was to be left out, and whether the images were tampered with. Was it edited with an eye to the impact on Sino-Japanese relations, or to the survival of the Kan Cabinet?

Upper and lower house budget committee members finally saw the DVD last week with the Coast Guard present as observers. No members of the media or private citizens were allowed in the room, and those who were admitted were not allowed to bring in cell phones or video and still cameras.

Mr. Sengoku was concerned about Chinese objections:

“It is essential that they fully understand the relationship between the Japanese Diet and the government. The Diet is the highest organ of state authority.”

He’s quoting the Constitution there. How unfortunate that he skipped over the part in Article 15 that says: “All public officials are servants of the whole community.”

The reaction to the screening was curious. Said Isozaki Yosuke of the LDP:

“(After seeing the video), I clearly understood that it was intentional on the part of the Chinese captain.”

Perhaps that was to be expected of the LDP, but Abe Tomoko of the Social Democrats, Japan’s version of the political moonbat left, said:

“I had the strong impression that the ship purposely rammed (the Coast Guard vessels).”

The Motive: A CYA Edit?

Surely that must be what they think they saw. But not everyone else saw it the same way. Matsumoto Koki is a former LDP postal privatization rebel and veteran of several parties now in the DPJ. Here’s what he saw:

“(The fishing boat) hit the (Coast Guard vessel) as it was trying to flee. The way it hit didn’t seem to be an intentional collision. The instant of impact couldn’t be seen due to the camera angle.”

And Hattori Ryoichi of the SDP said:

“I have my doubts about the arrest itself.”

Taking Mr. Matsumoto and Mr. Hattori at their word raises questions about the editing. Were the clear shots of the direct hits on the Japanese ships intentionally edited out of the version shown to the Diet members to make the government look good?

Perhaps that was the last straw; before the week was finished 44 minutes of video showing that the Chinese fishing boat rammed the Japanese ships twice—without any camera angle problems—were made available on YouTube. The Japanese government had them taken down, but they were soon back up. They have now been seen and saved to hard discs the world over, including China.

The person who uploaded the videos used the handle Sengoku 38. Many wondered about the reason for 38, and a story briefly circulated that it was a homonym for “big dummy” when the Chinese pronunciation was used. Native Chinese speakers have scotched that, however. The most commonly accepted explanation is that it is a type of pun frequently used in Japanese. One reading for the number 3 is san, and one reading for the number 8 is hachi. Taking the first syllables of both creates the word “saha”, or 左派; i.e., left wing.

The Kan government was of course upset. It either forgot or ignored that the government is supposed to serve the people, and the result was that the paucity of their political skills and the poverty of their character was exposed. Said a DPJ executive:

“It is terrorism to bring down the Cabinet. The exposure was probably deliberate.”

Probably?

Terrorism is not the correct expression. It was an act of rebellion in the finest sense of the word – if the government cannot stand up for the people, the people will stand up for themselves and find a government that better suits their needs.

Others in the DPJ claimed it was the work of the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats, but that excuse was quickly dismissed as infantile. What bureaucrats would take the risk? In any event, the source has been narrowed down to the Coast Guard.

Mr. Sengoku promised to prosecute the perpetrator if and when he is found, and no doubt the attorney will be able to find some law that he broke. But as a Japanese blogger pointed out this weekend, the day Mr. Sengoku brings charges against the offender will be the day that marks the beginning of the end of his political career (though we might well have passed that point already).

Consider: The Chinese captain was arrested, but later freed without being prosecuted. On his return to China, he was one of several citizens awarded a medal for “model behavior”. (In other words, the Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to behave the same way.)

Meanwhile, Sengoku 38 is the one who deserves a medal, but instead he’s the one subject to arrest and prosecution.

Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi got it right:

“They should stop looking for the perpetrator and release the entire video to the public. This information should not be protected as a state secret and placed under criminal sanction.”

*****
The response to the release has been both educational and salutary.

The Chinese response was almost amusing. Said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei:

“(The video) cannot change the truth. It cannot cover up the illegality of Japan’s actions.”

Who are you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?

The Japanese mass media is calling for a concerted effort to find the leaker, but few outside the ruling class are fooled by the hypocrisy. Their realize their monopoly on the flow of information has also been disintermediated, and that the You Tube videos are as much a threat to them as they are to the Kan government.

Let’s not forget the English-language print media both overseas and in Japan. Wrote a blogger at the New York Times (his name is not important):

Leaked Video Shows Clash at Sea between Chinese and Japanese Ships

Clash? Is it a clash when two Coast Guard ships are attacked when shooing away a fishing boat illegally operating in Japanese waters? Would the New York Times use the word “clash” if a police officer was assaulted by a rapscallion trying to enter a restricted area?

Two writers for the Japan Times, that English-language publication produced by a few people who think it’s great fun to dress up in big people’s clothes and play newspaper, chose a clumsier verb:

“The 44 minutes of footage, uploaded on the video-sharing website in six parts, shows the Chinese boat bumping into Japanese cutters twice while coast guard personnel can be heard repeatedly issuing warnings in Chinese and Japanese.”

The Daily Mainichi was worried:

“Leaked video footage of a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and two Japan Coast Guard vessels off the disputed Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture could inflame fresh anti-Japan sentiment in China.”

To which the only rational response is: So what?

The Asahi pointed out that the release of the videos will force Mr. Kan to regroup and start over on both the domestic and foreign policy front because the Chinese might harden their attitude before the APEC summit this weekend.

To which the only rational response is: So what?

The Asahi reported that some government sources are calling the video release a “quasi coup d’etat”.

Is there a better way to deal with a quasi-government who treats its own citizens as if they were ignorant rabble?

The guests on one television news discussion program wondered why Sengoku 38 released the videos. Apparently they hadn’t read this Kyodo report:

Saitama police are analyzing about 280 DVDs that were found Friday at a train station in Saitama Prefecture and are thought to be recordings of video footage apparently showing the September collisions between Japan Coast Guard cutters and a Chinese trawler off the Senkaku Islands, sources said.
The DVDs were in two cardboard boxes left in a corridor near the east exit of East Japan Railway Co.’s Kawaguchi Station in the morning, the sources said.
According to the sources, an attached memo read: “This shows the reality of the Democratic Party of Japan…Feel free to take these with you.”

Fortunately, there were also plenty of sensible observations. Here’s LDP General Council Chair Koike Yuriko:

“This is a grave situation that will cause the international community to lose faith in Japanese trustworthiness. The Kan administration has neither the capability to manage a crisis, nor to govern.”

And LDP upper house member Yamamoto Ichita:

“This is a self-inflicted foreign policy defeat for the DPJ administration. I have the sense that the person who released the video had a compelling reason to do so.”

The Senkakus are under the administrative jurisdiction of Ishigaki, Okinawa. Ishigaki Mayor Nakayama Yoshitaka submitted a request to government to make all the video public and to guarantee the security of Japanese fishermen in the area:

“The video exposed the fact that the area around the islands has become a lawless zone, as well as Chinese behavior. The scenes shown on the web are just one part. All the videos should be shown in their entirety to the people…There are still serious doubts about why the Chinese captain was released and allowed to return to China. I want the government to stop this mealy-mouthed response, take a firm stand, and work to secure the safety of Ishigaki fishermen.”

The public sympathy for Sengoku 38 is considerable. The lighthouse at Ishigaki is open to public this time of year for tours, and the Ryukyu Shimpo, an Okinawa newspaper, interviewed some of the visitors from outside the prefecture. Said Shimada Kazuo of Aichi:

“It’s not right for the person who released the video to be sought for a crime, even though they released the ship’s captain who deliberately rammed (the Coast Guard vessels).”

There are also stories that people are calling the Coast Guard and asking them not to look for the guilty party. The Yomiuri Shimbun said 100 people called their offices in the first day after the videos appeared, 83 of whom approved the release. Another anti-government demonstration was held in Tokyo on Saturday, this time with 4,500 people participating.

The Kyodo news agency conducted a quickie poll over the weekend. It found that support for the Kan Cabinet has fallen 15 percentage points in the past month to 32.7%, lower than the approval rate when the DPJ took a shellacking in the July upper house election. The figures were down to 30.3% in a JNN poll. It won’t be long before it reaches the 20s, and when that happens to a Japanese Cabinet, it’s time to empty the ashtrays, put the glasses in the sink, and turn out the lights.

The Kyodo poll also found that 74% of the respondents disapprove of the way the government conducts foreign policy. Here are the results for a question about the approach to relations with China in the future:

48.6%: Maintain some distance
24.4%: No change
22.9%: Closer ties

Asked about the future of the government, Prime Minister Kan said:

“I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to fight it out, but as long as events progress, we’ll fight it out with everything we have.”

In the original Japanese, he said at the end “even if we have to bite on a rock.” In this morning’s edition of the Nishinippon Shimbun, editorial cartoonist Sato Masaaki has an illustration of Mr. Kan biting on an island in the sea labeled “Senkakus”. His caption: “By all means, we want you to keep biting on the rock.”

Translated into plain English, Mr. Kan’s statement means they won’t dissolve the Diet and call an election on their own initiative. Governments of the left never relinquish power willingly. As the Romans had it, Sic semper erat, et sic semper erit.

Frankly, the Kan Cabinet has shown itself to be so worthless it’s almost a waste of time to write about them. They’ve been in office only five months, and already they’ve become as useless and annoying as the dust that accumulates in the corner of desk drawers, the stray kernels stuck to the sides of the rice cooker, the scorched stew at the bottom of a pan, the dusty strands that appear between the curtain rods and the ceiling in unused spare rooms, or the dead cockroach swept out from behind a moved refrigerator at the end of summer.

What has characterized their behavior in office? They avoid responsibility and blame others instead of owning up to their actions and stating their case. They embrace the Chinese rather than stand up for Japan. They hide information critical to the national interest rather than trust the public. When criticized, they make angry and hysterical threats, rather than offer calm and collected explanations.

These men are weevily parsers of the law who think the nation exists in a vacuum. Instead of the highest governmental offices of the land, they are better suited to tatty rooms appointed with plastic furniture and assembly-line artwork, located behind second-rate retail merchandisers in hastily constructed strip malls at the shabby end of town, badgering people to sign contracts filled with unreadable small print and handing them cheap ballpoint pens that leave ink stains on the fingers.

Why would anyone expect this government to stand up for the national interest? The leaders of this government have believed since their university days that national interest is an obsolete concept. So much bilge has floated by the public since the DPJ took power in August 2009 that people in Japan have already forgotten the eminently forgettable Hatoyama Yukio, the leader of the preceding DPJ government, once said: “The Japanese archipelago is not the possession of Japanese people alone.”

Did he think the Chinese weren’t paying attention? Or was he so accustomed to be taken for a flannelhead that he thought his words no longer had consequences?

I wrote above that Leo Emery was remembered for two statements he made in the House of Commons, and cited the first. The second occurred during what was known as the Norway Debate in 1940. Great Britain had suffered a series of military disasters, and Amery quoted Oliver Cromwell to attack Neville Chamberlain and his government:

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

What next?

Be that as it may, I choose to think of the glass as half full rather than half empty. Perhaps there is already a spark in the imagination of an opposition lawmaker to file a motion of no confidence in the government. The idea of a motion of censure in the upper house has already been raised, but that would carry no weight.

Would a no confidence motion pass? The DPJ has a large majority in the lower house, and in this instance some of the opposition members might vote with them, including the Social Democrats and New Komeito. Then again, there’s no guarantee that Ozawa Ichiro and his allies would vote with the DPJ. There were reports even before this incident that Mr. Ozawa told his minions to be ready because an election could come at any moment.

The passage of a no confidence motion would mean the automatic dissolution of the Diet and a new lower house election. That might well spark the political realignment everyone knows is inevitable and spell the end of the DPJ as it currently exists.

It might also spark an overdue national dialogue about statehood, sovereignty, national defense, and the Constitution.

Further, some of the Chinese public have now seen that their government tried to stuff The Big Lie down their throats as if they were so many French geese being force-fed to produce foie gras. Of course the Chinese government didn’t want the videos made public—they dread the spark that might be ignited among their own people.

By placing those videos on You Tube, Sengoku 38 has become part of a glorious tradition of those with the courage to act for government of, by, and for the people. Whoever and whatever he is, for that alone he deserves our admiration.

Sengoku 38 created a spark. Sparks can sometimes turn to flames.

*****
The nightbird cries, the shadow falls…

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No touch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 27, 2010

I say a pressure drop, oh pressure
Oh yeah pressure gonna drop on you
I say when it drops, oh you gonna feel it
Know that you were doing wrong.
– Pressure Drop, Toots and the Maytals (Frederick Hibbert)

THERE IS a class of expressions in the Japanese language known as wasei eigo, or English made in Japan. While the expressions consist entirely of English words, none of them are used by native speakers of English.

Sengoku Yoshito: I know nothingk...

One example is the expression “no touch”, which means “I’m not involved at all”. For example, years ago, when I was an English teacher, some parents would tell me they never checked to see if the children did their homework or kept up with their studies. (They considered that to be the teacher’s responsibility.) They spoke entirely in Japanese, but inserted the wasei eigo, “no touch”, to describe their approach.

As astonishing as it may seem, the government of Japan is claiming that their involvement with the decision to release Zhan Qixiong, the captain of the Chinese fishing vessel arrested by the Coast Guard near the Senkaku islets, is “no touch”.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji were in New York to attend the UN blabfest, so Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito was responsible for handling affairs in Tokyo. (More than a few people in Japan think he’s running the show even when the prime minister is in town.) He held a news conference on the evening of the 24th after it was announced the Chinese captain would be released. He said:

After the prosecutor’s decision, I received word from the Ministry of Justice that the Naha prosecutors would announce the release this afternoon at a news conference. It was a report that (the detained captain) would be released as a result of the prosecutors’ investigation…I understand the comprehensive judgment of the prosecutors.

He then added a phrase for which he and his party are being skinned alive–by all the opposition parties (with the exception of the Social Democrats), some members of his own party, including former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, and the news media. He said:

The decision was the prosecutor’s alone. I acknowledge that.

Those last three words are the killer. The expression he used in Japanese has the tinge of legalese, which makes it that much worse. The Cabinet’s insistence that they were not involved, and their explanation for it, has stupefied the political class and those who cover it.

One Japanese commentator summed up what seems to be the prevailing sentiment:

You’d have to be a sucker to believe that.

Yet the rest of the government is backing him up. Prime Minister Kan insists that’s exactly what happened. Said Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru:

It is not true that I exercised authority as Justice Minister based on Article 14 of the Public Prosecutor’s Office Act.

Even Foreign Minister Maehara, known to favor a more robust approach to defense and foreign policy, went along with it, though he talks as if he’s trying to avoid the splatter. In New York on the 24th, he said:

The prosecutor disposed of the case in accordance with Japanese law. It’s not for me to say anything about that decision.

(This makes sense if you believe the rumors that Mr. Sengoku promised him he was next in line to be prime minister.)

Sources within the government are leaking a different story, however. Some say it was Mr. Sengoku who directed the effort to find a resolution and called it the “Sengoku Initiative”. Others say that Mr. Sengoku hinted to a few Cabinet members after the Cabinet meeting on the morning of the 24th that the captain would be released later that day. He also held a meeting with Mr. Yanagida at the Kantei before the prosecutor’s announcement.

It gets even worse. Here’s the Naha prosecutor giving his explanation at a news conference:

We could not determine that the act of the captain was planned. (The release) was made in consideration of the effect (of the matter) on the Japanese people and the future of Sino-Japanese relations.

Commenting on the statement later that evening, Mr. Sengoku said:

Based on the comprehensive judgment of the prosecutors, my thoughts on the release (of the detained captain) and the disposition of the case were that this was possible.

...nothingk...

The problem is the prosecutor’s second sentence and Mr. Sengoku’s “acknowledgement” of it. Before the release, the government said it would handle the matter quietly based on Japanese law. But the prosecutor instead cited the effect on the Japanese people and relations with China as the reason for the sudden release. If legal procedures were to be the basis for the determination, why is the prosecutor saying that international diplomacy was a factor in his decision? People expect that to be the business of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

The Diet will be called into session on Friday. The opposition LDP has already said they will demand the prosecutor be summoned to testify.

Some members of the DPJ are as stunned as everyone else. Said Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi, formerly of the foreign ministry and the vice chair of the party’s Policy Research Committee (and an Ozawa Ichiro supporter):

The release doesn’t make any sense.

The doubters also include Mr. Kan’s predecessor as prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio:

Some suspicions remain about the release among the public. The government has the responsibility to tell the people the truth, including whether they made any overtures (to the Chinese).

Okada Katsuya, who was foreign minister when the arrest was made earlier this month, but was shifted to the position of party secretary-general after Mr. Kan’s reelection as party president, was pilloried as he defended the process during a discussion on a Sunday TV program. Here’s how some of the dialogue went:

Okada:
It was the prosecutor’s decision to release the captain. Those who have the misunderstanding that it was done by the government are completely mistaken. President Tanigaki Sadakazu of the LDP said he (the captain) should have been sent home earlier, but would that really have been a good idea? Should we have twisted the law and returned the captain (in the middle of the process)? Japan has done absolutely nothing wrong. Of course it is not necessary to pay reparations or make an apology.

Eda Kenji, Your Party secretary-general:
(The government) said that the release (was made) by the prosecutor for political considerations without making a disposition. This is a suicidal act. You said that the government did not intervene, but verification of that is required. This is an actual crime, and not merely a problem of unlawful entry.

Ishihara Nobuteru, LDP secretary-general:
This is just casuistry. This began with the DPJ’s tone deaf diplomacy. The party was conducting a presidential election (at the time of the incident). You were the foreign minister. This primitive diplomacy made the matter worse.

Okada:
For the government to intervene and create the impression that the (handling) of the captain was divorced from legal procedures would harm the national interest.

Ishihara:
Diplomatic and political strength are exactly the way to handle this. It was a mistake for Mr. Sengoku to say that he “acknowledges” the prosecutor’s political judgment and release.

Eda:
This was absolutely impossible with the judgment of the prosecutor alone. This is an issue in which the moral position is 100% in Japan’s favor, but after a Chinese victory of 100 to 0 there must be sincere remorse on your part. It is a fact that you have created the impression that the Senkakus are a territorial issue.

True or false?

The government has gotten itself in a rare political mess. They have demonstrated extraordinary incompetence regardless of whether they are lying or telling the truth. If they are lying, as most people think, it comes off as an unwillingness to accept responsibility for an extremely unpopular act with serious international consequences.

The word gutless also comes to mind.

And what if they’re telling the truth? That makes the decision to leave the resolution of the matter to the Okinawan prosecutor an act of sheer stupidity. One Foreign Ministry official called this the most serious diplomatic crisis for Japan of the past 20 years (and that’s probably a conservative estimate). The affair involves an immense neighbor with whom they have extensive economic ties, that admits of no one’s rules other than their own, that has nuclear weapons and military forces 10 times the size of the Japanese, and which is both petulant and very unhappy.

And the government allowed it to be resolved by a minor public official in a provincial city. No touch.

If they are telling the truth, the idea was probably a dull spark from Mr. Sengoku, a University of Tokyo-educated attorney in a country that doesn’t care much for legal hair-splitting. (There’s a reason for the Japanese expression herikutsu, or “fart logic”.)

At the minimum, it is a severe political miscalculation. Schoolteachers used to make their pupils stay after school and write “I will not dip Sally’s pigtails in the inkwell” on the blackboard 100 times. In this case, the government should be forced to examine newspaper articles from the world’s press and see if they can find any story that begins with the sentence, “Today, Naha prosecutors released the captain of a Chinese trawler…”

The Chinese pressure drop

If they thought releasing the captain would resolve the situation and buy them goodwill from the Chinese…really, one can only shake one’s head.

From the Jiji news agency:

The Global Times, affiliated with the People’s Daily, the organ of the Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial on the 25th that while the Japanese released the captain, “An early return to the status quo ante will not be possible.”

“The Kan administration is inaccurate in its judgment of conditions in Asia, and they lack the discernment to protect the mutual benefits of China and Japan…To the current Japanese government, which has so little experience in governing a nation, we should drive home the point that China is not a country that can be opposed so carelessly.”

In other words, the Chinese are going to take their time about lifting some of their sanctions and they’ll continue to rub the Japanese face in it in the meantime.

From the Mainichi Shimbun:

In addition to stopping rare earth shipments, China halted the shipment of construction materials and semiconductors to Japan on the 26th. Government and trading companies are scrambling to discover the details.

Sources say that customs at the port of Xiamen performed a complete inspection of all freight bound for Japan and stopped shipment of construction materials. The local JETRO office reported it was the first time a shipment to Japan had been subject to a full inspection.

Diplomatic sources familiar with China said:

Did they really only verbally ask for an apology and compensation, or did they hit Japan with even stronger demands? This has to be looked at carefully. It is very possible that China will delay lifting their measures even with the announcement of Japan’s rejection.

The Asahi quotes another Global Times article:

Japan’s claims are the logic of an outright criminal, and are ridiculous. It is not possible that the Chinese government will accept them.

They add:

Chinese sources say the Foreign Ministry got the paper to run the articles to apply pressure to Japan.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Foreign Ministry sources think the Chinese believe if they apply relentless diplomatic pressure, the Kan government will lose its nerve and concede even more. They didn’t expect Japan to apologize or pay reparations. But if Japan, which denies there is a territorial issue, responds to a demand to discuss an apology or reparations, they will be a de facto admission there is a territorial issue. That alone would be a benefit.

Eda Kenji puts it all together:

People who do not know the fundamentals of the state and the ABCs of politics are in charge of the government. I can only say that this sudden release of the ship’s captain shows the Democratic Party is fundamentally lacking in the education that all policy makers should strive to attain, that the judicial system is independent of (matters of) territory or sovereignty, and, by extension, diplomacy.

During a recent news conference after the BOJ’s market intervention, Mr. Sengoku was asked if the government’s line of defense was 82 yen, and he said yes. In the worst-case scenario, that statement would result in the intervention going right down the drain. He doesn’t even realize there’s a problem with that.

Even I didn’t think they were this bad. The problem is not limited to their bureaucracy-led politics. The problem is with mistaken politics, with the conduct of politics as if they were children playing house. Their response was even worse than the childish Chinese challenges. If we do not press to have the Diet dissolved immediately and a general election held, and the DPJ government is not replaced, this country is finished.

Japan’s most serious foreign policy crisis in at least a generation is being handled by the people least capable of doing so.

UPDATE: On his Japanese-language blog, Kibashiri Masamizu cites reports that Mr. Sengoku didn’t even want to arrest the Chinese trawler captain to begin with, but had to be talked into it by Mr. Okada and Mr. Maehara. Mr. Kibashiri also wonders about Prime Minister Kan’s seeming abdication of any leadership role, putting him in the “no touch” group as well. He summarizes it this way: Japan has not had a prime minister during the month of September.

Also:

Regardless of any diplomatic determination, the government’s decision to release the Chinese suspect without a formal disposition was indeed above the law. In short, it was a supra-legal measure. The timing makes it unavoidable that it will be seen overseas as the capitulation of the Japanese government to Chinese government pressure.

More details on the decision from the Asahi in English, including this, presumably from a Foreign Ministry official:

“It’s a farce to say prosecutors made the decision,” a senior ministry official said. “(The government) is irresponsible.”

The article claims that the Naha prosecutors wanted to indict, but were overruled. It also mentions an “agitated” Kan Naoto, which I’ll have more on later.

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