A Hiatus

I am coming to a crucial part of my PhD studies (the end) and I don’t have as much time to pay attention to the comings and goings of Japanese domestic politics right now. I will attempt to post something (or some things) just before the election later this year in July, but don’t be too surprised if there is little other than that.

I have jotted down a few thoughts at JSW regarding a recent NY Times article which had the rather unnecessary headline of “Japan Moving Further Away from Pacifism.”

It isn’t short, but if you have the time and interest, then by all means.

While it Has Gone Quiet within the Senkakus…

The PRC response has finally come through over the last 24 hours. But it has been unsatisfying and shaky, ranging from surprise, to righteous condemnation of Japan’s motives, declaring the incident to be an “absolute fabrication,” now to arguing that the MSDF was silly enough to mistake a surveillance/early warning radar for a fire control radar (that would be indeed be silly, since the Yudachi engaged in evasive manoeuvres to escape the Chinese frigate!)

The Japanese have dug their feet in first by saying that the Chinese response is simply not good enough and for them to go away and think about it more carefully. Then Minister of Defense Onodera has come out and suggested (日) that there was certainly no mistake and that they have video, photographic, and if needed, electronic evidence of the supposed infraction. Onodera argues that, a “normal” radar “spins” while it is monitoring while a fire-control radar continuously tracks the “target” as it moves. 「通常のレーダーはくるくる回って警戒監視をするが、火器管制レーダーはその(目標の)方向に向けてずっと追いかける」

He also said that in addition to the confirmation of this through visual imagery, they have electronic records as well which were carefully analysed by an expert at Yokosuka Naval Base on return. Onodera emphasised that a fire-control radar is a specialized radar that emits a type of electromagnetic wave with a distinctive wave frequency.  「電波を発する機械で、しかも(周波数などが)特殊なレーダーだ。それもしっかり記録しており、証拠として間違いない」

That said, the Japanese government is still considering releasing these records due to it possibly revealing sensitive national security information. It is understood that some in the MOD are not too keen to reveal more than images.

On the bright side, a number of Japanese news agencies have all noticed that PRC incursions around the Senkaku Islands themselves have reduced since the Japanese made their accusations. It will be interesting to see if they double down on the various broad accusations they have made, or whether they will approach the Japanese for a face-saving way out of the issue (for a price perhaps?)1. Or simply ignore it? (the “pfffft….whatever” strategy that the PRC uses when things are really tricky)

Extra:

Jun Okumura has also been putting up more timely analysis regarding the latest radar incident.

Kyle Mizokami has an interesting thought experiment up at JSW regarding what could have happened between the two vessels involved in the incident militarily, if you are that way inclined.

1 This price could be an agreement along the lines of an agreement not to do such things again in the future such as I mentioned Japan and Russia have agreed to (a tacit admission that that is what happened and removes that particular tactic from the PRC toolbox). Or the implementation of a maritime “hotline” mechanism which has been mooted over the last few years and was apparently making progress towards implementation before the Senkaku controversy erupted late last year. The PRC ambassador in Japan two days ago recognized (日) the need for such a mechanism. The one risk for the PRC with such a hotline is that if it is called upon it may reveal weaknesses and irregularities in terms of the political and military chain of command, a consideration very relevant if we assume that this recent incident is a PLA-level rather than Xi Jinping-level instigated incident. Okumura above even suggests that a dialing down, but not elimination, of Chinese government patrol boats entering into Senkaku waters may be possible, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

Those Dramatic Japanese…

This China Daily “report” demonstrates two notable things.

1)  Japan’s campaign to accuse Chinese radars of “locking onto” a Japanese warship is more like a “political drama…Jiang Xinfeng, an expert on Japanese studies at the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, said a radar’s “locking on” is a common and constant reconnaissance practice in regular missions, and the other side usually reciprocates”

Suspicion and skepticism of the US or Japan’s general motives is one thing, but to belittle a rather provocative act in such a way is galling.

Interestingly, this Asahi article (日) notes that while Japan and Russia (for example) have exchanged an agreement banning such actions due to the potential for it to lead to conflict, Japan and China have not exchanged such an agreement. Nevertheless, rather than a “common practice”, it can be regarded as a simulated attack by global standards. With Defense Minister Onodera declaring (日) that such action may be equivalent to the “threat of the use of force,” and thus proscribed by the UN Charter,1 it is unlikely that the Japanese government is going to accept one Jiang Xinfeng’s assertion of innocent naivety.2  

2) “Although the Shinzo Abe cabinet chose a temporary friendly posture for thawing ties, it is still hyping the ‘China threat’,”

While Japanese hawks and conservatives are liable to do such things, the sad fact in this case is that they don’t need to. It is all too easy. With Abe resurrecting the idea of a National Security Council and putting it up for expert discussion not long before the announcement of the incident, this is quite a gift to the administration, especially given the MOD’s apparently (日) slow response in analysing and announcing the actions.

My former supervisor (pro-PRC scholar) liked to say that the biggest consumers of the “China Threat” theory were the Chinese people themselves and not seemingly cynical, suspicious, or racist Westerners. The government and the domestic media would usually take PRC-skeptical overseas content and frame it in a way for the public to show that China was unjustifiably seen as a threat. Pointing to international anti-Chinese sentiment was an important part of CCP regime maintenance as it tried to frame the outside world as a hostile place where anything less than the continuation of a stable, committed and strong Chinese government (the CCP!) could end in the loss of international power and respect for China, and even the loss of sovereignty and a repeat of the century of humiliation.

Lately, however, it seems that the Chinese media is becoming one of the biggest producers of the “China threat” theory, as deliciously demonstrated by the above China Daily report. With the victimization narrative seemingly in place and established in the minds of many, skipping the middle man is so much easier. It is also a great way to avoid taking seriously anything that you may find uncomfortable.

This article also contains further cloying examples of feigned counter-outrage (or perhaps the more succinct 逆切れ) including:

On the eve of (Shinzo Abe’s) upcoming visit to the US, using ‘radar targeting’ to hype up a ‘China threat’ as a bargaining chip to persuade the US to ‘relax restraints’ may be the Abe cabinet’s painstakingly crafted ruse

Japan has “other motives in being the guilty party accusing the victim” over this issue…To win more bargaining chips, Japan chose this moment to suddenly create the tense atmosphere of an imminent Sino-Japanese military conflict to seek concessions from the US on easing restrictions on its right of collective self-defence3

Maybe. But it is all rather besides the point.

1 Including in the defense of territorial integrity, unless there is a corresponding use of force by the other side.
2 The head of the MOD’s Defense Policy Bureau did confirm (日) that the Chinese vessel’s cannons were not positioned towards the MSDF ship during the initial period of radar “painting.” Whether or not it is a breach of the UN Charter, which may be a thin thread to hang this on to be honest, it is certainly a breach of global military custom and common sense. The SDF seamen aboard would have certainly not felt particularly comfortable during the period that the radar was “locked on” to their vessel.
It is less than clear what the relationship is here. It isn’t really the US that Japan has to convince to exercise the right of collective self-defense to protect US vessels. It is irrelevant to the incident in question in this particular case in any respect. 

The Fire-Control Radar Incident: Incompetence or Malice?

When last year’s Defense White Paper (“Defense of Japan”) came out there was much media commentary over whether it represented a new direction for Japanese security policy towards China. I argued at the Shingetsu News Agency that such rhetoric was somewhat alarmist, and that there were more continuities in the document than deviations. Clearly not an avid reader of this blog or SNA, the Chinese government seemed to think otherwise. They particularly took issue with the concern raised by the Japanese MOD regarding whether “civilian control” was really being observed in China. The MOD noted that the relationship between the CCP and the PLA was becoming more “complex,” which is far more generous than many China analysts, sympathetic or otherwise, would have been. Apparently however pointing this out was evidence of “militarists” having taken over the security agenda in Japan.

We got a crystal clear expression of why the MOD was right to raise this concern during the back and forth over the fire-control radar “painting” incident this week.

Not only did the Chinese offer a “no comment” when first asked, but in follow up questioning the Chinese MOFA admitted (日) that the first they knew of the issue was when the Japanese government announced it, and that it is necessary to ask the “responsible agency”「われわれも報道で知った。具体的な状況は承知しておらず、(別の)関連部署に聞いてほしい」!!

That is not going to be reassuring to the Japanese. At all.

Either the MOFA genuinely did not about this and is expressing its anger at PLA in a very bizarre and impotent way, or, the MOFA is playing a part in a cynical attempt to deflect international attention from a clear provocation deserving criticism. Either way it does not bode well.

Trust also that this incident is not a minor issue.

When the Japanese government recently wondered out loud whether it would employ the use of warning shots whenever a Chinese aircraft entered Senkaku airspace, this was seen as provocative. Fair enough, although we need to note two things. One, it was just talk and was always unlikely to go further than that and such talk was quietly discontinued- a sensible decision in my estimation. Two, while provocative and more a last resort, the use of warning flares, is, for better or worse, a relatively common way of of letting an aircraft and its pilots know that they are doing something utterly unacceptable.

The actual use of fire-control radar, for example, to express annoyance at MSDF vessels tracking Chinese vessels at a distance  in the East China Sea (3kms in this case) as some have suggested, is however, not part of any standard operating procedure or in the rules for peaceful maritime engagement. The last time something like this happened in 2005, when a  PLA(N) destroyer aimed its guns at an MSDF surveillance aircraft near the Chunxiao/Shirakaba gas field, Japanese defense analysts remained touchy for some time. This is worse than that and it will certainly be in next year’s Defense White Paper. And as Kevin Maher notes  (日) in the Japanese media, again for better or worse, if this happened to a US vessel, then the Chinese vessel would not have a “few minutes” as it did with the MSDF vessel before the initiation of a forceful response.

The Chinese response to this is important for many in the security community in Japan, many of whom are level-headed and traditionally have not even been particularly antagonistic towards China. At least, certainly less so than some of Japan’s politicians. From the point of view of many in this community, an unfortunate diplomatic contrast will become obvious.

When Japan makes mere mention of using the provocative but “valid” option of firing warning flares to direct a Chinese government aircraft out of contested territory under Japan’s control, a high-ranking Chinese defense official comes out with nationalistic bombast along the lines of “if Japan were to dare using such an option around the Senkakus, we would not wait to see what the follow up would be.”

Japan retreats.

When a Chinese maritime vessel paints a MSDF vessel 3kms away with a fire-control radar on the open sea for a number of minutes, the MSDF performs “standard evasive maneuvers” like it is a training exercise, and retreats. The Japanese government thinks about it for a few days, collects data, and then makes a diplomatic protest. What will China’s response be? Obfuscation? Defiance? Apology? It will matter to many, and not just the public and the usual political suspects keen to exploit the issue for political gain.

The New PRC Documents on the Senkaku Islands

As noted in my fuller exposition of the developments over at Japan Security Watch, Jiji Press went big yesterday (日) with apparently revelations that the Chinese, according to the PRC’s own official documents, actually considered the Senkaku Islands to be part of Okinawa prefecture for some period of time, in contradiction of its position that it had always considered the islands to be part of Taiwan “Province”, even before the 1968 discovery of oil.

In short, the article notes that in a document produced in preparation for negotiations regarding the San Fransisco Peace Treaty, (which the PRC did not ultimately participate in due to not being invited, and its outcome rejected anyway due to its position on Taiwan), the PRC did not once use the current Chinese name for the islands (Diaoyu-tai), used the Japanese moniker on one occasion, and did not explicitly state that they should have been part of PRC China while also expressing doubts about whether the islands were part of Taiwan province rather than the Ryukyus. This could have not only implications for the consistency of the PRC position since 1949, but raises the possibility that Chinese “awareness” that the islands were effectively ceded along with Taiwan during the Treaty of Shimonoseki, or stolen by conquest, was not as robust, apparent or widespread as has been previously argued. That said, the documents are not likely to change anything in the short-term, although may embolden the Japanese to take a more proactive position on promoting the idea of ICJ resolution.

Just How Angry is Xi Jinping Right Now?

MTC has a provocative post up that will almost certainly get him into trouble with a few people in the East Asia studies circuit, but still certainly worth a read. He very validly points out that the DPRK’s most recent launch of a missile-rocket indeed puts US military interests within range of the DPRK’s IRBM (長距離ミサイル for those keeping score), which may in turn change some of the alliance calculus over the next few years. The South Koreans have always been willing to put up with far too much from the DPRK for Japan’s liking, but now with the US being in range at some point then this may alter the balance of concern. Furthermore, it dilutes one of the bargaining chips the US has held over Japan, and has used to get Japan to do things it may have otherwise not been particularly keen on doing (Iraq, withdrawing from the Azadegan oil field in Iran). In theory, over time the North Korean “ballistic missile threat” will be less likely to be utilized as some kind of of quid pro quo in alliance negotiations and should become more of a mutual interest. Cucek also correctly notes that the Chinese will be furious and will once again see their power and influence as not having brought the respect they believe it deserves.

This will hurt the Chinese in other ways than simply pride, however.

First, it gives Japan and the US a useful issue to bash the PRC over the head with in the UNSC, especially if the PRC goes ahead and vetoes any further sanctions. China’s image will deteriorate in Japan further as perceptions have already shifted from it being perceived as a “responsible power” when it first proposed the Six-Party Talks, to it now being perceived as more of an “enabler” of the DPRK and its various military machinations.

Second, given the second stage debris of the missile-rocket landed not a few hundred KMs from the Philippines, then the PRC’s song and dance about the new X-Band Radar proposed for southern Japan and/or the Philippines is going to look all the more hollow. Japan, Taiwan, Australia and the Philippines will be officially less than amused, but may also be very pleased as any further installation of BMD architecture such as the X-Band Radar in southern Japan or the Philippines will in practice, even if not officially, bring greater protection against the PRC’s own MRBMs. Further X-Band Radar installation will also help in enabling the US and Japan naval forces to stand their ground better against the DF-21D “Carrier Killer” within the key strategic triangle of Guam-Tokyo-Taipei. If the Chinese are unwilling to cut the DPRK adrift, or unable to bring them under control, then they have little valid leverage to push back against such plans.

Third, the PRC a few months into the DPRK’s succession had many of the state-associated think tank scholars spread the word regarding the DPRK having turned over a new page, confident that the DPRK would follow the PRC’s lead and pursue Deng Xiaoping-era style reforms.  Apparently the PRC communicated to the other powers in the region that they were not to do anything that would “interfere” with the transition of power to Kim Jong-eun. Essentially this was a warning to respect China’s sphere of influence and to not attempt to put pressure on the DPRK which would destabilize it.  This had led to fears of China potentially “colonizing” North Korea economically, but yesterday’s launch may well represent a rejection of such “guidance” from the PRC, or at the very least an attempt to extract more out of the Chinese in terms of assistance before the almost inevitable threat to detonate a nuclear device rises early next year. It may also reflect a recalibration of internal politics back towards the military, although I have no particular information that would confirm this. Giving in to the DPRK’s demands however, likely in defiance or ignorance of proposed sanctions by the ROK, Japan and the US, will however hurt China’s own regional credibility as well as its own security interests, as per point two above.

Before Noda Goes to Moscow, Mori

It seems yesterday’s post was well timed. The Japanese media is now reporting (日) that former prime minister and recenty retired LDP elder Mori Yoshiro is currently preparing to fly to Moscow to meet with President Putin ahead of Noda’s visit in December. One government official has denied that this has anything to do with the government, with it being suggested the meeting is simply a catch up between old friends. It is certainly true that Mori and Putin have close personal connections. Mori was, for one, the Japanese PM at the time of the singing of the infinitely sensible Irkutsk Declaration in 2001, which reconfirmed the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration signed on the eve of normalization in 1956. The original declaration committed the two sides to signing a peace treaty which would in turn result in the return of two of the southernmost Kuriles, Habomai and Shikotan, to Japan.

Along with Suzuki Muneo, Mori has the necessary personal connections to facilitate a positive outcome if the Japanese government is open to it. Thus, giving the timing, it is hard to believe this is a mere coincidence. It is also very interesting that Mori has come out and reprimanded (日) LDP President Abe for focusing too much on getting Noda to call an election this year, something which could certainly interfere with any progress on Russo-Japanese relations and would limit Noda’s credibility in any discussions.

Now for Something Completely Different: Kind Words for Abe Shinzo

After Abe Shinzo’s victory in the LDP presidential race, Japan Security Watch co-perpetrator James Simpson and I consoled ourselves on Twitter with recognition that while Abe may have been a failure (and indeed a potential danger) on the domestic front the first time around, his foreign and security policy accomplishments, aside from a few indiscrete remarks, were significant.

There is a tendency to see Japan’s foreign policy in the 21st century split between the “conservative nationalist” period which would cover the Koizumi, Abe and Aso cabinets, and the “Asianist” period with the LDP Fukuda interlude and the DPJ (or earlier to Obuchi if you want book ends). If one however pays attention to what was done, rather than what was said during the last 11 years, a more appropriate division could arguably be made between the Koizumi tenure and the post-Koizumi tenure, of which Abe ushered into existence.

The fact of the matter is is that Koizumi’s foreign policy was not only somewhat opportunistic but often unfocused. In terms of military and security policy, Koizumi dedicated Japan’s resources to inappropriate endeavours and his adminstration appeared to lack an articulated strategic focus other than to simply follow behind the US, something which ultimately overstretched the SDF’s resources and doctrinal coherence to the point of danger. Only, perhaps ironically, under the DPJ, are we seeing a more robust and focused consideration and debate in regards to what the SDF should be doing, rather than trying to do everything or anything that is politically expedient at the time. Koizumi also displaced Obuchi’s human security agenda from the centre of Japan’s foreign policy, at least rhetorically, seemingly on the basis of personal whim. This was an area of foreign policy endeavour where Japan was a global leader and one of great value in terms of Japan’s national interests in the strategically important Southeast Asia region. During Koizumi’s time in office Japan’s crediblity and influence in Southeast Asia fell to its lowest levels, while China was making significant strides precisely at this time. Despite this, Koizumi only visited Southeast Asia once during five years outside of multilateral forums and the like. Even when he did things right, like embracing Indonesia during the post-tsunami humanitarian crisis and during the subsequent crisis (and then peace-process) in Aceh, he failed in terms of follow up and ensuring Japan remained committed. Indeed, after making the initial running Japan meekly ceded a primary leadership role to Finland in Aceh. If Koizumi had of cared more about a coherent and consistent foreign policy in this critical region he may well have ended up with a Nobel Peace Prize as well as enhancing Japanese credibility in the region. The less said about Northeast Asia under Koizumi’s watch, the better, of course.

Abe on the other hand, while only in office one year, was much more focused in terms of foreign policy goals, and was generally constructive and effective. Japan security and geopolitical relations with many strategically critical nations for Japan such as India, Australia, and Vietnam actually went forward in concrete terms in all realms – diplomatic, economic and military. Relations with Northeast Asia, much to everyone’s surprise, stabilized and improved. Abe, and those who came after him, presided over actual progress being made on FTAs/EPAs in the region rather than simply engaging in rhetoric about “region building.” If one pays close attention to what has actually happened under the DPJ in terms of foreign policy, strategic and security policy developments, (that is, rather than being distracted by the diplomatic and political noise), then much of what the DPJ has done effectively in foreign and security policy, albeit quietly, is arguably a continuation and strengthening of tendencies and agendas initiated under the Abe regime.

While the above is somewhat oversimplified for the purposes of making clear that not all is what it seems, it is in this context that one can read fellow antipodean and friend of the show Andrew Levidis‘ articulate, balanced and unsentimental take (not a criticism) on what an Abe 2.0 administration might mean – something MTC was right to identify.

One paragraph in particular could well describe where the DPJ after three years has ended up in regards to foreign policy thinking:

Japan’s diplomatic strategy toward China during the Abe cabinet was symbolised by an ‘unsentimental perception of friendship’ in which China was ‘neither enemy, nor neutral nor friend’. As premier, Abe made the symbolic decision to visit Beijing, endorsed the official declaration of wartime aggression and accepted the creation of a Sino–Japanese history commission. Yet at the same time he rejected the link between anti-Japanese demonstrations in China and the so-called history problem, criticised China experts within Japan for their ‘excessive reactions’, warned of the instability within China from the loss of the philosophical paradigm of ‘equality of outcomes’, and warned of China’s rapid acquisition of military power.

This view would not be out of place among some of the junior and centrist elements of the DPJ, although this was not necessarily the case at the start of 2009. The irony is that Abe’s social and domestic agenda is anethema to many of these very same people, despite there being areas of linkage in the foreign and security policy dimension. Abe’s seeming contempt for the Japanese constitution, symbolized by the setting up of the ‘Yanai Committee’ to discuss how to “reinterpret” the constitution, is also viewed by many in the centre (of both parties) as cynical and contrary to the very spirit of democratic liberalism that Abe and other conservatives are keen to promote as the key difference between Japan and China.

The other issue is that the foreign policy Abe wanted to pursue, and the one he did pursue, may well have been quite different – such are the difficulties of being in a position of compromise and there is no necessary shame in that. However if is is indeed the case, as some have suggested, that Abe believes that the foreign policy he pursued while in office was too soft, rather than being somewhat competent, then this is indeed a troubling thought.

I will leave the last words to Andrew:

Shinzo Abe’s return to the presidency of the LDP and (potentially) to the Japanese premiership offers both opportunity and danger, and the degree to which he succeeds in reconciling the seeming contradictions within his vision will have a direct bearing upon Japan’s relations and role in Asia.

Reaction to Hashimoto’s Senkaku Suggestion

In response to Hashimoto Toru’s suggestion that Japan take China to the ICJ over the Senkaku Islands dispute, the Japanese government was negative, and it continued to insist there is no territorial dispute despite Hashimoto admonishment over the stance. No surprises so far.

However, two non-cabinet members of the DPJ, and probably the two most important voices on security issues within the party, have shown a hint of flexibility on the issue. Two days ago Nagashima Akihisa, the prime minister’s foreign and security policy aide, said on national television (日) that Japan would consider responding to a Chinese request to seek ICJ arbitration. Then this evening, on the same TBS station, Maehara Seiji, who will likely be back in the cabinet tomorrow, also said  (日) the government would give consideration to any Chinese proposal to go to the ICJ. He did rule out however Japan being the one to make the initial move, saying that as Japan was the nation that actually administrated control over the islands then it would be unusual for Japan to be the one to lodge the dispute with the ICJ. That does make some sense – such a move may project doubt over the legitimacy of one’s own claim. Ultimately the government probably forced its own hand in this regard and it is possible that it may have regreted reacting to ROK President Lee’s provocation on Dokdo by lodging a complaint with the ICJ (which the ROK then rejected), given that a Japanese refusal to respond in kind on the Senkaku Islands would look contradictory. Of course, without an official government statement suggesting that it would consider responding to any ICJ case, then the contradiction will not be fully resolved. Nevertheless, this is more flexibility, and more sense, than many expected.

While I have no basis for assuming this, but it is always possible that the recent willingness of the US to (re)assert that the Senkakus were covered under Article 5 of the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty was connected by the Obama administration to Japan perhaps showing a degree more flexibility on the issue and at the very least consider ICJ arbitration, thus putting the ball in China’s court. Will the CCP take the, quite significant risk, as detailed in Friday’s post, of taking this to the ICJ? Is this a bluff by the Japanese government? If so, will it be called?

It will be interesting to see if this gets any coverage in the Chinese media, or how, or if, the Chinese government reacts to the overture.

 

Hashimoto Digging Himself into a Hole with Japan’s Conservatives?

While the recent Chinese protests against Japan did very little for China’s image as a country ruled and inhabited by rational and well-informed people, in terms of the public relations war over the Senkaku territorial dispute itself, and regarding drawing attention to China and Taiwan’s dangerous attempts to undermine Japanese effective administrative control, Japan has been faring badly.

The main problems have been the combination of Japan’s unwillingness to admit that there is a territorial dispute, combined with simplistic understandings of the historical context of Japan’s acquisition(by both sides of the argument, actually), which has made it look less than reasonable, especially as critics have pointed to Japan’s WWII-related territorial disputes with other nations. The recent prominence of hardline conservative voices regarding the Senkaku Islands dispute has also raised suspicions elsewhere. While Japan has proposed taking the ROK to the ICJ over Dokdo, has emphasized the “rule of (international) law” in the UN, and has criticized the ROK for not recognizing the dispute, it has been too timid to also adhere to the same exact logic regarding the Senkaku Islands, which drastically undermines its credibility.

At the same time the Japanese government has also been unable to articulate to the international community that any Chinese attempt to undermine effective control, is, irrespective of historical and legal dimensions of the dispute itself, invalid and dangerous. Essentially there is a difference between being pigheaded and committing violence against the international order. The principle of respecting effective control must be adhered to, especially given the serious limitations of international law regarding dealing with historical territorial claims. However, if Japan admitted that there was a territorial dispute, was open to taking it to the ICJ, perhaps in exchange for China recognizing Japan’s administrative control and not challenging it, then perhaps China’s actions would be regarded as every bit as provocative as the Japanese believe they should be. This is the jist of former ambassador and head of the MOFA Treaties Bureau Kazuhiko Togo‘s argument to deal with the situation, anyhow. There is certainly something to it.

It is of great interest in this context of territorial and international law disputes, security tensions, and “hardliner” Abe Shinzo’s ascendance to the LDP throne, that Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru has chosen this time to pick a Twitter fight with conservatives over territorial and history issues. I have reproduced selected elements of the discussion below with commentary. While there is a lot to deconstruct and challenge regarding his own view of history and past and current conflicts, the below conversation shows why it is too soon to lump him in with populist “nationalists” like Ishihara Shintaro, or for that matter, conservative “nationalists” like Abe Shinzo and Koizumi Junichiro (as people who walked out of even a reasonably mild Diet resolution on Japan’s war responsibility and defunded the secular alternative to the Yasukuni Shrine).

———————————————

Hashimoto had earlier suggested that Japan propose dual administration of Dokdo, or the area around it, which is arguably a more moderate proposal than the current government line and certainly more so than calls to “punish” the ROK with sanctions or whatsoever. He had already had media criticism. The storm that this touched off led Hashimoto to confront his interlocutors regarding what they perceived to be “weak-kneed” diplomacy regarding South Korea (on his part and of the current Noda government).

He pointed out the most important point – that South Korea has clear and effective administrative control over the islands. He accused past administrations going way back of having done nothing about the ROK’s acquisition of the islands, but he suggested that this was ultimately Japan’s own “fault” and that they had to accept the cruel facts of life – Korea is not going to give up Dokdo, and like Japan with the Senkakus, it has administrative control. While Hashimoto’s own plan of dual administration will be considered for all of a single second in Korea, Hashimoto felt the need to ask his assailants what they would otherwise do to rectify the situation.

Were they actually saying that they wanted “to use force against Korea to take back the islands?” “No” they said – of course not. “But that is basically what you are arguing for” Hashimoto replies. “What about economic sanctions?” some suggest. “Go back and do so more study! How is that going to work?” Hashimoto accurately notes.

Indeed. Hashimoto seems to at least understand that you can’t take one stance on one territorial issue and then self-indulgently take another stance on another conflict.

This morning Hashimoto is at it again, but this time with the Senkakus. What is that retro-conservative saying now?

Japan should admit that there is a territorial dispute and should be willing to go to the ICJ!

Hmmm…that isn’t going to sit well.

Translation:

Between sovereign states, claims should be settled by reference to principles of law and justice. The rule of law should be respected. While continuing to adhere to such a stance, it is also a reality that a certain degree of one’s own force needs to be maintained. We must face reality while also adhering to the rule of law.

Thus, in regards to the Senkakus, we should stop with this kind of bureaucratic “there is not territorial dispute” stance. If we are so confident in our convictions we should say to China that we are willing to go to the ICJ. This is our chance – actually China is not too keen to go to the ICJ. International society is neutral in regards to disputes. Even the US does not recognize Japan’s sovereignty and is keeping neutral. If we are willing to resolve through the ICJ, we will get considerable support from international society. Even if Korea and China are reluctant, they will have to explain to the international community their position. Likewise with Russia. We should however also increase our national strength. In regards to defense spending, we should not limit it to 1 percent. We should acquire the level of defense strength that we need. As a maritime nation, including the JCG strength, this is a particularly important topic. We need to embrace collective self defense. And strengthen the US alliance. While leading on the promotion of the rule of international law through the ICJ, we should also strengthen ourselves (militarily).

Regarding Japan’s past war deeds, we should recognize our wrongness [literally "that wrong things are wrong"]. However, in regards to the (unchangeable) circumstances of that era, we should also at the same time[as recognizing the bad things] identify the constructive aspects [likely referring to Taiwan and Korea's economic growth, or Southeast Asian independence?] and correct global perceptions. All of the thinking (statements) about this period is foggy. This fogginess is the main cause of problems. We cannot just say that everything we did was justified or that we are simply being masochistic [by not recognizing positive aspects]. If we admit to the bad things [atrocities] more specifically then we can also talk about the circumstances of the time [perhaps the reasons for the war] and also our contributions. We can push back against mistaken perceptions. This should be made more clear in our government statements on these issues [the bad things should be detailed more as well as "good" things ie the current vagueness is preventing the recognition of either].

We should admit the wrong things, have sympathy for others, and continue to be cautious [about war?]. But, we should push back against unreasonable criticism. Being able to be proud of what we did is directly connected to our recognizing the injustices.

Hashimoto’s point regarding China and Japan having a “chance” shows a good understanding of the situation. China would certainly hesitate to take the Senkaku Islands dispute to the international court, having built it up into a big deal and emphasizing the “unmistakeable” justice of the Chinese claim. In reality, the historical evidence and justifications are foggy at best, and Japan’s continuous administration and lack of Chinese protest before the 1970s could be fatal for China’s case in a court of international law. Certainly ignoring such a risk would be unwise.

Any Japanese administration that lost the Senkakus would be finished to be sure – but what is a Japanese Prime Minister and a new party in government worth these days anyway? The consequences for the Chinese Communist Party would be much more severe. They may ignore the ruling and take on the nose the possibly irreparable harm done to China’s international reputation – significant all the more because they would have agreed to abide by the ruling by going to court. The other issue is that if Japan received a ruling in its favour then it would almost certainly strengthen further its administrative control over the islands and would feel good about doing so. Would China continue to contest this control? Would it launch a military strike?

Conventional logic would suggest no, given the economic, military and diplomatic losses it would incur. But, the CCP’s legitimacy, especially now that the economy is faltering and social instability is rising, is increasingly based on a perception of it being a hardheaded and effective manager of international relations and of China’s rise, and in particular one that would ensure that the historical traumas inflicted by the West and Japan are not repeated. If the CCP just meekly accepted the ruling, the chance of popular anger rising could well lead to the party’s downfall, or certainly end quite a few political lives. Either it would be accused of having been too soft regarding Japan and/or the international community, or it would be accused by others of deceit and manipulation surrounding the Senkaku Islands.The CCP has recently effectively dealt itself “all in” on this dispute.

So Hashimoto probably calculates that Japan being open to taking the dispute to the ICJ is a low-risk, high-return proposition.

In any respect, Hashimoto was not finished there on Twitter and took a few responses. A few other tidbits that won’t endear him to either the left or the right in Japan:

Interlocutor 1:  If we adhered to the 1 percent cap on military spending then Japan would still be 3rd the highest military spender in the world, and that there is still waste in defense spending – 1 percent should be enough.

[Japan is no where near 1 percent right now FWIW]

Hashimoto: I am not necessarily advocating for going beyond 1 percent…just simply that we should start from the point of view of what we need, and we can take the conversation regarding money from there.

Interlocutor 2: The US and Europe never bother to apologize for their colonialism… and there is no way that they could compensate for hundreds of years of colonialism

Hashimoto: There is no need for us to imitate Europe and America’s bad points. We should recognize the violations and we should also note clearly the constructive actions.

[Fun fact just to stir the pot with my American readers: Until 2009 in the US there was no official apology for black slavery or for the treatment of Native Americans/First Peoples - and the resolutions of 2009 explicitly identified that there would be no compensation]

Interlocutor 3: Maybe you want to abandon the [1965] Japan-Korea Treaty on Basic Relations? [Which resolved the legal issue (for the ROK at least) regarding compensation].

Interlocutor 4: Many [Japanese war criminals] were executed, money was paid, and a treaty was agreed to, don’t you think this has been resolved? Are you saying even though reconciliation money was paid and documents exchanged then this is insufficient?

Hashimoto: Yes, legally speaking. But problems of the spirit [lit. heart] are different from legal issues.

An additional comment to No.4: “Could you say the same thing [directly] to the bereaved families of those caught up in “gratuitous” internal incidents?