I have a question…

One thing that seems to not have been asked about the DPJ’s recent foreign policy “cave” on the Senkaku Island issue is “where did they get their information from?”

After all, if we are to believe the likes of Eda Kenji from Your Party,  the DPJ is all about “bureaucracy-led politics” and it seems to have suspiciously failed them after 55 odd years of careful, almost conservative, MOFA management. Indeed, as Jun Okumura suggests, any self-respecting government/bureaucracy would have had crisis management plans in place and would have been aware of how this might have played out from the start. Which is true. While the Chinese reaction might have been unexpected, it certainly was not implausible.

It seems to me that either a Koizumi-like immediate deportation or decisively and calmly running down the clock until, in this case, the 29th, would have been the appropriate choices – and those choices should have been apparent at the outset. I doubt even if MOFA neglected to inform the DPJ of the relevant considerations, and even if we accept the Chinese pushback was stronger than predicted, that the DPJ leaders believed that resolving it in the way that they did would be desirable. Why try to take a bold stance if you do not have the will to follow it through? And even if you initially miscalculated, why keep digging in but then release the captain at a disadvantageous time with an explanation that contradicts the initial policy of government non-interference from an independent law enforcement agency? There are some questions here for me that EVEN if we assume incompetence (see Dispatch Japan for a good summary of how the government may not have been out to sea as some are saying), are insufficiently answered.

Was it really Chinese pressure that made Japan “blink?” (given that this pressure was predictably a constant since the beginning of the crisis)  Was it Japanese business pressure on the DPJ? Was it all a cunning ploy by MOFA or even the DPJ to get the US to commit to protecting the Senkakus after it having recently neglected to mention whether they would come to the aid of Japan in the case of a military action against the Senkakus? Did the US bring pressure to bear in the form of not wanting the situation to escalate further? (there has been some subtle background diplomatic maneuvering suggesting the Chinese are making some overtures to the US after a bad year for the relationship). Like Peter Ennis, I am not sure that it was a significant  diplomatic defeat for Japan – and certainly long-term Japan has enhanced its credentials vis-a-vis China if we expand the audience for this crisis beyond just China and Japan. Any significant change in Japan’s diplomatic posture towards China should be resisted in the mean time, even if Japan takes greater military precautions in terms of its security posture. But in the context of China-Japan relations I can certainly understand there would be some dissatisfaction domestically.

It is the case that China did not contest effective control of Senkakus, and the DPJ might well have been merely been allowing the CCP, or at least the moderates in the party who found it necessary to flex their security policy muscles ahead of the 2012 election, a face saving way to de-escalate the issue – but, it certainly is not just China experts that understand that foreign policy is being made by more actors than just the CCP and that is going to have to be faced up to at some point in time – possibly sooner rather than later. Even if these CCP elements realize that they miscalculated, it is not unreasonable to fear now that “miscalculations” are going to become more frequent because of the changes in CCP foreign policy management. It is hard to believe that the DPJ either did not understand this, or that they were not informed of this dynamic when they decided that they would take the bolder option of taking the captain into custody. Now that the Chinese do not look like they are going to climb down anytime soon, and cabinet ministers are still hovering between praise for the prosecutors making a enlightened “political” decision to prevent further deterioration of Japan-China relations, and indignation at China’s not respecting Japanese legal process – well they are certainly a number of seeming contradictions here that would make many scratch their heads.

5 thoughts on “I have a question…

  1. In addition to your one question, a lot of us have several questions. Were the relations between the Chinese and Japanese diplomatic corps poor? One would assume that the Chinese said that the easy way out is what Koizumi did. Did this message get through? It certainly seems as though Japan escalated this, either through incompetence or intent.

    • The relationship between MOFA China division and FM-PRC traditionally has been good, and on the Japan side almost sympathetic to the PRC. This has changed in the last 7-8 years I guess but one would think not so much that they would not have had their ear to the ground. Which makes this particular choice puzzling. Certainly at the governmental level Japan was the first to escalate – but what hand did they think they were playing with in doing so? Was there some miscommunication between the US and Japan that was resolved someway through? After all, the timing of the release of the captain coincided with top level meetings between US and Japanese leaders/officials, and quite suddenly too. Maybe that is just purely circumstantial.

  2. My guess is that Japan coast guard arrested the Chinese captain to make a problem against DPJ. Considering almost all bureaucrats want LDP to come back to power, it is very likely. But the problem has got still bigger than they thought.

    • Certainly some have questioned why the JCG arrested him in the first place. I guess that is why it would be interesting to see the decision making process. Some have argued that the JCG captain had no choice but to arrest the crew out of fear for his own career should he have returned home with such damage and no explanation. Then again, what is standard operating procedure here? Would there have been an opportunity for communications with JCG officials? Ministry of Transport officials? The Minister? Certainly, given there was no threat of immediate armed conflict, so these options could have been practically possible. I guess it all depends on whether there were discussions and such a standard operating procedure in place for such a contingency in the first place.

  3. This would be the conversation.

    Minister, we must arrest the chinese captain. can we?

    Well…it is a difficult matter…

    Minister, can we?

    Well…probably yes…

    Minister, we have arrested the captain.


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