Pandolfini's Rules of Chess, Rule #8:The Imperial Household Agency has seen reason. It has relented and is going to allow Xi Jinping, the heir apparent to the presidency of the People's Republic of China, to have an audience with the Emperor sometime this week. The hyper-sensitive bureaucrats of the Agency baulked at giving up one of their greatest prerogatives: the one-month in advance notice for anyone wishing to meet His Highness. What must have been especially galling to give it up to the sworn enemy of bureaucracy, Ozawa Ichiro, currently leading his forces on a visit to China.
If you can't determine whether to accept or decline a sacrifice, accept it.
Given the Democratic Party of Japan's ownership, for the time being, of majorities in both Houses of the Diet, annoying the notoriously vengeful Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Japan with tendentious regulation (if the rule was promulgated in order to protect the health of the Emperor, exactly how is the Imperial Household Agency supposed know how the Emperor will be feeling one month's time?) probably struck someone as not being the smartest thing for Agency officials to do. Next years Agency budget might end up a little bit on the tight side, possibly.
In taking the course of valor, the Imperial Household Agency is allowing the possible emergence of a new tradition in China. Current President Hu Jintao also met with the Emperor when he himself was in the dauphin position in the Politburo.
This opens up the possibility of an intriguing symbolic innovation. Up until the fall of the Qing in 1910, it was the imperial institution in China that granted symbolic legitimacy to all who ruled in East Asia, both of the mandarinate inside China and the kings of the countries surrounding China (Japan's tenno being the notable exception). Each new accessor to power remaining nominally illegitimate until receiving the Chinese emperor's seal of approval.
China's present day rulers, having ground China's own imperial institution into ash, are bereft of a suitable symbolic guarantor for a candidate's being suitable for the leadership what is purpotedly the latest incarnation of a great civilization. A visit to Thailand, the last survivor of the tributary kingdoms, would provide a link to the past. It would, however, represent a humiliating reversal of roles. Visits to the barbarian capitals of the former slaves of the Vikings (Moscow) or that rabble of rebellious barkeeps and farmers (Washington) would send all the wrong messages about the direction of history's flow, while a visit to one of the great capitals of Europe would just confirm that European justifications of colonialism actually had some substance to it.
However, in Japan's imperial house there is a direct link to a distant line past that is not just purely East Asian, but which is very nearly a meeting among equals, with each side gaining honor from the other's attentions. That the Japanese would go against their own rules and receive China's heir apparent at short notice would be the proof of not just the greatness of China but the greatness of the one chosen to lead China. That the two sides are purported blood enemies, with the Emperor's father as one of China's grand historical baddies, gives the whole rushed arrangement a frisson of much-welcomed uncertainty.
Then again, Xi might just be going out of his way to show that a Chinese leader cannot only can meet the Emperor whenever he wishes but that when he meets the gentleman he feels no need to contort himself into an L-shape like that young American president did.
I must admit: I look forward to the video of the mutual greeting.