Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko gave a live press conference last night, outlining what his government is doing regarding the territorial disputes with the Republic of Korea over Dokdo and China/Taiwan/Hong Kong over the Senkakus. (J)
The approach the Noda government will take is quite simple: it will assert its claims, which it has heretofore done quietly, mostly in the form of including the disputed territories in official maps, wherever appropriate in its interactions with the international community, leaving international opinion to judge the validity of Russian, South Korean and Chinese/Taiwanese behavior.
This approach is in line with the standard procedures of normal democratic states. Authoritarian regimes can enforce, as Deng Xiaoping suggested, the sweeping of competing claims under the rug for later, wiser generations to resolve, with the obvious postscript: "In the meantime, let's stay in power by letting our people make money." Democratic states cannot -- voters like problems resolved in clean, simple and tidy ways.
Adjusting to the new stance will lead to some fumbling. Even foreign policy experts will not "get it" -- see this CNN op-ed by Jimbo Ken, where he argues at the beginning that status quo policies are no longer operative, only to argue at the end that the conduct of relations between Japan and China needs the kinds of personal relations that lubricated and protected the status quo approach.
However, the chances of the new assertiveness' succeeding in freezing further escalation of territorial disputes are at least 50-50. All the governments in the region ex Japan remain at least semi-authorian -- the exception being Taiwan, which has opted out of the current round of the fighting over the Senkakus despite being led by a man whose law degree is based upon studies of Chinese claims in the East China Sea (E and E). The semi-authoritarian regimes can still rely upon considerable powers of persuasion to repress populist behavior - if the regime in question wants to do so. China has deployed both its 50-cent Party of Web commentators and its police forces (E) in a short-circuiting of anti-Japanese mob action in relation to the visit of Hong Kong activists to the Senkakus. That the South Korean president has gone in the other direction, choosing to heighten regional tensions rather than use his presidential powers to tamp them down, over a territory where South Korea has dug-in military forces, is...to be honest, not something I do want to delve into right now because it will be, inshallah, discussed in a future op-ed for Al-Jazeera.
The takeaway from last night's speech is that the balls are now in the courts of the nations surrounding Japan. The government of this blessed land is not going to keep quiet, as was demonstrated in the most recent Defense White Paper where the government put it writing That Which Must Not Be Said: that the civilian government of China and the People's Liberation Army may not be reading from the same piece of sheet music.
It will be up to the governments in the region, coping with their own internal instabilities and tensions, to come up with new narratives to cope with Mr. Noda's New Reality.
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