Saturday, August 25, 2012

Your Serve, Region

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, 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.


Anonymous said...

After reading this

"All the governments in the region ex Japan remain at least semi-authorian -- the exception being Taiwan.."

I'd be curious to hear why you think South Korea is a semi-authoritarian regime, considering it is in the region.


MTC said...

Chris -

Despite the explicit curbs on presidential powers in the 1987 constitution, the presidency of South Korea still has a great deal of power to set the political agenda, particularly in foreign and security policy. The executive branch still also relatively strong powers as regards internal security.

Mob behavior in the ROK also has a greater ressemblance to mob behavior in authoritarian states than a liberal democratic ones.

Anonymous said...


I don't see how that is so very different from other presidential democracies. Surely agenda setting powers alone do not make a country semi-authoritarian, whatever that means.

As for "internal security," that's a pretty loaded phrase that, by itself, seems to suggest South Korea as being some sort of near-police state. That's simply incorrect.

I'd also hesitate to label any country authoritarian, semi- or otherwise, if it holds free elections and has a free press, which South Korea does. You'd have a hard time pointing out deficiencies in these two areas that don't also apply to almost every other democracy right now.

If what you really mean is that, collectively, Korean's are more prone to outbreaks of severe nationalism and irrationality (often two sides of the same coin), then that's harder to argue with. Still, that doesn't make it any kind of authoritarian country.


MTC said...

Chris -

I appreciate your criticisms.

I ask you give me a bit of time to write an op-ed explaining what I am talking about.

I am hewing close to the edge in declaring Taiwan outside the zone of what I call semi-authoritarian states. The history of politics of Taiwan would place it rather deep inside the set. However, recent pragmatism and cooled temperaments indicate that the country and its citizens may have graduated out of a semi-authoritarian status.