Friday, October 26, 2012

Parsing Okada On The Senkakus - Oh Neo Where Art Thou?

Until yesterday, I lived as so many of you, in an intellectual landscape of great green trees, wide, clear rivers, and in the distance, peaks with their first dustings of autumn snow.

Now my mind wanders in a battered and bruised land, a sere landscape of ghostly shapes appearing and dissappearing, enshrouded in mist hanging above a gray crumble of burnt soil and blackened rocks.

If only I had not stumbled over this:
Japan's deputy PM admits Diaoyus dispute, opening path to China talks
Deputy PM acknowledges dispute with China over islands, potentially paving way for talks
South China Morning Post

Teddy Ng -- The top deputy to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has acknowledged that a dispute with China exists over the East China Sea - a key concession and potential olive branch to Beijing.

Speaking at a meeting of the ruling Democratic Party, Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada said Tokyo's control of the Diaoyu Islands - known in Japan as the Senkakus - could not be questioned, even as he admitted Beijing took issue with its claim.

"The Senkaku issue is not a territorial problem, but, as a matter of fact, there is a dispute between China and Japan," Okada was quoted by Kyodo News as saying. "Both sides must fix the current situation through dialogue."

Tokyo has long refused to acknowledge even the existence of a disagreement, a key roadblock to Beijing's efforts to draw it into negotiations. Noda's government has maintained the position even as coastguards from mainland China, Japan and Taiwan conduct competing patrols in the surrounding waters.

The dispute has resulted in widespread anti-Japanese protests and boycotts in mainland China, which have begun to take a toll on the Japanese economy. Japanese exports fell 10.3 per cent year on year in September.

Okada blamed nationalist Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara's bid to buy the islands from their private Japanese owner for triggering the row. Noda announced his own purchase plan in a bid to defuse the situation, but it only further angered Beijing.

"We need to tell China that it is safer for the islands to be controlled by the central government than by the Tokyo metropolitan government," Okada said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing had always wanted to resolve the row through negotiations.

Luo Zhaohui, the ministry's Asian affairs director, went to Tokyo to meet his Japanese counterparts earlier this month, paving the way for bilateral talks.

What? What? What?

Okada breaks with the official position in a significant way -- and the Sankei Shimbun does not go bananas, issuing a spate of editorials and op-eds battering Okada for his perfidious utterance?

How did a shift in Japan's stance, or Japan's stance as explained by Okada, fly completely under the radar?

I put out an all-points-bulletin for the original Japanese statement, which Mure Dickie of the Financial Times graciously provided:

尖閣諸島「都の購入計画間違い」 岡田副総理

2012/10/21 20:17

 岡田克也副総理は21日、和歌山市で講演し、沖縄県・尖閣諸島の国有化の背景に石原慎太郎東京都知事による購入計画があったことに触れ 「都が尖閣問題に乗り出したのは間違いだった。都は外交問題の責任を取れない。結果的に中国から非常に厳しい反応が返ってきた」と批判した。


(Link - J)

In what constitutes a glaring case of burying the lede, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun chose to emphasize in its headline Okada's stating that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's plan to purchase the Senkakus was an error. A precedent-shattering shift in the government's stance on the status of the Senkakus is left to swing in the breeze in the last line.

For the benefit of those who do not read Japanese, or whose computers do not accept kanji, here is the last line, in romaji and in my translation.
"Senkaku wa ryodo mondai de wa nai ga giron ga aru koto wa jijitsu de, taiwa wo tsujiru ima no jokyo o shizumeru to ikenai."

"The Senkakus are not a territorial issue. However, that a debate exists is a fact. Given this, we must calm/quiet the present situation through dialogue."
The words that Okada puts in opposition are mondai (問題) and giron (議論). Mondai in the phrase ryodo mondai is "issue" – no question about that. However, what does giron mean? According to the Kojien dictionary, giron is:

a) The coming together for the purpose of transmitting of one’s own theories
b) To argue with another on a theoretical level
c) To set opinions to fighting against one another

So calling giron a "debate" is not a bad shorthand.

Now here is where we part with reality.

One might believe that "Let's debate the issues" is an uncomplicated and banal phrase. However, this is not so in the world Okada would have us inhabit.

In this new world one can still debate issues. One can also debate non-issues, such as whether curry with rice tastes better when one puts the curry on top of the rice or when one puts it next to the rice (that I have to ask guests, out of courtesy, which way they want their curry served indicates that the human race is marked for extinction). Non-issues are differences between two states of being that are so trivial as to be not worth one’s time discussing – but we do so anyway.

However, to the polar opposites issues and non-issues we are now supposed to accept a third pole: the not issues.

When the first ideas were being floated on how Japan could hold to its official stance on sovereignty over the Senkakus whilst giving the other side, whether it be Chinese or Taiwanese, some place to stand upon, I joked one had to resort to quantum mechanics to understand the proposals. (Link)

Quantum mechanical explanations, however, will do one no good here. There is no assumption of Japanese sovereignty both existing and not existing, the state of matter called “superposition.” Here, Okada has stated that there is no territorial issue involving the Senkakus. In physics terms, the wave function has collapsed: the territorial issue does not exist.

However, according to Okada, while an issue does not exist, a debate does.

Presumably, Mr. Luo and his counterpart Sugiyama Shinsuke, the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau chief at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have been meeting in order to discuss everything except the sovereignty issue.

Why? Because the sovereignty issue does not exist.

If the issue of sovereighty does not exist, you cannot have a debate about it. If you cannot have a debate about it, you cannot have a debate about anything related to it. All substantive debate about who can and will do what where depends upon who has sovereignty at that "where."

So from the moment you start debating anything peripheral to the Senkakus, you are immediately thrown back to debating about something that does not exist.

So how are Mssrs. Luo and Sugiyama occupying their time?

They could ostensibly be discussing phenomenology: debating whether or not they are really there debating or, as it were, not debating about something that does not exist.

They could be discussing baseball, both in Japan and the United States. Or the U.S. elections. Or the Chinese leadership transition. Or Japan’s constipated legislative process.

They could be amusing themselves and their staffs with role-switching, saying, “OK, for this session I’ll be you and you’ll be me. Let’s see what happens.”

However, they cannot be talking about the issue that has brought them together because that, as we know, does not exist.

At which point I begin to regret not having chosen the blue pill.

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