Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Worth My Time - Readings For August 21

-- Over at the semi-revived NPR Japan Forum, Dr. Alessio Patalano on the opportunistic braying about the purportedly inappropriate choice of "Izumo" as the name for the Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces latest and largest destroyer:
For the record, in the JMSDF (like in the IJN) names are chosen based on the Kantei meimei kijun (Fleet's naming principles). According to this regulations, destroyer, cruisers, and - a century ago - battleships, were named after natural phenomena, mountains, or ancient regions. The 'wind' class of ships, the 'rain' class of ships, as much as Hyuga, Ise, and other recent ships - all follow this regulations.

The IJN, had originally named the cruiser 'Izumo' after the ancient name of part of today's Shimane province (Izumo no Kuni).

So why the JMSDF decided to name the new destroyer after the original cruiser Izumo?

The reason is not related to the ship's serving as the flagship of the 3rd fleet that served in China - by then, the ship was mostly a training vessel and was recalled into service as a command ship because whilst antiquated for the day, its main armament and accommodations were good enough for the role it had to play in command and naval gunfire support operations.

Let me make this clear, no military organisation would ever name its next flagship after a ship that was famous for 'naval gunfire support operation' - whether that operation was conducted against Brest, Copenhagen, Shanghai, Kagoshima, Genoa, or wherever else. Professional military organisations think in terms of what the ship is likely to mean to the crew and to the organisation, and making the argument that the JMSDF would allow to have the new flagship named Izumo because of the Second Sino-Japanese war is either devious, or based on a complete lack of knowledge of how professional militaries work. Or a combination of both.

In fact, the reason for the JMSDF to choose this name is related to the more important facts that the cruiser Izumo was the flagship of the 2nd fleet during the Russo-Japanese war under Admiral Kimamura's command - serving admirably in all the war's major operations; and also the flagship of the 'Mediterranean Squadron' that provided convoy escorts in the Med during WWI. In between these two conflicts, the Izumo served also on a number of international diplomatic missions. The cruiser Izumo was scrapped in 1947, which made it also one of the longest serving ships in the IJN.

Ship names are selected after long discussions within the JMSDF and the Maritime Staff Office. Very senior retired officers contribute to this debate too. I had the opportunity to follow the naming process of two major vessels recently, including Hyuga, and there is little in the Japanese process that is different from any other navy with an important past...

Furthermore, while the MSDF does reuse names, it rewrites them so as to clarify that the new names are not to be strictly identified as revivals of the pre-1945 names. The ship christened this summer is the いずも, with the name written in katakana hiragana. The older Izumo was the 出雲, with the name in Chinese characters.

Details, details...but piddling they are not.

- Earlier this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe publicly promised the aging former residents of Japan's Northern Territories and their descendants that he will exert every effort to win back all four of the Kurile Islands and island groupings currently under Russian administration. All or nothing.

The possibility that he may be willing to stiff the former residents and greenlight a plan to divide of the islands, in return for a Russo-Japanese peace accord, is intriguing:
The one difference this time around is Tokyo's determination to get a deal done and normalize relations with Russia. Abe's summit in Russia last winter should not be viewed as mere window-dressing. In fact, the visit marked the first time a Japanese leader had made an official state visit to Russia since former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Putin met for three days in 2003. Abe has motivation to get a deal done with Russia and his government has been sending feelers out on a compromise deal. Shotaro Yachi, one of Abe's personal confidants and a special advisor to the Cabinet, recently teased out the idea broached by Putin last year of hikiwake – or a "comprise" [sic] on the territorial row. Yachi noted in an interview before the recent Upper House elections that, "Japan needs to go into the negotiations with a strong determination to settle this issue once and for all while Putin remains president. If Putin broaches the idea of a hikiwake, we shouldn't reject the idea outright. We should explore the possibilities of a hikiwake in a form that would be acceptable to Japan."

This is a considerable shift in thinking for Japan and Yachi indicated that there needs to be recognition that a deal may result in political blowback: "No solution is going to win unanimous popular support in either Japan or Russia. An acceptable compromise would be one that a majority in both countries can support. But that will entail a larger agreement embracing cooperation in areas like energy and the environment. Hopefully, people will see it as a win for both sides once all of those elements are taken into account. The key is putting together an agreement that doesn’t give one side a clear victory over the other."

Of course, if a Democratic Party of Japan government or its top diplomatic advisors had ever mooted the possibility of a strategic, sacrificial, half-a-loaf solution to the continuing dispute over the North Territories/Southern Kuriles, The Yomiuri Shimbun, the Sankei Shimbun, their respective media groups' radio and television networks and the guys in the sound trucks would all be screaming, "Treason!"

How nice it is to be Abe Shinzo.

-- And in the eternal "MTC, you are simply wrong" category, I very much look forward to reading Alaistair Iain Johnston's "How New and Assertive is China's New Assertiveness?" (Link) -- to find out how much of my concern about Chinese adventurism is the result of my ignorance abetted by media outlets hyping unrelated and possibly innocent events.

Tip of the hat for the link to Amy King and Shiro Armstrong at the East Asia Forum.


Anonymous said...

Typo in your post. The new ship is in HIRAGANA, not KATAKANA.

MTC said...

Anonymous -

Not a typo, but a partial brain shutdown.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the link to the International Security article. It was an enlightening read. While I agree with the author's general conclusion about drawing overly broad assumptions about Chinese foreign policy based on the so-called "assertive China meme," I think the author understates the degree of increased Chinese activity in the South China Sea. Examples include warning shots and other direct actions on other states' vessels (e.g., cutting a Vietnamese' vessel's cables). There's also the issue of aerial forays near Japanese airspace. Perhaps UNCLOS emboldened smaller states to lay claims with greater confidence than before, but these claims have existed long before the recent period of hightened tensions. Why the greater sensitivity now, either in Beijing or in the capitals of other claimants?

Philippe said...

ref - Russia-Japan

Wasn’t this type of deal already suggested when former prime minister Mori went to Russia on a private visit during the summer of 2012? I’ve some vague recollection of reading something along those lines; perhaps it was in a Russian publication (my $search_engine fu fails me and my browser history only goes back to 9 months ago). There was also, more recently this ajw.asahi article which insinuates a similar kind of deal.

How nice it is to be Abe Shinzo
Oh, yeah. When is the press seriously going to pester Abe Shinzo about the Fukushima situation? Soo weird (:not!) that all those problems there come out after the July 21 2013 election.