Saturday, March 07, 2015

First Read - 7 March 2015

Screenshot of 6 March 2015 NHK morning news caricature of U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and East Asian leaders unable to sit down and talk because of discord over history in this year, the 70th anniversary of the final year of World War II.

- There is a huge amount to like in Professor Jennifer Lind's essay for the Council on Foreign Relations on the prospects for warming Japan-Republic of Korea ties (Link). However, the essay does not emphasize strongly enough how the current frozen state of ties, the government of South Korea having, or pretending to have, concerns in common with the government of China as regards Japan, furthers the ROK's best interests. One would only has to consider the hypothetical of an East Asia without a Japan to realize there is nothing fundamental to the current Sino-ROK warmth, that the ROK would be in a perilous position indeed if not for the focus Japan's presence provides.

Rather than offer hints about Japan-ROK spring, Professor Lind should have hammered away at the likelihood of a long frost.

The knife attack this week on U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert (Link) and the government of Japan's revision of its description of the ROK on the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website from "a neighboring country with whom we share common values of liberty, democracy and free markets" to "most important neighbors to each other" (sic) - Link J - video) may be harbingers of change in the ROK's heretofore rather cushy position in East Asian politics. The U.S. government has been fairly tolerant toward the ROK government's and civil society's anti-Japanese radicalism, allowing South Korean activists to push past the envelope of what are normally acceptable expressions of historical anger. The government of Japan has also been mild in its responses to violence against its diplomats and citizens. The GOJ clearly has had enough of the ROK's special status. The US Gov may be less automatic in its support as well.

- The big story in the news today is the general positive noises coming out of the bilateral talks in between the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito on the legal framework for an exercise of the right of self-defense (Link). The Komeito is purportedly signaling an understanding of the LDP position in the aggregate. The LDP's coalition partner needs more specifics about the levels of response to distant attacks that might threaten the safety of Japan. (Link - J)

The LDP has to be feeling pretty good about the Komeito's mild distress at this point. With the Unified Local Elections coming up on April 12 and April 26, the Komeito should be in the position to arm wrestle the LDP into moderating or even abandoning its more ambitious security proposals. That the Komeito is merely reticent at this point bodes well for major Komeito retreats in May.

- The really big story on security on Friday was the Cabinet Decision on changing the structure of the Defense Ministry giving uniformed, active-duty officers of the Self Defense Forces direct access to the Ministery of Defense (Link). Arguments for the change are feeble: there is no evidence the requirement that the requirement to work with the "suits gang" (sebiro gumi) prevented the "uniform gang" (seifuku gumi) from acting or offering their views to the minister or director-general. Arguments against the change are the results of memory, both in terms of the nation in general and the Self Defense Forces in particular. The current structure has been supported, like the determination of the unconstitutionality of the exercise of collective self-defense, by generations of prime ministers. That the minister leading the change, Nakatani Gen, is a former member of the Ground Self Defense Forces, makes the change look less like a reform and more like a rejection of the reality of history.

In a broader sense, I am beginning to think that "escape from the postwar regime" means "in our future, there will be no history."

The change is still only a proposition. Like the 1 July 2014 Cabinet Decision on collective self-defense, it is not enshrined in legislation. Like the July 1 Decision, it is the subject of withering criticism from the opposition parties.

However, like the July 1 Decision, any delay or modification in the implementation of the plan depends upon the Komeito's intestinal fortitude.

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