Friday, September 18, 2009

Better Stick With Economics?

Dear Mr. Economist,

I have some problems with your article, "Poodle or Pekingese?"

They are not few.

1) America does not have 134 bases in Japan. According the Ministry of Defense, U.S. Forces Japan has 85 bases and areas of operation in Japan.

2) The total land area of U.S. bases in Japan is not "one-and-a-half times the size of Tokyo." According to the Ministry of Defense, the total land area of U.S. bases and areas of operations, is 309 square kilometers. The total land area of Tokyo, according to the Geographic Survey Institute of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, is 2,103 square kilometers. Even if you limited yourself to the 23 central wards of the Tokyo Metropolitan District, the assertion is still wrong. According to the TMD website, the nijūsanku together cover 622 square kilometers.

Here is a bonus. The total land area of Japan is 377,945 square kilometers. Run the numbers and you will find that U.S. bases and areas cover a whopping 0.08% of Japan's total land area.

3) You have never heard of Douglas MacArthur' great gaffe. Otherwise you would have never dared print a paragraph like this (color scheme, mine):

His main foreign-policy goal is to establish a more “equal” partnership with America. This, however, puts him in the predicament of a rebellious youth desperate to break out of its parents’ clutches—but unable to afford it. He has expensive campaign promises to meet, such as expanding social welfare and child support, and little scope to spend more on rearming.
What you have committed with this little turn of phrase is what we in this blessed land call "a self-inflicted injury."

4) You call Japan the main Asian ally of the United States in the Cold War. I believe the South Koreans, who have fought alongside their U.S. allies in a bloody conflict on the Korean peninsula, sent fighting men and women to Vietnam (and Iraq, for good measure) and who have allowed their forces to be commanded by a U.S. general, might find your assertion a bit...obtuse.

5) You write that:

One of those parties consists of former socialists who have staunchly opposed keeping American troops on Japanese soil. Only after lengthy bargaining did it agree to water down its anti-American stance.
One of the parties, the Democratic Socialist Party of Japan, is a not a party of former socialists (small "s"). It is a party of real, present day socialists (small "s").

As for the second assertion, that the DSPJ watered down its anti-American stance after lengthy bargaining, it did no such thing. It retains its anti-American stance, undiminished.

7) I am not quite sure of your grasp of history, either of the world or of Japan.

Throughout its history Japan, when it has not closed its doors to foreigners altogether, has tended to seek out and support the dominant or rising powers of the day, be that middle-kingdom China, Nazi Germany or post-war America. China's emergence thus presents its diplomats with something of a novelty: the task of balancing relations between two powers at once.
I have to think of the last time a government based in Japan has sought to support any of the dynasties of "middle-kingdom China." O.K, the Ashikaga bakufu, maybe. No, it really is hard to see how this claim of accommodating the rising or dominant powers can be squared with Japan foreign policy since, oh, let us say the time of Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) to the arrival of the black ships of Commodore Matthew Perry.

As for "something of a novelty: the task of balancing relations between two powers at once" -- how are you characterize the interwar years in East Asia, where Great Britain and the United States were the two regional colonial big shots? What about balancing in between the U.S.S.R and the U.S.A during the Cold War?

6) I am trying to figure out your final aside in this paragraph.

Mr Hatoyama has made a strong commitment to improve relations with other Asian countries, and has a chance of easing decades-old tensions because of his party's history of sincere apology for Japan’s wartime atrocities.
The DPJ has a history of sincere apologies for Japan's wartime atrocities? Individuals within the DPJ, possibly...but the party as a whole? I am willing to be proven wrong on this one...or on any of the rest of the points I raise above.




Jan Moren said...

Dagens Nyheter, Swedens largest and perhaps most influential paper - think Asahi or New York Times - had a lifestyle piece some time ago about Japanese culture-related shops, restaurants and so on in Stockholm. I looked through it very carefully and discovered that "sushi" was not misspelt, making it the single Japanese-derived word to be written correctly. It wasn't completely spared of ignomy of course; according to the article sushi is raw fish. It shared the confusion of meaning with many other terms, with "manga" being a style of youthful dress inspired by Japanese school uniforms, for instance.

At that point you may well recall arguments that the difference between bloggers and real journalists is supposed to be the careful editing, the exhaustive fact-checking and the general trustworthiness of newspapers. And you may be excused if your tentative conclusion is that if traditional journalism dies, nothing much of value is actually lost.

Dave said...

Agreed, the article in The Economist is flawed.

However, the assertion that Japan tends to follow the dominant power in the international order (your point 7) is widely accepted in IR and Security studies, is it not?

Indeed, it's a view pulled straight from "Japan's International Relations" by G. Hook et al., (among other works describing similar normative behaviour on Japan's part).

A google search on the fellow who penned the article reveals that he is a Pd.D candidate in International Relations, perhaps explaining his asserting this point and belief in it.

Anonymous said...

Indeed -- MTC, I think you read "support" as "assist as an ally", when in this context I think it is better read as "plays a supporting role". Japan has always been "second-fiddle" as it were to the dominant power of the day, whether as a client state, an ally, or some combination of the two.

I'm not sure where they obtained their data regarding US bases and their area, but this pamphlet leads me to believe they simply included any shared facilities (leading to such ridiculousness as the US forces occupying over 1/3 of Hokkaido). FWIW, here is the MOD's area data for your figures.

I suggest you post your critique as a comment on the Economist website or submit it as a letter to the editor.

Anonymous said...

There is something a little too "gotcha" and triumphalist about this post that detracts from the civility that usually characterizes your output. Perhaps this is the curse of all bloggers? For most people most of the time on most subjects the Economist is fantastic. It would be a little more difficult for me to defend one of your more typical targets - the New York Times - but my point is that for you to spend your time driving home the meme that the mainstream media is not to be trusted, they are useless, incompetent, sounds a little like some of the crazy nutjob idiots i.e. Glenn Beck etc. etc.
You wouldn't want to cast your lot with them, would you?
I guess it comes down to what do you want to do with your very fine blog? Do you want to take yourself seriously and opt to accomplish this by beating up on easy targets; do you want to mock everything and anything a la Our Man In Abiko - a fine read any day and if I could bring my laptop with me on my trips to the bog for light reading it would be even better... Is it going to be a combination of the very personal and erudite along the lines of Ms. Armchair Asia?
I certainly can't say you step over the line. After all this is YOUR blog but for some reason the Economist piece has stuck in my mind and it just did not seem characteristic of your usual production.
Best regards,
A fan

Anonymous said...

Throughout its history Japan, when it has not closed its doors to foreigners altogether, has tended to seek out and support the dominant or rising powers of the day, be that middle-kingdom China, Nazi Germany or post-war America.

Just a minor issue though...

Did the author deliberately omit the British Empior the ally of Japan in the early 20th century? And also I must say that Japan is well known as an ungrateful country to middle-kingdom China since Japan had never gave any military support when middle-kingdom China was invaded by their surrounding barbarians. I will not mention how Kamakura shogunate reacted against Mongols and their allies here. And also, let me note that, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu indeed became a vassal of Chinese emperor as the king of Japan, but it is considered that he just wanted exclusive right to trade with Ming dynasty China. And finally, I think, it is the close-its-doors foreign policy, which had been continued over 200 years, to be thought as one of the most important policy in the pre-modern era Japan.

Pachiguy said...

This is an admirable demolition job, Shisaku, well done indeed. I'm so glad to see that it's not just me that has found the Economist's coverage of Japan to have grown increasingly trite and misinformed of late. I could write reams about how bad it has become but that would almost require a separate blog to itself. Please come and visit my post about Muroran on Hokkaido for a very oblique take on Japanese politics and mass media neglect, among other things.