Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thought Over Coffee -- What Is Different About The Current Senkakus Dispute

With the Chinese authorities dialing down the protests and violence inside China, not permitting the departure of 1000 fishing vessels to challenge the 12 nautical mile territorial waters limit about the Senkakus, instead limiting itself to dispatching an admittedly large (12 vessels) contingent of its Maritime Surveillance and Fisheries Administration vessels to conduct annoying forays into the territorial waters zone, it is worthwhile to consider what is could be so different in between the 2010 dispute over the Senkakus, where the Chinese entities escalated their anti-Japan actions daily until the Prosecutors Office in Naha, Okinawa released the Chinese pirate fishing boat captain -- and the current standoff, where the Chinese government is pulling back to florid rhetorical posturing (J) with the Japanese government ceding nothing.

Some analysts might point to the quick deportation this time of the Hong Kong activists who landed on Uorijima as the key difference. However, the violence against Japanese interests in China began after the activists arrived home, and even after the return of their vessel to Hong Kong. The quick resolution of the Hong Kong landing indeed made some hopeful that Japan and China had reached a certain level of entente over Senkakus issues. (J)

Violence erupted later, all over China, and the Chinese government went into patriotic pronouncement overkill -- this over the Japanese government's preventative move of purchasing the available islands in order to keep them out of the hands of agent provocateur Ishihara Shintaro.

The government of China could have gone one of two ways in defusing internal anger over the Japanese national government's move. It could have argued that while distasteful, the GOJ's purchase was the lesser of two evils. The Chinese government could have also dismissed the GOJ's action with contempt -- i.e., "If the Japanese government wants to waste Japanese taxpayer money in a bid to acquire title over lands that are not even in Japan, great!"

So why take the unpredictable and potential global PR disaster route of unleashing the anti-Japanese activists and common folk against Japanese targets inside China? Why not play it cool, treating the Japanese like Lilliputians not worth China's time? Certainly the dry tinder of the patriotic education policy exists -- but why set a match to it, only to snuff it out a few days later?

Two answers come to mind.

The first is that the leadership transition in China has been so fouled up by the Bo Xilai Affair and its aftermath that everyone is grasping at symbols of loyalty and patriotism. The disappearance without explanation of president-in-waiting Xi Jinping during the height of the crisis indicates that something has gone very wrong in what is supposed to be an orderly and heavily foreshadowed process.

With Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are cleaning out their desks and stepping back from the management of daily affairs, and as yet no one officially in place to wield power, nobody in Beijing or elsewhere knew what the actual PRC government policy is as regards the Senkakus islands purchase. As a result there was a sudden burst of policy entrepreneurship, with different parts of the government flashing green lights in the hope of securing their reputations.

The other possibility is that the Chinese government thought it was, and then quickly realized it was not, still dealing with Sengoku Yoshito.

I can be accused of conducting verbal drive-by-shootings of government and party officials. Targets of multiple rounds of my ire include former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio -- who on the 17th announced a correction (shusei) of his previous intimations he would leave the DPJ should party leader Noda Yoshihiko win reelection on September 21 (J) -- and LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu -- though I maintained a long ceasefire in my campaign against him after his wife's passing. I have also been upset time and time again at Ozawa Ichiro out of a profound sense of disappointment at his having spent the last 20 years demolishing every vehicle of progressive reform he has built through his stunning lack of awareness of his vulnerabilities.

Sengoku Yoshito is one of the politicians about whom I find it hard to have a nice thing to say.

He is first of all a bully, his tongue getting him into scrape after scrape. Just last week a judge tossed out, on a technicality, a hefty misuse of office lawsuit filed against him by a member of the LDP, whom Sengoku, when he was Chief Cabinet Secretary, dismissed in a press conference with a "I have no intention of paying the least bit of attention to the crap that a craphead says." (J) In June Sengoku lost a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a female journalist against him for remarks he had made about her, prompting some of the DPJ's women Diet members to ask the party to ostracize him.

If Sengoku's disdain for the rest of humankind were not problematic enough, he has an uncanny ability to misapprehend when he is in an advantageous position. He styles himself a hard-headed realist, not understanding that what he is is, to borrow a phrase from Homer Simpson, a rice-eating surrender monkey.

Sengoku is the presumed architect of the release of the Chinese fishing boat captain in 2010, pressuring the Naha District Prosecutors Office in Prime Minister Kan Naoto's absence to release the captain on the novel legal grounds that a prosecution is impossible because the arrest was becoming an international incident. Sengoku then implausibly denied that he had put any pressure on the Naha Prosecutors Office. He tried to suppress the public viewing of the Japan Coast Guard video of the collisions at sea involving the Chinese ship, despite the images being definite proof the Chinese captain willfully rammed the JCG vessels – when the public release of the video would have redounded to the government’s credit and whose failed suppression became a huge embarrassment when a coast guardsman posted the videos up on YouTube.

More recently, Sengoku was the source of a bizarre story that Prime Minister Noda was ready to accept the LDP’s electoral reform bill, the so-called +0/-5 bill, without reservations or modifications. That the DPJ would throw away its ace card, the ability to draft an electoral reform bill to its liking due to the Supreme Court's having ruled the current electoral map unconstitutional, was sheer lunacy. This did not prevent Sengoku from going on Yomiuri Television (a fine, pro-DPJ news outlet, to be sure) to repeat this nonsensical assertion. (J)

Sengoku is currently Acting Policy Research Chair of the DPJ. While this is a grand-sounding title in English, it is actually a middle-ranking position. It is far enough from the central secretariat to keep Sengoku from meddling in policy formation but is high enough that Sengoku, who has an inflated opinion of himself, does not feel slighted. It also keeps Sengoku at close enough range for Policy Chairman Maehara Seiji to keeps tabs on whatever mischief Sengoku may be up to.

Sengoku has also been given the seemingly crucial task of drafting the party's electoral manifesto. Handing Sengoku this responsibility would seem a risky decision for the party secretariat to make. However, prime minister Noda's habit of issuing statements of policy with adverbs, where the careful insertion of an adverbial phrase undermines the statement just enough that the careless listener believes he has heard what he wanted to hear while the careful listener realizes the PM has not committed himself to anything – guarantees that Sengoku's task of composing a coherent, up-to-date document is a Sisyphean one.

Anyhow, Sengoku, who was one the Diet members and former Diet members scheduled to depart on a special friendship visit to China on September 26 – a visit that has been cancelled (J) -- is not around to wave his white flag of courage in the face of Chinese violence and provocations. Instead, the Chinese government has to deal with with Noda, Foreign Minister Gemba Ko'ichiro and Maehara, who was Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism – the home ministry of the Japan Coast Guard – at the time of the Chinese fishing boat collisions.

Eeek! Sound the retreat!

1 comment:

Tobias Samuel Harris said...

It was Groundskeeper Willie who referred to "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." Otherwise, great post.