Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Over The Borderline Of Stupid

Ceci est un Japon

Yesterday the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) announced the results of the screening (kentei) of social science textbooks . The screening, which is for textbooks to be used in the nation's middle and high schools beginning April 2016, found 102 of 104 textbooks passed the new criteria established this past January -- a rather stunning display of quickstep obedience. (Link)

What is making this story newsworthy is the lockstep acceptance by book publishers of a word, that word being koyu (固有), usually translated as "inherent" -- as in the following:
All social studies textbooks for middle school students will include descriptions of the Takeshima islets and the Senkaku Islands as "territories inherently belonging to Japan," among other similar phrases, according to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.
By saying that not just the Senkaku Islands, where Japan has administrative control, but Dokdo and the Southern Kuriles, where it does not, are all "inherent" territories, the government of Japan is saying that no deals can be struck as regards the final sovereignty of any of these territories and territorial waters.

Which, if you are in the business of solving problems and working toward better tomorrows, which is sort of what democratic governments are supposed to be doing, most of the time (thank you, Immanuel Kant) would be an INCREDIBLY STUPID THING TO INSIST IS YOUR POSITION.

Let us say a Chinese, Russian or South Korean diplomat meets her counterpart in Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conversation between the two will have to go something like this:

Japanese Diplomat - "I am sorry, but we have nothing to discuss on the matter of sovereignty. The territories are Japanese. End of discussion."

which will most likely be immediately followed by a:

"Hey, wait, where are you going? Stop, stop! I am supposed to sit down with you and discuss things!"

One of the great characteristics of Japanese diplomacy, at least until recently, was the careful consideration done of the potential repercussions of a statement. Whereas Russian or Chinese diplomats (I cannot speak about the ROK diplomatic corps) can be trusted to utter provocative, extremist nonsense, Japanese diplomats have prided themselves on locutions that almost-but-not-quite stake out a position -- a stance that reflects both national aspirations AND reality.

These new criteria claiming that Takeshima, all of the Northern Territories and the Senkakus are all inherent territories -- which is to say that letting go of even a square millimeter of them would diminish Japan as an entity -- mark a surrender to the surreal.

Any deal on control of the Senkakus, on Dokdo, on the Southern Kuriles would be just that: a deal. A deal presupposes compromise and compromises means sacrifice. If one states at the outset that no sacrifice is possible -- "It's either my way or the highway, amigo" -- then one is just being an ass and a damned dangerous one too.

A declaration of a standard of "negotiations without sacrifice" is an example of the threat highlighted by Professor Alexis Dudden in her widely misunderstood op-ed for The New York Times, "The Shape of Japan to Come" (Link). Many reading the op-ed thought Dr. Dudden was issuing a warning that the Abe government was positioning Japan for a military conquest/occupation of disputed territories and territorial waters. Calling Mr. Abe's views "revanchist" did little to discourage such an interpretation.

What Dr. Dudden was trying to convey was likely a more limited warning -- that the Abe administration is leaving reality behind, promising not only to do things it has no intention of doing (the usual business of politics) but also things it cannot possibly do. A government that promises its citizens they are all going to Heaven (a paraphrase of the reaction of one my colleagues to Abe's speech to the Diet of 10 September 2007, delivered two days before he announced his resignation) is not likely to be a helpful international actor, nor a particularly reliable one.

That MEXT officials (and their counterparts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) want to claim for themselves that the impossible is true is bad. That they should want, through the kentei process (and in MOFA's case, through the intimidation of non-Japanese journalists) to insist that everyone shares their grand delusions, is idiocy.

Later - Thanks to reader AO for quickly catching my superfluous insertion of a decade.


John Campbell said...

Given that Japan's top foreign policy goal for years has been a permanent seat on the Security Council, it seems to me that "dream the impossible dream" has been a key strategy.

MTC said...

Dr. Campbell -

A fair counterpoint. However, the last time I looked the relevant Permanent Members of the Security Council did not have their seats occupied by armed guard, protecting those seats from Japan's trying to take them or any part of them.

Johnniewhite said...

I am not sure how you arrived at your judgement on Japan's claim to call Takeshima 'inherent' territory, but to be fair you should try to understand how Japan tries to resolve the issue peacefully, i.e. through ICJ. Cf. http://www.cas.go.jp/jp/ryodo_eg/ryodo/takeshima.html