Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trust Is A Word I Believe In, Yes

First off and foremost, my utter admiration for Prime Minister Abe Shinzo for making his lightning, naked visit to the Trump residence to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. The usual mechanisms of managing the asymmetric Japan-U.S. relationship were broken -- the U.S. Japan Hands were all violently pro-Clinton (for good reason, mind you) leaving Japan with almost zero contacts in the Trump organization post-election. Abe himself, on the advice of the relationship managers, had doubled down on the mistake, meeting Clinton but not Trump during the campaign. By going into a one-on-many meeting with the Trump family brain trust with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs kicking and screaming at him not to (read Yuki Tatsumi's post for a taste of the toned down version of this kicking and screaming) Abe personally rescued Japan's place in the U.S. orbit and possibly put in a few good blows for a rule-based, rather than a power-based, world order on the side.

Now about Abe saying that he has established a relationship of trust with Trump, as many in the non-Japanese speaking news biz have reported, it is important to know exactly what the prime minister said after his meeting with the Trumps.

In prepared introductory remarks, the prime minister said this about trust:


That we together could build a relationship of trust, we had a conversation that could confirm this. As for the internal details, he let me relate to him my basic way of thinking. I talked about a range of subjects.

In this opening statement Abe does not say that he trusts Trump. What he says is that he went into their conversation with a purpose of building a relationship of trust and that the president-elect allowed him to express his own views. As to what he thought of what Donald Trump said in the meeting, nothing.

It was in response to a reporter's question (smart reporter) that Abe had to make a second, unprepared statement about trusting Trump:


I cannot answer your question concretely as regards the views of each but without trust an alliance cannot function. As for me, as for whether or not President-Elect Trump is a leader one can truly trust, I was able to confirm this.

For me, the intrusion of the adverbials masa ni ("truly, really, actually") and kono yo ni ("in this manner") makes this response sing. These phrase hint that Abe is making a case rather than responding in earnest.

Thanks to the vagaries of Japanese sentence structure the PM never says he trusts the President-elect. What he says he has confirmed is whether or not he can truly trust him -- to which the answer is yes, he has confirmed it -- it being "whether or not he can truly trust him."

To which, if Abe is asked later by someone interested in what transpired in that first meeting, he can in all honesty reply:
Oh yes, I did confirm whether or not I could truly trust him, and the answer to that question was, "No, I could not."

So yes, Abe did confirm something about Trump and trust. But the door is open on just what that something is.

And that ambiguity is in everyone's interest right now.

Later - In comment, David Littleboy offers a possible and highly likely explanation of kono yo ni that would strengthen the case of those saying that Abe has declared Trump trustworthy.

The Japan News, which is translated from the pro-government Yomiuri Shimbun's reports, takes the circumspect route (Link).

The always problematic official-yet-only-provisional Prime Minister's Residence translation is, by contrast, emphatic (Link).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Consider My Mind Blown

Just in case anyone is missing the significance of Abe Shinzo's sudden rush to meet with Donald Trump, try recalling who Abe is, or at least who is supposed to be according to his domestic critics and elements of the international news media and non-Japanese academia.

Come with me on a short walk-through what seems to be Ultimate Irony Town:

Abe Shinzo
Is traveling to the United States
To plead with the incipient leader of the United States
To foster and preserve a liberal, rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific
And ask him to not indulge himself in facile, nationalist posturing,
Lashing out based on a dated and embarrassing worldview.

Do you need to hear that again?

Abe Shinzo
Is traveling to the United States
To plead with the incipient leader of the United States
To foster and preserve a liberal, rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific
And ask him to not indulge himself in facile, nationalist posturing,
Lashing out based on a dated and embarrassing worldview.

Now some links to commentary by folks I admire:

On the Trump victory’s implication for American leadership in East Asia, Daniel Sneider

On the importance of TPP, Mireya Solis

James D. J. Brown on the implications of the Trump victory for Japan-Russia relations

On the Abe visit with Trump, Robert Dujarric

As I have been saying for a long while, though hardly believing it myself:

Abe Shinzo = liberal icon

Later -

I would endorse Funabashi Yoichi's op-ed for The New York Times but the judgmental "should" appears too often for my tastes. Perhaps others would benefit from reading it, nonetheless:

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Three States Solution - an immoderate suggestion

Shisaku readers: This has little or nothing to do with Japanese politics. However, this is my blog and I needed to get this off my chest. Thanks.



The Three States Solution

People of the United States of America: there is a way out of this.

Imagine if in the first week of January in 2017, newly elected and returning members of Congress gather as they do in Washington. However, in an agreed-to change, the Representatives and Senators of the North Atlantic and Pacific Coast states are not present. Instead the members of Congress from those regions gather elsewhere – the members from the North Atlantic states in Boston and the members of Pacific Coast states in Salem, Oregon. They all swear oaths to uphold the Constitution. However, in Boston and in Salem, the name of the country is changed. The Boston group swears allegiance to the Union of North Atlantic States (Nordlantica). The Salem group swears allegiance to the Union of Pacific States (Pacifica).

On January 20th, three presidents are sworn into office. In Washington D.C. President Donald Trump is sworn into office without incident. In Boston President Hillary Clinton is sworn in (as is Vice-President Bernard Sanders). In Salem Hawaii-born President Barack Obama takes his third oath of office as president.

The divorce is peaceful: there are no border fences; commercial, transportation links stay open. The U.S. dollar remains the common currency for the interim as the New York and San Francisco Federal Reserve banks take over the role of central bank for the two new countries. Persons and corporations in the two new nations receive instructions on where to send their Internal Revenue Service checks by April 15. Elements of the Federal Government in each region remain in place and functioning, with the photos on the walls of the president and vice-president being the only initial indication of the new situation.

In security and foreign policy, the new states divide up the assets and responsibilities of the pre-2017 United States of America. The tanks, planes, aircraft carriers and submarines are apportioned equally. Nordlantica automatically becomes a member of NATO and takes up U.S. responsibilities there. Pacifica similarly takes up all current U.S.A. alliances with Asian countries – allowing President Trump and members of his administration to decide whether to involve their nation in world affairs or not.

Another major change comes in the matter of nuclear weapons. In order to maintain world balances and in line with the presumed preferences of their publics, Nordlantica and Pacifica turn over all nuclear weapons in their possession to the U.S. of A. (the new formal acronym, to distinguish the remainder state from the pre-2017 U.S.A). They join the United Nations and the world community as declared non-nuclear weapons states.

In time, the physical differences between the three countries emerge. New passports and currencies are issued, new national anthems and national flags are chosen. The G7 becomes the G9. Pacifica joins the TPP; Nordlantica the TTIP; the U.S. of A. joins neither. Instead, U.S. of A. commentators weigh the pros and cons of their nation joining OPEC.

To be sure the divorce may not be painless. Post-breakup Nordlantica and Pacifica may face a surges in residency and citizenship requests, even refugee flows, from persons seeking to flee an unhealthy human and civil rights climate in the U.S. of A. Presidents Clinton and Obama may be calling on the citizens of their respective nations to be as inclusive toward immigrants as they currently claim to be. 

* * *

Too fanciful? The Soviet Union broke up peaceably. The Czech Republic and Slovakia divorced without acrimony. Trying to hold culturally and politically divided countries like Yugoslavia and Russia, by contrast, led to catastrophic human/civil rights abuses and war.

A common theme in recent years is how divided the U.S.A. has become. Indeed, like the War of the Roses or the Gempei wars, the division is color-coded: Red America versus Blue America. The mystery is why Americans keep trying, election after punishing election, to stay together. Certainly they live with the legacy of the Civil War, with a stern marble Abraham Lincoln and his “A House divided against itself cannot stand” looming over their heads. However, the current situation – of mutual loathing, street protests, alliances of convenience with foreign powers, plotting and counterplotting to game the Electoral College, depression and anger -- cannot stand either.

So as regards the "united" part of the United States of America, why not, as a rather popular tune of recent years advised, just let it go? As three nations, indivisible, Americans would be a lot happier.