In the latest development in the showdown between Taiwan and the Philippines over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman at the hands of the Philippine coast guard, Taiwan is holding military drills near Philippine waters. The Philippines -- its apology having been rejected by Taiwan -- is also standing firm, saying it won't "appease" the Taiwanese, while the United States is urging cooler heads to prevail. The standoff is just the latest in a string of geopolitical showdowns in which fishermen have served -- sometimes unwittingly and sometimes wittingly -- as lightning rods in East and Southeast Asian maritime territorial disputes.
The humble fishing boat, in fact, has been at the center of incidents between China and Russia; between China and Vietnam; between Japan and Taiwan; between China and South Korea; between North Korea and South Korea; between North Korea and China; between China and the Philippines; and between South Korea and Japan. And then, of course, there was the 2010 collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard patrol boats in disputed waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which set relations between the two Asian superpowers on edge for months.
How has the fisherman -- a seemingly unassuming practitioner of his ancient craft -- come to play this vital role on the international stage? There are a number of factors at play. For starters, Asian waters are running out of fish -- which means more fishing boats are straying into foreign waters in search of good hauls. Then there's the growing nationalism in many of these countries, which raises the stakes in these disputes and allows one arrested fisherman to take on national significance.
In addition, there's the suspicion that some countries -- notably China -- really do use fishermen as proxies in their ongoing disputes with other countries -- that these fishing boats are not the innocent bystanders caught up in forces greater than themselves that they seem. At the height of last year's tensions with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, it was reported that China was sending an "armada" of 1,000 fishing boats to the islands with the goal of overwhelming the Japanese coast guard -- though the reports later proved false.
Hung Shih-cheng, the 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman at the center of the current row between Taiwan and the Philippines, appears to have ventured into disputed territory with the simple aim of fishing; the Philippine coast guard has said the crew believed he was trying to ram one of their ships and opened fire.
Venture astray, and face the chance of catching fire from a military vessel as a result of international border disputes? That's quite an occupational hazard.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
The Chinese government on Tuesday continued to deny that a Chinese frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer earlier this year. The denial comes a day after Tokyo-based Kyodo News quoted unnamed "senior Chinese military officials" admitting for the first time that it happened -- but only by accident, they said.
It's worth noting, especially in light of Beijing's official denial, that we don't know who these Chinese officials are, or why they're speaking up now. But the report, if true, is disturbing precisely because the alleged standoff happened accidentally. According to the officials, the radar lock was an unplanned, "emergency decision" taken by the commander of the frigate -- one that did not include communication with fleet command or navy headquarters. This line in particular from Kyodo's report does not inspire confidence:
"The communication system used by the Chinese navy is not as advanced as those of Japan and the United States, a senior official said, explaining why the commander did not seek guidance."
Great. At a time when Chinese authorities seem to be making efforts to dial down tensions with Japan over disputed islands, could a war between East Asian superpowers be sparked by accident -- by some frigate commander gone rogue?
That nuclear war could come about in just such a scenario was, of course, a major concern during the Cold War. But decades of tension, as well as apocalyptic visions of global annihilation as a result of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. locking horns, produced carefully designed systems to minimize the damage any one rogue actor could inflict (only the president can access the nuclear codes), and to minimize misunderstandings from more minor incidents (the Kremlin-White House hotline).
But East Asia -- relatively free of military buildup until recently -- doesn't have these same systems in place. A soon-to-be-released report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies highlights the danger that emerges when a region's military systems develop faster than its communication mechanisms, and finds that accidental war in East Asia is a real possibility:
Across East Asia, advanced military systems such as anti-ship missiles, new submarines, advanced combat aircraft are proliferating in a region lacking security mechanisms that could defuse crises. Bilateral military-to-military ties are often only embryonic. There is a tangible risk of accidental conflict and escalation, particularly in the absence of a strong tradition of military confidence-building measures."
The Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands dispute has been marked by an increasing number of deliberate provocations on both sides: surveillance vessels entering nearby waters, patrol planes making passes by the islands, scrambled fighter jets. These are planned actions, designed to incrementally heighten tensions. But the more fighter jets that get scrambled without good communications systems in place, the higher the chances that these deliberate moves escalate beyond what either Japan or China is anticipating.
That being said, it's important to note that historians still question whether any wars have truly been started by accident. (War "is almost by definition a deliberate and carefully considered act," writes Michael Howard.) The origins of World War I -- sometimes dubbed the accidental war -- are still hotly debated, for example. But Reuters recently noted that China, while seeking to cool tensions with Japan, is at the same time taking steps to increase central control over its military (putting paramilitary agencies under a single command, for instance) to prevent accidents -- a sign, at least, that one party in this conflict is taking the possibility seriously.
In the wake of a series of cyber attacks from Chinese I.P. addresses at the height of the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute, Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Japan is pushing a plan to create a "cyber defense network" consisting of Japan and 10 ASEAN countries.
"Under the system, the government intends to share information about cyber-attack patterns and technology to defend against the attacks. It also plans to carry out exercises to verify the effectiveness of the system within the current fiscal year."
More details will be discussed during meetings on information security in Tokyo this week, but the countries reportedly interested in participating include Thailand and Indonesia.
While the network's present plans -- sharing technology and information about attack patterns -- don't seem particularly innovative or groundbreaking, the fact that the network is being formed could be seen as another sign of widespread, cross-border fears of Chinese hackers.
More than a dozen Japanese websites belonging to banks, a government minister, a hospital, and some courts were hit during the row over the Senkaku Islands, many altered to display Chinese flags or to proclaim that the Diaoyu islands belong to China. Similar attacks took place on websites in the Phillipines - again related to a territorial spat over an island - earlier this year (although in fairness, Filipino hackers struck back) while last week saw a flurry of reports claiming that Chinese hackers had targeted the White House in a cyberattack (the White House said the attacks were a simple spear-phishing email, and that no harm had been done).
Yomiuiri Shimbun also reports that ASEAN countries might be interested in the network because their protections against cyberattacks haven't kept up with the increased use of computer equipment that has accompanied economic development.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images
With all the attention being paid to the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands at the moment, it's worth keeping in mind that they aren't the only remote pacific islets that China and Japan are feuding over. And despite their much-maligned size and lack of resources (besides bat guano), the Diaoyus/Senkakus aren't even the most desolate of the ocean rocks inflaming tensions between the two Asian superpowers.
See: Okinotorishima (pictured above). This singularly unimpressive coral atoll barely remains above the waves at high tide -- and only does so thanks to human help. Japan has spent $600 million taking measures to defend Okinotorishima from the sea by encasing parts of the islets in concrete and steel. Several years ago it sent fishery officials to plant extra coral around them in an attempt to beef them up and protect them from erosion (the islets sit in a particularly stormy corner of the Pacific). Yet even so, at high tide the two chunks of the island that protrude from the water are described as hardly larger than a pair of king size beds, and remained threatened by rising sea levels.
To be clear, this fight differs from the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute in that China does not want Okinotorishima (translated as "remote bird island"), or challenge Japan's claim. But the Okinotorishima fight highlights the geopolitics often underlying these island feuds: Japan has gone to such lengths to preserve Okinotorishima because possession of the tiny islets lets Japan claim an extra 150,000 square miles of exclusive economic zone, strategically located between Taiwan and US military bases on Guam. China - which been accused of violating Japanese sovereignty by mapping the sea floor around the islands - claims that they are not islands at all, but marine rocks, and therefore not entitled to their own EEZ (the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea says that rocks must be able to sustain "human habitation or economic life" before they get an EEZ). A recent UN panel on the issue has generated claims of victory from both sides.
At this point, the geopolitics of the Diaoyu/Senkaku fight have been mostly overshadowed by issues of historical grievances and nationalism - however, these islands, too, would give China and Japan EEZ rights to waters potentially containing significant oil and gas reserves. Similarly, the Okinotorishima fight, while at heart a geopolitical one, has occasionally also been complicated by nationalist feelings: following the Chinese crying foul over the islets in 2004, the right-learning Nippon Foundation scrambled to construct a lighthouse that would help generate "economic life", and help bolster their claim that it's morethan a reef.
While the Diaoyu/Senkaku furor is clearly top priority for the moment, Japan hasn't forgotten about Okinotorishima: earlier this year, the Cabinet approved legislation that gave the Coast Guard new law enforcement powers in some of the country's disputed territorial waters. The Diaoyu/Senkaku islands were on the list; so was Okinotorishima.
As regional powers fight for control of the China Seas, one family wants out. With the lease to the Japanese government expiring in March 2014, the Kurihara family are scrambling to sell four out of the five resource-rich and much-disputed Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China, "as early as we can."
Tokyo's inflammatory governor Shintaro Ishihara leads the bidding war after the Kurihara family today refused Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's offer, explaining, "It is not our family's idea to suddenly switch partners just because someone else has appeared on the scene." Though Ishihara's offer has not been made public, the islands' estimated value tops $19 million.
Unsurprisingly, Beijing, who claims the islands on "indisputable historical and legal grounds," has not been invited to the negotiating table and has instead renounced the sale from afar, warning in a press statement released Saturday that "no one will ever be allowed to buy and sell China's sacred territory."
The Kurihara family's sudden eagerness to sell is unsurprising. Tensions between Beijing and Tokyo peaked earlier this month after Chinese vessels repeatedly entered Japanese waters in an incident eerily reminiscent of the Scarborough Shoal affair. Claiming they were protecting Chinese fishing rights, the Chinese patrol ships refused a Japanese Coast Guard patrol's request to leave the area, instead insisting the Japanese forces leave "Chinese territorial waters" immediately. Tokyo promptly lodged two formal complaints against China before withdrawing its ambassador from Beijing in protest on July 16th. Heads butted again at Cambodia's failed ASEAN conference when Chinese Foreign Minister Yang "reaffirmed China's principled position" and stressed that countries "indisputable sovereignty."
Emotions run high on both sides as the islands have sparked dramatic conflict in the past. In 2010, Japan arrested a Chinese trawler for ramming Japanese coastguard vessels repeatedly, sparking a diplomatic row that lasted weeks and inspiring a 'Defend Diaoyu' video game. Meanwhile, the Japanese public has donated nearly $1 million to Tokyo's island fund, with the officials of the municipal government citing 197 calls of assistance in recent days in a display of widespread public support.
Though the world remains focused on the southern Spratly Islands, it may be time to look a little further east.
eng Li/Getty Images
Panda diplomacy has become a pillar of China's soft power strategy, but the death of a week-old baby panda in Japan -- the first born to Tokyo's Ueno zoo in 24 years -- stands to disappoint those who hoped that its birth would motivate "people-to-people sentiment" and help overcome the strained China-Japan relationship. The unnamed cub, who died of pneumonia, had already become a national sensation. As AFP reported, "Newscasts had dedicated a nightly segment to the male cub's daily activities since his birth on July 5, with retailers unveiling a host of panda-themed products in celebration." A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday that the country laments Tokyo's loss.
This may be a major blow, but the legacy of the 5-ounce panda is not without controversy. On June 29, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara drew the ire of China's foreign ministry for suggesting that the zoo name the unborn baby cub after the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan, but whose sovereignty is disputed by China. The Chinese foreign ministry responded with a statement calling Ishihara's "scheme to undermine China-Japan relations" a "clumsy performance" that "will only tarnish the image of Japan and Tokyo."
Hopefully, China's panda diplomacy gesture toward Malaysia will chart a smoother path.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
What is it this summer with East Asia and contested islands? June and July saw the resumption of a longstanding dispute involving China and a handful of Southeast Asian countries over the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea.
Now, it's Japan and South Korea who are feuding. Yesterday, South Korea barred entry to three Japanese lawmakers who flew into Seoul to travel to the Liancourt Rocks, a chain of volcanic islets between the two countries under dispute since the end of World War II. The politicians, all members of the Japanese diet, had announced their trip in late July, a month after Korean Air routed a test flight of a new aircraft over the island chain. Japan responded at the time by instituting a one-month boycott of Korean Air flights among its diplomats, and the latest trip had been intended as a means to reassert Japanese sovereignty over the islands.
Provocations over the Liancourt Rocks dispute are a fairly regular gesture from South Korean and Japanese politicians looking to curry favor among nationalists at home. But South Korea's posturing also attracts support from a surprising source: North Korea. Kim Jong-Il's regime tends to echo its neighbors to the south when the Liancourt Rocks dispute crops up, according to the Diplomat.
This time was no different. On July 20, a characteristically thundering commentary on Uriminzokkiri, North Korea's official website, condemned Japan for its latest plans to infringe upon Korean sovereignty. South Korea's Yonhap News Agency translates from the statement:
"We are determined to take 1,000 times our people's revenge for Japan's reactionary moves, which, far from apologizing or compensating for the immeasurable unhappiness and pain inflicted upon our people, only scheme to take away our land....
"The entire people must unite to resolutely crush the scheme to seize Dokdo, in order that the Japanese reactionaries may never again set sight on our land. This is our generation's demand and the call of the people."
The lawmakers' actual visit occasioned a reiteration of the North Korean stance from the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Unification of Korea. The committee also takes a swipe at South Korea's "passive approach" in resolving the dispute. Once again, from Yonhap:
"The Japanese reactionaries' recent moves are serious issues not to be tolerated by the Korean nation as they revealed once again their ambition to seize Ullung Island and Tok Islets, inalienable parts of the territory of Korea. ...
"It is due to the present South Korean ruling forces' servile attitude toward Japan ... that the Japanese reactionaries are set to visit the Tok Islets like their own land."
Also going down in the annals of uncharacteristic recent behavior from North Korea: After allowing the establishment of an AP bureau in Pyongyang earlier this year, the North Korean government allowed two AP photographers unusually wide access to tour both Pyongyang and the North Korean countryside, albeit with minders. The Atlantic has culled the best of their photos here and they're worth a look.
It can hardly come as a surprise that embattled Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced today his country would move away from nuclear fuel and toward renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and biomass. After all, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami brought the country to the brink of nuclear disaster. And the area around the Fukushima nuclear plant remains a no-go zone four months later (check out this ebook from Foreign Policy on Japan's post-Fukushima future). Anti-nuclear sentiment has grown ever since -- making it a major political issue.
There are legitimate questions, nevertheless, about whether Japan could actually shift away from nuclear power. Japan is incredibly dependent on nuclear energy -- the country's 54 nuclear reactors account for 30 percent of its electricity; pre-earthquake estimates noted that the share to grow to 40 percent by 2017 and 50 percent by 2030. The prime minister today offered few details on how he'll transition away from nuclear reliance.
Japan joins a list of nuclear countries that have grown increasingly skittish about the controversial energy source since the disaster in March.
Germany announced plans in late May to close all the country's nuclear power plants by 2022 -- making it the largest industrialized nation to do so. Nuclear power supplies 23 percent of its energy grid. Since the Japan disaster it has permanently shuttered eight plants (including the seven oldest in the country). That leaves nine plants to go -- six of which, the government announced, will close up by 2021.
This isn't the first time Germany tried to shutter its nuclear plants. The previous center-left government had a similar plan, though it was reversed last September by Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition, which said the technology was still necessary. Fukushima changed all that.
The country plans to make up the difference by cutting energy usage by 10 percent, it said, with more energy efficient appliances and buildings and to increase the use of wind energy.
No neutrality here -- the government announced in May it too was taking a side against nuclear technology, in response to Japan's disaster. Nuclear energy accounts for roughly 40 percent of Switzerland's energy supply. Its five nuclear reactors won't fully be phased out, experts estimate, until 2040.
The move is popular with the Swiss citizens -- 20,000 of whom demonstrated against the technology before the government's decision.
Last month, Silvio Berlusconi's plans to return Italy to the nuclear club were dashed by a referendum that found 90 percent of Italians rejected the technology.
As a result the embattled prime minister said, "We shall probably have to say goodbye to nuclear [energy]." He noted that the government will instead shift its energies to developing renewable energy sources.
Berlusconi had been trying to reconstitute an industry that was already abandoned once before -- back in 1987. Currently there are no nuclear plants, but the prime minister hoped to get nuclear power to account for a quarter of the country's energy needs and planned to begin building new plants by as early as 2013.
Despite the fact that nuclear energy only accounts for less than 5 percent of the market in Mexico, which has only one plant, a recent worldwide survey found that Mexico was one of the most anti-nuclear countries in the world, with about 80 percent of its population opposing the power source. That doesn't bode well for future nuclear development.
Mexico is one of only three Latin American nations that uses nuclear power. And last year the country delayed a decision until at least 2012 on whether to go ahead with plans to build 10 more plants, according to the country's energy minister.
President Felipe Calderon has said he'd push to make sure "clean energy" accounts for at least 35 percent of the country's energy needs.
Let's be clear, France is unlikely to ditch nuclear power completely anytime soon. A longtime champion of the technology, it accounts for 75 percent of the country's energy needs. But there are indications political leaders are falling out of love -- ever so slightly -- with the power source. On Friday, July 8 the government launched a study of energy technologies that included one potential scenario of completely doing away with nuclear power by 2040. It's the first time the government has ever even mentioned the possibility. A more likely result of the study will be cutting the nuclear share of the market. Indeed, France has increased its investment in wind energy lately.
The government is likely responding to growing public pressure to do away with nuclear energy. A recent BBC survey found 57 percent of French respondents opposed the technology.
yesterday's (Nov. 25) Financial Times,
my friend Claremont College professor Minxin Pei commented
that "China may choose to do nothing (with regard to trying to rein in North
Korea) just to prove that the west cannot bash it and beg at the same time."
the question of China possibly cutting off its nose to spite its face that
caught my attention. After all, China may really not consider North Korea to be
or any danger to it at all. Rather it was the use of the term "bash" and its
ascription of bashing to the "West." Let me hasten to say that my comments here
are not at all meant as a criticism of Minxin who I am sure used the term
simply as a repetition of current usage and without giving it much thought. But
that in itself is significant as a manifestation of how extant this powerfully
loaded term has become.
what bash means or what people would be trying to say if they called you a
basher. The word suggests a vicious, even irrational and probably gratuitous or
perhaps racist, attack on someone or some group or some country. And let me say
up front that I know this and am sensitive to it, because in the 1980s and 1990s
when I was first a U.S. trade negotiator with Japan and then an analyst of
globalization at the Economic Strategy Institute, I was routinely referred to
in the press as a "Japan basher."
In the case
of yesterday's article, the comment was in relation to the fact that China has
been criticized over the past few years on a wide range of issues including its
claims of sovereignty over disputed isles in the South China Sea, the ramming
of a Japanese ship by a Chinese fishing vessel, refusal to relax its
intervention in global currency markets and to allow its currency to revalue
significantly, reluctance to accept some degree of responsibility for
rebalancing the current, massive global trade imbalances, as well as its
refusal or inability to do anything about its North Korean allies' nuclear
doubt, there are two sides to all these stories and China has a right to voice
its claims and to act or not to act as it sees fit. But surely other countries
may have grounds for their criticisms. China no more than any other country
should be immune from legitimate criticism. But this is, in effect, what
happens when we use start using the terms bash, bashing, and basher. Because
they suggest irrationality, hatred, and racism, they inhibit and obviate
serious and necessary discussion of important differences and issues. Are there
no legitimate grounds for concern about China's territorial claims in the
Pacific or about its currency and trade policies? Certainly the Federal
Reserve's monetary policies and U.S. currency policies were subjected to
withering criticism at the last G-20 meeting.
only underlines another interesting element of phenomenon. "Bashing" is
something that apparently can only be done by the West, and really only by the
United States. No one calls China a U.S. basher when it criticizes Ben Bernanke
or the U.S. banking system. No one calls Germany a U.S. basher when it levels
criticism at U.S. economic policies.
basher was first popularized by Washington
Post columnist Hobart Rowen in the 1980s when, in his passionate advocacy
of free trade, he used it to undermine the legitimacy of any U.S. response to
or even criticism of Japan's mercantilist, export led growth strategy of the
time. His tactic proved so effective that it was quickly adopted by the
officialdom and media of Japan and other countries wishing to deflect and halt
U.S. pressure on them for change.
time to stop using this term in reference to debate with or about our
international partners. We should be speaking of "criticizing" rather than of
Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of The Betrayal of American Prosperity.
OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images
Last we checked in on Japan's transformation into
a stagnant third-world hellhole the world's third largest economy, we heard the horrifying story of healthy young men running around in skinny jeans and buying presents for their moms instead of getting wasted with coworkers and neglecting their families like real men are supposed to. Today, CNN adds its own entry to the genre, using a classic experimental method, the twin study.
Meet Toshiko and Fukuko Kubo, identical Japanese twins. Fukuko has imigrated to China, where she has a stable, well-paying job. Toshiko lives in Tokyo where she also has a stable, well-paying job. But wait, it's not that simple:
[Toshiko] has a graduate degree in art history and longs to work amid the works of the great artists of the classical era of art. Those dreams are shelved, she says, for a job with a steady salary and benefits. She works in a job outside of the field of her choice, logging the typical 14-hour work day expected in Japan. Toshiko doesn't hate her job, but it doesn't exactly inspire her, either.
So you're telling me that in Japan, it's hard to find employment in the lucrative field of art history? Clearly, the Japanese economy is completely and irrevocably screwed.
Let's meet Fukuko:
Fukuko decided in high school to study abroad in the UK. She became fluent in English, a key to unlocking the job possibilities with multinational companies overseas. Like her sister, Fukuko also graduated with a master's degree, but in contemporary art, with an undergraduate in architecture.
At first, she says, she tried to work in Japan. She was employed at a Tokyo-based company when the sub-prime crisis struck the U.S. and unraveled into the Lehman Shock in Japan. The company downsized and bought out employees, including Fukuko.
Fukuko looked around and saw little hope for her young life in the mature economy of Japan. "I think people are getting less optimistic about life," says Fukuko. "You feel this kind of depression. People are sort of stuck in this environment where they are just worried about everything, and then work for so many hours. I wasn't feeling happy either, because of all these things around me. I needed to get out of that so I could feel fine."
Without a job or any concrete employment plan, Fukuko took off to Beijing, China. Three days later, she landed an interview and then subsequently was hired by an interior design company.
So we have two twins who both majored in art and got jobs out of college. We don't know what these jobs are because the piece doesn't tell us, but from the context it doesn't sound like they're flipping burgers. One of them got laid off and moved to China where she got another job. We have no idea how much money either one makes or what, or what they actually do. I'm sorry that Toshiko doesn't feel fulfilled by her career, but that's not a condition that's unique to stagnant economies.
The piece also tells us that there are approximately three times as many Japanese people living in China today as 10 years ago but admits that "the numbers are not dramatic," -- it's still about a 10th of a percent of Japan's population. (It might be higher if not for those unfortunate riots.)
So what have we learned today? That you can get a job in Japan with an art history degree, though maybe not one involving art history, and that if you're fluent in English and have a master's degree from a Japanese university, you can get hired as an interior designer in Beijing. Good to know.
Over the years, one of the most memorable moments of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit has been what's come to be called the "silly shirts" photo, often representing the host country's culture.
The 21 APEC leaders have posed for together in Javan batik shirts (Indonesia in 1994), flowing ponchos (Chile in 2004) to Vietnamese "ao dai" -- elegant silken tunics in which several of the leaders were visibly ill at ease -- in 2006.
But this year in Japan, the leaders were instructed to come in "smart casual" for Saturday's photo, said a government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.
The Japanese official cited the timing for the photo session, which falls between a traditional Kabuki theater perfomance and an official dinner hosted by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, as one possible reason for the relatively staid choice.
The typical tight-fitting traditional kimono is not very comfortable or suitable for a photo session, said another official, though he did not say why.
As a firm supporter of the ritual humiliation of the world's most powerful people, I strongly protest this decision.
A look back at some APEC memories below the jump.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images; MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images; TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Video appearing to show a Chinese fishing boat ramming a Japanese patrol boat near disputed islands in the East China Sea in early September, an incident which set off a major diplomatic row between the two countries, leaked to YouTube yesterday. The video had previously only been seen by senior Japanese lawmakers.
There are dozens of versions of the clip floating around YouTube today. The one above shows the actual collision a little after the 2 minute mark.
China's latest film exports will not be on display at the 23rd annual Tokyo film festival thanks to a spat over Taiwan sovereignty:
The head of the Chinese delegation, Jiang Ping, told festival organizers that the Taiwanese delegation must not attend the festival under the name Taiwan, but as "Chinese Taipei," which Taiwan used while participating in the Olympic Games, shortly before celebrities began to walk down a green carpet to mark the start of the festival.
Jiang, also deputy director-general of the Film Bureau of the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT), told reporters, "We protested against the organizers introducing the two delegations as 'China and Taiwan.' And our request to introduce Taiwan as "Chinese Taipei or China's Taiwan" was rejected by the organizers."
Of course, this will be seen as part of a larger issue than what Ang Lee's homeland gets to call itself. Anti-Japanese protests broke out in half a dozen Chinese cities over the weekend and the Japanese government has formally protested the presence of Chinese military patrol boats near disputed islands in the East China Sea.
As anti-Japanese protests flare across China, the Japanese media is reporting that the government may have unwittingly violated a secret pact with China over the disputed Senkaku islands, leading to the current round of tension:
Aera magazine reported that under Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled for half a century until last year, Tokyo and Beijing had made "secret promises" to each other over the territorial issue.
"Under the secret promises, Japan was in principle to prevent landings (of Chinese nationals) on the islets and not to detain them unless it develops into a case of grave concerns," the magazine said, citing unnamed government sources.
"The Chinese side promised to block (anti-Japanese) protesters' boats from sailing off to reach the islands," the weekly added.
In an illustrative case, Japan in 2004 immediately deported seven Chinese activists who had landed on one of the rocky islands, Aera said.
When power changed in Japan last summer, the earlier promises may not have been mentioned to the new centre-left Democratic Party of Japan government, an unnamed government source was quoted as saying by Aera.
If true, this would be the second revelation this year about a secret foreign policy pact made by the LDP government. In March, it came out that under an undisclosed passage of a 1960 treaty with the United States, Japan had been allowing nuclear-armed U.S. vessels to use its ports in violation of longstanding anti-nuclear principles.
Obviously, secret agreements between countries are hardly unheard of. But it's certainly starting to seem like the LDP had been trying to avoid public outcry on some of Japan's most contentious foreign-policy issues and that after decades of unquestioned rule, didn't anticipate having to let the opposition in on the secret.
JASON LEE/AFP/Getty Images
It's a not-very-well-known fact that China, the world's second largest economy which holds $2.5 trillion in foreign reserves, still gets about $2.5 billion in foreign government aid every year. (Jack Chow recently explored how this plays out that the Global Fund for AIDS in an FP piece.)
What's even more surprising, given this month's events, is who the biggest source of that aid -- accounting for nearly half -- is:
Today's aid adds up to $1.2 billion a year from Japan, followed by Germany at about half that amount, then France and Britain. ...
Japan's generosity has historically been driven at least in part by a desire to make amends for its invasion of China in the 1930s. But in recent years Japanese lawmakers and officials have repeatedly questioned whether the money flow should continue, pointing to China's emergence as a donor to African countries.
It's pretty hard to see how this will continue to be tenable in the current Japanese political climate, particularly with China arresting Japanese workers sent to clean up World War II sites.
CHIBA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 16: Visitors play Sega Corp.'s 'Phantasy Star
Portable 2 Infinity' on Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.'s PlayStation
Portable (PSP) handheld game consoles while a booth assitant looks on
during the Tokyo Game Show 2010 at Makuhari Messe on September 16, 2010
in Chiba, Japan. The computer and video game convention, which will be
held until September 19, features exhibitions of upcoming game software
and hardware from 194 companies and organizations to draw business
visitors and the general public.
Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images
A Japanese journalist held hostage in Afghanistan fooled his abductors with an unlikely source: Twitter.
Kosuke Tsuneoka's captors asked him last Friday to show them how to use their new Nokia mobile phones, and after activating the devices Tsuneoka demonstrated how to access the Internet. After showing them Al Jazeera's website, Tsuneoka made his move:
Then I told them there is a thing called 'Twitter'. They asked me to show them what it was, so I sent Twitter messages with the phone in front of them. Because nobody understood English, it was no problem.
Tsuneoka tweeted two messages: "i am still alive, but in jail." He then followed up with his location: "here is archi in kunduz. in the jail of commander lativ." He was released the following day, though he suspects it was as a result of his captors' failure to secure a ransom payment.
Tsuneoka further noted that he was well treated in captivity, even given three meals a day, but that his captors were "dreadfully uneducated" and "even their knowledge of Islamic teaching was very poor."
Tsuneoka claims he was held by fighters loyal to Hizb-i-Islami commander Guldbuddin Hekmatyar -- and not Taliban fighters, which the Afghan government and some media organizations reported.
Hekmatyar, a veteran mujahedeen commander, earned his name during the campaign against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Hizb-i-Islami is believed to be the second largest insurgent group in Afghanistan.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Another side effect of summer heat? In August, according to CNNGo, Japanese monkeys "get most feisty." This year, at least 43 people in Shizuoka prefecture have been injured due to monkey transgressions. On August 25 alone, about 15 people in the city of Susono were injured. Residents have been bitten and scratched; one 73-year-old woman reported that a monkey grabbed her leg from behind.
In Tokyo, a wild monkey was caught two weeks ago after hiding out in a three-story house. In Mainichi, the local newspaper reported a lack of progress in halting the monkey mayhem: "Police, firefighters and local hunters have been searching for the monkeys but so far none have been captured."
Ichiro Ozawa, the backroom dealer and longtime fixture of Japanese politics who announced today that he will challenge Prime Minister Naoto Kan as leader of the ruling Democratic Party, and therefore also as prime minister, will have some explaining to do to Japan's allies if he reaches the top spot. Here's what he had to say about Americans at a political seminar in Tokyo on Wednesday:
"I like Americans, but they are somewhat monocellular," the former Democratic Party leader said. "When I talk with Americans, I often wonder why they are so simple-minded."[...]
Ozawa, who advocates a U.S.-style two-party political system for Japan — which currently has a coalition government — praised Americans for electing President Barack Obama.
"I don't think Americans are very smart, but I give extremely high credit for democracy and choices by its people," he said. "They chose a black president for the first time in U.S. history," adding that he thought once that would never be possible.
I'm not sure Obama will appreciate Ozawa's praise for the political choice of a nation of single-celled organisms. The British didn't get off easy either:
Mr Ozawa, the former secretary-general of Japan’s ruling Democratic party said the way prisoners of war marched in orderly ranks in “The Bridge on the River Kwai” demonstrated the best qualities of the British.
But he added that he had an aversion to the British. He said: “I don’t like British people”
"Bridge on the River Kwai," if you're not familiar with it, is the story of a group of British POWs trying to maintain their dignity while subjected to forced labor and occasional torture by their Japanese captors. Not quite sure Ozawa got the message of that film.
JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuyo Okada is in India this week holding talks on civilian nuclear cooperation, but he is also pushing for a clause to attempt to limit India's future nuclear weapons tests:
Before leaving for his two-day visit to India, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said any civilian nuclear deal between the two countries needed a clause to define how Tokyo would respond to any nuclear test by New Delhi.
"Japan will have no option but to suspend our cooperation" in the event of a nuclear test by India, Okada told a news conference in New Delhi
The two countries launched talks in June on signing an atomic civilian cooperation agreement which will allow Tokyo to export nuclear power generation technology and related equipment to energy-hungry India.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government has been criticized at home for negotiating the deal with India, which developed nuclear weapons outside the framework of the global non-proliferation treaty. Japan's Mainichi Shimbun editorializes:
Cooperation with any country like India on atomic energy could make the NPT a dead letter and give Iran and other countries that are suspected of developing nuclear weapons even though they are parties to the treaty an excuse to develop nuclear arms.... [I]n negotiating with India, Japan should assert its position as the only country that has suffered from nuclear devastation.
India seems unlikely to agree to further pledges against nuclear testing, beyond those it has already made. As a member of the international nuclear-suppliers group, Japan finally overcame years of resistance in 2008 when it agreed to a waiver that allowed India to receive nucelar assistance despite its non-NPT status. Japan's willingness to cooperate on nuclear energy with India is a pretty good indication of how China's military and economic rise has changed the equation for its neighbors.
Stubble is the real enemy of climate change, say local officials in a northeastern Japanese city. Six years ago, Isesaki's city government launched a "Cool Biz" campaign aimed to cut back on air-conditioning and conserve energy. But the campaign may have overstepped its boundaries: this summer, "Cool Biz" will require workers to shed their jackets, ditch their ties -- and shave their facial hair?
While the government claims "climate change" is the intended outcome of the mustache moratorium, some say their real goal is merely to create a city of uniformly "pleasant" looking people. Back in May, the government dispensed a point-black notice to its civil servants: "Some citizens find bearded men unpleasant, so beards are banned." Weeks later, with opposition to the "beard ban" mounting, officials found that the summertime promotional push for "Cool Biz" coincided with the new prohibition, and seemingly decided to throw mandatory shaving under the auspices of climate control, as well.
Whatever the real motivation behind the new legislation is, human rights lawyers (probably with Santa Clause impersonators and Rogaine lobbyists in tow) are fighting back, claiming the "beard ban" violates personal freedoms. I would argue compulsory beard-shaving is also unfair to a) the exceptionally hairy and b) those that just do not have the time, money, or energy to continually fight the physiological upshots of their Y chromosomes.
Really, what's next? Some people find Korean pop music unpleasant, so that's banned too? Oh wait...
It's no secret that Japan seeks an end to the longstanding moratorium on commercial whaling passed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986. Nor is Japan a stranger to allegations that it's bribed other IWC members to vote for its position. But now, the London Times is carrying what it says is proof that at least six states agreed to vote for Japan's position in exchange for aid:
Japan denies buying the votes of IWC members. However, The Sunday Times filmed officials from pro-whaling governments admitting [...] They voted with the whalers because of the large amounts of aid from Japan. One said he was not sure if his country had any whales in its territorial waters. Others are landlocked.
The governments of St Kitts and Nevis, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Republic of Guinea and Ivory Coast all entered negotiations to sell their votes in return for aid.
The top fisheries official for Guinea said Japan usually gave his minister a “minimum” of $1,000 a day spending money in cash during IWC and other fisheries meetings.
If the Times' report is true, Japan's efforts to overturn the whaling ban may have suffered a major setback. But anti-whaling activists shouldn't rejoice just yet. Debate surrounding the issue has gotten progressively more intense in the last few months as the IWC prepares to consider just what Japan is looking for -- a (temporary) suspension of the moratorium, to be voted on later this month in Morocco. The meeting also follows a recent breakdown in relations between Japan and Australia, whose government sued Tokyo on June 1 for repeatedly violating the IWC whaling ban.
Junko Kimura/Getty Images
It would be hard top Miyuki Hatoyama in terms of eccentricity. The former Japanese first lady was best known for the fact that she claimed that she was abducted by aliens and knew Tom Cruise in a former life. Naoto Kan's wife Nobuko, according to the Economist, is known "mainly for her straight-talking manner and no-nonsense influence on Mr Kan." But there is one interesting thing about their relationship, as blogger Michael Cucek explains:
What everyone has either been ignoring, willfully or not, is that the PM and his wife are related.
First cousins, in fact. If online family trees are correct, Kan Naoto’s mother and his wife Nobuko’s father are sister and brother.
Whilst first cousin marriage is the most common form of marriage in pre-modern societies and was not at all rare in even urban areas in pre-war Japan, it has become a rarity in this modern, mass education, mobile age. While obviously legal (just barely) it has been driven out by a mass inculcation of the belief that first cousin marriage carries an unacceptable risk of birth defects, should there be children. Indeed, the prime minister and his wife’s parents vehemently opposed the two marrying.
Hat tip: Japan Probe
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
The International Whaling Commission unveiled a new proposal today that would lift the blanket ban on commercial whaling while reducing the number of whales caught each year by Japan, Iceland, and Norway and further regulating the trade .
Japan's response has essentially been, "we like that lifting the ban part":
Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, while welcoming the endorsement of coastal whaling, said: "Regarding the total catch allowed, it is different from Japan's position. We want to continue negotiating with patience."
The U.S. lead the effort to put together the new proposal -- a painful compromise for whaling opponents -- which will be voted on at an IWC meeting in June.
It doesn't seem like anti-whaling countries have a whole lot of leverage here. The U.S. has rejected plans to impose economic sanctions against Japan's "scientific" whale hunts in the past and it's not clear how serious Australia is about its threats to take Japan to the International Criminal Court. Japan's best strategy seems to be to keep the IWC talking -- while recruiting more allies for its cause -- and continue the hunt in the meantime.
OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images
The Democratic Party of Japan apparently doesn't travel light. Mainichi Shimbun reports:
Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa won't be lonely when he heads to China and South Korea on Thursday, as he's taking an entourage of about 630 people with him.
The group, including DPJ supporters and 143 fellow DPJ Diet members, will accompany Ozawa while he's in China to meet with President Hu Jintao. Ozawa will continue on to South Korea alone for a dinner meeting with President Lee Myung-bak on Friday, but overall the trip looks to solidify the impression of Japan's regime change both in and outside the country, as well as emphasize Ozawa's political power.
143 Diet members is about a third of the party's entire delegation. Imagine 100 Democratic members of congress all going on one foreign trip. Ozawa apparently also hopes to discuss an exchange program between the DPJ and the Chinese Communist Party during the visit.
The DPJ came into power promising a closer relationship with China and a Japanese foreign policy that was more oriented toward the country's Asian neighbors. Ozawa's mega-junket certainly seems like a pretty big statement to that end.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
France isn't the only government dealing with bizarre revelations about a politician's past. It turns out that Mieko Tanaka, a recently elected Diet representative from Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's Democratic Party, had a very interesting career prior to entering politics. This included a stint as some sort of cosplay sex columnist:
A publishing company employee explains that Tanaka used to pen a rather racy column in the magazine Bubka titled “Beautiful costume play writer Arisu interviews sex workers: a real battle of beauties” under the name Arisu Shibuya. “She would interview fuzoku [sex industry] girls while she herself was outfitted in some kind of costume. It become somewhat of a topic of conversation because nobody knew why she had to dress up like that,” the employee chuckles.
Tanaka had a bit of a film career as well. She appeared nude in cult director Teruo Ishii's 2005 slasher film Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf:
Tanaka plays one of four widows named Reiko, and she first appears sixty-eight minutes into the film. The ladies are initially seduced by the blind beast, who in reality is a killer, and succumb to his sensual massage, for which Tanaka is seen writhing in ecstasy as the beast fumbles with her breasts beneath her robe.
The politician then reappears at around the eighty-three-minute mark, when she tricks the sightless creature into thinking a doll is her body and subsequently flees in desperation.
Thanks to Tanaka's election, sales of Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf are apparently through the roof.
Tanaka is one of the so-called "Ozawa girls," a group of young female politicians recruited by DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa to unseat aging, male LDP incumbents.
Between Tanaka's cult-film past and first lady Miyuki Hatoyama's close encounters, Japanese voters may have gotten more change than they bargained for with the DPJ.
Photo: Democratic Party of Japan
Today, new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will address both the Security Council and the General Assembly. His foreign minister, Katsuyo Okada, will address the biannual meeting on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Japan is strongly committed to enforcing. At a press conference today, the prime minister's Press Secretary Kazuo Kodama said that Japan "welcomed U.S. participation" in the CTBC conference, for the first time in a decade.
Foreign Minister Okada recently ordered an investigation into the secret agreements between Japan and the United States that allow nuclear-armed U.S. ships to visit Japan, in possible violation of the country's non-nuclear laws. I asked Kodama if, with non-proliferation on the table at this assembly, there were any talks between the U.S. and Japanese delegations over the investigation.
Kodama said that Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell had been briefed on the issue and that the investiation was still ongoing.
"The vice minister will complete this investigation by the end of November. If necessary we will communicate with state department on this issue," he said. "I don't think there's any sort of tension."
Kodama was also asked what stance Hatoyama would take on executive bonus regulation in Pittsburgh:
In Japan we don’t have any progblems with the level of bonuses. But we think it important to ensure that the existing salary or bonus system should not lead in any way to excessive risk taking.
Two days into its new government, the Democratic Party of Japan is wasting no time setting new policies for the country. Yesterday, the Defense Minister suggested a withdrawl from Afghanistan; today, the country looks set to suspend use of the death penalty.
The new Japanese Government has in effect suspended the death penalty by appointing an outspoken opponent of capital punishment as Justice Minister.
Keiko Chiba, 61, a lawyer and former member of the Japan Socialist Party, has the final say in signing execution orders for Japan’s 102 death row inmates.
Although she has declined to say explicitly whether or not she will authorise them, her 20-year-long record as a death penalty abolitionist makes it a certainty that hangings will be put on hold.
The article goes on to note that the United States would now be the only "industrial democracy" to still use capital punishment. However, a look at Amnesty International's list of "retentionist" countries does show that the death penalty remains on the books in several of the largest developing nations, including India and China. Those looking for meaningless correlations should also note that other "retentionist" countries include North Korea, Chad, and Sudan.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Profiles of Japan's incoming Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama tend to use a lot of adjectives like "remote and charisma-challenged" and "blue-blood." Frankly, despite his reformist zeal, the guy seems pretty dull. His wife Miyuki, on the other hand, seems a lot more interesting:
Miyuki Hatoyama, wife of Japan's Prime Minister-elect, Yukio Hatoyama, is a lifestyle guru, a macrobiotics enthusiast, an author of cookery books, a retired actress, a divorcee, and a fearless clothes horse for garments of her own creation, including a skirt made from Hawaiian coffee sacks. But there is more, much more. She has travelled to the planet Venus. And she was once abducted by aliens.
The 62-year-old also knew Tom Cruise in a former incarnation – when he was Japanese – and is now looking forward to making a Hollywood movie with him. "I believe he'd get it if I said to him, 'Long time no see', when we meet," she said in a recent interview. But it is her claim in a book entitled "Very Strange Things I've Encountered" that she was abducted by aliens while she slept one night 20 years ago, that has suddenly drawn attention following last Sunday's poll.
"While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus," she explains in the tome she published last year. "It was a very beautiful place, and it was very green."
While her husband at the time dismissed her experience as a dream, she says that Yukio "has a different way of thinking." Maybe there's more to this PM than we thought...
Japan's voters have handed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party an unprecedented beatdown in the country's lower-house elections, meaning the opposition Democratic Party of Japan -- long the Washington Generals, if you will, of Japanese politics -- is coming to power. It's only the second time the LDP has been ousted since World War II.
What does it mean? We'll have more on that in a bit (and you can read smart takes on the subject by Tobias Harris [twice!] and Dov Zakheim), but my view is that's it's a healthy development for a country that has never been quite as democratic as most of us assumed it to be. Japanese voters have finally punished the ossified LDP for its economic management and arrogance ignoring their everyday concerns, and it's punishment well deserved. And as an editor, anything that makes Japanese politics more interesting is welcome.
The U.S. State Department has issued a statement congratulating the DPJ on its win and pledging "close cooperation" with the new government "in moving toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, addressing the threat of climate change and increasing the availability of renewable energy, bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and addressing international humanitarian and health issues," among other top priorities.
But will the DPJ be as easy to work with as its predecessor? Yukio Hatoyama, the likely new prime minister shown above, wrote last week in a frankly loopy New York Times op-ed that Japan would "aspire to move toward regional currency integration," making headlines around the world. He said it would probably take at least 10 years to accomplish, after which the goal would be EU-style "political integration" of the region. Hatoyama also made clear that he views the United States as a declining power and that Japan would be taking a more independent line in foreign policy.
We'll see if he carries it out. More on this later.
UPDATE: Jeff Kingston weighs in from Japan with his expert take on what the DPJ's win means for Japan and the world. He argues that Tokyo's new government may have a lot more trouble on the economic front, and a lot more success in foreign policy, than most folks think. Check it out.
... Tobias Harris has more.
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