Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on February 19th, 2014
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Hi Blog. Although I have been commenting at length at Japan’s right-wing swing, I have focused little on the geopolitical aspects (particularly how both China and Japan have been lobbying their cases before the congress of world opinion), because Debito.org is more focused on life and human rights in Japan, and the geopolitics of spin isn’t quite my specialty. That said, I’m happy to cite other articles that get the analysis pretty much right. Here are two, one from Bloomberg, the other from Reuters. After all, Japan can take its constant “victim” narrative only so far, especially in light of its history, and that distance is generally its border. These articles highlight how outsiders are increasingly unconvinced by the GOJ’s behavior and invective, despite the longstanding bent towards giving Japan the benefit of the doubt as a regional ally. ARUDOU, Debito
A Rebuke to Japanese Nationalism
By The Editors Bloomberg News, Feb 16, 2014
Courtesy of Baudrillard
A series of recent blunt statements from U.S. officials have left no doubt that Washington blames China’s maritime expansionism for rising tensions in Asia. Now, America’s main ally in the region needs to hear a similarly forthright message.
Japan had been clamoring for the U.S. to speak out more forcefully after China imposed an “air-defense identification zone” over a set of islands claimed by both countries. Officials in Tokyo have warned that any hint of daylight between Americans and Japanese only encourages further bullying from the mainland. For that same reason, U.S. officials have tempered their criticism of statements and actions by Japanese leaders that irk China, not to mention other victims of Japanese aggression during World War II.
This circumspection is becoming counterproductive. Since China imposed its air-defense identification zone in November, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited the deeply controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors, along with millions of fallen soldiers from various conflicts, 14 Class A war criminals from World War II. What’s more, several of Abe’s nominees to the board of the state broadcaster NHK have made appallingly retrograde comments that Abe has declined to disavow. One claimed the horrific 1937 Nanjing Massacre never took place, while another pooh-poohed complaints that the Japanese military had exploited thousands of women from Korea and elsewhere as sex slaves during the war. Other Abe allies are busily trying to rewrite textbooks to downplay Japan’s wartime brutality.
Japanese officials seem unconcerned with the impression all this creates abroad, arguing that relations with China and even with fellow U.S. ally South Korea can hardly get worse, and in any case are unlikely to improve so long as nationalists remain in power in those countries. A more conciliatory Japanese attitude, they are convinced, would only prompt endless humiliating demands from Beijing and Seoul.
Worse, Japan seems to be taking U.S. backing for granted. Abe went to Yasukuni even after Vice President Joe Biden quietly urged him not to. Details of their conversation were then strategically leaked, presumably to showcase Abe’s defiant stance. In private, Japanese officials snipe about the Barack Obama administration’s alleged unreliability. Anything other than unstinting support for Japan is taken as a lack of backbone.
The U.S. should push back, and less gently than usual. President Obama’s trip to Asia in April is an opportunity for the White House not only to reaffirm its disapproval of Chinese adventurism but also to make clear that Abe’s provocations are threatening stability in the region, and damaging the U.S.-Japan alliance.
This won’t change many minds inside Abe’s inner circle, of course. But most Japanese are acutely sensitive to any hint of U.S. displeasure. (Nearly 70 percent of respondents to one poll called on Abe to heed the negative reaction to his Yasukuni visit, which included a mild expression of “disappointment” from U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.) Voters threw out Abe once before when he let nationalist obsessions distract him from minding the economy. Sustained domestic pressure is needed to rein him in again.
Abe is not necessarily wrong to want to make Japan a more muscular nation — to rejuvenate its economy, open up its society and normalize its self-defense forces. A more robust Japanese military could play a bigger role in promoting global and regional stability — whether through anti-piracy patrols or peacekeeping missions — and come to the defense of its allies. Inflaming Chinese and Korean sensitivities helps achieve none of those goals.
All it does is raise the likelihood of conflict in the region. That Abe’s recent actions and comments may be less dangerous than China’s adventurism is beside the point. He’s eroding the international goodwill that Japan has built up over decades as a responsible democracy — all for no good reason. If he can’t see that for himself, perhaps the U.S. — and his own citizens — can help him.
NATIONAL / POLITICS & DIPLOMACY
Abe put Japan on back foot in global PR war with China
BY LINDA SIEG AND BEN BLANCHARD
REUTERS, FEB 17, 2014
Japan risks losing a global PR battle with China after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a controversial shrine for war dead and comments by other prominent figures on the wartime past helped Beijing try to paint Tokyo as the villain of Asia.
Sino-Japanese ties have long been plagued by territorial rows, regional rivalry and disputes stemming from China’s bitter memories of Japan’s occupation of parts of the country before and during World War II.
Relations chilled markedly after a feud over disputed East China Sea isles flared in 2012.
Beijing, however, has stepped up its campaign to sway international public opinion since Abe’s Dec. 26 visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine is seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism because it honors leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals with millions of war dead.
That strategy has helped China shift some of the debate away from its growing military assertiveness in Asia, including double-digit defense spending increases and the recent creation of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea that was condemned by Tokyo and Washington, experts said.
“Right now, this is a real war,” said Shin Tanaka, president of the FleishmanHillard Japan Group in Tokyo, a communications consultancy.
“Japan and China are using missiles called ‘messages’ and the reality is that a lot of damage is already happening in both countries,” he added, warning of a mutual backlash of nationalist emotions and potential harm to business ties.
Abe has repeatedly said he did not visit the shrine to honor war criminals but to pay his respects to those who died for their country and pledge Japan would never again go to war.
Getting that message across is not easy, communications and political experts said. Abe’s Yasukuni visit “gave China the opportunity . . . to attack Japan and send the message that China is the good guy and Japan is the bad guy,” Tanaka said.
Some Japanese diplomats and officials dismissed any suggestion they were worried, saying Tokyo’s rebuttals and the country’s postwar record of peace would win the day.
“Their Goebbelsian PR binge — repeat it 100 times then it becomes true, ungrounded or not — shows all the symptoms of a Leninist regime still remaining in the 21st century,” Tomohiko Taniguchi, a councilor in the Cabinet secretariat of the prime minister’s office, said in an email.
He was referring to Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda from 1933 to 1945.
“Yes we feel annoyed, but the next moment we relax for we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Still, experts said Abe’s shrine visit had made it easier for Beijing to try to link Abe’s plans to bolster the military and loosen limits on the pacifist Constitution to Japan’s militarist past.
“The most fundamental thing they say is to assert that Japan is going on a path of militarism a la the 1930s. That’s just nonsense,” said Daniel Sneider, associate director for research at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. “But the problem is the Chinese are able to blur a lot of this stuff because of what Abe did.”
Recent remarks about Japan’s wartime past by the chairman of NHK and members of its board of governors have added grist to China’s PR mill.
Among those remarks were comments by new NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii, who told a news conference last month that the “comfort women” — a euphemism for the vast number of females forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels — had counterparts in every country at war at that time. He later apologized.
NHK’s chief is selected by a board of governors that includes four Abe appointees.
Since the start of the year, Chinese ambassadors and other officials have targeted Japan 69 times in media around the world, the Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo. The campaign includes interviews, written commentaries and news conferences.
As of Feb. 10, Japan had issued rebuttals in 67 cases with the other two under review, Foreign Ministry spokesman Masaru Sato said.
Asked if China had won over international opinion, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said countries such as South Korea — where memories of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule run deep — had also criticized Tokyo.
“The mistaken ways of the Japanese leader have incurred the strong opposition of the international community,” Hua told reporters. “China is willing to work with other victims of the war and the international community to uphold historical justice.”
The verbal jousting has spanned the globe from capitals such as London and Washington to remote Fiji and South Sudan.
The best known exchanges are the “Voldemort attacks” in which China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, last month compared Japan to the villain in the Harry Potter children’s book series. In reply, Japan’s envoy, Keiichi Hayashi, said China risked becoming “Asia’s Voldemort.”
“We try to explain that Japan faces its history squarely and has expressed remorse . . . (and that) Japan will continue to pursue the path of a peace-loving country,” Sato said.
“Sometimes they try to link the visit to the shrine to security policy. That is a totally unrelated matter.”
Still, some in Japan fear that China’s PR blitz is having an impact on world opinion.
“A lie is repeated so that people are brainwashed and start to believe it,” Akira Sato, head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s panel on defense policy, told Reuters.
Echoed a Western diplomat in Beijing: “China is being successful at getting its message across while Japan keeps saying stupid things like questioning the existence of comfort women. I think (China) has changed opinions.”
Tokyo’s mostly reactive approach, some PR experts said, was not enough to sway international public opinion, a worry some Japanese diplomats share privately.
“Japan is very worried that China is winning this propaganda war,” said an Asian diplomat based in Beijing. “Their diplomats have been asking how they can better put their side of the story and win people over in the West.”
That could be tough if Abe declines to say whether he will visit Yasukuni again or other prominent Japanese figures make contentious comments on wartime history, experts said.
Other matters, such as revisionist changes to Japanese textbooks to promote patriotism, could add fuel to the fire.
“Even if he doesn’t go to Yasukuni again, there are plenty of issues on their (the Japanese government’s) agenda,” Sneider said.