Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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East Asia’s Patriots and Populists

TOKYO – When faced with domestic worries, politicians often resort to foreign diversions – a simple axiom that is highly useful in assessing the increasingly tense sovereignty disputes in the East and South China Seas.

Although China is involved in the most wide-ranging and intense disputes, the most tragic is that between South Korea and Japan, given that both countries are democracies with almost identical strategic interests. On August 10, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the island of Takeshima (called Dokdo in Korean), which has been the subject of a territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea for 60 years. During a lecture at the Korea National University of Education four days later, he stoked tensions further, saying of the Emperor of Japan’s proposed visit: “If he wants to come, he should apologize first for the past.”

Despite his numerous achievements as president, Lee is trumpeting his nationalist/anti-Japanese credentials in the waning days of his term, which ends in February 2013. Indeed, so strident has he become that he refused to accept a message from Japan’s prime minister about his island visit.

Lee’s hyper-patriotism is new. Less than two months ago, he reached an agreement to share military intelligence with Japan – a deal that was subsequently abandoned, owing to fears that the opposition would attack his party’s presidential candidate as subservient to Japan. Lee’s recent behavior may also reflect his fear that he could suffer a fate similar to that of past South Korean presidents. Some have been assassinated, one committed suicide, and others were arrested and condemned to death after stepping down. Lee may have interpreted his brother’s arrest in July for accepting bribes as a prelude to such a fate.

Attempting to mitigate future domestic political damage by undermining the dynamics of the relationship between South Korea and Japan – and both countries’ relationship with the United States – is unwise. Given North Korea’s continued potential for military mischief and the fluid state of security in Asia in the wake of China’s rise, such tactics could have serious, if unintended, consequences.

The origins of the dispute over Takeshima lie in the period immediately before the Treaty of San Francisco was signed in 1951, formally ending World War II in the Pacific. The treaty demarcated territory, including Takeshima. But South Korea’s then-president, Syngman Rhee, in violation of the treaty and international law, instituted the “Syngman Rhee Line” to demarcate an expansive area, including Takeshima, within which South Korea unilaterally claimed fishery jurisdiction. Since then, South Korea has used the issue as a means of boosting national prestige – and, aware that its sovereignty claims are legally dubious, has refused to allow the International Court of Justice to adjudicate.

More ominous, however, is the sovereignty dispute between Japan and China. Here, history has a story to tell as well. Japan’s government officially incorporated the Senkaku Islands into Japanese national territory in 1895. Since then, the islands have consistently been held to be Japanese. Indeed, at one point there was a dried bonito factory in operation, and more than 200 residents on Uotsuri, the largest of the islands (roughly the size of New York City’s Central Park). At WWII’s end, in accordance with Article 3 of the Treaty of San Francisco, the islands were placed under United States control, but reverted to Japan in 1972, as part of the agreement that returned to it administration of Okinawa.

Until this point, neither China nor Taiwan expressed objections. In the Chinese World Atlas published under Mao Zedong in 1960, the Senkaku Islands were treated as part of Okinawa. And, although circumstances changed in 1968, when a survey by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific revealed the seas around the islands to contain an abundance of resources, the periodic tensions that arose were manageable.

That dynamic was altered when the Democratic Party of Japan came to power three years ago. The DPJ’s feckless dithering over whether to renew the US Marines’ lease on a base on Okinawa signaled to the world – and to China, in particular – that the party did not value the US alliance and America’s security guarantee as highly as previous governments did. As a result, China has since been testing Japan’s resolve and America’s assurances, though US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent and resolute affirmation of her country’s commitment to Japan’s security should put an end to any suspicion in that regard.

Meanwhile, domestic tension in China – particularly the scandal surrounding the purge of former Chongqing Communist Party boss Bo Xilai and the country’s economic slowdown – has probably prompted the government to play the nationalist card more forcefully than usual. The Party’s upcoming Congress to anoint the country’s new leadership for the next decade adds to its desire to manipulate public emotion.

But the nationalist genie, once released, is not easily controlled. Some anti-Japanese demonstrations – which featured rioting, looting, and the destruction of Japanese businesses – mutated into anti-government protests. By allowing social tensions to mount to such a degree, the Chinese government may also be partly responsible for the recent rampage among thousands of workers at the Foxconn plant (where components for Apple iPods and iPads are made) in Taiyuan.

This December, South Korea will elect a new president. Japan is likely to hold fresh elections soon as well. The governments that emerge should use their popular mandates to forge a new form of cooperation that can transcend an embittered past.

What France and Germany achieved in the 1950’s can serve as an example. By forging shared sovereignty over issues vital to national security – namely, coal and steel – visionary leaders in both countries laid the foundation for European peace and security, while overcoming a long history of antagonism.

In the face of China’s rise and maritime ambitions, East Asia’s two great democracies must seek to do no less. If they succeed, South Korea and Japan would establish a precedent that offers the best path to resolving the great sovereignty questions that are now destabilizing Asia.

Read more from our "Japan's Turning Point" Focal Point.

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  1. CommentedNathan Coppedge

    One prospect is to look for big problems, and big solutions. Another is to look for small exceptional solutions. Perhaps one may even look like the other.

    For example, some nations may now be considering, how to expand populations into outer space. As ridiculous as it might seem, it could resolve some psychological, or I suppose even political tensions that otherwise might develop about burgeoning populations, or simple anxious feelings about the future.

    1. CommentedNathan Coppedge

      For example, Britain at a time when its population was booming developed a sea empire, which allowed many people to move overseas. That kind of global expansion is not any longer available to Japan, unless there are some very blurry ideas about national or global governments.

  2. CommentedJoel Thibault

    I totally agree with Jonathan & Almagfiro. I've also noticed that Project Syndicate isn't very neutral in this subject. There is no balance of ideas like on the european crisis for example.

    One article written by Ian Buruma was more neutral but it was spoiled by comments from a japanese extremist.

    This matter should be taken seriously by Project Syndicate if they don't want to be a tribune for the japanese conservatives which would probably be considered as an the extrem right party in europe.

    German right wing politician are not praised WW2 war criminals and are not doing historical revisionism!

    Yuriko Koike how can you hope a better cooperation with South Korea with such politicans?

  3. Commentedalmagfiro pradana

    typical japaneese article, by blaming everyone else in the region, it is obvious that Right wing neocon Tokyo Mayor Ishihara that started the island buying of senkaku against ALL chineese recommendation to maintain status QUO of the island. especially during such a fragile time when the leadership of China is changing hand.

    this state becoming more and more like Israel where all its neighbor all HATED them. hence resorting national security to USA.

    big mistake.

  4. CommentedJonathan Jun

    I am deeply sad of reading article contributed by former cabinet minister of Japan and the past opposition leader in Japan's Diet, Ms. Yuriko Koike on the sensitive topic of Dokdo/Takeshima islet dispute.

    There are facts that seem deliberately being ignored in her preconceived favorable view (understandably) on her own country in territorial dispute with South Korea. Before I point out on some historical context of certain facts which Ms.Koike failed to mention, I wish to express how mind boggling it is to see Project Syndicate's apparent failure to be objective and unbiased and NOT accommodating 3rd party non-Japanese or non-Korean writer on this sensitive topic of tinder box ready to explode both on Korean and Japanese sides. Ms.Koike is not just Japanese politician but also a vice secretary general of Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference) that is known to be CONSERVATIVE think tank.

    FACTS TO CONSIDER:

    (1)It is unfortunate that according to San Francisco Accord (treaty) made, as mentioned by Ms. Koike, in 1952 between the USA & Japan, Dokdo/Takeshima was already deemed to be Japanese territory WITHOUT the consent and presence of Korean Representatives (and for this, Japan loves to point to as proof of their ownership to the islet) South Korea at the time of 1950~1953 was busily occupied with tragic Korean war and was blissfully unaware of the dirty backroom deal transpiring between countries that had the upper hands.

    (2) Japan only began to claim Dokdo/Takeshima islet as theirs after the annexation of whole Korean peninsula at around 1905~1910. But before which there are historical records (even on Japanese side) of Japanese fishermen paying some form of tax to Korean(or Josun people)residents living in Uuloongdo island (87.4km west of Dokdo).

    (3) While the distance of the closest inhabited Korean island, Uuloongdo, to Dokdo is 87.4km and Dokdo can be seen by naked eyes on clear days, the distance from the closest inhabited Japanese island of 'Oki' to "Takeshima" is vast 157.5km. What is more, from the mainland point of views of Japan & South Korea (comparing) the distances to the Dokdo/Takeshima islets respectively show Dokdo is closer to Korea than Japan's mainland - although South Korean geologists last year said Dokdo has shifted about a meter toward Japan due to the last year's formidable magnitude of the earth quick which also entailed in tragic Tsunami over Tohoku.

    (4) International (arbitration) court has one Japanese judge currently sitting there & it is obvious that why Koreans fear to bring the dispute to the international court that might favor Japan and South Korea has much to lose. As in the Senkaku/Daioyu dispute between Japan & China for which Chinese wanted to bring the dispute to the international arbitration, but Japanese government so far has refused to do so in similar fashion as the Korean government. Hence South Korea having the full physical administration/control of Dokdo just as Japan is in full administration/control of the Senkaku islands respectively, both countries are not being budged to bring their own respective conflicts to the international court.

    (5) Japan and the whole world should be informed that Japan's imperial army murdered the Josun dynasty's last royal and for this they must make sincere apology. Speaking of Ms.Koike's mention on S.Korean President's recent "blunder" of proposal to the Emperor for apology which fueled even more uproar in Japan, it is staggering to see Japanese people in general as well as Ms.Yuriko Koike not realizing that they had systematically annihilated Korea's royal blood line. If, say, Japan's emperor was murdered by collateral damage of the American atomic bomb drop on Tokyo's royal palace (It could have been done, after Nagasaki & Hiroshima, as planned by Americans in case of Japan's continued resistance) wouldn't current Japanese also demand apology from the U.S. government for the "murder" of their royals? Humble Japanese male offspring in his 50's/60's or so whose grandfather played specific role in killing the Josun dynasty's last royal with the Japanese sword recently arrived in South Korea to express great sorrow to in repentant heart for his grand father's past murderous deed. Ms. Koike should remember that Japanese emperor is no more sacred or "holier than thou" than Great Britain's monarch or Josun's last royal.

    (6) While Germany has made full acknowledgement (6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust), restitution (full compensations to the victims) and retribution (full justice to the Nazi war criminals), Japan has only paid shallow
    "lip service" and claim to have made sealed deal with South Korea in the past when South Korea was not in globally recognized position of influence. Japan's Yasukuni shrine has WW2 war criminals on pedestal to receive annual tribute and respectful bow from thousands of visitors and Japan's politicians. Can you imagine German politicians paying tribute to Nazi war dead in flamboyant shrines in Germany?

    (7) Some Japanese politician(s) (e.g. right winger, Toru Hashimoto) denies the "comfor women" slavery even existed (forced sexual slaves). But recently, Canadian Federal Parliament heard the testimony of 3 such former sexual slaves in Ottawa and the Members of Parliament unanimously voted in favor of these seniors from Netherlands, Philippines and South Korea to condemn Japan's past role in such acts. If a few self denial Japanese politicians can not believe the Korean seniors' testimony of such crime against humanity existed, then believe at least the Caucasian/white Dutch lady's testimony who can not conjure up false story.

    I will end my feed back with some thoughts below.

    For many centuries, Koreans & Japanese ALWAYS had animosity. Some western thinkers liken them as Jews & Arabs who are linguistically & anthropologically related kinsmen, but Arabs feel deeply offended when they hear that Arabic is also a Semitic language just as Hebrew is. Korean & Japanese languages are sometimes regarded by 3rd party language researchers (western academia) as 'Japanese/Korean' language group instead of categorizing them into the conventional Uralic/Altaic language group due to staggeringly similarity between the 2 languages - exactly the same grammars, same strict structures to end verbs either in 'formality' or 'informality' depending on the opposite listener, and much similar intonations (but Korean has more extra phonetics). Now western scientists in genetics etc are even doubting the traditionally held belief about Japan's Jonom & Yayoi ancestral lineage as it is currently revealed that significant portion of genetic make ups in Koreans & Japanese are same but which do not exist in other Asian DNAs. But inferiority complex ridden Koreans normally get offended to hear that they are related to Japanese & likewise superiority feeling Japanese would snub such insult. (btw. ancient Koreans had their own original Korean names-eg.Iiinashi, Uljimunduk, Sadahaam,Toru,Jiru,Paso etc- that sound similar to Japanese but with the adaptation of Chinese writing system, so had Koreans adapted Chinese style of naming themselves for easy transcription and many native Korean and Japanese vocabularies such as 'Muul'(Korean) & 'Moru'(Japanese) for "water", 'Shilyehedodeketsupnika?' (old fashioned Korean)& 'Shidsureidesuka?' (not used much in current Japanese) for "execuse me" that are same derivatives and have nothing to do with Chinese based characters.

    In current Japanese taboo, among archaeologists, is that they had unanimously decided NOT to excavate any ancient grave sites pertaining to royal lineage in fear of discovering surprising artifacts that point to the kinsmen relationship to the nearby peninsular country. Even the Japanese emperor Akihito who mentioned about the past Japanese royal's lineage to Korean woman & because of this "unusual" statement he was sarcastically talked about in Japan as the "most successful Zainichi" in Japan (Zainichi means "Korean Japanese")

    I wish that Project Syndicate be more considerate of using 3rd party writer when it comes to international conflicts and geographical disputes to prevent potential bias and favoritism projected only on one side.

  5. CommentedRichard Lo

    Interesting article by Ms. Koike. Apparently Japan is (as many already suspected and some Japanese have previously claimed) not part of East Asia, since there isn't one word about the populists from those sacred isles.

    Setting aside the vast amounts of historical evidence that Ms. Koike ignores in her essay, the Japanese position is the same one routinely used by imperialists in the 19th and 20th centuries. We made a treaty that you weren't invited to to carve up your land, so it's all legal. We squatted on your land so it must be ours because you were too ignorant or weak to evict us. You signed a treaty with us giving your land - oh, you didn't, well, someone from your family/tribe/government did so it must be legal (whether that person has the power to bind the poor natives to the treaty is of course irrelevant). This is the ground the Japanese populists stand on. Unfortunately for them the natives don't look like such easy pushovers this time.

    1. Commentedlt lee

      “If he wants to come, he should apologize first for the past.”
      South Korea's Lee Myung-bak got it right. Democracy is not a good thing if the people lack the sense of justice.
      If one reads history, one cannot help but encounter many episodes during which the Japanese people had ill-treated, brutalized, and killed other peoples. A people with a sense of justice will inevitably reflected on their wrong doings and find a way to express their deep sorrow over such episodes. So far, Japan and its people have shown to the world that they lack the sense on what is just and what is not.
      If one thinks further, one could also conclude that such the Japanese has yet learn to see other people as their equal. This is a gulf which could not be papered over by this or that treaty.

  6. CommentedPeter Tan

    Yeah keep using Treaty of San Fransico in which ROC China or PRC China, Ally in WWII, were somehow not invited so couldn't not formally protest the handling of islands by USA.

    Since Japan claim Senkaku/Diaoyu in the treaty of Shimonoseki that gave Japan Taiwan and all islands under its prefecture so Senkaku/Diaoyu naturally is a part of. Therefore as Japan surrended to the Allies under Potsdem and Cairo Declaration, it should have given back all those islands in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. It didn't and kept Daioyu island chain hiddenly as Japan secreted renamed Diaoyu islands as Senkaku in 1900 using a English translation. Not until the 70's, did oil and resources potential of these islands peaked Taiwan and mainland China's interest in Senkaku islands and digged the history of it to uncover the real truth.

    To ignore Chinese evidences and its invocation of Potsdem and Cairo declarations is to ignore Japan's unconditional surrender to the Allies in WWII. Period

  7. Commentedlt lee

    I read Herman Arthur's "Gandhi and Churchill" book recently. The book is about the struggle between Gandhi and Churchill. However, it also described briefly how the British general Percival had surrendered to the Japanese although his defending force was 3 times the size of the
    latter. More surprisingly, the Japanese appeared to single out oversea Chinese for killing. The following is from the book:

    "Percival had no wish to prolong the bloodshed, especially among the civilians. It never occurred to him that after the surrender the Japanese would murder thousands, especially Singapore's oversea Chinese population..." p.478

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