Thursday, January 27, 2011

SOTU: I Don’t See England, I don’t see France

But I do see Europe.

Yesterday, Paul Sracic emailed me his quick response to President Obama’ State of Union address, which included the following take on Japan:
No one in the U.S. will care about this, but Obama mentioned China, India, and South Korea several times -- but never Japan. Do you think that the Japanese people will care/notice this?
Sure enough, the story showed up later that day on the Yomiuri and Sankei websites (and this morning in the Yomiuri and I sure Asahi hardcopy versions). Paul is an expert on US politics (he’s quoted on the SOTU itself in a Reuters wire), but he obviously figured out how the Japanese mind works while he was in Japan on his Council of Foreign Affairs fellowship Fulbright Scholarship. The headlines say it all:
Yomiuri: “Japan” Goes Unmentioned This Year Too: exhibits the strengths of South Korea, China (hardcopy version)
Sankei: Country Names Mentioned in Obama Speech: South Korea Most Often, at Five; Japan Zero (online version)
Sankei does the whole SOTU BRICs count: China four times, India three times, Russia twice, and Brazil once. (Ian Bremmer believes that Russia isn’t a real BRIC, but that’s another story.)

If this sounds familiar to you, you’re right. We went through this during the 2008 presidential primaries, when many people here gave John McCain the thumbs-up over Hillary Clinton in the Foreign Affairs essays contest because McCain issued a paean to the US-Japan relationship while Clinton mentioned China more often than Japan. Note, though, that Clinton’s essay was more about the foreign policy and security challenges that the United States faced, and how she would deal with them. Obama is naming names mainly as countries that are doing things that the United States should emulate at home. And no, as the Sankei count shows, England and France don’t show up either. But Europe does, as in: “Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do.”

The silver lining for Japan is that this wakeup call is good news for people here who are pushing reform.


Janne Morén said...

You'd have to be very insecure or very thin-skinned to actually care about superficialities like how many times you're mentioned in a speech.

If Japans foreign policy is actually driven directly or indirectly (through media pressure and polls) by a schoolyard-level popularity contest then the country is indeed in real trouble.

Jun Okumura said...


Haha. To be fair though, the name count itself is not the heart of the cautionary stories; it's the kind of seasoning that journalists add to give their narrative some zest. And the Japanese response to Clinton's essay made much of her mention of the US-China relationship as the most important one of all (or something of the sort; the text is now behind the FA subscription wall), overlooking the fact that she did not use the value-loaded word "partnership". This, plus the perception that the Democrats were generally less pro-Japan than the Republicans, made the Japanese anxious.

Janne Morén said...

But looking a bit further afield from my punchliney (is that a word? It is now) comment, I agree it's not about name-dropping.

Your comment, to me, displays the exact same insecurity I lampoon above: "they" (a power in a transparently parental role) bring up a sibling rival for consideration whereas we do not merit the same attention. People run amok analysing the precise word choice of their "parent" in order to glean any clue on where they stand in the eyes of the adults.

Nowhere do I see a hint of realization that Japan should act its age, take full responsibility for itself, and decide on its own course; take full blame for what it does wrong and full credit for what it does right.

PaxAmericana said...


I think Janne brings up some good points. Somehow, at some level, the US is a parent, and there seems to be a feeling that the younger brother China is achieving more. This is a bit strange.

Also, in some ways, the countless discussions about Japan falling behind avoid "taking full blame and full credit". And it would be nice to see some articles discussing where different institutions made mistakes. Despite all the signs of contrition by an individual, there don't seem to be many mea culpas from institutions.

Damien said...

I like how foreign policy can just be reduced to how many times you're invoked in a speech. You think Hu Jintao called up Kan to brag..."Guess what Kan, your days are over. The Big O gave us props four times!"

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