20130510Did Something Funny Happen to Me on China Radio International? I’m Staying Tuned
It’s a Friday night and I’m having a few beers with friends, when talk turns to my media appearances (or lack thereof recently). I mention my Monday turn on a China Radio International (CRI) panel discussion around the 61st anniversary* of the restoration of Japanese independence and the first thing that one of my friends says is that CRI appeared to have banned him, since it had asked him for comments regularly but hadn’t called on him for half a year now. So I told them my story and we wondered if I’d get the boot too.
* You may be wondering, why 61st? Obviously, surely because Abe wanted to commemorate the event as soon as he had the chance. But, then, why didn’t he do it in 2007, when he first had the chance? It actually makes sense when you remember that it is the 61st year that marks the beginning of a new sexagesimal cycle. You celebrate your birthday on the 366th, not 365th, day, don’t you? It’s the same thing.
CRI, like all audiovisual news outlets that I’m aware of, provides a list of questions beforehand so that the panelists/interviewees can prepare for the event, and the session usually runs more or less according to script. But this time, a funny thing happened. As one of the panelists was responding to the third question, my line went dead. When it returned, the exchange on Q6 was coming to an end and the session subsequently began to go off-script. I’m reproducing below the Qs and my As as they looked just before the session. If you have the time to listen to a one-hour podcast, click here. Incidentally, Professor Lawson was pretty awesome. Criticized Abe’s words, criticized China’s actions. I wonder if she’ll be contacted again, too.
1 How do you evaluate Abe's foreign affairs policy after he won the election this time?
1 How do you evaluate Abe's foreign affairs policy after he won the election this time?
I give him an A-minus. His economic diplomacy has been near-flawless. He engineered Japan’s entry into Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in time for meaningful negotiations against considerable domestic opposition. TPP in turn has spurred the Japan-China-South Korea FTA and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership processes, while serving as a cornerstone of the third pillar of Abenomics. He is presiding over an auspicious start to his energy policy agenda—nuclear power, natural gas—with Vietnam, Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East, and of course Russia. His political diplomacy is where I give him a minus, since he has helped annoy two important neighbors partly unnecessarily. Note that he has a chance of killing two birds with one stone vis-à-vis Russia as talks move forward on the Northern Territories.
2 Why could he lead the country to turn more conservative?
Fundamentally, because everybody else in the immediate neighborhood—China, South Korea, North Korea—is pushing the envelope on nationalism, becoming more aggressive. Prime Minister Abe’s political agenda is probably to the right of the Japanese public’s ideological gravity center, but anxieties around regional developments are further marginalizing pacifists.
3 Did Shinzo Abe want to reinterpret Japan’s war history? Abe commented on Japanese aggressions against China and Korea, saying there’s no clear definition of “aggression” either in academia or international communities. Different countries may have different understanding of the term depending on their own situation. Why did he do so? How dangerous is it for the region?
Actually, Mr. Abe is wrong about the definition of “aggression.” A UN resolution adopted unanimously in 1974 defines “aggression.” That said, there is an important question here. Specifically, does that definition apply retroactively? After all, Europe and the United States had been engaging in all sorts of aggressive behavior in Asia and worldwide for many years. Which leads us to my next point, which is: It’s obvious that, as Mr. Abe said, “It differs from which side you look.” If you don’t believe me, just ask the Israelis on one hand and Palestinians on the other, the Indonesians on one hand and the Dutch on the other, Anglo-Saxons on one hand and Native Americans ion the other, the Han people and the Tibetans and Uighurs… but you get the idea. As for why he said what he said, he was asked. In the upper house Budget Committee, where, by custom, the prime minister can be summoned to be subjected to questioning. But he also reiterated his intent to leave the matter to experts to hash it out; the overseas media tend to leave that part out of their reports, but Mr. Abe also should have left it at that.
4 But still Abe got over 70% for supporting rate, why is it? Does it mean domestically people support nationalism? Or is it more for his economic policy?
It’s Abenomics, Abenomics, Abenomics. His political agenda is of minor importance when it comes to opinion polls.
5 Will this support rate push him further on the road of nationalism and right-wing orientation?
Support for his administration is key to achieving his political agenda, which is already fairly clear. It does not change his orientation, but it certainly makes it more potent.
6 Japan is trying to escape the post-war regime. What steps/measures have been taken by Abe on this road?
I don’t know what you mean by “escape the post-war regime,” but if you mean develop ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, and aircraft carriers, no, Japan is not, give us credit for not being that stupid. But if you mean, coming to the defense of allied military vessels under attack, coming to the defense of UN PKO forces under attack, yes, I think that Mr. Abe wants that, and a majority of the Japanese public will support him on this.
7 In 2007, when Abe served as Prime Minister for the first time, the national referendum law was enacted. The law established the procedures for amending the Constitution. Is this just the first step for Abe’s goal of revising Japan’s pacifist Constitution?
Yes. Without the law, the process could not go forward. But remember, not only the LDP but the DPJ also wanted to amend the constitution in principle, so it also supported the law. Most Japanese political parties of significance and a healthy majority of the Japanese public want to amend the constitution. However, they are very much divided on what they actually want in an amendment. So how China deals with this desire will play a meaningful role in how the eventual consensus evolves.
8 In Japan, fresh calls for constitutional amendment from various political parties have got louder. Why is it? How likely is it for Japan to amend the Article 9 of its Pacifist Constitution?
A determined and powerful prime minister is surely needed for and probably capable of putting such a momentous initiative of little immediate consequence for the Japanese public at the front and center of the national debate. Mr. Abe is the first prime minister to make progress in this respect a centerpiece of his eventual legacy, while the early success of Abenomics has prolonged the proverbial post-election honeymoon. So he’s serious, which means that all the other parties have to speak up as well. I expect that the Self-Defense Force will be recognized as an army and that the role of that military in international peacekeeping operations will be sanctioned. An affirmation of the right to collective self-defense is also to be in order. Otherwise, the pacifist elements of Article 9 will remain in place and may even be augmented, depending on how far the LDP can go without forcing the Komeito to bolt the coalition.
9 Will the US allow Japan to revise its pacifist Constitution? What role will US play in this issue?
Japan is a sovereign state. And has the United States ever intervened in the constitutional amendment process of a democracy? Case closed. Besides, any assertive commentary from the United States, or China for that matter, is likely to have the opposite effective in the national debate over the constitution.
10 How dangerous is it for the region if they finally get Pacifist Constitution Article 9 revised?
No more than, say, the extent to which the region is threatened by South Korea’s constitution, whatever it says about its military. Did you know that South Korea has compulsory military service? Look, Japan is not going to retake the Northern Territories or Takeshima by force just because it has a new Article 9. And it already has administrative control over the Senkaku Islands. And if an amendment enables the Japanese Self-Defense Force to play a more effective role in UN peacekeeping operations, I hope that our neighbors, who are already very active in this respect, should support it wholeheartedly.
11 Another event is that for the first time, Japan officially celebrated the day of restoration of Japanese sovereignty on April 28, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed 61 years ago to end the occupation by allied forces. The event was marked with the presence of both the Prime Minister and emperors and empress. How meaningful is this event? Is this another signal that Japan is on its way to more right wing?
The event does not change the facts on the ground: the Japanese government is not going to increase its defense spending by 10% or even 5% per year. The Japanese Self-Defense Force is not going to take the Northern Territories or Takeshima by force. The Maritime Self-Defense Force is not going to lock fire-control radars on PLA vessels on the high seas. The event does not change the national narrative that molds Japanese behavior. The left wanted Japan to repudiate the past; the right wanted to celebrate it. The Prime Minister did neither, and chose to focus on the post-war recovery, both the economic and the political. And I suspect that the Japanese public was more focused on enjoying the long Golden Week holidays.
12 When defending the controversial visit to Yasukuni Shrine by ministers and parliament members, Abe dismissed the concern by neighboring countries, arguing that it’s natural for people to pay respect to soldiers who died for their national interests. He also mentioned of using “force” to expel potential Chinese landing on Diaoyu Islands. What message do these send?
What else could he say when reporters or Diet committee members ask these questions? After all, Diet members and cabinet ministers have long visited Yasukuni—notable Yasukuni supporters include universally-recognized pro-China doves, such as former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda—and the Abe administration has adhered to the deal that the Prime Minister, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, the Foreign Minister, and the Defense Minister stay away. And the Japanese government, exercising administrative control, has always used force to expel anyone who has landed on the islands, including Japanese nationalists. In fact, it was precisely to keep Japanese nationals away from those islands that the Noda administration tried to buy the remaining three in a bidding war with Governor Ishihara.
13 Japan has strengthened its relationship with the US and will continue to seek support from the US to gain an advantageous position in related territorial disputes. Japan is aware that the US refuses to take sides in the Diaoyu Islands issue. The US has claimed that it will support neither Japan nor China in the territorial disputes. However, Japan has managed to make the US confirm that the Diaoyu Islands fall within the scope of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. Why did US take such positions? Does it mean the US also need/rely on Japan to fulfill its “pivot to Asia” strategy?
States, as a rule, do not take sides on territorial disputes, which should be settled by negotiation, arbitration, and, that failing, at the International Court of Justice. But states do take sides when use of force comes into play. Specifically, Japan exercises administrative control over the Senkaku Islands, control that the United States ceded when it returned Okinawa to Japan. There is a mutual security treaty between Japan and the United States. Ergo, the United States is obligated to come to Japan’s defense on the Senkaku Islands. So it’s just a reiteration of the legal implications of the status quo.
14 At the same time, Japan will further its military buildup and will probably go beyond the exclusively defense-oriented strategy. Due to the restriction by the pacifist Constitution, the Self-Defense Forces are not allowed to possess intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, or attack aircraft carriers. However, Japan has been trying to bypass the Constitution to upgrade its military capability. For instance, Japan has invested a lot in the Maritime Self-Defense Force. How dangerous is it to the neighboring countries like China and South Korea? And the Northeast Asia region?
Like you, I do not worry about Japan developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, or attack aircraft carriers. They are very expensive, and any efforts directed towards the development of such indigenous capacities will be strongly discouraged by the United States. Besides, any increase in the overall defense budget will be very incremental. Do not expect anything like 10% or even 5% per year. I can see factions in the PLA and their political, industrial and academic supporters making those arguments, though; the military—to be fair, all militaries, not just China’s—is always looking for potential enemies.
15 What’s the prospects of Japan’s relation with China? South Korea? Will the regional countries accept Japan’s growing right-wing trend?
The question you really should be asking is: Will China persist in its efforts to change the status quo vis-à-vis Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India? On a related, if geopolitically less important matter, will China continue to allow North Korea to develop nuclear weapons? The Japanese public will support Mr. Abe as long as China’s answer to these two questions is “yes.”
16 What should Japan do to restore its relation with regional countries?
Stand up for its rights, fulfill its obligations, and respect the rule of law. And be as consistent as circumstances allow in its actions and words.