Wednesday, May 01, 2013

From Prime Minister Abe’s Take on “Aggression,” to Reading Entrails

Prime Minister Abe said the wrong thing, but was what he said wrong? But first, let’s clear up one thing; the Japanese media did not “refrain” from covering Prime Minister Abe’s comments around his intention to revisit the Murayama Statement and more specifically his views on Japanese “aggression.” Here are online samples dated April 23 from three major dailies (translation mine):

Asahi: On April 23 at the House of Councilors Budget Committee, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated with regard to the Murayama Statement, which expressed remorse and apologized for colonial rule by Japan that “the definition of ‘aggression’ has not been determined, academically or internationally. It differs from which side you look in the relationship between one country and another.”
Prime Minister Abe agreed that “it can be said [about the phrases in the Murayama Statement ‘not too distant past’, ‘following a mistaken national policy’, and ‘colonial rule and aggression’ that they] are vague points.”

Mainichi: On April 23 morning at the House of Councilors Budget Committee, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed the understanding with regard to the Murayama Statement, in which then Prime Minister Murayama apologized for past colonial rule aggression by Japan, that “the definition of aggression has not been determined, academically or internationally. It differs from which side you look in the relationship between one country and another.”

Yomiuri: Regarding the 1995 Statement by Prime Minister Murayama, which apologized for the past colonial rule and aggression, [Prime Minister Abe pointed out that “it can be said that the definition of “aggression” has not been determined, academically or internationally. Regarding the passages where the statement says among other things, “During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy…”, he stated that “it can be said that they are vague. These issues have been pointed out in the statement.”

Sankei is the only one of the four major dailies that failed to report Abe’s April 23 comments. At first glance, this is odd. After all, the Murayama Statement is a pet peeve of the staunchly nationalist daily. However, it did cover an earlier Abe statement at the same Budget Committee the previous day that reiterated his commitment to issue a new statement in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of WW II (which the other dailies apparently did not deem sufficiently newsworthy) and, like the other dailies, has been providing significant coverage of the subsequent overseas fallout. Most likely, the reporter or his/her editor considered the April 23 comments merely incidental to the reiteration of Abe’s determination and consequently insufficiently newsworthy, at least for that particular day.

Whence the misunderstanding? First of all, you have a problem if you have to rely on The Japan Times and the English language versions of the Japanese dailies for news on Japan, Second, what you see online may not be what you get on hardcopy, and the dailies have different internet strategies. A cursory online search may be insufficient to tease out editorial intent (and its potential impact) as evidenced in the coverage.

In this case, an online search was sufficient to dispel any notion of a media conspiracy, implicit or explicit. But note that the difficulties for political analysts do not end there. Economists have at their fingertips (nowadays quite literally) numerous quantitative data sets collected and arranged for a wide variety of temporal and spatial densities, which they can mine for correlations on which to superimpose their favored causal relationships. Pity the poor political analysts, though, who for the most part only have monthly (at best) public opinion polls with their limited number of often changing questions and election results to work with. Beyond that, they have to make do with descriptive information and told-to stories: the former limited by inherent medium bias, the latter by the fact that even highly placed sources, once beyond matters of their immediate ken, must rely on the same recursive information cloud generated by the media and rumormongers that the analysts can tap in on their own.

If the economic analyst is a practitioner of numeromancy, then the political analyst is condemned to read entrails.

I’ll take a shot at answering my initial question later, and I think I already have the gist of it in my head. But this is it for now. Life beckons.


Joe said...

Well, Abe is being really facetious (it's not his fault; he's a politician) about his actual words: there doesn't need to be an academic or international 'definition,' because the meaning of the word is pretty cut and dried. Just to confirm (can't rely too much on the memory these days), I pulled out my little electronic dictionary, and and the definition of 「侵略」is 「他国に侵入してその領土や財物を奪い取ること」.

I'm pretty sure that it's up to the people with foreign soldiers showing up at the doorstep who get to decide whether it's a "liberation" or an "invasion." Although I'm sure the prime minister and Dick Cheney would disagree with me on that.

Eido INOUE said...

Joe: you need a better dictionary. Yes, that's one valid definition. However, another definition (often listed before the one you listed) is 『ある国が武力を行使して他国の主権を侵すこと。』

There are many, many examples in modern Japanese of the word 侵略 being used without any 領土や財物を奪い取る occurring (or as you put it "foreign soldiers showing up at the doorstep".)

The fact that we can find multiple definitions, both in J-J and J-E dictionaries, ironically sort of prove his point.