Sunday, November 11, 2012

Japanese Citizens Can Run the Beijing Marathon after All

Yesterday (Nov. 10), the Japanese media (Kyodo and Yomiuri) reported that the Japanese citizens could not register for the Beijing International Marathon (BIM) with the hosts citing “security” reasons. The Japanese Embassy duly registered a protest, and the hosts lifted the ban, all in a day’s work.

The ban was obviously related to the Senkaku situation. But how?

It’s an international sports event; a ban makes them look—unsportsmanlike. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which “sanctioned and approved the BIM” according to the official BIM website, would not been pleased to hear of the ban, and likely would have imposed a penalty.

Nor is the original act the norm. Japanese skaters entered (and won both singles events at) the Beijing leg of the 2012–13 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating last week. However, that was an indoor crowd, spectators with tickets and invitees. Outdoor spectators on the streets are another matter, and even a small number of protesters could cause a highly visible and embarrassing ruckus or worse. So the hosts made a call. But with the story gaining media attention, someone, possibly higher up the China’s political hierarchy, apparently decided that avoiding further embarrassment was worth taking the unknown risk of failures in crowd control.

More generally, the Chinese executors of the get-tough policy on Diaoyu must have to play much of it by ear, with a sharp eye for self-preservation. There must be lessons here for the Japanese authorities to figure out on the Senkaku Islands, I just don’t have any good ideas around that.

Sidebar: I suspect that this is indicative of how the situation is being handled over there. There must be broad general orders that sanction inconveniencing the Japanese presence in mainland China, but the details have to be delegated along the political food chain, ultimately reaching the actual executor. This means that execution will vary from situation to situation, institution to institution, and even individual to individual. (We saw this unevenness last year in what individual custom houses were doing to trade with Japan in rare earth and other merchandise.) Given the human propensity to take credit and avoid blame, the executors will be guided in the details by his survival instincts and his reading of the prevailing political mood.

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