Sunday, January 26, 2014

Japan Catches, China “Asks/Demands,” Japan Releases—So What’s the Story Here?

A friend cites this Japan Times article (translated Kyodo wire) and finds it “very encouraging.” The story is that “Beijing asked Tokyo not to arrest a Chinese man who attempted to land on the Senkaku Islands in a hot air balloon on New Year’s Day and had to be rescued by the Japan Coast Guard in nearby waters” and the “(Japanese) he coast guard did not pursue criminal charges against the man for intruding into Japan’s territorial waters, saying the exact point of his attempted landing on the islets could not be determined.”

I would be careful in trying to read something into this report. First, it’s a Kyodo dispatch, and from Beijing to boot. Second, another Kyodo wire (for those of you who read Japanese) reminds us that in 2012, two years after the infamous 2010 collision, 14 Chinese activists were arrested in flagrante delicto upon landing on one of the Senkaku Islands but were eventually sent back to China without being charged. It appears to be established practice not to call ticktack fouls; there was no reason to believe that the Abe administration would depart from customary procedures. So far, the Chinese side appears to have been careful not to escalate the war of nerves beyond mere words despite Abe’s visit to Yasukuni, which he chose to depict as a visit of tribute and remorse. As for the “arrest” part of the procedures, there was a convenient cover story: it was unclear whether the air balloon actually alit in territorial waters.

The question, of course, is what will happen if and when there is no cover story available. Your guess is as good as mine, but is it my imagination, or have Chinese fishing boats been avoiding the territorial waters since the 2010 incident, leaving the incursions to their maritime authorities?

But there’s a meta- kind of angle to these reports in terms of the glimpse it gives you into the mindset of the Japan Times editors and, more importantly, the key reason why the Japan Times version appeared “very encouraging.” Specifically, the original Japanese version uses the word “要求,” meaning “demand,” which is much more assertive than “asked” and “request” used in the English one. In fact, the title of the truncated Kyodo website version—each paper is free to impose its own title but this is quite representative—is “中国、気球男の不逮捕要求 日中緊迫下、立件見送り,” or “China Demands Air Balloon Man Not Be Arrested; No Criminal Case Brought amid Japan-China Tensions.” By contrast, the Japan Times version is entitled “China secretly asked Japan not to snatch Senkakus hot air balloonist.” Go figure.

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