Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Empire of the Rising Sun Strikes Back (with Its Mighty Pen)

I have been harsh on MOFA at times. This time, I had some nice things to say in response to a link that I received today. (I don’t follow the foreign media on Japan as assiduously as I used to, though I probably should.) I’m posting them here, with minor edits including links.

I believe that this WaPo op-ed by the Japanese ambassador in Washington, a response to this op-ed by his Chinese counterpart, is an effective departure from the typical unmemorable response in the war of words (and sometimes more) that has made the Japanese look, at best, conciliatory and, at worst, appeasing. The conventional wisdom among China hands in Japan outside of the old MOFA China school is that you have to push back against the Chinese before finding the middle ground. This the Japanese ambassador does here to good effect, leavening his charges by playing up Prime Minister Abe’s acts and words on the occasion of his Yasukuni visit to the full.

Two things made this response possible. One is the obvious resolve and conviction of the prime minister. But the other is one that will likely go unmentioned; the assumption that China will not hit back where it will most hurt the Abe administration, namely Japanese exports to and investments in China. The brittleness of the legitimacy of the authoritarian regime ensures that the CCP for now is resolved to do its best to keep the initiative firmly in official hands. I have no idea how long this state of affairs within China will last, but the Japanese authorities are well advised to take advantage of it in the meantime.

BTW I love the resurrection of the word “propaganda,” whose deliberate—“anachronistic” propaganda, indeed!—overtones of charges laid against the Soviets during the Cold War should resonate in Washington. I see the hand of the Japan hands, whose key members surely must have been consulted by MOFA and/or the prime minister’s office, behind it. All the better for Japanese diplomacy, though, if MOFA came up with it on its own.

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