Random Post: Innocents abroad| RSS .92| RSS 2.0| ATOM 0.3
  • Home
  • About
  •  

    Some Japan stuff

    Posted by Sean at 11:54, April 18th, 2010

    If the plane-grounding Icelandic ash cloud hasn’t been sufficient reminder of how vulnerable we are to nature’s vagaries (and how fortunate that we have such an extensive technological arsenal to protect ourselves), check out this story about Japan’s vegetable shortages:

    The government is calling on farmers to speed up vegetable deliveries after cold weather and lack of sunlight led to a poor spring crop and spiking vegetable prices.

    “The vegetables prices may remain high for the foreseeable future. We’d like to ask farmers to bring forward their shipments in a bid to stabilize retail prices,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu told a news conference following a regular Cabinet meeting Friday morning.

    Also on Friday, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry asked the National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations to bring forward vegetable shipments. Consumer organizations as well as the ministry have also asked farmers to ship malformed vegetables that are usually discarded.

    However, noting the measure will have only limited effects, government sources say they fear vegetable prices are unlikely to decline until May or later, and farmers pointed out that complying with demands for early shipment is difficult.

    “We harvested lettuce and other vegetables earlier than usual in response to an increase in demand from the restaurant industry during the spring vacation period. Even if we are asked to bring forward shipments, it’s difficult to comply,” said an official of the Ibaraki Prefecture chapter of the agricultural federation.

    Shredded lettuce and cabbage come with nearly everything in Japan: you walk into a little restaurant, and the waitress plunks down a small bowl of shredded cabbage and carrots with ginger dressing as your o-tooshi-mono. That there would be a shortage of them is really unsettling. Of course, Japan isn’t facing a famine—you’ll notice that one proposal for making up the difference is just not rejecting too many misshapen cabbages, which is a problem the DPRK would have loved to have around a decade ago. Still, the story is a good reminder of how intricate our supply and distribution systems are. (Of course, you could also take the opportunity to bring up Japan’s insane agricultural-subsidy system, but I’m feeling generous today.)

    *******

    It’s a few days old, but the Asahi English site had a good rundown of what’s led up to the current confusion—impasse doesn’t seem to be quite the best word—over the relocation of the Futenma facility in Okinawa:

    U.S. officials certainly have no intention of jeopardizing the decades-long alliance with Japan, but there is growing concern and frustration at the lack of a meeting of minds on such important matters of mutual concern.

    Hatoyama broached the issue of the relocation of the U.S. Marines Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture during a short meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the U.S. capital on Monday. Neither Japan nor the United States explained how Obama responded.

    What did come across, however, is that the meeting did not change the U.S. government’s position, which is that the best solution to the Futenma issue lies with a 2006 agreement reached by the two nations to relocate the base to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

    Behind this extremely defensive and careful approach of the U.S. government is its resolve not to make the same mistake of 2005, when Washington compromised and accepted current Henoko option.

    During those negotiations, U.S. officials for a long time advocated a plan to construct a replacement facility on a landfill off the south coast of Henoko, Nago city. This plan was commonly known as “Nago Light.” However, during the final stage of the talks, U.S. officials abandoned it and accepted instead the Japanese proposal to build the new facility on the coastline of Camp Schwab at Henoko point.

    Richard Lawless, who negotiated the agreement for the United States as deputy undersecretary of defense, recalled his decision to go along with his Japanese counterparts.

    “They guaranteed that they can implement the proposal,” Lawless said. “I made sure about this point with several people in charge (in the Japanese government) a number of times.”

    Four years after the agreement was reached, the Japanese government has done an about-turn and told Washington the Henoko option cannot be implemented. Japan’s turnaround frustrated not only Lawless, but also current U.S. administration officials. They also share a deep sense of mistrust over Hatoyama’s frequent flip-flops on this issue.

    It’s very difficult to assign blame in this scenario. It’s not possible to indulge the NIMBY-ism of every municipality, but it’s understandable that many towns don’t want the side-effects of a military installation. I’m very much a supporter of the military, but it’s a plain and simple fact that putting a lot of hopped-up kids in their early twenties far from home—in an environment of literal martial discipline in which their violent impulses are deliberately brought to the surface so they can be channeled to useful purposes—nearly guarantees an increase in crime and a tense relationship with the locals, whatever job-creating benefits may come along with the installation. Washington wants the existing agreement to be implemented; Tokyo seems to see the new administrations in both countries as an opportunity to restart negotiations practically from square one. Neither seems likely to have all its expectations met.

    *******

    Sugarpie, I have just found the must-have camp accessory of the year:

    Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union’s first permanent president, has published his first anthology of haiku poems.

    Van Rompuy, a former prime minister of Belgium, said here Thursday that he hopes to compose haiku when he is in Tokyo for the annual EU-Japan Summit, which convenes April 28.

    The book, titled “Haiku,” contains 45 haiku he wrote in Dutch and which have been translated into English, French, German and Latin.

    Can you just…?

    A new commission–
    the joy of its formation
    like freshest spring rains

    *******

    Indifference from
    sassy Yank colonials–
    our cries sad, owl-like!

    *******

    Dry cicada shell–
    an easy relationship
    would be so empty

    Okay, in all seriousness, van Rompuy could be very good; but haiku is one of those genres that bring out the “I could do that!” dilettantism in people, and the results are nearly always irredeemably precious, in my experience. For some reason, the combination of shortness (not a major time investment!), nature themes (I love Nature—I’m a good person!”), and Japaneseness (aesthete capital of the world!) makes haiku hard to resist, but it also makes them difficult to execute well. Maybe Catherine Ashton will be flogging her first manga this summer?

    Added later: Thanks to Instapundit for the link. I have a half-dozen regular commenters who routinely agree with me, for which I am very grateful; but if you have a dissenting comment to make, I’ll be glad to read it, since I don’t get much dissent around here. (That’s not an aspersion, regular readers.) If you’re wondering where my interest in Japan comes from, I studied Japanese literature in college and grad school, and I lived in Tokyo from the ages of 24 to 36. I am unapologetically American down to the bone, but I love Japan also, and I’m very interested in seeing our alliance not screwed up.


    核廃絶

    Posted by Sean at 21:36, January 4th, 2010

    In the Mainichi, a typically confused argument for the global abolishment of nuclear weapons (Japanese original here, though the English version is well done):

    “Every American should visit Hiroshima,” said Balbina Hwang, a Northeast Asia specialist and a senior policy advisor during the administration of President George W. Bush. She was addressing reporters after giving a lecture in Tokyo in November following a visit to the Peace Memorial Museum and other locations in Hiroshima. “I was overwhelmed by a sense of humility,” she continued. “I was struck speechless upon seeing (what happened) with my own eyes.”

    Still, what Hwang saw was not the actual reality of the atomic bomb. Witnessing an exhibit — which can only offer a hint of the actual barbarity of the bomb — with one’s own eyes will shake any American’s soul to the core. Even today, the starting line toward the elimination of nuclear weapons lies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I don’t know. I didn’t find that Hiroshima shook my soul to the core. It was very sobering. I was sorry it had to exist. I hope it’s never necessary to deploy nuclear warheads again.

    But when you read opinion pieces like this one, it’s easy to forget that when we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we were not, say, retaliating against Japan for dumping cheap Sony electronics on our markets. World War II is called that for a reason. Japan thought it could play the USSR against the other Allies and capitalize on our exhaustion. It was wrong. America decided that it was not worth sacrificing more of our people and materiel waiting for Japan’s military command to figure out in its own time that surrender not only was inevitable but had to be immediate.

    Besides, the Mainichi editors make an interesting exception to their call for everyone to start beating their nuclear warheads into ploughshares:

    A basic international roadmap should be laid out at this year’s conference. Obama has already publicly announced his goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. Though the road to that finish line may be a long one, small, visible steps are necessary along the way. If the countries that possess nuclear weapons fail to demonstrate goodwill in the upcoming meeting, discontentment toward the NPT will be further exacerbated, getting in the way of international cooperation that is crucial to the prevention of nuclear terrorism. What is most important now is the reconstruction of an international consensus toward the goal of nuclear abolishment.

    Hwang, whose area of expertise includes North Korea, remains doubtful that the rogue nation’s nuclear arsenal will be completely eliminated. She says this is because North Korea is overwhelmed by insecurity. [!] As a result, says Hwang, North Korea is demanding not only the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from South Korea, but wants the entire U.S. nuclear umbrella to be removed from East Asia, including Japan.

    We seek the complete abolition of nuclear weapons from the world, and support President Obama’s efforts toward nuclear disarmament. At the same time, however, we do not see the protection we receive from the U.S. nuclear umbrella as unreasonable as long as the North Korean threat exists, and we will not accept our allies’ admonishments to give up on North Korean nuclear disarmament.

    So using nuclear weapons for protection—in fact, outsourcing nuclear protection to another country—is okay if you’re Japan, with North Korea a stone’s throw across the sea.

    But only temporarily, you understand.

    Just until everyone agrees to disarm.

    What’s never explained is how this is supposed to happen. “International consensus” sounds great, but I don’t recall one on any issue that involved agreement by every country on the entire planet. The international community can’t even stamp out age-old rogue behaviors such as piracy in shipping lanes, drug trafficking, and currency counterfeiting. In today’s world of decentralization and advanced telecom and transport technologies, it seems quixotic at best to believe that we can ever return to a state in which we can reliably say that no malefactor has nuclear weapons. It’s a bummer to have to think that way, but as long as human beings are born with human nature, there will be some bummers we have to stare in the face and prepare to deal with forcefully. In the universe we actually inhabit, the weaned child who puts his hand on the cockatrice’s den is going to get bitten.


    疑心暗鬼

    Posted by Sean at 22:02, December 15th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei this morning carries the headline “Crisis in US-Japan alliance that Futenma postponement will deepen”:

    The postponement of a decision on the relocation of the US military Futenma Base on Okinawa will result in the deepening further the current state of crisis surrounding the US-Japan alliance. We feel concern regarding the gutting of the US-Japan alliance and the tilt toward China indicated by the Hatoyama administration’s actions, which empty the phrase “US-Japan axis” of meaning.

    On 15 December, the administration convened a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Basic Policies at the prime minister’s residence, and it decided to (1) conduct a joint study among the three parties in the ruling coalition of candidate sites for relocation, including that currently planned, (2) propose to the US side the establishment of a US-Japan cooperative organization, and (3) incorporate into calculations for the FY 2010 budget the relocation expenses, based on the current plan—thereby postponing until next year its resolution on where to relocate the Futenma Base facilities.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada and Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa, who are in charge of the management and nuts-and-bolts operations of the US-Japan alliance, had sought to have an agreement between the two countries confirmed within the year, but Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama put a higher priority on consideration toward the Social Democratic Party. Spokesman [Ian] Kelly of the United States Department of State stated on the 14th*, “The optimal plan would be to have a roadmap for US military restructuring on which agreement had been reached,” but there are no signs that the gulf between the US and Japan will be bridged.

    Foreign Minister Okada has expressed a sense of urgency about the state of the US-Japan alliance, but in diplomatic terms, real damages have already manifested themselves.

    If the [chance for a] US-Japan heads-of-state summit in an official format in Copenhagen is missed, Japan will lose the position from which it can persuade the American side on [global] warming issues. For Hatoyama, who is passionate on environmental issues, could there really be any realization that his own judgments are bringing about that sort of result?

    “The US-Japan relationship has gotten rheumaticky. First solidifying the Japan-China relationship, then resolving issues with the US, is the realistic process.” Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Kenji Yamaoka of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Shanghai declaration [saying so] on the 14th will also raise the specter of doubts about the diplomatic path of the Hatoyama administration.

    The diplomatic path of the Hatoyama administration, over which DPJ General Secretary Ichiro Ozawa wields great influence, reflects, in foreign-affairs terms, a distancing from the United States and tilt toward China. That will sow uneasiness in the nations of Southeast Asia, which have complicated feelings about a growing China.

    The editors bounce all over the map, but their overall point is a coherent one: the Hatoyama administration is sucking up to Beijing without, perhaps, really thinking through where that might land it in the future. Of course, it’s not just the DPJ brain trust that’s producing this result; President Obama is hardly presenting America as an ally that means business and is worth continuing to cultivate.

    * Yes, that was fun to write.


    重大な決意をしなければならない

    Posted by Sean at 08:05, December 3rd, 2009

    The suspected murderer of Lindsay Hawker has been arrested. (Apparently, he was actually discovered, after more than two years of hiding out, last month when I wasn’t paying very good attention to the news.

    Tatsuya Ichihashi, who was rearrested Wednesday on suspicion of killing Lindsay Hawker, studied French by himself during his 2-1/2 years on the run from police and participated in an overseas language study program at a French university when he was a student, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

    As Ichihashi had a private English conversation lesson with Hawker, the investigation headquarters is trying to determine what happened between the two, who seemed to be on friendly terms with each other shortly before Hawker was murdered.

    “We’re always told to try to feel other people’s pain, but we can’t, can we.” A 28-year-old woman who went on the study tour of France as part of Ichihashi’s group clearly remembers this remark that Ichihashi made at that time.

    Hawker was an inexperienced English teacher and apparently agreed to give a private lesson to the wrong person. As nearly as police can tell, she went back to Ishihashi’s apartment with him and was murdered there. Her body was discovered on his balcony the day after she went missing.

    *******

    The leader of the Social Democratic Party, which is now the DPJ’s partner in the ruling coalition, is threatening mutiny if the current Futenma relocation plans go through:

    Speaking at a party meeting on Thursday morning, Fukushima said that if a decision was made to relocate the base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to coastal portions of the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab in the Okinawa Prefecture city of Nago, then the party would have to make a “grave decision.”

    “It is an extremely important issue which reaches the foundations of the party,” Fukushima told reporters following the meeting. “We are alarmed about the current agreement being rushed after the ministerial-level meeting between Japan and the U.S.”

    The decision’s been in the works for half a decade, of course, but it keeps getting fussed over then dropped.


    ハードル

    Posted by Sean at 20:58, November 30th, 2009

    Yet again “rough going,” as the headline on this Nikkei article has it, for the transfer of the Futenma base:

    On 30 November, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama confronted a second session, following up another on 27 November, with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima revolving around the issues with the transfer of the United States military base in Futenma (Ginowan, Okinawa). On the 30th, there were also active [efforts at] coordinating things, such as the prime minister’s collaborating with relevant cabinet ministers, but the hurdle presented by the “decision before year’s end” sought by the US remains high.

    “He said that, considering the hazardousness of Futenma, he’d like to get a concrete conclusion as quickly as possible.” That’s what the prime minister stressed to a press conference at his official residence on the night of the 30th. In contrast with the hour-long meeting with the governor on the 27th, that on the 30th was 20 minutes. It’s naturally assumed that the substantive debate was “on the 27th,” but the prime minister repeated, “I cannot discuss specific content.”

    Okinawans have been divided over the plan to relocate the Marine base for years now; the current plan, unless things have changed, is to expand Camp Schwab rather than expand offshore. But that’s been in the works since the middle of the decade.


    友愛

    Posted by Sean at 16:13, September 27th, 2009

    Hi, there, you four remaining people who are still checking back to see whether I’ve posted anything. Just to prove this is really Sean, I’ll make this about homosexuality and atheism and partisan politics and Japan.

    The Unreligious Right linked last week to this very good post about being an atheist out in the public debate. The one problem, as commenter lilacsigil points out, is with the comparison Christina uses to illustrate why it’s out of line to tell self-identified atheists that they’re not actually atheist:

    Let me make an analogy. If you’re not gay, would you say to a gay person, “You don’t understand what it means to be gay”? Would you say to them, “Being gay means that 100% of your sexuality is directed towards people of the same sex”? Would you say to them, “If you’ve ever had sex with someone of the opposite sex, or have even had a slight passing inclination to be sexually interested in someone of the opposite sex, then you’re not really gay”?

    Would you say to a gay person, “I understand what ‘gay’ means better than you do”?

    If you were a busybody, you most certainly would. And, non-hypothetically, if you are a busybody of that particular type, you most certainly do.

    Plenty of anti-gay commentators (both in the media and in informal conversation) are constantly telling us there’s no such thing as a “real” homosexual (we’re just confused, underdeveloped heteros with unexplored anger toward the opposite sex, you see) and that we’re practicing gays because we don’t want to do the hard work of facing up to the truths of nature and the moral strictures that flow from them. If you’re both gay and atheist, the condescension is even more dismissive–along the lines of “You just don’t want to believe in God because if you did you’d have to exercise sexual discipline.” (No, not everyone is like that, but I’m only talking about busybodies.) Anyway, Christina’s post is very good, and so are the comments, some of which are hers.

    [Added after loading the dishwasher and pouring a Scotch: Actually, if you really want to ensure you can never discuss anything but the weather with new acquaintances without stepping into a political minefield and being informed what you think, you can try being gay, atheist, and libertarian. Sententious busybodies on the right will be happy to tell you that you're a libertine who wants to pretend society doesn't need rules and order; sententious busybodies on the left will be happy to tell you that you don't want to acknowledge the degree to which circumstances beyond people's control affect their ability to make their way in life. And both sides will be happy to tell you you're not a "real" libertarian if you happen to take a position that isn't congruent with whatever they've decided the libertarian position should be based on some article they read in The Wall Street Journal or something a few years ago. Both sides like to use the same triumphant, "GOTCHA!" tone, too.]

    *******

    This diavlog between Michelle Goldberg and Megan McArdle (who’s a libertarian, not a conservative, but who’s naturally seen as being “on the right” in our current political climate) is almost a month old now, and it got a lot of attention when it was posted. Still, if you haven’t watched it, there’s a lot to munch on that’s illustrative of the way things are framed in the public debate lately. I particularly thought this was interesting:





    My sense is that Goldberg’s reflexive assumption about gun owners—that they’re running about eager for an opportunity to shoot someone—is shared by a lot of people, but I don’t think she’s right. McArdle doesn’t go into much detail, but the way she describes the gun enthusiasts she’s met fits those I know, too: they enjoy shooting at the range, and they like the feeling of autonomy that not depending on 911 in an emergency gives them, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy contemplating killing an actual human being. Instead, they rest easier knowing that they’re prepared if they meet some miscreant who threatens them or their property when the police are too far away to do anything about it. It really is a self-reliance thing, and I agree with McArdle that it’s likely that that’s the message those who wear their guns to so-called Town Hall meetings or protests were trying to send: don’t think you have to patronize me, Madam Senator, or protect me, Mr. Congressman—I can handle my own life and only need you to stop getting in my way.

    That having been said, I think McArdle’s right about the PR factor. Carrying a deadly weapon to a political protest is a great way of signaling that you (at least) think there may be occasion to use it, which does not help to bring the tenor of debate back down toward poised, reasonable argument.

    *******

    New Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama met with President Obama this week. (He also addressed the UN General Assembly and was presumably in one of the motorcades that made getting to work or home in Midtown East utter hell.) The Asahi editorial contained this priceless quotation:

    The chiefs of the Democratic parties that govern Japan and the United States met for the first time.

    This fresh start for the bilateral relationship came after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama took over government by promising “change” from more than half a century of virtually one-party rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, and U.S. President Barack Obama took power by promising “change” from eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush.

    After the meeting, Obama told reporters he is “very confident that not only will the prime minister succeed in his efforts and his campaign commitments, but that this will give us an opportunity to strengthen and renew” the alliance between the two countries.

    And Obama should know, because, after all, he’s all about keeping campaign commitments (to rein in spending, to close Guantanamo, to prohibit anything that could be construed as torture in the prosecution of the WOT) and strengthening and renewing alliances with existing partners.

    Hatoyama apparently wanted to convey his intention to guide his nation away from this traditional relationship [i.e., Japan's playing second fiddle to the United States--SRK] toward new relations in which Japan is more assertive and ready to play a more active role.

    Some tricky issues were not discussed at the Hatoyama-Obama meeting but must eventually be addressed. Among them are Tokyo’s plans to terminate the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s mission to refuel coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean and review the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan, including the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

    The Japanese government must make decisions on these issues before Obama’s scheduled visit to Japan in November.

    Mishandling these delicate issues could strain Japan-U.S. relations and stir up criticism against the Hatoyama administration at home.

    A power transfer can lead to a major policy shift. What is happening in Japan now is a natural part of democracy. The diplomatic challenge facing Hatoyama is how to persuade Washington to accept this change in Japan without hurting the mutual trust.

    Well, it might be noted that the push for a permanent UNSC seat for Japan began under Koizumi and that the plans to restructure United States military deployments to have fewer personnel in Japan began under Bush; I’m not sure those things represent substantive change as much as evolution in a preset direction. The nuclear-disarmament part sounds nice, but surely everyone is aware, underneath the genial dialogue, that it’s not going to happen now that the toothpaste is out of the tube. And Japan has spent decades talking about internationalization and global outreach, but those processes are a two-way street, and the adapting it would need to do at the level of nuts-and-bolts approaches to politics and business is not one that it welcomes.

    “This yuai (fraternity) is a way of thinking that respects one’s own freedom and individual dignity while also respecting the freedom and individual dignity of others,” he said during his 20-minute speech in English.

    He said that based on the spirit of yuai, Japan can become a bridge for the world in five areas.

    I’d love to see Japan, as the most mature democracy in the region, take more of an active geo-political role, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen on what seem to be the current trajectories. Serving as a “bridge” between the rest of the world and Asia makes sense given Japan’s economic power and corresponding contributions to the UN. But fraternity (the Japanese word indicated actually means more like “friendship” or “amicability,” but let that slide) among East and Southeast Asian peoples is notoriously unstable, despite their many elements of shared heritage, and Japan’s history does not, shall we say, establish it unequivocally as the obvious choice for role of altruistic, disinterested referee.


    Don’t expect much change in Japan, either

    Posted by Sean at 10:33, July 26th, 2009

    The DPJ has released a policy document to allay fears that, to put it bluntly, if it scores a majority in the Diet in next month’s elections it will screw things up because it doesn’t really know what it’s doing:

    The policy pamphlet will serve as the basis for Minshuto’s campaign manifesto for the election that many people expect will upset the balance of power.

    For example, Minshuto will no longer insist on the immediate end of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean to assist in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

    Minshuto has also backed down on its previous position concerning the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that Japan has with the United States concerning the U.S. presence in this country.

    Minshuto had long opposed the MSDF’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.

    The policy pamphlet also calls for the implementation of inspections of cargo ships under economic sanctions against North Korea called for by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

    The move is aimed at deflecting criticism from Prime Minister Taro Aso who roundly attacked Minshuto for failing to deliberate a bill that would have allowed for such inspection of cargo ships. The lack of deliberation led to the bill being scrapped.

    To alleviate concerns among officials of the U.S. government that a Minshuto administration would drastically alter relations with the United States, the policy pamphlet says the party will propose a revision to the SOFA with the United States.

    In the draft document, Minshuto sought to start a comprehensive revision of the SOFA.

    Hmmm…shifting away from pie-in-the-sky positions when the prospect of actually taking the reins of government forces pragmatism on you. A memory is stirring…something familiar-sounding…no, lost it. Won’t come. The DPJ is also planning to push up subsidies for farm-family income to 2011. I’m not sure whether that represents an attempt to combat the LDP’s traditional dominance outside urban areas or just the pro-bucolicism sentimentality that seems to stir hearts in every industrialized democracy.


    Test anxiety

    Posted by Sean at 13:29, July 5th, 2009

    Claudia Rosett has a one-question quiz up about the DC reaction to the DPRK’s missile firings yesterday:

    The above phrase — “not helpful” — is from a U.S. State Department Spokesman, describing:

    a) A staffer who forgot to turn off the coffeepot

    b) A staffer who spelled Secretary of State Clinton’s first name with only one “l”

    c) A cloakroom attendant who lost the spokesman’s coat

    d) North Korea’s in-America’s-face test-firing, on July 4th, of yet another round of missiles, following illicit missile tests earlier this week, in May and in April (in that case a long-range rocket), plus a sanctions-busting nuclear test in May


    花火

    Posted by Sean at 17:53, July 4th, 2009

    Isn’t that sweet? Pyongyang has decided to put on a fireworks show to help us celebrate July 4th:

    On the afternoon of 4 July, the DPRK fired off four more ballistic missiles from the vicinity of Gidaeryeong, Gangwon-do, on the Sea of Japan in the country’s southeast. Taken together with the three fired during the morning hours, the total fired sequentially was seven. All missiles fell into the Sea of Japan, but none appeared to have reached Japanese territorial waters. The government of South Korea has captured evidence of preparation to fire the mid-range Nondong missile, the striking distance of which includes Japan, and Japan and Korea are on alert for still further firings.

    Added later: Transliteration of name of launch site corrected thanks to Amritas.


    Realpolitik

    Posted by Sean at 13:41, June 26th, 2009

    John Opie links to this op-ed in The Japan Times, which is about America’s new incoherent Asia policy. John summarizes it this way:

    [I]t is nice to see the recognition that US foreign policy under President Bush was understood abroad to have an overarching geopolitical framework…

    Or perhaps, more exactly, a massive focus on China to the exclusion of most other countries there. This is, I think, indeed a problem: India is in so many ways the more “natural” partner for the US, if one ignores the massive Chinese purchases of US treasury bonds.

    Unfortunately, the Obama Administration apparently thinks that China is the only country that matters: this means, in classic liberal wonk fashion, that the other countries will, for the most part be simply ignored or put on the back burner.

    Japan and India are, basically, the losers in the Great Game as it is being played out in Washington. The new Ambassadors to both countries? Political rewards for the faithful. The new Ambassador to India is, to quote, an “obscure former Congressman Timothy Roemer”; the new Ambassador to Japan is “a low-profile Internet and biotechnology lawyer, John Roos”. Neither have any real connections to these countries, and join the long list of US Ambassadors whose claim to fame is the ability to generate campaigning money and organize the party faithful or receive their Ambassadorships as part of some political deal involving others.

    The original op-ed, written by a fellow at what looks like a think tank in India, gives more detail:

    China’s expanding naval role and maritime claims threaten to collide with U.S. interests, including Washington’s traditional emphasis on the freedom of the seas. U.S.-China economic ties also are likely to remain uneasy: America saves too little and borrows too much from China, while Beijing sells too much to the U.S. and buys too little. Yet, such is its indulgence toward Beijing that Washington seeks to hold Moscow to higher standards than Beijing on human rights and other issues, even though it is China that is likely to mount a credible challenge to America’s global pre-eminence.

    The new U.S.-China-Japan trilateral re-emphasizes Washington’s focus on China as the key player to engage on Asian issues. Slated to begin modestly with dialogue on nontraditional security issues before moving on to hard security matters, this latest trilateral is being billed as the centerpiece of Obama’s Asia policy. Such is its wider significance that it is also touted as offering a new framework for deliberations on North Korea to compensate for the stalled six-party talks.

    Despite its China-centric Asia policy, the Obama team, however, has not thought of a U.S.-China-India trilateral, even as it currently explores a U.S.-China-South Korea trilateral. That is because Washington now is looking at India not through the Asian geopolitical framework but the subregional lens — a reality unlikely to be changed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming stop in New Delhi six months after she paid obeisance in Beijing. While re-hyphenating India with Pakistan and outsourcing its North Korea and Burma policies to Beijing, Washington wants China to expand its geopolitical role through greater involvement even in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    It is shortsighted of the Obama team to lower the profile of India and Japan in America’s Asia policy. Tokyo may be ceding political capital and influence in Asia to Beijing, and India’s power might not equal China’s, but Japan and India together can prove more than a match. The Japan-India strategic congruence with the U.S. is based as much on shared interests as on shared principles.

    It would be wonderful if China made the transition to a stable, peaceable democracy full of contented and prosperous citizens. But that hasn’t happened yet. It would be madness to snub China, but it’s also of questionable sanity to pretend that it’s going to be a reliable partner in the way Japan has been and India has been becoming. Of course, the cold-shouldering of Japan began months ago. At that point, it was difficult to tell whether it was Japan as a strategic partner or just Aso as a damaged-goods politician that was being held at a distance. It’s looking more like the former.