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    Weekend news

    Posted by Sean at 01:40, March 25th, 2008

    We watched the blow-by-blow election coverage this weekend, but there was very little suspense: the KMT candidate started trouncing the DPP candidate very early, and his lead never let up.

    Now he’s made his opening diplomatic salvo:

    Fresh from victory as Taiwan’s new president, Ma Ying-jeou, has posed what may be a dilemma to the United States – by requesting to make a trip to Washington, which may earn the fury of China if allowed.

    US President George W. Bush was among the first to congratulate Ma [Ying-jeou], seen as [more of] a moderate on the China question than outgoing, independence-leading president Chen Shui-bian, whose rule roiled ties with both Beijing and Washington.

    But allowing the Harvard-educated lawyer Ma to visit Washington could anger Beijing even though he said he planned to come before his May 20 inauguration, said Brad Glosserman of Pacific Forum, a Hawaii-based think tank.

    “Slim and none are the chances of that (trip),” Glosserman said. “It’s very clearly an attempt by the president-elect of Taiwan to raise his political profile,” he said.

    The United States, he added, would not risk angering China, especially at a time when Beijing was grappling with a bloody revolt in Tibet.

    John Tkacik, once the chief of China analysis in the State Department’s bureau of intelligence and research, said he felt Ma’s trip would not anger China.

    “No, I really do not think so,” he said.

    “I think China is very pleased with the election of Ma and (Vice President-elect) Vincent Siew and as long as they come before the inauguration and they still have colour of ‘unofficiality,’ then I think China would put up with it,” he said.

    Ma was the candidate who, of course, advocated more of an open market with the PRC. He won handily, but not a few Taiwanese are worried about what an influx of Chinese labor and outflow of corporate management could mean for Taiwan.

    *******

    This weekend was Japan’s most recent incident with a stabby lunatic: a man in Ibaraki Prefecture knifed eight people before being detained. Luckily, only one was wounded fatally.

    The suspect, Masahiro Kanagawa, was already wanted in connection with another fatal stabbing of a stranger. The police were looking for him but failed to intercept him:

    Kanagawa was put on a nationwide wanted list Friday after his bicycle was found near Miura’s home. Police posted about 170 police officers at train stations on the Joban Line and the Tsukuba Express Line starting from the first train runs of the day Sunday.

    But they acknowledged that the patrol at Arakawaoki Station failed to catch Kanagawa before the stabbing spree.

    “We regret that (our efforts to prevent the second incident) ended in a result like this,” Takashi Ishii, a senior officer of the Ibaraki prefectural police said in a news conference at Tsuchiura Police Station on Sunday. “We did our best by taking such measures as placing police officers at train stations and Net cafes.”

    Police said the reason they didn’t spot the suspect was because their picture of him was two years old and he was wearing a knitted hat and silver-rimmed glasses when he arrived at the station.

    “It was an unlucky time for us because there were many passengers getting on and off the trains,” the officer said.

    This is the sort of case, I think, that highlights the difficulties that the detectives investigating the Lindsay Hawker murder are probably facing. Melting into a crowd on a train platform isn’t difficult at all. Neither is disguising yourself sufficiently to go unnoticed by people in shops. Kanagawa claims he had actually intended to target people at his old elementary school, the Asahi article says. That would be chilling enough anywhere, but in Japan it resonates especially because of the 2001 stabbing of two dozen children at an Osaka school.


    One year after Hawker murder

    Posted by Sean at 06:09, March 21st, 2008

    It’s been a year since Englishwoman Lindsay Hawker was murdered. The chief suspect, who escaped capture when police came knocking at his apartment door to question him, still hasn’t been found and brought in for questioning. The BBC’s Tokyo correspondent has an online report here.

    The practice of showing people photographs of a suspect with possible disguises is not unusual here. But why has he not been apprehended?

    “When an offender is determined to run and hide,” the detective says. “It’s hard to find him. Ichihashi didn’t have a phone or a credit card, anything that might make him easier to trace.”

    Lindsay Hawker’s family have expressed their frustration at the lack of progress in the police investigation, although they say they have no alternative but to keep faith with the Japanese police.

    Her friends too are frustrated.

    Recently they gathered on a Sunday to hand out fliers appealing to the Japanese people for any information that might lead to the arrest of Tatsuya Ichihashi.

    Paul Dingwell, a fellow teacher who knew Lindsay well, says the fact that this man has been able to disappear reflects badly on the Japanese.

    “They should feel some kind of guilt that this has happened in their country, to someone who came here to help,” he says.

    “If someone is hiding him they are just as guilty as he is, if not more.”

    I was disturbed last year when Hawker’s father called her death some kind of national “shame.” At the time, of course, her death was a raw wound for her family and friends. Also, I wondered whether the invocation of “shame” might not be a shrewd way of playing off Japanese psychology to make solving Hawker’s murder seem especially urgent.

    Be that as it may, statements such as “they should feel some kind of guilt that this has happened in their country” are rather nasty in their implications. Every country has criminals, the U.K. most assuredly not excluded. That part about “came here to help” doesn’t sit well, either. It feels condescending, somehow. (Wouldn’t the English find it creepy if, say, an Indian surgeon were murdered in London and her relatives complained that her death was unjust because she’d only come to England to help?) Plenty of Westerners come to Japan to teach English mostly out of a desire to have an exciting adventure abroad and sock away some money, and they deserve not to be murdered just as surely as does someone who’s motivated by a saintly desire to bring correct English to the Japanese.

    And it’s hard to believe that Hawker’s friend thinks disappearing into the landscape in Japan requires some kind of sinister network of assistance. Light plastic surgery that uses surgical wire to nip in the nose or cheeks or to raise the eyelids is cheap, fast, and popular. It doesn’t change bone structure, but it would be very easy to use to avoid recognition. Besides, Japan is a country of 127 million people with huge, anonymous metropolitan areas, isolated mountain hamlets, and a very rapid transportation system. I don’t think you’d have to be Jason Bourne to figure out how to hide out. Of course, an accomplice would help, but it wouldn’t have to be Japanese society in general–just one easily gulled woman with an apartment and a source of income could do it.

    I wouldn’t have a difficult time believing that the investigation methodology isn’t as advanced as what you’d find in London or Miami, but that’s because Japanese police just don’t have to deal with cases like this one very often. And even at home, murder investigations frequently drag on for years. It’s great that Hawker still has friends who are dedicated to helping to find her killer, but I don’t think it follows, in this case, that the police force–let alone “Japan” as a generalized, amorphous entity–isn’t doing enough.


    Shame

    Posted by Sean at 10:53, April 2nd, 2007

    The thinking that seems to lie behind statements like this one, by the father of murdered English teacher Lindsay Hawker, disturbs me:

    The killing of a British language teacher whose naked and battered body was found outside Tokyo has “brought shame” to Japan, her father said Sunday, as the British Ambassador urged the public to help the police investigation.

    “My daughter loved this country. She loved meeting Japanese people and thought of Japan as an honorable society,” William Hawker said in a statement read out Sunday by British Ambassador to Japan Graham Fry.

    “My daughter’s killer has now brought shame on your country. He must be caught,” Hawker was quoted as saying.

    I realize that he’s grieving for his lost daughter, and if he’d made the “shame” comment during an emotional outburst under stress, it would have been very understandable. But this was a prepared statement, and it seems to hold Japan to a standard of safety that one can’t imagine Hawker would dream of imposing on, say, Greater London.

    Lindsay Hawker was not snatched off a busy midday street while no bystanders responded to her cries; that would be shameful. She went, alone, to the apartment of a man who’d already exhibited decidedly odd behavior:

    The suspect first approached Hawker near a train station March 21, saying he wanted to learn English, and followed her to her apartment, according to police. Hawker let him in because she had a roommate and he seemed eager to learn.

    The suspect drew a picture of Hawker and wrote down his name and phone number before leaving her apartment. Hawker agreed to give him an English lesson the following Sunday.

    Hawker is not to blame for her own death, and her killer (it’s looking as certain as it can be at this point that it was, indeed, Tatsuya Ichihashi) deserves the harshest punishment the law allows. But sometimes citizens exercise poor individual judgment, and it’s no “shame” on society’s part that it can’t protect them from what may happen when they isolate themselves from the police or from honest citizens who might help them. Parents can, in general, feel good about their young adult children’s coming to Japan to teach or study; most of the sorts of crime we worry about in Western cities–street crime and burglary–are rare. That doesn’t change the fact that vigilance against nut cases is part of the price of living unmonitored in a free society, even one with a low murder rate such as Japan.