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Japan

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There is a striking long essay on Japan in the current (Fall 2017) issue of American Affairs by Asia scholar Michael Auslin. It opens with some lines from an eighth-century Japanese poem: Auslin then proceeds via a historical account of Japan’s sense of nationhood to some remarks comparing present-day Japan’s “exclusionary nationalism” with the rising... Read More
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Despite a bloody history, Japan and China are now cooperating in ways that shut out the United States
China is now widely seen as the coming superpower. But few even among the west’s China-watchers understand quite how fast this geopolitical freight train is approaching. Moreover, most western observers assume that China’s ambitions are being opposed by its East Asian rival, Japan. In the words of the Economist, Japan is “standing in the way”... Read More
Another day, another piece of US think-tankery poo-pooing the prospects for a nuclear confrontation with the PRC. RAND came up with a new report on the economic costs of war with China,Thinking the Unthinkable. In RAND's view the war won’t escalate beyond a limited conventional war fought in the West Pacific and over Chinese territory,... Read More
Motoyuki Shibata in New York City, 2016
In Japan, even a serious writer may be seen on mass advertising, and a translator can become a star. One of Japan’s most famous intellectuals, Motoyuki Shibata is a specialist on American literature. He has translated books by Thomas Pynchon, Paul Auster, Steven Millhauser and Stuart Dybek, among others. Shibata is also the editor of... Read More
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I came to Japan for the preview of Obama’s visit, when the G7 foreign ministers assembled at Hiroshima, led by the US State Secretary John Kerry. He should apologise, people said. You do not think Kerry apologised for nuking the city, did you? Neither did Obama. The Americans never apologise, banish the thought. Love means... Read More
Should Japan and South Korea be permitted to develop nuclear weapons? That was the very good question posed last week by candidate Donald Trump. Washington’s elite and neocon war party threw up their hands in horror at Trump’s heretical question. The media, heavily influenced by neocons who hate Trump’s call for even-handed US policy in... Read More
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One byproduct of tensions with the People’s Republic of China over the South China Sea (to be followed, shortly, I believe by tensions over the friction between the PRC and Taiwan ruled by the DPP) is the opportunity for the United States to abandon the useful but by now threadbare fiction that the massive U.S.... Read More
On October 6, 2015, the Wall Street Journal carried this headline: Japan Ready to Lead in Asia-Pacific, Abe Says I expect that a few Japan-loving pivot-poobahs inside the Washington beltway had to spit out their breakfast sushi at that one. “But…that wasn’t supposed to happen for decades! Ash Carter promised!” After all, Secretary of Defense... Read More
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Japan, the United States, and the Security Laws
The passage of the collective self defense bills-- enabling Japanese participation in military activities beyond its home territory under restrictions that appear to be rather elastic-- --had a feeling of inevitability to me. They give more freedom of movement to the Japanese government in its security policy, more leverage in its foreign relations, and more... Read More
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On Refugees as on Trade, It Excels in Managing Anglophone Opinion
As Third World migration increasingly dominates the headlines in the European Union and the United States, the rich nations of East Asia have been keeping heads their down. With good reason. True to their ultra-strict immigration policies, they have been admitting virtually no refugees. South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China are at one... Read More
NSA spying often occurs because the resources are in place, and have to be used for something
The drama of Edward Snowden’s exposure of wide-ranging National Security Agency (NSA) domestic spying has somewhat overshadowed the steady flow of somewhat lesser revelations derived from the massive cache of documents known as Wikileaks. The most recent news reports based on five Wikileaks documents, plus a list of targeted telephone numbers, detail how Washington spied... Read More
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A $10,000 Invitation to FT Editor-in-chief Lionel Barber
Dear Lionel: I refer to your public assurances that the Financial Times’s independence will not be compromised by the Nikkei takeover. You are misinformed. Frankly, I concur with the BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston who has tweeted that this is a “desperately sad” moment. As you know, I have spent 27 years covering finance and... Read More
For years, anglophone media ignored the Japanese economy’s strengths. Now it’s time for a rethink
For decades the Financial Times has hardly had a good word to say about the Japanese economy. It is a special irony therefore that the paper’s longtime British owner, the Pearson group, has now agreed to sell it to the Tokyo-based Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) group. How come it is Nikkei that is buying the... Read More
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The American-triggered regime change in Ukraine at the Western end of the Eurasian continent has been widely discussed. Less noticed, if at all, has been the American-triggered change of government in Japan four years ago as part of the so-called ‘pivot’ aimed at holding back China on the Eastern end. The two ought to be... Read More
And...Island Games: Okinotorishima vs. Johnson South Reef
My Twitter feed contained the following ringing statement: To paraphrase Napoleon on the Pope, how many battalions does the frickin’ passive voice have? “Must be prevented”. That’s the problem with the pivot. The "pivot to Asia" is an idea. It's not a doctrine, like the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine, or the... Read More
[This piece may be reposted if Asia Times Online is credited and a link provided.] In other words, it’s time for the United States to engage in a full-throated celebration of the pivot to Asia with what I think is going to be President Obama’s America F*ck Yeah tour of Asian democracies in April 2014.... Read More
I would recommend that readers who have not yet done so create a Twitter account and subscribe to my feed (@chinahand).  To my embarrassment and surprise, I’ve churned out over 800 tweets since I started up my feed last November. Some of it is meaningless ephemera, of course.  But sometimes the twitter stream carries in... Read More
You want ominous? Then offer a deep bow to conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a maneager to turn the Japanese military into an ever less defensive force, fully breach his country’s “peace constitution,” and assumedly someday end Japan’s “nuclear allergy” when it comes to a future weapons program. In the process, rising tensions with and... Read More
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Why America’s Strategic Rebalance is Really Just Retreat
In a future update of The Devil's Dictionary, the famed Ambrose Bierce dissection of the linguistic hypocrisies of modern life, a single word will accompany the entry for "Pacific pivot": retreat. It might seem a strange way to characterize the Obama administration's energetic attempt to reorient its foreign and military policy toward Asia. After all,... Read More
After several rhetorical fits and starts, I've decided that the best description for the overall process of Japan's recovery of its full security sovereignty (exports of military equipment and technology, alliances, collective self defense, offshore military adventures, etc.) is "military restoration". "Remilitarization" doesn't fit for a country that was already a global top-ten military power.... Read More
Or, US Pivot Hoisted on Japanese Petard Again
Via M. Taylor Fravel’s twitter feed I was introduced to this report from Yomiuri Shimbun Dec. 30, 2013. I will quote at length: (Parenthetically, I should point out that the notoriously vulnerable sea lanes of the South China Sea, which Japan is offering to protect, are pretty much vital to nobody but China. Japan ha
Aerospace execs sell their industry to Japan­—one part at a time.
At a welcoming banquet in Japan in the 1980s, Ford Motor chairman Philip Caldwell received a memorably double-edged compliment. “There is no secret about how we learned to do what we do, Mr. Caldwell,” said the head of Toyota Motor, Eiji Toyoda. “We learned it at the Rouge.” Toyoda was referring to Ford’s fabled River... Read More
"The U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty of 1960 obligates the United States to treat any armed attack against any territories under the administration of Japan as dangerous to [America's] own peace and safety. This would cover such islets as the Senkakus also claimed by Beijing." So this author wrote 15 years ago in "A Republic Not... Read More
I have grown pretty tired of hearing about the Senkakus. I have a feeling I’m not alone. As far as I can see, Taiwan has the strongest claim to the Senkakus, by geography, geology, history, and propinquity. Japan grabbed the Senkakus in 1895, lost them in World War II, then got them back from the... Read More
I am unwilling to join the rest of China pundits on the fainting couch, overcome with dismay and disapproval at the PRC’s unilateral declaration of an ADIZ. All the big kids have an ADIZ. The PRC has an ADIZ. I don’t think it’s going anywhere and we should get used to it. To me, the... Read More
That guidance (to paraphrase Hearst’s famous admonition to Frederic Remington on the occasion of the Spanish-American War, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war,”) pretty much sums up the interaction of the government of Japan and the Western media on the matter of the Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ. I’m not going... Read More
In South Korea a sense of vulnerability bred from past humiliations lies just below the surface
Old hatreds bred from old atrocities and injustices are slow to disappear. South Korean President Park Geun-hye said at the start of visits to France and Britain this week that she is willing to hold a summit anytime with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose country intermittently threatens war against South Korea. But she... Read More
Update: According to the Japanese Coast Guard via AFP, the PRC did its bit to escalate tensions by dispatching two Coast Guard vessels to loiter in the territorial waters of the Senkakus for two hours. AFP also added this tidbit concerning Abe's defense posture: Global Times weighed in with a ferocious editorial addressing Abe's remarks... Read More
World War II has never really ended for Japan. Sixty-eight years after the battleship US “Missouri” sailed into Tokyo Bay to receive the surrender of the Japanese Empire, Japan still behaves like a meek, defeated nation rather than one of the world’s great powers – and great peoples. Economically, Japan is a giant, albeit a... Read More
After raking the Irish Times over the coals for screwing up the headline it tacked onto the Reuters story about the alleged intrusion of a Chinese military aircraft into Japanese airspace by calling a Y-8 turboprop a “fighter plane”, I was…interested? bemused? incensed? to see AP run its story with the fighter plane characterization in... Read More
You are! No, you are! Now that Shinzo Abe’s LDP has rolled to triumph in Japan’s upper house elections, we can return to the pressing matter of Chinese and Japanese fingerpointing over the Senkakus and which nation is the real source of instability in the region—while both sides nervously look over their shoulders to see... Read More
Sinocism kindly posted a link to my piece on China’s Japanese bond holdings, with an admonitory comment questioning my conclusion. The relevant graf (Sinocism comments in bold): I should make it clear that I am not an advocate of the “China debt bomb” theory of US-China relations a.k.a. Chineez ownz r muneez and will rule... Read More
[Correction: I incorrectly identified ex-Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi as Shinzo Abe's father-in-law; he was actually Abe's maternal grandfather. Thanks to a knowledgeable and sharp-eyed reader for catching the mistake. PL 6/21/2013] In a dismaying week for the PRC, India turned its back on China...and thereby drifted further away from the narrative of Japanese criminal aggression... Read More
“Irritating Japan” Well On Its Way to Replacing “Rising China” Meme There is a delicious—well, delicious to me, anyway—flavor of Western bewilderment about the neverending parade of Japanese nationalist shenanigans. The most recent entry was Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s endorsement of the World War II Japanese military brothel system a.k.a. “comfort women”: Hashimoto—who seems to... Read More
[This piece originally appeared at Asia Times Online on May 3, 2013.  It can be reposted if ATOl is credited and a link provided.  I was rather amused to see Paul Eckert of Reuters trolling the comment thread at Asia Times.  Not the way to build the Paul Eckert brand, let alone the Reuters brand.]... Read More
  On 30 January, a Chinese Jiangwei II-class frigate entered the disputed waters around the Senkaku Islands, a cluster of uninhabited rocks in the East China Sea claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands. A Japanese destroyer was waiting. When the two warships were only 3 km apart, the Chinese frigate turned on its fire... Read More
[The Asia Times Online yearender, which appeared on Dec. 22, 2012. It can be reposted if ATOl is credited and a link provided.] The passing year was the People's Republic of China's (PRC) first opportunity to get up close and personal with the United States' pivot back to Asia, the strategic rebalancing that looks a... Read More
[This article originally appeared at Asia Times Online on December 1, 2012.  It can be reposted if ATOl is credited and a link provided.]   Is the People's Republic of China (PRC) trying to implode the Japanese economy? It is starting to look that way. The PRC has counterprogramed the US pivot to Asia -... Read More
The noisy Tokyo-Beijing fracas over uninhabited specks of rock in the China Sea are making Japan feel increasingly nervous and vulnerable. Few expect the two nations to stumble into war over the barren Senkaku Islands (Daiou in Chinese) though they are believed to abut important underwater resources. But chances of an accidental clash are rising... Read More
Japan’s nuclear calamity has shown once again the remarkable courage, patience, and stoicism of that nation’s people. As a visitor to Japan for the past 36 years and former columnist for one of its leading newspapers, Mainichi Daily News, the giant earthquake and ensuing tsunami that savaged northern Japan filled me with anguish and sorrow.... Read More
Last week was the 70th anniversary of the Café de Paris bombing. This was during the London Blitz of 1940-41. By March of the latter year most Londoners had learned to take shelter underground when the air-raid sirens went off. Among the capital's young moneyed swells and débutantes, however, there was an element who were... Read More
The Pentagon sells out American manufacturing for Japanese bases.
TOKYO—When German executives visit Tokyo, they are often treated to a session at Bernd’s Bar, a notably authentic German pub. A bit too authentic, perhaps, given its Axis-era accoutrements. The last time I was there, one of the walls still featured a huge photograph of Willy Messerschmitt in conversation with Charles Lindbergh. It had evidently... Read More
China's Assistant Foreign Minister, Hu Zhengyue--who seems hold the bash-Japan brief--expressed umbrage that some Japanese officials somewhere had made inappropriate statements to the media concerning the Diaoyutai/Senkaku dispute, Apparently there will be no fence-mending meeting between Wen Jiabao and Naoto Kan at the ASEAN get-together in Hanoi What China is probably really angry about is... Read More
Update: I am willing to grant that China disrupted rare earth shipments to Japan over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku incident. That's a distinction I should have made in the Asia Times article, and I regret not doing so. Given the quota system/smuggling structure of China's rare earth trade, it would be easy to slow or stop exports... Read More
It's All Politics
Does anyone really believe that Toyota is being pilloried in the media for a few highway fatalities? Nonsense. If Congress is so worried about innocent people getting killed, then why haven't they indicted US commander Stanley McChrystal for blowing up another 27 Afghan civilians on Sunday? But this isn't about bloodshed and it's certainly not... Read More
Vice President Cheney recently visited Asia to lend his prestige and power—two increasingly devalued commodities--to two faithful and embattled allies in his global campaign of confrontation and containment, Japan and Australia. Japan, in particular, needed bucking up, since the Abe regime is reeling from the perfunctory US abandonment of the abductee issue in the rush... Read More
One element that continues to amaze is how cavalierly the United States threw Shinzo Abe under the bus while negotiating the North Korea agreement. The abductee issue—which Abe had ridden to power and which forms the core of his image as Japan’s new generation assertive foreign policy hard case—was dismissively pushed off to the working... Read More
It must be a great relief to the impoverished nations of Inner Asia and the South Pacific to know that, in addition to the profitable competition between the PRC and Taiwan for diplomatic recognition, there is another cash cow dangling its teat over the region—Japan. Winning one of the non-permanent two-year elected seats on the... Read More
A demonstration in China.
Looking at the picture of those Chinese students demonstrating in Xi'an last weekend, a half-forgotten literary reference came to mind. I went to my books and found the reference. It's in Chapter Eight of Ba Jin's novel The Family, written around 1930. Ba Jin (old spelling: Pa Chin**) was the most prominent Chinese novelist of... Read More
Letter to the Editor
As a long-time subscriber to your newsweekly I wish to bring to your attention an unfortunate skew in your coverage of world events, namely your overemphasis on Europe and your under-reporting of the Far East. Such an observation may seem curious since your newsweekly clearly contains the best and most comprehensive western coverage of the... Read More
Category Classics
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