Monday, January 25, 2016

Tokyo Briefings, Day 1

I am in Japan this week to be a tool of Japan's public diplomacy efforts learn about Japan's role in the world these days.  I will try to keep a running series of entries on what I have learned.  Given that jetlag and time displacement has woken me up at 3am, and I have read about the various football games I missed (and thankfully so), time to sum up what I learned on Day 1.

Our first meeting focused on the security challenges facing Japan and, not unrelatedly, the new legislation that gives Japan a somewhat greater ability to use its Self Defence Forces.  I had already been briefed about the latter by the Japanese embassy in Ottawa, but it was nice to get even more clarity.  So, the key points here:

  • this part of the world is getting more tense as China's military spending keeps growing but no clarity about what the aims are supposed to be.  The island building is really problematic.  No hotline yet established between Japan and China although there has been some discussion. The number of increased scrambles due to overflights is now back to Cold War levels--but is basically half Russian/half Chinese. North Korea?  Oy.  More tests of ballistic missiles as well as the more noticed tests of nuclear weapons.  South Korea also has territorial dispute with Japan.
  • No nation can maintain peace alone--and so the legislation is aimed at Japan supporting the efforts of others.  Previous legislation limited Japanese support (logistics, whatever) to only the US and only in limited way.  Now Japan can rescue Japanese citizens in harm's way (if host country consents), can do stuff in a peace keeping mission that they could not do before (use force to save the mission itself or to help others).  Still need a vote to implement this stuff and that will likely happen after next election.  Much of this requires votes in the Diet for any mission, and my guess is that most governments will not use the authorities this legislation grants.  That will be my go-to question for the rest of the week.
Our second meeting was on peacekeeping.  Japan has engineering semi-battalion operating in South Sudan.
  • While Japan can and does participate in so-called chapter 6 plus missions (peacekeeping efforts with authorities to use force), Japan cannot/will not be doing any peace enforcement.  The peacekeeping parts of the new legislation were aimed at getting Japan closer to UN norms, and mostly sailed through, compared to the other parts of the reforms.  
  • Only casualties for Japan in PKOs were policeperson and non-governmental type(s?) in Cambodia.  Force protection is mostly left to other countries (my fellow Canadians found this to be problematic if Canada starts doing more UN stuff without bringing their own battlegroups).  
 Our third meeting was on public diplomacy.  I didn't get the chance to ask why we (myself and three Calgarians) would be useful as tools of Japanese public diplomacy, but this blog might be a hint.
  • Public diplomacy--advertising, messaging, selling Japan's story--is a new division within Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • Key message, I think, is that there are challenges to the international order (ISIL, Russia, China) that need to be addressed, and that Japan has been a good citizen in the world, trying to do more to help support the rules of the system.  That Japan has helped many countries develop via foreign aid including.... China.  
  • How do you turn popularity of sushi, kabuki, anime into influence?  Good question.
  • Key with China is how to compete with the Chinese stories?  China plays up the World War II stuff and ignores everything since.  Given, in my humble opinion, that China's post WWII story is quite problematic--growth but repression and mass killings, this makes complete sense.  Plus Japan's post WWII story is pretty damned positive, so best to focus on the distant past.
  • One of the Calgarians asked about the repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by Prime Ministers since it harms Japan's public diplomacy efforts.  This led to a very interesting discussion as I was familiar with the controversy (several WWII war criminals were added to the list of the enshrined in 1978).  I didn't know that this is the one site that is seen as housing all of the souls lost in the service of Japan in all of its wars since 1850s.  
    • So, it is kind of like Arlington but much more so since there is a greater religious and spiritual aspect.
    • That the addition of the war criminals apparently was not done by the government of the day as the shrine is privately run.
    • That the controversy over the Prime Minister visits is a mostly new thing and much more so for Abe.
    • My guess is that it is because Prime Minister Abe is seen as a right wing nationalist, so the criticism resonates more these days.
Barry Cooper, David Bercuson
and Rob Huebert of U of Calgary
I joke about being a tool of public diplomacy (not my first time--the 2007 trip to Afghanistan was clearly an information operation/propaganda effort aimed at the Canadian public), but I understand that Japan is trying to sell its message to the Canadian public via our group.  I am not uncritical of some of the stuff they are telling us, but thus far, I have not heard much that would make me jump and disagree.  Well, I have not heard much from the Japanese that would make me do that--I have heard much from a couple of my conservative right wing Calgarian colleagues on this trip that makes me disagree quickly.  I think our routine has become entertaining to the Japanese folks we are meeting.

I will eventually be able to put this all into context.  Right now, I am blogging so that I can look back and remember what I was hearing and thinking.  Lack of sleep is going to make it hard for to remember stuff without having it written down somewhere.

I look forward to the real Japan experts giving me their take on all of this.  All I am sure of is that this trip is super helpful for preparing me for my research here next fall.  Oh, and that I like warm sake and I am not as much of a lightweight drinking it as I am drinking other stuff. 


Anonymous said...

Two additional factors which make Yakusuni such a regional 'lightning rod':

1) That Emperor Hirohito - and his son, Akihito - have avoided it like the plague since the enshrinement of the Class A war criminals (and the propaganda at Yūshūkan If the "patriarch" of the Japanese state thinks it's a problem that needs fixing, then of course China, Taiwan, North Korea and South Korea are going to continue pressing the government on it.

2) The explicitly political intent of Liberal Democratic Party's recent visits to the shrine (Junichiro Koizumi was the first PM to pull this stunt). An easy way to prod a usually pacifistic public into agreeing with your policies? Stir the pot by showing up without notice and then attack left-wing dissenters as acting "unpatriotic."

3) That European fascists (the Front National and the BNP in particular) are coming to pay their respects, glorifying it like the KKK treats Confederate monuments.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, that's three, not two.

Steve Saideman said...

Thanks for your insights. Especially #3. I do think (and I was not alone) that if one wants to sell a positive message about Japan to the region, these visits hurt quite a bit. So, are there domestic political dynamics creating tensions and tradeoffs? I would guess so.