Japan, U.S. Concerned About Restrictions on Foreign News in China

There’s been a lot in the mainstream press on China’s decision to restrict access in China to news produced by foreign agencies. Here’s a news hit on the diplomatic consequences.

(Kyodo) — Japan is keeping a close watch on China’s newly announced curbs on foreign media news distribution while it examines the new rules, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Wednesday.

“In general circumstances, freedom of the press is a basic right that should naturally be respected. From such a standpoint, our country is taking an interest and keeping an eye on the (latest) moves within China,” Mitsuo Sakaba, the ministry’s press secretary, said at a news conference.

Sakaba was referring to China’s announcement of new rules on Sunday in which foreign news organizations are required to seek approval from the state-run Xinhua News Agency to distribute news in China.

The new rules, which took effect immediately, gave Xinhua the right to select news and information foreign media release in China and to delete news content deemed prohibited.

The United States has expressed concern over the rules.

China, for its past, has rejected criticism that such rules constitute a form of authoritarian information control that harms Chinese people’s freedom, saying they are aimed at strengthening the rule of law.

Abe, the Politics of Being Korean, and the NYT

From a conversation I had last week with David Marx and some snooping around on Japan’s popular 2ch message board comes Marxy’s essay on “Abe and the Politics of Being Korean.” The particular 2ch thread, which is now unavailable, got on Marxy’s back for being a vicious foreigner and also included unfriendly comments about New York Times reporter Norimitsu Onishi, whom the 2ch-ites say is a Korean Japanese. Part of Marxy’s take:

Much more moral clarity over on the thread, however, as posters want to know about this Japan-bashing writer Onishi. Apparently he is Korean-Japanese with Canadian citizenship. Comment 572 states 「大西は日本在住の、日本→カナダ国籍取った朝鮮人だよな。マジで殺されろ。」using a questionably-racist term for Koreans (朝鮮人) and then adding a cherry on top: “Seriously, he should be killed.” The logic is clear: of course, he is bashing Japan, because he is #1 – not actually Japanese – and #2 – the Korean-Japanese live their whole life to bash Japan. Racial purity determines political outlook.

Off Topic: An Age of Empiricism? Let's See Some Numbers.

This is the first of what promises to be many short essays on topics not related to the transpacific triangle. I’ll cut them off after their introductions to spare uninterested readers the details.

John O. McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern (whom I’ve never met), writes over the summer in Policy Review that “we are on the cusp of a golden age of social science empiricism that will help bring a greater measure of agreement on the consequences of public policy.”

It’s a bold statement. Reasonably, I think, I expected it to be backed by some empirical evidence. Alas, I was disappointed.
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This Week: China-Japan Ties Easing, Nakasone Broaches Nuclear Japan

It’s been a news-filled week for Japan-China relations and Japan in general, leading up to the LDP election later this month.

Several signs that tensions between China and Japan may ease after Koizumi’s departure emerged this week.

  • Using the a signed commentary in the People’s Daily overseas edition, the Chinese government demanded Abe Shinzo take a stand on shrine visits, writing Thursday, “Perhaps the strategists and advisers at Abe’s side see this strategy of ambiguity as a success, but they appear to have forgotten the lesson that sincerity can vanquish a hundred tricks. … Abe must ultimately use facts to demonstrate whether he’s truly serious about relations with China.” [The Reuters story apparently refers to this People’s Daily commentary, which is hard to interpret because of a rough translation.]
  • It is unclear whether he was responding to this specific call (I suspect not), but Abe said in a news conference he did not believe a fresh Japanese war apology was necessary from him as a new prime minister.
  • On Friday, Abe said he intended to meet with top Chinese and South Korean leaders at the November APEC meeting to calmly discuss political problems such as Yasukuni visits (「(靖国神社参拝などの)政治問題が拡大しないように冷静に対応するための会談だ。」). He added that he thinks China is coming to realize that “playing the Yasukuni card” was a mistake. (From a Japanese language Yomiuri Shimbun report.)
  • An English language Kyodo dispatch reported that Yomiuri had said more: That report said Abe will likely skip a Yasukuni visit during the fall festival in October to smooth relations with China before the meeting.
  • Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan said President Hu Jintao expressed the desire that China and Japan commit to peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Repeating well-worn phrasing, Tang also said, “We will adhere to the principle and make joint efforts with Japan in pushing ahead bilateral exchanges and cooperation in various fields and properly handling the existing problems and obstacles.” “Properly handling” is a key phrase, which has been used before to admonish Japanese leaders over textbooks and Yasukuni Shrine. The report appeared in the Chinese official press.An AFP report added that Tang had said that a “wise decision” on Yasukuni was a precondition for China to consider a November meeting with Abe.
  • The first “working level” financial talks between China and Japan since 2002 were held this week. AFP reported that an official gave the dubious excuse of “scheduling difficulties” as the reason that the annual talks had been held up. It is widely believed that such summits were stopped over Chinese objections to Koizumi’s shrine visits, and with some research, it may be possible to find reports where this was said publicly for these particular meetings, contradicting the new statement.

In other news, a new report issued by former Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro’s think tank, the Institute for International Policy Studies, proposes that Japan study the possibility of obtaining its own nuclear capabilities. I have not read the report, “Japan’s National Image in the 21st Century,” but a Japan Times article reported that Nakasone acknowledged that Japan is protected by what many call the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but he said it is unclear whether the umbrella will remain.

Indeed, as Japan strengthens itself, the United States may put less emphasis on protecting Japan. It is unlikely, however, that U.S. strategic interests in the region will diverge from those of Japan in the near future. My question is, how much study does it really take for Japan to create nuclear weapons, given its high scientific capabilities and prominent use of nuclear power? Since it is a virtual certainty that Japan could produce a nuclear deterrent quickly in a pinch, Nakasone is likely attempting to guide Japan in a hawkish direction to the extent that he still has influence.

China and South Korea Appear Ready to Deal With Abe

You could say I’m behind, not yet having addressed Abe Shinzo’s official announcement that he’s running for LDP president, and the more important announcement that he would get behind constitutional revision full-force as prime minister. “I’d like to draft a new constitution with my own hands,” he said.

In fact, top LDP officials have said publicly for months that the U.S.-imposed “Peace Constitution” should be revised to more accurately reflect present day military realities. Certainly, the existence of the Self Defense Forces and Japan’s status as the fourth largest military spender in the world betray the reality that Japan does not adhere to Article 9 of that constitution, in which it “forever” renounces force or the threat of force as an instrument of foreign policy and bars the maintenance of armed forces. That Abe came out in support of a change is no surprise, and it’s probably not a bad idea.

What’s surprising is that regional reaction seems to be subdued. My experience in reading public rhetorical exchanges from across the East China Sea led me to expect a firm negative response to the revision; I expected that the Chinese regime would hail this change as part of a “new rise in Japanese militarism.” I expected a similar response from South Korea.

On the contrary, China’s state-controlled media have been mostly silent (from what I can see in English) on Abe’s announcement, with only a straight news-style report from Xinhua. Meanwhile, South Korea has invited Abe to meet with Roh Moo Hyun, who has refused to meet with Koizumi since November over his Yasukuni visits.

Abe has said that improving regional ties is a key goal of his presumed premiership. A Voice of America online article notes that this common-sense sentiment is not unique to Abe. Although Foreign Minister Aso Taro has essentially no chance of winning election, he has weighed in, saying that personality differences between Koizumi and regional leaders were the problem, not his shrine visits. (This makes sense from a man who is perhaps more of a nationalist than Koizumi and who advocates the re-nationalization of Yasukuni.) The finance minister, Tanigaki Sadakazu, another long-shot LDP candidate is the only candidate to say he would not visit the shrine as prime minister. Japanese finance ministers, who need to work with Chinese and South Korean counterparts even in a tense diplomatic climate, tend to be less controversial internationally.

No one knows whether Abe will continue visiting the shrine, but the mere change of leadership gives all sides the opportunity to recast the Yasukuni issue, which had been mired in Koizumi’s rhetoric since 2001. It is by no means inconceivable that Abe will visit the shrine and improve ties with China and South Korea. If the debate is reframed so that no one has to go back on any strong public stances, then there is a great deal of diplomatic wiggle room in Northeast Asia.

Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura Nobutaka acknowledged that fact Sunday, saying: “The Japan-China relationship is not so simple that it does not go anywhere unless we decide what is right on the Yasukuni issue.” Machimura sees a Japan–China summit as possible as early as November, at the APEC meeting.

One thing is for certain, Yasukuni has been no one’s litmus test in the selection of Abe. It has stayed mostly out of the picture, and we will have to wait and see what happens to the site’s symbolic significance following Koizumi’s departure.