Tag Archives: Tobias Harris

Japanese constitutional revision, and welcoming Tobias Harris and Observing Japan back to blogville

Harris headshotAfter a reasonably long hiatus that led me to remove Observing Japan from the Transpacifica blogroll (which I have capped at 25 in an effort to list only the most valuable sources), author and friend Tobias Harris is back, and with a vengeance.

Reasons to welcome him back:

(1) While he apparently did not win on Jeopardy on Monday, this guy was on Jeopardy!

(2) More pertinently, read his latest post: Is constitution revision actually possible? He writes:

[W]e’re probably seeing the emergence of what will likely be a persistent pattern should Abe remain in power. Abe and his lieutenants will talk about the need to revise the constitution, Komeito will express its unease about revision, what’s left of the left wing will sound the alarm, public opinion polls will reveal skepticism about revision, LDP grandees will suggest backing down…and rinse and repeat.

The underlying issue is the much-discussed revision of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which reads:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

As is obvious to all in the region, land, sea, and air forces are very well maintained in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, so the letter of this law is in some sense moot. But Article 9 still has force and, because of judicial interpretations, limits the status and activities of the SDF. Just as importantly, Article 9 frustrates efforts by the Japanese right to return their country to “normal country” status among states.

The post is actually about an intermediate step that would likely be necessary to get to Article 9 revision: a change to Article 96 of the constitution, which sets a two-thirds vote in the Diet followed by a referendum as the threshold for constitutional revision. The right apparently doesn’t have two-thirds for Article 9 revision, so some are seeking support to change Article 96 to allow a simple majority to trigger a referendum.

So as you can see, if Toby is right, the constitutional revision issue is an opportunity for Prime Minister Abe to play to the conservative base of the Liberal Democratic Party without the likelihood of success. It’s something Abe or other LDP leaders could do periodically to placate the far right, and in that sense is perhaps a welcome alternative (from the perspective of the left, or of China and Korea) to former Prime Minister Koizumi’s annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. And as he writes of the crumbled opposition, “Defending the constitution may be one of the few areas in which the Japanese left is still be able to mobilize citizens.”

So follow Observing Japan for regional issues, Abenomics, and whatever else comes up in Japanese politics. (And anyone is welcome to correct me, if I’ve bungled details on constitutional revision here.)

A new blogroll: With focus—without the fat

It’s been years since I completely reviewed the blogroll on Transpacifica. Today, I decided to cut it in size and cut out the fat. Before, I had almost fifty links, all of which were at one time important. But many of these sites don’t make the cut anymore, and I thought it would be more useful to pick the 25 best sites I would recommend checking for up-to-date information and smart commentary on East Asia.

Allow me to bid farewell to some of the former blogrollers.

First, there are the sites that just aren’t sites anymore: The China Beat stopped publishing; Julian Wong’s Green Leap Forward is now apparently offline (and it was long dormant); Rebecca MacKinnon’s excellent RConversation is now dormant while she writes at her book’s blog, but rarely about China. Evgeny Morozov’s Net Effect stopped updating some time ago.

Then, there are the sites that have suffered from the writers’ new projects, or that aren’t as frequently updated as others. Jeremiah Jenne’s Granite Studio gave way to his new collaborative project with others, Rectified.name. Jun Okumura’s fiery Son of a Gadfly on the Wall may be getting some love these days, but it’s long been relatively quiet.

Next, I removed links to non-transpacific-focused sites and sites that I run or work for. The exception is 八八吧 :: 88 Bar, which would deserve a place on this list even if I weren’t a new contributor there.

There are others, that need not be listed, that don’t have the same place in my reading diet they used to.

We’re left with a solid list of 25 sites, though I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

For now, a few of the new additions:

  • ChinaFile, currently in beta, is a project of Asia Society, and it has both original content and solid aggregation, including a non-paywalled tunnel to New York Review of Books articles up to fairly recently.
  • China Real Time and Japan Real Time, from the Wall Street Journal, are category-leading news feeds that follow the news day by day. The China blog especially is about as up-to-date a product as you can get from a mainstream source.
  • Sigma1 takes my friend Tobias Harris (Observing Japan)’s spot for detailed tracking through Japan’s ever-swerving political story. [Toby is welcome back if he starts writing again. -ed.]
  • And Tea Leaf Nation barges onto the scene with its voluminous China social media monitoring.

So what’s changed?

For one thing, this reader and the cast of writers have changed. When this list was last carefully checked, I was just back to the United States from Beijing, where the hurried China blogging community before the Olympics was full of different faces, many of whom have moved on to various other pursuits. And at the time, I was still writing Sinobyte for CNET, which led me to follow too many tech blogs. Now, I watch U.S.–China relations and technology and politics trends, and this means a greater attention to international relations, military affairs, economics, and elite politics. Finally, I read far less about Japan than when this all began in 2006.

Substantively, though, I think the blogosphere on East Asia has shifted from a public square of mostly male soapboxers to a series of more diverse groups collaborating either informally or through an institution. I think this is great, because (Bill Bishop’s Sinocism notwithstanding) it’s usually better to think, produce, and read in groups than all alone. This also opens bigger online platforms—like Tea Leaf Nation, ChinaFile, and even the WSJ Real Time blogs—to people who don’t have the sickness required to blog constantly.

This blog used to have a lot more readers during the period that I had the blogging bug. Perhaps some will come back through collaborative work here or on various platforms, but for now, click those links at the right.

Video: Hardcore rockers in China burn Japanese flag

On China’s National Day, October 1, fans at the MIDI music festival in Zhenjiang, China, decided to follow up a set by a metal band with an act of their own: burning a defaced Japanese flag while singing the Chinese national anthem. Video at bottom.

When photographer Matthew Niederhauser posted this video on his photo blog, he justifiably sought to clarify that he did not intend to support the burning of a flag. I of course agree.

With the anti-Japanese furor having died down, it might be time to reflect on the way the English-language media have covered the Sino–Japanese dispute after the recent confrontation at the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. When “tensions run high” or “angry” Chinese stage demonstrations, we rarely see reports on the scope of mobilization or the definition of a “tension” in international relations.

One way to understand the significance of this incident comes from the blog Observing Japan. Almost a month ago, Tobias Harris argued that “not much” had changed since Koizumi Jun’ichirō left office and Abe Shinzō entered in 2006. Koizumi, who during his long term as Japan’s prime minister repeatedly inflamed anti-Japanese sentiment by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, was gone. Leaders since then have seen fewer public political problems with China. He argues, however, that the September–October dispute this year shows that Japan’s focus on a “strategic, reciprocal relationship” with China has resulted in little change.

With the unfair advantage of a month’s worth of watching events unfold, I agree half-way. This round of confrontation over the islands resembles many previous incidents in that, although there was a concrete element in the form of the arrested Chinese captain, the dispute was largely symbolic rather than strategic. It is different in that we haven’t seen one of these incidents in a while. So, agreeing with Tobias, I don’t think all that much has changed. Economic and diplomatic relations continue on mostly segregated tracks, and symbolic disputes still exist. But isn’t there something laudable about the fact* that this small mobilization of demonstrators marked the largest such incident since April 2005?

For another day, and here’s something I really don’t know the answer to, how real and how artificial is the division between economic and diplomatic or political relations that we hear about so often in Sino-Japanese relations?

Video below:

Chinese Heavy Metal Crowd Burns Japanese Flag on National Day – MIDI Festival, Zhenjiang, China – 2010/10/01 from Matthew Niederhauser on Vimeo.

*I haven’t checked this thoroughly, but I can’t think of another incident of this size in the interim. Some might object that anti-Japan speech during the pre-Olympic anti-foreign-media demonstrations in 2008 could count, but I believe those incidents were on a separate track and if anything targeted “the West” more than any single country.

China Tops Japan as Biggest Holder of U.S. Debt

Just a little note.

It had been on my mind since Tobias at Observing Japan noted Japan’s erstwhile distinction as the holder of the most U.S. Treasury bills. He was discussing Niall Ferguson’s column, named with the “unfortunate word” Chimerica, and noted: “Ferguson does not mention that Japan holds more US treasuries than China, meaning that surely US-Japan bilateral negotiations are no less necessary thank US-China negotiations.” (He noticed the news, and updated the post.)

China increased its holdings to $585 billion in September, compared with $541.4 billion in August. Meanwhile, Japan shaved its holdings from a high of $600.7 billion in March of this year down to $571.4 billion in September.

China’s now the leader, but at least if we judge by dollar holdings, Japan still deserves attention.

China's New Anti-Ship Missiles and U.S. Forces in Japan

China is working on the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile, according to some defense analysts. Tobias Harris writes that the ASBM may be based on an existing missile that has a range of 1,800 km, and he notes that such a missile would threaten U.S. ships based in Japan.

While it may be hard to target a ship at sea, he writes, minimal effort would be needed to learn of a ship’s landing at U.S. bases in Japan. Tobias writes:

The question I have is whether the Chinese ASBM will render US naval forward deployments in Japan obsolete, in that homeporting an aircraft carrier in Yokosuka may leave it vulnerable to a crippling first strike before even leaving port. Are anti-ballistic missile deployments in Japan — both by the US military and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces — reliable enough to protect US forces while in Japanese ports?

If not, hadn’t the US and Japan be having a serious discussion about the impact of China’s ASBMs on the future of US forward deployments in Japan, and with them, the future of the US-Japan alliance? Should the US consider relocating more assets from Japan to Guam to put them out of the range of ASBMs?

Of course, many in Japan are not enthusiastic about the U.S. military’s continued presence. Both advocates of Japanese military independence (not likely any time soon) and those opposed to U.S. military actions have spoken up. If this strategic environment were realigned by a new type of missile, perhaps they would be happier.

My question, however, is What are the implications for the U.S. if basing in Japan were reduced and ships in the western Pacific had to launch from bases like Guam and Hawaii? Would this strain the situation with Taiwan? Would it make it more difficult for U.S. ships to be in the neighborhood for humanitarian aid during catastrophes like the 2004 Tsunami?

As Tobias notes, U.S. ships can increase their readiness for this type of attack, but resources would be diverted from other functions.