Check out Gary Leupp on the China-Japan conflict at Counterpunch. Haven’t had a chance to do more than skim it myself yet, but his stuff on East Asia is always essential reading as far as I’m concerned.
April 29, 2005
April 28, 2005
Random questions, not so random answers…
Q: Who forged the infamous ‘Niger documents’ that made Blair look so silly?
[Wikipedia also has a good entry on the wonderfully named ‘Yellowcake Forgery‘ which repeats the same allegation about the rather over-excitable Neo-con. Funny how things take their time to unravel… but unravel they always do in the end. The legal ‘advice’ given to Blair in March 2003 being another good example.]
[This is despite the fact that the Philippine government has apparently banned its citizens from working there. This is also despite the fact that there is an unemployment rate somewhere in the region of 70% in Iraq. For comparison, there are some 12,000 Korean civilian workers on US bases in South Korea, or there were until the US started cutting back.]
April 26, 2005
Here’s the rest of Kim Yong-uk’s article on Japan and East Asian geopolitics as promised a few days ago. The first part is here.
The problem is that the level of military forces that are needed to guarantee this sort of security is not something that can be built up overnight. Even when it comes to holding China in check, Japan still needs the help of the United States.
However, with America’s feet tied in the Middle East, and as China develops into a major power and modernises its military, Japan’s ruling class is feeling impatient.
The rightwing politicians are coming to the fore in the context of these pressures. They are putting forward one measure after another aimed at overcoming the political restrictions imposed by Article 9 of Japan’s Peace Constitution.
But it will be no easy task for Japan to become the leading regional power let alone the leading world power.
First, despite the general rightward shift, the Japanese government still has to be conscious of hostile domestic public opinion. The “Report on security and war capability” also noted “Because of the ‘pacifism’ created by the sense of guilt that followed the Second World War, the idea of tackling a threat through the concerted efforts of the citizens is seen as a taboo.”
In the second half of 2003 when the bill for dispatching Japanese Self Defence Force troops to Iraq was being debated in the Diet, popular opinion shifted suddenly towards being anti-war and anti-troop dispatch.
At the time of the hostage incident in 2004 too Koizumi seemed to have overcome the crisis by instigating a disgusting witch hunt against the released hostages, but the Liberal Democratic Party was defeated in the local elections which followed immediately after. Of course this opposition has the weakness of being extremely fluid, but the Japanese ruling class continuously has to be cautious.
Second, there is the problem of the “anti-Japanese sentiment” of neighbouring Asian countries. Japan has invested a considerable amount of capital in Asia, particularly in China and China is also Japan’s principal export market.
As large-scale anti-Japanese demonstrations continue in China the Japanese government is at a loss as to what to do. That section of Japanese capitalists who have investments in China are calling for a solution to be found. This sort of conflict can also help to stimulate public opinion in favour of restraining the militarisation of Japan.
Finally, there is no guarantee that the US will always be happy to support Japan’s moves toward becoming the hegemonic regional power and the discord this is causing in East Asia.
The question of whether the US can continue to maintain its hegemony in East Asia after the Cold War is closely connected with the question of whether South Korea and Japan will remain the two countries at the core of America’s alliance in the region.
The US does not want Japan to go too far in provoking Korea, as it is at the moment. So it is mistaken to claim that the current controversy around Tokto is part of a plot engineered by the US.
It is difficult to guess in advance in what way the power conflicts in East Asia will develop. Even if the rulers of these countries make hypocritical compromises with one another, their competitive relations will continue to exist and they will continue to stockpile weapons aimed at each other.
[South Korean President] Roh Moo-hyun’s conception of Korea as the “Northeast Asian Balancer” reflects the position of a South Korean state that has no choice but to walk a tightrope through the region’s precarious order.
In fact, his strategy might sound splendid in words, but its substance is contradictory. The Roh Moo-hyun government opposes the expansion of the US military presence in Korea because it is conscious of China, but at the same time it has no intention yet of coming out from under the US security umbrella.
So the Chinese ambassador was able to say, “Frankly, I do not understand the meaning of the statement ‘Korea is the [Northeast Asian] balancer.’” It seems that the real meaning of Roh Moo-hyun’s phrase – that Korea will have to walk a tightrope – was not apparent. He thinks that Roh will remain on America’s rope, tipping the balance this way and that.
This sort of tightrope walking might be a very flexible response, but actually the danger is that it will satisfy no one.
April 24, 2005
Been a bit busy of late (there’s an election on here in case you didn’t know).
Spotted this article on the 5000 won note (worth about £3) the other day on Oh My News. One of those novelty stories that probably has a serious underbelly (if such a thing is possible). I think the peg for this story was the fact that the Korean government is going to introduce a new 5000 won note because the current ones are being couterfeited to such an extent.
The 5000 won notes have featured famous Korean Confucian philosopher Yulgok Yi I (1536-1584) since the 1970s. But apparently, the design before the previous one became known as the ‘Western Yulgok’ because the portrait of the philospher appearing on the note looked remarkably like a person of the round-eyed, large-proboscis persuasion who just happened to be wearing a sixteenth century Korean official’s hat and coat.
The explanation for this is that apparently these notes were made by the British company De La Rue (as are those of about 150 countries according to their website) and the designer who adapted the original portrait of Yulgok was for some reason incapable of reproducing an East Asian looking face. Resorting to that hackneyed phraseology beloved by certain sorts of Korean writers, the author of the article says that the designer managed to produce a portrait of Yulgok that was ‘totally incompatible with our sentiments’. I think I’d rather say that the designer was just a rubbish artist.
Apparently the ‘Western Yulgok’ (top image) notes only lasted until 1977 when the current note was brought in (bottom).
Next time I’m in Korea I might try to lay my hands on one of these novelty notes.
April 20, 2005
I promised that I would post a translation of Kim Yong-uk’s excellent article on Japan and East Asian geopolitics from the latest issue of Ta Hamkke. So here it is, well the first half anyway:
Why is Japan provoking its neighbours?
Ta Hamkke no. 53
The Japanese state is currently making East Asia’s instability more severe. Japan is also having territorial disputes with the majority of its neighbours – Russia, China, South Korea and so on.
In addition it is carrying out a strengthening of its defence forces. This year it has launched a major procurement programme for military equipment, such as aircraft carriers and midair refuelling aircraft, which go beyond weapons of self defence and are required when attacking the territory of an enemy nation.
While arming the country in this way, the leaders of Japan have been constantly using the threat of North Korea and China as an excuse.
But in the early nineties, even before the threat from China appeared, Japan’s average annual military spending was already the second in the world.
One of the factors behind Japan’s militarisation is the movement of the country’s mainstream politics towards the right. For almost 40 years from the mid-1950s Japanese politics has been controlled by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, but the Socialist Party and the Communist Party played a restraining role.
However, this configuration was broken by the economic crisis of the 1990s and the rightward drift of the Socialist and Communist Parties. In this context, when Koizumi came to power in 2001, the rightward shift of the whole political sphere was accelerated.
In fact, Koizumi and Abe Shinzo, the general secretary of the Liberal Democratic Party, and others have been called the Japanese Neocons. They are leading the drive to revise the Japanese constitution and carry out the policy of remilitarisation.
The support of the US is also playing a considerable role in the country’s militarisation. But it is a miscalculation to think that Japan’s increase in military expenditure has only come about because the US wants it.
Japan has felt the need for increased military spending since the 1970s. The opportunity to start this in earnest came with the end of the Cold War and, particularly, with the Gulf War of 1990-91.
Although Japan contributed some $13 billion to the Gulf war, it continued to be excluded from rights over Middle East oil. The majority of Japan’s ruling class was shocked by this and felt that they had to strengthen the country’s military power.
These moves for hegemony were mainly directed toward Asia. Already by the early 1970s Japan had overtaken the US to become the largest investor in the region. The ‘stability’ of the adjacent region is also one of the necessary basic conditions for Japan to stretch toward becoming a hegemonic state.
But Japan’s ambitions are not limited to East Asia. A preparatory document for the December 2004 “Outline of a new defence plan” entitled “Report on security and war capability”, published in October 2004, makes this clear:
“Japan’s current prosperity is founded on global interdependence. But if one looks at this the other way around, it means that disturbances that arise in other parts of the world can weaken Japan.
“Because Japan relies on other countries for the majority of its energy and resources, if the region that encompasses the Middle East, Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia becomes unstable or traffic through shipping routes becomes impossible the consequences could be massive.”
April 18, 2005
I’ve always been slightly confused by the North Korean government’s fondness for royalty. The Lonely Planet guide to Korea (1997 edition, p400) notes in its section on things to buy in North Korea:
You might enjoy the stamps featuring North Korea’s version of the space shuttle, but even more bizarre are the stamps proudly displaying the British royal family. Just why Charles and Diana are more popular in North Korea than in the UK awaits some scholarly resarch.
I suppose hereditary leaders are not exactly a foreign concept in the North.
April 17, 2005
Tensions between China and Japan seem to continue rumbling along over textbooks, gas exploration rights and so on, but it is clear that the underlying issue is the shape of Northeast Asian geopolitics in the coming decades. One indication of how important this story is being seen around the world is the fact that it has been the top story on BBC News Online all weekend. I’ve been meaning to translate at least some of Kim Yong-uk’s excellent analysis of Japan’s current manoeuvering in the latest issue of Ta Hamkke but haven’t had time yet. In the meantime, there’s a very interesting piece in Asia Times Online, which places the Chinese government very firmly behind the current anti-Japanese protests in Shenzhen, Shanghai and elsewhere.
Besides giving some evidence on how the government has backed and manipulated the protests, the author puts forward some possible reasons for ‘why and why now?’:
To be systematic about it, there seem to be three possibilities: 1) the government wants to divert attention from pressing domestic problems; 2) Communist Party factional issues are fought out in a strange arena; 3) Beijing wants leverage to stoke up nationalist fervor for international gain.
He concludes, correctly I think, that both nationalist distraction from domestic issues and international leverage are playing a role. There is no doubt that China is beginning to assert itself as a regional (and potentially global) economic and geo-political power. Of course, this does not mean that the anger many ordinary Chinese people are expressing does not have rational grounds (in history and present developments related to Japan) or that this anger that is being manipulated by the Chinese government is not genuine.
As the whales start what looks like a long and titanic battle, it is no wonder that the shrimp is groping desperately for some new policy that can miraculously ‘balance’ the demands of bitterly opposed competing powers.
April 13, 2005
The Korean socialist newspaper Ta Hamkke was inaccessible for a couple of weeks for some reason so I’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do. The latest issue has a section on the ‘changing imperialist powers in northeast asia.’ With articles like ‘Why is Japan winding up its neighbours?’ (일본은 왜 인접국들을 자극하는가?) it looks like it’ll be good reading.
The last issue (no. 52) had some very interesting pieces about the debates that the Tokto issue stirred on the left. I’d really like to translate some of this stuff, but I’m not sure I’ll have time. If you can read Korean there’s a good article by Chông Chin-hûi entitled ‘Tokto, Imperialism and Resistance‘ as well as a letter about whether it is chauvinistic to burn the Japanese flag.
To put it very briefly, Chông Chin-hûi’s piece is a critique of people she calls ‘abstract internationalists’ (추상적 국제주의자들) and autonomists (not sure whether this is the correct translation of 자유주의자들 in this context) who have strongly criticised the role of the Democratic Labour Party (민노당) in leading protests over Tokto. They have called the actions of the party chauvinistic and argued that it could lose its reputation as a progressive party. Chông however, argues that they are wrong and that the nationalistic response of Koreans to the Tokto issue is not necessarily rightwing or something that will benefit the Korean ruling class. The article also contains passing criticism of Han Kyu-han’s article on the history of Tokto from last year that I’ve quoted from before, which is closer to the ‘abstract internationalist’ view.
From the perspective of an outsider, one of the interesting things is that this sort of debate can occur on the Korean left. Now there is not only a debate between the nationalist left and the internationalist left over how to respond to this sort of issue, but also between internationalists and those who take a more extreme anti-nationalist position.
April 12, 2005
I’m very sad to hear that one of my childhood heroes has sold out. I suppose this is what happens when you get into your mid-thirties.
“We are not putting him on a diet, and we would never take the position of no sugar,” said Dr Rosemarie T Truglio, the show’s vice president of research and education. “We’re teaching him moderation.”
April 11, 2005
I’ve finally got my hands on a copy of the Guardian’s brilliant supplement on multicultural London: “London: the world in one city. A special celebration of the most cosmopolitan place on earth,” which was published in the January 21 edition. You can look at it online, but unfortunately the huge colour map of ‘ethnic concentrations‘ and the maps of ethnic and religious population densities don’t work so well in pdf form (unless you have a very large colour printer). Aside from the obvious things (Edgeware Road is a Lebanese/Arab concentration; Brixton is Jamaican; Brick Lane is Bangladeshi; Elephant and Castle is Columbian/Ecuadorian), the big map taught me all sorts of things about my own city that I would never have known. For example, that Balham High Street is Polish, Chessington is Tamil, Hanger Hill is both Japanese and Iranian, and Chichele Road is Baltic/East European.
Among the articles in the supplement, there’s a nice, if somewhat unrevealing, piece on London’s Koreatown: New Malden. There’s definitely still something very new and slightly transient about the London Korean community as this comment from an interviewee makes clear:
“We are looked upon as a very unusual community,” she says, “because we don’t really open up to other communities in the borough.” Language, it seems, is the main enemy. “Even though I’ve been here so long, I still have problems,” admits Ree, who is so English that she takes a box of PG Tips with her when she visits Korea.
If you want a bit of a feel of what it’s like round my way, check out this piece on the West African community of Peckham.