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    Run-up

    Posted by Sean at 03:37, November 4th, 2006

    Since I’ve already cast my vote, I can settle in to enjoying the frantic final week before the election with no pressure.

    For US Senate, I ultimately decided on Casey. I know, I know: The power elite among the Democrats are traitors who want to promulgate the Culture of Death and you can’t expect the GOP to be perfect and anyway I’m just throwing a fit because Santorum won’t let me marry my dog.

    I really did have serious misgivings when I was filling out my absentee ballot, but they’re dissipating. To find out why, consider Peggy Noonan’s latest column (via Michael). I like Noonan very much. Her writing style isn’t showy, but she has a distinctive voice–careful and sober and considered. It’s a voice that makes her love of America come across very movingly, especially when she talks about the textures of daily life or personal interactions.

    Unfortunately, it’s a voice that also betrays her when she says stupid things. There’s nothing worse than saying something way-ass dumb while making it clear that you’re thinking real hard about it:

    Rick Santorum’s career (two Senate terms, before that two in the House) suggests he has thought a great deal about the balance, and concluded that in our time the national is the local. Federal power is everywhere; so are the national media. (The biggest political change since JFK’s day is something he, 50 years ago, noted: the increasing nationalization of everything.) And so he has spoken for, and stood for, the rights of the unborn, the needs of the poor, welfare reform when it was controversial, tax law to help the family; against forcing the nation to accept a redefining of marriage it does not desire, for religious freedom here and abroad, for the helpless in Africa and elsewhere. It is all, in its way, so personal. And so national. He has breached the gap with private action: He not only talks about reform of federal law toward the disadvantaged, he hires people in trouble and trains them in his offices.

    One thing that’s really starting to get on my nerves: Can we please stop referring to politicians who are publicly opposed to gay marriage as if they were being brave and taking a political risk? Such a stance may get you into hot water at certain cocktail parties and rubber-chicken dinners, but voters have demonstrated in state after state that they concur with it.

    Anyway, the things Noonan discusses–Santorum’s prankish sense of humor, his genuine gratitude at the support he gets, his concern for the Casey family as human beings, his personal efforts to help individuals in straitened circumstances become self-sufficient–are all wonderful. They speak well of the man. But we’re not voting for a church choir director.

    Santorum genuinely does seem to voice his beliefs more candidly than most senators; but then, who wouldn’t look like a straight-shooter next to Arlen Specter? Speaking of Specter, Jacob Sullum hasn’t forgotten that Santorum supported him in the last primary against challenger Pat Toomey (an odd choice for someone who’s restoring principledness to the GOP). Additionally…

    I realize social conservatives are a big part of NR’s audience, but Miller offers economic conservatives, the other major component of Frank Meyer’s grand fusion, little reason to root for Santorum, aside from the fact that he supported welfare reform (so did Bill Clinton) and “has served as a leader” on Social Security, which seems to mean he favors Bush-style baby steps toward “personal” (not “private”) retirement accounts. On the down side, he opposed NAFTA, supported steel tariffs, and considers Bush’s immigration reforms “too lax.”

    And Sullum didn’t even mention the $20 million-ish in federal money Santorum scored for farmland preservation in the commonwealth.

    My point here isn’t that Santorum is a closet social democrat, or even that he’s been a bad senator on balance. My point is just that going off the deep end and portraying him as an implacable opponent of federal waste and mission creep is ridiculous. He plays the game just like his ninety-nine colleagues, and it’s condescending for opinion-shapers to cherry-pick his record in the hopes of convincing us otherwise.


    On edge

    Posted by Sean at 02:16, October 10th, 2006

    WTF? The US Embassy here in Tokyo sent out a notice to those of us on the mailing list to say that the DPRK’s reported nuclear test does not mean that American citizens are at risk in Japan at the moment. Also, the embassy is operating normally.

    Can someone give these people a shot of brandy? We’re talking about a single test. An important test. A scary test. A test with a lot of implications for regional and global politics. But a test. There’s no indication that North Korea has even one deployable nuclear missile, let alone that it’s aimed at Japan. I understand the need for caution, but assuring us that the embassy is still open for business seems so…flighty. It makes me wonder whether hysterical expats have been calling and asking whether they need to fly back home. Surely not?

    Added later: Okay, I’m a little bit less edgy myself after having dealt with my e-mail backlog. When I went back and reread the message more carefully, I realized it was referring to “health risks”–presumably from the radioactive material that might have been released by the nuclear detonation. That makes a certain amount of sense: yellow dust that drifts over from Chinese industrial cities is a big problem in South Korea and parts of Japan.


    美しい国、日本

    Posted by Sean at 22:47, September 20th, 2006

    Surprise! It’s Abe.

    I mean, the next president of the LDP and therefore Prime Minister of Japan will be Shinzo Abe. He got 66% of the vote. Of course, that’s internal. The public has been ambivalent, despite Abe’s Clinton-ish way of addressing himself to the average middle-class citizen and even as reports hammered away at the near-inevitability of an Abe win.

    It now remains to be seen how his “beautiful country” plan will take shape. He’s promised to deepen ties with the US while repairing relations with the PRC and the Koreas. Sounds good, but it’s hard to tell what concrete approach he plans to take. He’s been one of the highest-profile members of the Koizumi administration to make pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, which is hardly a way to endear oneself to the rest of East Asia. He’s also in favor of amending the constitution, and there’s little doubt he’s referring to Article 9 (which contains the non-aggression clause). How far does he want to go in restoring military capability to Japan? No one’s sure.

    Economically, the guy’s a wild card, too. Koizumi was an economic liberal from the get-go; he brought in Heizo Takenaka and, as much as possible, gave him carte blanche when it came to banking and finance reform. The bills for privatization of Japan Post ended up going through a predictable defanging process on the way to ratification, but Koizumi was willing to draw a line in the sand over them. Abe wants to control deflation, doesn’t think the Allied military tribunal that sentenced Japanese war criminals (yeah, I’m begging the question there…you know what I mean) was just, and doesn’t seem to want schoolchildren learning about comfort women during World War II.

    Since it’s not clear what his prime policy directives are, it’s not clear what his deal-breakers are. He’s obviously pretty nationalist by personal conviction, but he lacks the long-standing network of powerful connections to make it likely that he’ll be able to push through controversial pet proposals. He doesn’t seem to have the force of personality to convince people to put aside their doubts, but he will need allies–the LDP is not in the most secure position itself. We should begin to see pretty rapidly what will be the driving force behind his policies when his beliefs hit reality. You can bet that the rest of East Asia, in addition to the Japanese public, will be watching.


    Vehicles moving in North Korea

    Posted by Sean at 01:13, September 3rd, 2006

    The ROK reports (via the Nikkei) that the DPRK may be preparing for another missile test in December:

    South Korea’s Yonhap News Service reported on 3 September that there is a possibility that North Korea will launch more missiles in continuation of its 5 July tests. The report is from informed sources in the ROK government, which say that US-Korean information agencies captured [images] of several large transport vehicles moving in the area of the missile base at Gitdaeryeong, Gangwon Province.

    According to the same report, a different information agency official stated, “Since we cannot dismiss the possibility that North Korea will time a missile launch to coincide with talks between the US and the ROK, we are paying close attention to movements in regions of suspected missile bases and nuclear experiments.

    Reuters also reports that the PRC has managed to dig deep and find a little more neighborly feeling than is its wont lately:

    Yonhap also reported China is likely to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to visit this week in an effort to restore their relationship strained after North Korea’s missile tests in July.

    China is the North’s main benefactor. Beijing voted in support of a U.N. Security Council resolution chastising Pyongyang for the missile tests.

    Beijing was expected to convey its formal invitation to Kim early this week when its new ambassador to Pyongyang takes office, Yonhap reported, citing unnamed diplomatic sources in Seoul and Beijing.

    The US is still refusing to meet with the DPRK one-on-one, and the DPRK is still refusing to resume the 6-party talks until economic sanctions are lifted.


    Abnormal situation

    Posted by Sean at 01:36, July 16th, 2006

    Also re. the DPRK missile tests, the Asahi offers this item:

    At least 112 cases of assault, verbal abuse and harassing phone calls have targeted students at Korean schools nationwide in the week since North Korea test-fired seven missiles, officials said Friday.

    The 112 cases were reported by 20 Korean schools as of Thursday, according to officials of the union of Korean school teachers. Several more incidents were reported Friday, they said.

    There’s no excuse for such behavior, obviously. Targeting children for their elders’ perceived political beliefs is barbaric. Besides, there are many points of view represented among ethic Koreans here.

    At the same time, I don’t buy this response:

    The Korean schools are among 71 run by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun).

    “Our students and parents fear for their safety in this abnormal situation. The harassment is aimed at students across Japan, even elementary school students,” said Ku Dae Sok, principal of the Tokyo Korean Middle and High School in Kita Ward and chairman of the teachers’ union.

    “We cannot help feeling angry at the situation, as Japanese people have been falsely directing their warped anti-North Korea feelings against (long-term) Korean residents here, especially students,” Ku said.

    He said the Japanese government had stirred public anger with its harsh reaction to the missile launches. He urged the public to consider the recent problems between the two countries separately from the presence of Koreans in Japan.

    How’s that again? By all means, let’s expose and punish attacks on children. But Here‘s a very brief run-down on the Chongryun:

    Its organizational structure includes the headquarters in Tokyo, prefectural and regional head offices and branches with eighteen mass propaganda bodies and twenty-three business enterprises. Nearly one-third of the Japanese pachinko [pinball] industry is controlled by Chosen affiliates or supporters. Chosen remittences in hard currencies to Pyongyang have been variously estimated at between $600 million and $1.9 billion each year, with the most likely value in the lower to middle of this range. In recent years the amount has substantially decreased. In 1994, Japanese police testified that some $600 million was being sent to North Korea, though this amount has recently declined to $100 million a year or less.

    The Chosen Soren supports intelligence operations in Japan, assists in the infiltration of agents into South Korea, collects open source information, and diverts advanced technology for use by North Korea. North Korea uses several methods to acquire technology related to nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare and missiles. The Chosen Soren has among other activities an ongoing effort to acquire and export advanced technology to North Korea.

    Note that this does not indicate that these schools are fronts for espionage or anything like that. Who knows? Perhaps some are, but that isn’t my point. My point is that the Chongryun isn’t just an ethnic organization; it’s an ethnic organization that maintains close political and economic ties with the mother country. And the mother country happens to be testing missiles that could reach Japan. For anyone working for a Chongryun institution to call for people to consider Japan-DPRK conflicts “separately from the presence of Koreans in Japan” is ludicrous.


    全面的に拒否

    Posted by Sean at 01:01, July 16th, 2006

    The UN Security Council resolution on the DPRK’s missile tests went along predictable lines:

    The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday for a resolution requiring nations to prevent North Korea from getting dangerous weapons and demanding Pyongyang halt its ballistic missile program.

    North Korea immediately “totally rejected” the resolution. Its U.N. Ambassador Pak Gil Yon told the council that Pyongyang’s missile development served “to keep the balance of force and preserving peace and stability in Northeast Asia.”

    Agreement came after Japan and the United States bowed to a veto threat from China and dropped a reference to a provision in the U.N. Charter, usually used to impose mandatory sanctions. In turn, China and Russia accepted stronger language in the resolution than they had first proposed.

    The resolution requires all U.N. member states “in accordance with their national legal authorities” to prevent imports and exports of any material or funds relating to the reclusive Communist nation’s missile programs or weapons of mass destruction.

    It demands North Korea “suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program,” and re-establish a moratorium on the launching of missiles.

    The Nikkei report additionally mentions that North Korea has accused Japan of using the missile test issue as a point of departure for “internationalizing” the abductee issue.

    Internally here in Japan, the spin is that the resolution was a good thing for Japan:

    Early on 16 July, Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso spoke to the Foreign Ministry press corps about the unanimous adoption of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the DPRK: “North Korea must see this as a decisive message from the international community. There is no change to the binding power [of the resolution].”

    He’s referring to the compromise on Chapter 7 of the UN charter, the result of which was to water down commitments to sanctions against the DPRK. “There is more power in a unanimous vote” than in allowing Japan’s proposed tougher resolution to fail, said Aso.

    On the morning of 16 July, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe also made a public statement: “This nation sought ‘a resolution powerful enough to bind [member nations] to responses including sanctions,’ and [the version adopted] reflects that position; we were able to articulate the decisive will of the international community.” He also called for action on the abductee issue: “All surviving abductees should be repatriated immediately.”

    So that’s that for now. Fingers have been duly wagged at Pyongyang, but the PRC and Russia haven’t committed even nominally to sticking it to the DPRK. And, as usual, for all the blather about the unified front presented by the international community, the real lesson for the five countries in Northeast Asia is quite the opposite. Each has been pointedly reminded yet again why it doesn’t trust any of the others–both in terms of motivation and in terms of the ability to assess danger accurately. At least no one appears poised to blow anyone else up in the foreseeable future, so, you know, well played overall.


    More about missiles

    Posted by Sean at 09:05, July 10th, 2006

    So is everyone else on the edge of his seat like us in Japan…you know, waiting to see whether the chair of the UN Security Council will set the DPRK on its ear by deeming its missile tests “not all that neighborly” or “very naughty”? In between errands, I’ve been watching NHK’s reporting. Today we were very pointedly informed the cool and not-so-cool people are (as in this Yomiuri article):

    Japan, Britain, France and the United States on Friday jointly submitted to an informal U.N. Security Council meeting a resolution condemning North Korea’s missile launches.

    Clauses referring to sanctions in an original draft crafted by Japan had been modified.

    “All options are on the table,” he said, suggesting China has not ruled out the possibility of vetoing the resolution.

    According to sources, Russia, which has called for the issuance of a U.N. Security Council presidential statement, did not speak out during the meeting. Some U.N. diplomats have interpreted this silence as an indication it will abstain from voting.

    China and Russia can veto the resolution, abstain from voting, or demand that it be modified.

    I didn’t catch all the numbers, but NHK also reported the results of its latest poll. Unfortunately, the interesting parts don’t seem to be posted: IIRC, 69% of respondents thought Japan should pursue economic sanctions against the DPRK. (Remember that the Japanese are thinking not only about missile testing but also about the still-unresolved issue of the Japanese abductees.) A plurality, if not a majority, believed that Japan’s best avenue for pushing its North Korea policy was the UNSC; somewhat fewer thought it was the G7.

    The Koizumi administration appears to have other ideas:

    Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga said the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) should have the capability to attack foreign countries’ missile bases following North Korea’s test-launch last week of seven missiles.

    “As an independent state, Japan should have the minimum capability (to attack foreign countries’ missile bases) within the framework of the Constitution to protect its people,” Nukaga told reporters on Sunday.

    “We shouldn’t jump to conclusions even though such a situation (the test firing of missiles) occurred. I’d like the ruling coalition partners to thoroughly discuss the issue,” Nukaga said.

    He made the remarks in response to North Korea’s test-firing of seven missiles, including Taepodong 2 long-range ballistic missiles, last week.

    His view was shared by Foreign Minister Taro Aso. “It’s absolutely right (to attack missile bases within the framework of Japan’s right to self-defense) to protect the safety of the people,” he told an NHK program on Sunday.

    The original Japanese story has Nukaga continuing: “As things are now, we have the Japan-US alliance, and we’ve been sharing [defense] roles. Strikes against enemy territory would be carried out by the US.”

    Instapundit’s newest podcast, featured Austin Bay and Jim Dunnigan and was mostly about the North Korea situation. It provides a good primer on the diplomatic power plays involved. If you live in East Asia, it’s also a good reminder that a lot about your everyday reality is news to people elsewhere (for example, the commonalities between Great Britain and Japan that are based on their both being island countries).

    There was one moment that made me say, “WHAT?!” Jim Dunnigan said something on the order of “I’ve asked South Koreans I know whether being prickly and taking offense easily is a Korean characteristic, and they said, ‘Not really,'” which he appeared to take at face value.

    Please. The Koreans are in fact notoriously touchy about their position in East Asia…and do you wonder? Like Poland (just to spread the comparisons to Europe around), Korea has spent much of its history being overrun by its larger, hungrier neighbors. And look what’s happened in the last half-century: Japan went from the humiliated pariah of the industrialized world to an economic titan that, for a decade or so, had academics and managers from the West looking to it reverently for secrets of success. China and Japan have had a massive tastemaking influence on global popular culture. Korea’s coolness factor in Asia has increased noticeably over the last several years, and the ROK’s economic growth since democratization has won much admiration from business analysts; still, nternational consciousness about Korea remains relatively low. I doubt many people sit around in Seoul seething about this in any focused way, but the feeling that Korea is misunderstood and put-upon is hard to miss.

    Of course, the North has the additional problem of a non-functioning economy. It’s hemorrhaging refugees. Have I mentioned the word 脱北 (dappoku: “escape to the north”) lately? Oh, yeah–I haven’t mentioned anything lately because I haven’t posted. Well, it’s a compound that, whatever its origins and at least in Japan, is used exclusively to refer to defecting from the DPRK over its border with the PRC. That is, the phenomenon has its own word. Jim Dunnigan, I think, mentioned that word about what a hellhole North Korea is has arrived in the South. It’s arrived in Japan, also, largely through Japanese nationals who’ve returned from the DPRK. All of which is to say, the DPRK knows that, aside from the occasional puff piece by gullible lefty sympathizers from the West, how bad things have gotten there is no longer a secret.

    One last stray thing: The NHK report I watched last night struck me as odd for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on. Then, while a later segment about the opening of a border checkpoint between India and the PRC–you can bet the Japanese are watching how trade relations are going to develop between those two!–it hit me. The experts interviewed had all talked about how Japan’s options for responding to the missile tests would be limited by whether the US was willing to back it up. What was strange was that they seemed to be regarding the tests as a regional problem, as if the US had no reason to get involved except to do right by its primary East Asian ally. Of course, that’s part of it. We’ve known since 1998 that the DPRK can get missiles to Japan. (That was a fun day to watch NHK, too, IIRC.) But North Korea not only likes to get antsy about perceived US threats to its sovereignty and develop ICBMs but also likes to drag big-guns backers such as the PRC and Russia into things. The Koizumi administration appears to understand the import of that; it was strange that the commentators didn’t.


    More projectiles

    Posted by Sean at 10:10, July 7th, 2006

    Today’s lead editorial in the Nikkei sensibly wonders whether reactions to the DPRK’s missile shenanigans from the PRC and Russia will do more harm than good:

    The countries on which North Korea, which has launched several successive ballistic [test] missiles over the Sea of Japan, most relies are surely China and Russia. One can see this in the way they responded to the joint proposal by the US and Japan that the United Nations Security Council issue a condemnation of North Korea with a push for the statement issued by the chairman to express criticism [but] have no real restraining power. North Korea has announced that it will continue to launch missiles; the result of China and Russia’s position is that the DPRK is emboldened, and the security of both countries themselves is threatened.

    On 6 July, a spokesman for the DPRK Minister of Foreign Affairs officially acknowledged the launching of the ballistic missile and stated that the DPRK will have no choice but to take even more unwavering, physically active measures in other forms if (1) it continues missile experiments from here on as one component of its strengthening of its defensive strike capability and (2) anyone attempts to pressure it [into not doing so, presumably]. The second stage will apparently involve keeping a close watch on the movements of the UNSC.

    Something worth noting that informs but isn’t explicit anywhere in the Nikkei editorial: Japan’s deep and long-standing distrust of its two giant continental neighbors. It’s hardly misplaced in this situation. Russia’s ambassador to the UN has warned against getting too emotional over the attempted Taepodong 2 launch, and I think so-and-so party leader in the PRC urged everyone toward “calm.”

    Well, all right. But it’s also worth noting that DPRK leaders seem to find a slight froth of righteous indignation on the part of its adversaries perversely affirming. Makes them feel like important geopolitical players or something, I guess. Given the humiliating failure of the Taepodong 2–which wasn’t exactly predictable but is hardly a surprise–the DPRK may receive censure with somewhat more rawness than usual. But still, one might have expected China and Russia to allow for a bit more sternness with their friends in North Korea, if only out of long-term self-interest.


    He’ll be dead in a minute

    Posted by Sean at 23:44, July 5th, 2006

    You know how I said things were settling down a few weeks ago? Well, they weren’t really. However, they are now. I’ve hired a few new people at work (including an assistant), and everyone seems to be starting off fine–as measured by the amount of decrease I can feel in my own workload. I’m still a little shellshocked, though, and may take a few days to get back into posting regularly–it’s kind of too bad that my busy-ness coincided with such trivial Japan-US news as the Bush-Koizumi karaoke party, the DPRK missile test, and the new effusions about the beef ban. I mean, I guess it’s too bad if you think of me as a fount of wisdom about Japan news. Luckily, no wars seem to be starting, either over missile tests or over amateur desecrations of Elvis songs.

    Anyway, thanks again to those who are still checking back, and to those who’ve kept writing occasionally to make sure I hadn’t disappeared.


    DPRK may (or may not) test Taepodong 2 missile

    Posted by Sean at 22:48, June 18th, 2006

    As of this morning, it’s still considered possible that the DPRK will test-fire its long-range Taepodong 2 missile:

    On 18 June, US White House press secretary [Tony] Snow warned North Korea about apparent signs that it will test-fire its Taepodong 2 long-range ballistic missile: “If a test-fire is conducted, we will have to make a correct and appropriate response.” He avoided mentioning any concrete [measures], but seems to have been thinking of filing a report with the United Nations Security Council or cooperating with other interested nations to impose sanctions.

    The Nikkei is citing a CNN interview that I’ve managed not to see. Whether I’ve back-translated Snow’s diplomat-o-lect accurately, I don’t know. Over here, Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso is taking a less-bland stance:

    Japan will immediately ask the United Nations for an emergency Security Council meeting if Pyongyang launches the Taepodong 2 missile now on a launch pad in North Korea, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Sunday.

    Japan will also consider imposing economic sanctions against North Korea if the country fires the missile, Aso said.

    The ballistic missile is believed capable of hitting the west coast of the United States.

    “We will discuss which measure we will take, as we have several alternatives including (putting an embargo on) the North Korean cargo ferry Man Gyong Bong-92 and several other means,” Aso told reporters.

    Whether Japan would consider it a pre-emptive strike if a missile is fired and hits Japanese soil would depend on the circumstances, Aso added.

    The Yomiuri has a somewhat different interpretation (and it does sound as if both articles were talking about the same appearance by Aso):

    Aso also mentioned the possibility of the missile reaching Japan. “I don’t think the missile would fly correctly even if North Korea intends to fire the missile to land in the sea. We have to consider the possibility that the missile will mistakenly fall on Japanese territory,” the foreign minister said.

    Japan isn’t really in the position of late to be getting all smirky over the ability of other countries to launch projectiles accurately, but of course the issue is a real one. Yesterday, the word was that spy images were showing little new activity, so the excitement died down a little. The DPRK doesn’t seem to have issued any kind of public statement, either of the “nothing to worry about” or of the “how dare you interfere in our private military affairs!” variety. Assuming the test-firing is carried out and doesn’t go awry in a way that provokes a serious incident–say, the missile ends up falling on an apartment building in Sapporo–the usual condemnations are likely to be as far as things are taken.