When will they ever learn?

Monday, October 23 2006 @ 02:50 PM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto


(Left) Rice plays same old tune
(Center) Li looking self-complacent
(Right) Aso in euphoria

More and more things are getting commoditized these days - practically everything from democracy, to peace, to love, to the quotas on emissions of greenhouse gases. Time is one of them. You can't but accept the plain fact that the trend looks irreversible now. I have difficulty, however, understanding the market behavior of the time segment. Despite the perennially bullish sentiment on time, a buyers' market situation has stuck there in recent years, especially in this part of the globe, with the Chinese and North Koreans dominating the game all the time. It looks as though there are some market participants who are unaware that they, too, are running out of it.

Another intriguing thing is that the Japanese are now on the selling side of time. Traditionally they were known to be its diligent buyers because since the mid-19th century, they had to play catchup in order to make up for the huge loss of time resulting from the seclusion policy that lasted more than two centuries. In retrospect, though, Japan had to shift its position from the other side a little prematurely because of the merciless gaiatsu pressure Ronald Reagan put on it at the height of the bubble economy through the Japan-U.S. Structural Impediments Initiative (SII). Obviously it was totally unrealistic to assume that by the end of the 1980s the Japanese had gotten over the effect brought about by the absence of contact with the external world for more than 200 years, given another decades of isolation in the prewar and wartime period.

It's been said among market dealers that the most important thing for a dealer is to judge when to sell the stuff and when to buy it back. In that respect the Japanese should all be disqualified from dealing in this particular item of commodity. I think this all stems from the premature opening-up of the nation forced by Reagan who had by then grown fed up with Japan's procrastination policy. As a result Japanese leaders and diplomats now think that they are still buying time when Japan is actually allowing China and North Korea to keep stalling for it at the cost of its own interests.

On October 14, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted yet another punitive resolution - Resolution 1718 - to step up by a notch sanctions against North Korea. Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso and his U.N. envoy Kenzo Oshima did a good job when coming up with a draft for the Resolution, which was reviewed by American U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and later watered down by their Chinese counterparts. When it comes to word games, which is what diplomacy was all about in the good old days, Japanese can still demonstrate their ingenious ability. But unfortunately for them, diplomacy is no longer a matter of ratcheting rhetoric up and down. Today's diplomacy is, in fact, a deal in time. So it's no wonder that when working on the draft, the Japanese experts in English composition didn't know what they were writing about.

The Resolution says: "All Member States shall, in accordance with their respective legal processes, freeze immediately the funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on their territories." And to date, the Japanese government has frozen one bank account opened by Pyongyang-based Tanchon Commercial Bank which had had no transaction since more than 10 years ago. And the balance in that account was less than US$ 1,000. The depositor must have forgotten that he stashed away his pocket money there.

The Resolution also says: "All Member States are called upon to take, in accordance with their national authorities and legislation [snip], cooperative action including through inspection of cargo to and from the DPRK, as necessary." And back home, Japan's contingency legislation is not construed to accommodate such an action as a lawful emergency measure. Therefore, the crippled nation is once again taking on a backseat role by assisting the Americans in fulfilling the self-mandated U.N. obligations.

That's how China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya could buy time once again at a bargain price, in part on behalf of North Korea, and in part for its own use. Actually the fact remains that for the part of Japan, time has already sold out for quite a while now. So Japan is getting more and more into the futures market and running a "short position" on time with a wishful thinking that its prices will lower in the foreseeable future.

China is also running out of time. But unlike Japan, it did the right thing - trying to "square" its oversold position caused by its hectic selling to Kim Jong Il's regime which must have been dead a long time ago without China's support. So it's no wonder that back home, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing was so exalted by the profitable deal that he couldn't refrain from boldly hugging Condoleezza Rice when the U.S. Secretary of State later visited Beijing to make sure China was ready to take steps required by the Resolution.

On the first leg of her East Asia tour, Rice visited Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Foreign Minister Aso in Tokyo. At that time she was still playing, though a little absentmindedly, the same old tune about the six-party framework and other dead babies such as the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The U.S. Secretary of State must have been too much preoccupied with the upcoming midterm elections and the quagmires her country is facing in Iraq and Iran. But surprisingly, Aso, alone, kept dancing to that sickly tune. All along the diplomacy-illiterate Foreign Minister was all smiles.

The media were no different. They hailed the Resolution as yet another diplomatic victory won by the solid alliance between the U.S. and Japan. They had to admit that some concession was needed along the way. And yet they insisted that it was a "win-win compromise" (The Daily Yomiuri, Oct. 15). To them, the alliance could once again successfully press Beijing to put a pressure on Pyongyang to refrain from repeating the nuclear test and return to the six-party talks "immediately and unconditionally."

Yet they couldn't specifically tell what exactly could be expected from the rubble of the six-way framework and how Japan could play a role any more than a token one, if and when the talks are resumed. They were just parroting Condi Rice's boilerplate statements. And as to the U.S.-Japan alliance, you have to be blindfolded to take it for granted that there still is such a thing between the two neighbors across the Pacific Ocean. A parent can't have a partnership with his infant child.

By now, however, some of them have started feeling somewhat uneasy in the wake of the largely made-up "nuclear/missile crisis" with an inkling that something is fundamentally wrong with the course of action Japan has taken since the end of WWII. Amid the crisis, Shoichi Nakagawa, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party's Policy Research Council, said that maybe it's about time to start seriously discussing Japan's nuclearization.

But of course, it's no option anymore today because that's what should have been done before the NPT was ratified here 30 years ago. Now the U.S. and China are firmly tied with a common interest in keeping this archipelago nuclear-free even when the entire region is nuclearized, or aligned under the China's umbrella in the not-too-distant future.

Here again the Japanese have proved hopelessly goofy dealers of time. In 1964 China did what North Korea is doing in 2006 and has been granted the prestigious status of NWS (Nuclear Weapons State) in the framework of the NPT since 1992. All this while Japan has clung to the absurd antinuclear mantra based on a sheer non sequitur that Japan is mandated to adhere to the principle at any cost as the first and only victim of the A-bombs. And it's too late now for the nation to take any meaningful step to counter what is going on in East Asia.

If there still is hope, there are a handful of relatively sober-minded pundits who have a certain amount of commonsense. They can tell, for instance, that a frail nation whose GDP is one-250th of Japan's couldn't have developed and manufactured nuclear weaponry and ballistic missiles only with technological assistance rendered by Pakistan and Iran. They can also tell the transparent truth about the recent trip to Pyongyang by Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan. When Tang came home from North Korea on October 19, he said, "Fortunately this time, my visit has not been in vain." These pundits, however, interpreted Tang's statement like this: "Fortunately or unfortunately, I failed to persuade Comrade Kim not to repeat the tests and to return to the negotiating table."

As a matter of fact Japan's diplomacy has already fallen apart as Yoshihisa Komori, an exceptionally independent-minded Sankei journalist, and Toshimitsu Shigemura, an international politics professor at Waseda University, have pointed out in their recent books. But even these writers all fell short of explaining why Japan's diplomacy has been totally petrified. Perhaps that is because the collapse of diplomacy has more to do with a matter of commonsense than theories that the armchair critics can think of.

A long time ago, Confucius, or one of his disciples, said to this effect: "In order to dominate the world, one must first govern his own nation. And before being able to rule over the whole nation, he must manage his own household. And to do so, he must govern himself, first and foremost." (修身斉家治国平天下). The Japanese people should know that even a Chinese can turn out such an insightful view, albeit once in a millennium.

It's no wonder that Japanese leaders and diplomats could/will never win the bloody diplomatic war because they are now on the wrong side of the deal, selling time like hell while having no idea about where to buy it back. If they think they can count on us for time with which to square their short position, they are simply wrong because this is their headache, not ours. What's more, time is running out on us, too.


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