Fri, Nov 22, 2013
Japan’s foreign policy quirks

In 1972, a Mainichi Shimbun journalist, Takichi Nishiyama, was prosecuted for disclosing a secret Japan-U.S. agreement whereby Japan would shoulder $4 million of the expenses for the transfer of Okinawa back to Japanese sovereignty. The government insisted there was no secret agreement.

Four million dollars was not a large amount — disclosed U.S. records have since shown secret agreements for more than $200 million. But even after the text of the $4 million agreement was released by the U.S. under its statuary 25 year declassification rule, Tokyo continued to insist there were no secret agreements. But how can you prosecute someone for disclosing a document you say does not exist?

In 2006 the declassified document was shown on television together with former Gaimusho North Americas Bureau chief Bunroku Yoshino, whose signature lay at the bottom. Earlier when serving in the Gaimusho Yoshino had denied the existence of the agreement. But in retirement he was quite happy to appear before the public agreeing that the signature shown on the document was indeed his own. Yet questioned in the Diet, Shinzo Abe, then chief Cabinet secretary, continued to insist that the document did not exist.

We are often told about the tatemae and honne duality in Japanese morality — the one that allows you to say one thing even when you know the opposite to be true. But this, surely, is going too far.

Nor is it the only example. In 1951 Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which said unambiguously that Japan had renounced all right, claim and title the Kurile Islands. Questioned in the Diet on Oct. 19, 1951, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Legal Affairs Bureau, Kumao Nishimura, agreed that the Kurile Islands mentioned in the treaty included the southern Kuriles islands of Etorufu and Kunashiri.

Yet just four years later Tokyo began to insist that these two islands were not included, that they were part of something called the Northern Territories — which it claimed as its own. As for the Nishimura statement, various officials at various times have insisted that it was for domestic consumption only, or that it was a mistake, or that it has since been retracted, or that it does not even exist (even though I have a copy taken from the Diet verbatim records).

Yet on this flimsy basis Tokyo continues to insist that it never renounced its claim to the two islands and that unless they are returned not just a peace treaty but also normal relations with its important northern neighbor in the former Soviet Union will continue to be refused. It comes down heavily on any opinion or policy leader who dares say otherwise.

China, too, suffers from this split morality. In 1972 and 1978 it seems clear that in talks with Beijing on opening relations, both Japan and China agreed verbally to shelve the issue of ownership of the Senkaku islands in the East China sea. Even Japanese journalists and ex-Foreign Ministry officials present at the talks agree that there was such an agreement. But Tokyo denies point blank that there was any agreement and is even prepared to accept long-term confrontation over the issue.

Toward North Korea it seems that anything can go. First Tokyo reneges on a 2002 promise that the five former abductees allowed to visit Japan that year should then be allowed to return to families back in Pyongyang. Then it insists, contrary to all scientific evidence, that an improbable DNA test on some charred bones proves that North Korea is lying when it says there no more abductees in North Korea. On this basis it imposes severe sanctions on North Korea and reneges on a promise to open a relations office in North Korea that would be needed to help discover whether in fact there were more abductees.

As it seeks allies in its growing confrontation with China, Tokyo makes much of its shared democratic values with Western and hoped for Asian allies. One of those key values is the willingness to debate and accept contrary views. But in Japan critical views are not welcomed. Tokyo is now revising its school textbooks so that they present only official Japanese view on foreign policy questions. Are these supposed to be Western democratic values? They seem much closer to those of the dictatorial, non-democratic societies, like the China that Japan criticizes.

Various factors seem involved in Tokyo’s strange behavior. One is the cleanliness factor — the desire to put a lid on messy situations syndrome (kusai mono ni futa wo suru). That can be admirable in some situations. But not when it is used to justify the destruction or hiding of crucial documents. Another is the belief that I have run into when writing about Japan, namely that there is one reality for Japan and other for the rest of the world — the isolationist, head-in-the-sand syndrome. So revelations of global spying activities by Western powers can be shrugged off as some weird foreigner activity, even when Japan is a victim. And then there is the strange kotodama concept — the idea that words have their own spirit. So statements constantly repeated can change the reality, even when they are not true or certain. Denials have the opposite effect, and should be silenced.

It all takes me back to the days I once spent in the “nuclear village” safety committees where they seemed to think that if they constantly repeated the mantra of nuclear safety, and ignored the critics, then Japan would be safe from accidents. To voice the possibility of accidents would somehow encourage accidents. Also, we were told, nuclear accidents were something that happened to other people but not to Japan — more head in the sand.

We now realize these were not very good ways to run a nuclear energy program. Nor do they make for good foreign policies.



400万ドルは大した金ではない。―― その後アメリカで公開された記録によると、2億ドル以上に上る秘密協定があった。しかしアメリカで、25年間秘密保持の文献が公開され400万ドル協定のテキストが公けになった後でも、東京は、秘密協定はなかったと否定し続けた。しかし、あなたが存在しないと否定し続けた文書を誰かが公けにしたからといって、その人を訴えるということができようか。


われわれはよく、日本人の道徳においてタテマエとホンネの二重構造について聴かされる。―― 君が実際には、真実はその反対だということを知っていながら、あることを主張するのを許してしまう道徳。しかしこの場合は、たしかに、あまりにも行き過ぎだった。


――東京は日本のものと主張―― と呼ばれるものの一部だ、といい始めた。西村言明に関しては、いろんな場面で、それは国内向けの発言だったとか、それは間違いだったとか、あるいはそれはその後撤回されたとか、さらにはそれはなかったとか(国会の質問の議事録のコピーが私の手元にあるのに)、言い分はさまざまだ。



北朝鮮に対しては、なんでもありの様相を呈している。最初は、東京は2002年の約束― その年日本を訪れることを認められた5人の前拉致者は家族のいる平壌に戻る― を破った。次は、科学的根拠を無視して、無理だといわれている焼かれた骨のDNAテストを実施し、もう拉致者は残っていないという北朝鮮の言い分がうそだという証拠にされた。



東京の奇妙な性癖にはさまざまな要因が含まれているようだ。ひとつはキレイ好き(異様なものを排除する潔癖さ)―“臭いものには蓋をする”性癖。ある場合はこれは讃えるべき性質だ。しかし、これが重要文書の廃棄ないし隠匿を正当化するためとなると、そうは行かない。もうひとつは、私が日本について本を書いていたとき出合った確信だが、つまり、日本には一つの現実があり、世界の他の部分にはもう一つの現実がある― つまり、“ひとりよがり”(隠れ蓑:頭隠して尻隠さず)シンドロームだ。そこで、欧米列強による世界を股にかけたスパイ活動が暴露されたことも、日本がその餌食になっているにもかかわらず“奇怪な外国人の活動だ” と片付けてしまうところがありはしないか。三つ目は、不可思議なことだま言霊という概念―― ことばは魂を持っている。だから、ことばをたえずは発し続けていれば現実を変えることができる ―― たとえそれが真実でない、あるいは確かでない時でも――。それを否定することばは、逆に、繰り返しによって通用してしまうので、押さえ込む必要がある、ということになる。