Monday, July 30, 2007

House passes resolution to embarrass Japan

In a voice vote, the House of Representatives passed a resolution last Sunday calling on Japan to apologize for its use of Chinese comfort women during WWII:
"Today, the House will send a message to the government of Japan that it should deliver an official, unequivocal, unambiguous apology for the indignity the comfort women suffered," said Rep. Mike Honda, the California Democrat who pushed the legislation through the House.
Why in the world would we pass this?

The LDP is Japan's pro-American party. It just got walloped in the Upper House, losing 28 of 242 seats. Now, as Abe attempts to remain as prime minister in a split Diet (the Lower House, controlled by the LDP, is essentially more powerful than the Upper House, especially when it comes to selecting the PM, so outside of constituency pressures causing individual LDP-coalition members to turn against him, Abe should be able to keep his position), the US House spits on its strongest ally in East Asia.

The resolution doesn't even do anything. It's a 'symbolic' gesture, a way of giving Tokyo the political finger.

The coalition led by the LDP is comprised of conservative and nationalistic members, potentially crucial elements in providing a counterweight to growing Chinese influence in Asia. It represents the best chance for Japan to continue its rapid militarization, a desirable development that will lessen the 'need' for the 40,000 US troops currently stationed in Japan (until only a couple of years ago, we actually had more military personnel in Japan than we did in South Korea).

Japan's conduct during WWII, especially regarding China, has been an explosive issue in international East Asian politics over the last few years. The Japanese, like the Chinese, are ethnically homogenuous and proud of that ethnicity (to an extent that would be considered 'racist' by the standards of most Western countries). We insulted Tokyo right after it had made clear the damage such a conspicuous insult could have on US-Japanese relations:
In an unusually blunt letter sent to five House leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato said passage of the resolution "will almost certainly have lasting and harmful effects on the deep friendship, close trust and wide-ranging cooperation our two nations now enjoy."

The ambassador said that since 1993 Japan has repeatedly and officially apologized for its harsh treatment of "comfort women," the term used for the estimated 50,000 to 200,000 Asian women forced by the Japanese government into brothels before and during World War II.
Uh, we did decimate Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the same war. Why invite a petty and fruitless exchange of accusations over something that happened more than sixty years ago?

We also put US residents of Japanese descent in internment camps while it raged on. Yes, we apologized for the latter. So what? A voluntary concession by one party to a dispute does not mandate a concession by the other. Those are unofficial, accepted rules that govern Anglo relationships. But most of the world is neither like us nor desires to be so. In any case, the House isn't asking for an apology to the US. That might be a populist tactic, but it could at least be beneficial in some way. Instead, we're asking for an apology on behalf of a friend to a potential rival in return for, apparently, nothing.

There may be a silver lining or two, though:
His June 22 letter, obtained by The Washington Post, also suggests that Japan may reconsider its role as one of the few loyal supporters of U.S. policy in Iraq, where it is the second-largest donor for rebuilding, after the United States.

In the letter, immediately after warning of "lasting and harmful effects," Kato gives an example of what could be at risk for the United States, noting that Japan has recently extended for another two years its spending on reconstruction in Iraq.
Despite coming to power on the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, the death rate of American troops in Iraq has increased under the new Democratically-controlled Congress. The PM change in Britain has given that country's Labor party leadership a chance to scale back its involvement in and support for the coalition in Iraq, and Democrats in the US may see this squabble as a way of getting Japan to relent on its support for the US-led effort as well.

Congressional leaders may also see the LDP's series of gaffes as ultimately leading down a path to leadership change in Japan (PM Abe's approval rating has dipped below 30%), and hope to garner support from the more leftist (the left-right divide doesn't translate well to East Asian politics) DPJ ahead of its ascension.

Hopefully. Because it strikes me as a foolish slap in the face to the world's third largest economy, a nation with a unique culture and composition that renders it naturally close to no other country that the US benefits from a positive relationship with in a host of ways.


Anonymous said...

This is pretty stupid, even for Congress. The Japanese have supported us in many ways and often behind the scenes and often with very little benefit to themselves. They are one of our best allies, maybe even the best. England as an ally is in trouble because of their muslims and the rest of our "friends" in Europe would sell us out for nothing or maybe less than that.
When it comes to the PRC or North korea, we ocould really use their help in a war. They have a large, very good navy and excellent personnel. If we fight the PRC/NK, their help will be greatly appreciated. (No doubt if they help, the PRC or North Korea will make them suffer for it too). Why Congress has to act like a bunch of idiots and insult an actual ally who has contributed significant resources in our current war (instead of passing resolutions, no matter how symbolic against our real enemies, like Iran, Syria, PRC, NK, etc...) strikes me as borderline retarded. But then again, I'm probably expecting too much from these fools.

Audacious Epigone said...


I see it as you do. Out of curiosity, how old are you? I ask because in people over the age of 40 or so, feelings toward Japan seem to be ambivalent. That probably owes in part to the Japanese economic scare of the eighties, somewhat like the perceived Chinese economic scare today, and in even older people, from WWII.

But I've nothing but endearment for the country, which has been a solid ally in the East, made up of likable and productive people, and the source of so much that made my childhood enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

I'm 32. I remember the Japanese "economic scare" in the 1980's of how they were going to take over the US economy, etc...They bought Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach and people panicked. What were they going to do, move them to Tokyo? If anything, we ought to be thanking them for building factories in IN, TN, Kentucky, what were and still are (to a certain extent) areas that weren't in such great econonmic shape. We should seek more Japanese investment in the US. They are not what I would call an economic threat.
I have nothing but admiration for the people of Japan and a deep appreciation of their culture, history, manners, art and attitudes. As you said, they are a likeable and productive people, intelligent too and with a good sense of humor. I have spent some time in Japan for work and I found them to be a friendly and honest people who I got along with very well, despite my bad Japanese and their bad English.
They have been more than a solid ally for this nation and for that we should be grateful. As said, they have supported us in a very unpopular war and they have basically nothing to gain from it, at least not what I can really see. They have also supported us in the East, despite intimidation from the PRC, NK and Russia, all who have no qualms about targeting them and issuing threats.
To antagonize them for no reason seems to me to be quite stupid and childish.

MensaRefugee said...

Opposite of Congress is Progress...

Audacious Epigone said...


Very well put. Couldn't agree more.


The summer recess can't come soon enough. No wonder approval of Congress is even lower than it is of President Bush.