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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Yonsei-ro the first street in Seoul to ban cars in its transportation mix

The project has been in the air for more than a year but it's now official: Yonsei-ro, the street connecting Yonsei University with Sinchon Station, will be the first one in Seoul to ban private cars.

Only bicycles and small public buses will be allowed (not to mention of course emergency vehicles). Taxis will only be allowed between midnight and 4 A.M. Two time slots are opened for business purposes like deliveries (10-11 AM, 3-4 PM), but some adaptations are already considered, and that could turn quickly messy if no clear rules are applied. In any case, the speed limit is reduced to 30 km/h.
Some roadwork is planned, in particular to alleviate the usual bottlenecks along Seongsan-ro (for instance, you can tell a V.I.P. has died when there's a huge queue in front of Severance Hospital). And at the southern end of Yonsei-ro, the traffic coming from the Southeast (Baekbeom-ro) will now be able to turn directly to the left towards Seogang Bridge (Seogang-ro) at Sinchon Rotary.

Of course, congestions shall diminish even more spectacularly thanks to the newly resurrected Seobu Line (see "Seoul Light Rapid Transit Back On Tracks" and a focus I was supposed to finish Tuesday on new railway projects - coming up soon!). Reminder: the future line between Eunpyeong-gu and Gwanak-gu will pass by Sinchon Station and create a new station right in front of the university.
So good news for pedestrians, cyclists, and more good news for a neighborhood that badly needed some a couple of years ago (see "Sinchon reloaded - Sinchon Global Zone"**). Again, the success of a neighborhood relies a lot on the relevance of its transportation system, and if this Yonsei-ro project will probably require some fine tuning, it marks, combined with the new subway line, a move in the right direction.

Now that Sinchon seems to be regaining momentum, one can envision a more balanced dialog with Hongdae area. 

Seoul Village 2013
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* "버스, 자전거만 통행 가능합니다" ( 20130801)
** where I also suggested to connect the two "Sinchon Station" (Subway Line 2 and Gyeongui Line), which were less than 500 m apart. This new Yonsei University Station will be twice closer to the train station...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Taro Aso, Japan's Constitution, and Godwin's Law

A couple of years ago, Taro Aso was lambasted for comparing the national opposition to Nazis. On Monday, this serial provocator made a more admirative reference to the Nazis, saying during a lecture that Japan should learn how they altered the Weimar Republic's constitution before anybody knew what was happening (and I spare you the usual promotion of Yasukuni shrine visits - see "S. Korea slams Japan's minister for Nazi remarks" - Yonhap News 20130730).

A former PM and now Shinzo Abe's Vice PM, Taro Aso naturally referred to the changes their neofascist government intends to make to the Japanese constitution*.

I'm using the no-nonsense adjective "neofascist" on purpose, just in case you still doubted in which direction the moral compass of these dangerous guys keeps pointing.

I'll keep pointing at these dangerous guys until someone in Japan decides to say enough is enough, our nation is a peaceful democracy, we must stop them before it's too late.

And everybody should keep pointing at these dangerous guys until Imperial Japan crimes are officially recognized by the Japanese government, and justice delivered.

By the way: today, Busan High Court followed a recent ruling by Seoul High Court ordering Mitsubishi Heavy to compensate Korean victims of  Imperial Japan's forced labor system (see "Another Korean Ruling Tied to Japan’s Wartime Actions" - WSJ's Korea Real Time 20130730).

A couple of years ago, Taro Aso eventually conceded that his own father's business, Aso Cement Company, used POWs in forced labor. But it took the confirmation by the Japanese authorities, and mediatic pressure from Australian or Scottish victims.

These days, justice can't expect much help from the Japanese authorities. It's time for powerful voices to resonate, and I'm glad that a figure like Hayao Miyazaki protested vehemently against Abe and his revisionist plans.

I'd like to see more of this kind of animation from Japan.

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More : , vice PM, inspired by 's discreet constitutional changes!!!  (

* see previous episodes ("To better bridge the gap between Japan, Korea, and China, let's measure the gap within Japan", "Shinzo Abe: an offensive Defense White Paper ahead of the elections... and Constitutional Revolution" to name only the most recent), also on Twitter: #abeignomics

20130802 UPDATE

Yesterday, Taro Aso was forced to backpedal, but Abe-style (these guys have no reverse in their gearboxes): he said that he didn't "perceive Nazi Germany in a positive light"**. I wonder which euphemism he uses for Imperial Japan. Maybe he can't even see the light, blinded by the rising sun...
* see "Japan's Deputy PM Forced to Retract Nazi Comment" (Chosun Daily 20130802)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

MMCA Seoul from above

The recently rebranded National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea unveiled this video of the MMCA Seoul branch to be inaugurated this November (see "MOCA goes MMCA - Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art"):

I like the vivid rendering of the neighborhood:
  • starting northwards, along Samcheong-ro: to the left the Gyeongbokgung, to the right Sogyeok-dong galleries and the new museum, with in the distance Bugaksan

  • the virtual camera turns to the right and the former DSC's main building, which shed its white coating to bare its red bricks - and still those wonderful semicircular staircases I caught by night under last month's Supermoon:

@theseoulvillage tweet 20130622
"Supermoon" over the future #MMCASeoul

ASYAAF 2009 @ DSC - Copyright Stephane MOT 2009
Very spectacular from the inside as well. I took this picture during the 2009 ASYAAF (NB: don't forget: this year's edition is back to Culture Station Seoul 284 - until August 18 for the second part)

  • about halfway into the video, we're slowing down before the next building, to enjoy the now cleared view on the large hanok in the background.

  • we then start taking off slowly to appreciate the renovations and extensions, the gardens and green rooftops, and a well located terrasse at the corner with Bukchon-ro 5-gil

  • before fading away to make room for the MMCA logo, the whole block is visible (Yulgok-ro to the South, Gamgodang-gil to the East, Samcheong-ro to the West, Bukchon-ro 5-gil to the North)
I won't say that I'm thrilled by the architecture, which reminds me a bit of my old ESSEC Campus (vintage 1973) before its renovation, but this project does mark an improvement for the neighborhood. At least if you compare it to the past (a low-rise open space replacing the gated Defense Security Command), or to Yongsan's criminal NMK (yes I love the National Museum of Korea, but from the outside doesn't it look like a ceausescuesque cinder block?).

Anyway, we shall judge MMCA Seoul from the inside, with all its hidden levels and services, and of course fully populated with collections, exhibitions, and humans.

I can't wait!

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Armistice, Amnesia, Apostasy

60 years ago, the Korean Armistice Agreement enabled a ceasefire in a Korean War that has yet to be formally ended. The document was signed in Kaesong, a city that still today remains in the headlines (for different reasons? go figure).

If both Koreas are closer than ever, that's only because the DMZ has dramatically shrunk since the Armisitice: from 992 to 570 sqkm, the supposedly 4 km-wide stretch on each side of the line measuring less than 2 km in various spots*.

@theseoulvillage tweet 20130725
Both Koreas closer than ever! The incredible shrinking lost 43% since
Hell, a truce has yet to be found between the two South Koreas, still very much politically divided, and not only because of another "mobile" frontier (see the NLL saga, and the elusive transcripts of the 2007 ROH Moo-hyun - KIM Jong-il meeting).

On a brighter note, South Korea and China are more successfully burying the hatchet. Beyond the touching meeting of Chinese and Korean veterans, or PARK Geun-hye's offer to return the remains of Chinese troops fallen in Korea, the simple fact that for the first time, the Beijing Regime refered to the conflict as the "Korean War" and not the "war against the US and to help the DPRK" signals that the reconciliation can also reach all the way to America, where Barack Obama just proclaimed July 27 Korean War Veterans Armistice Day.

The conflict is not over, but the world starts moving on. With notable exceptions, and not only in the Strange Kimdom up North.

Of course, Japan is moving in the wrong direction. Shinzo Abe didn't wait long after his electoral success to confirm its warmongering stance: he already added drones and amphibious units to his suicidal wishlist**.

But let's not forget that South Korea too can move in the wrong direction. Under Lee Myung-bak, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was torpedoed, and the teaching of History at school undermined, contributing to an already acute education crisis***. Park Geun-hye does intend to fix this, and she recently declared "The history of a country is like the soul of the people. If a person grows to be a citizen without proper knowledge of history, that person could be left without a soul".

@theseoulvillage tweet 20130727
Shame on : can't celebrate , criticize & stop teaching

But this is not just about the soul of the people as individuals: it's about the people as a nation, at the very fundamentals of democracy. Remember that you'll always find a minority who'd love to see Korea follow Japan's path and submit its whole political system to a tiny yet almighty anti-democratic force, to the risk of renouncing democracy altogether.

So this is not just about teaching History, but about doing it fairly. Korea doesn't need more twisted and biases takes at history, and we regularly come across these, be it in MB's Museum of Contemporary History, or in recent commemorations of the June Uprising.

Again, this President of the Republic of Korea has a historic opportunity to lead the region by example, and to expose impostors from all horizons starting by the ones who are undermining the nation from within. For that to happen, she must make sure her own familial history is properly and fairly taught at school.

Then she can ask the same to Mr. Abe with a resounding legitimacy, and ask the Korean people to resume its indispensable truth and reconciliation effort.

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* see "Report: since armistice signing, DMZ has shrunk by 43%" (he Hankyoreh - 130725)
** see previous episodes: "Shinzo Abe: an offensive Defense White Paper ahead of the elections... and Constitutional Revolution", followed by "To better bridge the gap between Japan, Korea, and China, let's measure the gap within Japan". And now "Japan Defense Paper Calls for Strengthened Military" (Chosun Ilbo 20130727)
*** a recurent theme on this excuse for a blog, see latest mention in the final paragraphs of "Teaching Geography - Dokdo Inside" (March 20, 2013), which allows me not to mention here that even more embarrassing pro-creationism episode... Not to mention today's news ("History ignored in classrooms" - Korean Times 20130726).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beyond Containment: Andrei Lankov On Stage (10 Magazine Book Club)

Over the past few months, Andrei Nikolaevich LANKOV has been everywhere, on every network. The Russian expert of North Korea even had to join Twitter under media pressure (yes, the voluble LANKOV restricted to 140 characters, that's possible, and that's on @AndreiLankov).

Granted, for the release of his latest book, "The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia"*, he did receive the hell of a boost from KIM Jong-un, but LANKOV doesn't need anybody's help to become a media darling: this man doesn't even use kid gloves to handle the most fissile materials, and nuclear countdowns have never been that fun watching ever since Peter Sellers brought the house down in Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove".

Yesterday, the showman was on stage in Myeong-dong for Barry Welsh's 10 Magazine Book Club, and he tirelessly explored every square inch of it with mickjaggeresque energy - barely pausing for a sip of tea now and then to fuel his own reactor.

Does Andrei Lankov rock & roll? You bet!

A pundit of the "pound it" variety, LANKOV can not only dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee, but also crack the audience up with outrageous wit ("Human Rights did improve under KIM Jong-un: from unbelievingly bad to exceptionally bad" / "Most defectors from North Korea are 40-50 year-old ajumma - in the Soviet Union, it used to be young and smart Jewish chess players").

Kim Il-sung trying to stop Andrei Lankov, in vain. Great show at @10MagBookClub

Impossible to sum up a show that covered a remarquable scope considering the limited time (one hour presentation, one hour Q and A). Just a few insights:
  • It was easier to reduce the military's economic influence than to tame private entrepreneurship. The rising class of private entrepreneurs is seen as a threat by the party nomenklatura, less apt to survive in case of change. At this stage, neither sees their shared interest. LANKOV doesn't believe in a coup. The only underground he sees is the not very impressive Christian one. (NB: beyond the scenario of an organized coup, many things can happen, from an individual going rogue to KJU choking tomorrow on a pretzel.)
  • (About what I called the "Hanschluss scenario") LANKOV does consider the scenario of a puppet regime controled by Beijing, but only a "open" one that would happen after the collapse of the regime and a military intervention of China. Needless to say, that would not be well perceived by North Koreans, who would then blame Beijing for anything going wrong.
  • North Korea remains very rational. LANKOV doesn't think KJU marked a disruption (NB: I agree in substance but not in style - if he does keep both the "Juche Line" and "Beijing Line" parties sweet following his dad's guidelines, he ruined everything with his lack of patience, alienating key supporters in China**)
  • The very existence of a successful South Korea can become a hindrance for evolution. A country like China could carry out significant reforms, but "where is South China?" (NB: AL logically considers Taiwan's impact as limited at the economic level, the difference in wealth being 3 times compared to up to 40 between both Koreas - furthermore Taiwan is relatively tiny. A question from the audience stressed the political importance of even tiny Taiwan as a democratic model)
  • Internet: LANKOV wouldn't be surprised to see the world wide web partially accessible in a near future. The risks are obvious, but control technologies have considerably improved, and the risk of lagging too far behind is even greater.
  • Reunification: many North Koreans see it through rose-colored glasses, thinking South Koreans are eagerly looking forward to it, and that economic problems would be solved within a couple of years.
  • ...

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* "The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia"
Oxford University Press - April 2013
** "This Time Is Different - Six Decades of North Korean Follies (The Umpteenth Final Countdown)"
*** "Game over for the 'Hanschluss' scenario?"

Friday, July 19, 2013

The People of Seoul

They're kids, moms, dads, halmoni, or old men. They're shopkeepers, policemen, Yakult ajumma, students, or farmers. They're having fun or feeling lonely. They're the great people of Seoul.

My Week-End Special, these pictures taken between 2004 and 2009 all over the capital:

Also on YouTube and on Vimeo.

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Photos copyright Stephane MOT 2004-2009

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

CHUN Doo-hwan for the record

The other day, my dictator neighbor received a visit from prosecutors who, beyond his Yeonhui-dong house, raided several homes and companies belonging to his relatives. CHUN Doo-hwan was said to be relaxed and polite while they searched his house. For show, he did leave them a little bit more petty cash than usual for their pain (provided they can link him to the over two hundred artworks collected, including some from famous painters such as Park Soo-keun), but nothing close to the KRW 167.5 bn he still owes to the nation.

I'm surprised to learn that prosecutors were surprised to find his safe empty*:
  • Arguably Korea's most hated politician (NB: no small feat, particularly across the aisle these days), CHUN had probably been tipped off thanks to his pervasive network. Judging by his impunity and the frequent visits of V.I.P.s to his place, the man still knows how to pull the strings - if not call the shots (no sick pun intended for the victims of the Gwangju Massacre).
  • But you don't need to be a crime genius to know something was coming: lawmakers had just voted an extension of the search for his illegal funds in time (until 2020), and in reach (to the relatives). Even if several members of CHUN's family are now under interdiction to leave the national territory, many suspect that significant slush funds have already traveled to friendlier destinations.

Among Monday tweets: "This time, media don't come to #Yeonhuidong to shoot a drama. Prosecutors raid my neighbor dictator #ChunDoohwan" ( / "Reminder: #ChunDoohwan got not only a "Get out of jail free" card, but his hands deep into the Community Chest" (
Anyway, Korea needs to recover more than the money still owed by its former strongman**, and even more than the undisclosed total of additional public or private assets rumored to have been offered to his friends.

Korea must recover its credibility as a democracy where justice is not only independent, but respected. Where being a top politician or a top businessman shouldn't mean being granted an unlimited supply of "get out of jail free cards".

I'm not a supporter of death penalty, and I'm glad CHUN's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. I also understand some of the reasons why KIM Yong-sam and KIM Dae-jung pardoned him, but still, putting him out of jail sent a very wrong message to the nation and to the world, and every episode of the saga that followed confirmed the nuisance**.  Now I hope that this time, the record is set right, and that all culprits pay, including in terms of prison time.

Now I guess I've made my point: I'm not exactly a fan of this convicted criminal.

But since CHUN Doo-hwan's record must be set straight, I'd like to mention a lesser known part of his legacy. He banned private tutoring and hagwon the way dictators do (the ugly way, leveraging on coercion and squealers), but towards the end of his rule, students could reach top universities on a merit basis unseen ever since.

I don't know if this can explain a boom in successful independent entrepreneurs one decade later. I don't know the backgrounds of people like the founders of Naver, NCSoft, or Daum (LEE Hae-jin, KIM Tae-jin, or LEE Jae-woong, respectively SNU, SNU, Yonsei U), and I know that anyway, the internet boom offered a unique opportunity for non-chaebol players to emerge in brand new arenas, just one click away from endusers.

But maybe, in his own wicked way, the dictator ironically*** helped rise to the top some of the university leaders who accelerated his fall. Who knows?

Seoul Village 2013
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* "Prosecutors Find Empty Safe in Ex-President's House" (Chosun Daily 20130718)
** see previous raids, or last year's episode of "Neighborhood watch"
*** irony: Chung used to be basically Park Geun-hye's bodyguard, and in charge of the security of the predecessor he removed from power

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Gangwon-do Battlefield - 강원도 전쟁터 (무): Mu, The Lost Continent?

Gangwon-do, Autumn 2009. A field in the middle of nowhere, antropomorphous freak radishes left behind by the farmer. A surreal battlefield.

For a sunday special, a short video* of this limb limbo:

No radishes were harmed in the making of this video.

See other videos on Seoul Village's YouTube channel.

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* "Gangwon-do Battlefield - 강원도 전쟁터 (무)"

Friday, July 12, 2013

Seoul Light Rapid Transit Back On Tracks

Seoul Mayor PARK Won-soon, who earlier during his term shelved some of his predecessor's Light Rapid Transit projects, decided not only to revive them, but to push even further, adding more than a few stations. As a matter of fact, these lines often fill major gaps in the capital's railway system, and should spectacularly improve public transportations... not to mention the Mayor ratings in a still depressed real estate market.

Seoul 7 LRT projects (난곡선 추가..서울 경전철 7개 노선 가닥" - 아시아경제 20130712)
Seoul's 7 LRT projects
Of course, there are other  LRT lines or projects in the greater Seoul region, like Uijeongbu's U-Line, or the EverLine (a.k.a. the "Samsung Line" between Yongin and Everland).

So what has changed since our February 2010 focus ("Subway news : Sillim line, Line 3...")?
  • Already well under way, the Ui Line (Ui-dong to Sinseol-dong) will be prolonged by the Banghak-Sinseol Line. Instead of ending at the feet of Dobongsan, it will reach Subway Line 1 in front of Dobong-gu Office.
  • The Sillim Line will be prolonged to Seoul National University, and will now connect Yeouido to Seoul Dae. NB: that's the first line inside the university, who will pay for half of the extension.
  • The Seobu Line (West) will connect Saejeol Station in Eunpyeong-gu to Seoul National University Station in Gwanak-gu via Yeouido, Sangdo, and Jangseungbaegi Station in Dongjak-gu). NB: this time, CHUN Doo-hwan will not prevent the subway from passing by Yeonhui-dong!
  • The Dongbuk Line (Northeast) will connect Wangsimni to Eunhaeng Sageori, the 'Bank Crossroads' in Junggye-dong, Nowon-gu. NB: ideal to reach Baeksa maeul!
  • The Myeonmok Line will connect Cheongnyangni to Sinnae-dong, across Jungnangcheon.
  • The Mok-dong Line will connect Dangsan to Sinwol Sageori, and feature a new rail yard
  • The DMC Sunhwa Line / DMC Circular Line would have given yet another boost to the Digital Media City, but that's neither a priority nor economically viable NB: definitely a plus for its "Connectivity, continuity, and consistence" (see "Songdo, DMC: sequence is of the essence (Part II)")!

Fine, but who'll foot the KRW 2 tn bill? The BTO (Build-Transfer-Operate) system is supposed to split the cost between local authorities and constructors, but Line 9 proved that you'd better always keep an eye on all the elements of the equation.

Theoretically, in a not too distant future, your admission to Seoul Dae should only cost you about KRW 1,400.

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20130712 Edit - DMC line

Thursday, July 11, 2013

To better bridge the gap between Japan, Korea, and China, let's measure the gap within Japan

A few comments following an article in the WSJ's JapanRealTime today*, about a Pew Research poll** on the image of Japan and Shinzo Abe at home and across Asia.
Unsurprisingly, Japan fares much better in Southeast Asia than in China or Korea, where 85% of the people disapprove this most controversial PM... who certainly contributed to the spectacular deterioration of the image of Japan over the past few years: negative opinions reach 77% in ROK (+25 pts since 2008) and 90% in China (+16 pts since 2006).
And this poll was held between March 4 and April 6 2013, before the sick Abe - Hashimoto duet climax mid-May (see previous episodes)...

JRT @ WSJ today

Regarding the score of Indonesia. I remember that back in the late 80s, views on Japan were still very critical there, and now 79% of the population see it favorably, one of the best score among Southeast Asian nations. But this can be easily explained:
  • Indonesia is not exposed to provocations from top Japanese politicians as recurently as China or Korea, countries where, in the first place, Imperial Japan atrocities were arguably the most extreme
  • Unlike Japan's aging neighbors, Indonesia is experiencing a baby boom that completely modified its demographics, accelerating the 'pastization' of that period (one fourth of the population doesn't know how to answer the question about Japan apologies for Imperial Japan crimes)
  • Japan not only invests a lot in the Indonesian economy, but also provides considerable amounts of aid. China is probably more perceived as a fiend nowdays.
Regarding the public opinion in Japan, the Pew Research poll also confirmed significant trends we recently mentioned***:
  • Abe's popularity remains stellar at home with a 71% approval rate, and very little variations across key demographics. In spite of recent hiccups, "Abenomics" continue to play in his favor.
  • I just wrote yesterday about the project of changing Japan's Constitution so that the nation can become an offensive military power again (NB: in "Shinzo Abe: an offensive Defense White Paper ahead of the elections... and Constitutional Revolution" - the "Abeignomics" part of the equation). The proportion of people supporting these changes keeps increasing: over the past 7 years, supporters jumped from 27 to 36%, while opponents decreased from 67 to 56%. But here, demographics and particularly testosterone levels seem to make a difference: only 28% of Japanese women are ready to embrace militarism, compared to 45% for men.
Now regarding the question "Has Japan sufficently apologized for its military actions during the 1930s and 1940s?" (98% of South Koreans answer NO, 78% of the Chinese, 28% of the Japanese). It doesn't tell us much about what people actually know about the issues, and what is behind this very vague and neutral label "military actions". We do know that only 1% of South Koreans don't know what to answer, compared to 9% of Japanese or 38% of Malaysians, but we don't know how much the 48% of the Japanese who think the apologies were sufficient know about the atrocities committed by Imperial Japan, or if they are even aware that war crimes were committed, not to mention the fact that their dear Emperor himself gave the nod for the infamous Unit 731.

Note that the knowledge regarding Imperial Japan war crimes is not homogeneous among the victim nations either: for instance, the Chinese are certainly more aware of the Nanking massacre than the Koreans, who are themselves certainly more aware of the sexual slavery system for the Japanese military than the Dutch (in case you didn't know: among the hundreds of thousands of "Comfort Women", about 300 were Dutch girls and women).

If Nazi atrocities also covered a wide range of crimes, the Holocaust remains the ultimate reference, allowing surveys that can help clearly measure levels of awareness or denial, draw comparisons between countries. And if one cannot and should not compare 'Comfort Women' tragedy with the Holocaust, it could become an international marker to measure the perception of Imperial Japan beyond its "military actions". More and more people across the world are able to answer these two questions: "are you aware of the existence of a large scale system forcing hundreds of thousands of girls and women into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japan military (euphemistically referred to as 'Comfort Women')?", "do you consider it as a war crime?" If you answer "yes" to both, you'll probably do the same for the rest: "do you think the Japanese government should formally recognize war crimes, apologize for them, prosecute war criminals, make negationism and the praising of war crimes illegal, remove war criminals from Yasukuni shrine?"

Japan has, to this day, refused to recognize any war crime, and as long as descendants from Imperial Japan leaders control the local politics, that's not about to change. Consider that Shinzo Abe's own maternal grand-father, Nobusuke Kishi, a man also known as the "Showa Era Monster", a man who served under Hideki Tojo as Minister of Commerce and Industry, overlooking economic mobilization and thus forced labor, a man who only escaped trial as a Class A war criminal because in 1948 the US decided to recycle a bunch of key hardliners to secure a very conservative Japan during the Cold War****... consider that this man could still become PM between 1957 and 1960!

Speaking of Japan and the Holocaust. I just re-read Rotem Kowner's piece on the rise and fall of Holocaust denial in Japan*****, and to me it illustrates perfectly Japan's dichotomy in political / historical awareness:
  • On one side, the neo-fascist minority that cripples the whole political system manages to put a lid on wartime atrocities, denying the crimes, making sure no law emerges that would make denial illegal (Japan had to wait until 1999 to see a - local - ruling stating the existence of the Holocaust)
  • On the other side, the vast peaceful majority that now associate the Holocaust with the bombing of Hiroshima-Nagasaki (another war crime and trauma with long lasting effects), but without mentioning the responsibility of the Imperial regime in the conflict, or of course the countless war crimes it perpetrated
  • This ignorance / selective memory serves the purpose of the revisionists, because the dark side of Japan's history remains hidden under the overwhelming lid of nuclear apocalypse, and because Japan is presented as a victim... which ironically paves the way for their project of revising the Constitution to discard the peaceful nature of Post-War Japan, and restore the belligerent nature of Imperial Japan (see "Shinzo Abe: an offensive Defense White Paper ahead of the elections... and Constitutional Revolution"). After the Rape of Nankin, that's the Rape of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the victims of atomic bombings become victim a second time, forced into becoming propaganda tools for the impostors who want to disgrace Japan for the second time.
6 in 10 Japanese think their country should be more respected than it is overseas. They have the power to fix that by voting for democracy, honor, and justice or at least, since no one seem to be representing these values in their most devastated political landscape, by removing from power the dangerous minority of fascists who've been corrupting their whole political system for decades.

It would be easier if the right questions were asked. To better bridge the gap between Japan and its neighbors, it would be interesting to measure and follow the gap between what the Japanese people knows and what the Japanese leaders know.

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* "Japan's Glaring Image Gap" (Wall Street Journal - 20130712)
** "Japanese Public's Mood Rebounding, Abe Highly Popular" (Pew Research - 20130711)
*** see scores mentioned in "So you want to know what is 'necessary', Mr Hashimoto?"
**** see previous episodes, most recently "Shinzo Abe: an offensive Defense White Paper ahead of the elections... and Constitutional Revolution"
**** the US were clearly instrumental in the lack of justice for Imperial Japan war crimes (see "Can't top that? Shinzo Abe posing as Shiro Ishii, the Josef Mengele of Imperial Japan"), and I'm glad to see many American local authorities show the way (e.g. Glendale, CA will also have a memorial for the victims of sexual slavery)
***** see "Tokyo recognizes Auschwitz: the rise and fall of Holocaust denial in Japan, 1989–1999" (Rotem KOWNER - Journal of Genocide Research (2001), 3(2), 257–272)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shinzo Abe: an offensive Defense White Paper ahead of the elections... and Constitutional Revolution

On July 21, 2013, Shinzo Abe will probably win with his LDP the House of Councillors elections, and move closer to his dreams of revising the Constitution, discarding the peaceful nature of Post-War Japan, and restoring the belligerent nature of Imperial Japan (see "ABE forced to back down a bit. For the moment. Next PR stunt: KIM Jong-un").

The "Defense of Japan 2013" annual white paper issued on July 9 by Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera justifies the first increase in Japan's defense budget in 11 years by depicting East Asia as a region on the brink of war, where everybody's beefing up their military capacities: North Korea's nuclear threats got more serious than ever, "China’s activities in the sea/air area surrounding Japan involve its intrusion into Japan’s territorial waters, its violation of Japan's airspace and even dangerous actions that could cause a contingency situation", "Russia continues to intensify its military activities", and even Southeast Asian countries are forced to modernize their military forces.

Diplomacy is not an option. Obviously, Shinzo Abe is not familiar with that weapon, and his arsenal wish list certainly doesn't include it.

Needless to say, Japan's neighbors didn't like the document. Particularly since the Abe government made sure to pour more oil on the fire by reviving, on the side, tensions around Dokdo, Senkaku, or Kuril islands: the expected anger and outrage will once more be used to prove to the quiet Japanese public that indeed, their neighbors are nothing but hot tempered barbarians.

The Chinese did receive a special treatment. Miscellaneous:
  • "In regard to the issues of conflicting interests with its surrounding countries, including Japan, China has attempted to change the status quo by force based on its own assertion which is incompatible with the existing order of international law. The attempts have been criticized as assertive and include risky behavior that could cause contingencies"
  • "China has been broadly and rapidly modernizing its military forces, and has been rapidly expanding and intensifying its activities in its surrounding waters and airspace. These moves, together with the lack of transparency in its military affairs and security issues, are a matter of concern for the region and the international community, including Japan"
  • "Some of China’s activities in the sea/air area surrounding Japan involve its intrusion into Japan’s territorial waters, its violation of Japan's airspace and even dangerous actions that could cause a contingency situation, which are extremely regrettable. China should accept and stick to the international norms."
  • "In the South China Sea, there are territorial disputes between Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and China over the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands"
  • "In FY2012, the number of scrambles exceeded 500 times for the first time in 22 years. The number of scrambles against Chinese aircraft exceeded the number of those against Russian aircraft for the first time"
  • ... and what to make of this surreal pearl?: "the environment surrounding the Xi government would not be rosy."

I find quite interesting the map the MOD chose to represent Japan under China's threat. Look at the vast mass of China on the bottom, hardly contained by the thin archipelago barrier and particularly Okinawa, protecting the US territory of Guam in the distance (Korea almost obliterated by the captions). I love this horizontal view, with these solar eruptions of yellow arrows transpiercing poor Japan... whose leaders would probably love to restore the infamous War Flag of Imperial Japan (Rising Sun Flag):

MOD's "Defense of Japan 2013" White Paper

I'm not saying that imperialism doesn't exist in Beijing, just that it's a "first take the log out of your own eye" situation. Anyway, before their next expedition to Senkaku / Diaoyu, the Chinese will have re-read Tokyo's manual of Self-defense (section "Defense of Japan’s Offshore Islands"):
  • "If signs of attack are detected in advance, SDF troops will be concentrated in the area expected to be attacked ahead of the deployment of enemy units, thereby trying to deter attacks by the enemy.
  • If the enemy shows no sign of refraining from launching an attack, operations will be conducted to prevent it. If no signs of aggression are detected in advance and islands are occupied, operations will be conducted to regain the islands by defeating the enemy with air-to-ground and ship-to-ground firing and by landing GSDF units."
If this white paper looks a bit whiter than the previous edition, that's only because the text is seldom accompanied with illustrations; last year, for instance, the sections "Effective Deterrence and Response" and "Frameworks for Responses to Armed Attack Situations" looked like GI Joe trailers. As if the editors didn't want to pass too clearly for warmongers.

Many sections didn't change, starting with the core principles Abe wants to change along with the Constitution... even if I doubt he'll drop the controversial "boost nationalism" part in the "Basic Policy for National Defense". The document states that "there is no established definition for the term 'military power'", but be assured he has something in mind, something consistent with the "right of belligerency" he's been advocating.

What we'd like to hear is Shinzo Abe be very specific, loud and clear, ubi et orbi, about his vision and his ultimate goals, how he would rewrite the Constitution, redefine the nation, what would be allowed and not allowed for its defense of the nation (NB: for info, I put below* the DoJ 2013 WP's section "The Constitution and the Right of Self-Defense"). But the National Defense Program Guidelines will only be reviewed after the elections, and to get these specifics we'll have to wait until the end of this year.

Well. According to The Asahi Shimbun (BTW speaking of the Rising Sun flag, I wonder when these guys will change their logo), expected changes include the capacity, for Self Defense Forces, "of striking military targets in enemy countries" ("White paper echoes Abe's plans to strengthen Japan’s defense" - Asahi Shimbun 20130710)

Anyway, unlike Toru Hashimoto, Abe always comes short of speaking his mind out. If he never leaves any room for misinterpretations, he knows how to use symbols and circular references when he's venturing into the most outrageous territories (see exhibit A: "Can't top that? Shinzo Abe posing as Shiro Ishii, the Josef Mengele of Imperial Japan").

Yesterday, The Asahi Shimbun also feigned to point out potential sources of misunderstanding (this time in "EDITORIAL: Defense white paper underlines threats, ignores diplomatic efforts" - Asahi Shimbun 20130710):
  • "This is precisely the time for Japan to act responsibly and make its policy clearly understood. In that sense, "Defense of Japan 2013" is hardly lucid.
    For instance, it says the government is not allowed to exercise the right to collective self-defense in line with the existing government view. On the other hand, the white paper refers elsewhere to a government advisory panel set up to review interpretations of the Constitution and notes that "the government will first wait for the conclusion of the panel."
    Taken together, the two statements only serve to muddle the government's position. It is hardly in Japan's interest to invite unnecessary suspicion" (...) "The government must not neglect to explain its position clearly at home as well as to the rest of the world."

    NB: as far as explanations are concerned, the DoJ 2013 WP specifies mere propaganda at the local level: "Regional Defense Bureaus hold seminars on defense issues for local residents and give briefings on the defense white papers to local public entities, with an aim of gaining the understanding of defense policies from the general public".
So will the right for peace triumph over the right for belligerency? The Japanese opposition being not very vocal about the issue, the population remains overwhelmingly unaware of the dangers. But one thing is sure: belligerence being defined as an aggressive or warlike disposition or behavior, Shinzo Abe is already there.

And the main question remains: will the people of Japan keep letting Shinzo Abe say and do what he wants, and follow him along this suicidal path?

Seoul Village 2013
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* From "Defense of Japan 2013":

Section 2 The Constitution and the Right of Self-Defense

1 The Constitution and the Right of Self-Defense

Since the end of World War II, Japan has worked hard to build a peace-loving nation far from the miseries of war. The Japanese people desire lasting peace, and the principle of pacifism is enshrined in the Constitution, of which Article 9 renounces war, the possession of war potential, and the right of belligerency by the state. Nonetheless, since Japan is an independent nation, these provisions do not deny Japan’s inherent right of self-defense as a sovereign state. Since the right of self-defense is not denied, the Government interprets this to mean that the Constitution allows Japan to possess the minimum level of armed force needed to exercise that right. Therefore, the Government, as part of its exclusively national defense-oriented policy under the Constitution, maintains the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) as an armed organization, and continues to keep it equipped and ready for operations.

2 The Government’s View on Article 9 of the Constitution

1 The Permitted Self-Defense Capability
Under the Constitution, Japan is permitted to possess the minimum necessary level of self-defense capability. The specific limit may vary with the prevailing international situation, the technologies available, and various other factors, and it is discussed and decided according to annual budgets and other factors by the Diet on behalf of the people. Whether such capability constitutes a “war potential” that is prohibited by Article 9, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution must be considered within the context of Japan’s overall military strength. Therefore, whether the SDF should be allowed to possess certain armaments depends on whether such possession would cause its total military strength to exceed the constitutional limit. The possession of armaments deemed to be offensive weapons designed to be used only for the mass destruction of another country, which would, by definition, exceed the minimum necessary level, is not permissible under any circumstances. For example, the SDF is not allowed to possess intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), long-range strategic bombers, or attack aircraft carriers.

2 Requirements for Exercising the Right of Self-Defense
The Government interprets Article 9 of the Constitution to mean that armed force can be used to exercise the right of self-defense only when the following three conditions are met:
(1) When there is an imminent and illegitimate act of aggression against Japan;
(2) When there is no appropriate means to deal with such aggression other than by resorting to the right of self-defense; and
(3) When the use of armed force is confined to be the minimum necessary level.

3 Geographic Boundaries within which the Right of Self-Defense may be Exercised
The use of the minimum necessary force to defend Japan under the right of self-defense is not necessarily confined to the geographic boundaries of Japanese territory, territorial waters and airspace. However, it is difficult to give a general definition of the actual extent to which it may be used, as this would vary with the situation. Nevertheless, the Government interprets that the Constitution does not permit armed troops to be dispatched to the land, sea, or airspace of other countries with the aim of using force; such overseas deployment of troops would exceed the definition of the minimum necessary level of self-defense.

4 The Right of Collective Self-Defense
International law permits a state to have the right of collective self-defense, which is the right to use force to stop an armed attack on a foreign country with which the state has close relations, even if the state itself is not under direct attack. Since Japan is a sovereign state, it naturally has the right of collective self-defense under international law. Nevertheless, the Japanese Government believes that the exercise of the right of collective self-defense exceeds the minimum necessary level of self-defense authorized under Article 9 of the Constitution and is not permissible.

5 The Right of Belligerency
Article 9, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution prescribes that “the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” However, the “right of belligerency” does not mean the right to engage in battle; rather, it is a general term for various rights that a belligerent nation has under international law, including the authority to inflict casualties and damage upon the enemy’s military force and to occupy enemy territory. On the other hand, Japan may of course use the minimum level of force necessary to defend itself. For example, if Japan inflicts casualties and damage upon the enemy’s military force in exercising its right of self-defense, this is conceptually distinguished from the exercise of the right of belligerency, even though those actions do not appear to be different. Occupation of enemy territory, however, would exceed the minimum necessary level of self-defense and is not permissible.

PS: on a more "positive" (?) note, activists from Africa and Asia joined the weekly Wednesday Demonstration demanding justice for victims of sexual slavery under Imperial Japan rule ("Comfort Women"), the extremist Nobuyuki Suzuki was convicted for defaming the Pyeonghwabi statue inaugurated during the rally's thousandth edition (see "One Thousand Wednesdays"), and the Seoul High Court ordered Nippon Steel to compensate victims of forced labor during the occupation, since the company "committed crimes against humanity by mobilizing forced labor for the sake of the war of aggression by the Japanese government".

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