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Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Ambiguous Kim Young-sam Legacy

Kim Young-sam (1927-2015)
I'm curious to see how Korea will remember KIM Young-sam, a man who always wanted to leave his mark on History, but could end up as a more controversial, transitional figure. Anyway, a very interesting character in Korean politics.

A democracy fighter turned political weather vane, an enemy of PARK Chung-hee and CHUN Doo-hwan turned nemesis of KIM Dae-jung, a bold reformer of the financial sector turned victim of the IMF crisis, KIM Young-sam almost seems to have both reached and left Cheong Wa Dae like a thief. 

By running against DJ, YS helped ROH Tae-woo make history: return to democracy, establishing relationships with Russia and China... An historic meeting with KIM Il-sung would have secured his own legacy, but the North Korean leader died on him.

Like Saemangeum, his dream project (see "Ari, Arirang, Ari, Ariul City"), KIM Young-sam's legacy is a gigantic oddity still in the making, and like himself, a consuming ambition still looking for a purpose, a place in History.

Now let's see how PARK Geun-hye presents this predecessor of hers, particularly his 'democracy fighter' side. The opposition will also have a tough job, but somehow KIM Young-sam is a mirror exposing all the beauties and flaws of this nation's complex psyche.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tokyo Trials on trial: after Japan, Abe forces the US to chose between Imperial Japan and postwar Japan

This morning, Shinzo Abe showed his smile on CNN International, at the end of an ad on Japan's positive contribution to the world (as it happens, revolutionary prostheses that help people walk again). His government usually airs such campaigns each time his image needs a boost overseas ahead of tricky moments - typically before Abe's speech to the US Congress, earlier this year*.

Maybe that was just about paving the way for the G20 and his upcoming visits to Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Maybe Abe is expecting some reactions to his latest controversial initiative: the revision of Tokyo war crimes verdicts and the Allied occupation of Japan.

Officially, this new panel reporting directly to the PM will simply study the issues, and unlike the one on 'collective self-defense', without drawing any conclusions**. But make no mistake, the aim of Abe's game remains the same: rewriting history, denying war crimes, and ultimately restoring Imperial Japan.

War criminal and former PM Hideki Tojo at the Tokyo trials

Rejecting the Tokyo Trials may sound outrageous, but as we've seen before, it's always been on Shinzo Abe and Nippon Kaigi's agenda, it's a logical step following their restoration of militarism, and both the US and Korea had it coming this year, the former for unconditionally supporting a morally hazardous character in his anti-constitutional crusade, the latter for failing to show the right example in the way of coping with its own history:
1) This is quintessential Shinzo Abe:
  • Historical revisionism has been at the core of his whole career. The man has a personal stake in the redemption of war criminals that he and his friends not only consider as national heroes, but also worship as gods at Yasukuni.
2) This is quintessential Nippon Kaigi:
Japan's dominant revisionist lobby has always denounced the Tokyo Trials as a "victor's justice" to be undone as soon as possible on the way to the restoration of Imperial Japan. Tellingly, this panel:
  • was heralded by a Nippon Kaigi supporter: Tomomi Inada, who said last June "the perception of history on which the rulings of the tribunal were based were way too poorly constructed - we are in need of an examination by the Japanese"** 
  • is headed by a Nippon Kaigi supporter: Sadakazu Tanigaki, hereby officially enthroned as Abe's heir (but we already knew that when he refused to run against his LDP rival). NB: the very fact that this panel is being set up on this topic to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the party speaks volume about how revisionists set the agenda.
  • was announced on November 12, exactly 67 years after Hideki Tojo and co were sentenced to death, and one day after Abe's preach to the choir at a Nippon Kaigi meeting
Shinzo Abe to Nippon Kaigi: "mission (almost) accomplished" (
Martin Fackler: "PM Abe tells 10,000-member Nihon Kaigi meeting "the bridge to Constitutional revision has been readied" (
3) This is a natural step following Abe's restoration of militarism:
  • Yearned for by Abe and Nippon Kaigi, the restoration of Imperial Japan starts with its empowerment and the destruction of all its criminal records. In 2015, Abe has already castrated the Article 9 of the Constitution, and nullified the already sybilline apologies issued by previous PMs (see "Decoding the Abe Statement: "why apologize for crimes Japan never committed?""). Why not push his luck and try scoring a hat trick? He must feel that nothing will stop him: so far, the US didn't object to anything, and the few who did at home were, like the constitution, treated as if they didn't exist. 
  • The period studied by the panel is fundamental for people who consider that "the 67 years since the end of World War II have been a history of Japan's destruction" (Hakubun Shimomura - Abe's Ministry of Education and fellow Nippon Kaigi supporter). Somehow, Imperial Japan revivalists also want to declare their liberation from occupation forces and international scrutiny. 
  • Further notable steps in their program include the revocation of all peace treaties, or the restoration of the Emperor as the supreme political and religious leader (that one is not likely to happen as long as Akihito lives... but don't worry, these revisionists still have lots of surprises in store for you!)
4) The US had it coming:
  • From the beginning, even before the Tokyo trials started, the main criticism came from Allies, who said that the US were making a mistake by protecting such key figures as Hirohito or Shiro Ishii. I can understand the decision to maintain the imperial family, but then, MacArthur shouldn't have refused the Emperor's apologies, which would have silenced revisionists forever. Regarding Shiro Ishii and his abominable Unit 731, needless to remind you how they're an inspiration for Abe (see "Can't top that? Shinzo Abe posing as Shiro Ishii, the Josef Mengele of Imperial Japan")...
  • Harry Truman did warn that the Japanese far right had to be absolutely prevented from returning to power, and the SCAP did make sure that their propaganda was silenced during the Allied occupation of Japan, but no sustainable safeguards were planned to truly secure the Japanese democracy, and the rise of Shinzo Abe and Nippon Kaigi illustrate perfectly the consequences in the long term. 
  • Worse: misjudgements keep piling up. When Abe pushed for collective self-defense, I wrote that it was a historical opportunity to fix part of the damage, the moment to act as a true "pivot to Asia" by demanding a clear and unequivocal repudiation of Imperial Japan. Unfortunately, the US simply gave up and in, without even using the old he's-a-s.o.b.-but-he's-our-s.o.b. excuse. At times, they even seemed to be siding with the revisionist narrative (see "The USA And Shinzo Abe: From Ostrich Policy To Complicity?"). If the idea was to secure US bases and role in the region, time to change strategies. If you intended to strengthen China and hardliners across Asia, keep up the good job.
  • The US not only decided to unplug their moral compass, they also forgot to add a "moral hazard" clause: they took the risk of supporting a notorious troublemaker without having him bear any burden. They've given the keys of the region to a bad cop, and they've showed him on many occasions that the good cop was either looking the other way, or on permanent leave. 
  • So now, they shouldn't be surprised if he dares bite the hand that caressed him; if you expect a second trial of Hideki Tojo and co, get ready for the trial of Douglas MacArthur and co; if you expect mentions of atrocities perpetrated by Imperial Japan, get ready for more vibrant mentions of the victims of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Tokyo bombings...
5) South Korea had it coming: I'm tired of repeating the same mantra about that other tragically wasted historical opportunity. If Park Geun-hye truly wants change from Japan, she knows what she has to do: to firmly stand not against Abe but for postwar Japan, to squarely face Korea's (and her own family's) history, to help both nations restoring their honor by showing the right example, and certainly not to do the very thing Abe is trying to do (see "Yet Another Textbook Textbook Controversy")... unless provoking new provocations was the actual aim of your game, in which case your imposture is worth their own.
I could add that Japan had it coming; after all, only the Japanese voters have the power to get rid of the worst enemies of their democracy (see "Saving Japan - Let's fall the Indecision Tree")... but only a minority of Japanese voters is aware of what's at stake, only a minority is aware of what happened in the past (or even what the Tokyo trials were about), and Shinzo Abe and his friends - including in the media and in the classrooms - are working hard to erase the truth from the collective memory.

Hopefully, the Japanese people have started to wake up, and more seem eager to defend democracy (see "Japan taking a stand against ABEIGNomics?"). Not to the point the ruling party can be defeated, but to the point the silent majority may start showing some unease with its corrupt political system. That's a very long path, and as we see with people like Sadakazu Tanigaki, change within the LDP wouldn't necessarily mean the end of the Nippon Kaigi domination.

So for a second, let's stop playing the game some impostors want us to play here and there:
- if you think this has nothing to do with you, don't complain if bad things tend to happen and if bad people tend to stick around
- if you're Korean, know that Abe and co want you to believe that this is all about Japan against Korea, when actually they're waging a war for Imperial Japan against postwar Japan, so try to see Japan as a democracy in danger, and to consider how Korea could help without fueling tensions, preferably by becoming a model in coping responsibly with its own troubled past
- if you're American, know that you can't dodge history issues anymore: Shinzo Abe has invited you to the party, and forced you to chose between Imperial Japan and postwar Japan. He may be pushing his luck, but at least he didn't forget to add a moral hazard clause: in the process, you may have to face your own past.

Seoul Village 2015
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* see ""History is harsh" and other sick jokes"
** see "LDP to set up panel to review Tokyo war crimes verdicts and GHQ policies" (Asahi Shimbun 20151112),

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Korea-Japan: it ain't necessarily thaw

As far as diplomacy goes, last Sunday's summit in Seoul between Korea, China, and Japan appears to be more about tactics and communication than about strategy and issues.

Yes, trilateral summits are back, and in a more formal manner than last year's distant encounter of the third kind between Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe, and Park Geun-hye in The Hague (see "The Tripartite Summitulacra"). But that 56-point joint declaration* is pointless.

And fundamentally, nothing changes. And body language keeps betraying clear rifts, like on this Yonhap picture where Shinzo Abe struggles to get the attention of a Park Geun-hye - Li Keqiang couple that makes good eye contact, but where Korea is eager for more affection from a China obviously calling the shots.

China's top man is not even on the picture, because this non-event is not at Xi Jinping's level, even if he does go well with Park, and even if he warmed up a bit with Abe recently. That last bit was actually one of the countless reasons why Park was forced to accept a summit with Abe. In order for her to save face, it had to happen in Seoul, and with the alibi of a trilateral moment, and with a promise that some progress would be made regarding the 'Comfort Women' issue. 

As if Park were the one who reconciled everybody! As if Abe intended to make any move in favor of the victims of Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system! As soon as he came back to Japan, the revisionist PM naturally confirmed that no agreement would happen during the proposed time frame**. Abe will play the next summit on his home turf, and will as usual, as we frogs say, "try to drown the fish".

No one is fooled: Shinzo Abe has claimed back his respectability, and effortlessly gained a lot of time, and Korea can only contemplate the time and opportunities wasted over the past months. When you think that Park's main concern, ahead of the summit, was to push if favor of an old Abe dream, state-issued history textbooks, instead of showing the example by leading a long overdue truth and reconciliation movement (see "Yet Another Textbook Textbook Controversy")...

Otherwise, The Middle Kingdom confirms its posture as the hyperpower guaranteeing peace and stability in the region. You can easily guess why the US didn't win the day...

Seoul Village 2015
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* see "Full text of joint declaration of trilateral summit" (Yonhap - 20151104)
** see "Comfort women agreement with South Korea not likely by year-end: Abe" (Japan Times - 20151102)

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