Saturday, July 31, 2010
Jul 30th 2010, 11:23 by T.D. | TOKYO
THE Japanese government has postponed publication of its annual defence white paper—which should have been released today—ostensibly because it needs time to add material on the sinking of a South Korean naval ship. Which seems a rather lame excuse, given that the Cheonan was sunk in March; a comprehensive investigation, which Japan accepted, was published in May. More probably the delay has something to do with the Takeshima islands. The Takeshimas, a pair of jagged islets surrounded by scattered rocks, are administered by South Korea, which refers to them as Dokdo. The defence report would have been obliged to reiterate Japan's inconvenient claim to this inconvenient bit of real estate.
Each country considers the islands to be a part of its own sovereign territory, and both countries’ claims go back hundreds of years. In South Korea the subject is extremely touchy—memories of Japanese colonisation remain fresh. In July outrage over the issue drove a South Korean man to throw a stone at the Japanese ambassador. When the Japanese prefecture nearest the islets hosted a "Takeshima Festival" in 2005, one angry South Korean mother protested by cutting off her own little finger, as well as that of her son. A disgruntled man set himself on fire.
South Korea’s government has asked that Japan’s refrain from referring to the Takeshima question. But the Japanese government is said to be unwilling to omit its mention. Still, South Korean sentiments would seem to factor into Tokyo's thinking, in so far as the paper was postponed. Its publication has been pushed back to September or later, to avoid clashing with a sensitive anniversary: August 29th, the centennial of Japan’s formal annexation of Korea.
Conservative parties and newspapers in Japan gripe that the government does not take territorial issues seriously enough. They hint that the relatively new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government may not be sufficiently manly to maintain Japan’s position in a rising Asia. "Failure to say what Japan needs to say could be interpreted as a willingness by our government to make concessions" sniped the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's best-selling daily.
Meanwhile, a draft report by an advisory panel convened by the prime minister, Naoto Kan, called for a softening in the country's stance against possessing, producing or permitting nuclear weapons to pass through Japan. Instead, to some extent, they should be accepted as a necessary deterrent. The same draft recommended easing the rules against exporting the country's high-tech military hardware, which today can be sold only to America. In all, the DPJ faces a tough balancing act when it comes to upholding Japan's territorial claims (some of them dodgy) and its defence interests (however legitimate) without angering its neighbours.
Posted by Michele Kearney at 12:11 AM