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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:31 03/09/2007
Debate: Comment (May 22, 2002)

Comment on Clark essay: Agree, Disagree, and Dismiss

Daniel Dolan (Director, Global Communication Strategy, Weber Shandwick Japan)

In his critique in this forum of the recent incident involving the bid by five North Koreans to gain access to the Japanese embassy in Shenyang, Gregory Clark makes three central points:

  1. The immediate response by Japanese embassy officials to the intrusion and later responses by Japanese media are glaringly inconsistent
  2. Japanese media coverage of the incident has been excessive
  3. The comments of reporters and Japanese government officials on the incident suggest emotional blindness or possibly nationalism.

I agree with the first point, disagree with the second, and question the value of the third.

All of the evidence made public to date does suggest that Japanese embassy officials in Shenyang did not intervene on May 8 to secure the passage of the five North Korean asylum seekers to the embassy grounds, and most likely approved--at least through their failure to object--the removal of the five by Chinese guards. Subsequent protests by Japanese officials both in Shenyang and in Tokyo concerning the "illegal actions" of the Chinese authorities certainly do not square with the apparent events of the incident.

I have less sympathy for Clark's complaint that "even the normally impartial NHK made a fool of itself by giving top news prominence to an alleged Japanese expert on Korea warning darkly how the eyes of the world were on Japan and condemning its supposedly weak response. But a quick switch to the BBC and CNN news broadcasts at that moment would not have turned up even a mention of the incident, let alone a commentary." It seems to me that heavy coverage of the event by local media is not only appropriate but important, considering the non-trivial nature of the questions involved. In fact, a recent Asahi newspaper poll of 2000 voters reveals that 70 percent believe neither the official Japanese nor Chinese versions of the story. This suggests that the majority of citizens in Japan are well aware of the inconsistencies commented on above, and it seems to me that this healthy skepticism would be less pronounced had media reports been fewer. Moreover, international coverage of the incident has indeed been considerable. On the New York Times website alone I found seven separate stories of the event and the Japanese government's handling of it, dated between May 9 (the day following the incident) and May 21.

Finally, I believe that Clark weakens his otherwise generally reasonable argument when he opines that "as we see with the contrived Northern Territories dispute, once the Japanese mind gets set in a certain emotional direction, objective facts and common sense get pushed aside, particularly when disliked foreigners are involved." Perhaps due to my aversion to public examination of the emotions or thought processes of social actors (actions and speech are available for description and interpretation whereas thoughts and feelings are not) I do not see how Clark's comment contributes to our understanding of the incident. How might we define, identify and understand the relevance of "a certain emotional direction" or "dislike" in this case or any other? The videotape of the Shenyang fiasco, particularly when viewed multiple times, offers many more useful insights.

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