Recent events that portray Japan as an irresponsible, insensitive and unreliable country
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
Unfortunately, the messages sent out from Japan through various news sources this week, was hardly positive. While domestic issues such as the optimistic results of the Tankan survey and PM Koizumi's qualified victory regarding postal reforms were reported in newspapers throughout the world, those receiving most coverage related to Japan's shipment of MOX fuel back to England, Agriculture Minister Tsutomu Takebe's far-fetched comments on the link between whales and human starvation, and Japan's acknowledgement that MOFA officials were to blame in the North Korean asylum seeker incident in Shenyang. All of this combined to transmit the message that Japan is irresponsible, insensitive and unreliable when it comes to issues of international concern.
Irresponsible because the Kansai Electric Company was sending 250 kg of dangerous nuclear fuel back to Britain despite global protests not to do so. The BBC reported that Japanese government officials and Kansai Electric Co. heads conspired to "sneak out" the cargo despite a pending court verdict on a Greenpeace led petition challenging the legality of the shipment due to the tremendous security concerns involved ("UK nuclear shipment leaves Japan", BBC, July 4). Fears relating to the safety of the shipment are particularly high in this post-September 11 world. Reports regarding the inherent insecurity of plutonium shipments where highlighted six years ago in a study issued by three premier US weapons laboratories (Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Labs). With the world on a terrorist alert every international news agency reporting on the shipment (AP, Reuters, BBC, NY Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, Singapore Strait Times etc), voiced concern that terrorists could try to attack the vessels. This worry was justified according to a CIA intelligence report, which uncovered Al-Qaeda's plans to attack international ships travelling through the Straits of Gibraltar. As a result, South Korea, a number of South Pacific countries and Ireland have either refused to allow the ships passage through their territorial waters or issued public protests. Regardless of the widespread international objection, Japan has gone ahead with the shipment, which, although armed, lacks naval escorts as was customary in the 1980's for such shipments. The ultimate question that people are asking is whether the Japanese government and Kansai Electric Co. are ready to assume the responsibility if anything happens to the cargo? The audience outside of Japan remains highly skeptical.
Insensitive because of Tsutomu Takebe's recent comment linking the ban on whaling to human suffering. Reuters featured Takebe's statement in a headline that read, "Japan Minister Blames Whales for Starving Millions" (July 4). The Associated Press, the NY Times and the BBC all followed suit. Although it is a fact that many in Japan avoided starvation after World War II by eating whale meat, nobody in their right mind thinks that there is any connection between starvation and the ban on whaling today. News agencies quoted Takebe as stating that, "the giant ocean mammals are taking food from the mouths of millions of starving people worldwide". Takebe's comments ignored a well known fact that starvation and undernourishment is not due to a lack of food but a lack of the will to feed. It also magnified Japan's insensitivity towards the awe with which the majority outside of Japan regard these beautiful ocean creatures. They are not thought of as food but rather as treasures of the sea.
Finally, official information from Japan is now regarded as somewhat unreliable because of the Japanese MOFA's recent admittance that its own officials were at fault in the Shenyang asylum incident which took place on 8 May (Media Review #47). Immediately after the incident, the Japanese government along with several other politicians issued statements condemning China as having trampled on Japan's sovereignty after having seized the North Korean asylum seekers from inside the Japanese consulate compound. On July 5, several news sources including the Associated Press reported that Japan's foreign minister had punished Japanese diplomats for "the bungled handling of North Korean asylum seekers seized at a Japanese consulate in China". Apparently the punishments handed out will be in the form of pay cuts and warnings. It has been two months since the incident took place and after having accused China of increased human rights abuses against North Korean asylum seekers and violating Japanese sovereignty it has now been made clear that Japanese diplomats collaborated in the event. While the case has been resolved, the manner in which the Japanese government handled the incident has created an overwhelming sensation that information stemming from official sources in Japan is inherently unreliable.
Admittedly, these three incidents do not reflect the complex totality of Japan, neither its government, corporate culture nor its people. However, as is well known, news agencies tend to feed off of sensationalism and unfortunately Japanese sources are helping them in this endeavor by serving embarrassing and regretful statements on a silver platter.
People outside of Japan know very little of this Island country and thanks to news items such as these the little that they do know is distorted, prejudiced, inaccurate and damaging. We cannot blame news agencies entirely for this fact, their job is to provide interesting and newsworthy articles to their audience. Unfortunately, Japanese officials and corporations are distorting Japan's image overseas to the detriment of its good people and beautiful culture. Lets hope that they realize this and instead promote Japan as a responsible, sensitive and trustworthy country in the international community.
- Kozo Mizoguchi, "Japan Defends Nuclear Fuel Decision", the Associated Press, 5 July 2002
- "UK nuclear shipment leaves Japan", BBC, 4 July 2002
- "Greenpeace activists stage protest at Japanese embassy over nuclear fuel shipments", Reuters, 5 July 2002
- "Japan Foreign Minister punishes diplomats over North Korean asylum seekers", the Associated Press, 5 July 2002
- "Japan Minister blames whales for starving millions", Reuters, 4 July 2002