Monday, January 08, 2007

Japan's Defense Agency changes name and reality

The North Koreans and Chinese have criticized the changes, but what they fail to realize is that their belligerence toward Japan has accelerated a Japanese revision in their thinking regarding military power

By Richard Halloran
The Taipei Times
Monday, Jan 08, 2007, Page 9

`The only thing one director-general of the agency was able to accomplish was to have a military band parade in his hometown.'

Tomorrow the Japan Defense Agency becomes the Japan Ministry of Defense in a change that seems small on the surface but is substantial in its reality.

In Japanese, the new name requires changing only one ideograph, from cho to sho. In romanized Japanese, it is but one letter. And in American English, most people would not see much difference between "agency" and "ministry."

In a nation often driven by symbols, however, this shift reflects a newly assertive Japan that some Japanese say seeks to be a "normal" country. Moreover, it responds to a perceived threat from North Korea and reflects Japanese anxiety over potential threats from China.

The Diet, Japan's legislature, authorized the revision last month with surprising little opposition, given the pacifist stance of leftwing parties in the past. The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said the transition to the Ministry of Defense "demonstrates both domestically and internationally the maturity of Japanese democracy."

He contended the change showed "our confidence in civilian control. It also sends a signal that Japan is prepared to contribute even more to the international community and that it will take on its role responsibly."

In practical politics, the director-general of the Defense Agency becomes the minister of defense and a member of the Cabinet that presides over the executive branch of Tokyo's government. That Cabinet of a dozen ministers is roughly the equivalent of the US presidency, a fact often overlooked outside of Japan.

Until now, the head of the defense agency was something of a political non-entity. Sometime in the past, the only thing one director-general was able to accomplish was to have a military band parade in his hometown.

On becoming a full-fledged member of the Cabinet, the defense minister will have more say about his ministry's budget than in the past, when it was fashioned largely by bureaucrats from the prime minister's office and the Finance Ministry. For decades, however, Japan has limited its military spending to one percent of gross national product and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon.

Internationally, in dealing with the US secretary of defense or top defense officials of other nations, the Japanese defense minister will be treated now "as an equal governmental chief in both name and reality," says Tokyo's white paper on defense, published last year. In prestige-conscious Japan, this counts.

Japan's Self-Defense Forces, however, will keep their names, both in Japanese and in translation. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force will not become the Japanese Army and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will not become the Japanese Navy.

At least not yet -- some senior retired officers have been quietly lobbying for those names to be revised, too.

The birth of Japan's Defense Ministry is part of a plan to improve Japan's security. Abe says he wants to amend Article IX of the Constitution, under which Japan has renounced force as an instrument of national power. It has been at the heart of Japanese pacifism for 60 years -- a revision would constitutionally permit Japan to use military force to protect its interests.

The prime minister has also said Japan needs a national security council patterned on that in Washington and should form an agency to gather and analyze intelligence. Today, the Japanese prime minister has only a small research office to provide analyses of events and trends abroad.

The North Koreans and Chinese have criticized the elevation of the defense ministry. The North Korean Central News Agency, controlled by the government in Pyongyang, said that turning the defense agency into a ministry was intended to realize Japan's "militarist ambition for overseas expansion."

Similarly, an official Chinese newspaper, the People's Daily, contended the shift reflected "a change in nature" for Japan's defense establishment as it "clears barriers for the Japanese armed forces on their way of going beyond self-defense."

What the North Koreans and Chinese fail to realize is that their belligerence toward Japan has accelerated a Japanese revision in their thinking on military power and caused Tokyo to strengthen its defense ties with the US as the US realigns its forces in Asia.

In the normal course of events, Japan would most likely have gradually shed its postwar pacifism in favor of a more assertive posture. The North Koreans and Chinese, however, have brought that day forward, which would not seem to be in their own best interests.

Richard Halloran is a writer based in Hawaii.

Peace and freedom Editor's note: After the July 4, 2006 multiple long-range missile tests by North Korea, Japan finally decided there was an urgent need to revise the decades-long post World War II pacifist attitudes of Japan. North Korea's nuclear test galvanized that belief. The government of Japan has discussed the creation of its own nuclear weapon effort (and decided against such a move) but Japan has "ramped up" its missile defense program significantly. This name change is highly symbolic of a new, more formidible, more militarily aware and watchful Japan.

War Against Time: U.S. Plan for Iraq Envisions Months Where Years Are Required

By Jackson Diehl
The Washington Post
Monday, January 8, 2007; Page A15

The new plan for Iraq that President Bush will announce this week will suffer from the same fallacy that has infected each of his previous war strategies -- and also most of the counterproposals sprouting up in Washington. That is, the notion that American action can produce decisive results in Iraq in six to 12 months.

The administration's original war plan -- to the extent one existed -- foresaw the creation of an Iraqi administration and the withdrawal of most U.S. troops within six months of the invasion.

When that failed, the administration wagered that it could oversee the election of an interim Iraqi government, the writing of a constitution, that constitution's ratification and the election of a permanent government in 12 months. Insistence on that timetable produced the half-baked constitution that now hamstrings the "unity" government. A year ago the administration supposed that it could train enough Iraqi police and military forces in 2006 to draw down U.S. troops to 100,000 or fewer. It came no closer than it did in 2005, when it had much the same plan.

Now Bush is likely to bet that the dispatch of additional American forces will somehow produce a breakthrough in Baghdad before 2008. That parallels the Iraq Study Group, which foresees a transition of the war to full Iraqi control and the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces by the first quarter of 2008, and Democratic plans for the beginning of a troop drawdown in four to six months.

In Washington's bipartisan mind-set, the next six months are always crucial in Iraq.

Persistently, we believe that one big, intense effort will turn the country around -- or make it possible for us to leave. Why? Perhaps because Bush has never been willing to ask the country to commit itself to a long struggle in Iraq, despite his view of it as "the central front" in a war on terrorism that will define the 21st century. Instead he proposes the war that the Army and the public can tolerate without too much strain. For their part, war opponents understandably have been looking for a way out since the mission began.

Iraq, however, doesn't operate on Washington's clock -- something Iraqi leaders have repeatedly tried and failed to explain to the ambassadors and generals who demand benchmarks and timetables. And why should it? In historical context, the country is not much different from others that have emerged from decades of dictatorship and tried to sort out a new political status quo among multiple competing ethnic groups. Yugoslavia began to break down in 1991; despite repeated Western interventions, the bloodshed continued until the end of the decade. The wars over Congo's future began in 1994 with the end of the Mobuto dictatorship and didn't end until 2003. Lebanon's civil war began in 1976 and ended in 1989.

As the behavior of the Maliki government and its Sunni enemies has made painfully clear, Iraq is nearer the beginning than the end of its sorting out. Each of the main sides -- Shiite, Sunni and Kurd -- remains convinced that it can impose its sectarian agenda by force. The Sunnis believe they will reconquer Iraq when the Americans leave. Maliki himself is eager for the U.S. Army to stand back so the Shiite-dominated police and army can attempt to wipe out Sunni resistance. The Kurds intend to fight before they will share Kirkuk. Until all are convinced that they have exhausted the option of force, there will be no settlement.

If Iraq is like the rest of the post-Cold War world, this will take six to 12 years, not six to 12 months. Not only is the United States unlikely to speed up the resolution of the conflict, it may even slow a resolution down, by acting as a buffer or co-combatant -- as did U.N. troops in Bosnia, Syrian forces in Lebanon and the armies of multiple African states in Congo. Of course, U.S. forces might also prevent the war from spreading beyond Iraq or keep other nations from jumping in.

One day, on its own time, Iraq will reach equilibrium. At that moment a new power structure will solidify in a country that ranks second in the world in proven oil reserves; that occupies the geographic and ethnographic center of the world's most volatile region; that now harbors many of the most dedicated enemies of the democratic West. Will the United States want to be present, as one of the shaping forces, when that settlement is finally reached? Will it want to influence which Iraqi parties are stronger, and which weaker, in the final balance?

If so, the question the country faces is not what can be done on Washington's time, in six or 12 months. It's how the U.S. mission can be configured to adapt to the clock that's running in Iraq.

Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial editor, has been a writer and editor at the Post since 1978. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Latin America, Central Europe and the Middle East. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

Thailand remains on Edge: Many Predict New Challenges to The Military Government

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
January 8, 2007

In Thailand, more and more knowledgeable political hands see a dim near term future.

“The country is going to be in commotion,” said Surin Pitsuwan, a former foreign minister who is no longer in the government. “Old elements will certainly regroup. I think the ruling group has been jolted into a new realization that things are not going to be as calm as they thought.”

A week after up to eight bombs disrupted New Years Eve revelers in Bangkok, the government of Thailand has no suspects in custody and has not produced any evidence that has been shown to the news media. The government has made many accusations in public, mostly accusing supporters of the previous government headed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of terrorism.

The government also sowed the seeds of fear and disruption itself when late last week senior members of the government warned the population that more bombings were likely.

The Thai stock market and tourism industry have declined sharply.

The string of lethal bombings that disrupted New Year’s celebrations in Thailand has signaled the start of a difficult year as long-time political foes struggle for control of the country’s future.
Three people were killed and more than 40 injured in the New Year’s Eve explosions.
Meanwhile, the military junta now in control of Thailand is seeking to “return Thailand to the Thais.”

Pramon Suthiwong, chairman of Thailand's Board of Trade business group, said that a new law under consideration is expected to limit foreign ownership in Thai companies to about 50 percent, while redefining voting rights for local subsidiaries.

"We proposed several options to the Commerce Ministry, but basically Thailand will give them a period of one to two years to adjust themselves to comply with the new law," Pramon told AFP.
Critics of this plan include the Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce in Thailand. The Chamber met with representatives of more than 18 nations that do business in Thailand and then issued a stark assessment. The Chamber and the nations that do the most business in Thailand warned the changes could prove disastrous and urged the government to postpone plans to change the law.

"Such a radical change of this law, of the Foreign Business Act, will lead to a further erosion of business confidence," the chamber's president, Peter van Haren said.

The proposed changes to the law would essentially force companies to sell shares to Thai investors, who would struggle to buy up so much stock from thousands of companies doing business here, he said.

The new law, therefore, would not benefit ordinary Thai, most of whom do not have money enough to heavily invest. Therefore, the wealthy, like the members of the military junta now in power, would become the beneficiaries.

Our assessment at Peace and freedom is this: we expect a long year of discord and unhappiness in Thailand. And if the junta government delays the re-establishment of the democratic government, there will be further unrest inside Thailand.

When we asked Thai students and graduate students about the suspension of democratic freedoms inside Thailand, they said, “Yes, we have a history of military takeovers and coups. But after each one, democracy is normally re-established within about a year. If this government wants to stay in power beyond 2007, they may see a lot of protests and rioting in the streets.”

In Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup on October 12, 1999. His coup d'état ousted Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. General Musharraf assumed the title of President on June 20, 2001. Every year since 1999 General Musharraf of Pakistan has promised to re-establish the democratic government “within about a year.”

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As Grip of Censors Endures in China, A Satirical Poem Leads to Jail Time

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 8, 2007; Page A01

PENGSHUI, China -- All his life, Qin Zhongfei has been an ardent reader, a lover of literature and an amateur poet. But the drama he lived in this little mountain town, Qin said, has taught him that putting his thoughts into verse can be dangerous in China.

"I used to write poetry all the time, but I haven't written any lately," he said with a wan smile, repeatedly wringing his hands and wiping his high forehead during a recent interview. "This was a huge disaster."

Qin, 31, spent a month in jail on criminal charges because of a poem he wrote satirizing local officials accused of corruption. He was released only after several out-of-town newspaper articles related his fate and the central government in Beijing stepped in to halt the prosecution.

What happened to Qin, a mild bureaucrat in the county education department, was by any measure an abuse of power by local authorities here in the remote and wooded hills of central China. But more broadly, it was a vivid reminder of the Communist Party's enduring determination to control information and opinion among China's 1.3 billion people.

Since the party took power in 1949 under Mao Zedong, it has maintained tight censorship over radio, television, newspapers, movies, fine arts and books, carefully selecting what Chinese are allowed to know and enjoy. Human expression, it has decreed, must follow the party's lead.

But as China has opened to the world -- and as the use of cellphones and the Internet has become more common -- the censors' mission has become more difficult.

Still, controls persist. To carry out official policy, censors ban coverage of certain stories -- Qin's was censored from television -- and force the party organ, People's Daily, to fax over the front page every night for approval. Roomfuls of technicians have been enlisted to monitor millions of computers and cut off Web sites the party judges to be dangerous to its monopoly on power or unhealthy for the morals of young Chinese.

President Hu Jintao's ascension to power more than three years ago generated hopes that information controls would loosen as part of the economic opening he has championed. But they have tightened instead. Several prominent editors have been fired over the past two years -- the most recent one last month -- for straining at censors' guidelines. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 30 Chinese journalists are in prison for what they wrote.

A 10-Minute Lark

Weighty matters such as freedom of expression were far from Qin's mind on a stifling hot Aug. 15 when he arose from an after-lunch nap on the faux leather gray couch in his office. The cellphone lying on his desk had just signaled the arrival of a message, he said, so he stepped over to take a look.

It was a friend making fun of the local leadership, which was embroiled in several corruption scandals. The Communist Party secretary, Ma Ping, had already come under investigation and been transferred out. The county administrator and the new party secretary were being scrutinized by a team of party inspectors sent from Chongqing, the provincial capital about 200 miles to the west.

The inspectors, it seemed, had their work cut out for them. The half-finished Rainbow Bridge arced over the Wu River but never reached the other side. A lot of money was appropriated for the new Baiyun Middle School, but somehow construction never started. The Tiger's Mouth hotel, with a view over the dramatic Wu River gorge, was an incomplete shell with no sign it would ever be completed.

So to while away the afternoon, Qin took his friend's comments and turned them into a satirical poem, full of puns and comical allusions. "The horse has run far away," it began, making a pun on Ma's departure as secretary and the fact that his family name can mean "horse." Zhou Wei, the county administrator, was singled out for his name's similarity to the Chinese word for Viagra. Lan Qinghua, the new secretary, also got roasted with a pun that turned his name into "incompetent and gutless."

"Look at Pengshui County today," the poem went on. "It's full of foul air and conflicts between officials and the public cannot be halted."

Qin's friends acknowledged that the verse was not great literature. The young bureaucrat had always displayed literary ambitions that may have been greater than his talent, they joked.

Qin himself described the composition as more of a lark than serious poetry. "It only took 10 minutes," he said. "I didn't think it would be such a big deal."

But then Qin did something that would turn it into a big deal. He transmitted the poem to the cellphones of a half-dozen friends. They in turn transmitted it to their friends, in a widening circle. Eventually it ended up in the cellphone of Zhang Fu'An, chairman of Pengshui County's local People's Congress. Outraged, he took it to the county administrator, who was equally upset and asked the Public Security Bureau to identify the author.

The security sleuths interrogated Qin's friends and backtracked cellphone messages for two weeks, eventually tracing the offensive poem to Qin. At about 5 p.m. Aug. 31, two policemen stepped into Qin's office on the sixth floor of the county Education Committee building and confronted the poet.

Qin, his black hair carefully combed down and his wire-rim glasses in place as always, at first denied he was the author, according to Li Xingchen, a Chongqing journalist who investigated the case. The two police officers left to check with their superiors, Li said, but returned within 10 minutes.

"We know it's you," they said, and Qin confessed.

'Modern-Day Word Crime'

The policemen hauled Qin to the station to be interrogated. By the next day, he was detained on suspicion of criminal libel, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison. His wife, Chen Qiong, was advised to get him an attorney. The office of the procurator filed formal charges Sept. 11, and Qin's office, cellphone and computer were searched for incriminating evidence.

The case, meanwhile, had struck a journalistic nerve with Li. He wrote an article for a blog denouncing Qin's treatment as "a modern-day word crime," harking back to a much-ridiculed Qing dynasty practice of jailing writers who tripped over the intricate Mandarin language of the time.
The historical reference caught people's fancy across the country. Internet comment flourished.

A Hong Kong newspaper, not subject to the mainland's censorship rules, published the first article. Then mainland newspapers took up the dare; several carried their own accounts.

Eventually, even a Web site run by the official People's Daily allowed someone to post an article.
"The thing got bigger and bigger," recalled Li, a writer for a Chongqing real estate magazine who has resolved for 2007 to write a book on his ideas for improving China.

In Chongqing, the provincial capital that administers Pengshui, authorities were becoming increasingly embarrassed. The Chongqing Propaganda Department ordered an investigation and, true to its mission, banned broadcast stations and newspapers in the Chongqing area from reporting on the fuss.

But the leaders of Pengshui were not to be deterred. The Propaganda Department refused to explain its determination to prosecute Qin, although Meng Dehua, a deputy party secretary, had earlier told reporters the poem could demoralize county workers if its author went unpunished.

So the Public Security Bureau went to the People's Court here in the county seat Sept. 27 and asked for a quick conviction. The judge responded that there was no case. So the Public Security Bureau appealed to the No. 4 Intermediate Court in Chongqing. It got the same response: No case.

Twice frustrated, police offered to release Qin on bail but without dropping the charges. On his attorney's advice, Qin at first refused, demanding to be tried or exonerated. But eventually, he agreed to be released under the guarantee of a local middle school principal and distant relative.

On Sept. 30, he walked out of jail and into the spotlight's glare.

By then, several Chinese newspapers and magazines with a national readership had weighed in with lengthy reports after visiting Pengshui. Even a magazine sponsored by the official New China News Agency had a story.

"You have become a famous international criminal," a co-worker joked to Qin.

Distressed by the furor, local police notified Qin that he should again get an attorney, implying that the case was still alive and that he could be arrested again if the reporters kept coming.
For his part, Qin, shaken by his time in jail, was trying without much success to resume his life as a quiet bureaucrat and father of a 5-year-old boy.

By the middle of October, according to a source in Chongqing, the central government sent an order to the Chongqing Communist Party secretariat saying the Pengshui problem should be fixed, and right away. Backing up the order, the party's Central Discipline Inspection Commission sent a team to Pengshui to look into the matter.

Feeling the heat, authorities informed Qin on Oct. 23 that the charges had been dropped and told him he could apply for compensation for the time he spent behind bars. The compensation, about $280, was handed over even before Qin had time to apply for it.

"It's impossible for someone who has experienced such a big thing, something that affected my life and work so much -- after that, it's impossible not to have feelings about this," Qin said, wearing a brown striped suit along with a blue plaid shirt and matching tie to receive a foreign journalist.

"But I just don't want to go into it," he added. "The thing is, I think, really, I wish you would go to the Propaganda Department and ask them. I hope you understand my problem."