Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rapprochement between Korea and Japan? Don't hold your breath.

My very first post on this blog was about how Korea and Japan can both improve their bilateral relations with one another. For those who don’t wish to read the whole thing, it came down to one essential idea – “Don’t feed the trolls.” It was my first post and it was a somewhat lighthearted attempt at writing about a complex issue between two countries whose historical relationship with one one another has had more downs than ups.

Although Seoul-Tokyo relations have always been thorny, it has taken a turn for the worse and has not gotten any better since 2012 when President Lee Myung-bak became the first sitting Republic of Korea president to have visited Dokdo.

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Since then, Japanese lawmakers’ annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government’s attempt at historical revisionism, the issue over the euphemistically called comfort women, Japan’s claim about Dokdo being part of its territory, its increase in defense spending, and the possibility of reforming Japan’s pacifist Constitution have done nothing to help to improve Seoul-Tokyo relations.

Furthermore, Abenomics, which is just a Japanese name for Keynesian economics (it is Japan’s attempt at jump-starting its economy via monetary and fiscal stimulus packages), which has had little affect on improving Japan’s economy but has had significant negative effects on Korea’s economy, has exacerbated matters even further.

For its part, Korea has done little to help matters either. Until recently, President Park has refused to meet with Prime Minister Abe until he has expressed “sincerity” in regards to the issue of comfort women despite the fact that both leaders had been elected to their respected offices for a year. She has since reaffirmed that she would not meet Prime Minister Abe again.

Roboseyo has written a thoughtful piece about Korea’s desire for Japan’s “sincerity” on the issue (though it is most likely not a popular one among Koreans).

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Secondly, Koreans have been insisting that the Sea of Japan be renamed the East Sea; and have begun to include American state legislatures over this matter. Furthermore, the construction of a statue of Ahn Jung-geun in China, of all places, cannot be seen as anything else besides Korea’s willingness to do as much as it can to sabotage relations with Japan. Whereas Japan may be being blithe about its history and the feelings of its neighboring countries, Korea, for its part, seems to be showing all of the classic symptoms of PCSD (Post-Colonial Stress Disorder).

In a supreme example of unreasonable emotionalism, public outrage forced Korean peacekeepers in South Sudan to return 10,000 rounds of ammunition to Japanese Defense Forces after the commanding Korean officer asked the Japanese commander for ammunition when the Korean peacekeepers there faced an imminent threat from local militias. Apparently Koreans prefer to see their own soldiers placed in harm’s way than to show even a bit of cooperation with Japan.

Though it is more than likely that President Obama has various agendas that he would like to hit upon in his Asia tour, there is very little doubt that one of the things that he will discuss behind closed doors is his desire to see both Korea and Japan move on from the past in order to concentrate on the now and the future. As much as the United States has tried its best to remain above the bickering between the two countries, it must surely be an annoyance to have two of its closest Asian allies failing to be cordial with one another.

The question, of course, then becomes how effective President Obama will be. My advice: Don’t hold your breath.

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Of the two countries, the United States will have an easier time exerting its influence on Korea. With the United States’ negotiations with Korea over sharing defense costs, the transfer of wartime control, and even negotiations about Korea’s missile range, combined with Korea’s need to purchase more American military hardware as well as from other countries to combat what appears to be North Korea’s drone fleet, the United States has quite an array of diplomatic tools to convince Korea to play nice at the negotiations table.

Its diplomatic tools when negotiating with Japan, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. Although Japan has had some heated clashes with China over the Senkaku Islands, unlike Korea with its erratic northern neighbor, Japan is not under the constant threat of existential annihilation. Furthermore, it was just announced that President Obama has stated that the defense of the Senkaku Islands is covered by the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which means that the United States is obligated to come to Japan’s defense should an armed conflict ever arise between Japan and China over those islets.

Seeing how Japan is an ally and a trading partner (whose interests, most importantly, do not clash with those of the United States’) as well as that it is also the second largest holder of US debt, the United States does not have nearly as much influence over Japan as it does over Korea as evidenced by a Japanese cabinet minister and about 150 lawmakers visiting Yasukuni Shrine a day before President Obama arrived in Japan.

And, of course, all three countries are painfully aware of these facts.

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As a result, any attempt at mediating between Korea and Japan will likely backfire for the United States. Korea will resent being treated like the lesser partner in the trilateral relationship, which could push Korea toward China’s sphere of influence as was evidenced by Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s statement about how Korea should consider forging a pact with China on sharing military intelligence, which is a shocking statement considering that Korea scrapped a similar pact with Japan, a country which shares a mutual alliance with the United States, before it could even be signed after a public outcry in 2012.

Though there isn’t a single Korean (who isn’t clinically insane) who believes that Japan would ever pose a military threat to Korea as it did in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hatred toward Japan is so intense that some Koreans are seriously considering forming closer military partnerships with the People’s Republic of China, a country that is known for being, among other things, North Korea’s only ally!

(That being said, China is also Korea’s largest trading partner and Korea is rightly wary of being entangled in a possible new Cold War with the United States and Japan on one hand, and China on the other.)

Though the United States would not have to worry about losing Japan as a key military ally, it does need Japan to fully commit to the Trans-Pacific Partnership in order for it to be viable, which could become the world’s biggest free trade agreement. However, the United States needs the TPP more than Japan does. Japan has already signed many bilateral trade agreements with the countries that are interested in joining this FTA; as has the United States. However, the United States needs the TPP more precisely because it is one of the central pillars that is needed for President Obama’s “Asia Pivot” to work. Japan can make things much harder for the United States (as it has already done) if the United States overly pressures Japanese leaders to “lose face” by having to apologize to both Korea and China over its wartime atrocities yet again.

Korea does have legitimate grievances with Japan. However, there is another reason why Korea has become more abrasive with Japan in recent years than it has in the past. Rightly or wrongly, Koreans believe that their time has come.

Whereas Japan’s economy has not been able to escape from its thirty-year-old deflationary trap, this was about the same time, despite the financial meltdown of 1997, that Korea experienced the Miracle on the Han River. It would seem that K-pop has overtaken the once unbeatable J-pop juggernaut. Whereas Toyota, Sony, and Panasonic used to be household names until the 1990s, these days, those names have been replaced with Hyundai, Samsung, and LG.

Of course, Japan is now the third largest economy in the world and Korea ranks fifteenth. Korea has a long way to go before it can even hope to be Japan’s equal when it comes to raw economic power. However, and despite the irony that Koreans appear to be the unhappiest lot in the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), it would appear that Koreans are more optimistic about their future in relation to Japan.

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With the ascendancy of the nationalists in Japan following decades of deflationary economics and a voting public that is more willing for Japan to be more assertive in its international affairs on one hand, and the economic rise of a former colony on the other, both sides have begun more and more to look at each others’ relationship as a zero-sum game.

(How and why the nationalists became more popular in Japan requires another and much more thoughtful analysis than I am qualified to write about.)

I have entertained the possibility of there needing to be a third party that poses a mutual threat to both Korea and Japan for both countries to bury the hatchet. However, such a scenario is overly simplistic as it conveniently ignores the inner political and economic dynamics of each country.

For the foreseeable future, at least, it would seem that the power dynamics in East Asia is not conducive for a rapprochement between Seoul and Tokyo. For good or for ill, it would seem that the relationship between both Korea and Japan will stay frosty.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Despise Earth Day

Like many people, I, too, have been paying attention to the Sewol Disaster but I have decided not to write anything about it. The emotions are too raw and the facts are not yet fully clear. I think it will be a while before the facts are revealed. So for the time being, seeing how today is Earth Day, I decided to write a post about Earth Day instead.

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When I was growing up as a kid, I wanted to be Batman. Hell, I still want to be Batman. Why would any man not want to be Batman? During the day, Bruce Wayne is a multi-billionaire who drives Lamborghinis and dates the most beautiful women in the world. The whole relationship he had with Robin back in the 1960s was a little weird but I'm going to ignore that. But at night, he drives the Batmobile and beats criminals to a pulp with his bare fists and, as Jack Nicholson put it so well, his wonderful toys. But that's the (not-so-grown-up) adult in me talking. When I was a kid, there was only one reason I wanted to be Batman. He was a hero and who doesn't want to be the hero who gets to save the day and get the girl?

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And he gets Catwoman.  I mean, c'mon!

Unfortunately, however, being a real life hero is nowhere near as sexy as Batman makes it out to be in the comic books but that's because being a hero and feeling like one are two completely different things. A real life hero is someone like the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, a man who worked quietly in a lab to figure out how to feed the world's billions of people, who by the way, was the man who started the Green Revolution. In the past several millenia that human civilization has been around, the world has seen many great men and women. But in my opinion, Dr. Norman Borlaug is the greatest good man the world has ever seen.

Today, many people in the world are celebrating Earth Day. Many of these people want to save the planet. Like everyone else in the world, they too want to be heroes. But are they really saving the world or are they just being herded around by politicos who have their own sets of agenda? I sincerely believe that the latter holds true.

The fact of the matter is that this pro-environmental hysteria that so many people have fallen victim to is really a secular religion and like most other religions in the world, this is a religion that is based entirely on fear. Listen to whatever many of these environmental leaders have to say and I can guarantee that whatever they're saying, they're saying it with an alarmist tone, one full of fear.

This is in no way to suggest that environmental issues are of no concern. There are certainly environmental problems that have to be dealt with. However, the pro-environmental hysteria that I am referring to is not the environmental issues that are brought up by learned scientists but rather by the masses whose knowledge of economics, politics, or climatology is next to nil.

Every year on Earth Day, young people march in large cities while beating drums, chanting meaningless slogans of one sort or another, spreading alarmist propaganda about how the world is coming to an end, talking about how Mother Nature will retaliate against the evil humans, and declaring that capitalism and corporate greed are the bane of humanity.

In church, people would be playing guitars, saying amen to whatever the preacher has to say, the preacher would talk about the Rapture, and people talk about how people's sin is making God angry with us. The parallels are uncanny.

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Because the word "rape" is so conducive to talking reasonably

If you look at many of people in these so-called environmental movements, it won't take you long to realize that they aren't so much pro-environment as they are anti-corporations. They'll say something along the lines of “Corporate greed is destroying the world because corporations don't care about the environment. The only thing they care about is the bottom line – which is maximizing profits. Unchecked capitalism is destroying everything in its path and we have to educate the people so that we can change the system.”

What that translates to is this: We hate corporations because we don't understand capitalism or how this economic system came into being and we need to send more people to college to pursue liberal arts degrees so that liberal professors can use their various social engineering tools to brainwash everyone so that they will think just like us.

By the way, these are the same people who argue that globalization is evil and that is hurting the world's most vulnerable people. For some reason, however, they don't seem to have any problem whatsoever in using cell phones or the Internet. Hypocrisy at its finest.

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Now with the Internet, they can raise start-up capital for their anti-globalization movement

While we're looking into the environmental movement, why don't we also take a look at the demographic of the people who are part of the movement? The vast majority of these live in the First World. These are the same people who want to prevent new nuclear power plants from being built despite the fact that they will provide cheap energy to entire regions of a country.

They want to cease logging despite the fact that timber is needed to build homes for people – rich, middle class and poor alike. They want grocery stores to only carry organic food and not carry anything that has been genetically modified (thus giving a huge middle finger to Dr. Borlaug) despite the fact that genetically modified food is needed to feed the world's billions. They also claim that there are too many people in the world and talk about how there needs to be fewer people in the world without ever talking about who needs to die and how billions of people ought to be killed.

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Can anyone argue with any level of seriousness that the environmental movement is not an elitist movement? A movement that clearly does not understand the needs of the struggling poor? And I don't mean elitist to mean a person with an education – I mean people who are filled with unearned self-righteousness.

Most people in the environmental movement appear to be people who have for years been guilt tripped into believing that the very fact they are alive is causing the world to be destroyed.

Patrick Moore was one of the founders of Greenpeace. However, when he realized that Greenpeace had lost its pro-environment roots and had been hijacked by anti-corporation/capitalism politicos who have no understanding of reality, he left the movement. The following YouTube clip is one whereby Patrick Moore talks about the mindset of present-day environmental leaders in the documentary “Not Evil, Just Wrong.”



It's not wrong to want to save the planet. After all, who wants to live in a dirty home? And yes, Earth is the only home that we have and if we want to preserve humanity, or at the very least make sure to leave behind a habitable world for future generations, that's all well and good. But current day environmental movements are false religions and the salvation that they are promising people is nothing more than snake oil.