Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Senkaku row a wakeup call for wise diplomacy

The Asahi Shimbun published an op-ed written by Yuichi Hosoya, an associate professor at Keio University, on November 2, 2010. The first part of the article is stupid. I will not talk about that part. But the second part of the article is more interesting.

In the second part of the article, the part entitled “Extreme views on the Internet,”
Hosoya argued that the world had undergone some “structural changes,” changes that the DPJ did not understand.

“Unlike in the days of ‘old diplomacy’ when professional diplomats wheeled and dealt without the public’s knowledge, we are now in an age of ‘democratic diplomacy’ that is open to the public and takes public opinion into consideration,” said Hosoya.

The Internet, according to Hosoya, “is clearly transforming the nature of diplomacy.”

Of course, what Hosoya was referring to as “democratic diplomacy” is what I have been referring to as the New Diplomacy. Like our State Department, Hosoya felt the spread of “democratic diplomacy” would be inevitable. Unlike the State Department, Hosoya longed for the good old days of diplomacy, when the public was not involved. To him, democracy and diplomacy were not compatible. Were the public allowed to participate in diplomacy, Hosoya believed they would act in an ignorant and emotional manner. He argued that the public would not make good decisions in foreign policy because, as Walter Lippmann noted, the public does not really understand what is going on in other countries. On the other hand, Hosoya noted that during Lippmann’s time, the public didn’t have access to the Internet. They only “understood” whatever their media told them.

“Only professional diplomats and members of the mainstream media had first-hand knowledge of diplomacy in progress to be able to comment on it,” said Hosoya. “But this is not the case at all today.”

According to Hosoya, today, newspapers “have lost their influence and the Internet has taken over.” Today, the public engages in an online discussion. But according to Hosoya, this online discussion is “aggressive and stridently nationalistic” and, unfortunately, has affected “how politicians conduct diplomacy.” According to him, the politicians have to listen to these voices and that makes diplomacy hard to conduct.

For Hosoya, the Senkaku boat collision incident was the clearest example of this “democratic diplomacy.” Hosoya called the incident a “wakeup call” for Japan.

“Many people have realized that the economy does go south if the government stumbles in diplomacy,” he said.

“I believe Japan has learned this lesson at no small a price.”

Hosoya never mentions the diplomatic errors Japan made during the incident.

Hosoya is wrong to imply that a country can separate its domestic policies from its foreign policies. Consider again, the government spending issue. If the Japanese government spends more money then the American government will have to spend less money and vice versa. In fact, of all the significant economic issues that I can think of, making a change in policy to any of them would affect other countries, whether it is government spending, or tariffs, or regulation, all those issues are also foreign policy issues.

Hosoya is also wrong to imply that politicians are bending to the voice of the people. In fact, it’s just the reverse. The politicians are making the people say what they want them to say and they are using our voices as an excuse to do what they want to do. This isn’t anything new. For example, in the past, whenever Japan wanted to refuse to lower its tariffs on food products, a group of its farmers would start a protest and then the politicians would say they had noooo choice but to leave the tariffs where they are. A similar thing is happening today, only this time, instead of a protest, you’re seeing an angry online discussion.

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