Saturday, October 2, 2010

Discretion must be at the heart of diplomacy

The Asahi Shimbun published an interview with Mitoji Yabunaka on October 2, 2010. Interestingly, Yabunaka hinted that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the DPJ and the bureaucrats were working well together.

“Some people point out that the relationship between the political community and the bureaucracy has fallen into dysfunction since the DPJ came into power,” said Yabunaka. “But where diplomacy is concerned, I think the relationship has functioned relatively well.”

This quote implies that the so-called “rift” between the bureaucracy and the DPJ was nothing more than political theater.

Ooh, those treacherous guys. They really take the cake.

As to why the Hatoyama administration decided to take up the Futenma issue, Yabunaka implied that Japan had wanted both sides to take another look at the relationship. He accused both sides of taking their alliance for granted. He noted that the situation in Northeast Asia was changing as China was “developing into a powerful presence.” I guess this was his way of saying that Japan had other options.

Throughout the interview, Yabunaka talked about his vision of “21st century diplomacy.”

“Diplomacy today must be highly transparent,” said Yabunaka. “At the same time, a certain degree of secrecy is obviously inherent in diplomatic negotiations because you must have a relationship of trust with your negotiating partner.”

This quote makes it seem like Yabunaka sides with Evgeny Morozov. He seems to acknowledge that the Internet has forced governments to become transparent but he does not seem happy about it.

Boohoo. Sniffle. Sniffle.

In an apparent effort to prove his point that transparency is important in diplomacy, he talked about how the Bush administration dealt with North Korea.

Specifically, he talked about the differences between Christopher Hill and Jim Kelly. They both served as the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia – Jim Kelly held that position during the first term of the Bush administration while Christopher Hill held that position during the second term of the Bush administration. Apparently, Yabunaka liked Jim Kelly but did not like Christopher Hill. Yabunaka accused Christopher Hill of not understanding North Korea and not understanding Asia in general. He did not same the same thing about Jim Kelly, which is pretty remarkable considering that Yabunaka practically accused Kelly of scuttling the peace talks between Japan and North Korea.1 This, of course, implies that Japan does not want its peace talks with North Korea to succeed. Apparently, Japan likes using North Korea as its attack dog. Were the Korean Peninsula reunified, Japan would no longer have that option. Hmmm…I can see why Yabunaka values the importance of diplomatic secrecy. But wait, by disclosing all this information aren’t I just blowing the lid on this whole secrecy thing?

Oops. My bad.

As for Christopher Hill, Yabunaka called him “a strongly results-oriented person who wanted to get things moving.” Yabunaka accused Hill of “overreacting” to “even the slightest change” made by North Korea.

“Wouldn’t you say Hill’s case was only one example of the arrogance with which major world powers tend to conduct diplomacy?” asked the Asahi Shimbun.

“Major powers must practice every discretion in diplomacy,” said Yabunaka. “Their diplomats ought to understand the tremendous impact their words and deeds carry and act accordingly, but sometimes they fail to do so. As a result, they come across as overbearing to their negotiating partners. But if you are a negotiating partner, all you have to do is hold your ground and perhaps even offer some words of advice.”

The real question is why Yabunaka decided to talk publicly about this whole episode.

At the end of the interview, Yabunaka acknowledged that Japan was “turning inward” and that this trend needed to be reversed. Hmmm…perhaps I can help with that.


1 At the beginning of October 2002, Jim Kelly learned about a secret uranium enrichment program run by North Korea. On October 15, North Korea returned five Japanese citizens they had abducted decades ago. Right after that, according to Yabunaka, “The U.S. media reported--as if on cue--that Pyongyang was going ahead with its uranium enrichment program.”

According to Yabunaka, that leak disrupted the peace negotiations that took place at the end of the month. Those negotiations would end without making any progress and the relationship between North Korea and Japan would enter “a long, dark tunnel.”

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