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U.S. sea patrols fuel war of words in print

by Mark Schreiber

Special To The Japan Times

As this column went to press, the Japanese media had their collective attention focused on a potential hot-spot in the disputed South China Sea, where the destroyer USS Lassen, in a modern-day show of “gunboat diplomacy,” took an in-your-face drive-by (or sail-by if you prefer) past Chinese encamped on newly constructed man-made islands.

The media’s schadenfreude over China’s apparent loss of face is palpable, and understandable considering the Japanese government’s displeasure with UNESCO’s having accepted, on Oct. 9, materials from China related to the 1937 Nanking Massacre for its Memory of the World register.

Commercial TV’s “Mr. Wizard,” Akira Ikegami, in his column in Shukan Bunshun (Oct. 29), discussed Nanking (which is now known as Nanjing). Over a period of six weeks, Ikegami maintains, marauding Japanese soldiers could not have possibly slain 300,000 people — as claimed by the Chinese government — because that comes to 7,000 per day and “it’s not possible to dispose of such a large number of bodies.”

At least both Ikegami and veteran columnist Soichiro Tahara, writing in Shukan Asahi (Oct. 30), concede that, the specific numbers of fatalities aside, atrocities against civilians did take place on a large scale in Nanking — as opposed to the Sankei Shimbun, which remains heavily in denial with regards to all aspects of the incident.

In the Sankei’s daily tabloid, Yukan Fuji (Oct. 29), the Liberal Democratic Party’s Tomomi Inada, who currently chairs her party’s Policy Research Council, demanded that the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers retract their wartime reportage of the notorious “competition to decapitate 100,” in which two Imperial Army officers at Nanking named Noda and Mukai engaged in a sword contest to see who could execute more Chinese POWs. Both men were found guilty of war crimes and executed by firing squad after the war, but their families have unsuccessfully campaigned for exoneration in the courts, claiming the articles were defamatory.

Inada argues that no eyewitness to the event has ever come forward, and that the articles filed from Nanking were merely propaganda intended to “boost morale.”

“It’s still not too late (to retract them),” she writes.

Shukan Bunshun (Nov. 5), meanwhile, is hot on the story of four Japanese nationals, three males and one female, who were detained by China’s national security apparatus earlier this year on suspicion of espionage. None of the four, the magazine points out, were near off-limits military facilities or inside high security zones. To extract “confessions,” it says the suspects were subjected to heavy-handed interrogation techniques and one, according to information leaked from the Chinese side to a European intelligence source, was subjected to torture using electrodes.

“It’s like something out of China’s feudal era,” the magazine remarked.

The swiveling of media attention toward China may provide a brief respite from attacks on South Korea ahead of a planned summit that will take place this month.

Yukan Fuji has been on the warpath against South Korea since 2012, with nearly every issue containing two or three columns or news articles that take an adversarial stance.

In its cover story of Oct. 31, business magazine Shukan Diamond ran 34 pages concerning the Japan-South Korea relationship. A survey conducted via the Internet questioned some 5,000 Japanese and 1,030 Koreans, in both countries predominantly males.

The countries most liked by Japanese were, in descending order: the United States, Germany, England, Australia and Taiwan, with South Korea in 11th spot. Somewhat remarkably, though, South Koreans put Japan in sixth place among countries most liked, ahead of England and France. Notably, respondents in Japan and South Korea rated each other as their country’s second strongest business rival, with both putting China at the top.

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “Doing business with South Korea is essential,” 80 percent of the Japanese survey subjects responded in the negative.

A Seoul taxi driver told his Japanese passengers, “About three years ago, this street was full of middle-aged Japanese women. But not anymore. Japanese customers are down by 80 percent, all because of kenkan (a dislike of Korea) attitudes.”

Bilateral relations had warmed up considerably around a decade ago, with leading stars from the weepy South Korean TV melodrama “Winter Sonata” attracting hordes of adoring Japanese women during publicity visits. But matters took a turn for the worse in December 2011, with the erection of a “comfort woman” statue outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. This was aggravated by the visit to the disputed Takeshima (Dokdo) Island by then-President Lee Myung-bak in August 2012.

After her election in February 2013, President Park Geun-hye pursued a policy of what Japanese call tsugeguchi gaikō (tattletale diplomacy) aimed at discrediting Japan, such as by campaigns to erect statues memorializing the comfort women (a euphemism for sex slaves supplied to the Japanese military) in several U.S. cities. (Last month the city board of San Francisco voted 11 to 0 to approve the erection of another one.)

Diamond concluded that the prime reason why the current standoff continues is that media in both nations are stuck in a rut of negativism. As one executive at a Korean newspaper remarked, “It’s difficult for us to report on Japan in a favorable light. Any media that do so risk being labeled ‘pro-Japanese’ by the populace, setting it up for boycotts.”

Sapio’s cover story in its November issue was devoted to “understanding the discrimination of Koreans.” In a 22-page section consisting of 10 articles, it looks at several ways in which Koreans socially and politically “discriminate.” One writer, Iwate-born Tei Taikin, a specialist in Korean nationalism at Tokyo Metropolitan University, was critical of Koreans’ behavior, but also suggested that Japanese, by their inability to issue well-reasoned responses to Koreans’ accusations, are also responsible “for inducing such discriminatory treatment.”