Sunday, August 22, 2004

Gregory Clark on Japan's immigration policy

There's an excellent article by Gregory Clark, vice president of Akita International University, in today's Japan Times.

Barbaric immigration policy

Japan's current campaign against visa overstayers is both puzzling and cruel.

Tokyo says the campaign aims to put an end to the upsurge in foreign crime. And Japan is right to be concerned about the crime problem. But the foreign gangs so active here are hardly likely to be walking the streets without seemingly valid visas or passports. If they can crack safes, forge credit cards, pick pockets or break into houses with such skill and ruthlessness, they will have little trouble getting false documents.

The average overstayer is someone who came to Japan to study or work, who found Japan more compatible than home, who has settled down, learned some of the language and is willing to do the menial work young Japanese now refuse to do.

The chances of these people wanting to turn to crime are close to zero. To be caught even without a seat belt fastened would put a quick end to the life they have worked so hard to create in Japan.

Overall, they do far more good for Japan than any possible harm. Many are crucial to the survival of small, labor-intensive industries here. They help overcome the Japan's growing problem of population aging and decline. Some even create small pockets of internationalization, opening the eyes of the Japanese around them to the world outside. Their remittances to their home countries represent a form of costless foreign aid.

Yet if caught, the deportation procedures they have to suffer are brutal. If caught by the police, they are incarcerated for an automatic three months in detention cells before being turned over to the immigration authorities who put them behind bars again for further detention and interrogation.

On deportation day they are handcuffed and roped together like cattle to be put on buses for forcible transport to airports and marched onto planes as common criminals. Read more...

Clark goes on to point out the strange discrepancy between this treatment of people who have made Japan their home and the welcome extended to anyone (usually from South America) who can claim enough Japanese ancestry. As I've said before here, Japan's immigration system is a manifestation of ugly racist essentialism. The idea is that racially Japanese people (whatever that might mean) are more likely to fit in with existing Japanese culture, to be able to learn the language and not to make waves. These views are common at all levels of Japanese society and are widely regarded as acceptable.

Gregory Clark, by the way, has a website full of excellent articles. His life story is worth reading too. From the second page, on the ethnically Chinese resistance to the British in Malaya (as it was then):
I got to meet some Overseas Chinese in Sarawak. With an obvious sincerity, they told me about the discrimination they had suffered for years from the colonial regime, and their fears that they would suffer even more in a Malay dominated state.

Some of the more idealistic and younger Chinese had gone off into the mountains bordering Indonesian Borneo to join an armed resistance movement. Most were eventually wiped out in the uneven fight with better armed and well-paid British, and Australian, troops. Their deaths, and their motivations, will remain for ever unrecorded.

Back in Canberra I discovered that those resisters were not seen as people with a cause. Rather, they were seen as Beijing’s puppets, as clear proof of Beijing’s belligerence and determination to move south into Asia. Why? Well, they were mainly Chinese, and everyone knew that the Overseas Chinese were beholden to Beijing.

Nor was the fact that Beijing had done absolutely nothing to help the rebels with arms, funds or personnel seen as relevant. In the rock-filled minds of our Canberra ‘experts’, the rebels were members of an Overseas Chinese Third Column (their word, not mine) being prepared by Beijing for its planned South-east Asian takeover.

It was my first encounter with something that would puzzle me so much for the rest of my career. Here were intelligent, well- educated people put in charge of foreign policy, but who had absolutely no idea of the reality of the disputes they were supposed to be studying. Worse they were perfectly happy not to know that reality. They were quite content to remain in the warm embrace of their dogmatic one-sided judgements. How could they do it and still remain at ease with their consciences?

In Sarawak only a few hundred young Chinese were to die as a result of this bias. In Vietnam the numbers would be in the millions.

Clark went on to resign from the Australian civil service so as to be free to criticise the Australian and US roles in the Vietnam War.

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