Sunday, May 29, 2005

Anger, not pity, is best response to poverty

The title comes from an excellent article in the Japan Times by Philip Brasor about poverty and its representation in the media:

Anger, not pity, is best response to poverty

In his new book, "Planet of Slums," the American urban historian Mike Davis paints a bleak picture of a world in which the poorest have become so marginalized that they have dropped off the economic radar. Over the past 20 years or so, globalization and the neoliberal policies of the International Monetary Fund have conspired to drive peasants subsisting off their land into cities that can't absorb them. The bottom line is something like a billion people living hand-to-mouth on a daily basis.


Well-meaning media accounts of abject poverty often avoid source problems altogether. Fuji TV has been broadcasting an annual special for the past three years called "If the World Were a Village of 100 People," which is the title of a popular children's book that attempts to make the Earth's 6.2 billion people more comprehensible by reducing their various lifestyles to that of a village of 100 residents.

This year's special was broadcast two weeks ago. A group of celebrities sitting in a studio watched reports about four children in stunned amazement. In the first, a 12-year-old Filipino girl supports her ill mother and two younger brothers by sifting through mountains of garbage for recyclables in the outskirts of Manila. The family lives in a makeshift hovel and once every three days eats a meal of watery rice gruel. The girl makes about 30 yen a day, part of which she has to spend on medicine for her mother.

The girl's situation is appalling, but the celebrities limit their comments to tearful commiserations and clueless questions. "Why doesn't she look for work somewhere else?" asks a former boxer, as if it were all a matter of personal choice, but in any case the program makes no attempt to explain the socioeconomic circumstances that keeps this family where it is.


Exploiting poor kids for the sake of greater awareness of their plight is not a bad thing in and of itself, but Fuji TV's purpose is to evoke pity, which has no lasting effect since it doesn't make people think about the cause of the problem. The emotion that needs to be stimulated is anger.


Read the complete article

Japanese TV is not greatly worse in this respect than TV in Western Europe, I think, although there is a genre of brain-dead reportage in Japan which is less common elsewhere: the 'wide show'. Short reports are presented within the framing device of celebrities watching those reports, so you get five minutes of (shallow) reportage followed by five minutes of celebrities telling you what they think about it. Predicably the comments made are often as irritatingly lacking in comprehension as the boxer's "Why doesn't she look for work somewhere else?"

For those interested in Japanese TV -- and I warn you that it is even less interesting than I have managed to describe it as here -- there's a pretty good article in the Chicago Tribune which mentions wide shows:

According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, the Japanese watch the most television -- an average of five hours a day, which far outpaces Americans, in second place at a paltry 4 hours and 19 minutes.


A staple of Japanese television is the chat show, known here as a "wide show" for the wide variety of topics they cover. However, these consist almost exclusively of sensationalistic crime stories and recipes.

Hosts and panelists convene informally to talk, interview special guests and per-form silly stunts. To accentuate that homey feeling, a tall glass of iced tea is placed in front of each guest. But it's not cool to really take a sip. That would be rude.

The granddaddy of these programs is "The Wide." It's my favorite because I was once interviewed for a segment on a horrific school murder. But I was videotaped at my office. I didn't get a glass of tea.

Are war criminals still war criminals if the trial was unsound?

The Japan Times reports that:

Masahiro Morioka, parliamentary secretary for health, labor and welfare, said Thursday that Class-A war criminals convicted by the Tokyo War Crimes trial after World War II are not criminals because the tribunal was "one-sided."

Japanese government leaders have said that Morioka's position does not represent the government, saying that Tokyo has accepted the results of the tribunal.

Morioka is on the right wing of the ruling LDP, which puts him very close to the unpleasant militaristic, racist elements in Japanese political life, and his comments should be understood as the insult to other Asian countries that they were probably intended as. (See the Japan Times report for the reaction of the Chinese authorities, who never sound so reasonable or representative as when right-wing Japanese politicians give them this kind of chance.)
Having said that, the trials were undoubtedly not as carefully conducted as they should have been, nor did they have a wide enough remit.

one of the judges [in the Tokyo war crimes trials], Radhabinod Pal of India, issued a blistering dissent, attacking the Tokyo trial as an instrument of U.S. political power and argued that neither war crimes or conspiracy had been proven.

Pal condemned the court's decision not to allow the defendants to bring evidence about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and compared then president Harry Truman's use of nuclear weapons to Germany's atrocities in World War I and II.

"If any indiscriminate destruction of civilian life and property is still illegitimate in warfare, then, in the Pacific war, this decision to use the atom bomb is the only near approach to the directives of the German emperor during the first world war and of the Nazi leaders during the second world war," he wrote. "Nothing like this could be traced to the credit of the present accused."

(from a rather odd article on the Asia America site)

Japanese jingoists like Morioka tend to agree with Pal (for all the wrong reasons, no doubt). A criticism they would not make is equally important. Many people who may have committed war crimes were never brought to trial, from the emperor (a political decision by the US administration) to low-ranking soldiers, as documented for example by Michael Goodwin, in his excellent book 'Shobun: A Forgotten War Crime in the Pacific' about the shobun ('disposal') policy of summary execution for captured airmen -- "by beheading, gunshot and even poisoning."

So the trials of the leaders in Tokyo were largely show trials: carried out by the US authorities for their effect on Japanese and US public opinion. But that doesn't mean that those convicted were not guilty: most of them undoubtedly were. In particular those who were cabinet members during the war were obviously culpable.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Amnesty report 2004: Japan mistreated refugees; executed prisoners in secret

After a few days of fairly concerted local activity helping to promote and make placards for a demonstration against the massacres in Uzbekistan, it's back to normal here: drawing attention to the misdeeds of East Asian governments and giving exposure to activism there.

For some reason the criminal behaviour of the Japanese government always riles me most. I suppose that although I hate what the Chinese authorities do I can see why they stamp out dissent. With the Japanese elites it seems so gratuitous: why does the second-richest country in the world insist on treating so many people with such contempt? And why are the people that they treat worst almost always among the most obviously deserving of consideration and aid? -- Korean-Japanese pensioners, Vietnamese refugees, the families of mentally ill prisoners and so on and on.

What triggered my rant is the publication of Amnesty International's report for 2004 (confusingly called the 2005 report). The summary of the part about Japan is here. There's a brief Japan Times article with some of the allegations here.

I intend to cover what the report has to say about other East Asian countries -- much worse in the case of China and North Korea, of course -- in future posts.

For now, though, here are some pieces of the report on Japan:


Two men were executed in 2004 in secret by hanging. At least 61 prisoners remained on death row. Refugee recognition procedures failed to meet international standards. The issue of reparations for forced sexual slavery during World War II remained unresolved.



Japan executed two death row inmates in September. Both executions – by hanging – were carried out in secret. The prisoners were informed only a few hours before the execution and their families and lawyers were told after the executions had taken place. The executions were carried out while parliament was in recess in an attempt to avoid public debate or criticism.

• Mamoru Takuma, who murdered eight schoolchildren in Osaka in 2001, was executed with unusual speed, less than a year after his death sentence had been finalized. He was reported to have a history of mental illness.

Death row inmates were kept in solitary confinement and communication with the outside world was very restricted. At least 25 prisoners whose sentences have been finalized have spent more than 10 years on death row awaiting execution. Ten per cent of death row inmates were reportedly victims of miscarriages of justice.

• In August the Tokyo High Court rejected a request for retrial by Hakamada Iwao, who had spent over 38 years in detention and always protested his innocence.


The crackdown on illegal immigrants was strengthened after the government announced its security policy at the end of 2003. Businesses reportedly employing undocumented migrants were raided. The government also manipulated fear of “terrorism” to facilitate the forcible repatriation of thousands of foreign workers.

This crackdown was followed by an amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law which raised the maximum fine for undocumented migrants and extended the maximum re-entry ban on deported foreigners from 5 to 10 years.

The new law scrapped the requirement that refugees apply for refugee status within 60 days of arrival. However, concerns regarding the detention of asylum-seekers remained. Mentally ill asylum-seekers continued to be detained without appropriate medical care and reports of suicide attempts continued. Some asylum-seekers were detained and thereby separated from their children. Several people were detained for years and were suddenly forcibly repatriated while their appeals were still pending. In 2004, of 426 people who applied for refugee status, only 15 were granted asylum.

• In February, the Tokyo District Court upheld the decision to reject refugee status for a gay Iranian man known as Shayda, despite numerous reports of homosexuals being executed in Iran. Shayda was recognized as a refugee by the UN refugee agency UNHCR in 2001. The Tokyo Court acknowledged that under Iran’s Islamic penal law, those accused of same-sex acts face punishment, including the death penalty. However, the Court stated that Shayda could live in Iran safely as long as he did not “overtly” engage in such activities and that a person could find ways to avoid persecution. Shayda’s application for refugee status was rejected in 2000, and he was then detained for 19 months for overstaying his visa.

• In November, a Vietnamese woman was forcibly repatriated to Viet Nam even though her husband (a refugee) and baby remained in Japan.

In August Japanese officials, assisted by the Turkish police, visited Turkey to investigate the families of those seeking asylum in Japan. Such investigations exposed asylum-seekers and their families to increased danger as information regarding individual applications was given to Turkish authorities.


The issue of reparations for former “comfort women” – women forced into sexual slavery during World War II – remained unresolved. In February, Tokyo’s High Court rejected compensation claims by seven Taiwanese former “comfort women”. The women claimed that they were victims of systematic sexual abuse by the Japanese Imperial Army and suffered discrimination after the war. They had demanded compensation and an official apology from the Japanese government. There were originally nine plaintiffs, but two died during the case.

In May Japan enacted a law against domestic violence providing protection not only to spouses but also to former spouses and children. The law allowed courts to order perpetrators from their homes and to stay away from spouses, former spouses and children.

In the whole report only two good results: "The new law [on immigration] scrapped the requirement that refugees apply for refugee status within 60 days of arrival", plus the law on domestic violence mentioned in the last paragraph. On the other hand, it's good news that so many people are continuing to struggle.

Uzbekistan demo pics on Indymedia

If you would like to see how our demo went last Saturday, please click here for the report on UK Indymedia. (Many thanks to Tim Jones for getting soaked taking the pictures and being understanding and responsible about obscuring faces. The photo below is one of his, published here under CopyLeft -- see below for details.)

uzbek demo

As I wrote to a friend: The demo was pretty good. I met several really nice Uzbeks and their friends from all over the place. We were videoed by two different but equally creepy KGB types -- one with the Uzbek embassy, the other apparently a sort of freelance and just a kid, really. Craig Murray was there and seemed pleasant, although I didn't spend much time talking to him. Most of the time I was trying to block the cameramen from filming the Uzbeks.

An organisation for Uzbeks and their supporters in the UK is in the offing. I'll post details here once we have a website.

The photo in this post is 'CopyLeft'. This means you are free to copy and distribute it under the following license:

Copyright ©2005 Tim D Jones

Permission is granted to anyone to make or distribute copies of these photographs, in any medium, for personal and not-for-profit purposes, provided that this copyright notice and permission notice are preserved, and that the distributor grants the recipient permission for further redistribution as permitted by this notice.

Modified versions may not be made.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Demonstration this Saturday in London

Not a news item, but a call to action (if you happen to be in or near London -- the one in the UK, that is).

Demonstrate against the Uzbek massacres

- London, 12 noon, Saturday 21st May 2005

Assemble at the Uzbek Embassy, 41 Holland Park Road, London W11 3RP. Nearest tubes: Holland Park (Central Line) / Notting Hill Gate (Central/District Line).

*Support Uzbekistan's democratic opposition.

*Demand justice for the hundreds murdered by Karimov in Andizhan this week.

*Call for an end to Western support for this brutal regime.

This demonstration has been called by a group of UK-based Uzbek dissidents, and is supported by Craig Murray, Britain's former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, and anti-war activists.

Confirmed attending:

*Craig Murray, Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan until last year when he was sacked for denouncing torture in Uzbek jails.

*Johann Hari, columnist for the Independent who wrote this week about the connections between the massacre and the 'war on terror'

Last Friday hundreds of people were killed in Andijan in Uzbekistan while peacefully demonstrating. A further 200 were killed the following day in nearby Pakhtahbad.

Uzbekistan is one of the world's worst human rights abusers, with torture regularly used against political opponents of the dictator, Islam Karimov. It is also an ally of the US and UK in the 'war on terror': the US has a military base there and Karimov has received many high-level Bush administration officials in recent years, including Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks, and has visited Bush in the US. (See this page for details.)

Bush and Karimov smiling and shaking hands

Associated Press reported on Wednesday:

an AP reporter and other journalists witnessed troops opening fire on the crowd at Andijan's central square.

[Opposition politician Nigara] Khidoyatova said 542 people were killed in Andijan on Friday and another 203 people died in Pakhtabad, about 30 kilometers to the northeast, on Saturday.

"Soldiers were roaming the streets and shooting at innocent civilians," Khidoyatova said. "Many victims were shot in the back of the head."

In Pakhtabad, virtually all the victims were women and children apparently trying to flee violence by crossing into neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Khidoyatova said. Others gave similar accounts."

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Korean minister responsible for investigating 1980s atrocities resigns because implicated in 1980s atrocities

I'm still catching up with news stories from the last week or so.

The Korea Herald reported on 5th May that:

Vice Defense Minister Yoo Hyo-il has resigned amid controversy over his alleged role in the brutal military crackdown on the 1980 Gwangju civic uprising.


Civic groups called on Yoo to resign raising allegations about his role in the so-called Gwangju massacre and military operations against pro-democracy activists in the 1980s.

Yoo was a battalion commander of the 20th infantry division, which was sent to Gwangju to suppress the armed civilian revolt against a military coup by major general Chun Doo-hwan, who later became president.

The government estimates more than 200 civilians were killed during the uprising. Unofficial figures put the death toll at more than 2,000.

Yoo is also alleged to have engaged in the Chun government's forceful conscription of leaders of student activism from 1981-83. An estimated 11,000 students were forced to serve in the military and suffered torture and other forms of abuse.

Yoo's past is particularly problematic because:

Yoo heads the [defence] ministry's fact-finding panel mandated to look into military wrongdoings and suspicious deaths under past authoritarian governments.

He made the decision [to resign] after [President] Roh [Moo-hyun] last Thursday urged the ministry to make more efforts to shed light on the military's wrongdoing.

Read the complete article

Uzbek protests; Russian gas

Some important news stories I wanted to find time to comment on (but didn't):

Out of my area, the BBC reports protests in Uzbekistan, broken up by the police, of course.

'Russia plays down fears it will deprive Japan of oil' -- from the Japan Times.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Chinese administration tries to prevent May protests

From another Japan Times article:

(Kyodo) Police guarded streets, parks and other potential protest hot spots in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday to head off any further anti-Japan protests after demonstrations last month led to vandalism and a diplomatic rift.

In Beijing, about 200 police officers stood guard at the Hailong Building, a starting point for the April 9 protests that drew upward of 10,000 people and culminated in vandalism to Japanese diplomatic property as well as three Japanese-style restaurants.

About 1,000 Shanghai police officers weathered a downpour to guard the Japanese Consulate, where on April 16 windows were broken with rocks and other projectiles by some of the 20,000 demonstrators who marched there.

I think there may well be protests on May 4th anyway.

This 4th May is the 86th anniversary of the original May 4th Movement, when

"over 3000 students of Peking University and other schools gathered together in front of Tiananmen and held a demonstration. They shouted out such slogans as "Struggle for the sovereignty externally, get rid of the national traitors at home", "Do away with the 'Twenty-One Demands'" [of the Japanese government], "Don't sign the Versailles Treaty". They demanded with one voice to punish such figures as Cao Rulin, Zhang Zongxiang, and Lu Zongyu, who held important posts as diplomats. The enraged students even burnt Cao Rulin's house. The government of the Northern Warlords suppressed the demonstration and arrested many students. ...

"The May Fourth Movement marked the beginning of the New Democratic Revolution in China. It also served as a intellectual turning point in China. It was the seminal event that radicalized Chinese intellectual thought. Previously Western style liberal democracy had a degree of traction amongst Chinese intellectuals. However the Versailles Treaty was viewed as a betrayal." [because of the concessions offered to Japanese imperialism] (from Wikipedia).

Ayako Ishigaki - Communist and feminist

There's a review in the Japan Times of the memoirs of Ayako Ishigaki -- Restless Wave: My Life in Two Worlds -- Communist and feminist activist in Japan and the US in the first half of the twentieth century.


First among the incidents that would jar her out of her complacency were the rice riots of 1918. Ishigaki's wealthy aunt felt that it would be better if the hungry "would request things quietly" rather than throwing stones and kicking in the doors of rice warehouses. "In our house," this aunt complained, "we always contribute to charity and are kind to the people, but still an increasing number of them return evil for good." Ishigaki, who had earlier described her placid family life as "a quiet world, like the mirrored surface of an ancient pool; without motion, without flow, reflecting the clear blue sky," experienced, while listening to her aunt, "the faintly ominous feeling one has . . . when in a corner of the sky the rain clouds boil up suddenly and everything is dark."

It was probably this new awareness that lead her, a year later, to enter Jiyu Gakuen. Although Jiyu Gakuen was the most progressive Japanese high school of its time, Ishigaki was soon disillusioned with the mushy liberalism it offered. "It was the purpose of Jiyu Gakuen to produce women rich in interests, intelligent and cultured," she explains. "Any serious consideration of what to do about the social setup was left to other people." As this was unsatisfactory to Ishigaki, she soon embarked on the radical activism that would fill much of her life.

Ishigaki's activism, however, made things uncomfortable for her in Japan. She became involved with Japan's Farmer-Labor Party (banned by the government three hours after it was founded) and, thanks to that affiliation, spent a night in jail. One imagines that it was the threat of further persecution that made joining relatives in the United States seem like a good idea.

In America her activism continued, most notably in Japanese immigrant communities. Ishigaki was an opponent of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the increasing militarism that followed. One sees her trying desperately to believe that the Japanese immigrants she worked among "wanted to defend their motherland from being trampled upon and ruined by the militarists," and one shares her heartbreak when she realizes, observing the response to a speech from a visiting militarist, that "these honest, quiet, working people were engulfed in war spirit." She comforts herself with the notion that they were only "for the moment carried away." That they were so easily carried away, however, suggests that their distaste for the war had never run very deep.

"Restless Wave" was written in English and published in 1940. To demonstrate how unfortunate the situation then was, Ishigaki concludes her book with a chapter made up largely of entries from a notebook that had fallen into her hands, the diary of a Japanese soldier in China. Ishigaki reports that when she read the diary, she felt that her "heart was being gouged out and tortured." One understands, and remembers, that before things got better they got worse.


Read the complete article

Japan - China argument: a summary

Hugh Cortazzi, a retired British diplomat, ambassador to Japan in the early '80s, has a sensible article summarizing British comment on recent 'anti-Japanese' demonstrations in China. In typical diplomatic fashion, his comments are not necessarily his own views but introduced with locutions such as 'commentators have suggested that', 'it is probable that' etc.. Comments in square brackets are my own.

On Japan:

1) PM Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Jinja are provocative

2) Koizumi has effectively repeated Murayama's 1995 apology for Japan's war crimes.

3) The fuss is over approved textbooks, but approval of a textbook does not make its use compulsory, merely allows it.

4) "regardless of what a few rightwing nationalists such as Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara may say, Japanese public opinion, even if incensed by anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, remains basically pacific and that the chances of a revival of extreme nationalism and militarism in Japan are remote."

On China:

1) "The general impression is that the recent anti-Japanese demonstrations in a number of Chinese cities were at least condoned, if not actively encouraged and planned, by the party, which could have stopped them if it had wanted to do so"

2) "the demonstrations may have developed rather further than the authorities wished and that reining back the demonstrations was not quite as easy as expected"

3) "Some commentators have even suggested that the demonstrations were allowed to develop as far as they did because Beijing saw them as a way of allowing activists to let off steam in a way that was not directly harmful to the party"

4) "It is also probable that the Chinese authorities wanted to make it clear both within and outside China that they were opposed to a permanent Japanese membership on the U.N. Security Council, which countries such as Britain now firmly support" [as do the US -- of course -- and France].

5) "China's officially approved textbooks tend to play up Japanese atrocities during the war. The textbooks also fail to note the huge changes in Japanese society since the war's end and the pacific nature of the Japanese Constitution and of public opinion." [In fact the textbooks in use in China seem to be as grotesque and distorted as one would expect in an authoritarian one-party state. Japan's education system is an ideological battleground; in China the battle was lost long ago.]

6) "One aim of the anti-Japanese demonstrations is thought to have been to warn the Japanese government to keep off what the Chinese regard as their turf, namely the Senkaku islands and gas reserves in the area."

On possible consequences:

1) "Attention has rightly been focused on economic relations between Japan and China. The Chinese economy, as well as Japanese firms, have greatly benefited from Japanese investment in productive activities in China. Chinese threats to boycott Japanese-made products could well backfire and anti-Japanese strikes in Japanese-owned factories could damage Chinese exports and the Chinese economy."

His final section, on what should happen next, may be close to the views of the British foreign office:

From a London perspective, it is important that Japanese leaders try to avoid being provocative toward China. In particular, Koizumi would be wise to refrain from further official visits to Yasukuni Shrine, and the Ministry of Education and Science should look long and hard at textbooks that play down the behavior of the Japanese Imperial armed forces.

Indeed, there is a strong case for ending the way in which history textbooks are "officially approved" by the ministry. In many other democratic countries, there is no system of censorship and vetting of textbooks. Although this is not in fact the case, the present system tends to suggest that Japanese textbooks are centrally compiled. None of these suggestions, however, means that Japan should condone damage caused by anti-Japanese demonstrations in China. Nor should the Japanese be intimidated from pressing their case for permanent membership on the Security Council or from continuing to cooperate with the Americans in relation to Taiwan.

There is no need for Japan to send troops to the Senkaku islands, as Ishihara apparently advocates. A modus vivendi needs to be sought through bilateral talks between China and Japan. If this fails, outside arbitration might be considered. The relationship between China and Japan in the Far East is too important to be neglected or overlooked by any of us.