Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Japan, Ma Ying-jeou and reality

So the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) thinks that it is misunderstood.

More specifically, the party believes that Japanese policymakers do not have an accurate perception of the KMT and its policies, and therefore view the party negatively.

This negative view among Japanese lawmakers was palpable during last week's trip by KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to Japan, especially during an uncomfortable forum last week in which members of the Diet grilled Ma about his party's policies.

Ma was so embarrassed by the experience that he has now directed the KMT to put together a propaganda task force. The KMT will not only build a Japanese-language version of its Web site, but will also bombard Japan with daily news summaries, carefully compiled by the lads at KMT central.

In typical fashion, Ma's Japan trip had "the sizzle, but not the steak" as Tom Waits puts it in the song Big in Japan. The Taipei mayor did his best to walk a narrow line, careful not to do or say anything that might cast him as a Japan-hater, while also making sure that no one could accuse him of cozying up to Tokyo.

This mandate -- that Ma should appear neither too close to nor too friendly with the region's most powerful democracy -- led to some peculiar behavior, which deserves dissection because of what it reveals.

It must have been quite a task for Ma's strategists to put together the "right" message to spin to his four audiences: the Japanese intelligentsia, the Taiwanese public, the watchers in Beijing and the Asia crowd in Washington.

Ma, as usual, gave everyone the usual bromides about "maintaining the status quo" and "eventual unification after democratization" -- utterly meaningless phrases that sound responsible and serious.

And then he criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine -- the Meiji-era war shrine that has become inextricably linked with the words "war criminals" in the minds of the mass media. Ma surely had many reasons to bring up Yasukuni. For one, it plays well in the international media, by making Ma appear to be in synch with regional views. After all, if the coverage is to be believed, when it comes to Japan people care about nothing so much as the atrocities of yesteryear.

Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni enjoy relatively little support even among the Japanese public. It is no great loss for Ma to anger a few Japanese rightwingers driving around in their uyoku sound trucks.

So Ma made a few mild criticisms of his hosts, culminating in telling Tokyo to have a "broader view of history" (something everyone should try to do, surely).

And yet, after all of this, after being reasonable and responsible, Ma still hit a brick wall when discussing his party's policies with Japanese lawmakers.

That is because reality is like gravity: You can ignore it all you want, but eventually you're going to run into a hard and unforgiving truth.

All of Ma's fevered dissembling could do nothing to change the realities of regional politics when he was in Tokyo last week, and a few carefully tweaked e-mails sent to members of the Japanese Diet will do nothing to change those realities this week.

Japan should be concerned about the KMT's intentions. Tokyo has every right to be concerned about how closely into Beijing's orbit Ma will bring Taiwan if he is elected president. So, for that matter, do the people of Taiwan.

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