Monday, 30 December 2013

Why Japan Shouldn't Apologize To Korea (Right Now): Part 1: Why Not?

What the hell, Roboseyo! You were the happy blogger who isn't supposed to hold controversial views!

Bullshit. My views are the ones that make sense to me. After thinking it out. So there, imaginary person I argue against.

Did you even actually read the post, snuffleupagus?

Prime Minister Abe, of Japan, done just goofed. He visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which, in East Asia, is the diplomatic equivalent of shitting in the party punchbowl. (Unilaterally declaring air defense zones is the defense equivalent, but there you have it.) (Analysis on Korea's position in the US pivot to Asia.).

This article came out in The Economist, on USA's frustration over Korea and Japan's refusal to share their toys. Asian Foreign Policy heavyweight Victor Cha wrote in the New York Times about the same thing. The Diplomat asks why Japan's apologies are forgotten. The hair-pulling is on a regular cycle: several times a year, and even more since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe got in, Korean politicians, or other rabble-rousers call for Japan to apologize to Korea, maybe promising that love-based Asian economic zone is held back only by this. China also feels it is owed an apology, for similar reasons: "Korea and China" could be switched in for "Korea" and the main points of this article would stand more or less unchanged, given that the ball is mostly in Japan's court.

I wrote a term paper on this topic last semester, focused on the Korea Japan situation and I'd like to share some of the things I learned, or concluded, from that.

The basics: from 1910 to 1945, Japan made Korea into a colony, as part of an imperial plan to become in Asia what modern European colonial powers had become in other parts of the world. It went badly for Korea. Along the way, and especially during the Sino-Japanese war and World War II, some horrific things, like torture, human medical experimentation and forcible recruitment of Korean women to be sex-slaves to Japanese soldiers, came to pass.

This series is not discussing those historical facts: those have been documented and debated elsewhere. This series IS discussing the political realities of apologies between these two nations. So if you want to dispute facts. This isn't the blog you're looking for.

Got it? OK.

Nopologies: There Have been Apologies before: Background

Next: There HAVE been apologies before (just to pre-empt the Japanners in the comments, here's a list).

The most important, direct apologies were made by Prime Minister Murayama in 1995.

To the comfort women: "On the Occasion of the Establishment of the Asian Women's Fund"

And here's the text of the most famous one: "On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war's end"
During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history.
Many subsequent apologies have basically repeated the language in this apology.

Here is a series of posts from Ask A Korean! explaining why those apologies have been rejected.
The Murayama apology was made by a progressive government with a weak minority in the Diet, and was controversial in Japanese civil society at the time: after the apology, a string of Japanese government ministers visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors convicted war criminals along with Japan's war dead, and symbolizes Japan's reluctance to confront and particularly, disown, its colonial past. (NYT: Japanese Apology For War is Welcomed and Criticized) (Apology "Not enough"). It's the same shrine Prime Minister Abe visited in this latest news cycle.

On and off since then, other Japanese leaders have continued to visit Yasukuni shrine, publishing houses have continued to publish textbooks white-washing Japan's war aggressions, public figures have continued to say stupid things about comfort women, and Japan's presiding president considered revoking the 1995 apology, to appease his far-right nationalist supporters. At the grass-roots level, denialist netizens say whatever shit they want pretty much with impunity. So yes, it was an apology, but since there was no break from past behavior, from leadership OR the public, it hasn't come across as very sincere to Koreans.

The question of what WOULD be a "sincere" enough apology is an important one, and we need to have an answer that has broad support among Koreans - enough that asking for more could be seen as unreasonable... to most Koreans. Otherwise that complaint about moving goalposts won't go away, but  incentive for another apology will (if it hasn't already). We also don't want the impression to develop that the aggrieved have more invested in being victims, than in moving on. Some argue that is already the case, and that would be a shame, because Korea and Japan have a lot to gain from a better relationship in areas like economy, diplomacy, and security.

Political Economy

The key to the clickbait title lies in the political economy of international apologies. Political economy is a simple enough idea: in the same way financiers look at incomplete information and make educated guesses about how to profit, politicians choose actions to maximize political gain. A sane politician  won't make an action or comment or support a policy that will clearly cause them to lose approval points, votes, and reputation, (their political capital) compared to their rivals. Given that politicians decide to issue these kinds of apologies, let's ask, what do politicians risk, and what do they gain from apologizing to another country? 

For an apology to be successful, it need to be issued by a country's leaders. It needs to be supported by the population, it needs to be accepted by the other country's leaders, and that acceptance needs to be supported by that population. Those are actually a lot of moving parts already. Things complicate further if both countries have democratic systems, more or less healthy free speech, civil societies, and political oppositions. Things complicate further still if both countries have citizens who can read the other country's language, and even more again if both countries have strong currents of nationalism.

Let's imagine two countries:

Victimistan and Badovia

If you're not interested in a point by point breakdown, skip ahead to where it says TL:DR in bold.

Let's imagine Badovia did some bad stuff to Victimistan, and hasn't yet made an apology that has satisfied the general Victimistani public.

Scenario A: Strong Apology

This is how you apologize to Comfort Women.
More info here and here. Photo from here.

Let's say Badovia makes a strong apology: everything Victimistan has been waiting for - direct, contrite language followed by substantive action. If Badovia has a slim majority supporting an apology, or none, they face a domestic backlash to their apology in the media, and civil society: "They are humiliating their country in the international arena!" Out come the black vans, a few Victimistani shops get trashed by a few drunk Badovians on a nationalist rage-on.

Victimistan sees that backlash, and its media covers it (extensively). Especially during the next election cycle, when the political opposition campaigns partly on overturning the apology, to grab for those easy nationalist votes. This causes a backlash in Victimistan as well: against Badovia, and also against any Victimistani politicians who wanted to accept the apology: "They're not really sorry."

How deeply must we bow? Source 
Stuff like this gets published during the backlash: the apology has been rejected.

Badovian leaders who made the apology lose even more political capital, and frustration grows nationally that even a strong, good-faith attempt to fix things, failed. There is less incentive than ever before, for any future apologies.

Nothing's settled and nobody's happy. Ill will between the countries has probably increased.

Scenario B: Weak/Qualified (Non-)Apology - the Nopology

Let's say Badovia makes the apology its domestic political climate, with that slim majority, can bear. It issues a cautious apology carefully worded, in order to avoid sacrificing too much face. Badovian leaders are thereby protected from domestic criticism.

But over in Victimistan:

The apology is quickly derided as insincere and unsatisfying. Opportunist Victimistani politicians line up to criticize it and demand a "REAL" apology. On the other side, Badovians accuse Victimistanis of moving the goalposts, or being implacable: "They don't really care about apologies: they just like to play victim."

Result: The apology is rejected. Ill will between the countries increases. Those issuing the apology lose a lot of political capital, those stoking anti-sentiment in both countries gain political capital. Nobody is happy except the rabble-rousers.

Scenario C: Semi-Weak Apology

Same as Scenario B, except the apology is a little more strongly worded: takes more responsibility, or is backed up with the promise of more concrete action. Not as much as Scenario A, but more. Now, in Victimistan, there is some support for accepting it. But don't forget that Victimistan is a democracy with protected free speech, so opposition politicians and commentators, whose job it is to oppose things, still argue that the apology isn't enough.

Because of them, fallout is the same except:
Some people deride the apology instead of everybody, opposition Victimistani politicians criticize the apology, instead of ALL Victimistani politicians (some try to take the high ground, and talk about the long view... which might work, but might get buried under emotional arguments, if the opposition's demagogues are more skillful than the ruling party's.)

Once Badovian publics see the mixed reaction, their reaction is pretty much the same as in Scenario B, and the end result is more or less the same.

The results in these three scenarios are actually worse for relations between Badovia and Victimistan than the status quo: low grade resentment with the occasional flare-up when a dumbass politician or textbook publisher gets punchy.

Now does any of that sound familiar?


For now:
  • The kind of apology that would be supported by Japan's public won't wash in Korea.
  • The apology that Korea wants wouldn't wash in Japan. 
  • Half-assed or qualified apologies make things worse. 
  • A full apology shouldn't be attempted until those who would reject even that in Korea, or those who would oppose issuing one in Japan, are small enough minorities that they are politically radioactive. 
There is no point in adding another Japan apology, that Korea will also reject, to the list of apologies that have already been rejected, and politicians have strong disincentives to do so.

In the political economy of international apologies, politicians are calculating the above three scenarios, and in none of them does the cost/benefit end in the positive, because pleasing nationals of some other country (who don't vote in your election) isn't worth it unless you can please your OWN country's voters at the same time.

And that is Why Japan Shouldn't Apologize To Korea (right now)

Do I think Japan should apologize? Yes. But only one more time, for the last time, in such a way that everyone is satisfied that it will be the last time.

Part 2 coming soon.

Some useful readings from the paper I wrote, that informed my logic on this topic:
Cooney, Kevin J., and Scarbrough, Alex.  2008.  “Japan and South Korea: Can These Two Nations Work Together?”  Asian Affairs: An American Review. 35.3: 173-192.
On the troubled relationship between Korea and Japan: a history of attempts to patch things up, and a clear demonstration that domestic opinion can strongly affect international policy and diplomacy.
Glaeser, Charles L., Berger, Thomas U., Mochizuki, Mike M., and Lind, Jennifer. 2009. “Roundtable Discussion of Jennifer Lind’s Sorry States: Apologies in International Politics.” Journal of East Asian Studies. 9: 337-368.
A great panel discussion in which Jennifer Lind raises the point that a badly done apology, or one that isn't seen as sincere enough, can actually worsen the situation between two countries. Charles Glaeser highlights Jennifer Lind's discussion of the lack of other apologies we'd expect to have happened (see upcoming)
Lawson, Stephanei and Tannaka, Seiko. 2011. “War memories and Japan’s ‘Normalization’ as an International Actor: A Critical Analysis.” European Journal of International Relations. 17.3: 405-428.
Contains a very good history of Japanese apologies, and why they were seen as inadequate.

Here is part 2 of this series.
Here is the table of contents.