Happy Ever After
wards are considering a plan to issue same-sex “partnership certificates”,
putting the spotlight on the status of same-sex marriage in Japan.
Shibuya Ward got the ball rolling in early February by announcing that it would
declare same-sex unions to be the “equivalent of marriage.” Setagaya, Tokyo’s
most populous ward (borough) quickly followed suit with its own ground-breaking
move gay marriage look like a groundswell.
same-sex marriages are not legal in Japan, and the actions of the two wards
don’t change that. Holders of these certificates will not be legally married,
but Setagaya Mayor Nobuto Hosaka explained that the documents would still be useful
for helping couples rent places to live or permitting hospital visitations.
still requires formal approval from the ward assemblies, which will probably
take place in early March. Support for the Setagaya ordinance is being led by
Assemblywoman Aya Kamikura, one of the few openly gay or trans-gender elected
officials in Japan.
action is seen here as a significant step toward enhancing gay and lesbian
rights in Japan.
A poll by the Asahi Shimbun found 52 percent approved of Shibuya’s plan to
issue certificates to gay couple and 27 per cent opposed. The approval rate
falls to 41 for legalizing same-sex marriages.
seems to be very little outright opposition to the actions of the two wards,
and possibly that of other wards or cities in Japan. Sexually-oriented issues
do not rile politics in Japan as they do in other countries, such as the United
in Japan can be expected to defend traditional norms, but they have other fish
to fry, such as defending Japan against the accusations by Korea and other
Asian countries that it shanghaied women into prostitution during World War II.
wake of the ward actions, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was asked his opinion on
same-sex marriage during a budget meeting of parliament, possibly the first
time that any Japanese prime minister has ever been asked to state his opinion
on the subject.
Japanese constitution does not envisage marriage between people of the same
sex,” Abe replied, adding that the country “should be extremely cautious” about
making any changes to the document. Some critics remarked that this caution was
a little rich considering he is eager to amend the constitution in myriad other
of the Constitution states that “marriage shall be based on the mutual consent
of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the
equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.” The article is a liberal icon
written by Americans in 1946 mostly to ensure equality of women in marriage not
with gay rights in mind.
argue that a government which certainly stretched the meaning of the pacifist
Article 9 in order to participate joint military operations with other allies, an
action known as “collective Defense” could similarly “reinterpretation” if it
could easily be the basis for a reinterpretation as it reads, “all people are
equal under the law and there can be no discrimination because of race, creed,
sex, social status or family origin.” Similar language has been used to
legalize same-sex unions in the US.
the Supreme Court recently agreed to delve into marriage issues. Same-sex
unions are not on the court’s agenda, but it has agreed to adjudicate whether
the current requirement forcing married couples to choose a single surname, an
issue close to the hearts of Japanese feminists, is constitutional.
would appear that “change is afoot,” says Mari Miura, professor of gender and
politics at Tokyo’s Sophia University.
background in Japan is not necessarily hostile to same-sex marriage.
Homosexuality has been legal since 1880. Since 2009 it has been legal for
persons of the same sex to marry in jurisdictions where such marriages are
legal and then to return to Japan.
prominent example is the US Consul-General in Osaka, Patrick Linehan, who
married his husband in Canada several years ago. Disneyland Tokyo allows people
to take their vows at the Cinderella’s Castle hotel, although, of course, they
are only symbolic and not legal marriages.
As a whole,
Japanese culture, though conservative, and the country’s major religions are
not particularly homophobic, and while there are few laws on the books to
protect LGBT people from discrimination, there appears to be relatively little
discrimination to begin with. Gays are even accepted into the Self-Defense
political party officially endorsed same-sex marriage in its election manifesto
for the 2012 general election, although the Social Democratic Party has only
four seats in parliament. It fielded the first openly gay candidate for
parliament; he lost. The communists endorse civil unions, and there are
believed to be quiet supporters in the larger parties.
December Taiwan became the first country in East Asia to actually debate the
question of same-sex marriage at the parliamentary level. Part of the debate
included amending the Civil Code to change gender specific terms like husband
and wife to the more neutral “parties” or “spouses.”
other countries, young people in Japan seem to be well ahead of older members. The
youthful Goshi Hosono, 42 the runner up in last month’s selection for the
leadership of the main opposition Democratic party of Japan has said he
supports equal rights for sexual minorities though he stops short of endorsing
has another unusual champion. The prime minister’s often outspoken wife Akie
Abe took part in the 2014 Tokyo LGBT pride festival last April. Her husband
spent the day visiting the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
An Excuse to Rearm?
offering pro-forma condolences for the dead hostage, the official press quickly
used the crisis as an excuse to pummel their favorite target, Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe as a war monger.
leaders around the globe strongly condemned the beheading of the Japanese
hostage Haruna Yukawa and the threat to do the same to a second Japanese
hostage, China’s reaction to the whole crisis was extraordinarily grudging.
killing is the price that Japan has paid for its support of Washington [war on
terror]”, said the China Daily, the
official organ of the Chinese Communist Party. It went on to speculate that Abe
will eventually use the crisis as an excuse to repeal the country’s pacifistic
The Global Times, a newspaper published by
the communist party but aimed at international readers, predicted that the
crisis would be a new excuse for Japan to relax the restrictions now imposed on
its armed forces. “Abe is more concerned about promoting rightest policies than
it is hardly news that relations between China and Japan are in the pits these
days, or that Beijing holds a special animas for Japan’s prime minister or that
everything Tokyo does these days is automatically seen as a march toward “remilitarization.”
supports the international coalition against the Islamic State, organized by
Washington. It’s most concrete contribution, is a $200 million package of
nonmilitary aid for coping with refugees that Abe announced in Cairo during a
trip to the Middle East.
Islamic State promptly latched on to that figure and turned it into a ransom
demand that they soon dropped after killing Yukawa and substituted new demands
for releasing a convicted terror bomber now in Jordanian custody.
talked a lot about wanting to raise Japan’ profile in international affairs,
yet it would be misleading to say that this effort raised Japan’s profile to a
higher level. After all, Tokyo contributed billions of dollars to the coalition
formed in 1991 to retake Kuwait and was shocked at how little thanks it got.
the second Iraq War came around in 2003, Tokyo was determined to send at least
some “boots on the ground” in the form of a construction battalion that operated
under severe restrictions to conform with the constitution. Japanese navy
oilers also refueled coalition ships supporting the war in Afghanistan.
two actions required special legislation. The Abe government is currently
considering a series of new amendments to the Self Defense Forces Act to enable
even closer military cooperation between Japan and the United States and
possibly other “allies.”
So it is
not wrong to speculate on how the hostage crisis, once it is resolved, will
impact Japan’s future defense posture. There have, after all, been plenty of signs that Abe’s government wants
to enhance the country’s military, such as has increasing defense spending in a
modest way since taking power two years ago.
the cabinet issued a statement “re-interpreting” the constitution to allow for
“collective defense”, which mainly means working in concert with it main ally,
the United States, and potentially other countries with which it has a close
the hostage crisis unfolded. Japan’s defense minister Gen Nakatani and foreign
minister Fumio Kishida were in London discussing closer cooperation on jointly
developing new armaments. Tokyo last year relaxed its traditional ban on
defense can go into effect, however, the Japanese parliament has to pass a
bunch of new laws and amendments to the Self-Defense Act. This was to have been
accomplished in the last session, but the Abe administration pulled the bills
rather than have this divisive issue become part of the snap election last
parliament, elected late last year, went into session this past week, will be
called on to pass those laws. Opinion polls have shown the public about equally
divided on the issue. There has been no new polling on this issue since the
hostage crisis broke out.
hostage crisis cuts two ways. In one sense it raises long-standing fears among
the Japanese public that their country will be dragged into Middle East
conflicts as part of American-led coalitions. In that respect, many fear any
weakening of the constitution’s prohibition on using force to resolve
for collective defense is primarily motivated by perceived growing threats from
China and North Korea. China and Japan are involved in a heated dispute over
ownership of several islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in
Japan and Daioyu in China.
of the proposed amendments could impact the Middle East, such as provisions
allowing the Japanese navy to sweep mines in the Persian Gulf, for example.
Japan is entirely dependent on the region for petroleum imports.
other hand, the crisis adds to Japan’s current sense of impotence and helplessness
to defend its citizens in danger. It is deeply humiliating to Japan’s leaders
that they have essentially had to out-source the handling of the hostage crisis
sense of impotence was felt in an earlier hostage crisis that took place in
Algeria just one month after Abe took office in December, 2012. Militants took
over an oil refinery in a remote part of Algeria. Ten Japanese hostages died
when the Algerian Army stormed the site.
Japanese killed in that incident were not adventurers like Yukata, drawn to
danger, but ordinary engineers working on an international infrastructure
project in a presumably safe country like thousands of other soldiers for Japan
incident shattered the illusion that Japan was largely immune to international
terrorism from radical Muslims. Having to depend on the special forces of
another country was especially galling. There were no Japanese forces trained
in these kinds of operations and no legal grounds for Tokyo to use them even if
Todd Crowell is the author of The Coming War between China and
morning in 1995 Kazumashita Takahashi , an assistant station master on the
Chiyodu Subway line in central Tokyo, was on duty when the 8:10 train pulled in.
Many of the passengers were civil servants, whose offices were in the nearby
Kasumigaseki government district next to the Imperial palace.
doors slammed shut Takahashi noticed some liquid spilled on the train floor. He
mopped it up and waved the train on. Shortly after he collapsed on the platform
and died. Within minutes commuters were staggering out of the subway exits
gasping for breath, coughing, rubbing their eyes and foaming at the mouth.
terrorists had planted sarin nerve gas at five widely scattered locations along
three downtown subway lines in what must have surly been the world’s first use
of a weapon of mass destruction delivered in a waste basket.
Japan will be commemorating and contemplating meanings about several poignant
anniversaries. In addition to the 20th anniversary on March 20 for
the sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system, there is the 20th
anniversary, just past, on the Kobe earthquake.
further beyond is the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the
end of World War II. Even though the date, August 15, is months away, much
speculation is building in Japan as to what the conservative prime minister,
Shinzo Abe will say on that occasion.
earthquake that struck Kobe early on the morning of January 17 was the most
severe quake to hit Japan between the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the
Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Some 6,434 people died in the Kobe quake.
magnitude 7.3 quake shattered the safety myth of urban life in modern-day Japan.
The collapse of elevated expressways, which became the iconic symbol of the disaster,
and fires that burned down whole neighborhoods underscored the vulnerability of
the country to natural disasters.
recent March 11, 2011, Great East Japan quake was even bigger and deadlier, but
most of the victims drowned to the tsunami that followed the quake, where as
most of the victims of the Kobe quake were crushed in collapsing houses and buildings.
not regain its pre-quake population until 2004, and today about 44 percent of
the population now has no first-hand experience with the event, underscoring
the need to keep knowledge and memories of the disaster alive.
It is hard
to forget the nerve gas attack in Tokyo, when, 20 year after the event, there are
still accountings to be settled. The trial opened January 16 for one of the alleged
members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult that perpetrated the terror attack.
Takahashi, now 56, went on trial for murder and several other crimes relating
to the cult’s nefarious activities. A fugitive for 17 years after the attack,
Takahashi was finally apprehended in June 2012. His trial is expected to last
for four months with a verdict announced in April. He has pleaded not guilty.
trial progresses along this timetable, it will seems like the speed of light
compared with the trial of the cult’s mysterious leader Shoko Asahara. He was
convicted and sentenced to death after a trial that lasted nine years.
still alive and awaiting execution, which in Japan, are never announced in advance.
He will know he has met his date with the hang man only the morning when it
actually happens. During his lengthy trial, Asahara never spoke out or offered
any kind of excuse or reason for his cult’s bizarre attacks.
the most eagerly anticipated anniversary of 2015 will be the 70th
year following Japan’s surrender in August, 15, 1945. This would be a pregnant
date under any circumstances, but it is all the more interesting in that all
will be curious to see how Abe handles the event and what he says in the
inevitable anniversary declaration.
known to question the veracity many of the war crimes that Japan has been
accused of fomenting during its invasion of China. Indeed, he has even questioned
whether “aggression” is the correct term to describe Japan’s actions.
he is also the leader of Japan and responsible for Tokyo’s diplomacy abroad, so
he will have to suppress many of these private convictions in order not to stir
more trouble with nearby neighbors, China and South Korea. Properly phrased it
might even help to alleviate some of these tensions.
his government, including Abe himself has been eager to put a positive spin on
the event, saying he hoped that any statement would be foreword looking as well as expressing remorse for
Japan’s actions in World War II.
like to write Japan’s remorse on the war, its post-war history as a pacifist
nation and how [Japan] will contribute to the Asia Pacific region and the
world,” Abe said in his first press conference of the new year. “We hope Japan
can match its words with actions, honestly facing up to its history.” countered
a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.
statement will be even more closely scrutinized than the one issued by former
prime minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995 to mark the 50th
anniversary of the close of the war. The premier admitted in that statement
that Japan bore responsibility for wartime atrocities and for it colonization
of Korea. It has been viewed ever since as an unambiguous, formal apology.
many on the far right in Japan believe that Murayama’s statement went too far.
That it was issued by the only socialist prime minister Japan has had since the
days right after the war, adds to their contempt for the statement and their
probably unrealistic hope that Abe might actually retract part of it.
certainly not in the cards as coming from a premier who, though personally
something of a historical revisionist, is also keen on restoring Japan’s relationships
with its near Asian neighbors.
The Year 2014 in Asia
Who would have
believed that a middle-sized national air carrier for a middle-sized Asian country
could have been involved in two deadly air crashes under mysterious
circumstances that at year’s end still were not fully explained? Malaysia
Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people on board disappeared in March on a flight
from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. No one claimed responsibility for the disappearance,
and at year’s end it remained one of the greatest mysteries in aviation
history. In July another Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down over Ukraine
while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with loss of 298 passengers. In
this case the cause was fairly certain but not the perpetrator. Suspicion fell
heavily on Russian separatists using a sophisticated Russian surface-to-air
missile; Moscow blamed the Ukraine. Other notable stories during 2014 include:
The Umbrella Revolt: For 79 days the most serious
anti-government protests on Chinese territory since the Tiananmen affair in
1989 paralyzed much of central Hong Kong. The immediate cause of the protest
movement, dubbed the Umbrella Revolt by the press, was a decision by the
National People’s Congress keep control of nominations for Chief Executive
firmly in friendly, pro-Beijing hands. An underlying cause may well have been
growing inequality in the territory and frustrations over sometimes boorish behavior
of mainland visitors. It was called the “umbrella revolt” as protestors used
umbrellas to ward off pepper spray from the police (and also to stay dry.)
South Korean Ferry Sinking:
All of South Korea mourned the sinking of the ferry Sewol on April 16 with the loss of 304 people, most of them secondary
school students on an outing. The accident was the cause for much
hand-wringing, soul-searching and not a little scape-goating in Korea,
especially over the government’s supposed tardy response caused so many deaths.
Many heads rolled in the aftermath, including that of the prime minister, the
captain and three other officers were convicted of murder and given lengthy
prison terms. The line’s owner Yoo Byong-eun was found dead of an apparent
suicide. A vice principal at the high school also committed suicide.
Thai Premier Ousted in Coup: The Thai army seized power in
Bangkok on May 22 for the umpteenth time, ending a six-month political crisis
and mounting pressure for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and
replace Thailand’s elected parliament with an unelected council. Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra,
who himself was ousted in a coup in 2006 and has lived in exile ever sense. She
was appointed premier after her Pheu Thai Party won a majority in 201l. She
attempted to fend off critics with a general election in February, but it was declared
void by the constitutional court. The coup leader, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, was
later appointed prime minister. He shows no sign of wanting to restore
democracy, which always seems to return the Shinawatras and their allies to
Jokowi Elected Indonesian President: Indonesia held its third
democratic presidential election in July elevating Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo,
commonly known as Jokowi, to the
presidency. It was also the first peaceful transfer of power in Indonesia’s
young democratic era. Widodo ran on a populist platform and was opposed by
former army general Prabowo Subianto who called for stability. Despite Widodo’s
clear majority (53 per sent versus 47 per cent), Prabowo appeared intent on
challenging the results as fraudulent, but he withdrew his complaint shortly
after the constitutional court upheld the election results allowing Widodo to
take office in August.
Taipei Turns Back on China: Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang Party
suffered an historic defeat in local election held in November. Where it had
previously held 14 of 22 municipalities, it ended the election with only 6. In
all, the opposition, led by the Progressive Democratic Party won nearly a
million votes more than the KMT. Significantly, an independent, Ko Wen-je was
elected mayor of Taipei, which is often a stepping stone to the presidency and
was held by a KMT for the past 16 years. The vote reflected an on-going tension
in Taiwan between those seeking greater economic integration with the huge
China market next door and those fearing it might lead to a loss of autonomy.
Oil Rig Showdown off Vietnam: Beijing’s decision in May to move
a large oil drilling rig into waters off the coast of Vietnam led to a
two-month confrontation on the sea and serious anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam
before the rig was moved to another less sensitive location two months later.
The oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981was
located outside Vietnamese territorial waters but inside its 200 nautical mile
Economic Exclusion Zone. It led to daily sea clashes between Vietnamese fishing
boats and Chinese and Vietnamese Coast Guard vessels. It also led to three days
of riots in Vietnam and several Chinese (or at least foreign owned – the
rioters were not too discriminate) factories were burned to the ground.
China’s Anti-Corruption Drive: Every year it seems some very
senior Chinese official succumbs to China’s latest anti-corruption drive. This
year’s big fish, Zhou Yongkang, was head of the police and a former member of
the politburo standing committee of the communist party. This year’s
anti-corruption drive, launched by President Xi Jinping, is said to be
unprecedented in targeting errant party, military officials and heads of
state-owned enterprises. The net is wide spread even capturing a deputy chief
of the Beijing zoo accused of earning millions of yuan through “part-time work”
like driving a taxi.
Japanese Win Nobel Prize: Three Japanese-born scientists
won the Nobel Prize for physics for their work in helping to develop energy
efficient white LEDs, which are replacing incandescent bulbs in lamps around
the world. It was a source of encouragement in Japan, where the news had focused
on a scandal concerning stem-cell research after the prestigious international
science journal Nature retracted two
research papers prepared by the Riken Institute in Kobe about a purportedly new
and simple way to generate stem cells. Efforts to replicate the research
failed, and the young female lead author, Haruko Obokata, resigned from the
institute, amidst some grumbling that she was singled out because she was a
young, attractive woman.
Hacking Attack on Sony: Although more of a Hollywood
story, the hacking of the Sony Pictures and Entertainment’s computers had Asian
reverberations. This villain in this story was North Korea’s leader Kim
Jong-un, who took umbrage at his portrayal in Sony Pictures’ comedy of a CIA
assassination plot against him and took out his revenge on Sony in a
particularly effective way. Sony
executives in Tokyo had tried to tone down the gruesome climax. For a while,
Sony Pictures withdrew the movie, but later relented and allowed its showing in
theaters across the U.S., but not in Asia.
Non-Story of the Year: probably the biggest ho-hum story
of 2014 was Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s curious decision to call for a
general election in mid-December two years before he had to. The results could
be summed up in one headline – Abe Wins Big. Nothing Changes. The voter turnout
for this non-issue election, at roughly 52 percent, was the lowest since the
end of the war.
A Clash of Values
the point of view of Asia, the Sony affair can easily be read as a clash of
values, an inherent Asian respect for leaders against the Western value of unrestrained
Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and his regime are widely and thoroughly reviled
throughout Asia as in the rest of the world, yet there is also a widespread
sense of unease about depicting a named living figure by name in such a
chief executive Kazuo Hirai’s head metaphorically exploded when he learned
about such scenes in the Sony produced movie, The Interview, about the assassination of Kim Jong-un, showing
Kim’s hair on fire and chucks of his skull flying in all directions.
intervened unsuccessfully to have the scene toned down, and also pulled the
movie from Asian distribution, save for those bastions of Western values,
Australia and New Zealand, well before the film was withdrawn globally
following threats of violence at theaters where The Interview would be shown.
depicting the killing of a living leader for the shock value of it is simply
too rude and crude for Japan,” wrote Philip Cunningham, a writer and film
critic. “Despite the predictable petulant cries of ‘caving in’, Sony Japan
finally found the gumption to say no to its decadent and derelict Hollywood
likely Hirai came under considerable behind the scenes pressure from the Japanese
government, worried that the movie’s depiction of Kim might endanger some of
its initiatives with the North, such as returning some of its citizens
kidnapped in the 1970s and 80s.
Korea might as well be on the planet Zog for all Hollywood moguls know or care,
a strange place with a strange leader good for a few chuckles. But for Japan it
is a close and dangerous neighbor.
The Interview was produced by Sony Pictures and
Entertainment, which is technically a subdivision of Sony but historically has
acted as virtually an independent player. Hirai’s attempted intervention was
said to be almost unprecedented, and no doubt reflected growing worry in the
Tokyo head office.
division may well be practically independent, but it still has the name Sony in
its title. Sony, one of the most widely recognized brands, is a word that is virtually
synonymous with Japan.
“It was a
stupid idea to have the movie made in the first place,” says Andrei Lankov, a
Russian-born expert on North Korea based at Kookmin University in Seoul. “I
don’t think they would have made about the assassination of the Chinese
president or Iranian Ayatollah, especially using their real names”
Confucian respect for the dignity of leaders, is engrained in the Asian
character, regardless of whether they publically espouse fealty to “Asian
Values” or not.
moustache on a poster showing the face of the King of Thailand can get you a
fifteen-year prison term in Thailand. A British writer spent a couple weeks in
jail after publishing a book that was deemed to injure the “dignity and
integrity” of the judiciary.
a generally freewheeling press, but much of that freewheeling stops short of
delving too deeply into the subject of the Japanese Imperial Family, who are
never subjected to the indignities that the British royal family has often had
to endure from the tabloid press.
not to say that Asians are always right. The draconian lese majeste laws in Thailand have been roundly and deservedly criticized
by both outsiders and many Thais themselves. Foreign journalists have long had
to chafe against strict rules of Singaporean authorities eager to preserve
their leader’s dignity.
about this excuses the apparent retaliation by the North Koreans by hacking and
exposing in a kind of Wikileaks fashion Sony Picture’s dirty laundry in public,
although it is worth pausing to consider the implications of this unprecedented
It is not
so much the technical aspects of the attack; the Northerners have previously
attacked cyber targets in South Korea and possibly elsewhere. It may also have
gotten help and technical advice from China’s extensive cyber warfare units. It
has shown that Pyongyang can fight back effectively.
most interesting aspect is cultural. Somehow the North Koreans knew exactly
what to target to cause Sony Pictures the most grief and expense. Certainly,
Pyongyang had a better sense of Hollywood culture than Hollywood has of theirs.
Is there a Hollywood agent who has gone missing?
has a history of kidnaping people, especially Japanese, to teach their secret
agents not just the language but important aspects of foreign cultures. For
that matter, in 1978 South Korean film director Shin Song-ok was kidnapped from
Hong Kong on orders from Kim Jong-il to help make movies.
several movies for Kim Jong-il before he escaped at a film festival in Austria.
If nothing else, the Sony affair shows how much that the North Koreans
understood and respected the power of cinema long before they understood the
power of the internet.
To Boldly Go . . .
Following the epic voyage of the first Hayabusa space probe to the asteroid Itokawa
(named after Japan’s first Nobel Laureate in science) – and back, Japan last
week launched a new and improved version. It’s mission? Nothing less than uncovering
the mystery of life.
probe Hayabusa-2 set off Dec. 3 from the Tanegashima Space Center for a
round-trip voyage that will last about six years, returning to earth with
precious samples of “asteroid rocks” in 2020.
It is due
to arrive at the “near earth object” 1999JU3 ( the Japanese are seeking
permission to name the asteroid) in about the summer of 2018 then spend about a
year surveying the surface of the solar object before returning to earth.
because it does not take pictures and beam them back to earth like the European
Space Agency’s recent Rosetta probe to a distant comet, the Hayabusa missions
have never garnered much global interest outside the world of scientists and
the Japanese space vehicle does one thing that the Rosetta probe and other
probes to Mars and the moon don’t do. It lands and then returns to Earth. Indeed,
the Hayabusa-1 mission was the first round-trip space mission since the Apollo
moon landings of the 1970s. It was also the deepest.
In a sense,
both the Hayabusa-2 and the Rosetta probes are seeking the answers from two
different planetary bodies to the same questions: what was the origin of the
solar system and what was the origin of life. The holy grail of both mission
would be to discover amino acids.
scientists believe that life-giving acids may have traveled to Earth by
“hitching rides” on asteroids or comets. The asteroid 1999JU3 is also believed
to be about 6 million years old, which places it at the beginning of the solar
system and might provide answers to its origin.
failed in its main mission, when the instrument that was to stir up dust
collect it and bring it home malfunctioned (although the scientists did try to analyze
some of the few particles that did make it back to Japan.)
the plan is have Hayabusa-2 drop a “bomb” on the asteroid, “hide” behind the
far side of the asteroid until it explodes and then land the probe in the
crater. The mission also hopes in that way to recover rocks from beneath the
surface that would not be altered by cosmic rays or other phenomenon.
China, which is clearly aiming to put a Chinese man on the Moon, Japan has essentially
carved out a special niche in space exploration, eschewing manned flights in
favor of deep-space probes. Not all have been successful Japan too has had its
share of misadventures.
In 2009 Japan launched Akatsuki on a voyage to Venus specifically to study its turbulent
climate to understand global warming better, but it failed to enter the plants
orbit. The first Hayabusa mission too almost failed to return.
at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had to overcome numerous
set-backs during the long voyage of the first Hayabusa. Three of the four ion thrusters stopped working during
the trip, a fuel leak rendered the chemical engine inoperable two of the three
attitude control antennas broke down and communication was lost for 50 days
after the landing.
these trials and nail-biting moments, the first Hayabusa did return and landed
safely in the far reaches of the Western Australia following a 600 million km
Hayabusa space craft features a host of technologies that were not aboard the
original space craft but were developed to answer many of the problems the
original probe experienced. They include an improved antenna and communications
system, a redesigned ion engine and more backup equipment.
Side-lining Captain Fanell
American naval officers who publically raise concerns
about China’s military capabilities and intentions can find themselves
sidelined, their careers stunted. Such is the case of Capt. James Fanell, formerly
the chief of naval intelligence for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Fanell was recently reassigned from his sensitive
intelligence post. His remarks at several forums that China is preparing for
war with Japan were embarrassing to the navy’s leadership, which is focused on
building ties with a newly assertive China’s military.
In a controversial address to the West 2014 Naval
Institute Symposium in San Diego in early 2014, Capt. Fanell said, “we have
witnessed a massive and amphibious military enterprise and concluded that the
People’s Liberation Army has been given a new task, to conduct a short, sharp
war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea, following with what can
only be expected a seizure of the Senkaku, or even an island in the southern Ryukyu.”
The captain addressed his concerns mainly to
specialized publications such as the Proceedings
of the U.S. Naval Institute, but they were picked up by major civilian
outlets such as The New York Times
and the Stars and Stripes newspapers,
embarrassing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was making an official visit to
China at the time.
Fanell spoke in unusually blunt and even colorful
language, making it more likely that the remarks would be picked up in the
civilian media. In particular was his use of the term “short, sharp war” to
describe the coming conflict. In referring to China, Washington brass usually
speak in bromides.
Last week it was reported in the Navy Times that Fanell had been reassigned from his post as chief
of naval intelligence and reportedly is to serve as an aide to a rear admiral.
It is unusual to assign to full captain to serve as an aide to a relatively
low-ranking flag-officer, suggesting that the brass doesn’t want him to be
making any more lectures.
“If you talk about [the subject] openly, you can cross
a line and unnecessarily antagonize,” said Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of
Naval Operations. It is the official view that The United States welcomes
Fanell also had harsh words to describe actions of
China’s Coast Guard, which he calls a “fulltime maritime harassment service”
specifically designed to advance China’s strategic interests in the East and
South China Seas.
The Coast Guard services of both countries are the
front-line troops in the festering and dangerous dispute with Tokyo over
ownership of the Senkaku Islands (also known to the Chinese as the Daioyu) as
well as contested islets and atolls in the South China Sea.
The Japanese Coast Guard regularly patrols waters around
the Senkaku, while the Chinese Coast Guard frequently intrudes in Japan’s
claimed territorial waters. The Japanese ships warn them with loudspeakers to
leave the waters, while the foreign ministry lodges a protest which Beijing
China is building large patrol cutters at an “astonishing
rate,” the captain said. Since year 2000 thirteen new vessels have joined the
maritime service, and more are in China’s next five-year plan. China used to
convert aging destroyers for the service but recently has begun to acquire
purpose-built ships. Indeed, in early 2014, Beijing proudly announced it was
building the world’s largest coast guard cutter, a 10,000 ton vessel, as yet
“Unlike the U.S. Coast Guard, the cutters of the [Chinese
Coast Guard] have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting
to China’s extravagant claims,” says Fanell. “Mundane maritime governance tasks
such as search and rescue, regulating fisheries, law enforcement or
ice-breaking, are handled by other agencies.”
The U.S. Navy brass itself is eager to cultivate
relations with counterparts in China’s armed forces through joint exercises and
frequent military exchanges, believing this is the best way to maintain peace
and avoid situations that might get out of hand leading to conflict. Clearly
Captain Fanell’s type of plain talk is not welcome.
This year the U.S. Navy strongly urged that Beijing to
send warships to participate in the annual RIMPAC fleet exercise off of Hawaii,
the largest such exercise in the pacific. China did dispatch a warship for the
exercise, but also an intelligence gathering ship, creating the unusual
position of a nation spying on an exercise in which it was a participant
The Fanell incident is reminiscent of the civil
servants in the British government, who supplied the intelligence on the
progress of Germany’s rearmament program to Winston Churchill, when he was out
of power in the 1930s, except that there is no similar figure in the U.S. to be
Moreover, it doesn’t take secret whistle-blowers to
inform the world that China has been engaged in a kind of crash re-armament
program for at least the last decade. Only last week it unveiled its newest
stealth fighter, the J-31, at the Shenzhen Air Show
It is perhaps ironic that while Fanell was speaking in
San Diego, while just a few miles to the
north, Japanese Ground Self Defense Force troops were storming the beaches of
the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton. They were part of a newly
constituted force of soldiers trained in amphibious landing techniques to potentially
recapture Japanese islands seized by the Chinese, presumably in a “short, sharp
Crowell is the author of the forthcoming The Coming War
Between China and Japan.