The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 21. 2014    

May 26, 2014    
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In This Issue

Legal scholar Uzaki Masahiro probes the legal and ethical questions concerning Japan's Designated Secrets Law that gravely endangers press and citizen freedom. For years, and often decades, trial support groups have worked behind the scenes to seek justice for Japanese prisoners facing life imprisonment or the death sentence in a system with a 99% rate of conviction. William Andrews examines two political cases from the 1970s to introduce their extraordinary efforts. The Diaoyutai-Senkaku conflict has been presented primarily as a Japan-China conflict. Lin Man-houng provides a long durée perspective on the islets placing Taiwan and the Republic of China at the center of the story. Yuki Tanaka takes a fresh look at the failure of the United States to move toward nuclear disarmament under a president who received a Nobel Peace Prize on precisely that promise. Placing geopolitics and energy at the center, Mel Gurtov examines the deepening conflict in the South China Sea ostensibly centered on China, Vietnam and the Philippines but now threatening to involve the US and others in future wars.

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William Andrews   
Trial Support Groups Lobby for Japanese Prisoner Rights, Fight to Rectify Injustices 
Japan's justice system has been in the spotlight of late and for all the wrong reasons. With the recent release of Hakamada Iwao after serving over 40 years on death row, the nation's police and prosecution have come in for intense criticism. Hakamada's case follows a spate of other high-profile wrongful convictions that were finally overturned, laying bare something rotten in a system with a 99% conviction rate and an emphasis on extracting confessions from suspects.

Trial support groups have existed in Japan since the pre-war period. Japanese civic activist groups typically form a support network for someone facing trial or campaigning for retrial, and lobby to promote the subject's cause. They are run by small teams of dedicated core volunteers that may be repeated across a network of sub-groups in other regions. This article looks at two examples of support groups associated primarily with 1970's political cases that are still very active today.


William Andrews is a Tokyo-based writer, translator and editor. He writes and researches about post-war politics and counterculture in Japan, as well as performance and theatre. He is currently working on a book on Japanese radicalism.  

Yuki Tanaka

Notes on Nuclear Weapons: Toward Abolition or Armageddon?

On April 5, 2009 the U.S. President Barack Obama excited an audience in Prague by declaring that his government "will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons." As the only nuclear power to have ever used a nuclear weapon, he said, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. Indeed, the U.S. has not only moral responsibility but also legal responsibility for the victims as the nation that committed a crime against humanity by indiscriminately killing tens of thousands of people and causing lifelong radiation sickness to many survivors.

Despite Obama's stated goals, however, in the detailed budget for fiscal 2015 (released in mid March this year) Obama yet again asked for a substantial increase in funding to support nuclear weapons research and production programs under the Department of Energy's semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration. The proposal includes a seven percent increase in the nuclear warhead budget from $7.7 billion in FY 2014 to $8.3 billion in FY 2015. In this article, the author argues that in order to abolish nuclear weapons from this planet, it is necessary to introduce a new international convention prohibiting both the use and possession of nuclear weapons. To achieve this goal, we need global consensus on the above-mentioned idea that a nuclear deterrent is a crime against peace.

Yuki Tanaka is Research Professor, Hiroshima Peace Institute, and a coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal. He is the author most recently of Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn Young, eds., Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth Century History.

Lin Man-houng
Taiwan and the Ryukyus (Okinawa) in Asia-Pacific Multilateral Relations - a Long-term Historical Perspective on Territorial Claims and Conflicts 
Since the turn of the 21st Century, trading relations among East Asian countries have undergone profound change. According to data from the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), since 2001, the value of Japan's imports from the top nine East Asian countries, headed by the PRC, Korea and the ROC, has exceeded the total value of imports from the US and Europe. The same applies for exports since 2002. Countries in East Asia increasingly have each other, as well as the US, as their main trade partners.

In contrast to much of the over two thousand year history of Taiwan and the Ryukyus (Okinawa), the present situation bears a great deal in common with the 16th and 17th centuries, in which inter-connections within East Asia pivoted on the Sino-Japan silk and silver trades which deeply involved both Taiwan and the Ryukyus. The optimization of the two islands' roles and responsibilities in an era of the resurgence of the Asia-Pacific, but also an epoch in which the threat of war again emerges, will require wise choices by all concerned parties.
This article summarizes relevant historical developments involving Taiwan and Okinawa in Asia-Pacific multilateral relations over the longue durée, and suggests future prospects.

Lin Man-houng is a Research Fellow, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica and a Professor at National Taiwan Normal University. She is the author of China Upside Down: Currency, Society and Ideologies, 1808-1856.

Mel Gurtov

Trouble Brewing in the South China Seas:  

Geopolitics and Energy


Trouble is again brewing in the South China Sea, where six nations compete for control over tiny atolls-the Paracel and Spratly Islands-that probably sit atop important gas and oil reserves. On the surface the dispute over sovereignty would appear to be about two kinds of claims, one based on history, the other on international law-200nm exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and territorial waters that a country may legally claim under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  


In reality, however, the dispute has more to do with politics and economics-motives based on nationalism, power, and energy needs. Without such motives, the territorial dispute would stand a good chance of being quietly resolved through diplomacy or adjudication; with them, the dispute stands a good chance of leading to serious conflict. This article recounts how recent periodic claim-maintaining activities, including landings of personnel on particular islands, contracts with international oil companies, detention of fishermen, deployment of ships, and interference with other parties' vessels, have repeatedly undermined opportunities for dialogue. The author further argues that the US needs to be careful about its involvement in the dispute, and would do well to shelve the sovereignty issue and undertake joint exploration of resources.


Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, and Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective. His most recent book is Will This Be China's Century? A Skeptic's View (Lynne Rienner, 2013).         


Uzaki Masahiro
What Japan's Designated State Secrets Law Targets 
Translated by Bryce Wakefield

The Designated Secrets Protection Bill passed into law on December 13, 2013 and will come into force on the same date this year. The law authorizes the heads of government agencies to specify as "designated secrets" information about matters covering the four areas of defense, diplomacy, counterespionage and counterterrorism.
Among the items that will not enter the public domain is information that must be specifically concealed due to the likelihood that its disclosure would significantly impede Japan's national security. The effective period of a designated secret is up to five years and, in principle, extensions of no more than 30 years can be recognized. However, secrets which concern certain issues, including weapons, ordinance, and aircraft used for defense, information that is likely to lead to disadvantages in ongoing negotiations with foreign governments and international organizations, and secret codes, can be kept indefinitely.

In this article, the author warns that it will only take a revision of the law to allow access to a wide array of personal information about the subjects of evaluations. The individual's right to privacy, as well as freedom of thought, speech, and belief, will be challenged by an increasingly serious crisis. When seen in this light, the Designated Secrets Protection Law allows for the exercise of great power in the government and control of citizens. It is nothing other than a way to restrict the various human rights guaranteed under the constitution. Limiting those rights is one of the objectives of the Designated Secrets Protection Law, and, in fact, this should be seen as its true form.