The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 30. 2014    

July 28, 2014    
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In This Issue
Two wide ranging articles assess the prospects for peace and new diplomatic initiatives in the Asia-Pacific. Mel Gurtov probes the PRC-ROK relationship in the wake of Xi Jinping's visit to Seoul, tracing the possibility of deepening ROK-China relations. Reinhard Drifte offers a definitive examination of the historical and contemporary record that has brought China and Japan to the brink of conflict over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. This is not an article for the faint of heart or anyone seeking a quick fix on the issues. David McNeill and Justin McCurry speak to tsunami victims, officials and specialists in stricken Tohoku communities to reassess Tokyo's plans to invest heavily in the construction of great walls to meet the the next tsunami at a time when many communities remain in ruins.

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David McNeill and Justin McCurry         
After the Deluge: Tsunami and the Great Wall of Japan         
Like hundreds of communities along Japan's northeast coast, the village of Koizumi exists on maps only. On 11 March 2011, an M9.0 earthquake beneath the Pacific Ocean erupted with the force of a million tons of TNT, triggering towering waves that killed around 19,000 people. In Koizumi, 40 of the 1,800 villagers died. 


Fear of another giant tsunami has spurred elaborate government plans to build 440 concrete walls and breakwaters along 230 kilometres of coastline in the worst-hit prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate. The seawall solution is controversial, not only because the evidence for their effectiveness is mixed, the cost is enormous, and seawalls may not address the needs of relocating local communities. This article, introducing the voices of tsunami victims, officials and scientists, presents the most powerful arguments for and against the construction of seawalls in the devastated areas. Is the hope of future safety worth the cost of rebuilding Japan's coastal communities as "concrete fortresses"?

David McNeill writes for The Irish Times, The Economist and other publications. He also teaches political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. He is a Japan Focus coordinator.


Justin McCurry is the Japan and Korea correspondent for the Guardian and Observer newspapers in London. He also writes for the Christian Science Monitor and the Lancet medical journal, and makes regular appearances on France 24 TV.

Mel Gurtov 
Xi Jinping Visits Seoul: The Bigger Picture 

China's President Xi Jinping visited South Korea from July 3-4, rather than visiting North Korea first. Although the trip could be seen as reciprocating ROK President Park Geun-hye's visit to China in June 2013, the Chinese side surely was aware that it would be viewed abroad as a departure from standard Chinese protocol and would probably upset Kim Jong-un and his colleagues. But while the trip can be judged a success for China, the North Koreans may have less to worry about than might at first appear.


The author offers fresh analysis of Xi's probable objectives in visiting South Korea: showing the South Koreans that they have a reliable friend in Beijing; demonstrating the economic importance of Republic of Korea (ROK)-PRC ties as the United States seeks to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to the exclusion of Beijing; and generating interest in resuming dialogue with North and South Korea on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.


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

Reinhard Drifte      
The Japan-China Confrontation Over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands - Between "shelving" and "dispute escalation"

The dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea has remained raw and menacing since its latest eruption following the purchase of three islands by the Japanese central government in 2012. The Chinese side under Xi Jinping has widened the dispute by political, military and propaganda means, while the Abe government has hardened its stance by insisting that "There is no territorial dispute" and "There never was any understanding of shelving the dispute". This was accompanied by an attempt at political and military counterbalancing, which includes strengthening of the military alliance with the US, repositioning Japan`s armed forces to the South and reinterpreting Article 9 of the so-called Peace Constitution to expand Japan's military options.

This comprehensive article looks at the major developments which led to the current dangerous situation, and explores approaches for crisis management or resolution. The author concludes that the sovereignty issue over the disputed islands has to be put aside by creating a new understanding that will permit shelving the issue. This new understanding will have to take into account the lessons which can be derived from the failed ones of 1972 and 1978 in order to succeed. Efforts will then have to be concentrated on Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBM), and on means to share  economic interests in the area outside the 12 nautical mile territorial sea around the islands. This will require great good political will on both sides--something that is presently missing. 

Reinhard Drifte is Emeritus Professor of Japanese Politics, University of Newcastle, UK and Visiting Professor at various Japanese Universities and Pau University (France). He is the author of Japan's Foreign Policy for the Twenty First Century.