Just in time for the Monday, April 30th 2012, meeting in Washington between Japanese Prime Minister Noda and U.S. President Obama, the bad faith with which the U.S. Department of State has treated hundreds of cases of international child abduction to Japan has been made as plain as it is ever likely to be. Assistant Secretary Campbell has just returned from Japan where preparations took place for issuance of a joint statement at this Monday’s U.S./ Japan, Presidential/ Prime Ministerial meeting. But the legitimacy of the statement and the ever-present appearance desired by Washington of harmonious relations between the U.S. and its Japanese client appear to be in jeopardy. Trailing behind Mr. Campbell on his journey home, like the irradiated refuse of the Tohoku Earthquake drifting eastward in the currents and waves of the Pacific, was an unexpected leak concerning U.S. posture in the discussions, in which Campbell attempted to twist the arm of Japan’s prime minister in a politically fraught move to force Japan into making a 3.1 billion dollar contribution to U.S. military base relocation and the removal of 20,000 U.S. soldiers from Okinawa to Guam in direct exchange for U.S. silence and surrender of hundreds of children who have been kidnapped and are held illegally in Japan without hope of regaining contact with their families. Campbell offered what is as good as a plain and simple quid pro quo: You Japanese give the 3 billion for our military base, and we the United States Government avert our eyes and shut up about our kids. For grieving parents, this is the grim outcome of Department of State dissimulation, misdirection and conflict of interest on the part of U.S. negotiators with Japan on this issue. For Americans in general, it is a peculiar instance of the selling of American policy to defense and military business interests (on the presumption that there is a geo-strategic interest where in fact there is not) which runs directly counter to the interests of American people. The victims, as always, are the dispossessed – in this instance, children and parents who have lost each other, whose lives are the essence of vulnerability to the power of the state, by which they are easily and conveniently abandoned.
Prime Minister Noda, who is notoriously uninterested in the issue of Japanese International Parental Child Abduction despite the massive scale of human rights violations it represents, and who favors doing nothing about the ongoing state-sponsored waves of child abductions masquerading as custody that plague parents and children in and out of Japan every year, has been engaged in an awkward domestic political struggle over a controversially regressive consumption tax increase which threatens his party’s current tenuous hold on the Diet and the Prime Ministership. Now it has been leaked that the U.S. negotiator, seeing this struggle unfold, attempted to take advantage of the Japanese PM’s political vulnerability and unpopular policy by forcing him to promise a Girbraltar-sized chunk of the consumer tax increase money the P.M. is angling for to pay U.S. military costs, thus keeping the cost of the base reorganization and relocation and political risk as firmly as possible on the Japanese side, and as far away as possible from the U.S. President and U.S. government’s deficit-budgetary financial woes.
Strong-arm negotiation by the U.S. behind closed doors for military cooperation has long alienated the Japanese and contributed mightily to the tensions that underlie the relationship; but DOS and the U.S. Executive have found that it works for their objectives, indifferent to the detrimental effect it has on democratic accountability, attempts to bring about reform and address issues of growing social disparity within Japan. (1) The U.S.-client relationship provides fuel to the defensiveness of Japanese nationals, and a tool of justification in defense of the widespread practice of single parent custody that lies at the root of the crisis of cross border and internal child abduction via custody determination. The rampant practice of Japanese abduction and resistance to acknowledgement of the harm it causes is certainly buttressed by cultural neo-conservatism and Nihonjinron in the guise of resistance to the presumed, colonizing “Western” or American outsider who brings unwelcome interest in Japan’s supposedly autonomous practices. Having been transformed into pure ideology in this way (ignoring and denying the wide-ranging deleterious social and psychological effects of rampant abduction and loss to children of parents), Japanese child abduction is now folded into a set of customs ideologically construed as traditional (although it is not) and partaking of the mythic essence of minzoku - identification with Japanese-ness, tied to the history of anxiety in the face of modernity that produced Japanese fascism and that survived Japan’s postwar transformed but intact. Fictional and essentialized portrayals of cultural identities are harvested – that of Japaneseness and kokugaku – “nativism”- as a fetishized attachment to a commonality defined by exclusiveness, exceptionalism, and an ethnically-cleansed social totality that represses difference and “strangers.” – The intrusions of the modern, in the guise of “the West,” Americans, Europeans, South Asians, Africans, are historically alternately fetishized or rejected. Here is the myth of the spousal abuser and violator of Japanese purity, sensuality, and refinement who serves the ideological functions of both binding the Japanese around defense of child abductors and binding child abductors around defense of Japaneseness. Ultimately this shores up a practice that is sharply against the interests of their children, and ours, whether the stranger is revered, envied, or hated. (2)
The furtiveness of the discussion of child abduction, the suppression of knowledge of its processes and consequences, thus contributes to its non-resolution, its timeless continuation. A more affirmative basis on which to discuss difference therefore is not and cannot be supported or allowed to take hold unless the issue were to be opened, whereby repression would no longer be possible, and the abductions might cease to serve their function in the larger project of reinvigorating Japanese atavism and nationalist sentiment. The Japanese have thus far failed to risk this opening and are far from doing so. The Americans have kept their public in the dark about the bleeding loss of our children. The neurotic dance continues, and children and parents suffer.
This latest Department of State move is one that is bluntly detestable and should be stridently objected to by all Americans because it is in their name that Secretary Campbell and the Department of State are now offering to hold at bay any pressure regarding our children’s abductions in exchange for the Japanese bearing more of the cost of the U.S. military presence, a presence that brings emotions from fury to resentment from the full spectrum of Japanese, whose lives are directly affected. We, the left-behind parents of children abducted, hidden and out of contact with us watch impotently as the issue of rampant child abduction has been suppressed and toyed with by both governments, only to have risen onto the public agenda of Japanese relations with other countries in very recent years. U.S. officials have teased and tantalized us with offers of official attention and action, hints that quiet diplomacy was taking place in closed door sessions (wink!) in which Japanese officials were finally awakened, so we are told, to the exigency of U.S. concern for the restoration of our children’s human, parental rights. So how does one interpret the offer to sell us out for a fresh 3 billion dollar contribution to the military base?
Our abducted children became a convenient geopolitical bargaining chip with only their small stature and vulnerability to give moral weight to embarrass and persuade. With no economic value, we and they are easily shelved or unshelved, discarded, or pulled from the bin. Without our permission, officials found only small use for them, yet use them they have. While neither the U.S. nor the Japanese can any more be credited with much democratic accountability in international affairs, still it is grisly to think of U.S. officials such as Campbell and Clinton setting store in developing the issue of our abducted children only to brandish exposure and then withdraw as soon as the serious military dollars are dropped on the table with a thump.
I argue that to make it intelligible, the abandonment of protection of our children from threats and abductions in exchange for three gold pieces toward a multi-billion dollar naval and airforce base has to be contextualized alongside the other forms of government withdrawal from the responsibility to provide protection for the weak, the vulnerable, the still-growing, the small and voiceless. In light of such betrayals of children and parents as these, it is difficult to assess to what degree our nation states remain in a public commons, or where the boundaries of that commons might lie in a finance economy of transnational actors. The absence that occupies the place of the state today reveals to us a crisis of upon what basis we still possess a share in the powers that govern our lives in the world. The state, if it ever was, is not there now to protect us from dangers without, but to keep us pinned inside, to limit our range of movement. Our children, on the opposite side of the dividing line, are also behind barbed wire. And the ghosts of our families are not unlike the other stateless souls who have looked in vain for a protector throughout modern history.
How did the President and the Secretary and the Prime Minister assume to themselves the honor to sacrifice my son, now six years old and missing in Japan for two years, to military industrial interests defined by Japanese and American elites?
Our children are not freely given, nor would I offer mine to them.
Mr. Obama, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Noda have more important matters to discuss today.
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(1) See especially the discussions in Gavan McCormack, Client State: Japan in the American Embrace, New York, Verso, 2007; and more recently, Richard Reitan, Narratives of Equivalence: Neoliberalism in Contemporary Japan. Radical History Review, Winter 2012: Genealogies of Neoliberalism; issue 112; Duke University Press, Durham, NC
(2) See Kevin M.. Doak, Fascism Seen and Unseen: Fascism as a problem in Cultural Representation, in The Culture of Japanese Fascism, Alan Tansman, editor; Duke University Press, 2009; pp. 31- 55; and Harry Harootunian, Constitutive Ambiguities: The Persistence of Modernism and Fascism in Japan’s Modern History, in Tansman, pp. 80 – 111.
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Here is the story as it was reported in Mainichi:
U.S. intimidated Japan before making concessions on Guam transfer costs
Japan and the United States clashed over the size of Tokyo’s financial commitment to transfer some of the 19,000 U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture to Guam before reaching an agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, sources involved in the bilateral talks say.
The United States initially asked Japan to raise its contribution from $2.8 billion to $4.1 billion, but Japan rejected the request. The two countries subsequently agreed on a price tag of up to $3.1 billion, taking into inflation on Guam into account.
The U.S. then demanded that the cost-sharing agreement be mentioned in a joint statement, but Japan resisted for fears the move would adversely affect debate on a proposed consumption tax hike, sources say.
Kurt Campbell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, arrived in Japan on April 15 and immediately met with Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, and Masanori Nishi, director general of the Defense Ministry’s Defense Policy Bureau.
During the talks, the sources say, Campbell said the April 30 summit in Washington between Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and U.S. President Barack Obama would not produce any tangible progress in Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, the easing of beef import curbs, or the 1980 Hague Convention on settling cross-border child custody disputes. Campbell then angrily demanded the $3.1 billion price tag be specified in writing, saying the issue of realigning U.S. forces in Japan is the only area where the two leaders would be able to reach agreement.
The following day, the sources say, Campbell met with former Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, and alluding to Noda’s U.S. trip from April 29, warned that the Japan-U.S. summit would end in failure unless the proposed joint statement specifies the Japanese financial contribution. He also told a high-ranking government official that there would be no joint statement without the $3.1 billion figure. A senior Defense Ministry official recalled that Campbell’s behavior was tantamount to intimidation.
On the morning of April 17, however, the U.S. suddenly changed tactics and agreed not to mention the Japanese share in the joint statement. A U.S. congressional source says the United States probably felt that now is a good time to get the money from Japan as Noda is trying to raise the consumption tax. If the dispute went on, it would become increasingly difficult for the prime minister to make a decision on the Japanese share, the source says.
The two countries announced April 27 that nearly half of the 19,000 U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa will be transferred to locations outside of Japan, including Guam, Australia and Hawaii.
April 28, 2012(Mainichi Japan)