Tuesday, May 22, 2007

UN tells Japan to tend its own garden

That's the message one could conclude from criticism of Japan by the UN Committee Against Torture, calling attention to Japan's justice and prison system, and even criticized Japan for dismissing comfort women cases on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.

As the FT's David Turner writes:
The report comes at an embarrassing time for Japan. The government has been trying to restore the country’s status as a nation with the moral and political authority of a world power, in addition to an economic powerhouse. Shinzo Abe has tried to accelerate this process since he became prime minister since last year, but with mixed results.
One element of Abe's — and Foreign Minister Aso's — "proactive diplomacy" has been an emphasis on "Value Oriented Diplomacy," which of course serves to contrast Japan with China.

But somehow I find it hard not to laugh when senior Japanese officials speak about Japan's creating an "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity" and similarly flowery language about democratization. I am not one to deny that Japanese is a democracy — but as readers of this blog will note, I do not think it's an especially healthy one. And while that should not stop Japan (or the US, for that matter), from using their wealth and influence to support developing democracies, it should stop them from being too loose in their rhetoric, because loose lips lead observers to question just how much the speaker's own country matches up, undermining the purpose of the rhetoric in the first place. Quiet, determined, and respectful of limits presented by conditions within the countries receiving aid: those should be the principles that guide support for democratization by mature democracies.

And as for the substance of the UN committee's criticism? Certainly not unmerited. I mean, really, a country with a 99.8 conviction rate? As the FT reports, in 2006 there were 77,297 convictions to 63 acquittals. Yet another indication of the governance problem present in every sector of Japanese society.


Jun Okumura said...

I'm mostly with you on the public sector issues, including diplomacy and the criminal justice system. I can't see the Arc and such having any real effect on how we deal with, say, China, Russia and North Korea, or India, ASEAN, Myanmar and Mongolia. The criminal justice system is troubling, and has led me to question seriously my support for the death penalty. However, looking at the issues you raise in your earlier post, real change has been coming to public procurement, and there is movement on - if not necessarily a solution to - amakudari.

As for the private sector corporate governance issues you raise there, I think an examination of the individual cases will show that, at worst, things are no longer business-as-usual there.

We must talk about this.

Shingen said...

I'm with you on this. Japanese democracy could certainly do with some work, and its criminal justice and law enforcement elements need some kind of overhaul, for sure. When and how are the two questions that need addressing.