Friday, November 12, 2010

Video Ahoy!

A lot of TV airtime has been spent recently on the Senkaku Islands collision video released to YouTube last week. It was a sensation at first because the Japanese government had refused to release it except for a very brief version shown--rather reluctantly it seems, and certainly quite late--to a small group of legislators. This stance was somewhat understandable at the very beginning of the incident, since the captain of the Chinese vessel accused of purposely ramming a Japan Coast Guard ship had been apprehended but not yet tried: the video footage would have been evidence in a trial.

But then the captain was released and repatriated, ostensibly by the local prosecutors' office without pressure from national government politicians. If you believe that, in the face of China's heavy-handed response to the captain's arrest--reducing rare earth exports and arresting Japanese contractors for photographing supposedly secret military areas (a set-up if I've ever seen one)--then you're a lot more gullible than I am.

The captain returned to a hero's welcome in China. Japan was accused of  "caving in" to Chinese pressure or lauded for calm diplomacy in contrast to China's thuggish approach, depending on who was talking/writing. Attempting to capitalize on their "victory", with the typical tiresome so-called "spontaneous" anti-Japanese demonstrations here and there across the country as a background, the Chinese government tried to further their claim to the islands, conveniently ignoring the fact that China had regarded--and even recognized in writing--the islands as Japanese (or at least Ryukyu Kingdom) territory for ages...until it became known that the area is likely to be rich in resources. Suddenly it became Chinese territory.

All of this has become business as usual when dealing with China, and if anything the rare earth export reduction is arguably counter-productive, since it highlights the risk of over-reliance for critical resources on a single source, especially if the source is prone to economic gunboat diplomacy at the same time that it's increasingly running real warships through sensitive waters.

Other Asian nations can hardly have been surprised, given the long-standing Spratly Islands issue, by the way, but that's a story for another time, perhaps.

For that matter, the problem with over-reliance for resources on possibly hostile providers must have had some deja vu notes for any Japanese who have studied--or are old enough to remember from personal experience--the run-up to World War II.

In any case, the collision video, which had been described from the beginning as clearly showing the Chinese boat ramming the Japanese patrol boat, remained unseen by the general public. Once there was no longer a possibility of its being used as evidence in a trial, the only rationale for keeping it under wraps seems to have been an attempt to avoid offending China. This approach didn't impress either the opposition parties or many (most?) of the general public.

Apparently it didn't sit well with at least one member of the Coast Guard, either.

A 43-year-old man who has been described as an "officer" in the Coast Guard has--after a week or so of media frenzy about who leaked the video--reportedly admitted to uploading it from an Internet cafe in Kobe near his ship's berth. Since details of his name and rank haven't been made public as of this writing, it's not clear whether he's a commissioned or warrant officer or a petty officer. It's also not entirely clear how he obtained a copy of the video, although it seems to have been pretty freely available to many Coast Guard members through their computer network. This is important both because of what it may reveal about weaknesses in the organization's data control systems and because of the degree of secrecy that was afforded to the data; the latter may make a big difference in what the Coast Guardsman is charged with, depending on whether it can be regarded as having been secret information when he released it.

Many Japanese government organizations, both local and national, have had problems with the security of their data in recent years. Some of the leaks have been accidental, including those due to careless use of file-sharing software applications. Others have been more sinister, with data illegally sold to unauthorized parties.

This leak, however, judging from a TV journalist's interview with the man himself prior to his public revelation, is different. It appears that he uploaded the video because he felt that the public had a right to see it, and by implication at least felt that the government was wrong in continuing to suppress it.

Public response so far, at least to the extent that one can trust the mainstream media to report it objectively, seems to be leaning in favor of the man being a hero who should not be punished. Others apparently feel that regardless of his personal feelings/beliefs, he violated a trust in a manner inappropriate for a public servant. There certainly is a case to be made for either opinion; which you prefer is up to you.

Either way, I think it's pretty likely that his career in the Coast Guard is finished. The opposition party is--predictably--even calling for the resignation of the Coast Guard commandant to take responsibility for the leak. It's difficult to imagine a mere patrol craft crewman continuing his career under those circumstances. The future wouldn't be a bright one for him or his family even if he weren't old enough to make new career opportunities extremely difficult to find.

Personally, if the truth is as it appears to be, I wish that I were a wealthy owner of a steamship line, so that I could offer him the job that he's almost certainly going to need.

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