Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

The session on the second day of the Japan Society roundtable was amazing. It was so full of interesting opinions by so many experts that I really had very little to add. I uncharacteristically just sat there and took notes.

Here are some of the notes.

It appears that there are two risk scenarios for the ascension of China as a super-power. One risk is that it doesn't happen and a failure in the Chinese economy would cause a global crisis. The other risk is that China is so successful that it becomes so powerful that it is a threat to the region. It appears that the Chinese are much more worried of failing whereas the rest of the world is more afraid of their success.

Regarding US/Japan relations. There was an interesting opinion raised that some Japanese believe that the Chinese reaction to the Prime Minister visiting Yasukuni shrine is an over-reaction. They believe that the Chinese are intentionally difficult about historical issues to keep a rift between Japan and China for political and other purposes. The LDP which is based on economic grown and a strong relationship with the US has failed on the economy so is working very hard to deliver a good relationship with the US in light of the difficulty with China. Other people opined that relations between China and Japan have never been better in the last 100 years.

It was pointed out that 60% of people in Japan are against sending Japanese troops to Iraq. Koizumi has stated that he will definitely send troops to Iraq. Still, 60% of people support Koizumi.

Japanese people are generally supportive of the strong personal relationship between Bush and Koizumi.

Another interesting observation was that when Japan was confident and economically strong, many people were afraid of any addition expansion of the Japanese military. Now with Japan weaker and less confident, people seem to be positive of expanding Japan's role in security.

The issue of why Japan was so different from Germany in acknowledging history and deploy troops in peacekeeping operations was raised. The paradox of Japanese not feeling guilty for the war, yet being pacifist or negative about sending troops was raised. It was noted that this is an old discussion. There were arguments that Japan and Germany were actually very similar and other arguments that they were not. The regional difference of neighboring countries in in Europe urging Germany to participate in peacekeeping in Europe vs. most Asian countries relatively negative about the idea of rearming Japan also played a role.

One opinion about why the Japanese people do not want to expand the military was that the Japanese people did not feel that they could trust the government with addition power and did not like the image of the police state. In fact, they remember the pre-war Japanese police state and also the military being out of control. They feel that politicians and civilians can not control the bureaucracy. I personally feel this way.

The issue of the revisionist right wing text books was raised. One opinion was that these right wing revisionists were actually not the main stream, but a reaction. Only 0.3% of school actually ended up using the revised texts and the movement is considered a failure.

The issue of whether the strong US/Japan alliance was actually a good thing. Several people opined that allowing Japan to have more multilateral relationships might allow it to become more "normal." Everyone had difficulty defining "normal" but someone observed that "normal" usually meant countries willing to use force. Having said that, there were negative opinions about the UN as a multilateral relationship vehicle and the idea of a Pacific NATO like security organization was raised. Several people said that it was difficult since NATO was based on a very specific threat, the Soviet Union, which countries rallied under. There is really not a very strong trigger for such an organization now. Others disagreed. They felt that if the US was a referee and supported this in the way Clinton supported the formation of APEC, it might happen, but that the US didn't seem very interested.

It was pointed out that since Japan is aging so quickly, it can not be motivated very strongly to grow its military. Most countries which expanded security forces were usually countries that had a lot of young people. It was noted that the Kim Jon Il said during his trip across Russia on the train, that he had "too many people." This is one reason why he might be happier to send troops to war than Japan where there are so few young people. Another point was that people-to-people contact and tourism has increased significantly. Visas to Korea from Japan have been dropped and many people are traveling to China. The third point was that the economies were becoming increasingly integrated. For these reasons, it was unlikely that Japan would become a military threat or that a war in Asia was likely (other than the North Korea risk.) In counterpoint, another person pointed out that there were no visas and there was a great deal of economic interdependence in Europe right before World War I.

It was also pointed out that until 10 or 20 years ago, the Japanese were always forced to choose between interest in Asia or interest in the West. Recently this is no longer the case. Japan can be close to Asia as well as a strong US partner. In fact, a strong China/US/Japan multilateral relationship could be truly win-win.

We talked a lot about FTA's. An opinion was raised that if Koizumi was able to win this coming election, that he would probably have enough political power to push back on agriculture to open FTA and would revise the constitution.

Maher Arar, a dual Canadian-Syrian citizen was arrested at a stopover in JFK in New York and deported to Syria by the US government. It seems to be unclear how they decided he was a "suspected terrorist" but it took close to a year in a prison in Syria and a lot of torture for them to decide that he was OK to be sent back to Canada. Obviously, it's probably easier for a Syrian national to get on a "list" than a Japanese, but this really scary. They say he had had a relationship with another suspected terrorist who is also being imprisoned and tortured now in Syria. He says he barely knew the guy.

So what does this mean for us? If we meet someone, we should not "become friendly" with them until we are certain that they are not a suspected terrorist. What does this mean? We need to make sure they don't hang out with other suspected terrorists. So if you believe in six degrees, it's likely at some point you will be a suspected terrorist.

How do they know if you hang out with someone? Friendster? LinkedIn? Your email? We need to be VERY careful about the privacy of not just the content of our communication, but the privacy of who we are in touch with, often called sigint, or signal intelligence.

Seriously though, this will cause a chilling effect on meeting, calling, emailing or otherwise "being in touch with" anyone who you don't know very well that could land you on the "suspected terrorist" list.

For articles about the Maher Arar case, just do a google news search. The article where he finally talks to the media directly is here.

The Dean campaign has an important choice to make. He has to either choose to accept US federal matching funds and have his spending capped at $45 million or waive the funds and be allowed to raise and spend more. Bush is raising $200 million from large companies. With the incredible grassroots fund raising so far, Dean should probably waive the matching funds and go for it, he is asking on his blog and via email to all 484,000 members of his campaign what THEY think he should do.

This decision is no longer mine to make. This is a campaign of the people, by the people and for the people. Your successful effort of raising a historic amount of money through small contributions has made this choice possible. This is why I am putting this decision in your hands.

I am asking you to vote on what kind of a campaign we will conduct from this point forward. No matter how well intentioned both our options are – the choice is difficult: do we choose option (a) to fund our campaign ourselves and decline matching funds, or do we choose option (b) and accept federal matching funds and the spending limits?

You will receive a ballot via email on Thursday and have until midnight Friday to vote. The results will be announced on Saturday.

This is really amazing. This is so grassroots and activating. Way to go folks!

Via Jim Moore who was in Burlington with Dean volunteers. Jim has a great entry about this.

Seth Godin did an article for Fast Company about how I use my blog and IRC and am adapting my work-style to the social software. His perspective is interesting. I hadn't thought of it as a "virtual organization". I'm also glad he got this part right:

Seth Godin
It's important, though, to not think of this as Joi's powerful new network or Joi's group. "Joi Ito is no longer a name, it's a place," he says. He coordinates a collective, one in which he's a member, not the chief.

Thanks Seth!

Participated in an interesting roundtable discussion this morning organized by the Japan Society. I was told I could write about it but I couldn't attribute quotes without permission.

There were representatives from the US, China, Taiwan and Korea.

An interesting point that was raised was that the older generation conservatives in Japan were unrealistic because they had been protected by the US, whereas the conservatives in South Korea were realistic enough to deal with the unrealistic Japanese. On the other hand, the younger generation in South Korea were unrealistic because they had not experienced the Korea war and the threat of North Korea, whereas the Japanese younger generation seemed to be more realistic. The point was that when the South Korean younger generation became more realistic, a stronger tie to Japan might be realized.

I think it was the consensus of the group that the constitution of Japan should be revised to allow Japan to participate in peacekeeping operations, improve self-defense and improve the alliance with the US. Everyone agreed that the relationship with the US was in good shape right now, but that failure to deal with the North Korea situation could lead to a disagreement about whether Japan should go nuclear, the US should attack or a variety of issues on how to deal with North Korea. However, the North Korea crisis in any event is helping the US/Japan relationship for now and the trend is probably to push for strengthening the alliance and try to get Japan included in the US missile defense system. The other area where the relationship my become problematic is if the US is not supportive of Japan's efforts to help organize ASEAN+3 and other Asian economic trade organization that exclude the US. Both of these seemed to be manageable issues.

With respect to the "identity of Japan"... There was an opinion raised that Japan should push to democratize Asia as the leading democracy in Asia. There were some opinions that "democracy" was politically touchy since there were friendly non-democracies in ASEAN countries and words like "governance" or "open and tolerant societies" might be better. I argued (as usual) that Japan was not a democracy so it was strange for Japan to that democracy was Japan's identity. Also, democracy requires embracing diversity which we do not do at home. Until we embrace diversity at home, we will not be very convincing when going to try to promote democracy abroad. I said that we should focus on dealing with diversity and racism at home and become and example rather than trying to push it abroad. I said that I thought we shouldn't under-estimate the emotional rift between Japan and other Asian countries and that we needed to deal with this before trying to be an Asian leader.

I also pointed out that the baby boomers were still in power in Japan and the bureaucracy including the foreign ministry didn't represent the young people in Japan. I said that until the changing of the guard it was unlikely that things would really change much. I thought that social entrepreneurship, weblogs and other non-traditional foreign relations between young people was probably going to have a larger effect on reaching out to Asia. I asserted that I thought the grassroots movements and activating the voice of the people, not more bureaucratic deliberations about foreign policy were probably more important.

Also, the point of whether national identity should have anything to do with foreign policy was raised.