Asahi Irresponsible on Iran? Not really.

Commenter Jim Moore of the blog “Moore Than This” suggested that Japan is taking an extremely irresponsible stance on Iran’s nuclear ambitions based on an editorial he picked up from the Asahi Shimbun’s English edition:

Iran’s publicly stated intention to advance its nuclear technology threatens a key element of Japan’s energy strategy–development of the Azadegan oil field … If Tehran does not alter its position, Japan could lose its rights to the field.

The article is indeed impactful, but the Asahi English edition seems to have taken it out of context a bit. The original Japanese piece was a part of the regular column “Reading the Economy” which focuses on economic aspects of current events. It runs in the back pages and is not intended to serve as the crux of the newspaper’s editorial position.

One advantage that newspapers have over online news sources is their effective allocation of space to individual news stories/editorials. For people like me who only have occasionaly access to Japanese newspaper, this can be a problem. Asahi’s English site, for example, gives the paper’s editorials equal space next to background pieces like the one described. The Japanese site separates the op-ed section by column. Note to Asahi: PLEASE edit your English Op-ed section to make it less confusing!

For a better idea of what the Asahi really thinks of the Iran crisis, check this Asahi editorial, which puts them much closer to mainstream opinion:

That means Tehran should stop enriching uranium on its soil. It should allow the process to be done in Russia. That will provide the much-needed proof that it does indeed seek to build nuclear power plants as it claims. Once it becomes clear that Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons, Tehran will receive international support for its nuclear program.

While denouncing the IAEA resolution, Iran has shown a willingness to accept routine inspections by the IAEA. That seems to be a ploy to shake international unity on the issue through a combination of hard-line and soft-line tactics. It may also be aimed at prodding China and Russia, which have taken a more conciliatory stance toward Iran, into avoiding any sanctions against Iran. For that, the roles of China and Russia in persuading Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions are very important. Time is limited. The international community should work out a formula to ensure a diplomatic solution to the crisis before resorting to forceful means, such as sanctions.

And indeed, MOFA’s official position on the issue is even clearer:

1. On February 4 (Sat), at the Extraordinary meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors held in Vienna, the Board adopted by a majority a resolution concerning Iran’s nuclear issue.
2. This resolution calls on Iran to implement sincerely all the requirements of the relevant IAEA Board of Governors resolutions, and also requests the IAEA Director General to report to the Security Council of the United Nations that such implementation is required of Iran. Japan values the adoption of this resolution as a clear message to Iran as well as an important step for further solving this issue by a diplomatic means.
3. Japan strongly hopes that Iran will take this resolution seriously and respond to it sincerely. Japan has been making its own diplomatic efforts aimed at solving this issue, including at ministerial level, and is determined to seize every opportunity to urge Iran to respond sincerely.

Japan’s diplomatic efforts do not center around a single oil field but actually focus on getting Iran to eliminate its uranium enrichment program. Oil is, of course, in the background, but it is decidedly not the focus.

Still, it doesn’t surprise me that people would argue that Japan look out for its interests on the Iran issue. First, Iran itself won’t and can’t attack Japan. Second, everyone else likes Japan (see previous post). Even if it’s “like” in the sense of “I like you — I’ll kill you last!” it remains a fact that just about zero countries have a reason to attack Japan. Finally, the countries that actually do have a major beef with Japan – China and North Korea – already HAVE nukes. At least according to the piece, Japan would in fact be very hurt by sanctions imposed by the UNSC – to the tune of 15% of their oil supply. So perhaps these authors are arguing that Japan simply cannot afford to be idealistic. Of course, there’s the little problem of 47,000 American troops in Japan…

For Jim to have found this piece article before seeing the government’s (and therefore the mainstream press’s) official position is an amusing case of putting the honne before the tatemae. It would be kind of like reading The National Review all the time and never picking up the New York Times.

One thought on “Asahi Irresponsible on Iran? Not really.”

  1. Heh, thanks for setting me straight. The Asahi’s English website is pretty poorly designed (as are many online editions of newspapers), but I came to my conclusions from the assumption that Japan gets a lot of its oil imports from the Middle East, and therefore wouldn’t want to play politics in the region. The ministerial talks prove me wrong, fortunately.

    Keep up the good work – I really enjoy reading this blog.

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