Tag Archives: Japan

The gold-plated rock worth billions

Note from Jay Pinho: Below is the inaugural guest post on The First Casualty, with many more to come. Erik Landstrom is a master’s degree candidate in International Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University in New York. His studies concentrate on Energy and Environment, which he blogs about at his new site, Erik Landstrom on Energy. This post is adapted from one on his site.

If you weren’t aware of it, I will try to update you on a little-known fact that has, strangely enough, avoided much media attention, crowded out by “You didn’t build that” and most recently the “47%.” Right now the second- and third-largest economies in the world, Japan and China, are engaged in a territorial dispute that has a significant probability of getting worse before it gets better. They are fighting over a seemingly worthless rock formation in the South China Sea (the same one that figured in the 2010 fishing boat incident, if you remember).

The Senkaku (Japan), Diaoyu (China), or Tiaoyutai (Taiwan) islands

So why are they fighting about these seemingly worthless rocks? Most of you probably know the answer: potential mineral and hydrocarbon resources that exist in the area, as well as fishing rights. Both countries are signatories to the UNCLOS, or in plain-speak “Law of the Sea,” which stipulates that any state might claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) 200 nautical miles (nm) out to sea. Inhabitable islands have the right to claim this as well; however, the above island should by all rights be classified as an uninhabitable rock, reducing its ability to claim significant surrounding space. China does not take this stance. (I will return to talk about UNCLOS in other posts, specifically why the U.S. has not signed it.)

In other words, this rock is not worthless. It is potentially more expensive per gram/ounce than had it been made out of pure gold! Prove that it is inhabitable and you win the jackpot.

So the rock formation has become the center of attention for world power politics and is a likely stage for many future skirmishes and standoffs. Especially taking into account China’s current build-up of naval capabilities coupled with its claim (see below) to basically the entire contested area, the entire region is slightly worried. Leon Panetta, the US Defense Secretary, is in the region to continue talks on a regional ballistic missile system that will protect Japan from attacks by North Korea, but as we can all see from the timing it will probably serve a dual purpose. China’s response was to launch a major naval exercise involving around 40 missiles.

No one knows how much oil or gas exists in the South China Sea as no exploration data exists (only estimations). The estimations of oil resources have ranged between ~20bn barrels and ~200 barrels, and gas reserves are said to be around 900tcf (trillion cubic feet). For those of you that have a hard time putting the numbers in perspective, the U.S., which is the 3rd-largest oil producer in the world, has between 22-30bn barrels of P90 (90% probability) oil reserves. And Qatar, which has the 3rd-largest gas reserves, has 884tcf. How much exists around this specific rock formation is unknown.

#26: If You Follow Me

There’s plenty of internalizing taking place within the pages of Malena Watrous’ If You Follow Me. Some of it is explicit, and at other times implied. But it’s always there, lurking beneath the placid surface. If this is already starting to sound like a lifeless addition to the all-is-not-bliss-in-domestic-paradise genre, take a deeper look. In fact, all is not bliss here either — the rare worthwhile novel is — but the cast, a twenty-something lesbian couple, and the setting, rural Japan, help Watrous avoid fiction’s most egregious cliches.

Marina is a twenty-something recent wanderer who, on something suspiciously like a lark, decided to follow her lover to East Asia for a year of teaching abroad. Her father’s suicide, looming like an omnipresent monster in her recent past, was the catalyst that brought her and Carolyn together: they met in a bereavement group during senior year in college, where Marina mentally characterized her soon-to-be girlfriend as “tough and spiky, with a rod in her tongue and buzzed hair that moved through a Kool-Aid spectrum.” Carolyn, for her part, was still grieving her loss, at age twelve, of her mother to cancer, and had been attending the bereavement group since freshman year.

The two were an unlikely pair to begin with; a year of living abroad together, then, was a monumental risk. And yet, Marina remembers, “when she asked if I’d consider moving to Japan with her, I didn’t hesitate before saying yes…I couldn’t go back to San Francisco,” with all its childhood memories of her fading father and the stark reality of a mother trying desperately to move on.

Marina’s sojourn in Japan is kicked off with a letter from her mentor, Hiroshi Miyoshi, a native son who has been handed the unfortunate task of keeping a close eye on the two Americans and facilitating their acclimation to Japanese social mores. Succumbing to bouts of self-consciousness, Miyoshi prefers to communicate disapproval of Marina’s (frequent and unintentional) breaches of etiquette through handwritten letters written in rudimentary English; these missives provide the bulk of the laughs in what is often a deeply introspective story.

Miyoshi’s inaugural letter scolds Marina on her ignorance of “gomi law,” that maddeningly esoteric set of rules governing trash disposal. “Dear Miss Marina how are you? I’m fine thank you. A reason for this letter is: recently you attempt to throw away battery and jar and some kind of mushroom spaghetti and so forth, all together in one bin. Please don’t try ‘it wasn’t me.’ We Japanese seldom eat  Gorgonzola cheese!”

Time passes. The clock ticks and tocks. First, there is Marina and Carolyn fighting. Then there is Joe, a cheeky British fellow and the only person in Japan who knows that his two female acquaintances are not just friends, but intimate as well. Throw in a minor television celebrity, a unique cast of small-town Japanese friends (notably Noriko and Keiko), and a shifting relationship with Miyoshi, and one can see that Marina is due for some noticeable life changes.

What those changes entail impacts different people in different ways. Some of these changes are gradual, and others more sudden. Frustratingly, many of them fail to grab the reader’s attention (at least mine) and hold it for the time necessary to make these metamorphoses feel significant. It is not so much that If You Follow Me is not a tale worth reading, but one gets the sense that it could have been shortened without much loss. Malena Watrous hits high marks for complexity, but mostly forgets the value of brevity.