- But Prime Minister, we don't really belong to the region do we? We're not at the centre of it are we?
- Well, it's a basin - the Pacific Basin. There's no-one at the centre. We're at the edges of it and so is everybody else. (Paul Keating, interviewed by Paul Lyneham The 7.30 Report 5th March 1992)
In March 1988 an article appeared in the 'Economics' section of The Australian headlined 'The anonymous yen spreads its tentacles':
Japanese money. It has already bought up much of Hawaii and half the Los Angeles business district, and it finances directly or indirectly close to half the United States government debt ... Seemingly from nowhere, Japan has emerged as a key player on the world financial scene. But, as we see in Australia, it is not just the amounts of yen, but the breadth and anonymity too which surprise. Almost every other week another Japanese speculator pops up in Sydney or on the Gold Coast with a few hundred million dollars to invest in some new project. This speculator will be totally unknown in Japan. As often as not, he will turn out to be a cake-maker or boot-distributor from some second-rate provincial town. (The Australian 15th March 1988)
The article poses a contradiction - a figure which appears both substantial and insubstantial, significant and insignificant, determinate and indeterminate. Japan is identified, on the one hand, as 'anonymous', without background or origin; yet, on the other hand, as a 'key player' on the world financial scene. It is described as emerging 'seemingly from nowhere', yet is recognised as having a geopolitical influence which cannot be ignored.
How is such a text to be understood in the context of contemporary discourses about Australia's move "towards Asia"? The obvious approach, perhaps, would be to view it as symptomatic of a cultural lag, of historical beliefs and attitudes in conflict with present economic realities. To take this approach would be to align oneself with a broad project of political and cultural reform which has gathered momentum in Australia during the 1980s and early 1990s. At the basis of this program is an historical narrative. Since British colonisation, so the story goes, Australia has been blinded by a Eurocentric vision. Obsessed by the status and prestige of the West, it has regarded its geographic neighbours as nameless, faceless, 'anonymous'. It is only now that a new awareness has begun to emerge, an awareness made unavoidable by the economic importance of Asia, and above all Japan. This importance is constant proof of the status of the region as "somewhere", with a substance and significance equal to that of the major metropolitan centres of the West.
This is a narrative of enlightenment: where in the past, Australia has lived in ignorance, it is now coming to know. Such a narrative has obvious attractions from a policy perspective for it opens a whole field of possible reform. It suggests the need, first of all, for a thorough diagnosis of the malady. It is here that media criticism appears to have a role. By identifying the historical residues still at work in public discourse, it might open the way for them to be more effectively overcome. The article from The Australian is an excellent example of the sort of text which appears to open itself to criticism. Why does Japan figure in the text as 'anonymous'? Why do the Gold Coast investors appear as simply 'popping up'? Do these representations or constructions not merely betray an ignorance of, or will to suppress, the cultural ground on which Japan's economic strength has been laid? Is this strength not clear evidence that there must be such a ground and therefore that Japan has a determinate identity? Surely such ideas as Japanese "anonymity" are precisely those which must be shed if Australia is to find its place within the region.
It is not difficult to see how this argument might be strengthened by critical theories of the cultural construction of difference between East and West. The most widely referenced work in this area is, of course, Edward Said's Orientalism. Said's argument is that the distinction between East and West is not a geographic given but has been historically produced through a range of discourses and practices which he calls 'Orientalism'. Orientalism, for Said, is far from politically innocent; its effect is to privilege the West over the East and to naturalise Western geopolitical control. This effect is achieved through the deployment of binary oppositions between "us" and "them", centre and periphery, subject and object, knower and known. For each of these binaries, Said argues, the West is systematically identified with the major or dominant term. Orientalism functions, therefore, to exclude any recognition of a substantial, independent position for the East.
There is, however, a second and rather more unsettling possibility raised by 'The anonymous yen': that the kind of influence suggested by 'Japanese money' does in fact differ from geopolitical influence as it has traditionally been understood - that it belongs not with the determinate but the indeterminate, not with a clearly defined position but with a refusal to be placed, not with meaning and significance but with their absence or disappearance. To suggest this possibility may appear at first simply to support the historical arrogance of the West, an arrogance which has prevented the recognition of any other ground for meaning than Western political and cultural traditions. At another level, though, it is to question what may be an even greater arrogance - the belief that the only possible kind of influence is that which has been the traditional prerogative of the West. It is to question that strength is necessarily traceable to a ground, an energetic referent or disposition of force which contributes to the underlying structure and meaning of a political field. It is, in short, to question one of the most fundamental premises of Western political thought: that strength lies always and only in a recognisable position.
It is the second possibility that will be considered in the following paper through a reading of some texts on Japan in the Australian business press. This approach is taken not simply for the sake of challenging established orthodoxies, but in an attempt to recognise recent changes in the international capitalist system and the effect of these changes on discourses concerned with geopolitical relations. Such discourses have traditionally presupposed a certain kind of space - a homogeneous field marked out by positional coordinates according to geographic dimensions. This kind of space provides the conditions of possibility for concepts of distance and perspective and for the rationalisation of phenomena according to systems of external relations. It permits, above all, the construction within discourse of positions or points of view defined in relation to a world "out there". This, in turn, allows the conceptualisation of an active, energetic engagement between positions, an engagement which can be understood in terms of relations of force.
Two contemporary developments, in particular, problematise this conceptual field, at least in the area of international business. The first is the introduction of new electronic media which have become increasingly central to the functioning of the global economy. Within an electronic milieu, the positional coordinates which have historically underpinned the system of international relations begin to lose their relevance. As the difference between "here" and "there" is effectively eliminated, geographic distance is no longer able to provide a basic structuring principle. The second development is a major shift in the orientation of economic activity away from the site of production towards "the market". Whereas the former has traditionally functioned as a definitive referent closely identified with a particular physical location, the latter functions only as a medium of circulation between locations, a medium in which any principle of reference is deferred. Like the electronic media, it provides no means of distinguishing between positions or establishing their exteriority to each other. Like the electronic media, therefore, it provides no possibility of identifying determinate relations of force.
Japan, of course, is in no way responsible for these developments. For a number of reasons, however, it has become closely identified with them. It seems, in many ways, to be the "world power" which has emerged most strongly from the disintegration of the post-war status quo. While the adversaries of the Cold War have either collapsed or gone into relative decline, its economic influence has become ever more extensive and assured. Yet because of the changed context in which this influence is exercised, Japan is a power of quite a different sort. Unlike Britain, the United States or the Soviet Union, its strength is not based on political dominance or on systems of representation. There is no equivalent for Japan of the Empire, the "Free World" or the Eastern Bloc on whose behalf it makes some claim to speak or act. On the contrary, it continues to be identified within geopolitical structures defined by the West as a figure which is relatively peripheral and dependent, a figure to be spoken and acted for by others. Hence it forces some recognition that the nature of international influence has changed.
For Australia, and especially Australian business, the anomalous status of Japan poses a particular problem. During the 1980s and early 1990s, it has become increasingly clear that Australia's economic destiny is closely tied to that of the Asian region. By far the largest economy within the region is Japan. Yet despite its importance, and despite attempts to cast it as a successor to previous world powers, it does not provide a coherent point of reference, a "voice" or "face" which marks a determinate geopolitical orientation. It therefore frustrates any attempt to define a position in relation to it from which it might be apprehended or controlled. It is this frustration which confronts the Australian business press, the impotence of discourse before a phenomenon which cannot be placed. Like the emerging context of international relations generally, Japan provides nothing with which to engage and therefore destabilises any ground from which it is possible to speak or act.
For Said and other critics of Orientalism, to appear as voiceless or faceless is always, without question, a sign of weakness, of subordination to those who are audible and visible in the public domain. Yet as Jean Baudrillard has pointed out, it can also be understood as a sign of strength. Indeed, for Baudrillard, the greatest threat to systems of domination is not resistance but, on the contrary, its absence or disappearance. The first condition for domination is the possibility of establishing a perspective space in which there is distance and depth of field: without a principle of separation between positions, there can be no distinction between one position as central and another as peripheral, one as dominant and another as subordinate, one as the position of "subject" and another of "object". It is precisely this condition which is threatened by an absence of resistance, for it leaves those who would be dominant with no point of reference outside themselves. Unable to verify their position in relation to an "other" they are left unable to claim mastery or territorial control.
Baudrillard illustrates this argument with the example of pornography. In pornography, sex is stripped of any secrets or illusions to be rendered completely naked, visible, available to the gaze. Yet for Baudrillard it goes far beyond sexual possession for it obliterates the structured opposition between subject and object that would make such possession possible. It is not enough for pornography that the body be simply unveiled as in conventional strip-tease; it must be much more minutely explored. At this level, however, the object of sexual interest disappears into the microscopic. There is no reason why pornography should stop even when it has revealed the intimate functioning of sexual organs: 'Who knows what profound pleasure is to be found in the visual dismemberment of mucous membranes and smooth muscles? Our pornography still retains a restricted definition' (Baudrillard 32). In its efforts to reveal the very reality of sex, pornography only abolishes the reality principle itself, along with the possibility of possession or control.
Almost all the Orientalist texts considered by Said operate still at the level corresponding to strip-tease. Most are nineteenth century literary works in which the Orient figures always as a complete body. This is why, as Said points out, they have close metaphorical associations with discourses of sexuality. In the historical context of European exploration and discovery, the relation between West and Orient was structured by geographic distance which functioned like a veil to be penetrated or removed. Within this context, the Western author was able to claim the authority of one who reveals. As Said puts it: 'The modern Orientalist was, in his view, a hero rescuing the Orient from the obscurity, alienation, and strangeness which he himself had properly distinguished' (Said 121). The role for the Orient within this schema was like that of a bride who is first veiled, shrouded in mystery and secrecy, then unveiled to be revealed to, and taken as a possession by, the West.
But if, as Said urges, we should look not only at the past, then it must surely be admitted that we have entered an entirely different phase from the one he describes. He often describes the relation of the subject to the object of knowledge through the metaphor of the anatomist in relation to a corpse. Orientalist discourse, for Said, is like a set of surgeon's scalpels which are used to dissect the Orient, to carve it up into functional parts. Yet in the present context, there are far more "anatomical" discourses and procedures than he is willing to consider. The most obvious of these on the geopolitical scene are the discourses and procedures of international business. As for pornography, the interest for contemporary business is not in complete bodies; even nations are now generally considered as requiring too large a focus, let alone entities as gross as "the Orient". Attention has passed entirely to the level of the microscopic, to the minutest functionings of the market economy - the market niche, the operational infrastructure of organisations, barely perceptible variations in share prices and foreign exchange rates.
This microscopics presupposes that the Orient is transparent, offering no resistance to the gaze. Like the body as viewed by medical science, it is not looked at but seen through, or rather monitored through a sophisticated array of technical instruments and measuring devices. As Paul Virilio argues of contemporary science, the dominant metaphors for perception are no longer visual; nor is there the distance from an object which "seeing" implies (Virilio 29-68). Information on the functioning of the economy is read off directly as the scientist reads from digital displays and always already belongs to the mathematical and statistical procedures of economic discourses themselves. At the macroscopic level, the level of whole bodies and of spaces traversed by the gaze, there is nothing to be revealed and no role therefore for discourse as an instrument of penetration or revelation. Furthermore, as there is no separation between subject and object, there are none of the affects previously generated around the themes of appropriation, accumulation, alienation and loss. This is why the resulting discourse is relatively "cold", free of the overtones of possession and exploitation associated with Orientalism in its classical phase. If, as Baudrillard argues, pornography marks the end of sexual reason then international business today could be seen as marking the end of Orientalist reason.
This clearly has major consequences for the conceptualisation of geopolitical relations. It is difficult to argue with Said that the nineteenth century Orientalism which he describes is relentless in privileging the West over the Orient as substantial, authoritative and fixed. With the disappearance of the Orient as external referent, however, the situation is radically transformed. Suddenly the position of the Westerner becomes extraordinarily vulnerable and exposed - as if in an environmentalist nightmare where man, who thought he had attained a final mastery over nature, finds that he has only created a wasteland in which any trace of nature has disappeared. From providing the very basis of his prestige, the "substance" attributed to him by Orientalism becomes a serious liability, for it leaves him as a sort of fossilised monolith standing out prominently in a field that is otherwise deserted.
It is the possibility of a similar transformation in the field of sexual relations which allows Baudrillard to suggest a complete reversal of the privilege traditionally attached to masculinity and femininity (Baudrillard 12-27). For Baudrillard, a consequence of the present scenario is that it becomes possible to read the masculine as a figure of weakness and the feminine as a figure of strength. Once it is no longer situated within a clearly defined perspective space, the masculine no longer implies a dimension of reference. It can no longer claim "vision", "foresight" or any of the other attributes which have traditionally associated it with a strong orientation and a mastery of the real. Unable to divert attention outwards and away from itself, it becomes tedious, ugly, obscene. The strength of the feminine in this scenario, lies precisely in its insubstantiality which, for Baudrillard, is what comes to define it. In its complete transparency, its absence of any resistance, it is elusive, impossible to locate or define. Although it exerts a constant attraction for the masculine as it seeks to regain its lost authority, it condemns to hopelessness any strategy of masculine power.
It might be argued that it is absurd to regard Japan as a minor figure, as Oriental or "feminine", for in many ways it has clearly taken a place as a world leader alongside the major Western powers. It is, for example, one of the key "G-7" nations which contribute regularly to the formulation of guidelines for the direction of the international economy. But this is to ignore that Japan's influence is very specifically economic. This means that its "leadership" is quite distinct from that of other world powers such as Britain or the United States which has always been closely related to political status.
This is important because the political is the level at which territoriality and positionality are defined. It is the level of discontinuities where boundaries are drawn and different perspectives or points of view staked out. The economic, by contrast, is a level of circulation and flux which operates across boundaries and between positions. Traditionally, political and economic influence have directly implied one another, for the economy has been strongly contained and determined by political structures imposed upon it from above or outside. Hence, for example, the extent of British economic control during the nineteenth century closely coincided with the Empire. Similarly, during the Cold War, America's economic leadership was directly paralleled by its defence of the "Free World". In both cases, the sphere of economic influence was coextensive with a political framework involving a legitimising value system and the potential to apply force.
The difference with Japan is that no such framework exists. Politically, it is still positioned within the dominant schema as weak, as offering little opposition or resistance to the moves of others, let alone representing an independent stand of its own. It makes no claim to articulate universal values which might provide the basis for a system of law; nor does it have the military capability which would allow a forceful intervention in world affairs. Despite its global influence, therefore, it has almost none of the characteristics of a central, panoptic figure. This sets it completely apart from the previous "homes" of capitalism. In so far as the terms "West" and "Orient" still apply, its status remains Oriental, without a strong definition of positionality.
Since the Second World War, differences of geopolitical position and perspective have been underpinned above all by the political oppositions between the two superpowers. The transformation outlined above hinges very largely, therefore, on the end of the Cold War. An illustration of this is a series of articles which appeared in The Australian Financial Review during the visit to Australia in 1980 by Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira. The example is particularly appropriate because the visit coincided exactly with a brief refluorescence of Cold War hostilities following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
In the major article of the series, Japan is framed in the context of a grand political drama staged between the two superpowers. The article is prominently positioned at the top of the front page and headlined in large block letters: 'THE RUSSIAN MENACE ... JAPAN OPTS OUT' (Australian Financial Review 18th January 1980). The headline immediately engages the reader in perspective space by confronting them with an opposing force, a 'menace'. It conjures up the black-and-white world of 1950s newsreels populated by menaces of all sorts, each metaphorically identified with each other as if embodying a single monolithic phenomenon. In fact, the article is as much concerned with the threat posed by Iran, through its holding of Western hostages, as it is with the Soviet Union, but the two threats are treated as virtually identical and become collapsed into one. Within the logic of the Cold War everything is divided between "us" and "them". This division is in space: the menace can be represented through figures of invasion or territorial conquest; it can be visualised as an advancing line constricting and confining the space of the reader. Across this division there is something substantial, something real to be revealed by discourse.
Within this Cold War field of bold relief and heightened opposition, Japan appears as an anomaly - a figure without any clear determination. Rather than taking a position on either side of the divide, it 'opts out'. Underneath the headline is a photograph of Prime Minister Ohira. The photograph implies a factual representation, a neutral, literal recording; but it also suggests another reading. The image chosen shows Ohira with eyes averted so as not to engage with the gaze of the viewer. It is tightly cropped so as to show no more than his enigmatic face. This is the first sign of a feminising of Japan which is developed metaphorically in the text of the article. Ohira's oblique gaze evades the viewer, frustrating any attempt to fix him in place. Like the seductress or femme fatale, he is a figure which eludes any fixed position.
The strong perspective space defined by the headline is sustained in the text, which is reprinted from an article by Henry Scott Stokes of the New York Times. The sign of American authorship further qualifies this space as centred on the United States. The view for the Australian reader is as if from the centre of Western power. The strong positionality of this centre is constantly confirmed through figures of resistance and opposition. While on one level, the "facts" about sanctions, oil exports etc. are given, on another, metaphorical level, the text records the terrain of a battlefield. On one side is the United States, a figure of positive, virile presence. The US is strong and active. It imposes 'stiff' economic sanctions on Iran, designed to 'spur' the release of American hostages. It is a warlike figure 'retaliating' against the Soviet Union for its intervention in Afghanistan. Leagued against it are Russia and Iran, also a forceful, "masculine" presence, but one that is destructive and negative, 'threatening' and 'intervening in' domains outside its own.
Japan remains allied with neither side, but potentially compliant to the demands of both. It is cast as a two-timer, courted by rival suitors, but resisting all calls for a decisive betrothal. Faced with the threat of a 'complete cutoff' of oil shipments from the "enemy" Iran, it indicates that it will not join the United States. Even so, it appears still open to American persuasions. A special US envoy is sent to 'urge' Japan to unite with America in the imposition of sanctions. From the outset, however, the outcome must remain uncertain for Japan seems to have little intention of committing itself either way. It is not clear, furthermore, whether it would even be capable of such a commitment. While it may appear as cooperative and acquiescent, this appearance is not backed by any real substance. Japanese officials are reported as saying of the envoy: 'We will treat him nicely and see him off at the airport, but we want nothing to do with really tough sanctions'.
Japan's mutability and inconsistency - metaphorised as feminine - is closely related to its total preoccupation with purely economic concerns. Like a suburban housewife as viewed by a psychiatrist, advertising strategist or political analyst, its motives at the immediate level are transparent, being entirely reducible to economic interests:
The [Japanese] Government, strongly supported by big business on the question of sanctions, is understood to want to safeguard Japan's interests in ... three basic areas.
This transparency leads the text to the microscopic level, made available in the form of mediated numerical information. The 'three areas' referred to are listed in point form:
Security of oil supplies from the Middle East which provides 75 per cent of Japan's oil ...
Continuation of construction of a partly-completed petrochemical complex at Bandhar Khomeini on the northern shores of the Persian Gulf, in which the Mitsui group has invested an amount estimated at $US1.5 billion ...
Maintenance of a rapidly increasing trade with the Soviet Union, worth $US1.9 billion last year.
Here, it appears, Japan is finally spoken for, fixed in place by the authoritative Western voice. The motives which determine its actions can even be quantified and the outcome predicted through a sort of rational calculus. There is no obscurity or opacity even in the units of measurement in which the reckoning is made; everything becomes commensurable through its denomination in US dollars.
Yet this is also the point at which Japan, as a distinct identity, disappears completely from view. It becomes no more than an invisible medium which directs back at the West only signs of itself. To engage with it becomes impossible because it offers no resistance. Like the feminine as theorised by Baudrillard, it is a figure of neutrality, of hyperconformity. If it were not for the possibility of opposition from the Soviet Union, this would pose a problem of the most serious kind. If the encounter were only between the West and Japan, the strong, authoritative position of Stokes and his Australian readers would become an empty simulacrum. Without any possibility of establishing distance or perspective, the West would be condemned to a sort of narcissism; not a narcissism in the traditional sense, in which the subject reflects on their own image, but a narcissism without affect where the subject is surrounded by empty, abstract signs which refer only to itself.
In the context of the Cold War, this scenario is averted by the Russian menace which can always be relied upon to present a substantial opposition. The capacity for resistance which Japan has lost through its anatomical dismemberment is regained indirectly as it becomes a potential medium for Soviet aggression. Hence the strength and authority of the West is saved. While America may find nothing to oppose in Japan itself, it can always look behind Japan to find who is "really" pulling the strings. It is this which gives Stokes' text its potential to reveal and which ensures his own position as "substantial". Despite the appearance of the article in the business press and the interest shown in Japan's economic affairs, this position is fundamentally political. It is "above" the uncertainty and flux of purely economic considerations and is associated with metaphors of structure and depth. Just as America refuses to stoop to the level of Japan's financial adultery, demonstrating its moral steadfastness by imposing sanctions, Stokes refuses to allow himself to be drawn to the level of purely economic concerns.
With the end of the Cold War, however, the strategy of 'Japan Opts Out' is clearly no longer available. Even at the time of the Ohira visit, in fact, it was far from secure. Only in exceptional circumstances such as the Afghanistan crisis could a Cold War frame of reference be conveniently invoked. This is illustrated by an article by the Financial Review's Tokyo correspondent, Michael Byrnes, previewing the Ohira visit (Australian Financial Review 11th January 1980). Not only did the article appear before the dramatic superpower confrontation over Afghanistan, but Byrnes is also constrained in the focus he is able to take by the nature of his assignment. The Ohira visit was specifically concerned with bilateral relations and the agenda for discussions was almost entirely addressed to issues of trade and investment. Writing for a business readership, Byrnes is compelled to concentrate on issues directly concerning the economic relationship between Australia and Japan.
Despite these constraints, the strategy which Byrnes adopts is almost identical to the strategy of 'Japan Opts Out'. Like Stokes, he attempts to position Japan in relation to a third figure - in this case China. The article, headlined 'China supplants Aust in Japan trade stakes', takes as its theme the possibility that Australia may be losing some of its traditional Japanese markets to the Chinese. Again, the main interest of the text is generated by the way that Japan is played off against two opposing positions which are politically defined. Again, the contest has strong Cold War associations: a frequent concern of the business press in the immediate post-war period was the extent to which Japan might swing away from the West to develop a close trading alliance with "Red China". Again, the situation is understood through the use of sexual metaphors. Here, Byrnes is even more explicit, describing the relationship between Australia and Japan in terms of a possible 'honeymoon'.
This theme is introduced in the opening lead which reports that 'despite Canberra's high hopes of a second resource honeymoon, Australia is slipping in its relative position as a trading partner with Japan'. There is little doubt as to how the roles in the partnership are to be assigned. The question posed by the article is whether the Ohira visit can be read as a sign that 'finally, Japan is according a real recognition of Australia's importance as a regional ally and a repository of natural resources'. In this formulation, Australia's importance itself is closed to question. Like the United States in 'Japan Opts Out', Australia assumes the determinate, "masculine" position which is established, substantial, fixed. The uncertainty in the situation lies entirely with Japan, which appears as indeterminate, unreliable, "feminine". Its identity can be established only in relation to some other figure. The question is who this figure is - Australia or China, "us" or "them".
Byrnes identifies a confidence in Australia that the relationship with Japan is secure. The Ohira visit appears to have sparked 'high hopes' that there will indeed be a second honeymoon. There is a 'growing belief that Australia's economy is about to be buoyed by Japan's changing diet of energy materials - steaming coal, natural gas, uranium'. The sense of assurance, both in government and in the business community, has been further encouraged by indications that Mr Ohira may be hoping for the establishment of a Pacific Basin economic community 'in which Australia would play a key role'. For Byrnes himself, however, these expectations are misleading, for they obscure a series of 'alarming developments' which cast the Australia-Japan relationship in an altogether new light - a light in which it begins to appear 'more like an easy night out than as a new honeymoon'. First, China has replaced Australia as Japan's third most important trading partner; second, the Ohira visit is the first visit to Australia by a Japanese Prime Minister in five and a half years; and third, the Japanese industries importing from Australia are 'so busy organising themselves into a gigantic new multi-industry, multi-resource materials-buying cartel that one wonders how they have time left over for any other business': 'What sort of honeymoon is this supposed to be?'
The unexpected rise in Japan's trade with China has all the appearances of an illicit affair: 'It has occurred quietly and suddenly. There has been no announcement of the fact in Tokyo. But it has happened'. Byrnes emphasises the shortness of Ohira's stay in Australia and his cursory recognition of the proper authorities:
Mr Ohira will arrive in Canberra on Tuesday night, spend Wednesday in Canberra in official dialogue with the Australian Government, fly to Melbourne on Thursday morning where an address by Mr Ohira will be televised, and will then leave for New Zealand.
En route back to Tokyo, the prime ministerial party will stop in Sydney for an afternoon and evening on unofficial business (ie, a harbour cruise and meetings with the local Japanese business community)
In other words, after a gap of five-and-a-half years between prime ministerial visits, Japan can afford only one-and-a-half days for official discussions with one of its major economic and regional allies.
Ohira appears, for Byrnes, to be always in transit so that he never actually arrives. His itinerary is more like that of a tourist than of a head of state - fleeting and uncommitted rather than purposeful and strongly engaged. Worse, it indiscriminately mixes 'official dialogue' with harbour cruises and television appearances and freely intersperses business in Australia with a trip to New Zealand.
As in 'Japan Opts Out', Japan's elusiveness creates an uncertainty of positions for it provides nothing with which to engage. The Japanese delegation conforms perfectly to the protocols of international diplomacy but offers neither more nor less. This, for Byrnes, is a sign that the Ohira visit can only be an 'exercise in flag-waving'. The 'pathetic attempt of some Tokyo publications to find something of tangible significance in the Ohira trip' is unmasked by the fact that 'Japanese officials have done everything possible to avoid discussion of the specific realities'. There is no doubt that the trade in energy resources is the 'uppermost thought' in the minds of both the Australian and Japanese leaders, yet Japan completely evades any engagement at this level: 'Japan's Foreign Ministry shudders at interpretations suggesting it is an energy-buying or even energy-discussing mission'. This refusal of Japan to offer any opposition or resistance, means that there is nothing significant to be said of the encounter. Discourse appears condemned to emptiness and impotence, an incapacity to reveal and an inability, therefore, to confirm an authoritative speaking position.
Like Stokes, Byrnes attempts to overcome this problem by appealing to more sophisticated techniques than immediate observation to establish a principle of depth. Japan's true position can be decided, he suggests, through a sort of forensic science which can be brought in to examine the bed-linen. Statistics can be produced which prove conclusively that Japan has shifted its allegiances towards China. Furthermore, 'these are not vague academic estimates, but are based partly on verified figures for the nine months to September':
For the 1979 calendar year, Japan's total trade with China is expected, on latest available figures, to emerge at between $US7 billion and $US7.2 billion.
This converts to between $A6.4 billion and $A6.6 billion, a rise of around 40 per cent on the 1978 figures.
Japan's exports to China in 1979 will emerge at around $US4.1 billion while its imports from China will amount to around $US3 billion.
As for Stokes, the appeal to "hard figures" allows Byrnes to check Japan's affront to Western authority but in a way that is extremely ambivalent. On the one hand, Japan is fixed, its position finally determined; on the other hand, it disappears from view, completely dissolved in signs circulated by the West - US and Australian dollars.
This for Byrnes is a far greater problem than it is for Stokes because the entire situation he describes is more fluid and uncertain. For both, everything depends on the opposition between their own position and the third figure - China or the Soviet Union. For Byrnes, however, this is scarcely more structured or defined than the opposition between Australia and Japan. From the end of the Vietnam War, China's geopolitical orientation has been established as effectively neutral and throughout the late 1970s it became increasingly integrated into the international economic system. In 1972 the Australian government recognised the communist regime in Beijing and opened the way to the development of close economic cooperation between the two countries. This means that the "scandal" of Japan's infidelity comes dangerously close to appearing as merely staged for effect. Despite the careful attempt to build an intrigue, Byrnes' text reveals almost nothing because it cannot establish China as any less transparent than Japan. It is unable to invoke the figures of opposition and resistance that Stokes employs in 'Japan Opts Out', so that unlike the Soviet Union, China does not provide a stable point of reference with which to orient the position of the Australian reader.
It is in response to this problem that Byrnes is compelled to shift his position away from that identified with a strong Western perspective. His strategy, however, is not so much to dismiss the old opposition of West and East as substantial against insubstantial, "masculine" against "feminine", as to dissociate this opposition from his own authorial position. While the metaphorical structure he employs is very similar to that of 'Japan Opts Out', there is a difference in the devices he uses to indicate the status of this structure within his own text. Through the idea of the honeymoon, in particular, he foregrounds the use of metaphor and highlights it as metaphor. This allows him to adopt an ambiguous position towards it. On the one hand, he uses it to provide a framework for describing Japan's behaviour, but on the other hand, he is constantly standing back to throw doubt on its validity. It becomes uncertain whether it is to be understood as an indirect way of apprehending a real situation or as merely an empty "idea", a simulation for which Byrnes himself takes no responsibility.
This uncertainty is maintained throughout the text with numerous references to states of belief regarding the Australia-Japan relationship. The idea of the honeymoon is first attributed to 'Canberra', then used to indicate a wider set of Australian perceptions and expectations. The possible plan by Ohira for a Pacific Basin economic community is identified as a piece of 'news', the implication being that it is generally "in circulation". The alarming number of assumptions that are 'apparently' being made about Japan's demand for Australian raw materials is referred to the 'true believers' in an unstoppable Australian resources boom. The catalogue of Australian ideas concerning Japan reads almost like an anthropological documentary on a dying religious faith or curious cargo cult. With such an intense focus on the 'true believers' it goes almost without saying that there is little question, for Byrnes himself, of true belief: 'The meaning of the Ohira visit to Australia varies considerably according to the eye of the beholder'.
The deferral of responsibility for the interpretative strategies which are brought to bear on the Australia-Japan relationship places the reader in quite a different position from the affirmative approach of 'Japan Opts Out'. Instead of being engaged, even if indirectly, in the drama being described they become a disengaged spectator. It is as if they are looking at the Australia-Japan relationship without actually participating in it. Their situation is no longer in perspective space, but has become a point of view on perspective space. Byrnes' anthropological eye is turned not upon an exotic "other" but upon the self. His position - and the position which he creates for the reader - is both that of subject and object. It is rather like that of a disaffected television viewer who watches to stay in touch with what "they" are up to while all the time aware of their own involvement in the ill-defined group being considered. Byrnes' article does not articulate a new Australian perspective on Japan but rather disinvests Australia as a position from which a perspective might be taken.
This weakening of perspective is directly related to suggestions by Byrnes of a revaluation of Australia and Japan as figures of West and East. While Australia's position of Western authority becomes uncertain, Japan becomes a privileged figure of the fluidity and indeterminacy which a general breakdown of positionality entails:
Japan is at the centre of the flux in present world events and Japan's energy-buying policy is shaped considerably by the day's events.
Here, on the one hand, the familiar association of Japan with inconsistency and instability is maintained, while on the other hand, the implications of this association are fundamentally altered. It appears as an indication not that Japan is marginal or peripheral but, on the contrary, that it is at the centre of 'present world events'. In a reversal of the traditional schema, Byrnes suggests that it may be indeterminacy and flux which is general while points of relative fixity and substantiality are secondary and contingent.
This suggestion is taken further by an editorial, 'Son of brinkmanship', which appeared in the same issue of the Financial Review as 'Japan Opts Out' (Australian Financial Review 18th January 1980). The editorial refers both to Stokes' article and to an accompanying coverage of the response to the Afghanistan crisis by Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. According to the latter, Fraser attempts to capitalise on the renewal of Cold War tensions in a bid to assert strong moral authority over the undecided Ohira. He lectures Ohira on the seriousness of the situation, describing the Soviet move as 'the most serious threat to world peace in 35 years, worse even than the Cuban missile crisis, the Berlin blockade and the Korean war'. Invoking the old spatial imaginary of the Cold War, he claims that 'it presents a challenge to the collective strength and will of the nations of the world. We must show that a line can be drawn against Soviet expansionism'. Yet despite the severity of these warnings, they provoke absolutely no response: 'By contrast [to Fraser], Mr Ohira ignored the situation entirely'.
The opposition here between Fraser and Ohira closely follows the traditional Orientalist opposition between West and East. Fraser's position is highly visible, closely associated with universal values and marked by a strong political determination. Ohira figures by contrast as uncommitted, without a clearly defined position or political valence. Yet, for the editorial, it is Fraser who is revealed by the encounter as weak and vulnerable. This is partly because as an Australian leader he is not a principal antagonist in the Cold War and hence cannot legitimately claim a position of full authority. But further than this, the editorial suggests, 'the international power game has moved into a completely new phase'. Despite the Afghanistan crisis, the geopolitical scene can no longer be understood in Cold War terms, for the political oppositions of the Cold War have lost any sharpness of definition:
It may therefore be tempting for those who yearn for the days of Dulles - when international relations could be rationalised in terms of an evil 'them' versus an ideal 'us' - to regress to the terminology of those times.
But it is also folly.
The editorial argues that it is economic issues which are now dominant in the international arena and predicts that politics will become increasingly introspective throughout the 1980s as 'leaders try to cope with growing restlessness at home':
In such a climate, the rhetoric of the 1950s has an antediluvian ring.
It is the rhetoric of ideological and moral certainty in an increasingly uncertain world.
In this context, it is no longer possible to claim an authoritative political position, for there is no point of opposition or resistance to define such a position against. In attempting to do so, Fraser only highlights his own emptiness and impotence. His high visibility functions as a sign not of strength but of weakness for it makes him a public spectacle whose frailty and absurdity are revealed to all:
Indeed, a casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that he is conducting some strange contest in bellicosity with Britain's Mrs Margaret Thatcher.
Australia has little to gain, and much to lose, from such conspicuous parading on the world stage.
Strength, for the editorial, lies not in a high public profile - the traditional prerogative of the West - but in the silence and invisibility of Ohira. It is demonstrated not by staking out a political orientation, but by the complete avoidance of any indication of such an orientation:
Visiting Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira was clearly prepared to be accommodatingly courteous to the righteous urgings of Australia's Malcolm Fraser in deploring the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
But in Melbourne yesterday, Mr Ohira made it clear by his pointed avoidance of the Afghanistan and Iran issues that Japan is not going to be rushed into overzealous knee-jerk retaliation, whatever Mr Fraser urges.
The greater Ohira's show of neutrality and compliance, the more brittle and fragile Fraser's position becomes. The refusal to provide a political point of reference condemns the rhetoric of the Cold War to an abrupt de-simulation. It is in this context that Ohira's invisibility comes to function as a sign of power. Whereas Fraser attempts to burden his discourse with an identifiable content, Ohira adopts the empty form of Western diplomatic speech. Yet it is precisely an absence of content which has become the only real "content". Hence the teacher/student relation set up by Fraser is reversed:
[I]n his low-key speech in Melbourne, Mr Ohira appeared to be delivering a quiet lesson to Malcolm Fraser.
It is clear that this lesson does not involve a message: no attempt is made to describe what Ohira actually says. What is important, in fact, is that he says nothing, for in doing so he demonstrates the power of neutrality and passivity, a power which is beyond the strategies of discourse to contain.
As McKenzie Wark has argued, there is a real question whether cultural studies has yet confronted the full implications of the globalisation of information, finance and entertainment. As Wark points out, the increasing instantaneity of interaction across traditional geopolitical boundaries makes impossible any easy assumption of distinct cultural positions or locations (Wark 443-448). Yet it could well be argued that such an assumption is central to all the major cultural studies paradigms - from the national-popular paradigm of hegemony to more localised ethnographic concepts of shared spaces of meaning and even Foucauldian concepts of particular institutional powers. A recognition of this problem is no more critical than in discussions of contemporary Australian-Asian relations which are rapidly being redefined within a highly interactive environment in which there is increasing confusion between "here" and "there".
The first condition for such a recognition must be the abandonment of a certain critical obsession with structures of binary oppositions - with centre and periphery, dominant and subordinate, West and Orient. For the analysis of discourse, this means paying attention not only to the way in which binaries succeed in reproducing themselves, but also to how they fail. It would be difficult to find a media practice with more invested in hierarchical schemas than the business press. Yet in a post-Cold War world, many of the strategies which have traditionally supported or reinforced such schemas are simply no longer available. A high moral denunciation of Orientalism is therefore increasingly in danger of missing the point. Like the narrative of enlightenment so widely circulated in the Australian media, it can succeed only in supporting a myth of the West as an autonomous agent still in a position, as Fraser nostalgically imagines, to "lay down the law".
Baudrillard, Jean. Seduction. Trans. Brian Singer. London: Macmillan, 1990.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. Middlesex: Peregrine Books, 1987.
Virilio, Paul. "The Morphological Irruption", Lost Dimension, Trans. Daniel Moshenberg. New York: Semiotext(e), 1991.
Wark, McKenzie. "Speaking Trajectories: Meaghan Morris, Antipodean Theory and Australian Cultural Studies". Cultural Studies 6:3 (1992): 443-448.
New: 6 December, 1995 | Now: 25 March, 2015