Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Abe Is No Spendthrift Where Defense Is Concerned (Still) and Other Stuff

Collective self-defense means lashing any overseas projections of Japanese military power even more tightly into the US hub-and-spoke network of security alliances. That understandably makes the regional hegemon aspirant whose only supporter in Japan seems to be an octogenarian expat from Australia—yes, the other modern state founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that—upset. But South Korea? Those people should be dancing in the streets by now for this yet another constraint on Japanese plans to retake the Korean Peninsula…except they aren’t…OMG DON’T TELL ME THEY’RE PLOTTING TO COAX CHINA (YET AGAIN) TO REPRISE THEIR JOINT 12TH CENTURY DOUBLE-BARREL (FAILED) INVASION.

…wait till the Sankei Group hears about that

Kidding. Actually, the South Koreans are afraid that Prime Minister Abe will team up with Kim Jong Un, who is on the outs with Xi Jinping, to overrun South Korea (Jong Un, we provide the robots, you provide the men). Now that explains why the Xi-Park relationship is heating up.
Oh, the Japanese defense budget. The ongoing Medium Term Defense Program, which runs through FY 2014-FY 2018, puts the total at 24.67 trillion yen, which runs to about a 0.8% increase per year, a figure that has been talked up by some analysts. But the budget is already up 2.8% year-on-year in FY 2014 at 4.8848 trillion. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, the annual budget would have to observe a near standstill notwithstanding inflation to bring the five-year budget under the 24.67 trillion threshold. The secret, in case you haven’t guessed it already, is that the target was expressed in real terms, with an implicit Abenomics, baked-in 2% inflation target. Factor in the 2% inflation target phased in over three years, and you should be able to work in a 2% increase per year in real terms.

Trust me, kids, it pays to do your own arithmetic.

Still, a 2% increase in real terms is pretty modest, peaking out at 200 billion yen per year—roughly 0.2% of the general budget—if and when the inflation target is met. And if anyone tells you that things could turn out to be otherwise, then that someone knows something that the rest of planet earth doesn’t know, since it was the Abe cabinet that authorized that Program. And Prime Minister Abe will be gone in the last year of the Program—if not earlier if the economy tanks and the LDP decides to throw him out before that. So much for the claims of the scaremongers.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Protecting the Guilty—on History Issues, What Else?

A post on a public forum included the following amusing proposition, which touched off the subsequent exchange between me and a real live human being, a friend whose name will go unmentioned here. (I’ve always wondered why you have to “protect the innocent.” After all, it is the guilty who need the most protection if they are to remain useful sources, no?)

“It is interesting to compare how Okinawa came to [be] incorporated into Japan with the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893, abetted by a company of U.S. marines. On the centennial of this event, the U.S. issued a formal apology, in a joint resolution of Congress that was also signed by Bill Clinton. The apology ‘acknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and further acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum.’”

“Very interesting. So, if you really, really apologize, you don't have to give anything back? (Just let them have a few casinos, if they happen to be genocide/ethnic cleansing survivors?) I'm sure Mr. Abe will be delighted to hear that.”

“Yes you're right, but the key to this is the politics.  Some genocides have zero political cost because all the victims are dead. Other far less serious crimes generate problems due to the circumstances of the deed. I'm afraid that what the PM fails to see. It's not about morality, it's about efficiency.”

“‘...because all the victims are dead...’

Sufficient, but not necessary; you only have to own them. Americans don't have to worry about Native Americans because, hey, they're Americans. Likewise, the Chinese with their Uighurs/Tibetans et al, we Japanese and our Ainu, the Spaniards Basque... The list goes on.

Yes, the Spanish have to worry about the Catalonians and the British about the Scots--but they wouldn't have to if they were willing to kill them all. Israel and the Palestinians fall somewhere in between, like 19th century America.”

Yes it helps to own the corpse. But generally if you've killed them all you end up owning their land.

As a dying Spanish general reportedly told the priest who asked him, while administering the last rites of the Church, to pardon all his enemies: ‘Father, I have no enemies.  I killed them all.’”

“‘Father, I have no enemies.  I killed them all.’

Kim Jong Un can only dream.”

Friday, July 11, 2014

Postscript to CRI Panel Discussion

Not one of my best performances. Need to do this more often. Practice, practice, practice.

But did that commentator threaten Japan with war at the end? Fascinating note to end on. I remind myself that America’s friends did indeed suffer, but its enemies suffered mch, much more.


My crib sheet for China Radio International panel discussion, later in the day, just in case I fail to get my licks in. (The questions, in italics, are theirs. And yes, they’re having me back.)

What does this historic policy shift mean to Japan? And countries in the region?

(Okumura) For many listeners who are not familiar with the Japan issue, Japan has always been a “normal country”, actually a success story of being the second and then the third largest economy in the world. Why is there the pursuit of more room for military buildup?

I sometimes wonder if Mr. Abe hasn’t done too good a job of selling his national security program, raising expectations or fears depending on the beholder. After years of flat or declining military spending, it is going to go up 2% each year in real terms for five years—then Mr. Abe will be gone, and Japanese military spending will still remain at 1% of GDP, give or take a very small fraction, as it has been doing for ages. No, the real change is coming in Mr. Abe’s outreach to allies and other countries with whom he thinks Japan can engage in productive activities security-wise. That is most evident in the increasingly close ties with Australia. His determination to reinterpret Article 9 of the Japanese constitution to include collective self-defense can be seen in that light: Allowing the Japanese military to play a larger role in joint efforts with its allies—first and foremost the United States—where vital Japanese interests are at stake.

And what’s driving all this? Let’s be honest, it’s China. Let’s say that there are conflicting territorial and other sovereignty-related claims, and none of the parties are willing to yield. In that case, if a state wishes to change the status quo, it has two choices: take the matter to the International Court of Justice, or use force. China already had nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles; now it has an aircraft carrier. It has a massive maritime surveillance fleet. Budgets continue to grow by leaps and bounds. And it is aggressively pushing its claims. Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines are feeling the pressure. And Australia worries about its backyard.

(Chinese guest) If you take a look at the Germany and Italy, both defeated like Japan during the WWII, they realized the transformation to become a “normal country” long time ago. Isn’t it natural for Japan to become a normal country? From the point of view of Japan’s neighboring countries, like China and S. Korea, why is that hard to accept?

I’ll leave the conventional arguments to others, and offer a different perspective. There cannot be a starker difference between the reasons for China and South Korea in refusing to accept Japan as a “normal country.”
Take China. Japan is by far the most important security ally of the United States in the Asia-Pacific. Japan is the greatest military asset the United States has there. And it has been positioning itself closer and closer to the United States. If I were Mr. Xi Jinping, I would be very annoyed, and positively alarmed if Japan ever decided to play at the Australian level.
I don’t think that the South Koreans have ever gotten over the fact that it passed from being a subsidiary state of China to a subsidiary state, then territory, of Japan, then a sovereign state, all without putting up any kind of a fight. They would feel much more at ease with a normal Japan if they had been able to beat us to a pulp first.
So China has a real national interest in keeping Japan from becoming “normal” while South Korea has what is essentially a psychological issue that keeps it from accepting something that would actually be in their national interest.

According to Japan’s pacifist constitution, Japan is not allowed to have a national army. But the Self-defense forces are actually the army of the nation. So the normalization process has been started decades ago, right? It seems the normalization has always been about lifting the restraint on the military force? Is that the right impression?

Within reasonable limits, yes, that’s the right impression. Now nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, I think they would be beyond the pale of any reasonable definition of normalcy.

What is a fully normal country, in this case, Japan, like, as currently the US, with a military presence of some 50, 000 troops, enjoys the final say on military matters? When can we call Japan a normal country? When will Japan be accepted as a normal country by China and South Korea?

Actually, one definition of a “normal” country is a country that does its best to convince a more powerful country to do as much of the heavy lifting as possible. People in Japan call that the “Yoshida Doctrine,” but it’s what the Europeans have been doing under the NATO umbrella all these years. In that sense, a “normal country,” at least where the developed countries are concerned these days, is one relying on a US military presence and therefore, as a practical matter, does not have the final say on military matters in its own territory. In that sense, Japan is a normal country. Collective self-defense is part of that normalcy. That should not be a concern for U.S. allies; for U.S. competitors, it should be.


Japanese PM Shinzo Abe took a detour to change the pacifist constitution by “re-interpreting” the war-renouncing articles. Why didn't he amend the constitution directly? Is there enough public support for the re-interpretation?

It’s very simple. He didn’t have the votes in the Diet to put it to the national referendum. As for public support, yes and no. Recent polls show strong majority support for the actual measures that Mr. Abe proposes under the banner of collective self-defense, but there are strong pluralities or majorities against the notion of collective self-defense itself.

When it comes to the opposition to the reinterpretation inside Japan, what’s their major concern?

The unreconstructed pacifist opposition is not the real concern for Mr. Abe. It’s the source of the collective self-dissonance in the people who support the specific and oppose the principle. Win them over completely, and Mr. Abe will have a popular majority. To make a generalization, I think that these people do not see where all this is leading to and are concerned with the fact that there could be more to this story than they’ve been told. And Mr. Abe and the LDP have given people some reason to harbor these concerns. Mr. Abe has his case cut out for him, between now and the 2015 regular Diet session, when he introduces legislation to implement the change. Personally, I believe that institutional constraints, not least the need to keep junior coalition partner Komeito onside, will keep any Japanese prime minister within very strict boundaries, but I only count for one vote.

What does the move mean exactly? Sending troops overseas to the help of US, an ally, and countries with close relationship with Japan, like the Philippines and Vietnam?

In short, no. Protecting foreign ships carrying Japanese citizens from war zones, clearing mines along vital sea lanes while allies do the real fighting, and anything else concrete that the Abe regime can convince Komeito to accept. My advice to people on all sides of this issue? Don’t make Komeito angry.


One of the concern people have is, in the wake of the reinterpretation, what’ll be next steps? Will there be gradual steps toward a final abandonment of the pacifist constitution? 

Everything depends on external factors. The greater the threat, the greater the momentum to relax the interpretation and, eventually, to amend the Constitution.

There’s fear in China at least that militarism in Japan may rise again. How likely is that scenario? Is that an overestimate of the current situation in Japan?

Japan has one tenth the population of China, spends 1% of an economic output that is smaller than China’s, and does not have nuclear weapons or effective means of their delivery. What the Chinese have to fear is a weak, isolated Japan, abandoned by the United States and feeling threatened, that decides to become North Korea on steroids. Now that’s a very low-probability outcome. But you asked for a scenario where militarism rises again in Japan.

Japan has been in close contact with the Philippines and Vietnam, both of which have territorial disputes with China. Is it likely that, following the reinterpretation, Japan may be able to build a loose military alliance with the two countries against China

It depends on what you mean by “loose military alliance,” and what China chooses to do. Would Japan selling coast guard patrol boats to Vietnam and the Philippines qualify as a “loose military alliance”? Most likely not. Would Japan and Australia selling jointly-developed submarines to those two nations qualify? Now the story begins to pick up. But that’s a good number of years in the future, and much depends on how China decides to deploy its military and quasi-military powers over the long-run. In the meantime, Russia is the one selling submarines to Vietnam.


Will there be an arms race in East Asia as a result of the new Japanese move? Will the still strong trade ties among countries be affected by their dispute? (China-Japan and that between S.Korea and Japan?) 

No. Will China’s military expenditures go up even more rapidly? I doubt it. Will South Korea’s? I doubt it. South Korea will buy anything from the United States that Japan does, but that’s the case regardless of the reinterpretation. And no, the trade ties will not be affected. Tourism is already down significantly, consumer purchases may be slightly affected, and Japanese firms may have a harder time securing government business in China, but I suspect that that’ll be it, at most.

Chinese President Xi Jinping paid it a visit to South Korea and the visit has been partly read as an effort by Beijing and Seoul in response to the Japanese move. What’s your take on that?

There are political benefits. And commercial ones too, for South Korea, I’ll wager. But remember, the greater geopolitical bone of contention in East Asia remains the future of North Korea. On that, China and South Korea can only share short-to-medium-term, tactical interests, if that.

The United States has been one of the countries that have welcomed the Japanese defense policy change. What’s their justification?

And everybody else in East and Southeast Asia except China and South Korea. And the bread crumbs leads right back to Beijing. Whether you agree with the legitimacy of the concerns or not, it’s the reality that China has to deal with.

The Strategic and Economic Dialogue between China and the US has just concluded in Beijing. How much a factor is Japan in Sino-US ties?

Japan is the most important ally of the United States in the Asia-Pacific. China cannot push Japan too far without incurring serious US resistance. To put it another way, how much of a factor is the Unites States in Japan-China ties? Very much, is what.


Japanese PM Abe has said his door is open to dialogue. But with the latest move, the hope for a summit meeting between Chinese and Japanese leaders can’t be even further. Do you have expectation of the upcoming APEC meeting later this year in Beijing?

There are actually two factors that still pull in favor of an informal summit, a chat on the sidelines. China is the host. To refuse to see Mr. Abe would make Mr. Xi look small and defensive. Second, China appears to be concentrating its guns on Vietnam, which, unlike Japan and the Philippines, does not have the United States as an ally. Yet. An implicit offer of a truce from Mr. Xi to Mr. Abe might be in the works.

Both Japan and Germany were defeated in Second World War. But Germany has managed to win the trust and respect from its neighbors, while Japan remains embroiled in constant denial of history. Is there anything Japan may learn from Germany?

That it helps to be the biggest fish in the pond when all is said and done? The histories are so different that the comparison favored by so many conventional commentators merely clouds the picture. But I’ll say this. We Japanese see modern history through the lens of the Black ships rolling in, making demands, and Japan’s response to that. But for the Chinese, the Opium War is the seminal event, which I think is also a perfectly legitimate perspective. This means that the Japan-China War in 1894-95 has very different meanings for the two sides. But World War I changed the rules of the game for all the Great Powers except two: Japan and Germany. If the two nations could accept that the other side will have different narratives with regard to the Japan-China War and Japan reiterates its acceptance of responsibility for its post-WW I actions on that premise, then we will have gone a long way to solving the problem. I don’t think that Mr. Abe is there yet, much less Mr. Xi.

As it is said, we can’t change our neighbors, like it or not. At the end of the day, we need to come to terms with each other. Where to start if we still have hope to mend the fences and fix the problems between countries?

I already gave my views about modern history. Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that we Japanese always revered China. Japan is now the only country outside of China and Taiwan that actively uses Chinese characters, teaches Chinese literature as part of our compulsory classic education, and uses Chinese motifs in much of our historical and fantasy anime. And we adore Jackie Chan. Don’t let that affinity borne out of deep history go to waste

Saturday, June 28, 2014

More from the Mines

The old man was reminiscing about his experiences immediately after the war. Discharged from the Imperial Army as a suicide-bomber trainee, he returned to school, graduated, very briefly went through a couple of jobs, then settled on a mining company “because the pay was good,” where he wound up spending the rest of his working life, mostly in accounting until he moved up in the ranks to become a senior executive. The conversation turned to forced wartime labor in the mines—I cannot remember why; perhaps the TV was on and there was something in the news—and you might be interested in a couple of things that he said, which I am paraphrasing from memory.

1. When the war ended, the Koreans left the mine immediately without collecting their wages and took the first ship back home. For years, the company kept the ledgers that recorded the wages outstanding, but it disposed of them when it moved offices.

2. I feel sorry for the Chinese prisoners who were brought to work the mine. Many fared poorly, and some died. A company employee (employees?) was executed as a war criminal as a result. He (they?) did what he (they?) could, but some prisoners had arrived already in terrible condition because they had been shipped over under terrible circumstances.

The Opposition Have Hook for Tokyo Assembly Election (2)

What happened after the event is well-chronicled in the Japanese media (Yomiuri providing the most extensive online coverage, followed by Sankei. No one came forth to admit to the heckling. On the 19th, the day after, the Tokyo assemblywomen, all 25 of them, lodged a nonpartisan joint protest with the assembly chairman (Toshaki Yoshino, by custom on leave from the LDP while chair) to no avail. The next day, on the 20th, the third day after the incident as required by law, Shiomura filed a formal grievance with the assembly chairman seeking the identification of the hecklers and their punishment. The chairman rejected the complaint, giving as the reason for his decision the fact that the assemblymen against whom the complaint was being lodged had not been identified. Meanwhile, the media was having a field day, among other things taking the question to the governor (who had been caught snickering along with a number of assemblymen)—and the LDP’s national leaders, who by then must have realized that they had a serious problem on their hands, not only because of the national media’s attention but more specifically because enhancing the socio-economic role of women had become Prime Minister Abe’s signature plank in the Abenomics’ third arrow.

By Monday, on the 23rd, the fix—patch, really—was in. The secretary-general (Shigeru Uchida) of the Tokyo metropolitan LDP announced that Akihiro Suzuki, the assemblymen most widely accused on the internet, came forth to admit that he had been the one who had told Shiomura “Get married ASAP!” but denied that he had made the other comment. The same day, the assemblyman visited Shiomura, apologized to her in a media event, and resigned from the LDP (but not the assembly).

Two days later, on the 25th, the last day of the assembly session, the plenary:
a) adopted a resolution put forth mainly by the LDP and Komeito expressing determination to “work to regain trust and prevent recurrence”;
b) rejected a motion from the Communist Party seeking the culprit’s resignation from the  assembly;
c) rejected a motion from the Your Party (Shiomura’s affiliation) and DPJ (strange bedfellows at the national level, but not that surprising locally) beseeching the other heckler to come forth; and
d) rejected a final motion from the Communist Party seeking an apology from the culprit.

And the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly went into recess.

There’s an interesting damage control story here, which I will take a look at. For the whole sequence would be trivial—just another one of those weird-Japan stories that has graced the pages of WaPo and NYT over the years—if it were not for the potential ramifications for national politics, which I think that there is a good chance of becoming evident next year. There’s also a sidebar around the deep background behind the heckling, which I might take a stab at.

…to be continued.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Opposition Have Hook for Tokyo Assembly Election (1)

As John Campbell reminded me, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up, and I guess that was why I just knew this story was going to blow up. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

June 18, the Budget Committee of the Metropolitan Tokyo Assembly is in session. Your Party Assemblywoman Ayaka Shiomura (35) is directing questions toward the prefectural administration concerning its support on pregnancy and maternity when multiple voices from the LDP wing are heard yelling “Get married ASAP!” and “You can’t have children?” Now, heckling is one of the several parliamentarian traditions that we inherited from the Anglos, but this went beyond the pale. And this is the one point in the story arc where contingency played a part. For if Ms. Shiomura had stopped right there, glared at the LDP section and called out the hecklers, announcing that she would not continue with the questions until the culprits had come forth—I’m casting Margaret Thatcher in this role—the committee would have come to a halt, party leaders would have conferred, and the hecklers would have been forced to come forth and apologize and be appropriately censured, and the whole incident would have blown over, with maybe a report on the mostly neglected reports on the local scene pages of the national papers. But she didn’t. Instead, she grimly soldiered on even as tears welled up in her eyes. It was only after the Q&A session that she sought recourse against the LDP. And that was when human nature took over, and the Tokyo metropolitan LDP crapped its pants and threw it up against the fan.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Japan Times-SHIMBUN?!?!?

I looked for the English version of a Sankei editorial and came across the masthead/nameplate The Japan Times-SHIMBUN. I’ve heard that opposites attract, but this is ridiculous.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Not Quite Separate, Not Quite Equal: The Other “Japanese” during WW II

Able-bodied Korean men were shipped out to the Japanese archipelago to work in the mines and factories there during WW II. Read these first-person accounts by others who was there, a Japanese high school student who were also dispatched, together with his entire class, to work alongside the Korean men in iron mines. The two groups did work together in the open pit mine, and did engage in some fraternizing. However, at the underground mine, it was the Koreans who unhappily worked in the shafts, while the students worked aboveground transporting the ore.

The Koreans differed from the students in two other ways. First, they received wages. Koreans acknowledged this in the lawsuits, where the plaintiffs demanded unpaid back wages, among other things. Second, they had an out. They could volunteer to serve in the Imperial Army; after all, they were Japanese citizens. Not many did, of course, as the small number of ethnic Koreans enshrined in Yasukuni attests. This also meant, though, that they were better off than the typical able-bodied Japanese-Japanese male, who, if given the choice, would surely have elected to serve the war effort from behind.

How were working conditions like for the Koreans? If the open-pit and underground narratives are any indication, they varied significantly with the circumstances—just like the experiences of the soldiers in the Imperial Army. In one example chronicled by the dreaded Special Police of all people, 292 of the 383 Koreans who had been conscripted to work in a nickel mine had run away. The officer making the report complained that the Koreans were being taken in by Japanese businesses, who apparently were offering better working conditions than the mine.

And where there are war efforts and able-bodied males, there are bound to be “comfort women”; the Japanese mines and factories were no exception. Perhaps the high school students were too naïve to notice, but a pro-Korean advocacy web site takes note of their existence on two occasions, 40 Korean women and three Japanese women respectively, both apparently servicing Korean laborers.

I’ll leave it at that for now.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

We’ve Always Liked China…But How Much Longer…

The following commentary ends differently depending on how I feel that day.

I manage to surprise most foreigners when I tell them that Japanese children are taught Chinese classics as part of their compulsory education. Perhaps that accounts for the fact that Japanese fantasy anime are just as likely if not more so to take their inspiration from Chinese history as from Japan’s.

The Chinese influence goes well beyond the classics, of course. We could not imagine the Japanese writing system making do without Chinese characters. This situation is unlikely to change any time soon either, as information technology has made Chinese characters much easier to use.

This is in sharp contrast to the nations that were not absorbed into the clutches of the Chinese empire. The Vietnamese got rid of Chinese characters by the early 20th Century, while a friendship “sealed in blood” did not deter the North Koreans from switching to all-Chosongul (or “-Hangul” according to their neighbors to the south) mode as quickly as they could after they established control over their share of the Korean Peninsula. Chinese characters held on much longer in South Korea, but had mostly disappeared from public life by the end of the 20th Century.

There’s no way to deny it; beneath all the ongoing turmoil, we Japanese like China, respect it. We freely acknowledge the legacy, which by the way stretches well beyond the literary realm. But that does not mean that they have to like us back, or that they will have any use for us except for totally utilitarian purposes. Perhaps it is high time we realized this, and moved on.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Conquering China: A Bargain with the Devil

This time, it’s going up after a one-day delay. If this situation continues, I will post here immediately, without delay.

We’re lucky that we didn’t win the war on China.

No, not that one. That one, the on-again, off-again war between 1592 and 1598.

Hideyoshi Toyotomi subjugated the last of the warlord holdouts—actually, he forced him to commit hara-kiri—in 1590, bringing the century-long Age of Civil Wars to an end. But Hideyoshi had his eyes on bigger things. He decided that he would next conquer China, which at the time was under the rule of the Ming dynasty. He went on to wage two major if inconclusive campaigns, almost exclusively on the Korean Peninsula, before his death in 1598 brought an end to Japan’s war on China.
A half century later, the Manchurians had better luck—or so it seemed at the time. In 1644, they kicked the Ming dynasty out of Beijing and officially established the Qing dynasty. Qing endured until 1912, when China itself virtually fell apart in the face of the forces of the modern era and took the dynasty with it.  Manchurians did get a rump state, courtesy of Japanese imperialists, in 1931, but that lasted all of 15 years until it was subsumed into China when Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces. They are stateless, and stateless they will be. They will forever remain a minority in the Han Empire known to us as the People’s Republic of China.

The Manchurians were not the first to conquer China. The Mongols had done it much earlier, formally establishing the Yuan dynasty in 1271. They took a little more time to completely do away with its predecessor the Sung dynasty, which had fled south, but the task was finished in 1279. The Yuan dynasty was relatively short-lived, and the all-Han, Ming dynasty set up shop in 1368. The Mongols did get some of their sovereignty back in the early 20th Century as the Qing dynasty, indeed China itself, was falling apart, but most of them were left behind in China—mainly in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where they are now outnumbered 5-to-1 by the Han.

So the deal appears to be: conquer China, and you get your own dynasty in the Middle Kingdom, the greatest state on the planet, for a couple of centuries, sometimes more, sometimes less. But when your time is up, they get to keep you, and they move in. And that is why I say that we got lucky when Hideyoshi Toyotomi failed to defeat the Ming dynasty.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

“Out Damn’d Spot!” (Allegedly): The Cybertheft Allegations

The following column was intended for my MIGA column, but I haven’t heard back from the editor for a whole week and counting, so here it is.

In “Russian and Chinese Assertiveness Poses New Foreign Policy Challenges” from the HBO History Makers Series, former US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates makes an astonishing and, for the Obama administration, the following unhelpful claim:

“What -- what we have accused the Chinese of doing, stealing American companies' secrets and technology is not new, nor is it done only by the Chinese. There are probably a dozen or 15 countries that steal our technology in this way.

“In terms of the next capable next to the Chinese are probably the French. And they've been doing it a long time.

“I often tell business audiences, ‘How many of you go to Paris on business.’ Hands go up. ‘How many of you take your laptops?’ Hands goes up. ‘How many of you take your laptops to dinner?’ Not very many hands. I said for years, the French Intelligence Services have been breaking into the hotel rooms of American businessmen and surreptitiously downloading their laptops, if they felt those laptops had technological information, or competitive information that would be useful to French countries -- French companies.

“……We nearly are alone in the world in not using our intelligence services for competitive advantage of our businesses.”

Now this may be helpful in selling his book, but it surely cannot be helpful to the US government in the execution of what will likely be concerted efforts to convince US allies and fence-sitters to join its years-long fight against China’s government-sponsored cybertheft following its criminal charges against five PLA officers. I will not hazard a guess as to the eventual success of the US endeavor—for that, I need to be compensated for the time and effort it would take—but there are a couple of points that I’ve looked at that may be of interest to you as you think forward.

First, is the US being hypocritical in charging PLA officers with cybertheft for commercial gain while overlooking France, to use Gates’ stark example? There’s obviously too little information here to be sure one way or another, but I will say this: It is not difficult to assume that the US government is going easier on its allies than on China, but if we go by Gate’s allegations alone, the differentiation in their treatment appears to be warranted, indeed, demanded by rule of law. Note that the French theft occurred on French soil. In Japan, overseas theft is punishable under the Penal Code only if the criminal is Japanese. How about the United States? A cursory search turns up this CRS Report, which strongly suggests that simple overseas theft where the only US connection is the victim is unlikely to be prosecuted under US law (although the existence of state laws muddies the situation somewhat), and this FBI advisory, which makes it clear that the Economic Espionage Act, under which the French actions obviously falls, only protects against “theft that occurs …outside of the United States” when “(a) an act in furtherance of the offense” has “been committed in the United States or (b) the violator is a U.S. person or organization.” By contrast, a “federal grand jury in Pittsburg…found that [the] five Chinese military officers conspired together, and with others, to hack into the computers of organizations in Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the United States,” according to this announcement by US Attorney General Eric Holder.

Leaving aside that fact that you need to identify suspects and connect them to the crime with evidence to bring an indictment, prosecuting the French agents was never an option as far as the facts alleged by Gates were concerned, at least if the term “rule of law” means anything.

Second, are US hands as clean as Gates claims they are? Well, many Japanese trade officials and diplomats would dispute his expansive statement that “[w]e nearly are alone in the world in not using our intelligence services for competitive advantage of our businesses.” During the trade friction years when US trade negotiators forcefully pushed their Japanese counterparts for concessions, Japanese officials directly engaged in the negotiations were convinced that the US government was wiretapping the Japanese embassy and hotel rooms in Washington where Japanese negotiators were staying. They pointed to what they believed were telltale signs of wiretapping, and routinely used payphones for sensitive communication. It could not be proved then, it cannot be proved now, but you will be hard put to find any of the negotiators at the time that would be willing to even seriously doubt the allegation. And given how the US government was working hand-in-glove at the time with US textile, steel, auto, electric and electronic appliances, and computer industries (to name those that immediately come to mind), it requires no stretch of the imagination to consider those allegations, if true, to be “using [US] intelligence services for competitive advantage of [US] businesses.”

Obviously, a distinction needs to be made between allegations of a government acting as the mastermind of an economic crime ring and a government attempting to gain a negotiating edge, respectively. That said, the US government must be mindful that the Snowden revelations will not be the only on the mind of its allies when it comes to them to seek their cooperation in putting pressure on the Chinese authorities regarding its (alleged) cybertheft activities.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Abe Administration Wrongfoots Reporters on the Abductees Beat

Prime Minister Abe’s surprise May 29 afternoon announcement that North Korea had agreed to comprehensive survey on the abductees and specified missing persons suspected of being abducted came as a major surprise in its own right. No one, including me, had expected things to move so quickly, if at all. The surprise was compounded because

Did a breakthrough occur between the perfunctory, apparently inconclusive report to Abe from the chief negotiator in the evening on the 28th enabling the former to make that announcement? If so, the two parties moved with remarkable alacrity, with the two sides making simultaneous announcements in Tokyo and Pyongyang, the Abe administration orchestrating a carefully scripted two-part announcement, with a detailed announcement and extensive Q&A featuring Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga after the prime minister’s initial media splash. Or had the agreement actually been in place by the time that the negotiators left Stockholm but the media had been misled, leading to the initial negative reports? The latter explanation appears much more likely to me.

There’s a plausible explanation for the disconnect. There were the other two key cabinet ministers to be consulted, procedures to be followed, the families of the abductees to be notified, before the conclusions based on the phone calls and email and the negotiator’s report could be distilled into specific announcements.

That said, the public (the families, too) was misled, if only for a matter of hours, when “no comment” would have sufficed. More important to the Abe administration, the reporters covering the abductees issue, who had followed the negotiating team to Stockholm had been misled, to the benefit of the cling-on interview was conducted for the benefit of the reporters on the prime minister beat. Nothing will come of this if all goes well, but the Abe administration has narrowed its margin of error if and when things go wrong, as far as the reporters more focused on the abductees issue are concerned.


A note on the pragmatism and irony evident in the cling-on interview format that Abe administration chose for the initial announcement. The pragmatism? A cling-on interview is in theory an impromptu that can be suspended or cut off at the convenience of the interviewee, a feature that Abe’s minders surely appreciate. The irony? Many of you will remember that the first Abe administration had tried to drop the twice-a-day event that Prime Minister Koizumi had used to great effect altogether, eventually settling for a once-a-day format.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Serves the Hanshin Tigers Right for Free-Rider X-Men Tie-in

On the other hand, it’s kind of a sad commentary on Japanese baseball.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

North Korea’s Bloody Succession Offers Cover for Possible Deal on Abductees

The sometimes on-again, most times off-again talks between the Japanese and North Korean authorities are now taking place in Stockholm, and the unspoken rhetorical question again is: Will anything come of it?

If my memory serves me correctly, the deal was that the North Korea would conduct a search to see if it could come up with new information regarding the missing abductees, and Japan would ease a little bit of its sanctions. The deal appeared to fall through, the Six-Party Talks themselves went south, but the Abe administration has been trying hard to revive the Six-Party Talks side deal, North Korea for whatever reason (money? leverage against South Korea and the United States? Leverage against China? All or none of the above?) is willing to talk, and here we are.

Few people believe that the North Korean authorities have been truthful. In fact, the only thing truthful that they could be telling about the still-missing abductees is that they are dead, in which case any new information that the North Korean authorities could produce is highly likely to be worse than the dubious explanations that they have given to date. That is not all. How could they credibly explain why new, no doubt dramatically different facts have turned up after all these years? And how would they assign blame for the oversight?

The problems are compounded for the North Koreans if some of all of the abductees are alive, since there must be a good reason for keeping their presence secret all those years ago. Given the purpose of the abductions, possession of highly sensitive information concerning North Korea’s national security operations is by far the most plausible explanation, and that situation is unlikely to have changed much.

Until now. For it is my view that there is an opportunity on this occasion for the North Korean authorities to come clean, or at least come forth with a more credible story, including, if available, some actual survivors. Specifically, blame it all on Chang Song Taek, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law, and other officials, named or unnamed, who were executed after Kim Jong Un inherited the dynasty. The system is opaque enough that the North Korean authorities can make its story stick as long as they can make sure that any survivors that they produce will toe the line—not so difficult to do if they now have family in North Korea.

It will still be an embarrassment for the North Korean authorities. I am worried that any asking price that they set will be too high for the Abe administration, or that they will not even be able to set one. Moreover, there is the matter of Japanese public opinion. Remember, it was the highly negative public reaction to the initial revelation that essentially forced Prime Minister Koizumi to switch to a hardline position after he returned with his entourage from his first trip to North Korea. Can the Abe administration give assurances that things will be any different this time around, if the North Korean authorities are unable to produce all, or most, of the still-missing abductees alive?

Still, there does seem to be genuine interest on the North Korean side in the process, and Prime Minister Abe’s personal commitment appears to be genuine. And North Korea’s bloody succession process can provide some coverage, assuming something actually something tangible is brought to the table. This time, I am staying tuned.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

“Self-defense” and the Past that Prime Ministers Repeat Anyway

I received a “quick” question about “[t]he stories about a new ministerial portfolio specifically to deal with the use of force issue.” I’m putting my response (lightly edited) in the public domain in the hopes that others will find it useful too.

The question may be quick, but the answer is not. Where to start and, more important, where to stop?

Every reform-minded prime minister (and even those that aren’t) tries to transcend interagency rivalries by setting up HQs, offices and what have you for his pet policy initiatives around the prime minister’s office and putting political appointees—often cabinet ministers or, quite often, himself—in charge. But when a new prime minister arrives, he is likely to have his own priorities (or may share his predecessor’s but wants to put his personal stamp on it), usually resulting in yet more what-have-yous around the prime minister’s office. Over time, they accumulate until yet another reform-minded prime minister assumes power and decides to scrape away the barnacles of initiatives past, so that he can start anew and this time get it right… 

Prime ministers do this not necessarily out of mistrust of the bureaucracy or the ministers that lead them. In this case, MOFA as an institution has always favored a strong defense posture—do not think for a moment that Ambassador Yachi is one of those ex-MOFA outliers who are startlingly and openly critical of MOFA and more generally Japan’s foreign policy—and the MOD civilians and the JSDF leadership largely lean in the same direction, although they do not like to see their budget stretched because of the expanded demands. (Which reminds me of MOF, who is the major force on the sidelines. The Ministry of Justice is irrelevant.) But someone has to set the agenda and there are so many devils in the details, so it does make sense to put someone in charge—on paper. In practice, that person, even a cabinet minister, must rely on a bureaucracy consisting mostly of career bureaucrats, mostly seconded from those very ministries until their typical two-year assignments are up, after which they go back where they came from. In the meantime, that minister cannot issue orders directly to the ministries and other agencies to comply.

The more interesting question, if Mr. Abe does decide to assign a specific portfolio, is whom he assigns it to. If he puts himself or the chief cabinet secretary in charge, it won’t mean much beyond the initial agenda-setting phase, since each has too many other things to tend to on a day-to-day basis to give proper attention to the actual implementation phase. And do not imagine that even that limited role will survive past Mr. Abe’s tenure except in name. If he assigns it to a cabinet minister without ministerial portfolio, there will be a little more action, particularly if that minister is on good terms with the MOFA and MOD ministers and he/she has true expertise, neither of which is not a given. (Thought experiment: There’s huge competence gap even between the most ardent NASCAR fan and the most incompetent NASCAR driver.) However, the guarantee of whatever effectiveness this arrangement has lasts only as long as Abe’s tenure. The most interesting twist will come if Abe decides to anoint the head of MOFA or (less likely) MOD as the minister in charge of national security. For that minister will have been set up as the senior-most of the ministers with ministerial portfolio and can bring to bear the full force of a ministerial bureaucracy that will have an institutional interest in maintaining and reinforcing its newfound institutional superiority. That is, until a new prime minister comes in—Mr. Abe will not stay on forever, even with the new miracle drugn that has restored his health—and decides to do it, you know, his/her(?) way.

PS: Actually, only two current cabinet ministers really matter on this question: Prime Minister Abe, and Akihiro Ota, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Next Stop on the MIGA Trail, India (featuring Narendra Modi)

My second installment on the MIGA website. (Japanese version here.) The title “Narendra Modi Will Push Parliament Hard on Reform; and He Has the Votes to Do It” speaks for itself, I hope. An overlooked piece of information that explains so much and helps us gaze into the future: Is there an underlying theme developing in my posts there? I’ll know better as the posts (hopefully) pile up.

Note: All the links to the relevant articles of the Indian Constitution were dropped when the text was transposed to the online page. For your reference, here is the source that I used.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Oi No Go? Not So Fast

Today, on May 21, the Fukui District Court handed down a decision that forbids KEPCO from restarting the nuclear power units at the Oi Nuclear Power Station. It was momentous enough to warrant an extra from the always excitable Sankei Shimbun, it seems.

But there’s less than meets the eye here. The verdict will not affect the regulatory process for the Oi units one way or the other. There’s no hurry here since they were not fast-tracked by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, and the Osaka High Court will overturn the verdict on appeal and everything will be as if nothing had happened.

You read it hear first.

Monday, May 19, 2014

And Previously, on Abe and Modi

And here’s the text email that spawned the text for the previous post:

...someone at another wire service looked at a Kyodo wire today that said that the Abe administration was hoping that Modi would make Japan his first overseas destination and got to wondering, “Does Modi's election potentially affect the current balance of power in East Asia?”

My response:

Funny you ask that; I’d just begun to write a piece for the MIGA website that began with the sentence: “2014 has most likely been a bad year for you if you happen to be a political analyst who specializes in the states that used to form the Soviet Union”, then gone on to talk about an equally disastrous outcome for India specialists, and what we could learn from such cases. But to your question…

In a nutshell, no, at least not in ways that would be different from what we’d already been seeing, which is a gradual but limited development of the bilateral security relationship. The youth vote propelled Modi and his BJP to a lower house majority, and to fix the hidebound, stalling domestic economy. For that, he needs more trade and more investment, and he’ll welcome all comers, including China. He’ll do his best to avoid being sidetracked by issues that have no upside in that direction. There’s always been a mutual attraction between the two nations that has been mostly free of geopolitical conflict—India’s nuclear weapons program has been a sticking point, but Japan has managed to mostly get over that—and Modi does appear to have a warm relationship with the Japanese political and economic leadership that is only set to grow, but it’s doubtful that he’ll go about that in a way that would look like a deliberate snub of China.

I’m sure that Abe and his handlers would like to see Modi make Japan his first diplomatic stop, but that occasion is likely reserved for the July BRICs Summit in Brazil. So how about a pair of stops on his way back from Fortaleza, Tokyo and Seoul, then a brief chat with Xi Jinping  at Beijing Airport before he finally heads back home? Long trip, but it’s the least-controversial way of arranging the itinerary that I can think of. If it happens, remember, you read it here first.

The one wild card in my view is the possibility that the Chinese PLA might decide to test a new Modi administration’s mettle through a clash around the territorial disputes. Or, to state the matter more plausibly, any clash, deliberate or accidental, would be correctly seen as a test of the Modi administration’s mettle. That would leave the Modi administration no choicebut to step up India’s geopolitical game—reach out more forcefully to China’s frenemies (I don’t think that China has “enemies”)—if only for the sake of domestic consumption, a move that the Abe administration would welcome and respond to with efforts to further enhance security ties.

And now I have to find the time to write the MIGA post…

Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi—and Xi Jinping

My response to a query:

“I was wondering if Modi presents the US with another Abe. A popular conservative with some views (Hindu nationalist in Modi’s case) that will make America squirm, even while it tries to deepen ties to counter China?”

In a very broad sense, yes. But there are two major differences. First, the problem that the United States has with Abe is "history." Literally. So when Abe goes to Yasukuni, the Obama administration is "disappointed" because of the geopolitical repercussions. But the problem with Modi is in the here and now, specifically, his role in the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, for which he is persona non grata in the United States. That's a real problem that Washington--the Obama administration and Congress--will have to resolve. Modi can't be treated like Castro.

Second, the contrast between the geopolitical implications of their conflicts with China could hardly be stronger. The standoff around the Senkaku Islands between the civil maritime services draws in a reluctant United States, the global hegemon and the region's greatest military power by far, by way of the bilateral treaty,, even as it excites the Chinese public no end (in contrast to the relatively small space that the issue occupies in the Japanese body politic). The India-China dispute is a far more serious one for the parties directly involved, given its military nature--it has spawned a land war, with sporadic clashes since--but it is a strictly bilateral dispute, with minimal geopolitical repercussions beyond the two parties involved. The BRICs Summits--a plurilateral framework spawned by a Goldman-Sachs sales pitch!; talk of life imitating art--also provide a convenient venue by which they can keep any animosity real or potential down to a manageable level.

That said, the relationship between the Chinese and Indian leadership has been relatively cordial of late (although there have been, will be, bumps along the road)and I am betting that Modi will do his best to keep it that way--BTW I also think that there will be a huge outreach to the Islamic community in his inaugural speech--while Xi Jinping would be hard put to distance himself further from Shintaro Abe than he now does. I'm sure that there are many Western liberals that blame this on his hardline stance against China. My response to that is: What hardline stance? The Abe administration is not the one setting preconditions on a bilateral summit. The Abe administration is not the one hurling invectives at its Chinese counterpart. The Abe administration is not the one moving its markers in the East (and South) China Sea.

Friday, May 09, 2014

My Thoughts around the Purported Chinese Contingency Plans for North Korean Collapse

…as leaked through a Kyodo wire that touched off a flurry of reports worldwide.

I am convinced of the authenticity of the plan; not so much its authority. Kyodo can produce some sketchy wires, but it has been around in Beijing too long to be taken in by a total fake. And people would be arrested for espionage/treason by now if the proper authorities hadn’t given a go-ahead. Besides, they—as well as South Korea, the United States and possibly even Japan—must have drafted contingency plans a couple of decades ago, when everyone thought/feared that North Korea would collapse under the weight of its economic woes. It wouldn’t hurt to update those plans from time to time. That said, you don’t know if this is the one and only legitimate plan certified by the CCP Central Committee, just one of multiple scenarios being drafted by a PLA think tank, or something in between.

What is the point of the leak? My guess is that it’s a reminder to the Kim Jong Un regime that China holds the lifeline to its survival, most likely a warning not to go ahead with a nuclear warhead test as feared. If I had to make a guess one way or the other, I would say that the North Koreans will take heed, although I have no confidence one way or the other.

Is a collapse imminent? It doesn’t look like it, but you know what they say about authoritarian/totalitarian regimes: The harder they come, the harder they fall. And it’s awfully hard to see it coming.

And the dangers of a sudden collapse? There’ll be much to do, such as managing the logistics of preventing a humanitarian disaster, avoiding armed conflict between all the players domestic and foreign, and securing control over the nuclear facilities and more generally the North Korean military. Ideally, China, South Korea and the United States would have protocols in place so that they will be able to work with each other, or at least not get in each other’s way. I’m afraid that’s probably not the case.

Japan does have some worries, such as an influx of refugees and wayward nuclear warhead or two. But the former is limited by the number of seaworthy North Korean boats, which would be swiftly impounded on arrival here, while the latter threat lacks a meaningful motive and a reliable weapons system. There will certainly be a huge bill to pay, but the Japanese government would already have had to pay at least a trillion yen or more in the event of normalized relations; this way, it would only have to pay once.