Sunday, October 29, 2006

Is Generational Change the Key to Resuscitating the DPJ?

Spending most of the day looking up data on private middle schools and high schools (there's definitely a great story to be told from an unconventional angle there, but I think I need significant collaboration), I've had little time to think. But I'd like to briefly touch on his morning's Soichiro Tawara Sunday Project.

Naoto Kan, three-time DPJ party head and currently deputy to party chief Ichiro Ozawa, came on to explain away the Kanagawa/Osaka by-election loss. I was not paying close attention (I was simultaneously surfing for middle and high school data), but what struck me were a couple of exchanges Mr. Kan had with Mr. Tawara. Mr. Tawara questioned Mr. Ozawa's Diet face-off with Prime Minister Abe, making basically the same point that I did here, that Mr. Ozawa didn't address the issues that mattered. The only defense Mr. Kan seemed to be making for Mr. Ozawa was that he was being nice to the much younger, novice prime minister. Mr. Tawara also seemed to criticize Mr. Ozawa for his trip to Beijing, where he seemed to be trying to elicit a hard-line approach from Hu Jintao. Here, Mr. Kan more or less said Mr. Ozawa was speaking for himself. This led Mr. Tawara (and other commentators) to chastise the DPJ for not being able to get their act together. (Seijuro Shiokawa, former LDP faction leader and still youthful octogenarian talking head called it a lack of governance.) Mr. Kan offered no better rebuttal than to say the DPJ was taking its time.

With a friend like him, who needs…

Seriously, the DPJ is blessed with a plethora of youthful, articulate legacy-free policy wonks, yet it's hard to shake the feeling that you are watching an intramural debating society, and you have these old guys who never seem to manage to graduate. No wonder the natives are getting restless.



Incidentally, Ichita Yamamoto, Mr. Abe's LDP foreign policy go-to guy acquitted himself excellently in deftly fending off the nationalist commentator Yoshiko Sakurai and would-be realpolitik ideologue Hisahiko Okazaki, who were obviously discomfited by Mr. Abe's positions as prime minister on the Murayama (on Japanese responsibility to China and elsewhere in Asia) and Kono (on comfort women) speeches and Yasukuni. He claimed, and I have no reason to doubt him, that he had made it clear that he would not take up a role in the administration. I think that was an astute move. Having more in common with the first-generation DPJ policy wonks, he is clearly a man to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Transatlantic Monkey Business

By The Cryptic.

The High School Curriculum Scandal: Why the School System Bent Rules to Level the Playing Field

The Japanese (mostly public) high school curriculum scandal continues to grow, with no end in sight. According to the Yomiuri, as of Oct. 27, 249 schools in 35 prefectures left one or more compulsory courses (or parts thereof) off the curriculum. This is particularly serious for the seniors in the schools affected because they are sprinting along the home stretch of their 12-year race to get into the best college of their choice and don't have time now to take up stupid subjects like ethics and world history.

So what's going on? A closer look shows that the richest provinces tend to follow the rules, while poorer, predominantly snow-bound prefectures dominate at the other end. And therein lies the tale.

At richer provinces, households there with the means to do so are abandoning the public high school system in droves, and the better and the brighter ones are largely bleeding out at middle school level. The local elite and middle class are switching to a six-year integrated private education system that makes it easy to accommodate all compulsory courses and still leave a year or more for unadulterated cram. Thus there is little pressure to cut classes in the public school system.


The students in the poorer provinces whose populations are scattered over wide areas with long winters that make commuting a terror do not have this choice. These students are at a disadvantage because they essentially only have the three high school years to prepare for the college entrance exams. Better then, to have them study something useful than use that time to take naps.

This problem is driven by the esteem in which the nation holds the hierarchy of colleges and universities and the nation's insistence on a uniform set of almost purely test-based admission rules. Unless something is done there, obeying any but the most uniformly restrictive of rules will merely deepen the divide between the haves, who can essentially buy their way through the rules, and the have-nots, who must bend them. Prime Minister Abe should pay more attention to this if he is serious about striking an educational blow against the kakusa shakai, i.e. society of disparities.

I am trying to shop an extended op-ed version. It will appear on this blog later if I am not successful.

(note) Editorials as of Oct. 27
Yomiuri Oct. 27, 2006.
Nikkei Oct. 27, 2006 English online version requires subscription.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Meanwhile, The Cryptic...

nurses a hangover and ponders the meaning of "stay the course" and waxes philosophical.

The Abe Administration Yields Yet Again to the Wishes of Its Junior Coalition Partners.

According to media reports, the Liberal Democratic Party has bowed to Komeito wishes (as well as to opposition within the LDP itself) and abandoned plans to give consumer lending businesses a temporary window during which they could continue to charge small-scale borrowers interests rates above legal limits. Whether this helps the hapless consumer stave off financial ruin or merely push him/her towards even more predatory loan sharks is open to question. Still, it is a measure of the power that the junior coalition member wields.

The dovish views of Komeito are casting their shadows on education reform as well. Rewriting the Basic Law on Education (we like basic laws; there are lots and lots of basic laws in Japan) is one of the key items in Prime Minister Abe's political platform and number one legislative priority for the current, truncated Diet session. Here again, the reference to patriotism has been watered down to accommodate Komeito, and the Abe administration's version now outflanks the DPJ version on that point

Komeito's policy positions reflect the values of its singular source of support, the laic group of Nichiren Buddhists, the Sokagakkai. They are staunchly middle-of-the-road, internationalist, and dovish. Komeito likes to stick up for the salaryman and small business owners. It could easily find a place in a coalition led by the DPJ if it wished to do so. Though it shows no signs of rethinking its durable union with the LDP, it is the one party that has lasting swing potential, and the pragmatic Mr. Abe will surely continue to tend to their needs.

Our neighbors to the west must be taking comfort from seeing this moderating effect in play as Mr. Abe seeks to solidify his hold on power and maintain his more conservative tack.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Instant Analysis: Why the LDP Won the By-elections (or why the dpj lost).

It may only be the exit polls. But the LDP has come from behind in Osaka to sweep the two by-elections. This makes the prime minister look good in his first test. Komeito, the liberal wing of the LDP, will look to cash in., so pacifists rejoice.

Mr. Abe has Kim Jong-il to thank for in the same way that George W. Bush had Osama, but Mr. Abe had created his own luck by painstakingly laying down the groundwork for his electrifying trip to Beijing. Admittedly, the near-invisible Ichiro Ozawa has been more helpful than Al Gore and John Kerry put together by taking ineffectual potshots at Mr. Abe's foreign policy brief and doing little else.

But don't write off the DPJ yet. The US (housing bubble pop) and China (fixed assets investment crackdown) could still drag down the Japanese economy before next year's Upper House general election.

This Blog Has Lost Touch with Firefox. Has This Happened to You?

When I posted the last entry, the blog went haywire on the Firefox browser and displayed part of the raw template HTML. I tried to correct this to no avail. This is not affecting any of the other blogs that I go to, including my own Tales from The Cryptic. Luckily, this blog displays normally on Internet Explorer, so I'm not moving to a new one just yet.

Has anyone else encountered a similar problem? Please let me know.



While looking for a backdoor to this blog, I did a search for the URL and came across a 2 Channneru thread on Yoshihisa Komori, where somebody had put it up. Interestingly, almost all the comments were critical of Komori, if not with the same 2 Channeru vehemence, venom, and vitriol rserved for China and the Koreas. Anonyrage on 2 Channeru is bipartisan.

Nuclear Standoff in Northeast Asia. But Japan Needs a Guarantee, and the Five Should Prepare for a North Korean Collapse

We do not hear that China has cut its shipments of oil, food, or fertilizers to North Korea. We do not hear that China has stopped trucking iron ire from North Korea. To the contrary, the news is that cross-border trade is more or less business as usual.

We do not hear that South Korea is suspending its Kamgung and Kaesong payoffs any time soon. We do hear that the new UN Secretary-General wants to go to North Korea, which he has not been able to do as South Korean foreign minister.

At the other end, we do not hear that the US is willing to suspend its financial sanctions in order to bring North Korea back to the six-nations talks. We do not hear that the US is willing to conduct bilateral talks outside the six-nations framework..

So what are North Korea's plans for its nuclear program? We do not hear that North Korea is continuing its preparations for follow-up tests. We do not hear that North Korean calling US acts a "declaration of war". Instead, we are being treated to a Pyongyang spectacle celebrating a successful (my emphasis) test.

So, whatever Kim Jong-il said or did not say to Tang Jiaxuang, the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister, and whatever he meant or did not mean on that occasion it looks like we have a standoff. Kim Jong-il may have to scrounge harder for hard cash for his cognac and salmon roe (it is less cost-effective to launder millions of dollars in the global financial network than the billions that the drug cartels can and do move), but otherwise life will go on in North Korea, and North Korea by most accounts does not have a supersonic delivery system that can reach Japan.

The Five can continue on quite comfortably with this situation. Can Kim Jong-il and the North Korean elite?

One scenario that can seriously disrupt this equilibrium seem to be North Korean progress in developing a usable nuclear warhead for a missile that can reach Japan. (Nobody assumes that North Korea plans to crap on South Korea.) Another is North Korea's economic collapse (which seems to be the only scenario in which an authoritarian regime would lose control over governance. Both seem unlikely in the immediate future, but Japan does need an ironclad assurance that any North Korean attempts to follow the first scenario will be nipped in the bud. And the Five should begin preparing, openly, for the second one.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What Are the Reasons for Significant Fewer Females in Some Emerging Economies?

The following post grew out of conversations on the fringes of the Thursday meeting. Since it has little to do with the main event (Japan-China), I'm putting it up here for your perusal. This looks like a subject ripe for a Freakonomics makeover.

Speaking of books, Take a look at the Lou Dobbs 1 video clip on the Daily Show page at the Comedy Central website. Jon Stewart asks Lou Dobbs why the American middle class isn't revolting, when the Hungarian prime minister says he lied, the people take to the streets... That's obviously
The J-Curve argument. He's a quick study. Ian Bremmer should get royalties from that show.

Traditionally, infanticide and simple neglect were the two main factors that kept down the female population. (War, homicide and, more generally, Jackass mindset kept the male population in check.) They were society's collective response to population pressures, i.e. scarcity of resources per capita. Boys were preferred presumably because males had more value as manual labor (and thus represented a better form of investment for their parents).

The recent excess of male offspring in Hong Kong and elsewhere in newly emerging economies appears to be a more recent, largely technology-driven phenomenon, and likely uses abortion as the means. (Undercounting females is widely believed to be significant in China under its one-child policy.) . Technological advances allow us to identify gender at ever earlier points in gestation. Thus, rapidly developing societies are seeing their birth rates decline precipitously, even while they have not been able to adjust their traditional patriarchal values. These societies have seized on the new technologies to identify the gender of their fetuses and disproportionately abort females, to make sure that they can fulfill the culturally-ingrained need for male offspring (which these societies have not had the time to outgrow).

The technology has come to India as well, and there does not seem to be a strong taboo against abortion in Hindu society. Members of the emergent middle class (as well as significant segments of the less well off) are already making choices. But how much of the overall Indian disparity between genders is attributable to traditional, post-natal methods of population control and how much to abortion, I have no idea.

Of course there is a downside to being behind the curve on shifting demand for labor (in a generally gender-free direction) and partners (favoring the increasingly scarce women). Seeing a future oversupply of marriageable males, the rational couple will see that a daughter looks more and more like a better investment. I have looked only at the South Korean figures in the CIA Factbook, but I believe they show that this is manifesting itself as a measurable correction in the market for gender choice in offspring.

Friday, October 20, 2006

An Evening Well-Spent

Last night (Oct. 19), a small group of people from various professions, political pursuasions and nationalities, whose main common feature seemed to be the ability to listen to other people and respond coherently, got together to talk about Japan-China relations. I think most of us, perhaps all, came out of it satisfied. I won't say anything more about it just now.

In the meantime, some doodle-blogging from The Cryptic: this; and this.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mr. Ozawa Goes Up against Mr. Abe. Third Strike or Third Down, Mr. Ozawa Needs Some Game.

Here's a quick take on yesterday's exchange between Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Abe. I may be completely off base and today Mr. Ozawa will make me look stupid by running circles around Mr. Abe. But I want to post it before the 1 PM Diet Plenary, so I'm going to do it now. I hope to give more thought to this theme and come up with something more conclusive. For now, here goes.

Yesterday (Oct. 18) in the Diet, Ichiro Ozawa faced off against Shinzo for the first time. On such occasions, the Japanese media will balance the scorecards by carefully choosing the commentators for the occasion, but if you read between the lines of the news articles and the abbreviated transcripts available in the dailies, it is clear that Mr. Ozawa needs more game. He chose to launch his critique with the wrong topics, took the wrong tack of questioning, and was unable to show any sense of overall strategy. That would be three strikes if it were baseball, but let's pretend it's football, and call it third and ten. But if the DPJ loses both by-elections next Sunday (what began as a likely split now has both LDP candidates leading in the polls), many in the DPJ will be regretting their latest choice for party head, the sixth in ninth year of its existence.



Ichiro Ozawa, in his first Diet face-off against the new prime minister, decided to attack him on two fronts: constitutional amendment and the UN sanctions. Now it is true that the LDP as a whole tends to tack to the right of public opinion as a whole, and that Mr. Abe is seen as a charter member of this drift. However, if Mr. Abe is something of a grind, the constitution and North Korea are his double majors. Moreover, the Japanese public and almost the entire mainstream media are now supporting constitutional amendment. As for the sanctions, with the abductees issue ("bogus" or not) already whipping up anti-North Korean sentiment, it's the last thing over which you want to go up against the suddenly China-friendly prime minister on. Unless. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Why couldn't Mr. Ozawa take Mr. Abe to task on growing economic kakusa, i.e. (regional and personal) disparities. That's one subject where he could have depicted Mr. Abe as Mini-Koizumi, the inheritor of a tainted legacy. Then there's education. That's another issue where the blame for growing kakusa could be laid at the feet of a veteran cabinet member/chief aide and LDP policy head under Prime Minister Koizumi.

Not that Mr. Ozawa aced the two subjects of his choice, either. On the constitution, he chose to let himself get bogged down on the GHQ origins of the present Constitution with an idiosyncratic reductio ad absurdum argument that Mr. Abe's position should lead to the conclusion that the Constitution should be null and void. Legal scholarship aside, it is safe to say that the public is less interested in where the Constitution came from than where it is going.

As for the UN sanctions against North Korea, it's mystifying to me why Mr. Ozawa did not attack the administration for its lack of preparation. Almost two weeks after the nuclear test and almost a week after the UN resolution, the Abe Cabinet is not even sure what laws apply, let alone how Sure, Mr. Abe has only been on the job for so long. But he was the chief of cabinet, and he was front and center on the issue as such, much to Foreign Minister Aso's chagrin. If anyone should have been prepared, it was Mr. Abe. Besides, nobody asked him to put all his energy into an inaugural trip to China and South Korea. (Not that I disagree with that call, but just in case anyone needs reminding, I'm arguing the case for Mr. Ozawa). And it's not as if the whole thing came as a surprise to everyone. Instead, he got bogged down in not-ready-for-prime-time arguments over the well-known distinction he makes between participating in UN actions and cooperating with the US military. Good point, but that is not what is engaging the Japanese public at the moment on this issue, it is not a weakness of Mr. Abe's unless you strongly disagree with his staunch pro-US views (now more popular with the North Korean threat), and Mr. Ozawa did not do a good job of educating them here either.

Wrong subjects, wrong tack. This exposes a total lack of a sense of strategy, both short-term and long-. I have the uneasy feeling that the DPJ leadership is giving no consideration to how the showdown would play in the media, how it would feed into the by-elections, or where they intend to go from here to the by-elections to the make-or-break 2007 Upper House elections. This is really not surprising if you see DPJ as a grab-bag mix of everyone from the moderate wing of the old Socialists to LDP doves to young conservatives who would not look out of place among LDP friends of Abe. Perhaps the problem is compounded by the reclusive Mr. Ozawa's reputed lack of interpersonal skills (he does have a reputation) and difficulties with an upfront role (he does have a track record).

Let's hope, if only to keep the Japanese public involved, that this afternoon, at the 1 PM Lower House Plenary. Mr. Ozawa will make this post look silly by attacking Mr. Abe on the issues where Mr. Abe is vulnerable, under his own rules of engagement. And which ever way it goes, the DPJ will have some ground to make up between now, the by-elections, and the make-or-break 2007 Upper House General Elections.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Northeast Asia and Its Nuclear Future: What Does Japan Need?

This covers well-trodden ground, so prepare to be bored. If I seem to have made up my mind on things, that's just the way I write. If you see more posts here in the future under this general topic, you are more likely than not to see me changing my mind on some of the things you see here and in future posts. Join me in thanking the powers that be that I am not the one making decisions.

The North Korean nuclear test, if it is found to have been a technological success and North Korea refrains from conducting further tests, will remove much uncertainty and result in a new equilibrium for its relations with its neighbors. The same cannot be said for its internal affairs. If North Korean authorities are unable to maintain the status quo, change will come, likely very quickly. The Five should be prepared for such a contingency, and make that fact known. In the meantime, the threat to regional security should be forestalled by allying Japanese fears of a more substantive North Korean threat.



The two major fears of analysts in the region are:
1) a nuclear attack or threat thereof by North Korea, either as part of a last-ditch effort to avoid regime change or a final act of destructive defiance; and
2) a nuclear arms race triggered by Japan's reaction to fears over 1). (Proliferation is America's big fear, and a global concern, but that's a different animal).

The key nation in calculations over both these fears is Japan. Conventional wisdom in Japan says that the development of the North Korean nuclear weapons system has mainly targeted Japan. Conventional weapons already stand poised to attack South Korea, and more specifically Seoul, en masse. The United States is too far away. So Japan is a convenient target for a nuclear attack/counterattack on the alliance. You may argue that Japanese fears are excessive, but the argument is at least plausible argument. And US emphasis on non-proliferation suggests that US priorities, at least in the near future, do not converge totally with Japan's. Thus, Japan's perceptions of its security needs and the degree to which they are being met should be seen as the key determinant of East Asia's nuclear future (in contrast to that of the global community as a whole).

Given this context, it was no surprise that the hawkish Shoichi Nakagawa, newly Chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council (making him one of the three top non-cabinet party officials), raised eyebrows at home and abroad when he opined to the effect that, given the situation with North Korea, discussion itself of nuclear weapons would do no harm. (Aside: the original WaPo blurb "Japan to Reexamine Ban" was somewhat exaggerated. Will WaPo do a retake on this article, now that Mr. Nakagawa himself has issued a disclaimer that he "made his statements from the perspective that we should discuss how to protect Japan without having nuclear weapons of our own"? Probably not; the media hates to backtrack.) Indeed, nobody doubts that Japan, as well as South Korea and Taiwan, all have the technological capacity to develop a nuclear bomb very quickly. But Japanese officials from the prime minister down staunchly deny that Japan has any intention of seeking a nuclear weapon on its own. As things stand now (more on that later), a firm commitment from the United States to retaliate massively and overwhelmingly should keep any calls for nuclear armament on the fringes.

But what if such US threats are of no effect, however credible they may be? That is the point of the destructive defiance hypothesis, more colorfully rendered by some Japanese commentators as "horobi no bigaku(aesthetics of dissolution)" a la Hieke Monogatari or perhaps more appropriately, imperial Japan's notion of ultimate Ichioku Sougyokusai(100 Million Total Death on the Battlefield).

I think that is a remote possibility. All indications are that Kim Jong-il and his top cadre do not have likes of the delusional visions of global grandeur of the Nazis, or even the Five Peoples' Mutual Harmony daydreams of WW II Japan. Their game is survival, and would more likely than not decline to resort to a line of action that would take down their families and relatives (and thus bloodlines) with them and bring enmity to the Korean people for that act. However, it is imprudent to rely on such conjecture alone. Besides, it would not preclude North Korea from wielding its nuclear weapons as a threat. Thus, it is of prime importance that North Korea not be allowed to go any further in developing a nuclear weapons system that includes a missile-deliverable capacity.

A scenario that would ensure such deterrence would include a commitment from the US that it will conduct a preemptive surgical attack on any sites that show activities of a future missile launch or any sites, and a commitment from China, South Korea and Russia that they will stop all subsidies to North Korea in the event of North Korean activities to such end. Without credible joint action to stop North Korea from progressing to the next stage, i.e. full-fledged nuclear power status, Japan will feel increasingly threatened as North Korea pushes ahead with its nuclear weapons system program. A North Korea with nuclear bombs that could be delivered only by conventional aircraft or ships is one thing; a North Korea with antiballistic missiles ready to deliver a nuclear warhead at an instant's notice is another.

Such assurances from fellow members of the Five must be complemented by assessment of the transition problems in the implosion scenario of the inevitable endgame, and a commitment to coordinate their efforts have the added benefit of making the implosion scenario of the inevitable endgame far easier to manage.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Is Globalization Oversold? For Now, Yes, Says Ian Bremmer

Ian Bremmer, head of Eurasia Group and author of J-Curve, is issuing a warning to unconditional disciples of the globalization mantra, identifying countercurrents in Russia, China and Europe/USA that lead him, in his own words to "at this point…suspect that [globalization] is now oversold." It means that the J-Curve for the world in general has taken a downward shift towards instability. There's also the matter of movement along the J-Curve as nations adapt to changing circumstances. In fact, you could argue that the whole world is moving to the left (less openness) on the curve.

Then there's the little matter that nations on the left-hand side of the J-Curve sit on the bulk of the world's oil and natural gas, and things don't look like they are getting much better in this respect. The globalization of the Oil Curse, if you will.

Look for an Ian Bremmer op-ed somewhere down the line, whose title I will not reveal for fear of my life, but I do feel…… yes, yes, Yes! A poem…

Elegy for a Lexus

"The World's on Fire," cried Amy Chua,
When proles brought down the sledge;
"The World IS Flat!" Tom Friedman yelled,
As the ship dropped off the edge.

While the economics of globalization
Is ably argued by Dr. Bhagwati,
Ian Bremmer is going to tell us
That the J-Curve has slipped somewhati.




Disclosure: Most of the people who read this blog, i.e. my friends, know that I have a relationship with Eurasia Group.

Which is not the case with me as regards Yoshihisa Komori and the Sankei Group, for those of you who might suspect that I am in cahoots with those conservative (NTTAWWT) institutions. It is true that I had a cow with NBR Japan Forum, but it was, to use a sports metaphor, a disagreement over a call (over which I appealed to higher authorities, i.e. you), whereas Mr. Komori used the incident to raise doubts over the umpire crew, indeed the league itself.

FOOTNOTE: (move-along-the-J-Curve version)
We've slipped on the J-Curve somewhati.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Post-WW II Politics and Intellectual Discourse in Japan in 544 Words

The following has grown out of an online exchange with a political scientist in Nevada. (Appearntly, it’s not all slot machines and baccarat tables and hot pants and shiny leather boots there. Not that I have any first-hand knwoledge of such matters.) It’s a skeleton of a first draft, backdrop really, for my understanding of where we stand as we consider the way ahead for our place in East Asia and the world at large.

If de-Stalinization rekindled Japanese hopes within the intellectual mainstream for a kinder, gentler USSR, the brutal suppression of Hungarian dissent in 1956 disabused them of any such fantasies and forced them to seek other paths to utopian bliss. (The 1968 quashing of the Prague dissent merely told us that nothing had changed.) The sixties saw the rise of revolutionary romanticism and a new radicalism was in the air, but the student uprisings petered out and came to an end for all practical purposes in the early seventies with the last-ditch stand at the Asama-Sanso mountain lodge and the implosive slaughter on Mount Haruna.

Through all this, though, the thrust of the intellectual discourse had always been at odds with the mainstream real world, which remained staunchly pro-business conservative. This narrow focus if anything intensified with the 1973 oil crisis. Suddenly, keeping the economy running became the number one national concern. The great intellectual debates of the fifties and sixties no longer seemed important. “Non-pori, i.e. apolitical”, became the political keyword of the day.

Over the rest of the seventies and eighties (and indeed ever after), Japan never recovered the phenomenal growth rates of the preceding two decades, but it certainly fared much better than the American and European forerunners. Japan was seen as the economic juggernaut of the 21st Century; its single-minded focus on the economy had paid off. Perhaps the intellectual discourse wasn’t so important after all. Perhaps, for Japan, history had come to an early end.

Or so it seemed, until the humiliating backlash from the 1991 Gulf War despite shouldering 13.5 billion dollars (of which 9.5 billion went, in the first instance at least, to the US) of the costs drove home to politicians the need for a global presence beyond the economic sphere. The more nationalist-minded thinkers, who had already stood to benefit from the failure of the various socialist role models, gained force from this development. The high-risk tactics of North Korea, as it failed to wean itself from its Cold-War benefactors, has given this trend a tremendous boost. Nationalist narratives seem to have made some headway in displacing left-wing ideology as the opposition to the political mainstream in the real world. It is nowhere near as powerful as the latter was in its heydays, but it is gaining force. And the mainstream of intellectual discourse itself reflects the need to recognize the real-world concerns that the current security environment raises among the general public.

(Sidebar: The irony is that Ichiro Ozawa, the latest head of the Democratic Party of Japan, was at the forefront of this political shift with his 1993 call for Japan as a “hutsuu no kuni, i.e. normal nation”, but had been forced to tack to the left with the DPJ. Will he again change directions with the DPRK nuclear tests?)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

EXTRA! North Korea Conducts Nuclear Test (Sep. 10); and Japanese Mayor Vows Revision of Friendship Ties with Sister City on North Korea

A hardcopy extra, in the Internet age, about the previous morning's breaking news? Maybe that was what was so special about an extra that arrived folded in with the evening edition of the newspaper of my choice. (I'm not naming names, because other dailies may have done the same thing, in which case the paper that I subscribe to does not merit special mention.) This happened, for those of you who are not familiar with the Japanese media, because Japanese dailies have a self-imposed holiday once a month. (Yes, it quacks like a cartel.) I believe they initiated the practice to give the delivery boys a rest. Nice.

One wonders, do the delivery boys get paid for the day-off?



Intercity comity is another casualty of North Korea's nuclear test. Mr. Katsuji Nakamura, mayor of Sakaiminato, a fishing town in Shimane Prefecture, vowed to review relationships with Wonsang, with which Sakaiminato has a sister-city pact

Shimane Prefecture, you may recall, is the one whose provincial assembly touched off an international incident over Takeshima (feel free, if you like, to call it Dokto when you comment on my blog) when it passed a law proclaiming Takeshima Day. The people of Shimane (Shimanese? Shimanites? Shimaneans?) were surprised when Koreans were furious.

Strictly speaking, it would not be accurate to say that this time the shoe is on the other foot (unless you consider North and South Korea to be one and the same foot). Still, you can catch a glimpse of the huge gap in perceptions and priorities between Japanese and Koreans.



In this blog, I try to provide a different perspective, as well as information that may go unnoticed but for me. I don't always succeed, but I try. And there's little chance of that happening on this one. If getting everybody to talk about himself was Kim Jong-il's intent, Paris Hilton couldn't have done better. Slim pickings for bottom feeders like me.

However, just to show I'm not skirting the main issue, I'll go on record as supporting (since we've come to this junction) under UN resolution the use of force including surgical strikes against any attempts at further tests of means of WMD delivery, with or without nuclear warheads, and a parallel offer of immediate suspension of economic sanctions in exchange for the suspension of all nuclear and other illegal (drugs, counterfeiting) activities (verification to be worked out). Any violation will be met with the re-imposition of the sanctions.

The abductees issue is excruciating, but progress there will only come after progress is made on issues that the other parties really care about. I don't think it can be a pre-condition at this stage. It will more likely than not appear in resolutions, but do not mistake that for real progress.

The Bomb and Us: Is NYT Recruiting from WWN? (with a New Foreword)

(It is my policy not to change content after I post (I do correct spelling errors, poor grammar and the like when I notice them), but I feel compelled to add that, to quote my favorite Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, Dave Barry, I did not make it up: NYT excised the line that "officials pushed for tough sanctions and raised the possibility of military action, which China called unthinkable", while otherwise amplifying the article as a whole. The Shiozaki quote is still there.)

I, of course, do not see this as a coverup; stories can be, and are, rewritten in subsequent editions in all honesty as more information becomes available. I have no reason to doubt that this was the case here. However, I urge that NYT, as well as all other respectable news outlets (pay attention to me, everybody, you hear?), maintain public access to older versions of a story, if only to avoid confusion as people quote different versions of the same URL. The mainstream media should exercise a little more care than devil-may-care bloggers like yours truly.

The irony here is that there actually could be some truth to the assertion, if you consider boarding and inspecting a vessel on the high seas under a UNSC Chapter 7 resolution to be "military action". In fact, the Japanese authorities would be remiss if they did not at least consider such a resolution, if only to work out the practical implications, just in case. To that extent, the orginal article was technically correct, and I was willing to offer an apology of sorts in that respect. But since the original article is gone... In any case, my thumb tells me that such a resolution is not going to happen in the near future.



"Japanese officials pushed for tough sanctions and raised the possibility of military action, which China called unthinkable."

They make this up from this: "And Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, declared today that his government was considering "all possibilities,"while officials in China and South Korea were saying that they would oppose any use of force.

"A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said at a briefing today that 'taking military action against North Korea would be unimaginable.'"

Not that NYT is saying one is a response to the other. But see how they put two unrelated quotes together by paraphrasing the second quote and jamming it up against the first one? I have to remember this trick. I don't think I've seen it before. Clever, if somewhat transparent.


WWN=World Weekly News. Three guesses for NYT. Calvin, are these guys really your colleagues?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Cryptic Americana

Second installment of Marginalia Americana.

Prime Minister Abe Connects Deep on His First Possession. So What's the Score?

Disappointing leftish Japan watchers and the Japanese right wing alike, Prime Minister Abe has finished the Chinese leg of his trip on a most auspicious, as well as conciliatory, note. Let's take a look at its practical implications.



Q. Does this have any immediate effect on any of the issues that were covered by the summit?
A. It buys the two governments a little more time to find a way to resolve the dispute over the East China Sea gas fields. Otherwise, none. The rest of the immediate benefits are political, and mainly accrue to Mr. Abe.

Q. Let's look at the issues from a longer perspective. What about the history issue?
A. They did not reach an explicit agreement on Yasukuni. But Chairman Hu merely asked Mr. Abe to "eliminate the political obstacle (obstacles?) to China-Japan relations", and Mr. Abe told him that he would deal with the matter appropriately, explaining his policy of refraining from commenting on whether he went or not and whether he will go or not. Note the past and future tenses. All news reports I have seen so far on this issue mentioned one or the other, but not both. The question is: how does this apply to future visits/non-visits? If I had to guess, neither Mr. Abe nor Mr. Hu knows for sure. They also agreed to start the joint history study group of experts by the year's end. Textbooks? What textbooks?

Q. East China Sea gas fields?
A. "Consultation" and "joint development" are the key terms. Not that anything has changed in that respect, but the greatly improved political environment will help keep any incidents from affecting the overall bilateral relationship. It's not as if those gas fields are specifically needed to prevent electricity blackouts anyway.

Q. North Korea?
A. Mr. Abe asked Mr. Hu for Chinese cooperation on the abductees and nuclear issues, and Mr. Hu agreed to cooperate. China, of course, will do what it's gotta do regardless.

Q. Permanent UNSC membership for Japan?
A. Mr. Abe did ask, and Mr. Hu replied with a general call for dialogue on UN reform. Mr. Hu didn't say no, but, given the fundamentals (there is no expansion formula that would satisfy all five permanent UNSC members), he doesn't have to, if keeping Japan out is the objective.
Incidentally, it is noteworthy that when anybody in Japan refers to UN reform, it is usually mostly or exclusively about the Security Council. Given that that part of the package is dead in the water, it is time we focused on other UN issues.

Q. Economic issues? Energy?
A. There will be announcements down the line on joint projects. And there is an agreement in principle on a trilateral (Japan, China, South Korea) investment agreement that does not appear in the joint press release. (Maybe it's unseemly to announce it before Mr. Roh has been formally consulted.) But it is important to remember that any matters of real substance on economic issues that concern the two industrial powers will continue to be determined by three factors: 1) what businesses do on their own; 2) what the Chinese government decides to do for its own purposes; and 3) whatever the US manages to force China to do. The most importance economic consequence of the summit and its sequels is that Japanese businesses will have less to worry about over product boycotts and recruiting difficulties.



Prime Minister Abe has taken care of his potentially most vulnerable short-term foreign policy issue. He has been aided domestically by 1) the DPJ's decision to focus on the potential dangers of his ideological leanings, 2) Mr. Ozawa's decision to go AWOL during his ascendancy to the LDP presidency and Japanese premiership and his Diet debut; and 3) siccing a rambling, sometimes incoherent Mrs. Makiko Tanaka on to Mr. Abe for the Diet Q&A.

Tomorrow, the Kanagawa and Osaka by-elections begin in earnest. If the LDP wins both, Mr. Abe will have a lot of political momentum going as he pushes forward on his policy agenda. A split will remind him that political power turns on domestic issues (except when international issues hurt domestic well-being), even as the afterglow of his diplomatic breakthroughs will soften the blow.



安倍総理は、中韓訪問の前半を幸先よく、かつは融和的にこなしました。これには、左寄りの日本ウォッチャーも日本の右翼も、ともにがっかりしたことでしょう。そこで、具体的に何についてどういう影響があるのか、ちょっと見てみましょう。



(問)これは、首脳会談で取り上げた諸課題について、当面何らかの影響があるのだろうか。
(答)東シナ海のガス田をめぐる紛争の解決策を探る上で双方政府にとって時間稼ぎになったであろう。それ以外は、ない。それ以外の当面の利益は、すべて政治的なものであり、その大部分は、安倍氏が享受する。

(問)もっと長期的な観点から見てみよう。歴史問題については、いかがか。
(答)靖国問題については、明示的な合意に達しなかった。しかし、胡主席は、安倍氏に対し、単に「中日関係の政治的障害を除去してほしい」と求めたのみであり、安倍氏は、「行ったか、行かなかったか」、「行くか、行かないか」言及しないとの方針を述べて、「適切に対処したい」と答えた。安倍氏が過去・未来双方に言及したことに注目してほしい。これまでの報道は、どちらか一方を書くが、両方に言及することがなかった。問題は、これが将来の参拝・非参拝(不参拝ではない)にどのように適用されるかである。もしおまえの考えは、と問い詰められたら、安倍氏にも胡氏にも、わからない、というところだろう。両者は、また、日中有識者による歴史共同研究を年内に立ち上げることを約した。教科書問題?教科書問題と言えば、はて、それは何のことであったか。

(問)東シナ海のガス田はいかがか。
(答)キーワードは、[協議]と「共同開発」である。それら自体に変更があったわけではないが、政治環境の大幅改善の結果、何か出来事があっても、それが二国間関係全体に波及する可能性を防止するのに助けとなろう。それに、あの天然ガスがないと停電が防止できなくなるというものでもない。

(問)北朝鮮は。
(答)安倍氏は、拉致問題及び核問題について胡氏に協力を求め、胡氏は、強力を求めた。もちろん、中国は、それ関係なく、国益を踏まえてやるべきことをやる、というまでである。

(問)国連安保理常任理事国の仲間入りについてはどうか。
(答)安倍氏は、支持を要請し、胡氏は、国連改革について対話を呼びかけるという一般的な答えを行なった。胡氏は、ノーとは言わなかったが、基本的な前提条件(現在の常任理事国5カ国すべてを満足させる拡大案がない)を考えると、日本に入らせないことだけが目的であれば、ここでノーという必要もないのである。ちなみに、日本で誰かが国連改革というとき、通常すべてあるいはほとんど安全保障理事会のことである。今のパッケージのその部分が実現不可能であることを考えると、他の国連問題に関心を向けるときが来ているのであろう。

(問)経済問題、エネルギー問題は。
(問)いずれ共同プロジェクトについての諸発表が出てくるときが来る。また、日中韓の投資協定について原則合意した(これは共同発表には見当たらない。盧氏が正式に相談を受ける前に発表するのは、マナーに反するということかもしれない。)ただし、両経済大国が関心のある経済的課題については、本当に実質のあるものはこれからも引き続き三つの要素に規定されることを記憶しておくことは重要だろう。つまり、1)企業が自ら判断してやること、2)中国政府が自分達の目的達成のためにこうしようと決めること、及び3)米国が中国にやらせることに成功したこと、である。今回のサミット及び今後の続編から日本企業が得られる最大の経済的メリットは、不買運動や採用上の困難についての心配事が減るということであろう。



かくして安倍氏は、最も弱みとなる可能性があった外交上の短期的課題について始末をつけました。彼は、国内的には、1)民主党が彼の思想的傾向の危険の可能性に焦点を絞ることを決めたこと、2)小沢氏が彼の総裁選、首相選、そして総理としての国会デビューのとき影に隠れてしまったこと、及び3)国会質疑で田中真紀子議員の散漫、かつ、時に趣旨不明を安倍氏に差し向けたことにました。

明日、神奈川、大阪で補欠選挙が正式に開幕する。もし、自民党が両方とも勝てば、安倍氏としては、その政策全体を推進していくに当たって大いに政治的勢いがつくことになります。もし一勝一敗であれば、安倍氏としては、政治力が国内問題次第だ(国際問題が国内の福祉に悪影響を及ぼす場合は別だが)ということを思い知らされることになります。外交上の成果がその打撃を少しはやわらげてくれるということはあるにしても。

Friday, October 06, 2006

On a Recent Post on the NBR Japan Forum

I had intended to leave this debate behind with my penultimate (four syllables!) post, since I had been informed that NBR had decided to move away from the Komori-Clark dustup. ButⅠguess I was wrong. Since I don't have time to engage fully in this controversy, I'll just do the following and lift some lines from the latest post from the good professor, and juxtapoose it with an excerpt from another article that, according to the person who forwarded it to me, he wrote in 2003. I would willingly post this on the NBR Forum, with its larger audience, but only if they post my previous submission as well.

"Tokyo has been equally hawkish and irrational over North Korea. It began with the abductee issue, with Pyongyang blamed for the five abductees being unable to reunite with their families when the real problem was Tokyo's broken promise to let the abductees return to North Korea to see their families."

"On the contrary, in Japan Times columns I have said Japan had every right to be upset by the abductions and even agreed that Tokyo was probably right to break its promise to return to North Korea the first batch of five abductees sent to
Japan in 2002."

There are two ways to reconcile these two statements:

1) the second statement is a hoax, in which case I will apologize profusely to the good professor and confront my source; or

2) the good professor believes Japan had every right to break that promise, but it was a hawkish and irrational act, and caused the problem, and it took two separate articles to make this point.

Actually, there's a third possible interpretation, which reflects better on the human condition. But it's for me to know and... Okay, I did add some comments.

So I lied.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Please Enjoy: the Bribe Paying Index

It shows Japanese businesses are less prone to bribe abroad than their counterparts in Latin countries (Belgium doesn't count), but behind the rest of Western Europe and North America. Well ahead, needless to say, than South Korea and (shudders) China.

So, am I supposed to be happy about this?

A Counter-Critique of Professor Clark's Criticism of Yoshihisa Komori: Never in My Wildest Dreams…

The following is a comment I sent to the NBR Japan Forum. They decided that they would not run it. With NBR's willing consent, I reproduce it here verbatim. A couple of days' reflection leads me to want to rewrite it (as I'm guessing Professor Clark would his), but in the spirit of fairness, there it is. Besides, I don't think there's anything that I did write down that would be a falsehood. I do wish to add that I would prefer to have fought this battle within the Forum itself, and it is here, if nothing else, that I believe Mr. Komori is within the wrong. So, without further delay…



"Tibet has always been seen an [as?] Chinese territory (ask the KMT in Taiwan). In 1959 China was reacting to an uprising backed? incited? by India and the CIA. The KMT believes it should have reacted even more strongly."

In the same way that you have always seen Australia as a White Nation?

I'm sorry, Professor Clark, I know I'm not being fair. I know your heart is with the aborigines and, if it were up to you, you would be happy to have your fellow countrymen give up Australia and head right back to where they came from in a snap. But you would be the first to admit that the Tibetans have not been consulted, no?

The breakup of empires after the two World Wars (the second one took a couple of decades because Europe retook its overseas possessions to lord over them after the Axis forces left) left the Han and Russians the two peoples who continued to maintain empires well into the late 20th Century. Isn't it time the Tibetans were consulted as to their destiny, never mind what the KMT has to say about it? (I hasten to add that I have nothing against the KMT. In fact, the people from Taiwan have unfailingly been kind to me whenever I have met them in my professional career.)

Actually, I think sovereignty is overrated. In fact, for most of what we think of as civilization, we humankind have cared more about the amount of tributes, taxes, and other demands that our rulers make on us than the language they speak, or even the gods they worship. Just let us be, and we'll let you proclaim yourself the king of the hill. That kind of reasoning, I assume, is why you, as well as ex-pats everywhere, feel comfortable living in places where you are denied the fundamental political rights of a sovereign in a democracy. I agree. If I were Tibetan, I would be perfectly happy to let China rule over me.

If only.

The real issue is dignity, the right to be your ornery, unscientific-socialsticalfragilisticexpicalidocious self if you so desire. And Tibetans have been denied that right, haven't they? At best, we don't know, because the Chinese authorities have made sure we won't. Kick us if you will, but please keep in mind the Tibetans. (Yes, I think the Dalai Lama looks a little loopy, and Richard Gere may not be the last word on human rights, but I would at least suspend judgment until I actually meet him. DL, that is.)

"Vietnam was a border war fought so half-heartedly as to put to rest the myth of inherent Chinese aggressiveness. "

I'll buy that. But is incompetence an excuse? And you do not touch upon the Spratley Islands and the other nasty spats China has had beyond that war with Vietnam. Too trivial to mention, I suppose.

"India was a war begun by India sending troops to NEFA territory (Thag La ridge) that even its own maps showed as Chinese. The Chinese pushed back the Indian invaders, and instead of advancing to their own claim line in the NEFA withdrew to the Indian claim line and even returned captured Indian weapons. Another sign of latent aggressiveness? (See Neville Maxwell 'India's China War' or my own earlier contribution 'In Fear of China') "

I'll buy this one. Professor Maxwell makes a powerful case. In fact, I'll make a confession here. I'm actually one of those people who believe that China is not a threat. (I may have written something to that effect on my blog. But I digress.) It has behaved itself re Senkaku with almost as much restraint (but not quite) as Japan has as regards Takeshima (or Dokto, if you prefer). It has settled many of its territorial disputes over which they crossed arms with its neighbors. It will be interesting to see how other narratives more favorable to India (they are still around) fare against the good professor.

"As for my point about Japan's bogus abduction claims, if EHK dis believes the several experts who have all testified that DNA testing of charred bones is impossible then he will believe, or disbelieve, anything.. "

Professor Clark, you should have made it clear to us that you were talking about the DNA tests and the DNA tests alone. Everybody on this planet thought you were talking about the abductions themselves (for which, I add, there has by no means been a full accounting). You definitely mislead us, if unintentionally.

I am aware that there is a scientific controversy over the reliability methods that were used to test the charred remains. I am also aware that the Japanese mainstream media has chosen to ignore this. That is disturbing. But you seem to have a command of forensic science that I do not, for you come down firmly on one side of the argument so strongly that you did not feel the need to inform us of what you were talking about.

"More seriously, that someone of his erudition does not realize the way the Yokota Megumi story has been manipulated to create the current abduction hysteria against NK is amazing.."

To repeat, everybody but you thought you were repudiating the validity of the whole issue. Actually, most Japanese do not think about Yokota Megumi and the abductees all the time. And if North Korea had been more forthcoming on that issue and also had not been developing missiles and nuclear weapons that could have little use except in use against Japan, there would be less animosity towards North Korea. I believe Prime Minister Koizumi on his return from his first trip to North Korea decided how to deal with the situation only after he encountered the incredible fury and dismay that erupted over the revelation. (It is here that the comfort women usually come up as an objection. But I digress.) If anything, the situation manipulated the story.

"Than an entire nation can be mobilized so easily over such a bogus issue, without a voice of dissent, is frightening. "

I share some of your concern, actually, over the lack of a voice of dissent, though your characterization of the issue as “bogus” is over the top in itself. I myself put in a modest voice of concern over the utter absorption of public discourse in Japan over this issue to the disadvantage of our concerns over national security issues. (I recently encountered it still floating around in cyberspace.) But the nation was mobilized well before what you call the "bogus" issue (unless you were referring to the abductee issue after all) arose, and North Korea did more than its share to inflame the Japanese public.

"There may or may not be other abductees alive and who want to go to Japan. But for the moment Japan is almost totally fixated on the Yokota Megumi myth. "

Actually, not. It is easy to see that the Japanese government is now far more driven by the national security concerns than the abductees issue. The designation of the cabinet chief as the minister-in-charge and the appointment of a kind-hearted hand-holder is not the equivalent of the appointment of a dedicated minister-in-charge. (The Northern Territories is one other issue that merit similar exaltation, and look how it has influenced the rest of our policy towards Russia.)

Professor Clark, some of the points that you make are quite valid. But if you persist in uncritically adopting every position and interpretation that puts the Japanese mainstream and not-so-mainstream in a bad light, you will lose all hope of bringing the open-minded to your point of view.

"Tibet has always been seen an [as?] Chinese territory (ask the KMT in Taiwan). In 1959 China was reacting to an uprising backed? incited? by India and the CIA. The KMT believes it should have reacted even more strongly."

In the same way that you have always seen Australia as a White Nation?

I'm sorry, Professor Clark, I know I'm not being fair. I know your heart is with the aborigines and, if it were up to you, you would be happy to have your fellow countrymen give up Australia and head right back to where they came from in a snap. But you would be the first to admit that the Tibetans have not been consulted, no?

The breakup of empires after the two World Wars (the second one took a couple of decades because Europe retook its overseas possessions to lord over them after the Axis forces left) left the Han and Russians the two peoples who continued to maintain empires well into the late 20th Century. Isn't it time the Tibetans were consulted as to their destiny, never mind what the KMT has to say about it? (I hasten to add that I have nothing against the KMT. In fact, the people from Taiwan have unfailingly been kind to me whenever I have met them in my professional career.)

Actually, I think sovereignty is overrated. In fact, for most of what we think of as civilization, we humankind have cared more about the amount of tributes, taxes, and other demands that our rulers make on us than the language they speak, or even the gods they worship. Just let us be, and we'll let you proclaim yourself the king of the hill. That kind of reasoning, I assume, is why you, as well as ex-pats everywhere, feel comfortable living in places where you are denied the fundamental political rights of a sovereign in a democracy. I agree. If I were Tibetan, I would be perfectly happy to let China rule over me.

If only.

The real issue is dignity, the right to be your ornery, unscientific-socialsticalfragilisticexpicalidocious self if you so desire. And Tibetans have been denied that right, haven't they? At best, we don't know, because the Chinese authorities have made sure we won't. Kick us if you will, but please keep in mind the Tibetans. (Yes, I think the Dalai Lama looks a little loopy, and Richard Gere may not be the last word on human rights, but I would at least suspend judgment until I actually meet him. DL, that is.)

"Vietnam was a border war fought so half-heartedly as to put to rest the myth of inherent Chinese aggressiveness. "

I'll buy that. But is incompetence an excuse? And you do not touch upon the Spratley Islands and the other nasty spats China has had beyond that war with Vietnam. Too trivial to mention, I suppose.

"India was a war begun by India sending troops to NEFA territory (Thag La ridge) that even its own maps showed as Chinese. The Chinese pushed back the Indian invaders, and instead of advancing to their own claim line in the NEFA withdrew to the Indian claim line and even returned captured Indian weapons. Another sign of latent aggressiveness? (See Neville Maxwell 'India's China War' or my own earlier contribution 'In Fear of China') "

I'll buy this one. Professor Maxwell makes a powerful case. In fact, I'll make a confession here. I'm actually one of those people who believe that China is not a threat. (I may have written something to that effect on my blog. But I digress.) It has behaved itself re Senkaku with almost as much restraint (but not quite) as Japan has as regards Takeshima (or Dokto, if you prefer). It has settled many of its territorial disputes over which they crossed arms with its neighbors. It will be interesting to see how other narratives more favorable to India (they are still around) fare against the good professor.

"As for my point about Japan's bogus abduction claims, if EHK dis believes the several experts who have all testified that DNA testing of charred bones is impossible then he will believe, or disbelieve, anything.. "

Professor Clark, you should have made it clear to us that you were talking about the DNA tests and the DNA tests alone. Everybody on this planet thought you were talking about the abductions themselves (for which, I add, there has by no means been a full accounting). You definitely misled us, if unintentionally.

I am aware that there is a scientific controversy over the reliability methods that were used to test the charred remains. I am also aware that the Japanese mainstream media has chosen to ignore this. That is disturbing. But you seem to have a command of forensic science that I do not, for you come down firmly on one side of the argument so strongly that you did not feel the need to inform us of what you were talking about.

"More seriously, that someone of his erudition does not realize the way the Yokota Megumi story has been manipulated to create the current abduction hysteria against NK is amazing.."

To repeat, everybody but you thought you were repudiating the validity of the whole issue. Actually, most Japanese do not think about Yokota Megumi and the abductees all the time. And if North Korea had been more forthcoming on that issue and also had not been developing missiles and nuclear weapons that could have little use except in use against Japan, there would be less animosity towards North Korea. I believe Prime Minister Koizumi on his return from his first trip to North Korea decided how to deal with the situation only after he encountered the incredible fury and dismay that erupted over the revelation. (It is here that the comfort women usually come up as an objection. But I digress.) If anything, the situation manipulated the story.

"Than (sic) an entire nation can be mobilized so easily over such a bogus issue, without a voice of dissent, is frightening. "

I share some of your concern, actually, over the lack of a voice of dissent, though your characterization of the issue as “bogus” is over the top in itself. I myself put in a modest voice of concern over the utter absorption of public discourse in Japan over this issue to the disadvantage of our concerns over national security issues. (I recently encountered it still floating around in cyberspace.) But the nation was mobilized well before what you call the “bogus” issue (unless you were referring to the abductee issue after all) arose, and North Korea did more than its share to inflame the Japanese public.

"There may or may not be other abductees alive and who want to go to Japan. But for the moment Japan is almost totally fixated on the Yokota Megumi myth. "

Actually, not. It is easy to see that the Japanese government is now far more driven by the national security concerns than the abductees issue. The designation of the cabinet chief as the minister-in-charge and the appointment of a kind-hearted hand-holder is not the equivalent of the appointment of a dedicated minister-in-charge. (The Northern Territories is one other issue that merit similar exaltation, and look how it has influenced the rest of our policy towards Russia.)

Professor Clark, some of the points that you make are quite valid. But if you persist in uncritically adopting every position and interpretation that puts the Japanese mainstream and not-so-mainstream in a bad light, you will lose all hope of bringing the open-minded to your point of view.

Prime Minister Mori’s Plight: Bad Media, Bad. But Consider the Alternatives

A prominent academic and commentator laments the shabby treatment of then-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori by the Japanese media. He believes, perhaps with some justification, that the media did him in because he refused to play up to them. Here is my response, in the hopes that it will reach him, somewhere, sometime, somehow.

I have not seen Mr. Mori as up close nor as often as you have, sir, but I have seen an intelligence, and diffident yet steady warmth and compassion (often seen in large men), that belie the popular image of an incompetent and ineffective bumbler. I do not know how much of this is the result of a media conspiracy to do in an uncooperative politico or the result of unfortunate circumstances (a rainmaker glories in the bumper crop, and sheds his blood in the drought). However, I do know that at least part of the responsibility lies in the one putting out the message, and I do know that you have to work with the media you have in order to do so.

Distasteful as it may seem, a good politician must be able to work the media. In that, he/she is no different from a celebrity or any other media personality. If they don't like you, you won't get the close calls and the benefit of the doubt, and the stories will end up breaking the other way. And you won't score. Remember what happened to Edmund Muskie and his New Hampshire "tears", Al Gore's "invention" of the Internet, and John Kerry's brush with the Swift boat veterans. On the other side of the breaking ball, there's George Bush's National Guard "service".

I know it's a game I will never be able to play, but that's the way it is.

As for your suggestion to take the media out of politics, I too dream of a world free of pretence, guile, vengeance, venality. But one man's bias is another man's truth, and I can think of only one way to do that takeout. And it won't be pretty. And I don't think you would want to live in that world either.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

One-Day Delay in the Announcement, But It's Official; Mr. Abe Goes to Beijing, Seoul

There was a one-day hitch that had me worried, but it's official; Prime Minister Abe is going to Bejing and Seoul on the 8th and 9th.

I'd been telling the few people who bothered to ask that I thought there was a tacit deal on Yasukuni between Mr. Abe and his counterparts on the continent (and a Northeast Asia specialist backed my hunch with his firsthand knowledge at the China end), but I did have jitters when he went long and deep so early in the game, so publicly, and even allowed his people to indicate that he was not following MOFA directions in the process.

So what does this prove? That Mr. Abe, if he looked in his Diet debut as prime minister like an understudy trying hard to show he belongs while not forgetting his lines, has shown even more flair for the big play than his redoubtable predecessor, if his initial foray into the Great Game is any indication.

And that armchair quarterbacks, like me, are just that.




一日間が開いて心配だったのですが、正式発表がありました。安倍首相は、8日に北京、9日にソウルに行きます。

聞いてくれる人には言っていたのですが、安倍氏と中韓の首脳との間に靖国について暗黙の合意があると思っていましたが(ある北東アジア専門家が中国サイドからの情報で私のあてずっぽを裏付けてくれました)、安倍氏が人気早々に、いわば初回の表に走者なしでいきなりセンターはスコアボードを狙って大振りをしてくれたときには、それが公衆の面前でもあり、しかも必ずしも外務省の支持に従っているのではないことを仲間が言うのを黙認したことことには、動揺しました

確かに、総理大臣としての初答弁では、セリフを忘れないように細心の注意を払いながら本舞台に出ておかしくないのだということを一所懸命に証明しようとしている代役のように見えました。しかし、もしこの東アジア外交の「大いなるゲーム」のデビュー戦061004では、前任者に勝るとも劣らないプレーヤーであることを証明してくれたのではないでしょうか。

そして私のような外野の人間が当事者でないのも故あることであることを。

Another Professional Wrestler in the Diet: A Portent of Things to Come?

(I thought of giving this one up to The Cryptic, but then, why should he have all the fun?)

The resignation of Heizo Takenaka, the peripatetic economic czar (never economic tsar, but you knew that because you've been googling, haven't you?), had the unintended effect of bringing yet another professional wrestler, Ms. Shinobu Kandori, to the Diet as his automatic replacement. What is it that draws people like Ms. Kandori, Atsushi Oonida, and Hiroshi Hase to lawmaking? It's not like the Diet needs the muscle; it's been quite a while since the Diet was the site of many a televised brawl between the LDP and the loyal opposition. This is all the more striking since, currently, there are no former professionals from other sports at all. No baseball players, no sumo wrestlers, no tennis players, no golfers, no soccer players. (There are two winter sports athletes, one speed skater and one Nordic combined, in the Upper House, but they were technically amateurs.)

The pro athlete part is not hard to understand, when you see the list of tarento giin (celebrity legislators), belonging mainly (though by no means exclusively) to the LDP. They are the pretty faces of the party, intended to attract independents and strays. They are a welcome addition to the second-, third-, x-generation candidates, who can be counted on to pitch in with their share of the family heirloom. But professional wrestlers? I mean, no offense, but aren't pro wrestlers supposed to be kinda… ya know… dumb?

Actually, no. Not these people, anyway. One is a former high school teacher (no, not Phys-Ed, in case you were wondering), and another earned a high school diploma and worked his way, so to speak, through college, as a Diet member.

The real reason becomes clearer when you look at the other tarento giin and realize that they are for the most part TV journalists, i.e. newscasters and announcers. It is not enough for the face of the party to just stand around and smile, like those leggy companions at industrial shows. And if anyone not only can walk the walk, but also talk the talk, it’s the professional wrestler.

Americans know that WWF, I mean WWE, has long since evolved into a never-ending kabuki, a roving CD-Comics extravaganza of a loosely-scripted, long-running soap-comedy, complete with character development and relapses, from heel to face and back again. Likewise, with a little moderation -- this is Japan -- the Japanese version.

Unlike cosseted movie stars, professional wrestlers engage in constant interaction with the crowd. They are physically disciplined performance artists, engaged in improvisational, interactive theater. Unlike pure actors, they must also always be on the alert for physical hazards, to both themselves and the often raucous crowds. The ring is definitely not a place for the unintentionally dimwitted. Nor is the ring a haven for the pure athlete, like the sumo wrestler, whose only real demanding interaction with the public may come in the form of sports clichés mumbled into a microphone in answer to non-questions after they've bumped off the Grand Champion. (In their defense, sumo wrestlers have become far more eloquent since the days of my childhood, when gods (Taiho and Kashiwado) walked among us.)

Ms. Kandori is a welcome female entry into the upper echelons of the body politic. And do not be surprised to see more of her ilk in the future. The shelf life of a professional athlete is short and brutish, that for a female celebrity likewise brief.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Cryptic Takes a Cut

at organ transplants.

The New Prime Minister Bets Big on Early Summits with His Chinese and South Korean Counterparts

Negotiations are under way for a Beijing and Seoul visit by Prime Minister Abe. The latest reports say they could come as early as the 8th and 9th respectively.
There is nothing out of the ordinary about the effort to reestablish normal relations between the heads of government. The timing, and the way the Abe administration has gone about it, are.

If Mr. Abe can pull it off, he will establish himself as a bold, decisive, can-do leader and give his LDP valuable momentum as it heads into the by-elections in Osaka and Kanagawa later this month. If he can't, his administration faces the danger of losing some of that "kyushinryoku (centripetal force)" that Japanese politicians and pundits like to talk about. And when that particular brand of political power begins to dissipate, things can go deteriorate quickly, as allies of convenience begin looking for places to jump off the bandwagon and enemies begin fingering the hilts of their political knives.

******

The visits appear to be far from a done deal. China, predictably, does not want a repeat of the Koizumi experience over Yasukuni, and the two sides are looking for a way out of this impasse. President Roh, with less control over his South Korean constituency, would surely demand no less than his Chinese counterparts. So Yasukuni could yet be a deal-breaker. You would expect Mr. Abe to choose less daunting destinations for his initial state visits, or to forego them altogether for the time being and concentrate on establishing his mark on the home front, as the LDP and DPJ face off in the October by-elections.

The openness of the way negotiations are being conducted is a surprise as well. It's sort of like playing poker with all cards face up. You expect such a risky initiative to be conducted in secrecy, or preceded by more modest initiatives, and splashed on the front pages only when the deal is sealed. The Chinese and South Korean leadership would like to see this happen, but they have far less to lose than Mr. Abe in the event it doesn't. Thus, their hands are strengthened at the expense of Mr. Abe's by public knowledge of the negotiations.

Moreover, news reports indicate that much of this effort is being conducted outside the usual diplomatic channels. This could go along way in demonstrating the effectiveness of Mr. Abe's presidential style of administration. But it is a slap in the face of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, if not the still-powerful Mr. Foreign Minister Aso himself, and the political consequences of failure will fall directly on Mr. Abe, the chief of cabinet and the rest of the kantei. At a minimum, it will make it that much more difficult for Mr. Abe to impose his will on those within the cabinet who owe their positions less to closeness with the prime minister and more to political expediency.

So Mr. Abe faces two immediate challenges, one foreign, one domestic. One out of two won't be bad. But if he loses both, or even if he loses one (no summits) and draws in the other (one out of the two by-elections), there will be a lot of scrambling to do for the new administration less than a month after its inauguration. No wonder then, that, according to a political consultant (sorry, I know you won't like this tag, but do you want to be identified?), Mr. Koizumi has decided to put off his long vacation for while and campaign for the LDP by-election candidates (LDP Kanagawa candidate?).

One thing is for sure, though. Shinzo Abe, like Junichiro Koizumi, is a man who is not afraid of betting big. He and his supporters hope that he can also emulate his predecessor's success.