Monday, June 30, 2008

PETA Sets Itself Up

... for turning-over-new-leaves jokes...

Firefox Rocks!

Some of you know that I’ve been having problems with my Windows Vista PC. Specifically, I could not send messages from my Eurasia Group webmail account (software: Outlook) on the Internet Explorer browser. Firefox did let me send email but transformed all the Japanese language characters into question marks. Well, Firefox 3 is out and, you know what, it works perfectly with my EG webmail.

I’m posting it here, just in case anyone else has had the same problem and hasn't tried Firefox yet.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

What the Presidential Action with Regard to Sanctions on North Korea Means

On June 26, the President announced the lifting of the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) with respect to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea), and notified Congress of his intent to rescind North Korea's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST).
These actions were taken following North Korea's submission of a declaration of its nuclear programs, which will now be subject to verification.

from Fact Sheet, Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, June 26, 2008

I can show you how little I knew by telling you that I had to be reminded that the lifting the application of TWEA was “largely symbolic, as most of the TWEA-based sanctions [had been] lifted in 2000 (my emphasis).” President Clinton lifted the sanctions following the North-South Summit between Kim Jong Il and Dae-jung, and President Bush never bothered to re-impose them. Importers no longer need licenses under the TWEA but “certain imports continue to be banned under other legal authorities”.

“[R]escission of North Korea's SST status is [also] largely symbolic. Most sanctions, including those related to North Korea's detonation of a nuclear device on October 9, 2006, proliferation activities, and human rights violations, will continue on the basis of other laws and regulations.” Congress has 45 days to stop the rescission if it wishes. Most people believe that it will not.

Where North Korea’s purported uranium enrichment program and proliferation activities are concerned, the State Department fact sheet says that “[i]ssues related to the declaration, including concerns on uranium enrichment and proliferation, can be also addressed via a Monitoring Mechanism to be established under the Denuclearization Working Group. That Monitoring Mechanism is intended to ensure follow-through on all Six Party commitments.” Unless the North Korean declaration actually says that it does not currently do either of these two activities and will not do so in the future, the activities will lie beyond the verification process itself. News previous reports suggested that there would be nothing more than a side letter to Chris Hill acknowledging the fact that the U.S. side has concerns about them. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley fudges the point, saying that “the declaration they've made, what the disclosure they made is, we're not engaged in this activity now, will not engage it in the future”. That is not reassuring unless you believe, as I am actually inclined to, that the North Korean regime does not have sufficient incentive to lie about these two issues.

With regardto the plutonium program, here’s an illuminating exchange between Mr. Hadley and a reporter on the number of plutonium bombs that North Korea has:

Q About the stockpiles. Do they acknowledge -- do they say what's in the inventory, how many bombs –

Mr. Hadley: They do. They don't say it in terms of number of bombs. That is something that is a so-called Phase Three issue that we will get to, the process by identifying and moving the plutonium out of the country, whether in bomb form or not. What they agreed to do, and what they do in the declaration, is say how many kilograms of plutonium their activities to date have produced.

So the North Korean authorities are leaving it up to the other members of the Six-Party Talks to, in Mr. Hadley’s words, “do the math” on any plutonium bombs and figure out the answer through the verification process. They have achieved strategic ambiguity, and it is clear that they aren’t going to give it up without a fight. After all, they cannot give up the nuclear program entirely without losing the United States as an existential threat, in which case their only chance for long-term survival will be to manage a transition to an authoritarian market economy along the lines of similarly natural resource-deficient China. Only China and South Korea, by making credible threats to cut off aid to North Korea, can force them in that direction against their will. However, they will not do that because they do not, for understandable reasons, want to destroy the status quo with regard to their thankless ward. Thus, it is up to the North Korean authorities to determine whether or not they can afford to take the necessary risk.

In the short run, I think that we have a virtual freeze on North Korea’s nuclear programs and a general easing of tension. What happens over long-run depends on whether or not the North Korean authorities believe that they can manage the transition to a market economy without succumbing to regime change. If they don’t, stage three of the current agreement will continue indefinitely, with North Korea haggling over each and every detail of the agreement. I am strongly inclined to believe that the latter is the case, at least under Kim Jong Il. I hope that I am wrong. Still, the continuation of a virtual freeze is to borrow Fred Kaplan’s term, better than nothing.

Fred Kaplan, of course, is writing from an American perspective. The main concern on the U.S. side is proliferation, while we in Japan worry more about the direct threat from any viable nuclear weapons North Korea may have. To repeat my earlier point, I believe that it is highly likely that the North Korean authorities will steer a course that prolongs the status quo indefinitely (although it is within the realm of possibilities that they will muster the confidence to pursue a more constructive approach), so I hold to the view that that the North Korean authorities will honor their statement on proliferation. Japan gains much less under my most-likely scenario, since the current strategic ambiguity over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program will not be diminished. Still, indefinite suspension and subsequent easing of tension cannot be ignored. Japan gains less. But then, with little to bribe North Korea—everything it has to offer is tied up in the abductees issue—it is in no condition to complain.

There is much talk, especially in Japan, about how President Bush’s decision will open the door to funds from the IMF and the World Bank and other international financing institutions. That is one thing that I do not worry about. The IMF and IFIs are not piggy banks. They will not bankroll North Korea unless it accepts some measure of disclosure and accountability—they vary from institution to institution and Robert Zellick for one no doubt will be more than happy to stretch the rules if the politics so dictate, but there are limits—that the North Korean authorities will be hard put to accept. Unless, of course, if they do decide to set off decisively on the road to a market economy—that being the unlikely, best-case scenario.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I Miss New York

I really, really do.

What a Fine Couple, These Two Troupers

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron? Elvis Presley and Ann Margaret? We report, you decide.

Bill, get over it.

Edward Luce, Former Financial Times Correspondent in India, Reminds

I’ve been reading Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, though not nearly as quickly as I’d like to—I’m easily distracted—so I’m still only two-thirds through this very accessible and illuminating book on the many aspects of that many-faceted state that is India. I’m writing this post now, though, because I came across something that is relevant to one of the common threads that run through my blog. Besides, anyone who wants an idea of what the book itself is about can look up the editorial reviews available on the hyperlink.

One intriguing if possibly unintended aspect of Mr. Luce’s book is that it allows glimpses of the delicate balancing act between professional integrity on the one hand and access to sources and personal well-being on the other to come through. The triage no doubt requires that some questions go unasked, and some things must go unwritten or, likely more often, be subjected to workarounds. Mr. Luce appears to have managed this process remarkably well. That is even more admirable when you consider that he has married into an Indian family and thus had more at stake personally than the average ex-pat correspondent in India. Still, even with the best of media reports, it is likely that the average newspaper reader will sometimes be required to grasp the irony and allusions or read between the lines to get at what the reporter believes to be the truth.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Libertarian Paternalism—or, the Monkeys Sleep Tonight

A keeper of monkeys said with regard to their rations of nuts that each monkey was to have three in the morning and four at night. At this the monkeys were very angry. Then the keeper said they might have four in the morning and three at night, with which arrangement they were all well pleased.
—from Chuang Tzu, translated by Lin Yutang

I’ve conjectured before on this blog that much if not most of the persistent gaps between the results of the major Japanese media polls are determined by the names of the media outlets taking the polls and their respective political inclinations. However, I am also aware that the wording and sequence of the questions can have a powerful effect on the way the questions are answered. More broadly, how you present your case can have a drastic effect on the outcome. In business, it’s most obviously in play in advertising and salesmanship. In politics… well, it’s politics.

Which is why I cannot fully share George F. Will’s understated—it is George Will—enthusiasm for “libertarian paternalism”. Beyond its oxymoronic feel, it’s nothing more than the deliberate application of a communications skill that is older than the hills. It’s the kind of thing that libertarians would hate to have directed against themselves. Applied to Barack Obama, it looks more like subliminal (an opponent might say “stealth”) liberalism.

The trick is familiar to anyone who has registered at multiple websites.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nothing Personal, Mr. McCain

Here I go comparing Barack Obama favorably to John McCain from a Japanese viewpoint. The Japanese version is here, at least until it’s archived. Bad title, since my thoughts on that occasion stopped well before I got to Asia. (I think I’ll ask them to alter the title). And like everything I post on this blog, they are my personal thoughts and nothing more. If I seem unusually lucid and coherent, I owe it all to Professor Miyao and his GLOCOM staff, who did an excellent job of compressing and editing the tapes.

Incidentally were you aware, Okumura, when you gave the talk that Mr. Obama had been slagging Japan alongside South Korea over import restrictions on U.S. beef? To quote: “You can’t get American beef into Japan…even though we have the highest safety standards. They don’t want the competition”? Um no. But I’d expect Mr. McCain to claim that he would push no less harder to do away with Japanese restrictions if he were “[s]peaking to a crowd of farmers in a barn” too.

ADD: Titles corrected, in a matter of seconds after I asked Professor Miyao to correct them (totally my fault), by email. The world is not flat, fool, it dances on a pin.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

For Those of You Who Can’t Get Enough about the East China Sea Deal

The eponymous, multilingual Sun Bin has yet another East China Sea post, this time on the South Korea angle. Mapped, complete with coordinates, properly linked.

Bin is heavy on the facts and analysis, and low on polemics. I guess that’s why his blog receives surprisingly few comments for a China blog of its quality, which is why I’m flagging it as a separate post for visitors who don’t follow the comments on my blog.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Another Yomiuri East China Sea Map for Martin J. Frid… Wait, It Gets Better

It comes from the establishment’s paper of unofficial record, so you want some corroboration, preferably from the Chinese side (not that the Chinese authorities will oblige), or Sankei.* Still, this latest Yomiuri report on the backstory for the omission of Asunaro/Longjing omission from the deal is intriguing. And encouraging too, since it drags South Korea into the picture.

According to the Yomiuri, the negotiators worried that South Korea, not a party to the negotiations, might complain that a Asunaro/Longjing gas well could suck gas out of deposits in/on the South Korean EEZ/continental shelf, on the other side of the China-ROK median line, so they’ve given up on the idea of developing the Asunaro field altogether, like a geopolitical AWAR. The story sounds a little fishy, since the South Koreans--their Sinophobia can sometimes make Shoichi Nakagawa look like a member of the fifth column for the Chinese Communist Party—haven’t been heard complaining much. Let’s hope the story is true, though, because it shows an awareness of the need to keep smoke off the waters—there’s always the threat of flames—among three peoples who share a common, resource-starved, trade-dependent destiny (among other things).

* My skepticism is given further ammunition by the thought: Why would the Japanese side have invested in yet another JV completely under Chinese jurisdiction, or the Chinese side accepted anything less, in the first place?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why Are Imams and Mullahs Giving Barack Obama a Pass?

There’s something that’s been nagging me in the back of my head since I learned how popular Barack Obama was, not only in Kenya or Africa but all over the Nation of Islam. I chose not to talk about the matter publicly, since I was afraid that it might wake up some radical clerics, who could give fanatics bad ideas. I now realize that it’s such an obvious point that they couldn’t have possibly overlooked it. Besides, they don’t read my blog, do they? So I don’t see any harm if I post here.

First, the reasons for Mr. Obama’s popularity: Obviously, he’s not President Bush, and that helps everywhere, not just in the Nation of Islam. But just as important, if not more so, is his paternity: He is the biological son of a Black African and the stepson of an Indonesian, both fathers being from Islamic communities.

My use of the term “from Islamic communities” is deliberate. Although Mr. Obama’s fathers grew up as Moslems, his Kenyan biological fathre was a Moslem turned atheist, and his Indonesian stepfather’s personal relationship with the Islamic religion appears to have been tenuous at best. His fathers were apostates.

Now I am no scholar of Islam (or anything else, actually), but I’ve been given to understand that apostasy is the greatest crime against God that a Moslem can commit. In fact, according to most Islamic schools of jurisprudence, an adult male apostate must be executed. Mr. Obama is likely in a somewhat better situation than his fathers, since he did turn to Christianity, placing him among the “People of the Book” (which, as you know, also includes Jews and Sabeans). Still, if he had been a Muslim at any point before that, though at most a highly unobservant one, he would, I suspect, still be considered an apostate. At a minimum, his nature/nurture is nothing to boast about, and it is clear that he has failed to redress his fathers’sins.

All this must be Islam 101. So why are learned Mullahs and Imams silent on this point?

My guess is that the average Moslem man-in-the-street could care less—they’re just happy that there’s a non-Bush who opposed the invasion of Iraq who, very broadly speaking, also happens to be one of us in more ways than one. In fact, I couldn’t find any Obama questions on the English-language Ask the Imam websites that I visited. There could be serious anti-Obama chatter on Arab-language websites or radical Islam forum that I’m completely missing, but wouldn’t we be hearing about that if there was?

My guess is, the street and the bazaars like Mr. Obama, and the religious forces are not going to press a point that would make them unhappy. Apparently, Islamic clerics bow to the desires of the laic too. That’s heartening. You know, Chris Hitchens shouldn’t be so alarmed.*

* Okay, maybe he’s just congenitally angry.

I know so little about this entire field, so you’ll be doing me a great favor if you can tell me anything I don’t know about this, even, or particularly, if it makes me look like an idiot.

Less Meets the Eye on the East China Sea Agreement Agreement(s)

Of the four gas fields in the June 15 Asahi report recorded here, only Shirakaba/Chungxiao was actually included in the final agreement. Instead of Asunaro/CanxueLongjing, included in the June 1617 Yomiuri report recorded here, an area nearby was designated as a “block for joint development”. Shirakaba/Chungxiao itself is carefully separated from the “joint development” part of the agreement. The Japanese METI/MOFA joint announcement of the agreement can be found on this webpage. The Chinese MOFA spokesman’s remarks are here.

Two things help to understand this agreement. One is the following quote from the Chinese spokesman’s remarks:

Chinese enterprises welcome the participation of Japanese legal person in the development of the existing oil and gas field in Chunxiao (sic) in accordance with the relevant laws of China governing cooperation with foreign enterprises in the exploration and exploitation of offshore petroleum resources.*

The governments of China and Japan have confirmed this…

The other is the set of coordinates for the block for joint development. I don’t have the means to actually plot out the coordinates against the Japan/China median line, but if the map on the Yomiuri front page is to be trusted, the area lies mostly on the Japanese side, with the northeast corner going over the median line.

Production from Shirakaba/Chungxiao (note that the Chinese announcement only says Chungxiao), which according to Japanese surveys extends to the Japanese side of the median line, will continue under exclusive Chinese jurisdiction, while most of the joint development activities will presumably be conducted on the Japanese side of the median line. Although the Chinese side says that “the two sides will conduct cooperation in the transitional period prior to delimitation without prejudicing their respective legal positions”, it is clear that the two sides have established de facto joint custody of the disputed area of the continental shelf between the median line and the boundary claimed by the Chinese side.

This will become clearer when, as I expect, exploration, development and production are conducted as a joint venture between a Japanese entity and a Chinese entity, each subject to the laws of their respective state of origin. Technically, this will infringe upon the mining rights—exploration and/or exploitation rights; both property rights under the Mining Law and the Civil Code—of the Japanese entity.** But I doubt that the Japanese entity will complain.

As a legal matter, the only way that Japanese opponents of this deal—there will be many if my reasoning is correct—can stop this is to establish exploration rights on their own before the Japanese entity does. Unfortunately for prospective dissidents, they are unlikely to be able to provide the required data that must accompany an application.

But there’s the political side of the issue. I can see people like LDP China hawks like Shoichi Nakagawa and powerful independent Takeo Hiranuma lining up against the agreement. But they should be more than counterbalanced by LDP members who want to make nice with China or don’t see any benefit in causing a ruckus over what is, after all, trivial in terms of the economic benefits and all but irrelevant to Japan’s energy security. So I guess my question is: will the DPJ see this as a wedge issue and side with the dissidents?

As for the media, Sankei issued a favorable editorial today, apparently under a misunderstanding based on what turned out to be an erroneous report that Shirakaba/Chungxiao and Asunaro/CanxueLongjing were to be the subject of joint development. The question here is: Can you take back an editorial?

There you are. Feel free to quote me.

* The Japanese announcement says more or less the same thing.

** It would also violate the Japanese property rights of the owner of the seabed surface if it were Japanese territory. I’m sure what the law is beyond territorial waters, but the owner, if any, would be the Japanese government, so this point is moot.

Sidebar: Why did the media reports grow progressively less favorable to the Japanese side?*** They obviously took leaks from the Japanese side reflecting its negotiating position of the moment and over-interpreted them. My guess is that the leaks came from officials only tangentially related to the negotiations. The principals know too much to give out information that raises false hopes, and won’t have the time to talk to reporters roaming the corridors anyway.

*** ADD note (June 20): The June 17 Yomiuri article was more accurate than I had believed, since it says “area around Asunaro/Longjing”, not Asunaro/Longjing per se. My only excuse is that it was easy to miss the distinction sans hindsight. But my broader point stands.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More on the East China Sea Gas Fields

The June 1617 Yomiuri reports that two gas fields, Shirakaba/Chungxiao and Asunaro/CanxueLongjing—not four as originally reported by Asahi—will be the subject of joint development in the initial agreement. Other gas fields, presumably including Kashi/Tianwaitian and Kusunoki/Danqiao.

Normally, I wouldn’t have blogged on this issue again until the authorities announced the agreement, but the Yomiuri article includes a map of the four gas fields in question that I want to take note of before I forget. The map gives the Chinese oil equivalent of the natural gas reserve estimates for three of the fields:

Shirakaba/Chungxiao: 63.8 million bbl
Kashi/Tianwaitian : 12.6 million bbl
Kusunoki/Danqiao : 15.2 million bbl
Asunaro/CanxueLongjing : NA

Now look at this:

Shirakaba/Chungxiao: 174.8 thousand bbl/d
Kashi/Tianwaitian : 34.5 thousand bbl/d
Kusunoki/Danqiao : 41.6 thousand bbl/d
Asunaro/CanxueLongjing : NA

That’s how much you can extract every day if you use up the entire reserve in a single year. Take a more reasonable, say 20-year life span for the gas fields, and you get an idea of how trivial the gas fields really are. Even if the Japanese side of the median line ends up doubling the reserves, the numbers still give you a feel for how marginal these fields are. I now have a little sympathy for conspiracy theorists who believe that the Chinese authorities have been pushing their exploitation just to reinforce their claims to the EEZ in the area.

ADD: Remember, it’s the legal framework for the joint development activities including jurisdiction that matters, not the economics of the deal.

Vetting Candidates

From what little I’ve heard, the vetting process for picking the vice presidential candidate appears to be one of the most invasive procedures not involving body cavities. I can understand that. You don’t want to come up with the ideal second banana, only to have subsequent revelations of his, say, inappropriate text messages to minors suck the life out of your campaign.

It’s not just the vice presidential candidates either. I hear that the vetting process has become longer and more elaborate at all levels, as administrations use background checks and security clearance procedures to to eliminate any potential for betrayal, incompetence, and blackmail, as well as to satisfy other less legitimate purposes.

With one big exception: the presidential candidate him/herself.

The justification for this, is that the presidential candidate has his whole life, his heart and soul, dissected minutely and endlessly by the media, opposition research staff and, these days, the blogosphere. Sooner or later, the wayward reverend or the occasional zipper malfunction is bound to pop up, leaving the public to decide whether or not to give the candidate a pass.

The thing is, though, that once you are a candidate, you can try to spin, dissemble, outright lie your way out of your predicament, and some do succeed. In most jobs, the threshold for dismissal is higher than that for initial rejection, and the presidential candidacy is no different. Try this thought experiment. Imagine Bill Clinton auditioning for the vice presidential candidacy. Do you think for a moment that he would be selected if his personal problems were vetted by the presidential candidate’s team?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Are Okinawans Somewhere between Bretons and Scots When It Comes to Independence?

In a 2007 telephone survey by John C.T. Lim, an associate professor at the University of the Ryukyus—that’s a cool name by the way— 41.6% of the 1201 people who answered the questions responded that they were Ryukyujin (Okinawans), not Nihonjin (Japanese), but only 20.6% supported independence.* If my memory serves me correctly, in the lead-up to the return of Okinawa in 1972, a healthy majority of Okinawans supported reversion to Japan, although a significant minority supported independence. Apparently, things haven’t changed much over the years. Makes you think about the relationship between ethnicity and statehood.

I’m mentioning this here, since the matter came up in a panel discussion last week and some of the other participants may be looking in on this blog.

As the proprietor of the Shisaku blog explained on that same occasion, the Ryukyu kingdom paid tribute to both China and Japan for hundreds of years until Japan took over after the Meiji Restoration. The Guomintang, Taiwan’s ruling party, continues to claim that the Ryukyu Islands are “Chinese” territory”.** That’s the broader background to the belligerent response from the current Taiwanese government with regard to the Japanese apprehension of the Taiwanese fishing vessel that wandered into territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands.

ADD: The Financial Times reminds us that it is the mainland Chinese, who comprise the bulwark of the Kuomintang including President Ma, who “tend to share the anti-Japanese feelings common in China”, as it notes the sympathetic response from the Chinese authorities. China obviously cannot let the Senkaku Islands incident go without comment.

* Unfortunately, the full results of Dr. Lim’s survey are not available anywhere online, including his website.

** I am not aware of any official claims from China regarding Okinawa. That’s understandable, since China would have its own problems if every nation and ethnic group began revisiting their histories to revive ancient territorial claims.

Interpreting the Pending Deal on the East China Sea Gas Fields

I had been highly skeptical of the chances for a deal since I believed that the Japanese government’s legal concerns could not be adequately addressed. However, the Japanese government has apparently decided to gloss them over with a business concession from the Chinese side.

The Asahi reports that the Japanese and Chinese governments will announce a joint development deal on the East China Sea gas fields this week. According to the report, the agreement will cover four gas fields—Shirakaba/Chungxiao (SC), Kashi/Tianwaitian (KT), Kusunoki/Danqiao (KD), and Asunaro/Canxue (AC).

The two governments had been at loggerheads over the gas fields because of conflicting legal claims over their respective exclusive economic zones. The Japanese government claims jurisdiction up to the median line between the two countries, while the Chinese government claims jurisdiction up to the Okinawa Trough based on its claims over the natural extension of its continental shelf.

The Japanese government claims that Japanese surveys show that SC and KT extend to the Japanese side of the median line between China and Japan and that that may also be the case for KD and AC.* This would mean that China would be tapping into gas resources part of which rightfully belongs to Japan.* The Chinese side has refused to share its data on the matter. The Japanese government has sought a deal that would include both sides of the median line, while the Chinese government has insisted that a deal would only cover the area where the two EEZ claims overlap. In the meantime, China began production at KT in 2005, and is scheduled to begin production at SC later this year.

The Asahi report goes on to say that the Japanese side will make an equity investment in the Chinese development company for SC and that the two sides will conduct joint explorations on the Japanese side of the median line. So, has the Chinese government made a major concession? Not really.

Note that the Japanese participation on the Chinese side of the median line comes in the form of an equity investment in a Chinese company. Unless the Chinese government is constitutionally barred from conferring any mineral rights to an entity with foreign shareholders, it is not making any legal concessions with regard to jurisdiction over its EEZ. The joint exploration in the disputed areas is a different animal. Unless the exploration is conducted under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Japanese Mining Law, for all practical purposes, the result will be to effectively share joint jurisdiction over the disputed area. This will become even more obvious if and when production activities commence in the disputed area. The Chinese government may have yielded on the economics, but has not budged on the legal end.

In recent years, international law has favored the median line, and the Japanese government has offered to subject the dispute to over the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The Chinese government understandably has refused to do so. Given these recent trends in international case law, nationalists and other elements that want Japan to stand up to China no end will be displeased with the compromise and will insist that Japan continue to uphold its legal claim.

For after all, the economics of the gas fields are reportedly not very attractive. The consensus is that they are too distant and too small to be commercially extracted and transported to Japan. Nearby China is the only viable market for either side of the median line. Moreover, although the recent jump in energy prices makes the gas fields more attractive, they are insignificant as far as energy security is concerned. This is not ANWR that we are talking about. Thus, such elements will see too much loss of national honor and little of economic gain from the deal.

* You may recall that Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil in justifying his 1990 invasion.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Fix Is in on Delisting North Korea as State Sponsor of Terrorism

Yesterday, the Chief Cabinet Secretary made the announcement, later confirmed by the Foreign Minister, that the North Korean authorities has agreed to reopen investigations regarding abductees and repatriate the remaining four of the nine Japanese radicals who highjacked a plane to North Korea in 1970 and received asylum there and two Japanese wives of theirs, who, together with the highjackers, are accused of playing key roles in the abductions. In return, the Japanese government will be lifting all sanctions on movement of personnel, and will also allow North Korean ships to enter Japanese ports to load humanitarian aid cargo. However, all sanctions on trade—including a total ban on imports from North Korea—as well as the less significant financial sanctions will remain.

To repeat: There is no reasonable scenario short of regime change in North Korea that will close the case. It is highly likely that the remaining eight of the thirteen abductees that the North Korean authorities have confessed to are dead, and just as unlikely that North Korea will be forthcoming even if any of them are alive.* There is also little chance that the North Korean authorities will fess up to the other four abductees that the Japanese government has recognized but the North Korean authorities have denied. On the other hand, it is near impossible for the North Korean authorities to prove that they are telling the truth.

Thus, I do not see the reinvestigation producing anything conclusive in any way. It is no wonder that the families of the remaining abductees show no optimism with regard to the latest turn of events. That lack of enthusiasm is likely to boil over into open displeasure as the process peters out with little to show for it. In terms of domestic politics, there is little to gain for the Fukuda administration, though the negatives down the road will be tempered by waning public interest with the passage of time since the 2002 revelations.

Then why do it? Actually, the Fukuda administration had little choice. The Bush administration is poised to cut a deal with the North Korean authorities that will freeze North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for among other things dropping it from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. The bus will be leaving, with or without Japan on board, so Mr. Fukuda had to take what he could get. Besides, the main target of the sanctions are programs relating to weapons of mass destruction; it was only in 2006 October, after Shinzo Abe succeeded Junichiro Koizumi as Prime Minister, that the Japanese government added the abductees issue to the justifications.

Some people here will trace this change in tack to the very beginning of the Fukuda administration, when Mr. Fukuda indicated that he would be taking a more conciliatory approach to the issue. Indeed, the Fukuda administration indicated through the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the Foreign Minister that it would ease sanctions commensurate with progress on the abductees issue. It is also true that Mr. Fukuda represents a less hawkish worldview than Mr. Abe, his predecessor as Prime Minister. Moreover, Mr. Fukuda has far less political capital invested in the issue than Mr. Abe, who basically rode that one-trick pony as an obscure sub-cabinet Deputy to Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda to the Prime Minister’s office in just four years’ time.

Thus, the more nationalistic/hawkish elements of the media will blast Mr. Fukuda for making the deal—Sankei has already come out strongly against easing the sanctions. But there was no viable alternative. There is no way that an LDP Prime Minister, whatever his personal inclinations may be, could hope to stand in the way of a nuclear programs deal that the U.S. government is determined to push through without losing face, or worse, just possibly throw the whole process off track by giving a somewhat implausible Congressional coalition of human rights advocates and national security hawks ammunition to cut down the main track agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program. The abductees issue has existed only between the lines in the agreement under the Six-Party Talks. There is no way that the Bush administration, or any U.S. administration for that matter, would allow it to take a front seat to the main issue.**

So the fix is in. Barring deal-breaking snags in the negotiations between the Bush administration and the North Korean authorities—and the devil is truly in the details when it comes to dealing with North Korea—the Fukuda administration will have to live with the political consequences of an unsatisfactory but unavoidable deal.

* It is notable that three of the nine highjack perpetrators reportedly died in North Korea of natural (illness and accident) when they were 35, 42, and 52 years of age respectively. This unusually high mortality rate mirrors that of the deceased abductees. The North Korean authorities claim that eight out of the thirteen that they have admitted to—five were repatriated alive, while the Japanese government recognizes four more missing people as abductees, bringing the total of officially confirmed victims to seventeen—also died of illness and accidents (and natural disasters), all in their twenties, thirties or forties.

** Note that John McCain, who is seen as deeply sympathetic to the plight of the abductees and their families, always makes a clear distinction between the nuclear weapons program and the abductees issue, which he always places in the category of “future talks”. See, for example, the following excerpt from his Foreign Affairs essay.

It is unclear today whether North Korea is truly committed to verifiable denuclearization and a full accounting of all its nuclear materials and facilities, two steps that are necessary before any lasting diplomatic agreement can be reached. Future talks must take into account North Korea's ballistic missile programs, its abduction of Japanese citizens, and its support for terrorism and proliferation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The House of Councilors Censure Motion Looks Like a Dud

If I am wrong on this one, I will seriously doubt my hold on my faculties…

The fireworks have been missing from Japanese politics the last couple of weeks, so the censure motion against Prime Minister Fukuda will get some play in the media, but the DPJ has fiddled around with it for so long that it is now little more than an anti-climax near the end of what was an eventful Diet session. What’s surprising is that Ichiro Ozawa pushed it, even though he must have known that Mr. Fukuda would never resign and in any case had already positioned the ruling coalition to avoid any serious fallout from the resulting paralysis. Which means that it’s no concern to anyone except political junkies like…

I can’t think of anything having a major political impact between now and the autumn battle over fiscal reform. Which is better than nothing for the incumbent, since the opposition will not have a Diet in session as a platform to torment the administration.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Supreme Court Justices Vote Their Background on Discriminatory Nationality Rules

On June 4, the Japanese Supreme Court in a plenary ruling by a majority of 10 to 5 struck down as unconstitutional the provision of the Nationality Law that discriminates among children with unmarried parents, one Japanese and one non, as unconstitutional. Two of the five dissenters agreed that the provision was unconstitutional but required an act of the Diet to rectify the situation.

The current Nationality Law automatically gives Japanese citizenship to any child born out of wedlock from a Japanese mother. But the Act gives automatic citizenship to a child born out of wedlock to a Japanese father and a non-Japanese mother only if the Japanese father legally recognizes the child as his own before the child is born. This discrimination was somewhat eased—but totally eliminated—by a 1984 amendment, which conferred citizenship on children who had been recognized by their fathers post-birth when (and only when) their parents married (conferring post-facto legitimacy to such children). All the justices agreed that the discrimination had been constitutional at its incipience in 1984, but the majority cited changing family relationships as well as international trends and general provisions in treaties protecting children against discrimination by circumstances of their birth in their ruling.Tens of thousands of children believed to be living in Japan under those circumstances are expected to be affected by the most recent ruling, as the authorities have decided to accept all applications on behalf of such children. Needless to say, their mothers will be on much firmer legal ground with regard to their residency in Japan.

There’s a lot of food for thought here regarding constitutional law, demographics, gender issues, xenophobia/-philia, and whatnot, so I’m disappointed as well as somewhat surprised that the Anglo-Saxon media has ignored it altogether. (It was splashed all over the June 5 front pages in Japan.) In the meantime, I want to point out something that has failed to draw any attention here.

Of the 15 Supreme Court Justices, six are career judges (straight out of the leagal training center), two are former prosecutors (again straight out of the legal training center), two are former civil servants (one woman and one former head of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau), four are former private lawyers, and one is a former academic (elite scholars have not historically sought to register as lawyers, which they are entitled to do after a certain number of years teaching law). Now this syndicalist breakdown of the Supreme Court has been remarkably consistent over the decades. There usually has been an ex-ambassador in the lineup; on this court, the Foreign Ministry has been set aside, likely to accommodate the female ex-civil servant. (I can think of a couple of capable female diplomats who will be in line to kill two birds with one stone in, say, another ten years or so.)

But that’s not my point. My point is this. The five dissenters include the two prosecutors and the two ex-civil servants, and one of the six career judges. Both the ex-civil servants as well as one of the two former prosecutors ruled the measure constitutional, while the other ex-prosecutor and the career judge considered the measure unconstitutional but deferred to the Diet to rectify the situation.

Now this is not Pakistan; none of these justices are going to be removed from office because of their votes, other than through a once-a-decade national plebiscite on te4h occasion of a House of Representatives general election. I can only assume that they are voting their conscience. Which makes it all the more remarkable their faithfulness to the hive minds of their respective constituencies.

Yomiuri Kills Two Birds with One Stone with Maehara Critique of Own Party Leader Ozawa

Sunday (June 8) Yomiuri carries a story headlined Mr. Maehara Criticizes Ozawa Manifest… in July Chuou Kouron. According to the report, Chuou Kouron is carrying a dialogue between Seiji Maehara, one of the most vocal Ozawa critics in the DPJ, and Kaoru Yosano, the LDP troubleshooter and perennial pundit favorite. The report says that Mr. Maehara took the 15.3 trilion yen bill for the 2007 DPJ Policy Manifest, added, and came up with an 18 trillion yen price tag**. It offers the following Maehara quotes from the dialogue:

[Regarding the 2007 Policy Manifest, we) won’t be able to run the government properly, even if we win power under prevailing conditions.

It’s absolutely impossible to come up with [18 trillion yen, the price tag for the 15.3 trillion yen 2007 Manifest plus the costs of eliminating the gasoline tax surcharge and other subsequent promises] by administrative reform alone. I’ve been told that when we put the Manifest together, the people responsible for policy making at the time were reluctant because there was little justification on the revenue side, but it ended up with Mr. Ozawa just winging it.

What the DPJ must not do above all is the tell the people only things that are sweet music to their ears, then say after we take power, “We can’t do that after all”. The LDP will take back the administration immediately. That’s the worst [thing that could happen].***

A few takeaways from this article:

Couple this huge revenue shortfall in the DPJ program with the unlikelihood of the ruling coalition to come up with a convincing fiscal/administrative reform package, and you have a politically intriguing if depressing showdown coming up this autumn. At least that’s what I’ve been claiming on this blog.

The seams have certainly been showing on the LDP side, but Mr. Maehara’s frustration tells us that all is not well with the DPJ either. So it’s no wonder that there’s all this attention going to the caucusing activities, both within and across party lines. But is this a harbinger of a major realignment? Not in the short run. (Say, not before at least two election cycles (House of Representatives and/or Councilors) have come and gone?) As I’ve claimed before, the fault lines are too many to create a clear-cut, policy/ideology division, and there’s too much to lose from breaking away to form a small party of narrowly likeminded people. (For example, what could 30 nationalist Diet members leaving the LDP to cluster around independent heavyweight Takeo Hiranuma—former Prime Minister hopeful exiled from the LDP for revolting against Prime Minister Koizumi’s Post Office privatization package—hope to achieve, instead of staying to pick up the pieces if Prime Minister Fukuda leaves office discredited?)

The most revealing piece of information, though, is that the July Chuou Kouron only hits the stands on the 10th, two days after the Yomiuri report. Mind you, no way is this a scoop.When Chuou Kouron threatened to go into bankruptcy, Yomiuri saw the chance to take over a venerated media institution, and a middle-of the-road one at that, with a highly-regarded publication that would fit nicely into Yomiuri’s then-vacant corner of the high-end niche of monthly opinion magazines. The report, then, is a deliberate attempt to drum up interest in the July issue, just before its publication. In a way, it’s a no-cost (to Yomiuri anyway) infomercial, yet another example of a media group generating synergy for its product lineup. In that sense, it’s part of a long tradition, and Chuou Kouron is no different from the Yomiuri Giants. There is a distinction here though. With Chuou Kouron, it’s not just the money. Although the center-right Yomiuri often strikes a populist pose, it is in fact the most pro-establishment, pro-LDP-Komeito coalition member of the mass media. The report, then, is part of the pitch for its political agenda, and Chuou Kouron is happy to oblige.

* Such a dialogue is typically hosted by someone from the media outlet, to keep the talkers on track. Given the political star powers of Mssrs. Maehara and Yosano, it’s very likely that the editor-in-chief hosted this one himself.

** To put this in proper perspective, remember that the FY 2008 general budget is 82.9 trillion yen, of which only 53.6 trillion yen is covered by tax revenues. 25.3 trillion yen of the shortfall is scheduled to be funded by government bonds, with “other revenues” covering the remainder. On the expenditure side, 20.2 trillion yen goes to cover debt service and 15.6 trillion yen to direct transfers to local governments. Of the remaining 47.2 trillion yen, social welfare accounts for 21.8 trillion of that amount. That leaves 25.5 trillion yen to spend on infrastructure, national security and other functions of the central government. Mr. Maehara should be excused for wondering where that extra 18 trillion yen is going to come from.

*** In the report, Mr. Maehara is also quoted from a June 7 meeting in Kyoto agreeing with critics of the trillion yen subsidy to farmers in the Manifest who regard it as an indiscriminate political payoff.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sichuan Authorities off Message as Victims’ Families Demand Redress

The Beijing correspondent for Yomiuri reports on June 4 that more than a hundred parents and relatives of the students who were killed when a middle school collapsed during the Sichuan Earthquake convened in front of the local courthouse to file law suits against the school, but were stopped and pushed away by police, who told them to not to seek judicial relief (600,000 Yuan per victim), but to file petitions instead.

Such clashes or worse appear to be par for the course in China when locals complain about land seizures, industrial pollutions and the like, often leading to bloodshed and sometimes even deaths. The authorities can be brutal in suppressing grievances. However, the lawyer for the families apparently felt it safe to talk to a Yomiuri reporter, likely a Chinese national dispatched to or permanently stationed in Sichuan.

Two points: First, I want to see how this case unfolds. Despite the rampant corruption and brutality at the local level, the central government and specifically the Hu-Wen regime enjoy widespread support. I want to know how well the Beijing leadership ultimately fares in maintaining and possibly even enhancing the trust that the Chinese public credits it with. Second, I want to see if the new public communication rules endure beyond the Sichuan Earthquake and its consequences. The openness is reassuring to the outside world, but it must also be liberating for the Chinese who have been caught up in it. Does it raise the bar for the Chinese authorities for other incidents, good and bad? Has it altered the Chinese relationship between the authorities and civil society?

Gazing into the Crystal Ball as Fukuda Numbers Settle at Late-Abe Levels

The Fuji TV network conducts a weekly telephone poll, where the first two questions are always the same. I’ve chosen the results from 2007 July 19 poll, taken three days before the House of Councillors election where the LDP-Komeito coalition went down in a devastating defeat under the Abe administration, and the 2008 May 29 poll, the latest available for the Fukuda administration. Take a look:

Q1: Which party do you want to vote for in the next House of Representatives election?

2007 July 19:
LDP 17.8%, DPJ 25.8%, Komeito 6.0%, JCP 3.2%, SDP – 1.0%, PNP – 0.2%, NPN – 0.0%, independent or other – 1.2%, abstain – 1.2%, undecided – 43.6%

2008 May 29:
LDP 17.4%, DPJ 26.8%, Komeito 3.8%, JCP 2.4%, SDP – 0.4%, PNP – 0.2%, NPN – 0.0%, independent or other – 1.2%, abstain – 0.6%, undecided – 47.2%
LDP – Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, DPJ – The Democratic Party of Japan, Komeito – New Komeito, JCP – Japan Communist Party, SDP – Social Democratic Party, PNP – People’s New Party, NPN – New Party Nippon.

Q2: Do you support the Abe/Fukuda Cabinet?

2007 July 19:
Yes – 29.4%, No – 60.8%, other/don’t know – 9.8%

2008 May 29:
Yes – 22.8%, No – 68.6%, other/don’t know – 8.6%

I could probably switch the numbers between the two poll results and if you came back a day later, you wouldn’t notice the difference. The numbers sometimes fluctuate from month to month, sometimes for no specific reasons, but the trend is clear: The Fukuda administration in recent months has been as unpopular as the Abe administration at its worst, and the LDP-Komeito coalition is seeing a similar fate.

What can Prime Minister Fukuda do to regain momentum? He could use one of the two main prerogatives of a Prime Minister, a Cabinet overhaul. (The other, more nuclear option, a snap election, is most inopportune at this moment.) When Prime Minister Abe undertook a wholesale makeover including the LDP leadership—also within his rights as party president—his administration received a 10.2% percentage point bump from 24.6% to 34.4% (negatives down from 64.6% to 57.6%) between the 2007 August 23 and August 30 polls. This was no statistical fluke; all the other polls at the time registered similar gains for the Abe administration. Unfortunately, most of this gain was gone the following week, as was Mr. Abe for all practical purposes in another. More significant to the current situation, it did nothing for the LDP-Komeito coalition.

Of course the Fukuda administration could always try to win on policy. But I don’t think that sweating the small stuff, such as tinkering with the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance system, is going to have a major impact. I don’t believe that the Hokkaido SG-8 Summit and a squishy agreement on greenhouse gases or any other combination of diplomatic or national security issues are going to be winners either. That leaves the autumn fiscal reform package, including a likely decision on a consumption tax hike, usually a loser. However, I think that the Japanese public is ready to bite the bullet on that one and move out of the none-of-the-above category and away from DPJ, which, under Ichiro Ozawa, is increasingly looking like the not-the-LDP, Socialist Party of old, on steroids. But to gain public acceptance, the authorities must impose the kind of budget cuts that could be coupled with a consumption tax hike to bridge projected revenue shortfalls in the national welfare system and to begin crawling out from under the huge public debt overhang. As part of any deal, they must deal with the unpopular gasoline tax surcharge. The civil service reform package notwithstanding, Mr. Fukuda and/or his associates have so far been unable to show the leadership and vision that would be necessary to carry out this daunting task. More likely is continuation of the across-the-board annual budget cuts with some allowance for the most popular items such as education and healthcare—the surcharge revenue will come in handy here—and possibly a substantial reduction in civil service salaries and severance pay. As popular as civil service bashing appears to be, this does not look like a recipe for a coalition victory in the next House of Representatives election.

As far as the political game is concerned, the coalition—the LDP to be more precise—can take an even more drastic route than Mr. Fukuda by replacing him with a new Prime Minister. This should bring more long-term relief than a Cabinet reshuffle. A Koizumi might counterattack with a snap election in that situation, but Mr. Fukuda does not appear likely to do that, and Taro Aso, the frontrunner and popular campaigner—if prone to verbal gaffes—is positioning himself to take over if given the chance. However, neither Mr. Aso nor any of his putative rivals appear capable of doing the kind of drastic overhaul that the LDP can sell to the public, much less wield the raw political power necessary to push Mr. Fukuda over the edge in case he is unwilling to leave of his own volition.

Thus, I’ve been coming around to the view that the opposition has a good chance of denying the LDP-Komeito coalition a majority, and doing so just by not losing. However, having made all those pricey promises to be financed by vaguely (if at all) identified budget cuts and money stashes and lacking a “twisted” Diet as an excuse for not fulfilling them, the DPJ is likely to encounter serious difficulties maintaining credibility when leading a coalition regime of its own. It’s a given that the DPJ will need a coalition partner or two, since it does not have a majority in the House of Counselors. That will complicate efforts to draw up a coherent policy manifest and see it through. Another post-HR election possibility is the beginning of a bidding war between the LDP and the DPJ for the services of the minor and micro parties. In fact, anything less than a robust victory for the LDP-Komeito coalition should result in a period of political instability whose practical consequences I cannot make out, until the dust settles on a major realignment along more coherent lines policy-wise.