Friday, August 29, 2008

Mama’s Got a Squeeze Box the Media Never Sleeps All Night; or, The Strange Saga of the DPJ Mini-Rebellion

I had argued before that it didn’t make political sense for Hideo Watanabe and Yasuhiro Oe, the two most rebellious DPJ Upper House members, to make a break for it. Yesterday, they made a fool of me by announcing that they would be taking fellow Upper House member ready-for-WaiWai Yukiko Himei along to join two independents, quasi-LDP Hiroyuki Arai and DPJ dropout Shinpei Masushita, in forming a five-member political party entitled Kaikaku Kurabu (Reform Club). LDP Number Two and heir-apparent Taro Aso made no effort to discourage media reports that claim that he engineered the operation, which has taken some of the wind out of DPJ sails. Today, the DPJ did an Elmore-Leonard switcheroo in a press conference held by Ms. Himei, attended by DPJ leaders Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan and Azuma Koshiishi, where she decided that she wouldn’t be defecting after all. The flamboyant Ms. Himei had been the big surprise of the Reform Club, since she had not crossed party lines to vote for the gasoline surcharge reinstatement or the BOJ Governor and Deputy-Governor candidates.

The effect of the new party on the lead-up to the next Lower House election was minimal in the first place, since the recalcitrant pair had been voting against the party line already. The Reform Club merely formalizes this relationship. My guess is that Mr. Aso is furiously combing the ranks of KDP-freindly independents (say, Takeo Hiranuma?) to become the fifth Diet member necessary to meet minimum requirements for government stipends to political parties.

Supermajority Override on Refueling Operations Possible without Komeito

Let’s see if I can clear out the most recent batch of otakkii clutter in my GlobalTalk 21 draft file. First up—a possible workaround for Komeito’s increasing reluctance to support a supermajority override on the counterterrorist refueling operation in the Indian Ocean (and the Persian Gulf). First, an excerpt from the Japanese Constitution:
Article 59. A bill becomes a law on passage by both Houses, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution.

2. A bill which is passed by the House of Representatives, and upon which the House of Councillors makes a decision different from that of the House of Representatives, becomes a law when passed a second time by the House of Representatives by a majority of two-thirds or more of the members present.

3. The provision of the preceding paragraph does not preclude the House of Representatives from calling for the meeting of a joint committee of both Houses, provided for by law.

4. Failure by the House of Councillors to take final action within sixty (60) days after receipt of a bill passed by the House of Representatives, time in recess excepted, may be determined by the House of Representatives to constitute a rejection of the said bill by the House of Councillors.
Of the 480 seats in the Lower House, Komeito has 31. Subtracting the Komeito seats leaves 441. 2/3 of 441 equal 299.3. The LDP has 304 seats. Therefore, the LDP can override the Upper House by itself provided Komeito members absent themselves during the revote. That’s a last-resort, break-glass-in-emergency option, but it must be something that will cross the minds of coalition members as the extraordinary Diet session unfolds over the coming months.

Russia Recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia: A Milestone in the Lower-Case Cold War

The following is actually a prequel to the 28 August Glocom Commentary. I liked this one better, but Glocom understandably went with the later one on this fast-moving topic.

On a further note: The Western media sees the refusal of the other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to recognize independent South Ossetia and Abkhazia as a setback for Russia. (Typical example: NYT.) I don’t think so. Given all the ethnic and religious minority issues that its members have—starting with China—I don’t think that Russia had any illusions in the first place. The relatively neutral stance that SCO adopted was the best that Russia could have hoped for. The situations in the other points of West-Russia contention are very different from that with regard to Georgia. But the chill has set in; the rest of the world is going to stay on the sidelines, and that is what the SCO statement is all about.

I believe that, as geopolitical mistake go, the failure to bring Russia under the umbrella of accepted norms of the West is bigger, if of smaller practical consequence to Japan, than President Bush's war in Iraq. A plausible argument can be made that a large, possibly definitive, part of the error with regard to Iraq was operational. There, it is hard to deny that with better planning and execution things would have turned out much better.

With Russia, the problem is conceptual and strategic. At a moment of extreme Russian weakness, the West laid out a vision for an expanded post-Cold War NATO that explicitly excluded Russia. The Bush administration continued to pursue this and other geopolitical goals that had been questionable in the first place and became increasingly counterproductive in terms of national, regional and global security when Russia saw major improvements in its geopolitical assets―national cohesion, natural resources―and began to exercise them accordingly.

It did not help that the West pushed the markers deeper, and harder, into Russia's former sphere of sovereignty and influence as time went on. The United States successfully sought to place antiballistic missile defense system of dubious military value near Russia's borders and refused Russian offers of cooperation in their regard. The West accepted over strenuous Russian objections the demands of ethnic Albanians Kosovo for full sovereignty. The West extended offers of eventual NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia even while unwilling and unable to protect them through what would inevitably be a dangerous period of transition.

Yet even after the "ceasefire" in South Ossetia, Russian actions were graduated. But the U.S. response―sending warships, sealing an agreement with Poland on the missile defense system, generally confrontational rhetoric―left no room for Russia to scale back the post-battle confrontation. Although I was still surprised that Russia actually recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it is the logical culmination of a long string of actions on both sides that began when the West decided to exclude Russia from its vision of a united Europe.

What's done is done though. I don't see either side trying to walk back this escalation process any time soon. Although Russia is not going to challenge the United States in its global reach―this is not a return to the Cold War, in the upper case at least―it will create even more mischief in the Middle East and other places where it can harm U.S. interests. The asymmetry between the two political economies makes this a much easier task for Russia than it would be for, say, China. There's fallout on the other side too. It is also hard to see any U.S. administration clearing the way for Russian accession to the WTO any time soon. I would also be surprised to see the U.S. President taking part in a G-8 summit process, i.e. one that continues to include Russia. The G8 could revert to the G7, or even be suspended for the indefinite future. These and other ramifications will be consequences that lesser nations like Japan will have to live with as an unpleasant fact of life

The silver lining to this most recent cloud is that Russia has made its point; it has achieved in South Ossetia and Abkhazia a new military, demographic and political equilibrium. It has bitten off a piece of an outpost of the West that it needs to chew over and digest. Thus, there appears to be a little time before something else happens to further disrupt the status quo. During this lull,, if it is possible for the United States to discreetly send a message that it is willing to explore alternative ways to enhance its security without neglecting the concerns of its new allies on Russia's borders―would refraining from setting a timetable for the BMD deployment in Poland without scrapping the plan altogether work?―that would go a long way to defusing the immediate situation and ultimately begin scaling back what has become a geopolitical confrontation of major proportions.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LDP National Strategy Headquarters Gains New Leadership

Yesterday, on August 26, the LDP announced the appointment of 21 party members to its National Strategy Headquarters leadership, headed by Yasuo Fukuda, party President. Hidenao Nakagawa, deputy party leader under Minister Koizumi but sidelined in the traditionally conservative Fukuda regime, had been already been appointed as acting NSH chief, among other things to work out the LDP policy manifest for the next Lower House election. The appointment was seen as an expression of the Fukuda regime’s intent not to abandon the reform process. Moreover, the latest list of appointments includes not only regular party leaders such as the Chairmen of the General Council and the Policy Research Council but a number of other reformist allies of Mr. Nakagawa including Takahisa Shiozaki, Yoshimi Watanabe and Yuriko Koike. In fact, Ms. Koike has been put in charge of the “Mid- to Long-Term Vision Development Committee”, which appears to be the forum for drafting the policy manifest. All this could have spelled trouble as late as a couple of months ago. However, as the economy has worsened, the LDP conservatives have been edging away from fiscal probity in the short-run, so the two sides will now be easier to reconcile.

There’s little more that I can tell you about the NSH with any certainty, though. The NSH website was last updated on 2003 June 19. It is still headlined by Prime Minister Koizumi, and has two dead ex-Prime Ministers on its list of senior advisors*. A search for “国家戦略本部” (the original Japanese for National Strategy Headquarters) on the LDP website turns up zero hits. So where have I heard this story before.

Hong Kong Madam on Shinzo Abe

The Hong Kong Madam appears to be a Chinese woman from a wealthy Hong Kong family who came to Japan to go to college, never left, and these days is among other things a near-native Japanese-language blogger. Here is an excerpt and translation from her 21 July 2006 post, on the eve of Shinzo Abe’s election as Prime Minister.
… an election in form only. In that case, why not choose the Prime Minister of Japan in a national referendum… it would probably be Kimutaku.

それにしても美容研究家の私はこの総理候補のルックスに是非いわせていただきたいことがある。51歳の割にはつやもはりもなく、常に疲れた顔で、眉間に皺をよせ、どうみても一国のリーダーよりも単なる疲れきったブルドックしかみえない、なのに、街頭インタービューの貴婦人たちが口を揃って素敵な方ですねと絶賛する、なぜかしら?どうみても健康的にみえない、エネルーギも感じさせない、人相でもあのまゆと目とくちの組み合わせは非常にわがままで、主観的な人、自分の思い通りにならないときはすぐに顔に出るタイプです。けして人の意見を耳傾けることもなく、暴走する傾向もあり、抑えるにはどうしてもと姉さん女房が必要です。でないと 大変なことになってしまう。しかもあのたるみと艶のなさを見る限り、大変内臓の弱いひとで、腎臓と大腸は要注意です。

As a student of cosmetology, there is something that I insist on saying about this Prime Minister candidate’s looks. For someone who is only 51, he has a face that is lacking in luster and gloss and always tired, and wears a frown, and looks in every which way like a worn-out bulldog instead of a national leader; yet ladies interviewed on the streets all praise him highly, saying that he’s a wonderful man…why? No matter how you look at him, he doesn’t look healthy, he doesn’t look energetic, and, phrenology-wise, the combination of his eyebrows, eyes and mouth [indicates that] he is a very selfish and subjective person who’s feelings show immediately when things do not go his way. He never listens to people, and he tends to run amok, so he needs a wife who is older than him to keep him under control. Otherwise, terrible things will happen. Moreover, judging solely on the basis of his sagging skin and lack of luster, he has very weak body organs, and should worry about his kidneys and large intenstine.*
I think that she’s overly harsh with regard to his character, though I feel that she has captured Mr. Abe’s doggedness in his pursuit of his agenda, some of the most important of which were of obviously low priority for the Japanese public.

But she nailed it almost perfectly on Mr. Abe’s health issues, and did quite well on his odd mixture of boyish features superimposed on the complexion of an old man. I don’t think that the media paid any attention to potential health problems at the time. As a bonus, she delivered the Delphi Oracle for a Change, a TV drama that aired 20 months later, with Kimutaku in the leading role as a most unlikely Prime Minister-hero.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

MAFF Minister Oota: First, His Mouth, Now His Books

I haven’t had the time or energy to do a real think piece recently. I’ll satisfy my bloglust with a brief thing piece instead.
I’ve had an eye on Seiichi Oota, the new Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as the owner of a pair of loquacious but loose lips who could help bring down the Fukuda administration and possibly the LDP-Komeito coalition. It appears that I had underestimated his destructive powers.

One of MAFF Minister Oota’s political support groups, the Oota Seiichi Daigishi wo Sodateru Kai (Association to Raise Diet Member Seiichi Oota), registered the Tokyo home address of Mr. Oota’s political secretary as its address and filed 23.45 million yen in costs there during 2005-2006, all this under the Political Finance Regulation Act, which is the other side of the coin of the Political Parties Subsidies Act, under which political parties receive government money, roughly based on the number of Diet seat they have, in exchange for meeting certain criteria. The Japan Communist Party is the only party that has refused to accept subsidies. It turned out that Oota Seiichi Daigishi wo Sodateru Kai never actually pay the rent.

This is particularly haunting to a MAFF Minister because similar infractions ended up with two of his recent predecessors, Toshikatsu Matsuoka (26 September 2006-28 May 2007) and Norihiko Akagi (1 June 2007-1 August 2007), losing their jobs and, in the case of Mr. Matsuoka, life—to be fair, it is likely that the threat of bribery charges being brought against Mr. Matsuoka in a separate case was the main factor in his suicide. These and other similar incidents, a non-partisan epidemic actually, were a major contributory factor in the ruling coalition’s landslide defeat in the 2007 July Upper House election and the subsequent demise of the Abe administration.*

You would think that the LDP would have hired a team of competent CPAs to supervise an examination of the books of all its political organizations subject to reporting requirements and cleansed them of all infractions in one fell swoop. Or the Fukuda Cabinet could have at least undertaken a physical check of all the Cabinet Minister candidates. But they obviously did neither.

Mr. Oota may be an answer to the DPJ’s prayers, but the LDP has served him on a platter.

* This also was the main reason why Masatoshi ended assuming MAFF Minister duties three times—of which once pro tem—in a little over three months, between 28 May and 4 September 2007.

Friday, August 22, 2008

DPJ Squelches Dissent, Ozawa to Run Unopposed

It’s almost official; next month, Ichiro Ozawa will be reelected unopposed to a second term as DPJ President. Yoshihiko Noda, despite egging on from Mr. Ozawa’s arch-nemesis Yukio Edano, became the latest and probably the last to give up when he was unable to muster his own 20-strong Kaseikai (Let All the Flowers Bloom Association) faction in support for his candidacy. I had argued before that it would be a public relations disaster for the DPJ and Mr. Ozawa if they went on to wage an open election. The current party mainstream obviously had the same idea and put enormous pressure not only on Mr. Noda’s group—among other things, it apparently threatened to withdraw electoral support from members of his group currently out of office—but also Seiji Maehara and his people. Here are a few thoughts that I hope will be of use in looking ahead:

1. The lead-up to the eventual non-election exposed yet again the deep chasm between the old-school, center-left coalition mainstream and the new-school, fiscal/national-security conservative opposition. But what we saw will be nothing compared to the fight that will break out if the DPJ is unable to form a government after the Lower House election, leading to Mr. Ozawa’s resignation. In that case, the ability to regroup around a compromise figure—generational and ideological tweener and ex-leader Katsuya Okada, who has been careful to qualify his support for Mr. Ozawa?—will be crucial to its survival. And victory is still far from a sure thing, since Komeito is unlikely to desert the LDP.

2. In setting the legislative schedule, the LDP has been relatively accommodating with regard to the twists and turns that the DPJ has been going through. This did not begin with the upcoming session either. In the wake of the devastating rebuke at the hands of the electorate in the 2007 Upper House election, the LDP has sought to project a conciliatory profile for public consumption. Mr. Ozawa has exploited this to the DPJ’s advantage, wrong-footing the LDP on several occasions including most famously the temporary expiration of the gasoline tax surcharge at the end of FY2007. One side effect of his idiosyncratic, highly-centralized form of decision making is that is that Kenji Yamaoka, Ozawa confidante in charge of Diet affairs for the DPJ—think, House Whip—has often been caught in the lurch, most recently in his failure to anticipate and transmit Mr. Ozawa’s wishes to have the crucial opening weeks of the Diet session avoid overlapping with the now all-but-aborted aborted DPJ election. There’s nothing wrong with this for the DPJ’s electoral fortunes as long as Mr. Ozawa has the majority of both the public and the DPJ Diet members behind him. But losing intraparty control by way of institutional acquiescencethe acquiescence leading to loss of intraparty control on its leader means that a miscalculation on his part could lead to a public relations disaster, or worse. Such incidents, repeated, could be fatal to the opposition’s hopes. Remember, poll numbers for Prime Minister Fukuda and the LDP may be awful, but Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ have yet to win the public’s trust.

3. All that aside, I am impressed by the powerful full-court press that the DPJ leadership has put on Mr. Ozawa’s potentialspotential rivals and their supporters. Open dissent, or even careless speculation unchecked, can only make the leader and leadership look weak and vacillating, as the Fukuda administration has amply demonstrated. We shall see in the coming months if, as we say here in Japan, “the rain has caused the ground to firm up” for the DPJ.

My Personal Take on Sokagakkai

If I rot in hell, I’ll blame Michael Reimer and Mark Oppenheimer, who inspired this post.
I came into personal contact with Sokagakkai in the early 60s, when it was still an aggressively proselytizing sectlaic organization linked to a prominent Nichirenshu temple*. As such, it promised to heal diseases, repair marriages, revive failing businesses, etc., etc., and chronicled success stories in its official newspaper Seikyo Shinbun. In other words, Daisaku Ikeda was no worse than any American televangelist or mail-order-DVD motivational speaker or, to be honest, any religious entrepreneur of note that I am aware of except Gautama Siddhartha and to a lesser extent Jesus Christ. But Sokagakkai did compete directly with powerful and traditional, mostly heirloom, Buddhist sects** such as Jodoshinshu, which, together with the Shinto shrines, dispensed their own versions of worldly benefaction in exchange for professions of faith as evidenced by offerings of monies and other means of corporeal sustenance. Needless to say, persecution is the fate of all such challengers to the status quo; Jesus was crucified, Mohammed was kicked out of Mecca, Marx died a penurious death in London…

Sokagakkai however has followed the route taken by most if maybe not all successful religions and matured; it has lost its aggressiveness and now, if the absence of its missionaries in my neighborhood is any indication, relies mainly on the offspring of existing disciples to maintain and grow its membership. Thus, it joins the ever-expanding number of heterodoxies, heresies and paganisms that make their way out of the minor league, so to speak, to prosper and enable their leaders to hobnob with kings, presidents, prime ministers and other holders of temporal power.

Speaking of which, isn’t it amazing how Daisaku Ikeda manages to cop photo ops with every university rector, Nobel Prize winner and other prominent members of civil society in emerging-market and developing economies on this planet, yet never appears with any Japanese notables? Does he have Nippon cooties or what? Who is to blame? Sokagakkai, or Japan? Just sayin’.

* The cleric and the laic long harbored an uneasy relationship here that in 1991 ended up with the temple excommunicating Sokagakkai.

** Religious assignments appear to be as hereditary as Diet membership.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

This Chinese Protest against Overseas Media Accounts of the “Underage” Gymnast Rings False—in a Most Truthful Way

According to China blogger John Kennedy, “[f]amous Chinese sports writer and Bullog blogger Wang Xiaoshan has posted a dramatically-titled piece, ‘Fake news kills', in which he tries his best to knock down the various official Chinese sources being used to substantiate He [Kexing]'s underage claim, and makes an earnest (?) plea to overseas media to consider the harm done to those stuck in the crosshairs.”

The question mark is worth at least a hundred words, since Mr. Wang’s piece doesn’t really make sense, at least not as an attempt to refute the sources being cited in US media accounts on doubts about the eligibility of the Chinese gymnast. Mr. Wang. It does not produce any evidence to refute the Chinese media reports and All it does is claim that a) the Chinese media lie and b) He Kexing denied that she was underage. Then, near the end of the article, Mr. Wang suddenly introduces a totally unconnected anecdote about rampant cheating in China’s version of national college aptitude exams.

The true effect of Mr. Wang’s article, then, is an indictment of the rampant corruption in government (the education officialdom). I suspect that his indictment—probably true—of a civil society institution (the Chinese media) and his plea—a transparently ineffective one—towards the foreign media are ruses aimed at diverting the attention of official censors. Such camouflage is common in authoritarian regimes. I first noticed this in pre-1945 Japanese poetry. The Chinese intelligentsia of course has been practicing the art for thousands of years.

Incidentally, I am now waiting for a certain gentleman to claim in a certain public forum that the foreign media have no idea what’s really going on here since they don’t know the Chinese language like he does and that this is no worse than what Japan is doing anyway. What are the odds on that happening do you—yes, I’m talking to you—think?

The Meaning of Komeito as a Coalition Partner

Working out the first draft of a paper on the Fukuda administration has drained off most of my immediate thoughts on Japanese politics. But there’s something that I promised on this blog before I agreed to work on the write-for-hire piece that I only briefly touched on there: the pivotal role of Komeito in the lead-up to the Lower House general election. Moreover, there’s some guesswork that I wasn’t confident enough to include in the piece.

This is hopefully the first in several memos—in this case a brief introduction to the electoral significance of the LDP-Komeito coalition. If people find it informative, I may also keep building it towards an election primer, mainly for the upcoming Lower House.

Of all the help that the LDP has enjoyed over the years from non-traditional religious organizations, the support from Sokagakkai, a laic offshoot of the Nichiren sect , through its political arm Komeito has been by far the most important. In fact, without the bi-party coalition, now in its tenth year, the LDP would not have been able to remain in power over the past decade.

The help from Komeito goes beyond the obvious voting power of its Diet members and extends to the electoral process itself. Take the Lower House general election, where all 480 seats are contested, 300 of them in single-seat districts and 180 in 11 multiple-seat, regional proportional-representation districts. Komeito delivers the well-disciplined Sokagakkai membership as a voting bloc to the LDP candidate in most (but not all; see below) single-seat districts. Nobody can be sure how much many votes this is actually worth to the LDP—not even Komeito itself gets all the available Sokagakkai votes—but my guess is that it offers, say, a 4% liftt*, likely more in a highly urban district and less in a rural one. This is a significant leg up for the LDP in an increasingly evenly-matched battle against the DPJ.

Komeito of course also benefits electorally from the relationship, for electoral reciprocity is at the heart of the coalition. 8 of Komeito’s 31 Lower House members hold single-seat districts. Although all 8 hail from urban Kanto and Kansai, the traditional Sokagakkai strongholds**, it is obvious that none of them would have been elected unless the LDP had not only declined to field its own candidates against them but also given them the support of their local electoral machines. In certain proportional-representation districts, the LDP also hives off some wards and cedes their supporters there to vote for the Komeito candidate, thereby maximizing the combined electoral value of their supporters. Some of Komeito’s 23 proportional members surely owe their electoral success to this support.

It goes without saying then why am I going to say it? that the coalition also functions in the Upper House general election. 146 of the 242 seats are contested in prefecture-wide elections. (The remaining 96 are contested in a nationwide proportional election.) Sokagakkai throws its support behind the LDP candidates in the single-seat and the smaller multi-seat districts where the Komeito does not field a candidate. The LDP reciprocates by hiving off LDP supporters in selected wards in some larger districts to vote for the Komeito candidate. That way, the two parties maximize the value of the joint electoral power in the Upper House.

This is an intricate arrangement that has been dutifully worked out at the national, prefectural and municipal levels. Any change requires a painstaking, sometimes painful recalibration of the interests and egos of incumbents, aspirants, and their supporters. A switch in coalition partners to the DPJ would result in a dislocation of massive proportions for both parties. This alone ensures that the LDP and Komeito are stuck with each other for the upcoming Lower House election at least.

Looking further into the near future, it is notable that the DPJ is more reliant on independent voters; the support for the LDP is more solid and therefore more dependable. Thus, other things being equal, the LDP brings more benefits to its coalition partner in the short-term.

Finally, I have taken care to distinguish Komeito and Sokagakkai in my explanation. The relationship between the two will be an important element of my next post on the Komeito.

* I may have to alter his number after I look up past voting results, but I think that this is a good ballpark figure.

** The influence of traditional Buddhist sects appear to be stronger among the more conservative, less mobile population in the provinces.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Indian Ocean—Where Hawk and Dove Pass Each Other in the Night

The headline from the 17 August Asahi says it all:
“Extend Refueling” Even If Revote Override Must Be Used, Emphasizes Mr. Yamazaki of the LDP

The Ruling coalition is getting the jitters over the re-extension of the law authorizing counterterrorist refueling operations by the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Indian Ocean. Pushing the bill through the Lower House is easy, if still time-consuming, but the bill will stall in the Upper House, where the opposition jointly holds a majority will refuse to vote on it. That means that the ruling coalition will have to cool its heels there for an extra sixty days before it can use it Lower House supermajority to enact the extension. That means a long extraordinary Diet session—including an inevitable extension—in the 90-day neighborhood. The Komeito has only reluctantly supported the refueling operations. More importantly, for reasons that I’ll try to explain as part of a bigger Komeito story, it desperately wants to avoid a long Diet. Since the refueling operations are not popular with a majority/plurality of the electorate in the first place, some LDP figures have not been shying away from looking at alternatives that may meet the approval of the DPJ and thus may be able to avoid a Lower House override. So it is surprising to see notable dove Taku Yakamazaki—favorite target of tabloid allegations of sucking up to North Korea and China—standing firm behind the bill. Not so Taro Aso, Secretary-General of the LDP and war-mongering scourge to casual liberal observers of the West, who was spotted thinking out loud in a widely reported comment from a 5 August press briefing:
“If refueling can’t (be allowed) under any circumstances, we have to think something else, such as escorting Japanese transport ships.”

Never mind the international scorn that would befall Japan if JMSDF patrol boats putt-putt by escorting Japanese tankers and cargo ships while all the other participating naval forces are performing non-discriminatory areal operations; it is highly unlikely in the first place that JMSDF forces that can be spared from their normal national security operations would be able to cover anything more than a small fraction of the Japanese ships traversing the Indian Ocean. It would be both symbolically embarrassing and embarrassingly symbolic. Having said that, Mr. Aso’s idea is understandable as partly outreach to Komeito, partly a reflection of a genuine rapport with the junior coalition partner. But it is also a measure of the surprisingly eclectic approach that Mr. Aso takes with regard to hot-button issues on the supposed dove/hawk divide.

In case you’re wondering, I still think that the LDP will be able to coax Komeito into supporting a supermajority revote. But I have little more than my hunch to back me up on this, and few ideas on how the issue will unfold.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Michael Phelps’ Feat Exposes Structural Flaw in Composition of Olympic ™ Events

I don’t understand the attention given to Michael Phelps’s eight gold medals. The feat only highlights a serious flaw in the composition of speed swimming events in the Olympics ™, the fact that the crawl and butterfly (as well as the backstroke) are so dominated by a single factor—namely the idiosyncratic hydrodynamic characteristics of the individual human body—that one athlete close to the human ideal in that one aspect can dominate across all the disciplines in all their distances. It’s like rewarding superior twitch-muscle endowment among competitive runners by having gold medal competitions for 100, 120, 140, 160, 180 and 200 meters.

My guess is that it all began in the early days of the modern Olympics ™, when they had to find a way to balance the number of track and field medal on one hand and that for natatory events on the other.

Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?

Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America? Of course not. What a silly headline. Far less than 2 million people watch The Daily Show every night; Rush Limbaugh is a little shy with his TV viewership, but he has a gigantic radio audience that exceeds that by a factor of ten, and you can bet that most of them believe every word that he utters. Just because you want something to be true doesn’t make it so.

Takeshima, Takeshima, Takeshima...

Since this is a working Sunday (I’ve been editing a press release for an art exhibition while doing some not inconsequential cooking), I haven’t had the time to do the reading, viewing and walking around that more often than not results in a post. I did spend some time responding to a new comment on a three-week old post. I hope that you find the exchange as amusing as I did, on one rainy day in Tokyo.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

TIME Out of Order on Japan’s New Groove

A friend sent me this TIME article. I was seriously tempted to blog it but it is so bad in so many ways that I don’t think that I can critique it to my satisfaction in less than 5,000 words. I’m not going to do that unless I get paid for it.

I’ll give you just one example. Straight off the bat, the report gives a plug for an up-and-coming designer and his ninja-inspired jacket as evidence of a new-found pride for Japanese traditions. Does the correspondent realize that she has just thrown out the half-century history of world-class Japanese fashion designers heavy on Japanese aesthetics and imagery—from Hanae Mori to Issei Miyake to Kansai Yamamoto to… you get the picture—just to highlight someone who is pitching a jacket that channels that American favorite the ninja? If that is unintentional, it only serves to make the story much worse than the infamous wearable vending machine report, best chronicled here*.

Also, “a sleek hooded jacket that zips up to show only the eyes”? Sounds more like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but maybe that’s just me.

Let's just say that the report doesn't exactly go uphill from here either.

* In fact, this article is great material for a full Néojaponisme deconstruction.

ADD: Uh-oh, it's causing brain damage on the Shisaku blog.

Friday, August 15, 2008

BBC Gets It Wrong on Yasukuni? So What’s New ?

Yasuo Fukuda expressed his "deep regret" over the war, and renewed his country's commitment to peace.

But he did not stop three ministers paying their respects at the Yasukuni shrine to those who died fighting for Japan, including war criminals. sez BBC

So? What's the point?
Previous prime ministers have stirred regional tensions by visiting Yasukuni.

Repeated visits by Junichiro Koizumi caused anger in South Korea and China, where there remains a widely-held conviction that Tokyo has not atoned properly for its war-time crimes.

Mr Koizumi's successor, Shinzo Abe, also paid respects at the shrine, though not while in office.

So? Name the others. Even you admit that Mr. Abe was not a Prime Minister at the time. You didn’t even bother to find out, did you? I’ll give you a name. Yasuhiro Nakasone. I dare you to find another one that “stirred regional tensions.” I can’t, since I don’t have assistants to look out for me.
There, bitterness at Japan's perceived reluctance to assume responsibility for its war-time wrongdoing lies behind several thorny bilateral issues, such as the current dispute over a pair of islets which lie between the two countries.

Let me tell you something. The only way we can put that South Korean fury to rest is if Japan relinquishes all claims to Takeshima, forfeiting its right to resort to seeking legal recourse at the Hague. To South Korea, Japan’s pursuit of legal remedies is a manifestation of its “reluctance to assume responsibility for its wrongdoing”—not limited to “wartime”.
Mr Fukuda has worked to try to resolve the tensions with Japan's neighbours that marked Mr Koizumi's 2001-06 period in office.

Again, an editorial decision to ignore Mr. Abe’s role in the Japan-China (and South Korea) political rapprochement. The willful ignorance repeatedly displayed by Western journalists continues to take way my breath.

New Deal on Abduction Issue: The Japanese Version and Other Things

This is the summer holiday season, when the regular Tuesday Cabinet sessions and the subsequent press briefings customarily held by attending Cabinet ministers are canceled*, so it may be just an accident that the August 12 bilateral deal on a new North Korean survey on the abduction issue that would lead to the lifting of some Japanese sanctions passed unacknowledged (as far as I am aware; I stand ready to be corrected) by the Prime Minister, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Foreign Minister, and the newly-minted Minister of State for (among other things) the Abduction Issue Kyoko Nakayama. Indeed the only official sign of recognition of the event to date has been a perfunctory document on the MOFA website entitled Outline of the Japan-North Korea Working-level Consultations held on August 11-12.

Still, this silence on the part of the political leadership is odd given the extraordinary revelations in the MOFA document. Let me translate for you the actions to be taken by the North Korean side:
(1) The survey to be conducted by North Korea shall be an across-the-board survey regarding abduction victims whose objective is to take substantive action directed towards the resolution of the abduction issue, in other words to find survivors and have them return to Japan.

(2) The subject of the survey includes victims recognized by the government and other missing people, etc. who have been put forward; in other words, all abduction victims shall be included.

(3) The survey shall be conducted with alacrity by a North Korean survey committee, and as far as possible shall be completed in autumn.

(4) The North Korean side shall inform the Japanese side as required and consult. If survivors are found in the process of the survey, the Japanese side shall be notified and the procedures after that shall be consulted with the Japanese side and agreed.

(5) The North Korean side shall cooperate so that the Japanese side can directly confirm the results of the survey through such means as face-to-face interviews of relevant people, joint possession of relevant documents, and visits to relevant sites.

(6) Consultations shall be continued on other matters related to the survey.**

In other words, the North Korean side is going to conduct a survey “to find survivors”, whose existence it has steadfastly refused to recognize “and have them return to Japan”. Moreover, the subject of the survey includes not only the ones that the North Korean side admits to have abducted but “all abduction victims” including “victims recognized by the [Japanese, one presumes] government and other missing people, etc.”, yet another seemingly extraordinary concession.

In exchange for this, the Japanese side:
Is prepared to implement the 1) lifting of restrictions on movement of personnel and 2) lifting of restrictions on charter flights [between Japan and North Korea] at the same time that the North Korean side begins said survey.***

The “agreement” left the return of the Yodogo airliner highjackers and permission of North Korean flagships to berth at Japanese ports to load humanitarian goods—agreed to in the June Working-Level Consultations****—to future consultations.

Given the eye-opening nature of the new North Korean survey and the immediate parallel lifting of some Japanese sanctions on this most high-profile of foreign policy (and national security) issues, it is odd at first sight that the matter is being downplayed to such an extent. But first sights can be deceiving, and this one is no exception. Let me explain.

First of all, there is no signed agreement, joint statement or anything else that records a common understanding that either side can refer to in the event of a disagreement. Indeed, since North Korea has not issued any sort of public record or statement of its own, we only have MOFA’s word that there really is an agreement, let alone its contents. North Korea may decide at any time to deny any part of MOFA’s version of the “agreement” when it suits their purposes, and will do so without hesitation if past behavior is any indication.

Second, the meeting was scheduled at the behest of the North Korean side, no doubt to have it begin on the date of the “initial window opening” for taking North Korea off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Growing domestic dissatisfaction and the exigencies of John McCain’s presidential campaign with regard to the substance of the deal and subsequent foot-dragging by North Korea led the Bush administration to let August 11 pass without action on delisting. North Korea does not look likely to be satisfactorily forthcoming on the plutonium cache, the uranium enrichment program or proliferation activities any time soon.

Third, North Korea has always played Japan and the United States (and South Korea for that matter) off against each other. When one relationship sours, North Korea attempts to coax out tactical gains from the other. Remember that Prime Minister Koizumi’s November 2002 visit to North Korea (and not Shinzo Abe’s hard-line position) elicited Kim Jong Il’s extraordinary admission and the return of five abductees (and ultimately their families) during the nadir of North Korea’s relationship with the Bush administration. Note also that North Korea’s relations with South Korea, already on the rocks after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak took office in February, has soured dramatically since its clumsy efforts to put the shooting of a South Korean tourist behind backfired.

Take these three points as a whole and North Korea’s intent and the motives thereof become clear. Seeing little prospect for improvements on the US and South Korean fronts in the near future, it decided to help the Japanese authorities release themselves from between a rock (Japanese public sentiment) and a hard place (the near-impossibility of substantive progress on the fate of the other abductees) by going easy on the August 11-12 Working-level Consultations and not disputing the Japanese MOFA version of the events that transpired. It is highly likely that the North Korean side will begin the survey and cash in on its immediate profits. As long as there are no substantial improvements on the US or South Korean fronts, it will try to extend the survey indefinitely—until such time as the situation improves sufficiently to allow it to end or (merely) suspend the survey, claiming completion or Japanese malfeasance.

Not only skeptics but also the families of the abductees well understand, if not the entire illusory background, the tenuous nature of the “agreement”, and are accordingly in no mood to embrace it wholeheartedly—all the more reason for political leaders to downplay the event and distance themselves from it*****.

* The regular Friday Cabinet sessions are held year-round.

** The Japanese originals of the six points are reproduced below. Incidentally, as official documents go, it is poorly drafted. That is what happens when an ambassador is obliged to work into the wee hours of the night, then produce a document for public consumption.

*** Original:
北朝鮮側が、今後、上記2.の調査を開始することと同時に、日本側も、1)人的往来の規制解除及び 2)航空チャーター便の規制解除を実施する用意がある旨表明した。なお、双方が措置をとる具体的タイミングについては、今後、日朝間で調整していくこととなった。

**** Here, the two parties are identified as “our side (我が方)” and “the other side (先方)”, thus accentuating the purely unilateral nature of the document. The August document reflects an awareness of this point, calling them the “Japanese side (日本側)” and “North Korean side (北朝鮮側)”.

***** It is telling that Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Socialist Party, is the only party leader anywhere to speak up—in favor in her case—of the understanding. Watch next week’s Japanese tabloids descend on her in a reminder of the Socialist blunder born of supreme indifference that reportedly led to the execution of one of the abductees.

A Few Links on the Russo-Georgia War Georgia-Russia Conflict

For those of you who have a casual interest in the Georgia-Russia conflict, here are a couple of links courtesy of Alex the expert that express what I have been saying here with incomparably greater expertise and eloquence: The Belgravia Dispatch (see August 9 and 11 posts, so far) the blog and Fred Kaplan* writing for Slate.

For the sake of cosmic balance, here’s a salvo from the opposite direction by Zbignew Brzezinski, an Obama supporter who has far more gravitas and overall mainstream credibility than your run-of-the-mill neocon. Never having relinquished his deep suspicion of Russia even during the balmiest of the post-Cold War years, he does not even mention NATO, let alone question the decision to expand it up to Russia’s borders and leaving her out in the cold. If pressed, he might argue that it doesn’t matter how we got here, we’re stuck with the Russian threat so let’s deal with it. Which segues into my next point.

The most notable development of late has been the Bush administration’s commitment of troops to Georgia. It does up the ante for any possible Russian ambitions beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Let's hope that the Bush administration uses this improvement in its strategic position to ease tension and ultimately negotiate down NATO expansion and not to see it as just one step in tightening the screws on Russia. The Bush administration's tendency to negotiate only from a position of deteriorating strength suggests that the latter will be the case, which will only help President Saakashvili sustain his fantasies. I hope that I'm wrong.

* A fund manager, a conservative, in Japan stopped writing to me when I defended one of his articles. But that was during the early years of the ongoing war in Iraq.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Georgia on My Mind. Again

Russia Today’s report appears to be the closest to authoritative rendition of the “six-point peace plan” that President Sarkozy and President Medvedev offered to President Saakashvili. To quote:
At a meeting in Moscow, the Russian and French presidents called for the sides to sign up to the following principles:

1) Non-use of force.
2) Stop all military action.
3) Free access to humanitarian aid.
4) Georgian troops return to their previous positions before the conflict.
5) Russian troops return to the lines they held before the start of the military operation. Before an international solution is worked out Russian peacekeepers are taking up an additional security role.
6) The start of an international discussion over the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

According to BBC, the following is the deal that President Saakashvili accepted, six hours later:
1) No more use of force
2) Stop all military actions for good
3) Free access to humanitarian aid
4) Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
5) Russian troops return to pre-conflict positions
6) International talks about future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia… This was later dropped from the BBC online report.

Note the difference between the two versions in the wording for points 4) and 5) (assuming that it is not merely the result of using different translators). The initial version appears to allow both sides to maintain positions taken up in the pre-conflict build-up but allows Russia to take up further positions in the name of an “additional security role”. The final agreement requires Georgia to give up any positions taken up in the pre-conflict build-up but allows Russia to maintain positions taken up in the pre-conflict build-up. Both versions confirm the Russia victory in the war, and the practical on-the-ground consequences may be more or less the same, though both sides will be haggling (and perhaps sometimes even shooting at each other) over individual situations. However, the wording of the final agreement does reduce the level of ambiguity exploitable by the Russian side. That must have been portrayed as a concession by Mr. Sarkozy in bringing Mr. Saakashvili around.

I am somewhat surprised that Russia agreed to drop point 6). From the Russian point of view, an “international discussion over the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazi” would have been a delightfully ironic counterpart to the UN-Sponsored talks over the future status of Kosovo. And everyone knows how that ended up. And where everybody was as the talks unfolded. The Russians must have wanted to issue a reminder so that no one would forget and that everyone would act accordingly. That would not have meant that Russia would be annexing the two territories any time soon. In fact, it would have been yet another piece of circumstantial evidence that it would not press such claims. Russian authorities must be confident that it has made its point, so that at least a breakaway, or two, is always looming, in case Georgia does not behave itself. And that the West makes sure that he does so.

Media reports tell us that many Georgians are talking up the brokered ceasefire agreement as a victory. Incredible, but I guess they need something to salvage their self-esteem with, and the Georgian authorities are not going to discourage such talk. To be fair, we’ve seen much, much worse in WW-II Japan; in fact, so bad that Daihonei Happyo, or Supreme Headquarters Announcement, passed into the post-WW II lexicon as the favored term to express disbelief at self-serving, blatantly untruthful statements. In any case, President Saakashvili is between a rock and a hard place. To escape blame for his disastrous decision-making, he must keep faulting Russia for the outbreak of hostilities and not be seen “caving” to Russia; yet to salvage what he can for Georgia out of the mess, he must make peace with the Russian leadership. He can’t blame the United States for not coming to the rescue either, because at the end of the day there’s no one else to turn to.

Has the fact that Russia has given South Ossetians Russian passports struck you as odd? I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t a big deal until just a couple of days ago. It may seem quite natural to Europeans, but in case anyone else is also wondering, here’s a hint: North Ossetia. Need another? Chris Kaman.

Georgia Falls Victim to Pipeline Politics? Not in the BBC Report

I’ve written before about how BBC copy editors like to slap on headlines that at best misrepresent the content of the articles, presumably to push preferred narratives. Georgia Falls Victim to Pipeline Politics is another one of those. That Georgia is a victim, there is no denying. And “pipeline politics” is one of the culprits. After all, not even President Saakashivili would have believed that the West would have his back in the event of a showdown with Russia if the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline and other projects to allow oil and gas from Central Asia to bypass Russian territory hadn’t existed and Western leaders hadn’t talked him up because of them. But this report has nothing about all that. It’s a (perfectly good) story about the projects and ideas and how they are likely to be affected negatively by the Russia-Georgia conflict. The victim in the article as written is pipeline politics, if anyone.

What AP Wire on $910 Bunch of Grapes Missed

AP by way of CNN reports that a “new variety of premium grapes debuted in Japan on Monday, with a single bunch fetching as much as ¥100,000 ($910).” According to the report, a “Japanese hotel manager paid that amount, or about ¥2,860 ($26) per grape, for a 1 1/2 pound (700-gram) bunch of the Ruby Roman grapes to serve guests at an upscale hotel”. At that point, the reason for the acquisition should be clear. But AP mostly misses it, as the following quotes make clear:

Japanese are often willing to pay top prices for high-end fruits, especially for the prestige of owning the very first ones of the year.

"It could be a congratulatory price for its debut," Kato said of Monday's auction in Ishikawa. "Tokyo's largest fruit market is very competitive."

True, we Japanese love hatsumono, “the very first ones of the year.” For example, in July, the first fresh Pacific sauries hit the supermarkets at a little under 500 yen per fish. I assume that there are people who have tired of the defrosted variety (going for upwards of 100, 150 yen per) and can’t wait to snatch them up—why else would supermarkets stock up on them—although a saury can sometimes be had for as little as 50 yen deep into the autumn months. But those are small change. The priciest purchases are corporate decisions, as the ultimate destination of the $910 grapes indicates. It’s advertisement, media exposure on the cheap.

Actually, this is by far from an exclusively Japanese phenomenon. For example, the annual wool auction in Australia always brings reports of the most expensive batch of wool purchased that year. I’m sure that something similar happens every year, everywhere, that auctions are held.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Russian Counterattack Ends as Quickly as Georgian Assault Began

The Russian counterattack is over (we hope), as quickly as the Georgian assault began. Dutifully fulfilling his role in the Russian good-cop/bad-cop routine (guess which), President Medvedev called a halt to the operations, stating according to BBC:
I’ve decided to finish the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace. The safety of our peacekeeping forces and civilian population has been restored.

The aggressor has been punished, having sustained considerable losses. Its armed forces have been disorganized.

NATO membership is a lot like a nuclear weapons arsenal. It’s a terrific deterrent—once you have it, you’re safe. Ask India. North Korea. So much for your external threats. The difficult part is getting there. The more you want it, the more someone else doesn’t want you to have it. Your opponent will go all in to stop you. That is bad news when he has most of the chips.

You saw it happening in South Ossetia, between Georgia, the nominal sovereign, and Russia, protector of the ethnic Ossetians there. A regional specialist wrote that “[i]t is now important for western leaders to realize that their silence so far has only encouraged Moscow's aggressive behavior, and that they must now stand in solidarity with Georgia – in deeds, not only in words. Whether they do so will determine the future not only of the Caucasus, but also for Europe's security.” Of course they didn’t, which was good for Europe’s security.

So, is there a disturbing moral issue here in Russia’s actions towards Georgia? Of course. But there is also a thought experiment that deserves to be conducted. Namely: What if Georgia had never sought NATO membership? What if the NATO members never encouraged it if it did? After all, many former USSR republics feel perfectly safe without NATO membership. There’s no reason to believe that Georgia should have felt otherwise. NATO and the United States blindly pursued an agenda that they had dreamed up during Russia’s weakest moments, and President Saakashvili had underestimated the huge obstacle that had loomed over Georgia as it crept closer to the fairy cring that encircles NATO members.

What is also notable in all this is that Russia has not once supported independence for the South Ossetia, singly or as a member of the UN Security Council. Over the years it had sent in military forces (in the guise of volunteers and peacekeepers), and even given Russian passports to the Ossetians there. But even the latest counterattack, including the bombing of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, has been described as a means to protect its passport holders and restore the status quo. Nothing President Medvedev said speaks to the contrary. (Although one of Prime Minister Putin’s statements suggest that Georgia is as likely to regain control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia as Japan is to regain sovereignty over the Northern Territories.)

There is nothing remarkable in this. Russia clearly respects the intra-USSR borders that existed before the breakup. It will not do anything to alter them to its momentary favor lest it lend legitimacy to any similar demands from its own ethnic minorities such as the Chechens. But any effort to change them against its favor meets with ferocious, unrelenting opposition. Likewise challenges to its influence over its near-abroad.

Russia is a revisionist, increasingly authoritarian, power. But President Saakashvili is obviously a foolhardy man. And the West did everything it can to encourage what turned out to be his fantasies. I wonder if anybody reminded Mr. Saakashvili of the 1991 uprising by Shiites in Iraq?

I think I’ve made it clear that the implication of all this for Japan is that Russia is not going to relinquish the four islands called the Northern Territories any time soon. Russia did agree in 1956 to return two very small islands out of the four as part of a comprehensive peace agreement and continue talking with Japan on the other two. But that was at most a Cold War ploy to drive a wedge between Japan and the United States. It is still more likely than not that Russia will settle for two if Japan relinquishes all claims to the rest. But it will not budge otherwise. The territorial ramifications for the last remaining 19th century empire are too serious to go any further than that.

Polls Show Reshuffle Bump Almost Gone; Public Wants Action Now

According to a couple of recent polls, the Fuji TV poll (Greater Metropolitan Tokyo, weekly, telephone) and the Yomiuri poll (national, monthly, interview), show that the modest bump from Prime Minister Fukuda’s cabinet-LDP leadership reshuffle is mostly gone but hints that the effect of Taro Aso’s return as party Secretary-General has been more substantial. This may be the first time in LDP history that a party-leadership switch turned out to be the most effective public relations move in the reshuffle. That is bad news for the Prime Minister.

The August 7 Fuji TV poll shows both the Fukuda Cabinet and the LDP (candidates in next Lower House election) dead even with their most recent pre-reshuffles selves in the July 17 poll at 27.2% and 21.4% support respectively. The “do not support” figure for the Fukuda Cabinet went up slightly, from 66.6% to 68.4%. Support for DPJ candidates was down slightly from 29.6% to 28.0%. All this should be within any meaningful margin of error.

The August 9-10 Yomiuri poll has support for the Fukuda Cabinet at 28.3%, up slightly from 26.6% in the July 12-13 poll and the “do not support” figure down slightly to 59.7% from 61.3%. More interesting are the Yomiuri figures for the LDP, whose public support has gone up 3.3 percentage points to 30.5%, while the DPJ stood almost unchanged at 18.7% (down 0.1 pp). Moreover, when the responders were asked which party they intended to vote for in the Lower House proportional districts, the LDP scored 31.3% (up 6pp), putting it ahead of the DPJ, which scored 25.1% (down 2pp), for the first time since May.

Only two week-after polls so far, so I’ll keep my eyes open, but it looks like the LDP is doing better that the Fukuda Cabinet and I can think of only one reason for this: Mr. Aso’s appointment. This must be giving both LDP Diet members and the rank-and-file ideas.

As I’ve told you before, procedurally, it’s not easy to depose a sitting President of the LDP. Besides, Mr. Fukuda is pretty stubborn once he makes his mind up, and he gives the impression of a guy that is determined to stay around for a while at least. However, RS and I have been tossing scenarios—more like plotlines—back and forth, and we (mostly he) came up with the idea that the Prime Minister Fukuda might do the delinking of the gasoline tax money from road development and maintenance—fundamental reform of the tax system, i.e. making the decision to raise the consumption tax rate looks increasingly doomed—and the re-extension of the Indian Ocean refueling operations and toss the scepter of power to the person-in-waiting, who’ll take the LDP-Komeito coalition into the next Lower House election.

This actually follows an oft-scripted Japanese narrative. The tragic hero that fulfills his duty against all odds then falls on his sword—or spills his guts, since this is Japan—is a familiar figure in Japanese folklore and popular drama. The cause he espouses matters only tangentially; the important thing is the self-sacrifice. Then all is forgiven. On a slightly different plane, the LDP rode Prime Minister Ohira’s untimely death during the campaign for the 1980 Upper-House-Lower House double election to an otherwise inexplicable landslide victory. Mr. Fukuda can only die a metaphorical death; not quite the real thing, but it’s better than nothing. For Mr. Fukuda, it beats leading the LDP into a bloodbath, then resigning, and it gives him the satisfaction of becoming a party martyr of sorts.

All this has everything to do with the political game and not much to do with statecraft. For that, we turn again to one of the questions in the Yomiuri poll, which asks:
If there are issues that you want the Fukuda Cabinet to take up on a priority basis, please give as many as you like.

The Yomiuri gave responders 17 examples to choose from. The numbers were down on 15, with the environment taking the biggest hit (22.9%←30.6%; note that the Fukuda Cabinet with the complicity of the media was touting its role in pushing the global warming agenda at the Hokkaido Summit), with North Korea (20.6%←27.5%) and food safety (32.0%←37.9%) also taking a tumble in the electorate’s priorities. Self-defense/national security showed a statistically insignificant 0.3 percentage-point rise (9.2%←8.9%). The only real gainer? “Economic and employment countermeasures”, at 63.2%, up 5.6 percentage points from 57.6%. We want economic stimulus, and more jobs. “Reform of the social security system including pensions and medical care” clocks in at 60.2% down 2.8 percentage points. Nothing else comes close.

The economy has even overtaken all the scandals over the social safety net and its long-term solvency worries in the minds of the Japanese public. This doesn't mean that the LDP can take its eyes off them; they have their own constituencies. But I do believe that most long-term, structural issues will be taking a backseat to more immediate concerns over the economy in the mass media. That is where the main thrust of what passes for statecraft is going to be directed for the time being.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Robert Kagan Believes Russia Wants More than NATO Staying Out of Georgia. Don’t Think So but It’s Too Late to Matter.

Robert Kagan puts his finger on the central issue regarding Russia’s intent regarding Georgia and South Ossetia.
“It is primarily a response to the "color revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia in 2003 and 2004, when pro-Western governments replaced pro-Russian ones. What the West celebrated as a flowering of democracy the autocratic Putin saw as geopolitical and ideological encirclement.

Ever since, Putin has been determined to stop and, if possible, reverse the pro-Western trend on his borders. He seeks not only to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO but also to bring them under Russian control. Beyond that, he seeks to carve out a zone of influence within NATO, with a lesser security status for countries along Russia's strategic flanks. That is the primary motive behind Moscow's opposition to U.S. missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic.”

Mr. Kagan is the geopolitical strategist. But let’s put it this way: Has democracy on Russia’s borders ever been a problem for Mr. Putin? Try this thought experiment: Imagine if Georgia had renounced all desire to join NATO; would any of this have happened? Remember, President Putin still refuses to couch Russian demands in terms of territorial ambitions or support South Ossetian demands for independence, with good reasons. (Although you never know, now that Georgia has bit the bait and then some.)

My take: The United States and Western Europe continued to push a geopolitical agenda to expand NATO that explicitly excluded Russia long after it made any sense. That agenda was concocted when Russia had hit bottom as an independent state. Now, in the short-term, Russia can afford to throw its weight around in the near-abroad. All that the US/EU can do is complain.

NATO membership is like a nuclear weapons arsenal. For a nation with aspirations, the process of getting its hands on the prize is when the security risk crests. President Saakashvili should have known. But the Bush administration led him on by pursuing a geostrategic policy that had outlived its useful life.

Loquacious MAFF Minister Gagging on Chinese Dumplings; MOFA Minister Going to Beijing for Same

The print media are all over Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Seiichi Oota for allegedly dissing consumers on NHK, the national broadcasting company, yesterday. Let me do a full translation of the Asahi online article:

On an NHK program on the 10th, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Oota said with regard to domestic measures for food safety in response to the made-in-China frozen gyoza poisoning incident, “It’s safe in Japan but we will take through measures since consumers, the public, are noisy (やかましい).

MAFF Minister Oota emphasized the difference between Japan and China regarding food safety. He said that “(in Japan,) when the public as consumers say this and that noisily, we must respond to it”, and that “it is different from a country like socialist China, where you can hide undesirable things when they happen and don’t have to think about the consumers.” He further went on to point out that “we are always under pressure (from consumers).”

Regarding the meaning of his statement that [consumers are] “noisy”, AFF Minister oOta explained after appearing on the program, issuing the comment, “I used it in the sense of a democratic country where consumers can uphold their legitimate rights, and meant nothing more than that.”

It’s the use of the word “noisy” that everyone is reacting to—somewhat out of context in my view. As a practical matter, slagging the Chinese the way he did cannot help either—he should have found a more politic way of saying it—but that seems to have been mercifully forgotten in the process. I predicted, sort of, that Mr. Ota would do something like this. Though I think that in this case, the negative response is disproportionately large. So is he still going to Yasukuni after this, with media trailing him? Stay tuned. You only have four days to wait.

Going back to the Chinese dumplings, I still cannot believe that Foreign Minister Komura has suddenly decided to fly to Beijing during the Beijing Olympics and the traditional obon-yasumi just to talk to his Chinese counterpart about the Chinese dumplings case, and only because the public found out that the two sides had been sitting on the case for a whole month until presumably the Olympics would blew over. It’s so embarrassing and demeaning to the office and the Fukuda administration, not to mention a loss of face for the Chinese authorities. Couldn’t they think up a good cover story and have Mr. Komura stay home?

Follow-Up on Gaijin Crime

Yesterday, I wrote a post trying to explain how the Tokyo bid for the 2016 Olympics is making Governor Shintaro Ishihara less emotionally distressful to behold for non-Japanese in Japan and elsewhere. I received several interesting comments, to which I wound up writing in effect two rather long responses. Since this effort took up so much of my time and goes well beyond the scope of the original post, I’ve decided to exercise my prerogative as the blogger and post it separately. That way, I can satisfy my bloglust for the day without thinking up a completely new one. But you'll have to read the comments to the original post to fully understand what I'm talking about. I’m sorry about that. It won’t happen very often.

So here you are:

Darin, Janne, Michael:

The FY2007 Annual Criminal Statistics lists the criminal violations which are included in its statistics. It does not include visa and other immigration law violations. (It also excludes traffic violation-related crimes under the Criminal Code.) According to the FY2007 Annual Criminal Statistics on Crime, which I linked to, 365,577 criminals were apprehended, who committed a total of 605,358 between them in FY2007 (table 5-7). The numbers for gaijin are 7,528 and 25,730 respectively (table 5-17). In other words, gaijin accounted for 2.1% of criminals apprehended and 4.3% of crimes attributable to apprehended criminals. Since the number of gaijin crime has been going down in recent years, the “2-3%” range cited in the article appears to be reasonable. Sorry, I don’t have conviction figures, but I understand that it is in the high 90-percentile range overall, and have no reason to think that it is otherwise for gaijin defendants.

There’s more. The Annual Criminal Statistics notes on page 112 that of the crimes attributable to gaijin criminals, 63.3% were committed by two or more criminals, in contrast to 16.5% for crimes where Japanese criminals were apprehended. This is particularly true in the case of theft, which comprise an astonishing 83% of gaijin crime. In contrast, the overall figures are more or less uniform across the categories of crimes, with slight variations. It is interesting that the respective percentages for violent crimes excluding forcible burglary are very similar. The Annual Criminal Statistics does not give statistical figures for crimes committed jointly by Japanese and gaijin, but it is nevertheless clear from this and the figures in the previous paragraph that statistically speaking gaijin are not only twice as more prone to being apprehended for crimes but to do so in groups (or at least pairs) to commit crimes for economic gain. This indicates a higher level of professionalism among gaijin criminals than the criminal population in general. Given the relative ease for gaijin criminals to slip in and out of the country—the example of South Korean pickpocket groups come to mind—there was some justification beyond the public clamor over highly-celebrated cases to focus on this specific category from time to time as one of maybe a dozen issues in drafting a White Paper on Crime.

The lower rates cited by Janne are likely the result of taking the overall number of crimes reported—1,908,836—as the denominator. Since it is reasonable to assume that a proportionate number of those crimes to gaijin criminals (unless one assumes that gaijin criminals are stupider than Japanese criminals and are thus more prone to be apprehended), such lower rates are meaningless. But yes, age and gender also matter too. That was what I was referring to when I wrote of the demographics.

The gaijin numbers have not been inflated by the disproportionate representation (if Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld, for example, is to be believed) of permanent-resident Koreans among yakuza members. Permanent residents as well as the U.S. military and related personnel have been excluded from the Annual Criminal Statistics statistics as far as gaijin crimes are concerned. Note though that any yakuza-zainichi relationship has nothing to do with any criminal tendencies among the zainichi, and everything to do with the fact, which I believe that I’ve noted elsewhere, that the yakuza industry was one of the few categories of Japanese businesses that were equal-opportunity employers throughout the post-WW II years.

Finally, I don’t think that Governor Ishihara was talking about all this for electoral purposes. In any case, you won’t hear him talking about it while the Tokyo bid for the 2016 Olympics is alive. He may be ornery, but he ain’t dumb. So root for Tokyo, hear?

I hope that I’ve covered all your points, Darin, Janne, Michael.

Now it’s your turn, anonymous. Sorry about that. Your anonymity, that is. You sound reasonably intelligent and are obviously able to read Japanese. Moreover, I've seen views similar to yours expressed elsewhere, so I see no reason for you to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, unless you want to avoid defending your anecdotes with facts.

Let’s take you seriously though and consider what appears to be the main thrust of your arguments, that “racist ‘J cops’ (is that ‘g slang’?)” are the reason for the higher gaijin crime rate. You say:

“Crime stats show gaijin are arrested for violent crime at a rate proportionate to the population, EVEN THOUGH the racist J cops pay extra special attention to us. I assume that if we all looked Japanese, the rate would be significantly lower.”

Let me elaborate your assertion as follows: the crime statistics greatly exaggerate the magnitude of gaijin crime because it includes “resolved cases”, i.e. criminal cases that have been found to lack the necessary conditions to constitute crimes, but excludes the people apprehended with regard to those “resolved cases”. To back up your assertion, you should have referred to the low number of apprehended gaijin relative to the number of apprehended crimes attributed to gaijin in comparison to the overall statistics. This is a plausible argument; but convincing? I think not. As I’ve already pointed out in my response to the first three comments, the vast majority of gaijin crimes appear to have been committed by professional criminal groups seeking economic gain. That, and not handcuff-happy “racist J cops”, accounts for the disproportionately large number of “g crimes” relative to the number of apprehended gaijin.

Your anecdote regarding a friend of a friend is just that: an anecdote regarding a friend of a friend. Disregarding the inevitable ambiguities in hearsay once removed for the moment, I never accept claims from one side of a criminal case as the irrefutable truth. Not only do otherwise upright citizens lie or omit some relevant facts to protect themselves or put themselves in a better light, they also genuinely misremember.

As for the bar fight anecdotes, has anyone bothered to put the stories together in a verifiable manner and plead the case in public? Note though that the gaijin/general-population discrepancy in crimes/criminals ratio does not exist for violent non-economic crime.

Something similar must be said for the atariya anecdotes. Do you know of any comparisons between the overall success rate of the atariya? I can give you accounts of how the police are believed to come down harshly on drivers in general, but pitting anecdotes against anecdotes is meaningless, and will more often than not wind up in putting the antagonists back in their respective echo chambers.

As for hiding inconvenient evidence, I assume that it happens, though how large a problem it is, or whether it is any more serious than it is Stateside (where I assume you come from), I do not know. I say this because there have been documented cases to that effect.

Finally, and this is my personal observation: The police do go by looks. They will react to your manner of speech, your body language, your clothes, and presumably other clues about your past actions or future intent. I’ve noticed this same phenomenon among taxi drivers. I think that the common thread between the two occupations is that the professionals must make split-second decisions regarding people they come into contact with that may have life-or-death implications. I assume that this is the same the world over. Moreover, in the case of policemen, Japanese public opinion comes down harshly on any use of guns. I try to keep these things in mind when I deal with the police. I assure you, it makes my experience in asking for directions that much more pleasant. I know that none of what I’ve written here is likely to serve in any way to induce you to reconsider your preconceptions, but I do think that I owe you this practical tip of sorts as a token of appreciation for your comment.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why Gaijin Crime Has Dropped off Governor Ishihara’s Radar Screen

Have any of you been wondering why we’re hearing so little lately from Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara about gaijin criminals and undesirable sangokujin? Look no further than his trip to Beijing to attend the opening ceremonies.

Yes, it certainly helps that violent crime committed by gaijin has been dropping precipitously from its 2004 peak at 345 to 270 in 2007 (though murders committed by gaijin have remained relatively stable, going from 40 to 41 during that same period*). But where Mr. Ishihara is concerned, I’m sure that his reticence has far more to do with what he hopes will be his last great act as Governor, Tokyo’s candidacy for the 2016 Olympics**.

So my advice to you, MTC if you want some peace and quiet for the next eight years is to pray to your god or whatever moves you for Tokyo to prevail. You don’t want an angry Mr. Ishihara hunting for gaijin scalp.

* Media-wise, the number of murders is less relevant than the number of Japanese victims. Gaijin-on-gaijin crime will not attract much attention unless it is part of a larger pattern involving, say, a turf fight between Iranian drug-dealer groups. This has nothing to do with racism; witness the near-absolute US indifference to Iraqi casualties over the last five years.

** The official website is available in English, Chinese (national Olympic Committees: China, Hong Kong, Singapore) and Korean (…North and South Korea), but not in Arabic (…Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Jordan…), French (…France, Belgium, Senegal, Cote D’Ivoire…) or Spanish (…Spain, Mexico, Argentina…), three other languages that would be widely appreciated. Too late to drop Chinese and Korean, but someone should alert Mr. Ishihara.

Incidentally, I found this old article on gaijin crime while I was searching for data on this issue. To quote:

Over the past two decades, crimes committed by foreigners have never exceeded about 4% of all crime in Japan, and typically the yearly average has been between 2% and 3%. Foreigners currently make up just over 1% of Japan's total population, so they are only slightly over-represented in the figures. Despite this, the police, lawmakers and the media have focused on foreign crime as if it were one of the most serious issues facing Japan. For example, five of the 16 annual Police White Paper policy reports published between 1987 and 2003 took crimes committed by foreigners as their main theme.

Double, triple the overall crime rate? Sounds pretty high to me. Actually, much if not most of it should be explained away by the different demographics. Still, this is sloppy scholarship. More deceptively, yes, Police White Papers during this period did take up gaijin crime several times—as one of a dozen or so topics, not “main theme”, each year.

Intellectual fraud, or honest mistake? I report, you decide.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Open Season on the Beijing Olympics: A Morning-After Quickie

Thomas Boswell sees the choice of “Lopez Lomong, one of the ‘Lost Boys’ of Sudan who is a member of Team Darfur, to carry their colors” as “a far-from-subtle commentary on China's dismal record on human rights at home and abroad.”

Mr. Boswell sympathizes with the US athletes who made the choice, yet closes the article with the reserve and sense of balance that makes him a rarity among sports writers, if not all journalists:

In the months of prelude to these Games, America has, through its protesters, its feisty press and even its choice of flag bearer, presumed to judge China, or at least its government. And with cause, no doubt.

However, now that the Olympic flame has been lit and the smoggy Beijing sky streaked with joyous rockets, perhaps that emphasis can start to shift. As this night's spectacle reminds us, there's 5,000 years of culture here to learn and 1.3 billion people whose vast progress deserves respect.

Okay, maybe the ending is a little weak. But how many sportswriters or food critics can pull this off?

The Japanese media missed the political message on Darfur, but caught the more significant one, this time from the Chinese side, in the surprise choice of Li Ning, the Gold-medalist-turned-entrepreneur (think, Michael Jordan literally owning Nike) to light the Olympic fire at the opening ceremonies. Li Ning is one of 18 million Zhuangs, the largest minority ethnic group among the 1.3 billion Chinese. This reminds me of Jin Yong’s wuxia sagas, where so many of the heroes and their friends have non-Han backgrounds yet fight for China, sometimes against their own kinfolk. The Western media seems to have completely missed this one—so far.

The Japanese delegation sent their own message of Care-Bear love with their choice of Ai Fukuhara, the table tennis player, as flag bearer. Ms. Fukuhara is the overwhelmingly most popular Japanese athlete in China, partly because she is cute as a button, as your grandparents used to say, but also because she played two years in the top pro league in China and speaks Chinese very fluently.

But that’s public diplomacy. The real political exchange came in Prime Minister Fukuda’s meetings with President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Mr. Fukuda brought up the Chinese dumplings with both Chinese leaders, while he reserved the beatings that two Japanese journalists received at the hands of the Chinese security police in Xinjiang at the site of the terrorist attack that killed 16 policemen.

And that’s only the beginning. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen so much political coverage during any of the past Olympics. In today’s morning Yomiuri, there are approximately five full pages on and around the Olympics outside of the sports pages. The opening ceremonies take up a third of the front page featuring a large photo of the Japanese delegation—advertisements and the masthead take up half; the remainder is shared by Mr. Fukuda’s meetings with his Chinese counterparts and the battle between Georgian and Russian forces in South Ossetia. The national team takes up two-thirds of the penultimate page, where the best human interest stories (murders, etc.) usually wind up, ads taking up most of the remainder except for an Olympics-related airliner bomb threat in Japan—and a crappy cartoon. Otherwise, the Yomiuri carries stories that have at least some element of criticism; ethnic minorities (one headline reads “Tibet ‘We Can’t Welcome Olympics’ チベット「五輪歓迎できぬ」 ), political repression (“’Ceremony of Peace under a Dictatorship 独裁下の「平和の祭典」” —yes, that’s the real headline), R-E-S-P-E-C-T (“The Greatest Olympics Diplomacy in History 史上最大の五輪外交”—yes, bigger than… 1936… kidding), Security threats and food contamination (“Special Menus for Both Food and Security 食事も警備も特別メニュー”), authoritarian regime on the run (“Controls Eroding, Hu Regime Fearful ほころぶ統制、恐れる胡政権”), slagging Europe (“‘Gold Medal for Hypocrisy’ 「偽善の金メダル」”—to flip-flopping Sarkozy for going to the opening ceremonies). I could go on, but you get the idea.

I may have more to say later, but only if the Nadeshiko Japan, hanging on by their cleats after barely tying their opening soccer match against unheralded New Zealand, kick Yanqui ass this afternoon.

The men’s soccer team just about bombed out before the opening ceremonies by losing to the U.S. side, so the big story there was Tadanari Lee, a forward who subbed in at 64 minutes and didn't score. His human interest angle? Mr. Lee is a third-generation Korean in Japan who became a Japanese citizen last year to hopefully play on the Japanese national teams. (He hadn’t enjoyed his experience when South Korea called him up for an U-19 training camp.) He professes genuine love for both nations, a story that Shinzo Abe would have loved, had he remained Prime Minister.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Runoff for DPJ Leadership Election? The LDP Wishes

First, it was Katsuya Okada. Now, another ex-DPJ leader, Seiji Maehara, has declined to run for the DPJ presidency when Ichiro Ozawa’s current term expires in September. Since the other ex-leaders Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan have set aside their differences in order to take down the LDP-Komeito coalition in the next Lower House election, this leaves Yoshihiko Noda with his own nineteen-member Let All the Flowers Bloom Association as the only significant DPJ figure left who has not abandoned the thought.

Nobody expects Mr. Ozawa to be unseated. In fact, it is unlikely that anyone outside of Mr. Noda’s group and We Will Rise above the Clouds Association with 38-members (seven of them also belong to LAFBA) will cast a vote for a pretender to the throne. The logic behind a contested election despite such bleak prospects for a challenger* is that a healthy debate over the policy manifest for the upcoming election can only strengthen party unity and the campaign platform. Reelection by acclaim would rob the party of the invigorating effects of the runoff.

Don’t believe a single word of that.

It is telling that the calls for a contested election are coming from Mr. Ozawa’s opponents. An open debate would only serve to rehash the fragile political compromise that has papered over fundamental differences with regard to the need to raise the consumption tax rate for a 100%-subsidized basic pension plan and the desirability of overseas commitments for the Self-Defense Force. Moreover, it is likely to unleash the barely-disguised animosity between the anti-Ozawa crowd—witness, for example, Yukio Edano’s near-perpetual rage against the old-school politician—on one side and his diehard supporters and fellow travelers on the other. The LDP will scour the records of the proceedings for material to throw at the DPJ in a negative campaign come election time. Better, then, to maintain the façade of party unity, at least until the final polls are in for the main event, no later than September 2009.

An added point is that Mr. Ozawa is at best a mediocre debater, in demeanor and substance, and his obvious dislike of the limelight is well-known, to the point where a reporter was recently moved to ask him whether he really intended to serve if the DPJ won. The contrast in a public face-off with, say, the loquacious Mr. Noda would not reflect well on the party leader.

This last point reminds me of a related issue with regard to the Lower House election itself. The secretive, taciturn Mr. Ozawa is a stark contrast in style not only to the goofily pleasant Prime Minister Fukuda, but also to the congenial, loquacious-to-a-fault Taro Aso, and it shows in the polls. The latest Fuji TV Metropolitan Tokyo area poll taken on August 3 showed Mr. Aso leading Mr. Ozawa 29.2% to 12.4% as the preferred successor to Mr. Fukuda. Now this does not mean that the LDP will be replacing Mr. Fukuda with Mr. Aso any time soon. But it is important to note that at the hustings nationwide, it is Mr. Aso who will be the face of the LDP in lieu of the Prime Minister, who will be confined—perhaps a little too conveniently—to Tokyo for official business. The outcome of a Sir Foot-in-Mouth vs. Mr. Uncongeniality matchup is by no means foreordained, but it will nevertheless behoove the DPJ to avoid putting Mr. Ozawa front and center of the electoral fight.

The obvious corollary of this is that the LDP should do its best to make Mr. Ozawa the issue. The LDP cannot run on the coalition’s record; it cannot run on its program either. And it cannot run against itself, as it did in 2005 under Prime Minister Koizumi. The only option left is to run against the opposition, whose greatest strength and weakness is Mr. Ozawa. So look forward to plenty of negative campaigning, much of it personal. But that is the subject for a separate post.

* The DPJ has 219 Diet members, with two vote each. Official Diet candidates who are not Diet members have one each. Supporters and rank-and-file party members cast 100 votes; local assemblymen also have 100 votes. This brings the toal number of votes that can be cast to 638 plus the number of official candidates that have been selected by the time of the party election.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Prime Borrowers Also in Trouble? Did Anyone Warn Us?

I don’t follow the economic scene very closely, so the NYT report on prospects of a second, far larger American wave of home mortgage defaults came out as complete surprise to me, and a disturbing one too. I remember watching the housing boom helping the US economy ride out the aftereffects of 9.11 and arguably put George Bush over the top in 2004. I used to wonder how long capital gains for homeowners could continue to outstrip economic performance. The bet turned out badly for the sub-prime market; now, the horror show is coming to the rest of the home loans market.

Are we in for an even bigger shock to the financial market?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sankei Dumps on… What else?

Sankei slams the Fukuda administration for covering up for the Chinese until the Beijing Olympics are over.

Meanwhile, Asahi does minimum follow-up, and Yomiuri says that the government claims to be hauling ass on the case.

The Difficulties of Staying on Message on the Poisoned Dumplings

Sankei picks up a revealing follow-up story by Kyodo Tsushin entitled Chinese Foreign Ministry Admits Domestic Dumpling Poisoning.

According to the report, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to a written question from Kyodo with the admission that “poisoning cases had occurred in China in the middle of June” and that “the Chinese government takes the case very seriously. The Security Ministry is conducting the investigation with all its power.”

Unfortunately, the message did not reach the domestics. To quote from the same article:

National Directorate-General of Quality Oversight, Inspection and Quarantine, Public Communications Division: We have learned of it for the first time from Japanese media reports. We are confirming the facts.

Hubei Province, Sanitary Agency, Sanitary Oversight Bureau: Any gyoza that had been made with the same wrapping dough were all destroyed.

Everybody of course is protecting his ass. For the Foreign Ministry, it means don’t let anything rain on the Olympics. The domestic Beijing authorities are stalling for time. The local authorities are denying any responsibility. It all makes sense. Me? Remember, this happened more than four months after the breakout in Japan; it’s a great reminder to clean out the stegosaurus filet and coelacanth tofu from the back of my freezer.

Chinese Dumplings Story, on the Eve of the Beijing Olympics... Go Figure

The headline for the Yomiuri scoop, page one top of course, reads: Tianyang Chinese Dumpling: Poisoning in China (天洋餃子 中国で中毒).

A brief reminder:

Tianyang Foods is the Chinese food processing company whose gyoza (Japanese word for chaozu, the Chinese dumplings that resemble overweight raviolis) imported to Japan by JT—motto: It may be detrimental to your health…—turned out to be contaminated with methamidophos, a chemical so deadly that it has never been allowed to be used in Japan as a pesticide, agricultural or otherwise. China itself had banned it since 2007 January 1. This January, 10 people in Japan became ill, one of them falling into a temporary coma, after eating the dumplings. The Chinese authorities were highly defensive, insinuating that the contamination had occurred in Japan. After a flurry of widely reported pronouncements, the matter had subsided—not without wreaking havoc on Chinese exports of agricultural and products and processed food to Japan—until now. My thoughts on the matter at the time remain the same, but this new twist in the events is worth noting for its own sake.

The salient facts:

In early July, just before the Hokkaido G8 Summit, the Chinese authorities had informed Japan through diplomatic routes that some of the dumplings that Tianyang had recalled were later consumed in China, causing symptoms of methamidophos poisoning.

The August 6 hardcopy Yomiuri cites August 5 revelations from 関係筋 (related sources) ”.

The rest of the major dailies follow suit on their websites (and late morning? and evening editions), claiming: Asahiit became known on the 6th through administration sources (6日、政府関係者の話で分かった); Mainichiit became known (わかった); Nikkeiit became known on the 6th (6日、分かった); and Sankeimultiple related sources revealed on the 6th (複数の関係筋が6日、明らかにした).

Asahi, the last one to come online at 11:14AM, is the only one to give a reason for the delay in disclosure. “High government officials (政府高官)” told Asahi that was still under investigation in China. Nikkei files the report from Beijing and later in the article cites “diplomatic sources (外交筋)”.

The Beijing Olympics begin in just two days, on August 8.

Now, some comments:

In a conversation the other day with the proprietor of Shisaku, we agreed that the journalese phrase “it became known on date x (X日にわかった)” is more often than not “we wuz scooped” in journalese.

Of all the scoopees, the usually anti-government Asashi is the only one that bothered to wait for the authorities’ explanation before posting the news.

Did I already mention that the Beijing Olympics begin in just two days?*

* Technically, the games start today, when the female soccer teams play the first games in their group league stage. Go, Nadeshiko! Kick Kiwi ass! Soccer begins before the August 8 opening ceremonies because soccer players need more time than other athletes—except marathon and other long-distance runners—to recover between events, or games.