Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chinese Fishing Boat, Your Coast Guard; Welcome to the Club, ROK

Sorry I haven’t responded to comments on the Senkaku issue, but is this (highly unsuccessful) ramming of a South Korean Coast Guard vessel by a Chinese fishing boat Chinese government subterfuge, a copycat incident, gangster-like behavior by a historically rowdy occupational category, or a symptom of a larger Chinese breakdown in civility, most prominently evidenced in the tens of thousands of violent protests on the mainland?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Case against Coast Guard Officer Not Air-Tight

More bad news for the Kan administration, according to the evening edition of the hardcopy Yomiuri. My translation, plus comments.

Katsuyuki Nishikawa, the Director-General of the Criminal Bureau of the Ministry of Justice testified in the Judiciary Committee of the House of Councilors regarding the leak of the video of the Chinese fishing boat collision*, “We are not treating [the leaked video] as documents or articles of evidence, but since we received it as material for investigation, it will obviously a document related to a trial as prescribed in (the Code of Criminal Procedure,) Article 47.”

The Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 47 stipulates, “No document relating to the trial shall be made public prior to the commencement of the trial” unless “it is necessary for the public interest or other reasons” [and this testimony] expresses the view that it is strongly suspected that the leak is a violation of the National Public Service Act (obligation to preserve secrecy).

This testimony exposes two problems. First, it could be argued that it is no longer a document related to a trial. The Chinese captain was released under reservation of disposition, which means that as a matter of pure logic, he could still be charged and brought to trial. However, because of the political considerations explicitly stated by the public prosecutors in Okinawa on his release to the Chinese authorities with the obvious understanding that he would be returned to China, where he would be placed beyond the long arm of Japanese law, there is good reason to believe that the Public Prosecutors Office has given up any possibility of prosecuting him at any point in the future. Hence, no trial for the document to be “relating to” pending “commencement of the trial.”

Second, the document can be made public without violating Article 47 “if it is necessary for the public interest or other reasons.” Now I’ve used the quasi-official translation here, but “necessary” does not extend to “other reasons” in the Japanese text. In other words, if there is a valid reason for the disclosure, or rather, a valid reason not to apply the Article 47 restriction to a case of disclosure, then it could be a “document relating to [a] trial” and still not be prosecutable. And what better “other reasons” could there be than the fact that there is no longer a real possibility of a trial?

Note also that a criminal prosecution is a serious encroachment by the state on the individual. There is also the public’s right to know. These are good reasons for the Public Prosecutors Office to exercise restraint in actually proceeding with the case, and the courts are likely to take them into consideration in taking up my two preceding points.

I don’t know if the courts will accept all of these arguments, but don’t you think they’re pretty sound? At a minimum, unless the Coast Guard officer is willing to do the Japanese version of nolo contendere, his lawyers will surely raise them, and his Coast Guard colleagues and retired officers as well as volunteer groups politically motivated or otherwise are sure to pitch in financially for the legal ordeal.

My point is that the Kan administration is looking at a prolonged legal battle that it has little control over but will become intimately tied to in part because of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku’s intemperate and misguided statement equating it with the monstrosity of evidence tampering by a public prosecutor to buttress a weak case and subsequent alleged cover-up by his superiors. And that is bad. Ex-Prime Minister Hatoyama’s similarly bombastic and erroneous description of an administrative coup d’état hasn’t helped either.

To Conspiracy Theorists: Need a House?

I’ve consistently maintained that there was no conspiracy and that it was a rogue Coast Guard officer, not anyone from the Public Prosecutors Office, and it looks increasingly like it. In fact, I'll bet the house that it’s not an institutional operation. At most, one accomplice, who slipped him the video. Of course the DPJ is trying to dump it all on the Coast Guard, and as an administrative issue, it's right, there's absolutely no way new MLIT Minister Mabuchi can be held responsible for it—or for that matter his predecessor and now Foreign Affairs Minister Seiji Maehara—unless his predecessors are willing to share the blame for decades of neglect that allowed the Coast Guard to operate with such carelessness that an officer in Kobe could get hold of an unauthorized copy.

You know, there’s something to be said for the complaint that I often hear from John Campbell, Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan, who now resides in Tokyo, that the LDP continues to spit at the heavens (my words, not his) and the media is giving it a free ride. But is there an anti-DPJ bias? Stephen Reid at Chuo University also has something to say about that. I’m not so sure about that though. I’m inclined to look at all the other factors that go into the bad press for the incumbents and the neglect towards the opposition, though it’s certainly something that should be explored systematically—if someone isn’t already doing it.

Why the DPJ Claims about the Leak Are So Wrong and My Fears over a Weakened Kan Administration

Far less coherent than I’d thought when I wrote it as an email, so I’ve edited it extensively. Still not completely sound, but life is short, so here it is.

The video leak is a serious problem for the Kan administration, but there’s more than this and they are accumulating on Chief Cabinet Secretary (CCS) Yoshito Sengoku’s doorsteps. In this particular instant, making the legally unsound statement that equated it with a group of public prosecutors allegedly involved in the fabrication of evidence to buttress a weak criminal charge and the subsequent cover-up when the fabrication came to light in an attempt to put all the blame on the bureaucracy—which, ironically, it mostly should properly be placed—is going to backfire on him. He has a tendency to wing it in the spotlight—which is really not what the CCS should be doing, though I can't blame him much, given that Kan has turned out not to be a good communicator as prime minister, which fact has been a surprise to me—and have to walk it back, apologize, bluff his way though, whatever. That’s not good. Now let’s look at how his statement is ill-considered.

A) One is a criminal offense by an agent of the state against an individual, while the other is a piece of administrative malfeasance and only possibly a criminal offense by an agent of the state against the state. The latter can, yes, go all the way up to insurrection, but I'm sure that a leak that has little practical effect than to confirm the allegations of the Japanese government pales in comparison to an attempt to sustain an unsound indictment by tampering with the evidence (and entrap the defendant), casting a heavy pall on the entire prosecution process.

B) The evident contrast between the politically motivated release of the Chinese fisherman and the harsh treatment of the Japanese Coast Guard officer, assuming that the officer is indicted, will be all too painful, while the Kan administration will look utterly foolish if the official is not.

C) My guess is that the video was passed around among the officers like a Paris Hilton home movie, and the guy in Kobe got so mad that he went and posted his copy on YouTube. That, Mr. Hatoyama, is administrative failure, not a coup. (Yes, ex-Prime Minister called it a “coup d’état by members of the government.” And ex-MIAC Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi used the word “insurrection against the state.”

Okay, C) is more of an aside, but my point is that bombastic misstatements from Hatoyama, Sengoku and the like indicate how seriously the DPJ is taking this as a threat to the long-term survival of the DPJ regime. This and Ozawa's lie-in—refusal to testify in the Diet—are playing havoc with the legislative schedule in this extraordinary session as well as with public opinion*, and jeopardizing prospects of expanding alliances, most plausibly with Komeito. Meanwhile, Kamei is yapping about the Japan Post and worker dispatching agency bills. Ozawa is likely to continue to dig in, so that issue will linger well into the regular Diet session, which overlaps with the consolidated local elections in April. As a Japanese voter, I'm beginning to worry that Kan will be too weakened to push the debates on consumption taxation and Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, facing down opponents with the threat of a snap election if necessary.
* The near-universal public outcry in Japan reminds me albeit in very low-key form of the way Kim Jong Il’s revelations over the abductees blew up in Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s face (though to be fair, he showed a remarkable stick-to-it-iveness through his second trip to North Korea and beyond).

Impressed by William D. O’Neill’s Commentary on Senkaku Collision

There must be more than enough opinions from the informed, less informed, uninformed, and of course the ill-informed to last a lifetime of reading. There’s one that’s really impressed me, though, and it’s this one from William D. O’Neill explaining that the Chinese fishing boat initiated the collisions. Now I have no way of verifying (or refuting for that matter) his claims except to turn to another nautical expert (and the claim-counterclaim may not be of that much importance to people who think that the islands belong to China and that’s all there is to it), but a forensic, if cursory, examination from someone who’s been there, done that, is a welcome addition to a debate that has been overwhelmingly dominated by social science and lawyer types—like me. It’s a breath of fresh air, really.

That said, I will soon inflict on you some of my ruminations on the subject that I don’t see reflected out there, at least as far as I’m aware. They are my comments in discussions with my friends at Eurasia Group—social science types, most of them—lightly edited for public consumption.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Just for Fun, Trivia of Sorts around the Senkaku Incident

The search for The Source begins. In the meantime, an edited version of a memo that I sent out in response to suspicions of a high-level, politically motivated leak to my Asia practice friends at Eurasia Group that will never find its way to its clients:

This Jiji Tsushin wire, which identifies the video as a version edited by the Japan Coast Guard station in Ishigaki and this Sankei report, conjointly support my conjecture that a relatively junior JCG official engineered the leak. FYI, I happened to receive a secondhand report on the JCG dismay just after the Chinese boat captain's release by the public prosecutors. The prosecutors have always been at odds with the regular police. Now, they and the Kan administration have managed to piss off the Coast Guard.

There’s an important lesson here for the Chinese authorities.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Hu’s Coming to Dinner?

Yes, he will. At least that’s what I think. There’s been much speculation in Japan whether Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, will actually show up to sup with his fellow heads of state and government at the upcoming APEC summit in Yokohama. The last-minute unilateral cancellation of a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit between Prime Ministers Naoto Kan and Wen Jiabao by the Chinese side—accompanied by a tirade from the Chinese Foreign Deputy Minister—had put the matter in further doubt. The Japanese authorities pointed out that a key part of the denunciation—the last straw if you will—was the result of an erroneous AFP report*. On the heels of this dust-up, though, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, for whom the Chinese netizens appear to harbor particular enmity, announced that the two prime ministers had indeed subsequently held a ten minute chat, where Wen reportedly expressed his regret that their meeting had to be canceled. I wondered how that story would be carried in the Chinese media. Now, I know. Yesterday (Sunday, Oct. 31), the answer came in 法制晩報 (Evening Legal Report: my translation), one of many semi-official publications operating out of Beijing, according to Damien Ma** at Eurasia Group. The Evening Legal Report, according to a Kyodo Tsushin wire by way of among others the Sankei, gave a matter-of-fact report of a ten-minute meeting and characterized it as a “coincidental” “reenactment of corridor diplomacy.” It does not appear to have referred to the Japanese claim about Wen’s regrets. In the meantime, the Chinese side appears to be putting the blame on attempts by national security conservative Foreign Minister Maehara and other hawkish elements in the Kan administration to repair the damage under the Hatoyama administration to the Japan-US bilateral relationship, according to the somewhat more authoritative—am I right, Damien?—環球時報 (Global Times) indicated today (Nov.1) in a bylined report.

Leaving aside guesswork on Chinese motives, I think that the first report is a sign that the Chinese authorities want to limit their reputation risk abroad while containing discontent at home—the demonstrations have all occurred in the less prosperous interior provinces (and Chongqing, a special city in the interior), the most recent ones spilling over into domestic complaints—which means that Hu will show, the only suspense surrounding the status of a bilateral that should take place on the sidelines. The second report? A reminder that the US is the other big dog in the neighborhood, as well as possibly a manifestation of the Chinese authorities’ desire to localize if not completely isolate in the minds of the Chinese public the undesired elements of the Japanese political establishment. There is no mention of the near-universal if low-key Japanese aversion to Chinese actions around the latest Senkaku incdident***.

(Addendum) More to the point, this Global Times editorial puts the blame squarely on Maehara’s shoulders. Note also that Maehara has risen to the top of the preferred politicians in Japan according to the latest Nikkei-TV Tokyo public opinion poll. I don’t think that this is a delayed recognition for his JAL bankruptcy workout efforts, or his less commendable work on the Yamba Dam project.
* Is it just me, or is AFP generally less reliable than, say, Reuters?

** Damien, you will remember, blogs at the Atlantic website, a considerably more prestigious piece of virtual real estate than my more modest efforts. Little known fact: Damien played lead guitar for Johnny Cash’s studio recordings in the country legend’s last years. He is also quickly becoming an authority on rare earth elements. True story.

*** The Chinese belligerence took the Japanese public by surprise and captured its attention in a way that reminded me of the national response to the revelations of the North Korean abduction of Japanese citizen albeit in a much more low-key way. So many people in Japan, including those who had shown little to no interest in Japan’s international relations, or politics for that matter, woke up and took note.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Let’s Hope Mr. Fukuyama Has Worked Out His Announcement with His Chinese Counterpart

According to this Sankei report, Prime Ministers Kan and Wen did have a chat around the ASEAN summitries in Hanoi after all. Tetsuro Fukuyama, the Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, the two prime ministers held a ten minute chat in the waiting room for heads of state/government this morning (October 30), less than 24 hours after the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue unilaterally announced that China was cancelling the eagerly awaited post-Senkaku bilateral meeting between the two and delivered a blistering tirade against the most recent Japanese actions surrounding the Senkaku Islands and the South China Sea gas fields. Fukuyama reportedly told the media that the two heads of government shared a common understanding that they:
a) regret that the summit meeting did not occur this time;
b) appreciate the resumption of the private sector exchange between Japan and China;
c) will strive to promote the strategic mutually beneficial relationship; and
d) will create an opportunity in the future to talk at their leisure.
I hope that Fukuyama has worked out his latest statement with his Chinese counterpart—the Japanese announcement of the bilateral meeting reportedly was marred by conflicting reports by government officials about a Chinese cancellation, which turned out to be true—so that it will not be followed yet another dressing-down by the Chinese deputy foreign minister or worse. After all, Wen (if, yet again, reports are to be believed) is under some pressure from hardliners for his more conciliatory policy regarding China’s relations with Japan. To look at this from a different angle, if Fukuyama is not directly contradicted by the Chinese authorities, that would be strong indication that the fix is in, and that the Chinese authorities are really serious about rapprochement.

Note that the Chinese gripe about the gas field announcement appears to have been the result of an erroneous AFP wire that was subsequently corrected after a Japanese MOFA protest. Does this give enough wiggle room to Wen? Hard to believe; it sounds too trivial. But you never know. It’s certainly not encouraging to know that the Chinese side didn’t bother to confirm the wire service report before acting.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Is the Happiness Realization Party Newsworthy If It Manages to Mobilize 2,600 Happy Science Followers in Tokyo to Protest Chinese Action around the...

There’s some commotion out there on a discussion forum about the Japanese media’s treatment, or lack thereof, of a October 3 event in Shibuya featuring “about 2,600, which apparently included ordinary people, not just right-wing thugs” raging against a Chinese incursion into the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands. But if this claim by the Happiness Realization Party, the political arm of the Happy Science—does it have a special Hell for economists?—cultreligious movement, is true, it was an event staged by the HRP itself, a party that won 0.39% of the proportional representation vote, 0.50% of the prefectural vote, and zero seats in the July 11 upper house election.

The HRP did somewhat better today (October 16) in its demonstration in front of the Chinese Embassy, as it attracted Toshio Tamogami, the former Chief of the Sir Defense General Staff who was prematurely retired during the Aso(!) administration for publicly challenging the government’s long-held and highly restrictive views on the constitutionality of collective defense (read:coming to the aid of the US military protecting Japan). In case you wondered, the HRP has been canoodling with Tamogami of late.

The Sankei group is the only MSM outlet that appears to be taking the event seriously.

So, are the MSM correct to make light of the two occasions? Yes and no. On one hand, they were not expressions of the genuine and general if low-key Japanese outrage but events manufactured by fringe movements that represent a tiny fraction of the Japanese public. On the other hand, they appear to have touched off a much larger and sporadically violent set of protests in China—okay, they do outnumber us 10 to 1—timed to coincide with the second event. The Japanese MSM probably should have used the Japanese events as lead-in to what would have been a useful meditation on the contrast between the two nations whenever one or other incident like this one pops up.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Is the DPJ Getting Such Bad Press? Why Is the LDP’s Policy Message—Such as It Is—Not Getting Across?

Questions, questions…

I was with a group of mostly foreign academics engaged in Japan studies (and one fellow blogger), when one of the two elders stated that the media was holding the DPJ up to much higher standards than it did with the LDP when the latter was in power. I wasn’t aware of this, but all the others in the group who had opinions on this matter agreed, so I’m inclined to believe that they were on to something. The LDP would be happy to tell you that the DPJ is merely being hoisted on its own petards—though it’s hard to listen to LDP Diet members without laughing when they preface their questions for the DPJ ministers with qualifiers to the effect that “the LDP may have been guilty of these sins itself, but…”—but I think that there’s also a structural explanation to this, and I said as much at that session. The following is a substantially revised, expanded version of my off-the-cuff comments on this point.

MSM reporters have been covering the LDP at its headquarters—where they have a “reporters’ club*”—since 1955. They have doing likewise with the DPJ only since 1996 (or 1998 depending on your preferred year of DPJ birth). The daily interaction under the reporters’ club system—there was a time when ambitious LDP politicians literally fed and watered the reporters on their beat—inevitably creates a measure of rapport between the reporters and their subjects. Now, the reporters are rotated in and out from their assignments at fairly short intervals—two years on average would be a reasonable guess—so this should be less of a problem theoretically. However, those rotations are likely to include turns at any of a large number of reporters’ clubs at the Prime Minister’s Office and ministries and agencies, where until September 2009 the LDP had with only a brief interruption monopolized or dominated ministerial and subcabinet assignments. Thus, there would have been plenty of time to develop the kind of relationships that could have delivered more favorable press to the LDP administrations than otherwise would have been the case. By contrast, even a large opposition party would be covered by its own reporters’ club and little more**. The devil you know, perhaps?

This also likely provides a good answer to another complaint at the group session: the lack of coverage where LDP policy ideas, such as they are, are concerned. Now, the only reporters’ club covering the LDP regularly is the LDP reporters’ club—which has traditionally focused on the political, not the policy, side of the LDP., since the ministry/agency/BOJ reporters’ club took care of the policy side. I can’t see the LDP reporters’ club changing its coat any time soon. Thus, now with a vastly smaller number of reporters covering the LDP in exile and institutionally inclined to focus on the political game, it stands to reason that the LDP’s policy pronouncements will be shortchanged. This also explains the preponderance, also noted at the group session, of youthful, articulate, telegenic figures in the LDP’s new shadow cabinet. With low expectations for help from the reporters’ club, the LDP is obviously courting the broadcasting networks’ attention, which also provides newspaper fodder for the morning edition the next day.
* In case anyone is wondering, a reporters club is a self-governing organization of mainstream reporters covering an institution who receive office space and access to regular briefing in return for agreeing to respect embargoes and other rules imposed by the club itself. The effect is an information cartel, or trust with the institution at the core. The DPJ regime has gone a long way in eroding the collusive arrangement.

** In fact, any added attention would most likely be unwelcome, since it would near-certainly come from the national beat, which covers crime, scandals and human interest stories. Guess which ones it’ll be coming after when it converges on politicians.

Monday, October 04, 2010

So Much for the Fourth International…

The Japanese Communist Party has come out with its official response to the Senkaku Islands incident, and you only need to know the title of the document to understand where the JCP’s sentiments lie:
The Senkaku Islands Issue: Japan Territorial Possession Is Justified Both Historically and Under International Law[so there!]
So I guess my question is: Will Sapio print the document word for word?*

Oh well, so much for the Fourth International.

Yes, I’m aware that the fraternal animosity goes back some ways. That said, note also that the subtitle of the latest JCP outburst contains the word 大義, or “Noble Cause,” a word with historic resonance, a word that reminds me of the less democratic times of the period after the Meiji Restoration and the unconditional surrender in WW II. The appeal to nationalism draws an interesting parallel to China’s more elaborate and effective efforts.
* According to Sankei, in what must be a first for the conservative news group to approvingly reference the JCP, the JCP is going to translate its statement and pass out copies to the foreign embassies in Tokyo.

The Chinese and Japanese Authorities Want to Wind It Down, but Democracy Gets in the Way

In a clear sign that the Chinese leadership wants to move on from the Senkaku Islands incident, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman has been toning down the rhetoric dramatically in recent days. It appears to be sending signals on the domestic front to cease and desist, too, as anecdotes surface of the Chinese bureaucracy resuming work on shipment papers for rare earth exports to Japan and dropping some of the administrative nuisance imposed on Japanese businesses in China exporting to Japan. In fact, the Japanese Coast Guard folks are the good guys, did you know, helping save sick Chinese sailors, according to this reportfrom Xinhua, China’s state wire service.

The feeling is mutual at the leadership level; the Kan administration also wants to get this issue out of the way before the fallout worsens. However, in Japan, public opinion in general, most of the mainstream media, much of the political opposition, and even some DPJ members are driving driving the domestic political cycle in the opposite direction. You have not, will not, see the kind of government action and very little of the private sector bandwagonning that was evident in China, but the issue will remain in the public domain for a while, not when, for instance, the latest Yomiuri opinion poll (October 1-3) is showing overwhelming negatives for China and the Kan administration around the issue and support for the Kan administration fell from the post-Ozawa euphoria of 66% (September 17-18) to a still above-the-waterline 53%. It’ll be a while before the two sides can kiss, discreetly at first, and make up, as they eventually will—until the next flare-up.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coming Up for Air after My First PowerPoint Production

Not very fun weekend, as I have just finished (hopefully) my first PowerPoint for presentation, on Tuesday…on a webcast. It’s in ugly black-and-white—except the tables, which the software automatically colored my tables and I couldn’t figure out how to turn that function off. Two days, in fact, which brings the hourly rate for the speaking fee to… wait, I’m not going to let the thought spoil my after-work hours, when I’m getting my drink on and then breaking off to cook dinner. In fact, I’ll probably won’t even be going back to my most recent posts until after I’ve made the presentation; there’s other work when the weekday dawns too.

That said, I can’t help mentioning how godawful the Kan administration’s response to the Senkaku Islands crisis was. No, I couldn’t have done any better—I am the last person that you want to turn to for crisis management (just ask my old METI friends)—but would you believe me, I actually foresaw a similar issue there and featured it in a piece of work that I was doing some time back? And you’d think that the government would have had a crisis management plan in place for such contingencies, don’t you?

Never mind, let’s see if an emboldened Chinese government sees fit to actively challenge Japan’s effective control over the islands. I think that this has emerged as a real, if still small, possibility.

I’m signing off for the day. I generally check my email, even when I’m dead drunk, so that’s where to find me if you’re in a hurry, okay?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is Anybody Watching Straight Talk Tomorrow?

On CNBC, at 7:30PM Tokyo Time? Just sayin’.

Okay, back to my deadline work, for multiple clients. And liquor. There’s always liquor.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maeda, Meet Nifong; Nifong…

Sheesh. I can’t find a good word for it, since I don’t want to disrespect “shit,” a perfectly respectable word that is now having hard times the last few centuries. FYI Maeda’s arrest is the first arrest that the Supreme Prosecutors Office has ever made on its own, according to a media report.

Silver lining? Gives the lie to big bad conspiracy theories about the Japanese bureaucracy and the public prosecutors. Hey, you take what you can get.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chinese Authorities Escalate and My Dialogue with Sun Bin Continues

The Chinese government made front-page headline news in Japan as it upped the ante on the Japanese government’s refusal to give up the fishing boat captain without a trial, announcing its unilateral suspension of ministerial-level exchanges, suspension of bilateral consultations on increasing airline routes between Japan and China, and postponement of the Japan-China Comprehensive Conference concerning Coal. It has already postponed scheduled high-level talks on the joint development of the East China gas fields and the dispatch of a National People’s Congress delegation.

By going public with these measures and accompanying them with belligerent language, the Chinese government is making it even more impractical politically for the Japanese government to coax the Public Prosecutors Office to give up the fishing boat captain without taking the criminal case to court, as it is in the PPO’s discretion to do (somewhat adulterated by a legal amendment that allows the Committee of Inquest for Prosecution the authority to force prosecution against the PPO’s will, but this is irrelevant for all practical purposes in this case).

The saving grace here is that the Chinese side is not taking any action to challenge the effective control itself of the territorial waters by the Japanese government. It actually appears to be keeping Chinese vessels from launching expeditions to the Senkakus. Also significantly, as Sun Bin notes in our ongoing dialogue, criminal prosecution sets precedence of a legal shading, an undesirable development from the Chinese perspective, at least in the court of public opinion.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anybody Still Interested in the Chinese Fishing Boat?

If so, there is a dialogue between Sun Bin and me in the comments here that you might want to look into.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

And Finally, One of the Most Beautiful C&W Songs Ever Written…

…and mostly forgotten. Reid Jamieson—no, he’s not George Clooney’s evil, underfed brother—presenting Is It So Strange as an Elvis Presley tribute.

May, Schmay, Might, Schmight… Could, Schmould? But You Get the Idea

I shouldn’t be saying bad things about the MSM; my livelihood depends in part on their interest in what I have to say. Still, this Newsweek headline:
Murkowski May Launch Write-In Bid, but It Might Not Change Election's Outcome
is pretty obscene. Yes, and:
“The Cow May Jump over the Moon, but the Fork Might Not Run Away with the Spoon…
A more honest headline would read:
I Don’t Know If Murkowsky Will Launch a Write-In Bid, and I Don’t Know If She’ll Win If She Does
One of my favorite putdowns is that “it’s not even wrong.” This one doubles down with a may-might compound hedge.

Kaieda Shows Roots in Pushing Zero-Interest Government Bonds

Banri Kaieda, the new State Minister for Fiscal and Economic Policy, is promoting zero-interest, estate tax-free government bonds as a cheap means to finance the public deficit. This is an idea that was already advocated by notable economic gurus Shizuka Kamei (most publicly when he held the Financial Services and Postal Reform cabinet portfolios) and Ichiro Ozawa (during the DPJ leadership campaign). This Yomiuri report states without further comment:
“The objective [of the zero-interest bonds] is to sop up tansu yokin (ed. ”Tansu yokin” is the Japanese equivalent of “mattress money”) and other assets that are lying about unused in households with government bonds and put the [funds] to good use.”
This is rubbish. Most people in Japan do not keep their savings in their bureaus (or their mattresses). Instead, they put the money into better use as financial assets, bank deposits, mutual funds, and the like. And guess what those banks (and Japan Post Office), fund managers, and the like purchase with the money…

So what’s the point of it all? Japanese inheritance tax law gives us the answer. The first 50 million yen of an estate is tax-free and there’s a 10 million deduction for each legal heir, so there’s a minimum 60 million tax-free to begin with. (There are other deductions that vastly complicate the picture, but let’s keep it simple. Besides, I’m not a tax attorney.) Beyond that, the marginal tax rate is highly progressive, beginning at 10% for the first 10 million but rising quickly to peak at 50% for anything over 300 million. At its simplest, the inheritance tax-free bond would result in massive windfalls for the heirs of the rich and elderly while the government avoids modest interest payments over the lifetime of the bonds. You don’t need to do the math to see that the government will be the big loser in terms of present value, while accepting more volatility in its long-term cash flow (interest payments being more predictable than mortality profiles of the eventual bond purchasers). It’s boondoggle, that’s what it is.

Then why are these politicians advocating the zero-interest, inheritance tax-free bonds? Well, Kamei and Ozawa are old men who have accumulated plenty of personal assets over their lifetimes. It is conceivable that they have a personal interest in pushing the measure. More likely, though, is the input that they get from the company they keep. As conservative political leaders with an ironclad grip on their Diet seats, their most important constituency consists of the rich, i.e. the members of the moneyed class who find vicarious pleasure in sponsoring their favorite politicians, much in the way that they might spend money on racehorses or professional sumo wrestlers.

I suspect that the reason for Kaieda’s support for the bonds is somewhat different, although it’s still represents doing favors for the rich. Before he became a politician, he had built up something of a reputation as an economic analyst. However, it appears that it was not as just any kind of analyst. A look through his bibliography shows that he was essentially a personal finance guru, more Suze Orman than Paul Krugman, Kazuyo Katsuma than Heizo Takenaka. And if an inheritance tax-free bond isn’t a personal finance advisor’s dream, I don’t know what is.

Case closed.

This does not, of course, bode well for economic policymaking under the Kan administration. It also does not speak kindly of the MSM in terms of economic literacy. On the other hand, this kind of nonsense gives me material for this blog, and in a very roundabout way helps put food on my table. So who’s complaining?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ozawa as Warlord-Oracle

From a well-earned, long lunch-break spent on the Internet, where still I’m unable to drift too far off the reservation.

Sankei, if not always the firstest among the MSM outlets, for sure posts the mostest on its media website. And here it is, reporting on the blame-game among the Ozawa forces, where the fingers point to: The Four Heavenly Kings, the keepers of the world, keeping, according to the complaints in the report, the world from the Dharma. (Confession: To show you how little I actually know, I wasn’t even aware that Ozawa had “Four Heavenly Kings” surrounding him.)Then there is, of course, majordomo Kenji Yamaoka, who led the election campaign for Ozawa and kept issuing cheerful “Imperial General Headquarters announcements” till the bitter end that only served to aggravate the anguish of defeat.

It’s the identities of the Four Kings that intrigued me though. Two of them, Koji Sato and Kazumasa Okajima are second-generation Diet members, sons of Ozawa allies who now dwell in that Great Big Diet Building in the Sky. If you’re dead, then there’s no danger of the falling out that plagues ever other associate sooner or later, is there*? Another King, Takeshi Hidaka, left his day job early in his professional career and joined the horde of Ozawa aides**. A few years later, he married one of the daughters of a Diet member and—you guessed it—Ozawa ally, and a very trusted one too, before he retired. There is something visceral and atavistic about these relationships, casting on Ozawa an aura of a feudal warlord. The fourth King, Kenko Matsuki, the only one without such clear ties, started out with the LDP, where his father was the head of a small local chapter, but his career only took off after he joined the Ozawa camp.

All this is in sharp contrast to the popular image of men and women accomplished in their respective professions making a mid-career shift in response to DPJ solicitations, and comes across as more the product of old-school conservative politics typical of the LDP, now making a painful shift to the public solicitation process and limitations on heirloom candidates***. You wonder how many of the new breed will be inclined to follow the 68 year old Ozawa into the wilderness if he decides to pull up stakes and leave.
* Actually, Okajima’s father did leave Ozawa’s party, but later lost his Diet seat and died while plotting a comeback, having returned to Ozawa’s wing, after the appropriate apologies.

** You may remember his name from the recent Ozawa financial scandals, where Tomohiro Ishikawa, the main defendant, implicated him in the cover-up.

*** Yamaoka is, unlike the other four, Ozawa’s generational cohort who left the LDP with him to form the Japan Renewal Party.

While I’m on Ozawa’s throwback tendencies, let me mention that I wasn’t the only one who was surprised to see the New Ozawa, the one full of smiles and handshakes and emotional speeches, and opening himself up to the press, any press, when the campaign started. That Ozawa may have been one of those Terminator robots from the future (or is it the other way around?), though, because the smiles and open access vanished in a political instant when the September 14 election ceremonies ended. Leaving the conference room, Ozawa stared down the throng of journalists waiting for his comments and left without a word for public consumption. Words leaked out from that night’s gathering, including his vow to return to “one common foot-soldier to work for the party” (according to media report a phrase known to be use by Ozawa to express the equivalent of “you’ll have to pull all my teeth with a pair of pliers to see if I cooperate with the bastard”). This has been Ozawa’s usual Oracular mode of communication; he seems to have reverted immediately to type.

Sorry if I’m boring you with Ozawa trivia, but for me, it’s a welcome diversion from an assortment of Kan admin stuff that I’m working on. And Ozawa is a fascinating diversion.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Scattered Thoughts on and around the DPJ Election

All the suspense went out of the process when they announced the party member/official supporter voting results 249 – 51, giving Kan an insurmountable lead. And the 206 – 200 Diet member split (412 – 400 for the point count) that gave Kan the victory in a 3 – 0 unanimous decision (60 – 40 for the municipal and prefectural assemblymen vote) has symbolic value. More significant, though, is the fact that nearly half of DPJ Diet members and two-fifths of the party-faithful preferred someone who had to give up control over the party coffers and party assignments due to political financing scandals that may result in his criminal prosecution as early as next month. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence for Kan.

I do not think that Ozawa is going to try to engineer a split any time soon, if only because a mere fraction of the 201 is likely to follow him into penurious exile. There will be much greater temptation to foment rebellion as the August 2013 deadline for the next general Lower House election approaches, but my money is on a strong challenge from one or more candidates—not Ozawa—in July 2012, when Kan comes up for reelection as DPJ chief. At that point, temptation will be strong to elect a new leader, who can call a snap election before the afterglow dies off. The DPJ can worry about the 2013 Upper House election later. There’s also a good chance of switching party allegiances and maybe even major realignment just before the Lower House election. If Ozawa is going to make a move, it’s most likely to happen then.

Kan did well in the metropolitan areas, while Ozawa did well in the periphery. I think that this reflects real, substantive differences that were evident even if many of Ozawa’s major policy pronouncements were opportunistic and ill-thought out. Can the DPJ forge a coherent set of policies that makes sense for the long-term wellbeing of the Japanese economy while satisfying both ends of the political geography?

Is Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku Prime Minister Kan’s Masaharu Gotoda? He sees to have the intellect and some of the moxy of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s majordomo, and also manages to cloak his personal ambitions, if any (Gotoda was biologically too old and politically too junior to have any), for higher office. Of course any analogy breaks down at the Kan/ Nakasone level…

Forging an official bicameral majority that shares cabinet and sub-cabinet posts seems next to impossible to me. (I happen to think that, contrary to the majority view, it would have been even more unlikely under Ozawa. But we’ll almost surely never know.) However, flexible, multiple, issue-oriented alliances are eminently doable; if you don’t believe that, look at the substantial, if diminished, amount of legislation that got done without resort to a Lower House override after the LDP-Komeito coalition government lost its Upper House majority in the 2007 election. I’m going to explore this angle and others in a talk that I’ll be giving in a couple of weeks and getting paid for! I may dribble some of my thoughts out over the coming days or, more likely (I’m a terrible procrastinator), present them after the event.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Diplomatic Process Enters Home Stretch on Chinese Fishing Boat and Crew

“State Councillor Dai Bingguo Urgently Summons Japanese Ambassador to China regarding Japan’s Illegal Seizure of Chinese Fishing Boat in the Waters around Diaoyu Islands” was the September 12 headline news item on the Chinese Foreign Ministry Website. Let me try my hand at a translation of the rest of the Chinese MOFA post:
In the pre-dawn hours of September 12*, State Councillor Dai Bingguo urgently summoned Uichiro Niwa, Japanese Ambassador to China, regarding the illegal seizure of a Chinese fishing boat and its crew in the waters around the Diaoyu Islands, gravely expressed the Chinese government’s serious concern and stringent position, and urged the Japanese side not to misjudge the situation but to make a wise political decision and immediately return the Chinese fishermen and fishing boat.

Ambassador Niwa stated that he would take this Chinese position and report it immediately and accurately to his home government**.
On one hand, the Chinese message contained nothing new: there were no or-else threats, and the Chinese challenge of the legality of the “seizure” was included in the post but not in Dao’s comments. On the other hand, a past-midnight summons to an ambassador plenipotentiary seemed pretty heavyhanded. And with the extraordinary State Councillor card now on the table, the only recourse left to the Chinese authorities would be a Wen (but heavens not Hu)-to-Kan hotline call.

The events of today (September 13) show that the fix indeed was in. The crew (but not the captain) returned to China on an aircraft chartered by the Chinese side and flight arrangements obviously expedited, perfectly legal and according to Japanese criminal procedure law; the Japanese authorities expressed their displeasure at the insult of the late-night summons; and the Chinese MOFA spokeswoman—why do I think that we have heard the last of the State Councillor?—demanded the release of the captain. The Japanese legal process will most likely grind on. How about a plea of guilty from the Chinese captain including an expression of remorse—to be retracted immediately on his return to China?—for not showing proper civility to the Japanese authorities while avoiding any explicit recognition of Japanese sovereignty over the Senkakus, a request from the Public Prosecutors Office for a suspended sentence expeditiously granted by the bench, and deportation as soon as the deadline for appeals passes?

A question lingers in my mind though. I might be imagining things, but these maritime incidents seem to be occurring just as the DPJ is having problems managing the Japan-Us relationship. It’s as if they were designed to drive Japan back into Uncle Sam’s arms when the DPJ leadership might—just might—have been inclined to turn more decisively towards China’s way. I would not have these thoughts but for parallel reports of the verbal altercation between Japanese and Chinese research vessels this side of the EEZ median line (this Sankei report predictably being the most alarmist among them). If there’s a fatal accident, or an exchange of fire between a Chinese research/observation vessel and a Japanese Coast Guard vessel, all bets are off.
* The first online MSM report in Japan came from ASAHI, with a 3:48AM byline (most likely following an immediate briefing for the Japanese media by the Ambassador or his spokesman), so it was more of a post-midnight summons. More significant, of course, is that this fourth summons came from the State Councillor in charge of foreign policy.

** If anyone is wondering, Ambassador Niwa talked back to the State Councillor to the effect that Japan remained unchanged in its position regarding the legal status of the Senkakus and that it would properly deal with the incident according to Japanese law, according to the Japanese media—which fact, if true, the Chinese MOFA chose to ignore in its press release.

This AP wire had the most useful factual account of the facts as of this posting. I want to flag that.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Question to the Internet-Savvy Regarding Spamposts

Has someone invented a spam-posting program that enables spammers to post on your blog in a way that the blogger can’t delete it because it doesn’t appear on his/her browser or what? Someone using the names of actresses has been posting the following message on my old posts according to Blogspot notices but the spamposts don’t appear on my browser. If anyone knows anything about this phenomenon and ways to get rid of the garbage, I’ll be very much obliged.
EARN GLOBAL MONEY gives you instant access to a dynamic, scalable, dedicated and responsible development program - a committed to meeting the highest standards, committed to delivering on promises, and committed to ensuring every program success.

China Finds a Dodge from the Senkaku Incident (I Think)

RS: Some warm-up exercises for the real thing.

On September 7, a Japanese Coast Guard patrol boat tried to board and inspect a Chinese fishing boat in the territorial waters around the Senkaku (Diaoyu to China and Taiwan) Islands. A collision ensued as the fishing boat tried to escape. The patrol boat chased down the fishing boat in the adjacent EEZ*, arresting the captain for the crime of obstruction of performing a public duty. The rest of its crew were taken together with the boat for questioning to Ishigakijima, the nearest well-populated island in Okinawa.

I was curious to see how the Chinese side would react. The diplomatic response seemed par for the course: protests and claims of sovereignty over the uninhabited islands as well as demands for the release of the fishing boat and its crew, issued from the Chinese MOFA spokesman and ambassador in Tokyo and through the Japanese ambassador in Beijing. Meanwhile, the Chinese public also reportedly went into its usual routine consisting of angry media reports, public protests in front of the Japanese embassy, burning rage in chatrooms and the like. What occupied my thoughts were the possibility of boycotts of Japanese products and assaults on Japanese embassies and consulates and their personnel, and further actions that the Chinese authorities would take to keep such threats of civil unrest to a minimum.

The first and more alarming Chinese act was the September 9 announcement of the dispatch of a fishing observation vessel belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture to the Senkaku waters to protect Chinese fishing boats. Such an action may be standard practice for the Chinese authorities**, but it would set the two sides up for a clash the first time a Japanese patrol boat tries to board and inspect a Chinese fishing boat—one news report provides an estimate of 160 such boats plying the disputed waters at any time—and the Chinese observation vessel intervenes. Necessary for domestic consumption perhaps, but the Senkaku Islands are under the effective control of Japan, much the way the Northern Territories and Takashima are held by Russia and South Korea respectively. What happened to possession as nine points of the law? Oddly, Minister of Defense Hiromi Kitazawa stated during a press conference the following morning (September 10) that the Chinese observation vessel had already left the nearby waters. What gives?

I suspect that the answer to the second question lies in the Chinese announcement the following day (September 11) that China was unilaterally postponing the bureau director-general level talks for a East China Sea gas field joint development treaty, scheduled during the second ten days of this month. Note that this is an issue on which the Chinese authorities have been dragging their feet forever, partly because of the highly negative response to the concession—largely illusory, as I have pointed out before on this blog, but Chinese netizens are not among my most avid readers—from the Chinese public. Thus, the announcement should play well with the Chinese public. The reaction from the Japanese public is less of a concern; collectively, they lack the nationalist fervor of their East Asia counterparts. Moreover, the Japanese authorities, at least a DPJ administration, could let the issue remain without closure and not suffer any political consequences as long as the Chinese side does not unilaterally begin commercial production on their side of the median line (at least if I understand the underlying economics correctly). So, if my reasoning is sound, the Chinese side has found the optimum solution to the conundrum: appease the Chinese public and government hardliners while minimizing the risk of escalation—you can be sure that the Japanese authorities do not have another tat for the Chinese tit—that could arise from Chinese action in waters controlled by the Japanese authorities.

That said, the large and growing number of Chinese fishing boats meeting the demands of an increasingly affluent domestic population is bound to increase the chances of similar incidents. And if any one of them results in a casualty, all bets are off.
* According to my recollection, one media report, which I cannot find, mentioned that a Maritime Self-Defense Force aircraft assisted in tracking the fishing boat. Some people are making calls for closer coordination between the civil-service Coast Guard and the “military” JSDF to meet such threats to Japanese sovereignty.

** According to media reports, the Chinese MOA observation vessels vary in size, at least one of them over 4000 tons, and are often armed. They have been active around the South China Sea and beyond, where China has aggressively pushed its territorial claims against several ASEAN member states, sometimes with military force.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Ozawa and the Sokagakkai Effect; Plus No-D Kan as Placeholder

Remember my caveat regarding the Sokagakkai effect, i.e. the reluctance to disclose one’s true preference for a socially controversial choice, a phenomenon that could result in undercounting the Ozawa vote? I now have some corroborating evidence.

The hard-copy version of this Yomiuri survey, conducted on September 8, says that of the 411 DPJ Diet members (305 Upper House, 106 Lower House; one Diet member no longer has voting rights since he left the DPJ in the wake of the conviction of one of his political operatives), 262 (202 LH, 60 UH) responded to the Yomiuri questionnaire. Based on the questionnaire and other information, Yomiuri concludes that Kan has secured support from 168 Diet members (127 LH, 41 UH) while Ozawa has 171 (127 LH, 44 LH). But does this mean that Kan has closed the gap among Diet members, despite the low marks everyone seems to be giving to his campaigning? I’m not so sure. This Yomiuri report gives the list of Diet members who agreed to allow their names to be disclosed. Of the 168 Kan supporters, 113 (87 UH, 26 UH) agreed to disclose their names for a disclosure rate of 67.3%, but only 86 Ozawa supporters (68 LH, 18 UH) were willing to reveal their preferences for a disclosure rate of 50.3%. Clearly, Ozawa supporters are more reluctant to declare publicly for their candidate of choice. I suspect that this reluctance carries over to the remainder, that Ozawa leads Kan among the 52 (411 – 168- 171) “stealth” members whose preferences not even “other information” would indicate.

The first Yomiuri report continues to give 60~70% of the 300 party member-supporter vote and the 100 assemblymen vote to Kan. But the Sokagakkai effect may be in play here as well. I still think that a Kan victory is a sure thing, but the tally will be closer than the raw numbers currently indicate.

Incidentally, much of Kan’s inability to shake the publicly unpopular Ozawa is attributable to his sheer ineptitude as a campaigner. This flaw has come as a surprise to seasoned insiders. Kan has come across throughout his career as an effective debater, but he was always on the offensive then. Now, he is utterly incapable of projecting himself as an effectively leader as Ozawa attacks him at will. There is no D in Naoto Kan and it shows. That will not be good going forward. Even odds, I’d bet against Kan surviving the next DPJ leadership election (2012) or the next Lower House general election (no later than 2013), whichever comes first. This means, of course, that the DPJ has another crack at choosing a new party head to lead them into the next Lower House general election. If I were a DPJ election strategist, I would ask myself, Why would I want to waste political capital now by picking a new prime minister with all his PR baggage plus his proven ability to generate enemies and alienate allies, when I can always go into the next general election, possibly a double election, without the downside of either one of the two current contestants? From this perspective, Kan is at worst the better placeholder.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Everything Has a Price, Even South Korean Fishing Boats

“North Korea to free seven fishermen detained last month”. Would you believe it; they’re returning the boat too? While the United States is still waiting for the Pueblo…
The move comes at a time of a slight thaw in tense relations on the peninsula. South Korea announced last week that its Red Cross would donate $8.4 million to help with flood aid in the North.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The DPJ Leadership Election: It’s Kan’s Race to Lose

If the Mainichi report giving Ozawa a tentative 185 to 164 lead over Kan (with 63 not showing any preference) in support among the 416 DPJ Diet members is to believed, then the odds against an Ozawa victory appear to be insurmountably long. Barring an unforeseen disaster for Kan—a deeply wounding personal scandal might do the trick—or an as-yet undetected Sokagakkai effect of significant proportions, Kan will prevail in the overall vote on 14 September. I think that Ozawa has seen the writing on the wall. That might be the real reason why he looks so cheerful on the hustings; he knows he won’t have to be prime minister after all.

Anyway, here’s my arithmetic.

(The Diet member vote)
Let’s assume that none of the 185 + 164 already indicating their preferences changes his/her mind and that the remaining 63 Diet members break out in the same 185:164 ratio. This gives Ozawa and Kan 33.4 and 29.6 more Diet members respectively. Since each Diet member has two votes, Ozawa receives 436.8 votes and Kan 387.2. I’m giving Ozawa the benefit of the doubt here, since nothing is happening to make these fence-sitters jump to Ozawa’s side. To the contrary, subsequent opinion polls paint a bleak picture for Ozawa, as the Kan administration’s approval ratings have been shooting well above pre-election levels even as Ozawa’s deeply negative numbers show no sign of a turnaround.

(Official party members and supporters)

Early estimates put support for Kan and Ozawa in the 60-70% and 20% neighborhood respectively. More specifically, media reports put Ozawa ahead in only his home prefecture Iwate and no-to-US-military Okinawa. But let’s be improbably generous to Ozawa and give him 40%, or 120 of the 300 votes available and Kan only takes 60%, or 180.

( Local assemblymen)
Media reports say that Kan hold an edge here, but let’s be generous to Ozawa and split the 100 votes evenly, giving Ozawa and Kan 50 votes each.

Kan : 387.2 + 180 + 50 = 617.2 votes
Ozawa: 436.8 + 120 + 50 = 606.8 votes
Kan wins!

Okay, that’s only a ten-vote difference. But look at the heroic assumptions that I’ve had to make to enable Ozawa to come close. Of course there’s another week to go, during which something unexpected might come up such as, say, 16 seconds of uncomfortable silence from Kan while looks for appropriate bullets from his crib sheet or an unexpectedly early, clean, and unequivocal bill of health (and I mean clean and unequivocal) for Ozawa from the committee investigating his political financing criminal case). But likely? Not.

The one factor that keeps me from betting the house on Kan is what I call the Sokagakkai Effect. Let me explain.

Komeito routinely outperforms public opinion polls by wide margins when it comes to actual election results. In fact, the margins are so wide that they cannot be explained away by extremely high turnout from its core support base, i.e. the members of the laic Buddhist organization Sokagakkai. The reasons for this can only be guessed at by this resource-poor blogger, but I suspect that it has a lot to do with the old social stigma attached to the cultish reputation that plagued Sokagakkai’s in its earlier decades of proselytizing through its faith-healing, marriage-saving, business-enhancing messages. I suspect that supporters don’t want to telegraph their Sokagakkai affiliation, not even to opinion poll canvassers at the other end of the telephone wire. (These polls only cover fixed line households.) Could the same think be going on with Ozawa admirers? Could they be too embarrassed to tell media reporters in the face of near-relentless criticism that they actually prefer that formidable old politico, political warts and all? More to the point, could there be enough such Kakure Ozawarians to deliver an unexpected victory to him come 14 September? For that one day, it’s surely as likely as if not more so than—the next Great Kanto Earthquake, the one event that the insurance companies refuse to offer a policy for my house.

Kan must of course also be careful around the media’s vested interest in keeping this a race.

The DPJ Leadership Election: Mainichi’s Remarkable Headcount

Mainichi canvassed all the DPJ Diet members to see where they stood on the Kan-Ozawa showdown. Adding information regarding their respective groups as well as the labor unions—(many DPJ Diet members rely to varying degrees on support from the labor unions), it has come up with a prospective breakdown of the votes. The resources of the local bureaus are being put to good use*, I see.

Upper House354625106
Lower House12913938306
LH rookies556523143

Other bits and pieces of information:

1. Although Ozawa leads Kan 185 to 164 in total support, the two are tied at 122 each in firm votes; the others are merely leaning towards one or the other and presumably could be swayed.

2. Of the lower house rookies, Ozawa leads handily 22 to 8 (with 5 undecided) among those who ran solely on the regional proportional ticket, but Kan leads 47 to 43 (with 18 undecided) among those elected from single-seat districts and those who ran on both tickets and got by on the regional proportional ticket. Take out the pure proportionals, i.e. Ozawa’s truly handpicked candidates, and the “Ozawa Children” look remarkably like the rest of the DPJ’s lower house members.

3. Mainichi attributes Ozawa’s upper house lead to the preponderance of labor union affiliates there.

4. The single biggest factor that has the potential to affect the numbers in the near-term is the collective intent (if any) of the 30 or so members of the old Social Democratic Party group. Media reports say that they are likely to make up their minds early in the week. One weekend report said the group would be opting on Monday (today) to support Kan**.
* Yomiuri carried a similar report, but I could not find it online. One of the more remarkable points in the Yomiuri report was that a few Ozawa group members intended to vote for Ozawa, while the Kan group also had its share of Ozawa supporters.

** Even if the ex-DSPers don’t reach a collective decision, I am now more confident that my call of a Kan victory is the correct one. More about that later.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Wall Street Journal seems as good a place as any for a daily fix on the DPJ leadership election—if you can’t read Japanese. Just punch in a keyword or two and you should be able to pick up more WSJ and non-WSJ media links than is probably healthy for you. And if your interest in Japan is broader than that, you could probably do worse than using its Japan Real Time blog as a portal. Still, I don’t think that you’ll find the Mainichi report there, and it’s not often that you’ll find these kinds of numbers, so I thought I’d let you know.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The DPJ Leadership Election: Ozawa’s Charm Offensive Only Skin Deep

The other Ichiro is opening himself up to the media or what? He’s been flashing his million yen smile through most of the obligatory photo-ops as well as the open-air, shades-of-Lincoln-Douglas, head-to-heads against Kan. Which only reminds me of his boast in a fairly recent book of his that he campaigned like hell when he ran successfully for the Iwate lower house seat that had been held by his father until his untimely death but never had to personally campaign in subsequent elections. Here’s definitely a guy who wouldn’t be kissing babies and eating rubber chickens if he could help it.

But how about his direct dealings with the media? According to the headline for this Yomiuri report: “Regular Press Conferences If I Become Prime Minister,” he’s willing to make himself accessible—not. Here again, the new Ozawa is really the old Ozawa. In the text, he is quoted, “I think it would be better to do regular press conferences, rather than those ‘cling-ons.’ The prime minister should do press conferences as often as possible, once a month or twice a month.” Longtime followers of the Japanese political scene will remember that Prime Minister Abe tried to cut back the customary twice-each-weekday, cling-on sound-bite briefings to one a day and caught hell from the mainstream media. And you wonder why Ozawa gets such bad press.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The DPJ Leadership Election: The Ozawa Referendum

The first of what I hope will be several observations about the upcoming DPJ leadership election, where Ichiro Ozawa is making what is surely his last (and first, when you come to think about it) bid for the prime minister’s office, against incumbent Naoto Kan:

The Kan administration has looked good in the public’s eye recently, bouncing back in the media polls from the mediocre (but not disastrous) 40%-plus counts around the upper house election to make it over the 50% threshold. DPJ local assemblymen* and party members and official supporters* obviously have their ears to the ground, and are leaning heavily toward incumbent, according to this Yomiuri report. Then why is someone who, just three months ago, resigned from his secretary-general post, giving up control over party coffers and appointments, and whose main support comes from Yukio Hatoyama, who took him down with him when he resigned as prime minister, running neck and neck with Kan for support among the 412 DPJ Diet members*?

Kan has proven to be singularly uninspiring. His pre-upper house election message on an eventual consumption tax hike not only proved to be politically ill-advised, but came across as muddled and equivocating, the very qualities that had proved disastrous to his predecessor Hatoyama. This almost all by itself precipitated the political equivalent of the Narita divorce, or at least chased enough votes away from the DPJ in the July upper house election to prevent it from capitalizing on the still-considerable lead that it held over the LDP and the rest of the field. The public’s recovering support, such as it is, remains at best lukewarm. Only a small fraction of the positive respondents in the polls give his policies or his leadership qualities as the reason for their support. Instead, the majority think that it’s too soon to ditch a second DPJ prime minister in just one year, after going through three new LDP prime ministers in just so many years. The voices of his Diet member colleagues reflect this; METI Minister Naoshima, for instance, says, “I have been thinking about this for some time, and I intend to support Mr. Kan, since it is my role to execute the policies that I have developed as a member of the cabinet,” not exactly a ringing endorsement of the prime minister’s leadership or his program, such as there is.

However, these supportive colleagues of his have been more forthcoming about Ozawa’s failings—his political financing issues and holes in his broad-stroke and sometimes alarmingly off-the-cuff policy pronouncements—if the media reports are to be believed. And that is as good an indication of what this leadership election is all about. It’s really a referendum on Ozawa, and what he stands for. And the DPJ Diet members are being forced to take a stand.

I still believe that Kan will win, and that the DPJ will not fall apart as a result. However, Kan does not seem to be the poster child for the new DPJ, if that is what it is going to be. It seems more and more likely that the current configuration of the DPJ will last at most until the dust settles on the next lower house election and that Kan will not be the last man standing then.
* The assemblymen, the official party members and supporters, and the Diet members account for 100, 300, and 824 votes respectively. That’s a total of 1224 votes. The assemblymen votes are allocated among the candidates according to the proportional D’Hondt method, while the official party members and supporters cast their ballots in their respective lower house single-seat districts, with the vote for each going to the top vote-getter first-past-the-post style. Each of the 412 Diet members receives two votes.

Janne: I think that we’ve come closer to a meeting of minds on Apple with your latest comment on my previous post. I intend to get back to that next week. But for now, it’s a subject that is well beyond my area of expertise, such as there is, so I need a little time to put my thoughts together as tightly as your comments typical demand, okay?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Good News, Walkman Beats iPod…

According to BCS, near-realtime provider of ITC and digital home appliances sales data, the Walkman—yes, the brand lives—beat the ubiquitous iPod in retail sales last month for the first time since BCS began keeping score almost nine months ago, in 2001 November. Bad news? The real winner was the iPhone, which appears to have cannibalized iPod sales. Plus, iPod is about to launch new models.

Never mind the new iPod models, how’s the Xperia doing?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Kan’s Words…

Here’s Kan’s press briefing. Same no saido-type message.

Kan Refused

Here is Ozawa’s this-is-it statement announcing his candidacy. It appears that Kan was the one who refused to adopt the one-for-all, all-for-one Kyoto icchi taisei that presumably would have staved off an Ozawa run in a power-sharing arrangement. According to Ozawa, Kan had second thoughts after sleeping on it. An immediate post-election split does seem to be off the table.

Good, Ozawa Is In the Race After All

So Hatoyama’s doings are likely to end up promoting…what? Maybe the no saido thing, “no side” being the rugby expression for the game’s end that has entered the Japanese lexicon as as an expression for the notion that all animosity is/should be dropped between the two antagonists in a show of sportsmanship. In fact, it appears to be one of the fractious DPJ’s favorite metaphors. Kan and Hatoyama seem to like it a lot.

“Byzantine”? On Bizarro World?

“The process is appropriately Byzantine for the notoriously murky Japanese politics. So much so that it has rarely been used. The last time the party held a leadership election using the full system was September 2002, when Yukio Hatoyama beat three others, including Mr. Kan.
from “Kan v. Ozawa: Who Decides?” Yuka Hayashi, WSJ,, 27 August 2010

Definition of BYZANTINE
a : of, relating to, or characterized by a devious and usually surreptitious manner of operation [a Byzantine power struggle]
b : intricately involved : labyrinthine [rules of Byzantine complexity]
What’s so “devious and…surreptitious” or “intricately involved” about a secret-vote election rule that has three clearly defined and identifiable sets of differently weighted voters? Obviously, the writer has never heard of the infinitely more byzantine US process aka presidential primaries, with its random-walk, hodge-podge of rules including an assortment of “caucuses,” which sometimes consist of nothing more than a bunch of hyper-motivated people braving snowstorms to huddle in various spots on an auditorium floor and beseech each other to come over to their side like some friendly version of touch-kabaddi. And don’t get me started on their “super-delegates.” The DPJ system by comparison is quite straightforward, simple, and transparent.

More importantly, the DPJ voting system of giving by far the largest share of votes per head to the Diet members—let’s call them hyper-delegates—the next largest share of votes per head to assemblypersons—super-delegates—and by far the smallest share to the rank-and-file makes constitutional sense. The Diet, which is supposed to elect the Prime Minister, is in turn elected by the Japanese public. To allow the party-rank-and-file, a mere fraction of the voters who voted for the DPJ, would disenfranchise the far more numerous voters-at-large and arguably make a travesty of the Japanese Constitution. The word seito (political party) never appears in the Constitution; like it or not, Japan is a representative democracy. There is also a good, though less convincing case to be made that the assemblyhumans, too, merit special consideration because they in turn have mandates from their constituencies by virtue of their elective offices. These are obviously not absolutes, and the DPJ way is not the only way the system could conceivably have been constructed. (The LDP for instance does not have the assemblyhomosapien super-delegate second tier.) The DPJ could revisit the allocation of the votes between the three tiers in view of the much larger number of parliamentarians now extant. But the system itself is very straightforward, simple, and transparent. At least much more so than the US primaries. As for the relative lack of use of the full process, she immediately provides her own answer: in seven out of the nine elections that she refers to, the DPJ chose the simple Diet members-only election process to choose the leader to serve out the remainder of their predecessors’ terms in mid-term elections, as explicitly allowed by the rules. In the other two cases, only one candidate stood for election. That does carry the stench of backroom smoke, but don’t blame the rules.

Okay, I actually think the US primaries are a lot of fun, and get a lot of people engaged politically that otherwise mightn’t have been. But Hayashi’s claim just doesn’t make sense.

More significant perhaps to the public interest, just because Kan raised the consumption tax issue doesn’t mean that he has become a "”fiscal conservative.” He’s a tax-and-spend social democrat without the stomach for Scandinavian labor laws until proven otherwise.

I’ve mostly stopped going after the media, but I thought that it would be a shame to confine to my outbox my response to an email that I’d received, especially since I could adapt its contents with little effort as a blog post. In Hayashi’s defense, she generally comes across as a competent journalist.

”It’s My Party”

At least that’s the impression I get from Yukio Hatoyama’s “troika” efforts that look likely to result in a brokered power-sharing deal between Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Ichiro Ozawa, Yukio Hatyama, and upper house don and fourth tricycle wheel Azuma Koshiishi--before the election. Does Hatoyama (and Kan? Really?) think that it’s that important to abandon any pretense that it’s about policy to prevent Ozawa from taking at most four, five dozen Diet members—a Japan scholar whom I very much respect is willing to take the under in an over-under 20—with him into the wilderness when the DPJ doesn’t have an upper house majority or a lower house supermajority in the first place? I hope against hope that it won’t turn out exactly like what it appears to be: the three (four?) self-appointed founding fathers—they’re 63, 68, 63, and 74 years old respectively, for Christ’s sake—abandoning any pretence of policy differences and getting together to stave off the brave new world for at least another election cycle. But let’s wait and see what Kan and Ozawa have to talk about.

BYW I wonder if Hatoyama and his pals throwing the “troika” word around know exactly where the troika reference initially came from. That’s not all. The term, you may recall, more recently graced the popular political lexicon specifically to describe a certain power-sharing arrangement between Georgy Molotov, Laverntyi Beria, and Vyacheslav Malenkov. And we all know how that one turned out.

(Confession: I’ve been calling a brokered deal, but one before the actual election will be professionally inconvenient.)

Incidentally, the Japanese rendering of troika (トロイカ=toroika) can also mean something else. And I’m not talking about fatty squid. Just sayin’.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Let Them Name You… and They will Come?

Down and out Yubari, the bankrupt Hokkaido city immortalized by NYT elegist Normitsu Onishi, is selling naming rights left and right. First came the municipal civic center (most likely a lightly used composite of a concert hall and smaller meeting rooms) and…public toilets? Whatever.* According to this Asahi piece, Yubari is extending the idea to the local baseball field and other athletic facilities**. But why stop there? Why not SELL THE NAMING RIGHTS TO YUBARI?

Seriously. It’s not as if precedent is lacking. The city of Toyota was named in 1959 for Toyota Motors, not the other way around. And Toyota (the Motors, not the city) didn’t pay a yen. Likewise, the city of Tenri got its name in 1954 as the stronghold of Tenri-kyo, a pseudo-Shinto religion that has its origins during the late Edo era—over the less demonstrative Yamabe, the Tenri-ko’s choice. And, of course, Boston gets its name from the Boston Celtics.

Look, Hyundai, if you have the wherewithal to drop billions of US dollars worth on North Korea with little to show in return, you surely have the billions of Japanese yen—you really need just a fraction of that—to spare so that you can call a Japanese city, I don’t know, Chosun’s My Daddy? I’m Your Bitch, Korea? The possibilities are limitless.

Think about it, Hyundai.
* Dave Barry does have a sewage-lifting station named after him. A far as I can gather, he did not pay for this honor either.

** Between the public toilets and the baseball field, the Yubari authorities obviously have a sequencing problem.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ozawa Stands for Election and Realignment Draws Nearer

Who’d a-thunk. With former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s surprise (okay, so much for my predictive powers) full-throated support, Ichiro Ozawa is running against Prime Minister Kan in the 14 September DPJ presidential election. Support for Kan appears to be at best of the lesser of two evils variety, but the case against Ozawa remains strong as ever. I refuse to believe that a majority of the 411 Diet members will of their own volition vote for a candidate that is disapproved by an overwhelming majority in opinion polls—by contrast, although the Kan cabinet is beset by negative ratings, a healthy majority still wants to give Prime Minister Kan a second chance—and withstand the heavy and constant media beating that will follow an Ozawa victory. The rookies in particular have to worry about 2013. However, roughly one third of the voters will be cast by local party members and assemblymen, an factor that had largely remained off the radar till now. But from here on, they will matter, for two reasons. First and most obviously, they can be the deciding factor in a close Diet membership vote. Second, they can influence their local Diet members in their voting, especially in the case of fence-sitting parliamentarians. It has been unusual but by no means rare in party presidential elections for Diet members to explicitly vote according to the wishes of their local chapters, and broader if more subtle interactions must also happen. It would be surprising if similar thing did not happen in the upcoming DPJ election. Third, the national voting trends among the eligible supporters and assemblymen are likely to affect the overall voting behavior of the Diet members. Remember that Junichiro Koizumi’s surprise local victories in the 2001 LDP election over overwhelming favorite Ryutaro Hashimoto precipitated a landslide victory in the Diet member vote. True, the DPJ local votes will not be counted until the Diet members have voted, precisely to avoid such a happenstance. However, nothing will stop the national media to sic their local bureaus to provide day-to-day coverage on the intentions of the DPJ voters in the provinces. Expect everyone to know the approximate outcome of the local voting before the Diet members vote in Tokyo on 14 September.

Now most people seem to believe that Ozawa has something of an edge out there, given his formidable political machine and its extensive outreach into the provinces, including plenty of handholding, sewage cover-stomping, and rice paddy-wading on behalf of associate and/or political-newbie candidates past—a lot of political chits to redeem. However, the local eligibles in turn talk to the rest of the locals. And they will all access the media, and be influenced accordingly. It’s a dynamic process, is all I can say right now. I expect the majority to be what I consider to be rational and take the path of least public resistance, which is to reelect Kan, but what do I know?

Whatever the outcome, the election will most likely draw an indelible and permanent line between the pro- and anti-Ozawa forces, with the rest of the DPJ getting back up and sitting, uneasily, on the fence. I expect a Kan victory to be somewhat more reassuring to the markets, largely because of main street support for continuity and rejection of Ozawa’s likely revival of the more costly elements of the 2009 election manifesto. Either way, the two sides will shake hands and pretend to make up, and the winner will make the minimum concessions on cabinet, subcabinet, and political assignments to keep the other side from bolting. (Ozawa won’t want to, but that must be the minimal price of Hatoyama’s support.) However, I doubt that unity will be long-lived. The widening political fissures will threaten to erupt at moments of political adversity, which will surely come, on the economy, Okinawa, and any number of those incidents expected or not of varying consequences that cumulatively sap the political capital of administrations or even manage somehow to morph into major political crises on their own. In other words, schism is in the air, and none of the significant opposition parties, not the LDP, certainly not Your Party (I still fail to understand the logic behind expectations that it would join hands with the DPJ and kill its own brand before it even graduates the phenom stage), not even the New Komeito, the only meaningful party that, through its near-captive constituency, could withstand the curse of an alliance with what is likely than not to be a deeply unpopular DPJ. It looks increasingly as if the moment realignment has drawn closer, if still beyond the horizon—that is a long-term plus for governance in Japan. From that perspective, a Kan victory followed by an Ozawa prosecution would actually be a negative in that it would postpone the day of reckoning and more coherent policymaking.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Long Hot Summer for Kan, Ozawa and DPJ Coming to an Early End?

The following is a memo that I dashed off in response to this WSJ report that an esteemed colleague sent me. Its shelf-life might wind up being as short as a couple of days, or even counted in hours, so I thought that I’d share it publicly. For the record, I edited it slightly.

More an essay than an op-ed, the WSJ is a good encapsulation of the situation. A few comments:

I still find it hard to think that Ozawa is going to stand, or win if he does. In fact, there’s a growing possibility that Kan will win by acclamation.

For Ozawa, there’s the risk that he will actually win. He is personally unfit to be the head of government in a democracy, what with the highly public grilling in Diet sessions and press conferences (which he could mostly skip when he was merely party chief), and he is surely aware of that. And he’ll be held responsible for policy decisions.

For the DPJ, an Ozawa victory invites a near-unanimously negative media coverage—Nikkan Gendai, the antiestablishment tabloid, a rare exception among widely circulated dailies—as well as the very real possibility that Ozawa will have no choice but to resign if the prosecution review commission forces the Public Prosecutors Office to prosecute him. (Even a one-step downgrade that allows the PPO not to prosecute is likely to lead to a media campaign against Ozawa that will hound him out of office before long.)

But can he win in the first place? I’ve always been skeptical of the 130~150-member Ozawa group headcount that we regularly see in the media. The estimates appear to include up to 2/3rds of the DPJ’s 150 or so first-term Diet members. Yes, those kind of numbers showed up when Ozawa made his annual pilgrimage to Bejing, and appear to show face when they hear the dog whistle. But will they rally for Ozawa when it’s time to vote? Remember, it’s a secret vote, not a show of hands. Besides, last week, when Hatoyama held his annual Karuizawa bash—God, it’s great to have money, even if it’s not quite Goldman Sachs money—up to 100 Ozawa supporters showed up. (There were 150 participants in all, of which up to 50 could have been Hatoyama group members, plus Koshiishi the Upper House don and others including one Kan flunky.) Subtract the core Ozawa supporters (up to 50) and maybe a third of the DPJ rookies. I don’t think Ozawa (more accurately Ozawa’s kitchen cabinet) has the numbers.

Note that all the other likely suspects are back-peddling like hell. Never-ready-for-primetime Kaieda has all but abandoned his non-candidacy; Tarudoko, who fronted the Ozawa group in the June election, says once is enough for now; and the Kan cabinet’s resident otaku Kazuhiro Haraguchi (he himself spells it Haraguti, and how more otaku can you get than that?) says he enjoys his job too much to run.

I think Kan realizes all this, and is appropriately keeping his head down.

Hatoyama will eventually throw his support behind Kan. Hatoyama’s conditions for his support, according to one of his top flunkies, Yoshikatsu Nakayama, local sovereignty, the New Public Interest, the East Asia Community, Hatoyama’s GHG commitment, and one other that I cannot remember. They are expansive and explicit but highly conceptual, so they are easy to accept. The GHG commitment, of course, is only as serious as the extent to which the Japanese government is going to go to fulfill it, a matter which was already seriously in doubt under Hatoyama after Obama and the Democrats—a nice name for a 50s throwback doo-wop group FWIW; do you think Sarah and the Republikettes works?—dropped the idea of any serious US efforts. (And of course there’s always China.) Ozawa keeps bringing up the 2009 Manifesto, but how seriously did the Hatoyama-Ozawa odd-couple take it when they were in control?

The big story, then, is what Kan is going to pull out of his economic tool kit once his summer vacation is over. The last couple of weeks brought a sea change in public opinion. Mainstream editorials, reflecting rising main street voices, have been calling for intervention in the currency market in the face of skepticism over the utility of a unilateral intervention. Meanwhile, Kan is still sticking to what is surely the MOF story of a modest 1.7 trillion yen stimulus package consisting of near equal amounts of emergency funds in the FY2010 budget and unexpected carryovers from the FY2009 budget—No New Money. I’d say that the possibility of intervention, though still less than likely, has risen considerably. Also, I look for a considerable stimulus package, likely including an extension in one form or another of the quick-release eco-point system and some new business tax cuts.

That said, there is one wild card, which I’m surprised to hear nothing about lately: the DPJ local yokel vote. The local chapters and assemblyhumans are allocated 400 points (300 go to the local chapters while the remaining 100 are pro rated among the local legislators), while the 412 Diet members get two votes each. It’s a secret vote, whose results are not to be revealed until the Diet members have voted, but do you think that the media is not going to canvas the local voters as they always do on these occasions? I thought so. And Ozawa is rumored to have a strong following out there because of all the legwork and money he and his henchpersons put in over the years right up to the eve of the July election.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is Koizumi a “Nationalist”?

You may already be aware that I think that the conventional wisdom that puts former Prime Minister Koizumi in the same nationalist camp as Shinzo Abe and the deceased Shoichi Nakagawa is completely misguided. This led to an on-going exchange in the SSJ Forum which should appear by and by in its archives, and a Q&A with Steve Martin, a post-graduate student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Steve is working on a dissertation concerning “Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, their effect on Sino-Japanese relations, as well as the motivation behind the visits.” Copied below with Steve’s consent is the Q&A.

Good luck, Steve, with your dissertation. And long live your blog on “Japanese politics to Asian cinema, book reviews, photography and (not least) the Hanshin Tigers.”

You wrote that Koizumi did 'everything right' on the SSJ forum- endorsed the Murayama statement, condemned the war criminals, adopted guerilla tactics, and although he projected force this was more to do with political circumstances that a coherent 'nationalist vision' for Japan. Paul Midford replied that Koizumi was a "nationalist with guts", and Abe one without.

That is, "guerrilla tactics" regarding his visits to Yasukuni, doing the deed with minimum fanfare, avoiding 15 August and other symbolic dates. And if avoiding Yasukuni as prime minister were the measure of "guts," Hashimoto, and Aso would also be gutless, and Nakasone, who backed off after his first visit when the Chinese complained, would be a spineless wimp. But it was Abe who made an assault on post-war education and took a stab at constitutional reform including a revision of the government's interpretation regarding collective defense. I could have said all this and more with regard to Abe, but that was so obviously outrageous that I didn't feel the need to refute it and continued to focus on the conventional wisdom regarding Koizumi.

In my dissertation, which is partly about how bilateral ties were affected by the visits and partly about motives, I suggest that Koizumi was motivated by his own personal, intuitive logic in visiting the Shrine, and needing to affirm meaning to the lives lost in war.

I have no idea what went on in Koizumi’s mind as he visited Yasukuni, but my understanding is that he made a promise to the Izokukai (association of the families of the fallen soldiers) to do so during his successful LDP presidential campaign and was determined to keep it. And what could be more important than that? As far as I can gather, he was never associated with Yasukuni before his successful run.

At the same time, he recognised the political utility of the symbolism of the visits, and benefit from them, e.g. 2001 LDP presidential election, 2002 distraction from a number of financial scandals (Tanaka, Kato Koichi).

The connection between the 2001 election and Koizumi’s visits is obvious as I mentioned above. I'm not aware of any connection between that and any political financing scandals. I can't see a net upside for a prime minister in a Yasukuni visit and the inevitable rupture in relations with China and Japan as far as overall public support, which is where the scandals hit, is concerned. Yasukuni counts only with a specific constituency.

I thus argue they were not part of a larger articulation of a 'nationalist vision' in foreign policy, mainly because Koizumi wasn't interested in foreign policy. Similarly support in Iraq was more to do with what Uchiyama has described as a "Pavlovian response" to U.S. requests for aid, than a desire to remilitarise Japan. I was wondering what you think of this argument as to Koizumi's motivations.

I agree with what you say here; I’m not sure that he was interested in domestic policy either, at least not in a way that Nakasone or Hashimoto cared. Koizumi appears to have been as political an animal as Ozawa, which is saying a lot.

Secondly, I was wondering what, if anything changed in Koizumi's manner and/or S-J relations vis-a-vis Yasukuni visits when Hu Jintao took over from Jiang Zemin in 2003.

Hu appears to have decided to wait it out, likely reasoning that, as with all nightmares and democratic leaders, the head of Japanese government would not outlive the CCP leadership. It must have helped that Hu appears to have been prone to much less of a visceral response than Jiang. I can think of three reasons for this: one, Hu did not have Jiang's sense of personal betrayal at the hands of Koizumi; two, Hu's more phlegmatic personal makeup; and three, Hu’s upbringing as a member of the post-war generation that missed both the personal effects of the war and the 80s intensification of the use of Japan as a ready foil in the CCP’s founding fathers myth. (A similar phenomenon has also been reported in 80s Singapore).

Finally, I have mentioned the utility of the 2001 and 2002 visits, but I was wondering if you could see any (short-term?) utility of the 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 visits. I think I need to strengthen my argument here.

I think that it’s more a matter of the disutility of backing down. Koizumi couldn’t stop. He’d lose face, and face the scorn of the considerable conservative base. He must have seen a much larger domestic downside politically to that than anything he would have gained from appearing to be nice to China. That said, he did do his best to minimize the diplomatic fallout, so he definitely was aware of a domestic downside. But I do not see any short-term, in the sense of immediate political issues, utility in 2003-2006 as well as 2001 and 2002. And don't forget that the economic relationship remained on course, both day-to-day and for crisis management.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

South Korean Probe Unlikely to Settle Dispute over Warship Sinking: Really?

The government's preliminary findings released in May were attacked as amateurish and crude by some South Korean–born scientists concerned that flawed science could be used to escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Oh wow. But wait:
”To me, this challenges the integrity of science,” Seung-Hun Lee, a physicist at the University of Virginia, tells TIME. “They say they reached these conclusions that have enormous consequences on the political and international stage. As a scientist and scholar, I felt it was my duty to check their conclusion.” Lee says bluntly that the government's conclusions are “absurd.”
But whatTIME fails to tell us is that Professor Lee’s area of expertise is solid state physics. He’s an expert “on strongly correlated materials such as non-conventional high temperature superconductors, quantum magnets, frustrated spin systems, magnetic molecules, and multiferroics,” not a “physicist” in the popular sense, that is, someone who is used to thinking about things that make big bangs or what happens to stuff around them when they do. In other words, nothing in his background suggests that he has anything meaningful to say about the case, which point being obvious from the next citation:
The residues that the governments say were caused by the blast “have nothing to do with the explosion, but are just aluminum hydroxide that can be naturally formed by corrosion when aluminum is exposed to water for a long time,” Lee says. He adds that he doesn't know why Seoul and Washington would invent such a scenario to explain the sinking. “That's a political thing that's beyond me,” he says.
This means that the aluminum hydroxide could have been formed naturally by corrosion, but why can he be so sure that it has “nothing to do with the explosion”? After all, aluminum hydroxide is only one of the pieces of evidence that the South Koreans produced. But at least Professor Lee is a “scientist.”
J.J. Suh, a professor and director of Korea Studies at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., also doesn't believe the government's story.
What TIME fails to tell us is that Associate Professor Suh is a political scientist and is a strong advocate of the Sunshine Policy that current President Lee Myung-bak rejected.

Of course the South Korean probe is unlikely to settle the dispute over the warship sinking. In that respect, “it certainly has echoes of conspiracy theories like those surrounding the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” And the moon landing. And the Holocaust. And the Nanjing Massacre… the list goes on. So I guess my question is: Are things that desparate at TIME magazine?

Actually, I’m giving Professor Lee the benefit of the doubt and willing to assume that he has more to say on this. And he’d better, because there are a good number of real experts whose integrity he has maligned. (Assistant Professor Suh doesn’t count; he’s not a real scientist.)

Addendum (August 19): My heartfelt apologies to Professor Seung-Hun Lee and TIME magazine. I should not have posted at all, or better, should have followed my usual procedure when I come across any interesting anomaly and gone to the source. Here, by Lee, and here, coauthored by Lee and Panseok Yang, are two papers that cast strong doubt on a key part of the evidence in the South Korean government’s yet-to-be-published report on the sinking of the Cheonan. Specifically, they point to serious discrepancies between the data for material taken from the ship and the torpedo on one hand and the data from material taken from a test explosion on the other as well as that undermine

But his logic is sound throughout, and any errors in his science should be easily refutable (or verified) by his peers and, where required, more tests. He also acknowledges that his argument do not disprove the South Korean government’s conclusion that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan. However, it would knock out a significant piece of evidence behind the claim. I look forward to the release of the report, which should be forthcoming soon.

Again, my apologies. This is not the first time I’ve done such a thing, and it won’t be my last. But it’s been a good lesson. In the meantime I was prompted to read a couple of fascinating investigative documents, and that is a good thing in itself.

Addendum II (August 19): Now that I have time to elaborate on my mea culpa, let me state that I do agree with Janne’s comment about a scientist’s expertise extending his specific area of expertise, but only up to a point. For example, I would not take Professor Lee’s word over those of, say, experts on underwater explosions on the macrcophysical consequences of the event such as the dispersion pattern of fragments of the ship and its equipment and the possibility of some parts of the torpedo surviving the blast fairly intact. An explosion is an uneven and in many ways unique event: not the sort of phenomenon that a solid state physicist is likely to be very familiar with. This weakness actually shows in the experiment that he performed (see the second paper), substituting fine crystalline aluminum powder and 40 minutes of exposure to high-temperature for substantial aluminum pieces subjected to the extreme heat and pressure of a split-second explosion. This is a point that Lee’s detractors are sure to point to. But my focus in on his first document, where he uses the tools of his trade and his specific expertise to expose what appears to be serious shortcomings in the reports claims. And I have to see the full report. (The official announcement was only five pages long).

And yes, Paxy, I had been inclined to believe the South Korean government—for two reasons. First, I thought that there were too many people involved in the incident and the report to maintain a conspiracy in a democratic state. Second, the survey brought in overseas experts, making a cover-up even more difficult. But Lee’s papers have sown the seeds of doubt in my mind. So I’m looking forward to the report.