Thursday, August 31, 2006

Crouching Politicians, Hidden Media? Let’s Prove Koichiro Tawara Wrong

(Scroll down for the Japanese version)

The August 28 evening editions of the Japanese dailies carried a report that quoted Prime Minister Koizumi as saying that "it is unforgivable to attempt to silence speech through violence." This was in response to a question about the August 15 arson and attempted suicide at Koichi Kato's mother's residence that I referred to in my previous entry. The reports also noted this was the first comment by Mr. Koizumi in the two weeks since the incident. The same day, Shintaro Abe, as Chief of Cabinet, also stated that "if this was an attempt to suppress of influence Mr. Kato's expressed views, it [was] unforgivable", presumably in answer to a reporter's question. This was followed by what must have been a somewhat testy exchange on the following 29th, where Mr. Koizumi stated that he always answered questions and he had not commented on the incident because he had not been asked.

Actually, there was a precursor to this curious exchange.

At the beginning of Sunday Project -- one of those must-see Sunday morning programs for political junkies that look like Japanese hybrids of Larry King, Bill O'Reilly, The Daily Show and Sixty Minutes -- in the intro, the host of the show Soichiro Tawara lit into the mainstream media and politicians for tiptoeing around the arson/attempted suicide. (For those of you who do not follow the Japanese media, Mr. Tawara is a rude, crude, (and sometime careless with the facts) but ever fearless freelance journalist, now in his seventies.) In a lengthy tirade, he challenged everybody, including a major newspaper, which he would not name but clearly implied that it was clearly the one that belongs to the same media family as the network that carries Sunday Project. The two regular members of the cast, media personalities both, weren't quite sure how to handle this, but Mr. Tawara did manage to prod Taro Aso, the LDP president candidate and first guest of the day, to agree that the incident was unacceptable.

An American journalist asked me the other day just what Mr. Abe meant by his claim to being a "fighting" politician. I told him, no, it was not about sending troops overseas, no, it was not about nuclear armament; Mr. Abe meant standing by his values in the face of opposition, not selling out.

If any place is fit to make a conspicuous stand, to "let the young people know" that he is willing to "fight" to "make this nation a place that deserves its people's confidence and pride", surely this must be it. And given Mr. Kato's dovish political stance, it would dispel any suspicions that Mr. Abe is a right-winger.




サンデー・プロジェクトは、政治好きには見ることが欠かせない日曜午前の番組で、ラリー・キングとビル・オーライリィ、ザ・デイリー・ショーとシクスティ・ミニツの日本版ハイブリッドと言えばいいのでしょうか、そのイントロで番組のホストである田原総一朗が、番組の冒頭で、マス・メディアや政治家達が加藤家放火・自殺未遂事件を避けていることについて手厳しい攻撃を行なったのです。(日本のメディアに詳しくない方々のためにご説明すると、田原氏は、非礼かつ乱暴だが、(そしてときとして事実関係を軽んずることもあるが、)恐れをしらない、もう古希を過ぎたフリーのジャーナリストです。)田原氏は、長広舌を振るって、名前をは言わないがある大手新聞 – それは明らかにサンデー・プロジェクトの放送局と同じメディアグループに属するものを指していた – を含め、皆に挑戦状をたたきつけました。番組レギュラーの二人のパーソナリティは、これをどう取り扱ってよいのか、戸惑っているようでしたが、結局、田原氏は、最初のゲストであり自民党総裁選候補である麻生太郎に事件があってはならないものであることに同意させるのに成功しました。



Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shinzo Abe a Right-Winger? Not on This Political Page

(The Japanese below, as usual)

I have been troubled lately by the English-language media, which typically slap Shinzo Abe with “right-wing” and similar labels. I know that Mr. Abe prefers "conservative", with "outward-looking", "open-minded" or something of the sort in front of it. But does any of this work? Challenged to come up with a better description, I’m beginning to feel there isn’t any. And it’s not Mr. Abe’s fault. Here’s the reason why:

Left-wing and right-wing are political terms that were translated from the original French and entered the political lexicon of doubtless many nations and languages. There, they, like most other elements of political discourse, are altered and transformed by their adoptive societies.

In Japan, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear "uyoku"=right-wing is the extreme edge of the nationalists that shades into the Yakuza underground. I believe it is a widely-held belief that the relative silence over the arson and attempted suicide by a known right-wing activist at the dovish Lower House member Koichi Kato's mother’s home is but the latest example of the success with which the "uyoku" has been able to cower the media and politicians by its demonstrated willingness to use various forms of violence, including murder, against their detractors. Thus, the epithet "uyoku" is used on other politicians and other public figures only in a pejorative sense. I doubt that even real "uyoku" use it for themselves, instead using "aikoku"=patriotism instead.

"Sayoku"=left-wing has not fared much better, although its fate is that of neglect. Orginally encompassing communists and socialists, represented respectively by its own left-wing party, it spawned the term "shin-sayoku"=New Left (now where else have we heard that?) during the late sixties and early seventies. The fatal blow to the “shin-sayoku” came with the self-destructive purges of the United Red Army that culminated in a police shootout in the Asama Sanso Incident. The original "sayoku" also fell into disrepute as the their flagship Socialist Party lost relevance as the focus of opposition to the self-perpetuating LDP near-monopoly on power. The Communist Party still maintains a certain level of political presence, but it lost its hold on the imagination of the chattering classes long before the Cold War ended, and continues to be ignored by the mainstream media. Thus, nobody bothers to call them "sayoku" anymore.

Did that help?

A sidebar on "uyoku": The "2 Channel" is a huge conglomeration of media links and chat rooms, a sort of low-rent cyberspace. It is my understanding that belligerent, abusive political talk of the "right-wing" variety dominates there. My guess is that they are perceived by more sophisticated residents of the Internet as socially, economically and intellectually deprived, giving rise to the pejorative "hetare-uyoku"=worn-down right-wing.


最近の英語メディアが安倍晋三に“right-wing”、つまり「右翼」ないしそれに類したレッテルを貼っているのを苦々しく思っておりました。安倍氏自身が”conservative”、つまり「保守」の前に「開かれた」、つまり"outward-looking"、 "open-minded"といった類の形容詞をくっつけるのを望むであろうことはわかっています。で、それでうまくいくだろうか。適切なレッテルを考えてみろといわれたのですが、どうもそれは無理なのではないだろうかと思い始めております。何も安倍氏自身のせいではありません。説明は、次のとおり:



left-wing=左翼」も、それほどいい目に会ってきておりません。ただし、こちらの方は、無視されるという運命が待ち受けていたのです。始めは共産主義者及び社会主義者をまとめて指す表現であり、いずれもそれぞれ自分達の政党によって代表されておりました。これは、1960年代の終わりから70年代の冒頭にかけて「新左翼=New Left (英語でもどこかで聞いた表現のような…)」という言葉を生み出しました。しかし、「新左翼」は、連合赤軍の自殺的パージを経て浅間山荘事件で致命的な打撃を受けました。そして、元の「左翼」もまた、その旗手であった社会党が、権力をほとんど独占し続けるのに成功してきた自民党に対する反対勢力の結節点としての意義をうしなうにつれて、顧みられなくなりました。共産党は、今なお、そこそこの政治的存在感を持ってはおりますが、冷戦が終わるそのはるか前から知識人階層の関心を失い、依然としてメディアの主流にほとんど無視されています。というわけで、彼等を今さら「左翼」と呼ぶ人達はいないのではないでしょうか。


「右翼」について余談を一つ。「2チャンネル」は、メディアへのリンクとチャットルームを集めた、いわば安上がりのサイバースペースとでもいうべきものですが、私が承知しているところでは、「右翼」的な、それも戦闘的、攻撃的な政治的言論がそこで支配的だそうです。私の推測するところでは、インターネットに生息する、どちらかと言えばより洗練された人々は、彼等のことを社会的、経済的、知的に劣っている連中だと考えているようです。そして、これが「へたれ右翼=worn-down right-wing」という侮蔑的表現を生み出しているのです。

Mr. Koizumi's Legacy: on Radio

(The Japanese version follows the English.)

I made a fool of myself on Radio Australia as the foil for the star of the show, a Professor Malcolm Cook, an up-and-coming Japan scholar with a great sense of balance. I added little of value beyond what I have on this blog, but, Professor Cook in his paper, which you can download if you follow the links, makes an important point about the political agenda for the LDP that Prime Minister Koizumi brought to the table. I do think, though, that the political agenda would have meant nothing if he had not come in with his specific and arresting ideas for the Japanese political economy. His foreign policy was more disjointed, I think.

I may elaborate on this at some point in the future, but, first, I will work on Mr. Abe's agenda. Say tuned.

ラジオ・オーストラリアに、マルコム・クック教授の脇役として登場して、恥をかいてしまいました 恥をかいてしまいました。クック教授は、新進気鋭の日本研究者で、とてもバランス感覚に富んだ方です。私の方は、このブログに上乗せできるようなことはほとんど何も話すことができませんでしたが、クック教授は、リンクをたどっていけばダウンロードできる論文で、小泉首相が持ち込んだ自民党向けの政治的アジェンダについて重要な指摘を行なっています。もっとも、日本の政治経済について具体的かつ魅力ある提案を引っさげてこなければ、その政治的アジェンダも何の役にも立たなかったはずだと思うのですが。それに比べて、小泉首相の外交政策は、より散漫であったように思えます。


Monday, August 28, 2006

Could US Frustrations Trigger An Arms Escalation in East Asia?

(The Japanese translation comes at the end,

instead of following each chapter.)

The Bush administration has been showing a deft, almost Machiavellian touch recently. First, they called France’s bluff by accepting Italy’s offer to send troops to Lebanon and lead the UN Peacekeeping Forces there. If the objective was to make President Chirac look weak, waffling and bombastic at the same time, the Bush administration certainly did a masterful job.

Secretary Rumsfeld followed this diplomatic coup when he neatly skewered the South Koreans by suggesting that they take over their own wartime command by 2009, instead of the 2012 that they had been demanding. If the US proposal is taken up, the transfer will surely loom large in the 2008 Korean presidential election. To add injury to insult, there will be little time for a new administration to turn back the clock since transfer procedures will have long been progress. Thus, President Roh may see the error of its ways and come back to the US, hat in hand.

Don’t bet on it. President Roh will not want to lose face by looking weak and unprepared in the face of US intransigence.

But France did wind up deciding to send substantial troops after all. It also made a belated offer to lead the mission, which will likely be accepted, given France’s traditional role in Lebanon and extensive contacts with the contestant communities and nations in the dispute. But the unseemly squabbling before France settled on its ultimate offer, as well as Chirac’s parting shots dumping a poorly argued doubt on the need for 15,000 troops, cast an unwanted pall on the peacekeeping package that seems to be slowly, painfully emerging. Better then, if the Europeans and the US had worked out their differences in private with Kofi Anan, then announced the outcome in one fell swoop. Too bad the lines of communications are so tattered and animosities so strong that differences have to aired in public to score points before they can be set aside to agree on the mutually acceptable.

Likewise the US-South-Korea handover.

But here, the consequence for Japan could be serious. The transfer will be seen by many quarters as a prelude to a US pullout. In fact, supporters of the Sunshine Policy could very well see an ultimate withdrawal as yet another step to defuse tension with North Korea. But that would eliminate North Korea’s bête noir on the peninsula. Given Pyongyang’s need for a credible security threat to maintain its isolation for the rest of the world and its grip over its subjects, it is sure to upgrade the threat from Japan, including but not limited to the US forces there.

Japan will also feel threatened if it feels it may no longer have a security buffer on the Korean Peninsula. It will feel compelled to cooperate even more closely with the US and, more seriously, strengthen its own defense capabilities. This in turn will not only justify North (and possibly South) Korean fears, but also raise further Chinese concerns over Japan’s strategic ambiguity in the Taiwan Straits. China then will be compelled to strengthen its naval military capabilities.

All this is conjecture. But Subic Bay this is not. At a minimum, premature transfer could destabilize security relationships in East Asia and trigger an unwanted escalation of military preparedness. If only it were not for the antipathies building up between the US and its once steadfast allies. (Okay, France has always been France, but at least they could be relied on to come through when it came to their sphere of traditional influence.)

In Japan, only the hard right could welcome an outcome like that.











Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Prime Minster Race Is Proof Tokyo Still Rules (If You Still Don’t Believe Me, Look at The Governor’s Mansions.)

The Liberal Democratic Party is holding a series of regional conventions that feature prospective candidates for the party presidency. Since the main figures have taken their time to officially announce their candidacies --- for example, the prohibitive favorite Shinzo Abe has yet to officially declare --- the invitations can hold some surprises. For example, it was Yasuo Fukuda’s conspicuous absence at last month’s Tokyo talkfest that made people realize that the darling of the doves would not be running after all.

自民党は、党総裁候補の顔見せとして、一連の地方ブロック大会を開いています。そして、中心人物達が立候補をすることを正式に発表するのに時間をかけているため -- 例えば、圧倒的優位に立っている安倍晋三は、まだ正式に名乗りを上げていいない – 招待をめぐってびっくりさせられるようなこともあるわけです。例えば、先月の東京大会に招待されなかったことで、ハト派の希望の星であった福田康夫が立候補しないこととの確信を多くの人々に与えたのでした。

Thus, the presence of a couple of nationally unfamiliar figures in addition to Mr. Abe, Sadakazu Tanigaki and Taro Aso in Saturday’s Hokuriku-Shinetsu convention was taken in stride by the Japanese media. But if these two men were of little significance to the race, they did share one important trait with at least two of the Big Three that justified their presence in the spotlight, if nothing else. For all but one are directly descended from prime ministers, or LDP leaders that had at least a claim to the throne. And the one exception, Mr. Tanigaki, is also the son of a powerful ex-LDP member. And all but one grew up and went to school in Tokyo before they went back home to claim their heritage. And the one did not have to go back home to claim his heritage because Tokyo was his father’s (and grandfather’s) political base.


There is a good, practical reason why this is the case.


A Diet member, like parliament members everywhere, needs an institutional base to run a low-key, but year-round campaign to stay elected. Typically in Japan, this organization is an intensely personalized affair, based on personal loyalties that have been nurtured over the years. And in a culture that still exalts family traditions, every scion is a potentially a local mini-Kennedy. In practical terms, this gives the son -- and, increasingly, daughter -- a huge leg up. He can start early, at his father the incumbent’s choice of the moment to retire. And if his father is really powerful, he can take some licks in the Upper House while his father continues to hold sway in the Lower House. Even compared to the plucky early self-starters, he inherits a readymade seat and an intensely loyal campaign machine that other neophytes must spend years to build.

国会議員は、これは世界のどこでも同じですが、再選を続けるためには、緩やかではあるが年中無休のキャンペーンを張らなければいけません。日本では、これは、通常、きわめて個人的な仕組みになっており、長年にわたって培われた個人的な忠義心に根差しています。家族関係を今なお重視する文化の中では、御曹司というものは、だれもがいわばミニ・ケネディなのです。現実には、これで件の息子が -- そして最近ではしばしば娘も – とてつもなく有利になります。息子は、現職である父親がここぞと思うときに引退することによって、早くに議員生活を始めることができます。そして、もし父親に本当に実力があれば、父親が衆議院議員を勤めている間に参議院で見習いをすることもできます。元気よく自力で当選を果たした他の若輩議員達と比べても、彼等が何年もかかって築き上げなければならない、忠誠心篤い選挙マシーンを、出来合いの議席と一緒にそのまま受け継ぐことができるのです。

But Diet members must spend a lot of time in Tokyo. The Diet is in session for the better part of the year, which also happens to coincide, more or less, with the school year. During that period, a Diet member will spend his weekdays in Tokyo, and his weekends in his home district. And those weekends are spent for the benefit of his electorate, with his family coming a distant second. So, if a Diet member is going to have anything like a family life during that period (most Diet members are married, usually with kids), he will want to take his family to Tokyo and raise his kids there. This need to be in Tokyo is particularly true in the case of a politician with national aspirations, who needs to stay in touch with business leaders and keep a high profile in the media.

しかし、国会議員達は、長い時間を東京で過ごさなければいけません。国会は、一年の過半開会していますが、それがちょうど学校が開いている時期に重なっています。その開会中、議員は、ウィークデーを東京で、週末を地元で過ごすわけですが、その週末は、もっぱら選挙民のために費やすことになります。従って、国会議員が家庭生活と思しきものをエンジョイしたいと思えば -- 国会議員は、通常結婚しており、子供もいます -- 家族を東京に置いて、そこで子供たちを育てたいと思うはずです。しかも、この、東京にいなくてはいけないという事情は、全国レベルでの活躍を望む政治家においてはとりわけそうです。というのも、彼等には、財界のトップ達とつながりを持ち、マスメディアに絶えず顔を出している必要があるからです。

It is no wonder then, that the second-, third-generation LDP leadership candidates now on display wind up having a predominantly Tokyo background.


But the prime minister’s residence is not the only place where Tokyo holds sway. Tokyo dominates the governor’s mansions as well, albeit in a very different manner; as of April 1, 2004, 24 of the 47 governors were former Tokyo bureaucrats. Several of them had reached the provincial summit by way of the mayor’s office or a temporary stopover in the Diet, or deputy-governor’s office. Nevertheless, by far the majority of these people had been able to directly parlay their Tokyo credentials to propel them in their respective governorships.


Some people believe this is due to the special access that bureaucrats have to the money and legal power that the central government exercises over the provinces. I am sure there is some truth to that in the collective. The large number of governors who had risen to power in ministries that hold the purse strings to the public works budgets and other national means of largesse to the provinces seem to be testimony to the notion that bureaucratic authority is somehow fungible. But 6 (and now 7) of the 24 hail from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. As powerful as the Ministry Formerly Know as Notorious MITI may seem to foreign observers, it wields far less politically clout domestically than the aforementioned.


Whatever practical benefits a Tokyo connection brings to the table, a successful track record in Tokyo in itself is a huge positive. If Tokyo breeds some resentment in the boondocks, its overwhelming domestic soft power is rivaled by few, if any, other political, economic, social and cultural centers on our planet. If you can make it in Tokyo, you can make it anywhere. Or so it seems. As much maligned as the central bureaucracy has been for the recent decade-long economic ills and woes, the public still seems to be more or less willing to entrust the management of their public affairs to these selfless servants of the public good.

東京とのつながりがどんな具体的な利益をもたらすかは置くとしても、東京で成功したというのは、大いなるプラスなのです。もし東京というところが田舎で何らかの反感を呼ぶとしても、これに匹敵するような国内における圧倒的なソフト・パワーを有する政治、経済、文化の中心は、他にこの地球上どこを探してもめったにありません。東京で成功すれば、どこでも成功できる -- 少なくともそのように見えるのです。ここ10年以上に及ぶ経済的困難について中央政府の官僚機構が相当非難の的になってきましたが、国民は、依然として、こうした公共の利益の自己犠牲的下僕達に自分達の公ごとを委ねるつもりのようなのです。

This measure of success and competence is reinforced by another facet of the prospective candidate’s Tokyoness. Because these bureaucrats have spent their lives outside their natal or adopted provinces, they are untainted by the political ties that bind a local purebred to one region or another, this vested interest or that. Thus, they provide mastheads around which all the divergent forces and factions of the establishment can rally. This is surely a big reason why so many retiring bureaucrats are approached by their homefolks to run for governor (or mayor). Or the Diet for that matter, if the sons and daughters of a retiring house member are not interested in assuming the family mantle.


Power to the regions seems to be the political shibboleth if the day. The public perception is that the regions got the short end of the Koizumi reform stick. But if the preponderance of Tokyo influence in Japanese leadership is any indication, apparently, Japan still looks to Tokyo for the answers.


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Disaster Preparedness a Boon to National Security Aspirations

September 1 is Disaster Preparedness Day in Japan. On that day, Tokyo, along with the rest of the nation, conducts a wide array of emergency-related activities. This year, Tokyo will-- surprise--do a mega-quake drill. But there is a new, politically significant twist to next Friday’s events. For today’s (August 26) Yomiuri morning edition reports that the US Armed Forces in Japan, for the first time since these drills were inaugurated, will be participating.


I will spare you the details, but this much is worth noting.:


Disaster-related activities have been the mainstay of the efforts of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in their increasingly successful bid for public acceptance. Make no mistake, this helps the JSDF hone their logistic capabilities. But that, as well the reconstruction work in Samawa, Iraq, have been the main battlegrounds in the world of Japanese public opinion. US surely has been long aware of this, and is now getting into the game. Public diplomacy will be a crucial element of US military alignment in Japan, and Tokyo is as good as any to make yourself useful in peacetime.


Of course none of this could have happened under a leftist governor. In fact, the Yomiuri indicates this was an initiative of Governor Shintaro Ishihara, the nationalist and one-time pretender to the premiership.S


The earthquake drills also require the close involvement of the central government. (After all, Tokyo is the seat of government, and the effects of an earthquake will not stop at Tokyo borders.) Mr. Ishihara has had more than his share of animosity with the LDP mainstream (the LDP has in the past challenged him with their own unsuccessful candidate). But the relationship has noticeably thawed in recent years, doubtless due in no small measure to the meteoric rise of his oldest son in the LDP hierarchy (where he was responsible for emergency-preparedness among other things as a youthful cabinet minister), who has recently been joined in the rank by yet another Ishihara son. The exercises are a symbol of this evolving relationship that has brought the Ishihara mini-dynasty into the LDP mainstream.


It is also worth noting that his firstborn, Nobuteru, is close to Mr. Abe and is seen a long-odds candidate to succeed Mr. Abe as Chief Secretary of an Abe Cabinet. Moreover, among the three candidates, Mr. Abe is the closest in his outlook to Mr. Ishihara. Short of becoming prime minister himself, Mr. Ishihara has never had it so good. And the US authorities must be feeling good at having reeled in the maverick nationalist.


But Mr. Ishihara has a way with words that can enervate some of his closest supporters. Close association with Mr. Ishihara support can backfire diplomatically if he succumbs to his periodic attacks of foot-in-mouth disease. This is the little cloud that is attached to the silver lining on September 1.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Provinces in A Squeeze

Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, the current head of the Democratic Party of Japan, is an even greater favorite to win his party’s presidency election than Mr. Abe is in the LDP. In fact, it’s looking increasingly likely that he will run unopposed. Nevertheless, he has repeatedly promised to come forth with a detailed policy manifest, and its outlines has been leaked today (August 25th) through the establishment’s medium of choice on such occasions, the morning edition of the Yomiuri Shinbun.


The manifest contains such eye-popping proposals as cutting national and local income tax rates by half and making Japan 100% food-sufficient, and I hope to be blogging on this and other aspects of his proposals. However, what I want to talk about today is his ideas on local self-governance.


Specifically, Mr. Ozawa intends to propose the consolidation of the existing 1, 820 cities, towns and villages into 300 “basic self-governing entities” and distribute all government functions between the central government and the entities. In other words, he is advocating the abolition of the 47 provinces. Things do not look all that much better for the provinces in the LDP, where it sometimes seems to be only a matter of time before the powerful voices advocating the consolidation of provinces into a small number of super-regions to share administrative powers with the central and municipal governments will prevail.


At first glance, this lack of respect for governors is surprising. After all, governors had long been considered the ultimate power in the provinces. Indeed, for that very reason, it was a rare governor who would deign to step out of the governor’s mansion to join the ranks of Diet foot soldiers. So what is going on here?


Now this is just my thumb talking, but I think the governors would have far more to say and do about this if they were powerful party figures. But increasingly they are not. In fact, a significant number of them are nonpartisan figures, usually running as independents, sometimes with the support of every party from left to right except the Communists. This tends to diminish the role that governors can play in the Diet elections, where party loyalties matter and discord can surface even between long-time coalition partners LDP and the Clean Government Party. Given this mismatch between provincial and national electoral politics, it is not surprising that governors cannot rise up en masse against Tokyo to protest their demise.


And speaking of Tokyo, two of the three candidates for the LDP presidency were raised and went to school in Tokyo. As more and more second-, third- generation politicians and beyond follow such career paths and their lives come to have less and less to do with province of putative origin, it is inevitable that their inclinations will come to follow even more closely the interests of the nation and their electoral districts.


Yet another reason could be that provincial loyalties are diminishing among the public. The close-knit social and political ties within the Edo Era hans, where the next han was literally of another world, continued to exert a powerful influence in the provinces well into the 20th Century provinces. Today, the annual high school baseball tournaments may be the only occasion when a sense of provincehood (Word says this is not a real word) manifests itself on the national scene.


Thus, it looks like the days of the provinces are numbered, whether we follow the Ozawa model or the LDP-favored model of local governance reform.


I have even less confidence in my views than usual for this post. I look forward to any comments that will help me better understand this issue. Of course, your comments are always more than welcome.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Who Is Shinzo Abe?" Chapter 1. A Man of Contrasts

Shinzo Abe is a politician of contrasts. In the more powerful Lower House of the Japanese Diet, He represents a district in Yamaguchi, a prefecture that has produced, since the Meiji Era, an extraordinarily large percentage of prime ministers and other members of the political leadership in Japan; yet he grew up, went to school, and lived in Tokyo (which has elected exactly one prime minister to the Diet) till he left his day job to enter politics. He is a faithful member of what is now the largest LDP faction, that is likely for the third time in a row to claim the premiership, yet his appeal cuts across faction lines, party lines, even; a mass phenomenon that puzzles many who follow the political scene.


Just where all that appeal comes from is, indeed, a complicated question. In another of his contrasts, Mr. Abe is a perceived as a staunch nationalist/hawk in a nation with distinctly pacifist cast (one that many people, and not just his opponents, believe he is trying to alter.) His early, steadfast advocacy of the Japanese hostages and their families against North Korea and the exposure that it gave him are often cited as the main cause. But even as the Deputy Cabinet Chief, he seems to have caught none of the flak that hit Mr. Hitoshi Tanaka, career diplomat and the chief architect of the Japanese attempt at rapprochement with North Korea, and, to a lesser degree, Mr. Koizumi himself, as the Koizumi administration belatedly realized the devastating effect North Korea’s revelations had on the Japanese public.


Similarly, as LDP Secretary-General, Mr. Abe’s one prominent leadership role so far in his career, he presided over an LDP loss in the 2004 Upper House election, yet this has not hurt him all in the eyes of the public, or within the LDP. Indeed, his support is swelling with the legions of LDP candidates who hope to ride his coattails, come the elections.


At 51, Mr. Abe is younger than his challengers, certainly very young for a Japanese prime minister. Tall and well built, his boyish looks, soft eyes, and full shock of hair, all reminiscent of his long-deceased, would-be-premier father, are the envy of most other politicians. Surely this must be a big reason for his popularity with women. Yet his almost jowly visage, the many creases that line it, the powerful eyebrows; they are clearly those of an older man.


A much older man, really, for they remind everyone that Mr. Abe is the grandson of the staunchly conservative, nationalist Kishi Nobusuke, whose political career spanned the pre- and post-WW II, including a stint as prime minister, whose greatest accomplishment was the revision of the Japan-US Mutual Security Treaty. Then there was Mr. Kishi’s brother Eisaku Sato, the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history and the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize.


But I’m getting ahead of my story. Yes. A man of contrasts, this Shinzo Abe. So well known, so popular, and all but anointed prime minister; yet so little is known of where he is coming from., what he is going to do. So I read his new book “美しい国へ(Towards A Beautiful Nation)” to find out. I think I learned more than I’d expected. Over the coming weeks, from time to time, I intend to explore the book, an extended book review in you will, on this blog. I also reserve the right to amend this entry if my evolving thoughts so dictate.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Negotiating FTA Quotas for Philippine Nurses Masks A Bigger Problem

The Shisaku blog has an interesting entry where Shisaku juxtaposes what he sees (and I agree with him) as “a shift toward a greater acceptance, indeed desire, for non-Japanese participation in the national workforce” and “the very public fiasco over the opening up nursing positions for qualified Philippina [ed. actually, the nursing profession in Japan has been co-ed for some time now] applicants”.


This is a perfect example for Mancur Olsen’s Logic of Collective Action. There is no Japan Federation of Fast Food Freeters (and Students and Housewives) to protest the encroachment of aliens with or without work visas into their neck of the woods. Nurses, on the other hand, are well-organized profession, with their very own LDP representative in the Upper House.


Moreover, there are no FTA negotiations over part-time gyudon waiters/waitresses quotas to rally the opposition, which is where our negotiations with the Philippines over the nursing profession quota come in. That was doubly embarrassing because one reason free traders like to negotiate big packages instead of individual issues is to concentrate wide but shallow support and bring them to bear on the special interests that dominate individual issues. So much for political leadership.

But the troubles over the quota negotiations mask a more fundamental problem, which is that Japanese nurses are being underpaid. How can I be sure? Because there’s a shortage of nurses, that’s how. Nursing is a typical 3K (kitsui-difficult, kitanai-dirty, kiken-dangerous) that requires years of training. And they’re far below the doctors on the medical totem pole. It’s no wonder that they often quit early, and never return.


Like most problems in the medical sector, this nursing shortage has its roots in the national healthcare system and, more specifically, how it sets prices. I confess that I have no idea what to do with it. Mr. Abe’s healthcare program, as far as I can gather from his book “美しい国へ (Towards A Beautiful Nation)”, is heavy on prevention, which in itself is okay. But the book says next to nothing about the finances of the healthcare system (and paints what seems to me to be a rather optimistic picture of the public pension system), much less the system’s structure and design. I hope that the soon-to-be-announced program of his will give us a better indication of his objectives and programs in this respect.


Monday, August 21, 2006

George Will Is in Town, and He Writes about Yasukuni.


George Will is his usual thoughtful self in addressing the Yasukuni issue in his column in the Sunday Washington Post. In a single, short piece, he gives us a concise and thorough outline of the issue and identifies as the heart of the issue the Japanese predicament, which is that we are still living in the shadows of (he Cold War and) World War II, trying to deal with “the problem of honoring war dead without necessarily honoring the cause for which they died.” Particularly striking is the analogy he draws here between Yasukuni and the Confederate flag, all without absolving Japan of its historical debts.


Mr. Will mercifully spares us from three-point programs or some such fixes that pundits (yours truly included) try to inflict on us. The difficulties lie in figuring out how to traverse the paths, much less the path itself, or even the actual goals. Whatever the merits of the ambiguity that Mr. Abe has imposed on his visit/non-visit to Yasukuni - I personally favor a more permanent solution that takes the historical interpretation that is Yushukan out of Yasukuni - he should be commended for actually choosing and navigating a path of his choice. Let’s hope that China, and also South Korea, will take up the offer by not demanding to know where Prime Minister Abe will be sticking Admiral Nelson’s Fire Poker.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Northeast Asia Regional Forum? I Don't Think So. (I Hope I'm Wrong.)

On another thread, Mr. Gvosdev asked me what I thought of this proposal for a Northeast Asia Regional Forum, over which I expressed my skepticism. It came back to me as I considered the unfolding of the events surrounding this incident, where the Russian authorities apprehended a Japanese fishing boat in territorial waters off the Northern Territories, and shot and killed a Japanese fisherman in doing so.

Now, Japan is involved in three territorial disputes, all of them involving (surprise!) an island or group of islands, one with South (and North, I suppose) Korea, one with China (and Taiwan), and this one, with Russia. South Korea has effective control in the first, Japan in the second, and Russia in the third. Japan has repeatedly expressed its willingness to go to the International Court of Justice on the first one, and I am sure it would be willing to do so (in fact, it accepts compulsory jurisdiction) on the second. I don’t know what the Japans position on the adjudication of the Northern Territories is, but I doubt Russia would be willing to respond to Japanese accusations of illegal seizure after the war in a judicial procedure. The important thing here is that, without going into the merits of any of the cases, none of the aggrieved states to the best of my knowledge has even threatened to wrest away the subject of its discontent by force. (This is in marked contrast to the frequent territorial and border disputes involving the resort to arms that marked the post-war of China with its other neighbors.)

This is not to say that there have not been incidents over the years. Were it that regional talks would enable us to see the commonalities and help us reach agreement, or at least some mutual understanding, over our differences. But where even the slightest provocation (from the South Korean point of view) from Japan seems to touch off a frenzy of anti-Japanese feeling in South Korea, and the Chinese response mirrors the shifting political calculations of its authorities, the Japanese and the Russians have been remarkably diplomatic, if you like, about regulating and policing the waters and conducting themselves in general over matters concerning the Northern Territories. As aggrieved as we are and as strongly as we have objected to Russian action in this death and detention, this case is no exception.

These differences, of course, originate in the widely variant histories and circumstances of and between the disputants, as well as the objects of desire, and as such must be worked out between them. They do not look like issues that would be conducive to regional resolution, yet their exclusion from the agenda would serious weaken a regional forum from its incipience. I can only hope that politics will prove me wrong.





Saturday, August 19, 2006

A North Korea Nuclear Test? Must Be Getting Desperate.

News reports say US sources say North Korea is doing things that look like preparations for a nuclear test. It could yet be another feint, to gauge the response and gain some information in preparation for their next move. But always plan for the worse, they say. Besides, it ‘s more fun that way.


So, if North Korea really does up the stakes, and the US calls its bluff, then it has no choice but to show its hand, like it did with the missiles. And the US probably does not have the inclination or the domestic political capital to back down in the face of a North Korean threat. The natural consequence of a nuclear test is that the US and Japan will work to further tighten the screws, and China and South Korea will have less room to ease any North Korean pain.


And what will North Korea have gained from it? It will know that at least it can successfully detonate a nuclear explosive device. And the experience should be of some help in efforts to miniaturize it to fit it on top of a Taepodong. But that will take time. And you can be sure that after the test, any missiles taken out in the open for launching preparations will be prime targets for preemptive strikes. And strategic ambiguity, which North Korea had used so well, will be lost forever.


So, at first glance, there isn’t much to for North Korea to gain by plain this hand to its bitter end. and North Korea should be too seasoned a gambler to play a clearly losing hand. But, then, desperation often clouds judgment. And it won’t take too long to know.


But that’s just my thumb talkin’. What do you think?


Friday, August 18, 2006

Professor Ikenberry's Regional Security Arrangement? I Only Wish...

Professor Ikenberry calls for a regional security arrangement. Would that it were.


The April 17 Washington Post carries an op-ed by Professor G. John Ikenberry that raises the Yasukuni question. Since the article goes beyond the visits and discusses historical reconciliation in conjunction with the “normalization” issue in addressing regional security, I am going to take it up here as in the hopes that it will serve as a segue to the non-Yasukuni phase of this blog.


First of all, the only quibble I have about Professor Ikenberry’s views on Yasukuni is that taking out Class A war criminals will not solve the problem, as my previous posts argue, and the South Korean administration’s pronouncements show. However, even if Mr. Abe decides not to go or, much more likely, maintain the tactical ambiguity that he seems to be tacking towards, the security interests in East Asia are too divergent to allow the three nations to begin to work with a view to “a future East Asian security community”.


The most serious Ease Asia security, at least from the Japanese point of view, is North Korea. But our interests lie mainly in their nuclear weapon and ballistic missile potential, which we believe, rightly or wrongly, are mainly pointed toward us. (Yes, there are some fears of a united Korea equipped with nuclear weapons. I do not believe this line of thinking figures seriously in Japanese strategic thinking, as long as we have the US nuclear umbrella in hand, but I’m willing to listen to other views.) This is very different from China’s, whose main concern is North Korea’s disintegration, which will bring the Korea-US military alliance, albeit somewhat tattered, right up against its borders, and/or a massive influx of Korean refugees. South Korea’s main ears are North Korea’s disintegration and a desperate wave of conventional attacks and/or (again) a massive influx of refugees. But South Korea also fears Chinese domination of North Korea. Indeed, North Korea already gives greater leeway to growing Chinese economic interests in the north than they do to those of their supposed brothers in Kaesong and other areas of South Korean protrusion. Given these differences, it is not surprising that the three nations frequently differ on the strategics and tactics of the issue. (Complicating this question is the fact that proliferation is at the top of the US agenda. Hopefully, this will not be a cause of dissent between Japan and the US over the specifics of future dealings with North Korea.)


The next major issue is Taiwan. But I can be brief here. Any security arrangement, or talks thereof, that do not involve the one party most affected, Taiwan, or the most powerful, the US, is likely to cause more disagreements than anything else.


Moreover, there are the specific issues of our territorial and quasi-territorial disputes. I won’t go into them in detail here (partly because I don’t have enough information. particularly on a fishing agreement that might serve as a good precedent to the resolution of the Japan-China standoff over the Shirakaba off shore gas fields), but I don’t see how they can be reconciled within a regional security arrangement, nor the latter constructed that accommodates the former.


Yes, extricating ourselves from the Yasukuni conundrum is good in of itself. Yes, it will help us in our relations with our neighbors. Yes, improved relations may be helpful in containing security-related emergencies. But to go from there to regional arrangements, much less one where Japan assumes regional leadership is a stupendous leap of faith. Yet I wait, fervently, to be convinced that I am wrong.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Road to Yasukuni: What Does The Latest Yomiuri Poll Mean?

The latest Yomiuri poll, taken on August 15 and 16, shows 53% supported Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni while 39% opposed it. This is a big turnaround from the August 5-6 Yomiuri poll, when 49% opposed the visit while only 43% supported it. Although the two results are not strictly comparable (15-16 poll: phone; 5-6 poll: interview), it does indicate that people’s respect for Koizumi’s stubbornness is still there. Moreover, a similar turnaround from opposition to troops in Iraq to opposition to pullout after Japanese hostage murders indicates that this rally-round-the-flag phenomenon is not solely dependent on personal charisma. These are food for thought on the part of the up-close-likeable Mr. Abe, whose political instincts are far more conciliatory than Mr. Koizumi’s.


But the poll also shows that only 25% support Yasukuni as is, while 65% support some form of change that does not bode well for the class A war criminals (new secular, national memorial facility 30%; Yasukuni sans cAwcs 19%; Chidorigadafuchi Cemetery expansion 11%; secularized and nationalized Yasukuni 5%). When all is said and done, we are ready for change, but under our own terms.


What does this mean for our neighbors, the Chinese and Koreans? I think they should be willing to give Mr. Abe the benefit of the doubt, and let him work things out on his own terms. If he decides he wants to keep his actions under wraps (like then Prime Minister Miyazawa), le him do so. Japan is not going to take back Takeshima (or Dokto, for you Koreans out there) by force any time soon (psst, anybody want to go the Hague with us? Rule of law? … I thought so), nor is the JDA going to come out in force to knock out the Chinese drilling rig at the Shirakaba (Chunxiao for you Chinese) gas field. So play it cool and see if he has figured out a way to finesse the issue. And wait till the politics are ripe for a later administration, LDP, coalition, or otherwise to come to a more permanent resolution.


Speaking of politics, the Blue House spokesman came out and said that separating cAwcs from Yasukuni would not be enough; that as long as the Yushukan remained what it is, the history issue would not go away and thus visits to Yasukuni would not be acceptable to Korea. It is easy to dismiss this as a desperate ploy from a discredited and besieged administration with less wiggle room than their Chinese counterparts to begin with. But they do deserve a hearing; after all, China and Korea to Japan was not what Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, including yes, China and Korea, were to the West. We have our own issues with history, and Yasukuni is as good a place as any to begin.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cut Yasukuni Ties to Yushukan, and Let Souls Rest in Peace

The following is my 8.14 post on my old (dead?) blog. I'm posting it here for recordkeeping purposes.


On the eve of 8.15 (for people who don’t know, which is like 98% of the global population, this is the day Japanese imperialism gave up the ghost, one, two, three steps ahead of Belgium, England, France, the Netherlands, Russia; let’s see, who else…), the powers that be, both here and in China, are putting the best face on it, doing the best to minimize the fallout from what looks like a (finally) spot-on Koizumi trip to Yasukuni.

8月15日の前夜(ご存知でない世界の98%の皆様にご説明すれば、これは、日本帝国主義が、白英仏 蘭露等々のそれに一歩も三歩も先んじて成仏した日である)を控え、日中の当局は、(ついに)小泉首相が総裁選の公約どおり終戦当日に靖国神社詣でをするよ うにうかがえる中、表面を取り繕うべく最善を尽くしているようである。

There is something unsettling about what should be a solemn event to commemorate the millions who died (mostly Japanese, it is true, for this specific event) being turned into an issue of great diplomatic controversy. But it is downright distressful to see the occasion be the subject of intense domestic strife, as the Japanese public is split neatly in half over the prime minister’s prospective visit. What should be a unifying event, of peace and democracy, turns out to be a deeply divisive one, fraught with political significance. You wonder what the gods of Yasukuni are making of this turn of events.

何百万人もの死者(確かにこの行事が記念して いるのは、ほとんど日本人物故者ばかりだが)を弔うこの、荘厳たるべき機会が外交上の大争点にされることには、いささか穏やかならざるものがある。しか も、わが国の世論が小泉首相の靖国神社訪問をめぐって真っ二つに割れるのを見ては、本件が国内の激烈なる争点になりはてることにいたっては、欝然たる思い を禁じえないのである。平和と民主主義の確認の民意統合の機会たるべきものが、政治的意味合いに満ちた、国論分断のそれとなり果てているのである。靖国の 神々は、この体たらくを見て、いかなる思いを抱いておられることであろうか。

True, much of this controversy has been generated by an authoritarian, nuclear-capable regime with a post-WW II history of crossing arms with many of its neighbors, including fellow travelers of the International. To shun Yasukuni and its gods in deference simply to placate geopolitical demands made on it by this particular neighbor bodes ill for any desire to become a “normal nation”. Besides, Shinto has a long tradition of deifying even the treasonous, to pacify their spirits. Surely you all know that Taira no Masakado, the 10th-century would-be emperor, is a serious deity in the Kanto area. And that Sugawara no Michizane, the god of learning, is a 9th-century political exile who was enshrined by fearful nobles who had brought him down to die a neglected death? And I can go on. What matters then, that Class-A War Criminals are enshrined, as long as our intents are pure as we mourn the dead?

確かに、この争論の大部 分は、第二次大戦後にも、核兵器を保有する権威主義的な政体の下に、同じ国際インターの仲間を含め多くの隣国と刃を交えた国から仕掛けられているものであ る。その要求を収めるだけのために靖国神社とその神々に背を向けることは、「普通の国」になろうとする日本にとって、決して幸先よいことであるとは言えな い。それにそもそも、神道には、たとえ反逆者であってさえも、その荒玉を静めるためにそれを神として祭る慣わしがあるのである。皆様も、10世紀の「新 皇」平将門が関東地方における有力な信仰の対象であることはご存知であろう。また、学問の神様、菅原道真が9世紀の政治的敗北者であり、彼を陥れた貴族達 がその祟りを恐れて祭られたことも。まだまだある。では、どうしてA級戦犯が紛れ込んでいるからといって問題があろう、我々の心に曇りがない限りは。

But such theological defenses ring hollow when you turn your attention to the Yushukan. The Yushukan is a political, not religious, entity that is nevertheless linked to Yasukuni, both institutionally and spiritually. It is dedicated to the promotion of a view of history that, at least in its war and other dealings with our neighbors, is deeply inimical to anything that is accepted by the majority of the Japanese public and, indeed, Prime Minister Koizumi himself.

しかし、 こうした神学的反論も、遊就館に目を向けると空しく響くのである。遊就館は、宗教的な施設ではなく、政治的な施設である。しかるに、なおかつ、組織的にも 精神的にも靖国神社と結びついているのである。そこで称揚されている歴史観は、少なくとも我等が隣国達との戦争その他の関係において日本の民衆の過半、い や小泉首相自身が受け入れている歴史観とあまりにも大きく乖離しているのである、

So, let Yasukuni repudiate Yushukan. Sever ties. Deal with the political, to maintain the spiritual. And if anyone refuses to accept that as sufficient, so be it. Dare, supporters of the prime minister’s visit to the Yasukuni, to expose its demands as the political ploy you claim it to be.

さ れば靖国神社こそは遊就館と関係を絶つべきである。政治を絶って精神に付く。そしてもし、何国かがそれを不十分とするのであれば、それは仕方ないであろ う。靖国神社への総理訪問の支持者達よ、あなた方が主張するように、彼等の主張が単なる政治的駆け引きに過ぎないことを暴露する絶好の機会ではないか。

The Prime Minister's Last Visit to Yasukuni?

I can't post on my Gadfly-on-The-Wall blog, okay? So I'm starting this new one, just in case. So...

Gadfly on The Wall にポストできません。そこで、とりあえずこの新しいブログを始めてしまいます。というわけで...

With Prime Minister Koizumizi's trip to the Yasukuni Shrine early in the morning, of 8.15*, Mr. Abe's unacknowledged April visit has receded into the background. Not that it had made such a big splash in the first place, with little more than potshots from opposition party leaders coming his way, and instead a conspicuous lack of meaningful response from Chinese authorities. Indeed, it's hard to lodge an official complaint to something an official will not officially confirm. If this is an indication of Mr. Abe's intents re Yauskuni during his tenure, then we have reason to believe:

a) Mr. Abe's relationship with Mr. Hu will be much better than people fear; and
b) Mr. Abe is a much smarter cookie than people give him credit for being; while
c) Mr. Koizumi did Mr. Abe a great favor by lowering the bar to the limit.

小泉首相が8月15日(注)早朝、靖国神社に参拝したことで、安倍官房長官の4月参拝が ― といっても本人はその確認に応じないのだが ― すっかりかすんでしまった。もっとも、初めからたいした反響が喚起されたわけではなかった。野党首脳たちからの散発的な攻撃はあったが、むしろそれより中国当局からのそれなりの公式反応がなかったことが目立っている。確かに、公人が公けに確認してくれないことに対して公式に抗議するというのは、容易ではない。で、もしこれが首相在任中の靖国問題への対応に関する安倍氏の意図の現れであるとしたら、次のようなことが言えるのではないだろうか:


This bodes well for the personal relationship between Prime Minister Abe and other members of his cabinet and their Chinese counterparts. And believe me, they will need that when the real test comes, as the East China gas fields issue comes to an impasse, well before next year's Upper House elections.


*About this issue of specific dates, will someone tell me what's so wrong about 8.15? Now I would worry if the Prime Minister chose 12.08, the day Japan started the Pacific War, or some such date of agressive symbolism. But the day we surrendered unconditionally? Can anyone think of a better day to symbolize our sorrow, humility, and regret?