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.