Sunday, September 30, 2012

Abe Will Not Walk on the Wild Side

All five candidates for the LDP presidency stood significantly to the right of incumbent Sadakazu Tanigaki on external relations, but Shinzo Abe had been the most vocal of all. But he’s going to disappoint the Japanese right and anyone else looking for more excitement on the eastern front. He has always played it safe at crunch time and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t do so again. He voted for the Koizumi administration’s Japan Post reform bill in 2005 despite personal misgivings, wound up endorsing the Kono Statement when his comments regarding the Korean comfort women stirred up controversy,* and never—not openly at least—visited Yasukuni Shrine. Sure enough, one of his first acts as new LDP president was to pick Masahiko Komura, the 70 year-old head of the Japan-China Parliamentarian Friendship Association, as deputy LDP president, an at-large assignment whose role is analogous in institutional terms to that of the US vice president. Komura visited Beijing from September 26-29 as one of the leaders of the Seven Japan-China Friendship Organizations.**

So that’s that.

* A little creative editing by NYT interviewer Norimitsu Onishi also played a role there.
** Japan-China Economic Association Fujuo Cho missed the trip because the Toyota corporate jet failed to take off… What?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Still Wondering about the Water Cannon Fight with the Taiwanese Vessels

Just to be sure, I was genuinely mystified that the Japanese Coast Guard vessels initiated a water cannon fight with their Taiwanese counterparts when they had allowed Chinese surveillance vessels to loiter in the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands essentially unmolested until they left, and am not advocating JCG engagement in a physical altercation with the Chinese authorities unless they are further provoked. I also suspect that benshsngren and waishengren tend to have different perspectives on Taiwan’s role in this this segment of the tug-of-war over the islands.

Why the Same Old Same Old (LDP)?

Nobutaka Machimura (67) G2
Sadakazu Tanigaki (67) G2
Shinzo Abe (58) G3
Nobuteru Ishihara (55) G2
Yoshimasa Hayashi (51) G4

The five candidates for the LDP presidency all directly owe their political career to their fathers*. They all grew up in Metropolitan Tokyo, although Hayashi moved out in grade school when his father took over the family lower house seat in Yamaguchi Prefecture. They are all in their fifties and sixties, yet Machimura was the only faction leader among them, yet he nor the real proprietor of the “Machimura” faction, soon to be retired Yoshiro Mori, could not convince Shinzo Abe, from the same faction, to step aside so he could have the full backing of the faction. Abe, the eventual winner, is s former prime minister who’s short-lived reign essentially ended when the LDP-Komeito coalition lost its upper majority in the 2007 election.

Add a few murders here and there and a little incest there, and it begins to look like a Game of Thrones spinoff…not.

Seriously, folks, the joke among my friends was that they could then go to Yasuo Fukuda, Taro Aso, and back to Tanigaki and Abe and keep repeating this four-year cycle until Shijiro Koizumi grew up.** Fukuda is retiring, but his son has been picked to replace him. But why is the LDP looking more LDP than ever?

First, it's hard to make your mark when your party is out of power. Take the DPJ. Akira Nagatsuma got his big chance (and the risk of spectacular flame-out) by his huge role in taking down the Age administration over the public pension missing accounts scandal, but that's the exception, not the rule. Goshi Hosono was already a rising star, but without his multiple government and party assignments, he would have been less able to create separation between himself and the rest of the policy wonks who appeared on talk shows to push the DPJ line. The LDP has been out of power for three years, essentially treading water waiting for the DPJ to trip and break its neck. It’s hard to emerge from the pack when that’s the game plan.

Second, the 2009 elections diminished the ranks of first- and second-termers, which enhanced the relative power of the really old guard, for what it’s worth. First-term Shinjiro Koizumi has been able to jump the queue as the party poster boy and hold his place despite challenging the party line largely because he is Prime Minister Koizumi’s son. Success literally has bred success.***

* G2, G3 and G4 indicate two, three and four generations of diet members in direct descent respectively. Nobuteru Ishihara did not run in his Shintaro Ishihara’s old district, but his bid as well as much of his subsequent career would not have been remotely possible without Shintaro Ishihara’s nationwide celebrity status and local presence as an LDP-friendly Tokyo governor in his second life. Yoshimasa Hayashi, the only upper house member of the five, first got elected when his father was still a lower house member and has been stranded there since because he has been unable to find an open lower house district to his liking in his home prefecture.
** I compressed the entire set of email communications, with the final story taking shape in a bilateral exchange with CW, in case the others on the original thread are wondering where the rest of the material came from.
*** Not to deny Shinjiro Koizumi’s formidable all-around political skills and maturity, but he would not even have been nominated as an LDP candidate if his father had not been an incumbent Diet member.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are Good Things Are Happening to Noda?

First, Mayor Hashimoto’s new political party slipped badly in the weekly Fuji TV Metropolitan Tokyo opinion poll Tokyo from 9.4% (Sept. 13) to 4.8% (Sept. 20). Next, Noda scored a landslide victory in his reelection bid as DPJ representative (Sept. 21). Now, all my friends think that the LDP gifted him when it brought back former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as its leader against the wishes of its rank-and-file, which had voted overwhelmingly for Shigeru Ishiba in the first round. Unfortunately for Ishiba, only Diet members are allowed to vote in the second-round runoff (Sept. 26).

Many people, I’m one of them, must be wondering; doesn’t the LDP want to win? But we could be wrong. And the LDP has been well ahead of the DPJ in the polls, We may know better on Sunday, when Fuji TV publishes its Sept. 27 poll.

Pending Political Shuffle Typical of Three-Year DPJ Run

Goshi Hosono has been a cabinet minister since June 27, 2011 in a variety of roles. He is currently head of the Ministry of Environment and also holds down the nuclear administration and nuclear disaster prevention* portfolios. Jun Azumi joined the Noda cabinet at its inauguration on September 2, 2011 as the Minister of Finance. Both have managed to avoid generating front-page headlines, which, in the high-stakes political minefields of nuclear power for the former and the economy and government finance on the other, is about the best that players can hope for. They have acquitted themselves well (although “well” is relative, and a subjective word to boot). So, what happens? On October 1, they will be reassigned to the DPJ political team in anticipation of a lower general election and replaced by other DPJ notables, starting with Seiji Maehara and possibly including one or two of his challengers at the latest leadership election.

One of the key promises that the DPJ made in coming to power in 2009 was that it would take policymaking back from the bureaucracy, and Prime Minister Hatoyama anointed a group of mostly intelligent and well-meaning cabinet ministers who were allowed to assemble their own political teams. But Hatoyama got sidetracked by a political nonstarter of an issue in Futenma and Naoto Kan also failed miserably if less spectacularly, and we are now into what could be the third strike in the DPJ version of the post-Koizumi one year-and out administrations. The effect of all this on day-to-day governance as well as long-term policy must have been enormous. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa was the only cabinet member to survive deep into a second year with his/her portfolio intact. (Kan went through a handful of portfolios in his first year before he succeeded Hatoyama as prime minister, but all the others suffered the same fate or worse than the cabinet that they swerved in.) After the first year, the ministers no longer had control over their respective political teams.

These men (mostly) and women are essentially amateurs who are suddenly tasked with shaking up operations with thousands of employees and multibillion/trillion budgets and keeping them running more or less normally at the  same time. Once the original game plan went out the window with the Hatayama cabinet, the newbies were playing it by ear. And when those newbies are pushed out or at best shuffled around and recycled at warp speed, mission accomplished could be just staying abreast of the briefings and making sure that you don’t blow yourself up in press conferences.

Maybe Noda has no choice, what with the election looming, but three years of revolving-door governance exposes the DPJ to a highly effective line of attack from the LDP—or would if the other four fingers wouldn’t be pointing to the LDP itself if it did.

* FYI the Japanese word for “prevention” also covers disaster response in Bureaucratise and Politish.

Who’s Winning the Battle of the Pinnacle Islands?

The Chinese, that’s who; GC must be peeing in his pants with joy.

The battleground:
Chinese vessels from the oceanic and fishing authorities are now rotating in and out of the contiguous waters of Diaoyudao and even spending a little quality time in the territorial waters while the Japanese Coast Guard do little to protect the Senkaku Islands but complain.

The optics:
The shutdown of public exchanges has come totally from the Chinese side. The Noda administration dispatches its MOFA administrative vice minister to consult with his Chinese counterpart…in Beijing! How lame is that? MOFAs aren’t the deciders, and the Chinese MOFA is even less of one, with the CCP breathing down its neck. In fact, I strongly suspect that relying on diplomatic channels for communications was what got everyone into this mess in the first place. The Japanese authorities completely failed to anticipate the Chinese blowback when they went and consummated the Senkaku purchase and were caught without even a Plan B. how likely is it that the Japanese side

The narrative:
China has managed to frame its offensive against the background of the devastations wrought by the colonial powers, whilethe 19th century geopolitical jockeying between two regional powers, one fading, the other in ascendance, that led most famously to the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) remains mostly stuck in the domestic consumption-only pages of Japanese nationalist publications.

Why? No pain, no gain, but Japan feels it more strongly. It hasn’t quite stopped playing touch football since August 15, 1945, but full-contact China, after a massive growth spurt, isn’t obliging any more. More substantively, high-profile brands are softer, more visible targets; it’s easy to overlook that Toyota has local 50-50 JV partners, and Chinese employees and suppliers. At the other end, Chinese exports show up behind third-country brands, in the country-of-origin fine print. There is no Hanryu, no AKB48, other than the occasional cineaste offering (and my beloved wushu serials, but that’s an acquired taste), with broad cultural acceptance.

Where do we go from here? I’m not making any predictions on the outcome of the battle, other than that hostilities will subside, sometime, somehow. But damage, enduring, has been done to the bilateral relationship and the war will go on, war by other means mostly, if maybe, just maybe, not exclusively.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The 210 or so DPJ Core and What that Means

Naoto Kan and Yoshihiko Noda have been trying to take the DPJ back to its pre-Ichiro Ozawa, metropolitan middle-class roots with their reemphasis on fiscal responsibility, competition and free trade. In the 2010 DPJ leadership election, Kan received votes from 206 Diet members when he turned back a challenge from a pre-indictment Ozawa. In the 2011 leadership election, 215 Diet members supported Noda in the second-round runoff against Ozawa surrogate Banri Kaieda. In the 2012 leadership election, Noda defended his title (and the prime minister’s office) with a first-round knockout of his three challengers, one strongly influenced by agricultural interests, another representing the old-Socialist labor wing, and the other with his name associated with Ozawa, Your Party, Toru Hashimoto through more-or-less visible attempts at self-promotion. His Diet supporters? Somewhere between 210 and 214.** This is pretty consistent.

* This does not mean that he is more faithless than your typical DPJ Diet member. Although a Matsushita Seikei-juku graduate and a policy wonk, he comes from the Hata-Ozawa side of the 1998 merger and does not have a specific group affiliation to fall back on.
** The nine officially nominated candidates for the next election were given one vote each, while the 334 Diet members had, as usual, two votes each. Noda received a combined 429 votes from these notables, which gives us a 210-9 ~214-1 split.

So, an urban agenda is supported by a solid majority in the DPJ, especially with Ozawa’s associates gone, but is being checked by minority interests who cannot move their own agendas but are holding the majority’s hostage by threatening to pull up stakes and leave. The resulting standoff will keep the DPJ more or less intact for the time being but will have no upside for the DPJ going into the lower house election. Noda takes his time in laying the groundwork for major policy decisions and has not been impressive when it comes to managing the politics around them, but he has taken a stand on the consumption tax hike and the nuclear power plant restarts, as well as the Osprey deployment to Okinawa. I’d say that it is very likely that he will push Japan into the TPP negotiations in the coming months if he survives the lower house election, or even before if the opposition fails to force a snap election within the year.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Canvassing a Bunch of Business Executives on the LDP Presidential Election

Okay, it’s not quite Secret Muslim Socialist vs. Mr. 53%, but for what it’s worth, their more or less consensus...

Abe, Shinzo: He quit prime minister because his stomach hurt, and he’s running again?*
Hayashi, Yoshimasa: Member of the House of Councillors, so he’s not really eligible.
Ishiba, Shigeru: Can’t he smile a little bit more?
Ishihara, Nobuteru: His words carry no weight.
Machimura, Nobutaka: 67 is a dangerous age.**
Sidebar: Mori is Abe and Machimura’s faction leader and he’s pushing Ishihara?

Ishiba by default if big business has its way? We’ll know in another week, one way or another.

* True dialogue overheard elsewhere:
Journalist: He quit because he had a tummy ache!
Pundit X : It’d be like nominating Tom Eagleton for president!
** They’d just received word that Machimura had been hospitalized.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Yakuza Membership Revisited

I had the occasion to revisit the issue of yakuza membership, this time actually work-related.* Specifically, I looked at the massive membership drop-off in 2011, when the lights went out in the entertainment districts in TEPCO territory. Here’s what I found, lightly edited for public consumption.

* Here’s the post from several years back, for those of you who are new to this blog.

Yakuza membership is at a 20-year low. This has been true for both 2011 and pre-Fukushima 2010. Actually, the number of yakuza members (including associate members; hereinafter the same) has been falling since the last, modest, peak in 2004. 2011 was unusual, though, for a 8,300 year-on-year drop. For comparison, the largest y-o-y drop during 2004-2010 was 1,700, in 2010. In fact, you have to go all the back to 1993 and 1994 for anything comparable, when the yakuza industry lost 10,600 members in two years.

This is probably not a coincidence. The yakuza are not a bunch of brigands and highwaymen who thrive on lawlessness. As an integral if illegitimate element of the Japanese economy, they share the hopes and fears of more lawful businesses. In down times, they lay off employees and turn to cheaper irregular workers, a much easier task for them because their employees do not enjoy the protection of labor unions and more generally labor law. But what accounts for the massive drop-off in 2011?

I am not a yakuza expert, but I can make a couple of educated guesses. First, the lights dimmed everywhere in TEPCO territory, which in a typical year consumes about 1/3 of Japanese electricity, dealing a massive blow to the entertainment industry (restaurants, bars, night clubs, strip clubs, massage parlors, porn shops, brothels, gambling establishments…), a blow compounded by the general sense of self-restraint among the general populace. This must have resulted in a significant drop-off in yakuza revenue, much of which is directly and indirectly (protection money, etc.) derived from these personal services. This should have led many yakuza members to leave this relatively low-paying business and incented the yakuza organizations to avoid making up for these and natural attrition losses. Second, and here I am being more speculative, demand for cleanup and reconstruction labor must have attracted many low-ranking yakuza members. The yakuza profession pays relatively poorly—leaders of smaller groups have been caught for ordinary petty crimes, including shoplifting household goods, to make ends meet—so I’m sure that the 1000-plus yen/hour wages must have been a godsend, particularly for the irregular employees/associate members. The catch here is that the national and local governments explicitly exclude yakuza and their members from public works. Members would have to renounce their affiliations—believe me, the local police know who they are and have records—to be eligible. The drop-off for associate members was double that for full members, which is particularly notable because associate membership had been stable or rising throughout most of the last two decades while overall membership declined. Note also that associate membership is much easier to give up.

The yakuza numbers are a reminder that the yakuza are an integral part of the Japanese economy and are affected by the its overall performance as well as factors that have differentiated effects on sectors and individual businesses, and that their behavior should be understood accordingly.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I’m Becoming Less Sure about the Early Snap Election

If you look at comments from the five candidates for the LDP presidency, Shigeru Ishiba, a strong candidate rumored to be favored by the party rank-and-file, has stated that the deficit bond authorization bill should not be used as a political tool, which has been generally interpreted as the expression of an intent not to hold it hostage for a snap election. The other candidates are also making offers of potential support, explicitly contingent, of course, on concessions, with some of them calling for a trillion or more in specific savings in the FY2012 budget.

So it’s negotiable. Will Prime Minister Noda make what are likely to be massive budget cuts, concessions that will give his DPJ opponents further ammunition? And is it worth enduring another regular Diet session next year with an already diminished lower house majority and upper house plurality? But then, think of the alternative, as they say.

And that is why I am becoming less sure about the early snap election.

So Much for No Nuclear Power by the 2030s

The Noda Cabinet’s sort-of resolve to eliminate nuclear power by the end of the 2030s lasted exactly one day when it got lost in Aomori Prefecture, where METI Minister Yukio Edano told Governor Shingo Mimura yesterday (15 September 2012) that the three nuclear power plants, including two in Aomori Prefecture*, currently under construction under permits issued by the national government would be commissioned. The nuclear power plants will each receive a 40 year operating license at commission, which would keep them running into the mid-2050s, well past the Noda Cabinet’s time limit.

* One of them is unlikely to be commissioned any time soon if ever, but that’s another story.

This PR disaster happened because Aomori Prefecture had a trump card. A significant amount of nuclear waste from nuclear power plants from elsewhere in Japan has been sent to Rokkashomura in Aomori from which plutonium (and uranium) will be eventually extracted to be used as nuclear fuel. If all the nuclear power plants are going to be shut down after 40 years in commission according to the Noda government’s decision, there will be no justification for reprocessing*. The Aomori authorities were making use of this point to threaten to exercise their right to send back the nuclear waste to the power plants in case reprocessing became unnecessary, which would in turn all but immediately stop the power plants because they would no longer have a place to store their fresh nuclear waste. The Noda Cabinet, already under fire from all four major national business associations and facing questions from the United States, France and the UK,  each of which has a genuine stake in the Japanese outcome, had no option but to cave on day 2.

 * Actually, Japan could decide to leave the NPT and develop a plutonium bomb. But that’s another story.

This is what happens when a policy decision is made by cabinet members with conflicting policy agendas out of fear—fear of voter backlash*, fear of business complaints—and coming up with a compromise document that is designed to be something for everyone but winds up being nothing to all.

* I now believe that the likelihood of an early snap election has diminished somewhat due to developments in the LDP leadership election. But that’s another story.

BTW I think I’ve figured out something important regarding the Senkaku staredown. But that’s really another story.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is the Japanese Government Ready to Take an Economic Hit for the Senkaku Islands?

The Chinese authorities are doing two things: scuttling official contacts and public events and sending official vessels, six of them, simultaneously, into the territorial waters of what Google Maps judiciously calls “Senkaku Islands / Diaoyudao / Diaoyutai.” So the Japanese Government might as well have saved its money by letting the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buy them and given a Gallic shrug when Governor Ishihara made landfall. Now, if the Japanese Government registers its usual protests but fails to take substantive action, the Chinese vessels will become a regular feature of the Senkaku seascape and Japan’s “effective possession” will vanish, pouf, just like that.

But what? And at what cost? Just spiffing up the old lighthouse would invite a massive boycott from the Chinese public and the Chinese authorities could just let it happen without officially lifting a finger. True, Chinese joint venture partners will lose money and Chinese employees will lose their jobs, but the political downside will be strictly limited. The truly essential stuff, the things that go under the hood, inside factory walls, they wouldn’t have to be affected. It’s much harder for the Japanese public to respond in kind. Even if Japanese public became sufficiently incensed, what is it going to boycott? Lenovo laptops and what else? How do you boycott all the things that are hidden behind the label, inside the kitchen? Asymmetric warfare, economic version, that’s what this is.

Perhaps, then, the Noda administration will keep “surveilling” those Chinese vessels until they go away, like they usually do. After all, they do need to replenish their fuel and supplies, don’t they? But what if the Chinese authorities bring in replacements? Entirely plausible. The Noda administration better have a Plan B, even though it will be a painful one for Japanese businesses. Otherwise, the second phase of the Noda administration will be short, brutish, and nasty.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Japan Restoration Party Launch

I’ve finally found time to watch the September 12 press conference following the formal launch of the Japan Restoration Party. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, as party chief, is his usual aggressive, obsessive, recursive, self. Sound bites? More like sound wall.* Ichiro Matsui, his JRP deputy and Osaka Governor, almost always speaking after Hashimoto, half looking at him, comes across as steady, practical, down-to-earth. I’m probably not the only person who’s thinking, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. They’re inventing a national political party on the fly, on the cheap, and this counterbalance is a good thing if you’re a JRP supporter. They’ll need it, too, because they’re a little short on polish right now. Most of the crowd left the party once Hashimoto made his speech, prompting the top guest speaker Hiroshi Nakata, a former Yokohama mayor with a considerable national following of his own, to quip, ”It looks like the party is over.” Someone needs to make sure that the trains run on time, and it looks like Matsui is the one who is going to be tasked with the job.

* This trait carries over to his tweets. One September 10 series on regarding the media response to the JRP’s open-access policy discussion the day before ran to 1,904 characters. (forgot this footnote the first time around. Sept. 14)

Monday, September 10, 2012

It’s taken five days since I declared Sadakazu Tanigaki, the current president of the LDP who should be everyone’s choice for best neighbor, dead before he entered the paddocks, but it’s finally official: he’s taken himself out of the race in favor of Nobuteru Ishihara, the LDP Secretary-General*, the stated reason being that two members of the party leadership should not run for the presidency at the same time. No, that doesn’t make sense in Japanese society either, and yes, it essentially means that he got stared down by his own deputy and fellow faction member. A good friend “had been sure he would quit last Friday, but I guess some people can't read the handwriting on the wall even when in big neon letters.” All of the above… very much in character.

Thank you, Mr. Tanigaki.

He had me worried a little since he could have siphoned votes away from Nobuteru Ishihara, causing a one-two finish runoff between Shigeru Ishiba and Shinzo Abe (assuming Abe in turn could convince his faction leader Nobutaka Machimura to step down, a significantly more difficult task than waving Tanigaki away). John Campbell is running a contest on the SSJ Forum and I have Ishihara going all the way to the prime minister’s office.

Speaking of a runoff, I wonder why the LDP (the DPJ as well) goes immediately to a head-to-head runoff when there is no majority winner in the first round. It shouldn’t be that much trouble eliminating them one by one, letting the devil take the hindmost in each round until someone receives an outright majority of the votes.** That’s what they do in the US when they nominate presidential candidates, if only theoretically these days, isn’t it? Likewise when choosing a city to host the Olympics. It seems more sensible. I can see the logistical benefits of a two-round playoff system when you have millions of people voting simultaneously, but that’s not a problem for a Japanese political party. At most, you have 480 + 242 = 722 Diet members at the absolute upper limit of voters in the second round and beyond.

Now, back to work.

* Technically number three but in fact the second most powerful position in the LDP.
** You can potentially shorten the process with a de minimus rule.

Sunday, September 09, 2012


…from my communications, edited, in lieu of fresh ideas…

Accepting the notion that South Africa is a BRIC(S) turned the concept from an economic concept loosely defined (four countries with the largest economies from the Cold War socialist and third world excluding South Korea and Taiwan) into a political construct. Note that Mexico, Turkey, and Indonesia have significantly larger economies than South Africa, and that Mexico and Turkey also have significantly higher per capita GDP’s. Perhaps the larger point to be made is that the breakdown in policy coherence in the OECD member countries and regions in the face of the ongoing economic difficulties is revealing the reality that BRIC(S) was nothing more than a catchy but arbitrary sales gimmick for financial instruments grounded in non-OECD market risks that are sold with the help of investment bank analysts.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Post-election Role Outlook for Mayor Hashimoto’s New Outfit

The DPJ and LDP are more or less resigned to the inevitability that the Nihon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Association; JRA hereinafter), Mayor Hashimoto’s prospective national party, will win a significant number of seats in the House of Representatives (HOR) as the result of the looming general election. The most recent polls, which have the JRA neck-and-neck (can you find the intended the pun?) with the LDP ahead of the DPJ, and the seven sitting Diet members (of whom four are in the House of Councillors) apparently in the bag—two more than the minimum five required to enable its candidates to run simultaneously in a HOR single-member district and the regional proportional representation district—ensure that it will be well represented in the HOR when the dust settles. Still, it will be extremely difficult for the JRA to come up with a slate of credible and self-financing candidates for the 300 single member districts that is large enough to fully capitalize on its national popularity. Since there is unlikely to be much air between the DPJ, LDP and JRA in the battle for the 180 regional proportional representation seats, the most likely overall outcome has the JRA in third place, while I see very little chance of its vaulting both the other two to seize the top spot and make a credible claim for the prime minister’s office. A 100 seat ceiling with a 50-zombie floor seems reasonable, don’t you think, enough to give the DPJ and/or LDP a lower house majority, enough to elect the prime minister and pass budget bills? But what will it actually do?

Formally joining a coalition government is out of the question. Dropping, or even fudging, any of the JRA’s soon to be formally adopted policy positions in exchange for cabinet and subcabinet assignments will be the quickest way to lose momentum at this critical juncture in the leap from an Osaka regional movement to a credible national party and beyond. Moreover, it will be difficult for Mayor Hashimoto and Governor Matsui to maintain control over their national troops if the topmost among them—LDP, DPJ, and Your Party defectors all—begin striking out on their own, as they would be virtually compelled to do if they assume cabinet and subcabinet posts. And of course total capitulation by the DPJ or LDP to JRA demands is even more unthinkable.

Besides, a coalition with the JRA will not solve a problem that has plagued the DPR in its three years in power: the need for a House of Councillors majority to pass legislation. A HOR supermajority can also do the trick and 320 seats between the DPJ or LDP and the JRA is not out of the question. But the supermajority override was used sparing when the LDP had one in the face of significant public opposition and a largely unforgiving media, and there’s no reason to think that the situation will be any different for a new coalition.

The upshot of all this in my view is that the JRA will cooperate with whatever administration is in place*, but only on an issue-by-issue basis, where there is a nice fit with its own policy agenda. If I’m correct here, the JRA will have little immediate direct impact on policymaking, except where it can amplify public opinion to the point where it affects decision making within the administration or, alternatively, increase the political credibility of measures that run up against considerable vested interests and/or public opinion where they are consonant with its own policy agenda. For example, it will definitely put a damper on the chances of work resuming any time soon on the new nuclear power units currently under construction even under a nuclear-friendly LDP-centered administration. In the opposite direction, it’s support could help the LDP and DPJ overcome the political timidity that has kept them postponing some modest co-payment hikes and price-indexed pension payment reductions that force the superannuated to shoulder a more equitable share of the social safety-net upkeep.

Critical, but constructive: that’s the posture that the JRA will be taking on the post-election political scene. But I’ve been wrong before.

* That administration is most likely to have at its core an LDP-DPJ coalition, with the Komeito also in the fold.

205 Million Yen? Do I Hear 205 Billion Yen? 205 Billion Yen!... SOLD!

According to this Sankei report, the Japanese Government is gaining sole position of the Senkaku Islands because it saw the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s 2.03 billion yen bid and raised it by 20 million yen. So it was always about the money. Governor Ishihara must have realized then that the owner was playing the bidders against each other and decided to fold.

I think that Ishihara is losing his game though. He initially expressed his intent to give the 1.46 billion yen in donations, which he’d collected for the cause, to the national government to help pay for the islands. He did pull back in the face of backlash from the donors, who did not appreciate the national government’s obvious intention to put those islands into permanent deep freeze. But he should have anticipated that reponse. More important, the government’s objective was totally anathema to his and flowed directly from the kind of thinking that prompted Ishihara’s initiative in the first place. If anyone is still looking for Ishihara to lead that bunch of septuagenarians into a new era of Japanese politics, he should stop right now. He’s lost his mojo.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Hosono on Board for Noda Reelection, Noda (and DPJ) Reinforced by Scare

The ground becomes firm after the rainfall, goes an old Japanese saying, and that is exactly what happened in the DPJ when Hosono told Prime Minister Noda this morning that he would not contest the PDJ leadership and would continue to dedicate himself to the task of ensuring nuclear safety and recovering from the ravages of the disaster.

Hosono has definitely stayed within character and he had consistently emphasized the need to dedicate himself to his remit, both points indicating that this was a decision from the heart—admittedly not a risk-taking one—and not a loss of nerve. It’s easy to conclude that this enhances his credibility within the DPJ and with the public and the mainstream media and positions him as the odds-on favorite to replace Noda when that occasion arises, and it’s also hard to think that such calculations were not far from his mind.

In the meantime, the positions of Noda and the DPJ going into a snap election have been reinforced by the whole affair. First, the failed draft-Hosono movement raised the profile of an effective public figure, a figure whose policy outlook is highly consonant with Noda and his explicit supporters. Hosono will be even more useful in the brief campaign sprint. Second, it essentially cleared the way for a relatively smooth path for Noda for reelection as DPJ head by shoving other pretenders off center stage. The groundswell for Hosono exposed the main weakness of the other potential challengers: the lack of personal appeal that transcends policy and personality differences. Every other pretender looks diminished after the brief but intense glare of the klieglights on might-be contender Hosono, and the incumbent is the other beneficiary. Third, the fact that the dissent homed in on a cabinet minister whose overall policy views are already highly consonant with the prime minister’s indicates that there is significant room for policy coherence—or at least tolerance—within the DPJ. That is a positive for Noda, or whoever might succeed him after the looming lower house election, in pushing his policy priorities.

It would have been interesting to see how high the DPJ would have bounced back with Hosono at the helm—there would surely have been some backlash as well against the mere fact of a fourth DPJ prime minister as in many years—and how much of that could have been sustained throughout the election campaign. That we’ll never know, but we will know sooner or later if he is the leader that the DPJ needs.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Senkaku Owner Keeps the World on Hold

The owner of the Senkaku Islands will agree to sell the four of the five Senkaku Islands under his ownership to the Japanese Government for 2.05 billion yen in the next couple of days. Unless, of course, he doesn’t. It looks suspiciously like the owner is playing the two Tokyos against each other until the last moment to see if he can’t further enhance what is already a generous if not quite Juwan Howard-territory offer* from the national government. (Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara appears to have wised up and is having none of it.)

If I were the Noda administration, I would tell the owner to stick the islands where they belong and then walk away. After all, the Japanese Government’s sovereign rights and obligations around those islands would be virtually unchanged if it lost its lease as a tenant under the Civil Code. In the meantime, though, the owner is keeping reports from at least two news outlets in the can while he makes up his mind.

* To be sure though, the 2.05 billion yen offer is within reason only by virtue of the absurdly expensive 29 million yen/year (estimate) lease.

Goshi Hosono Keeps the World on Hold

A movement to draft Goshi Hosono, the 41 year old Minister of Environment including nuclear safety, is under way in the DPJ. The groundswell was most likely touched off by the latest media polls, which show the DPJ trailing the LDP and the prospective Ishin-no-Kai, which Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is expected to enter in the looming lower house election, as the electorate’s preferred choice for voting in their regional proportional districts(RPDs). This is very scary for all but the strongest candidates because a poor DPJ finish in RPDs means that fewer DPJ losers in the single-member districts will be revivified through their registration in the RPD list. Thus Thus, the advocates for his candidacy span the entire political spectrum within the DPJ, and the only obstacle to his candidacy, one which would have a good chance of unseating Prime Minister Noda, seems to be… him.

Hosono has been judicious in his choice of words and is not tipping his hand at all. He is definitely staying within character, a character that has enabled a steep yet steady rise up the political ranks without making any enemies as far as I can see. (Hosono could easily have been Ozawa’s first choice to replace Noda had Ozawa not bolted with his faithful followers.) Indeed, if there is anything that can keep him from tossing his hat into the ring, it is his apparent aversion to confrontation. Look to him to announce his candidacy in a couple of days at most, or deliver a ringing endorsement of Noda.

The immediate political consequence of a Hosono victory over Noda would be a snap lower house election at the earliest point possible, before the usual initial jump in the polls wears off for a Hosono Administration. Common sense says that the DPJ will do better under him than Noda in the general election. Policy-wise, though, it is hard to see anything different between the two, particularly since the election outcome is highly likely to be an LDP-DPJ coalition.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

It’s Unofficial, It’s between Ishihara and Ishiba (Plus Something to Keep an Eye on)

Now that the fourth and last of the heirloom turkeys (Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, Taro Aso, and now Sadakazu Tanigaki) that succeeded Junichiro Koizumi as the head of the LDP is being abandoned without even being allowed to contest for the prime minister’s office, the LDP will be picking from five prospective candidates; three of them serious, two less so.

Whoever wins the first round (300 prefectural chapter votes and 200 Diet member votes for a total of 500 votes) should win even if a second round runoff between the top two finishers (with only the 200 Diet members voting) becomes necessary, unless the top two are so close that the second-place finisher can collaborate with the other candidates to convince enough Diet members to vote from him for a majority in the head-to-head. I’d take 1-2 odds on Ishihara winning the LDP election and 1-1 odds on his going all the way to prime minister. Shigeru Ishiba also has a chance. The other serious candidate is… Shinzo Abe.

Maybe I’m missing something, given the persistent support that Abe enjoys from LDP’s more conservative members, but a) this is no time to trot out a failed retread; b) he never distinguished himself in any of the positions that he held after he gained national recognition by (often literally) standing with the abductees and their families; and c) his signature messages on education and constitutional reform do not resonate with the public’s real concerns. (Education, certainly, but the public wants to bring it into the 21st Century, not take it back to the 19th. Constitutional reform, maybe, but fixing the Diet sound better than flags and anthems.) I don’t think that the LDP is klutzy enough to score an own goal.

The other two candidates are Nobutaka Machimura and Yoshimasa Hayashi. Machimura, like me, is a former METI official and has been nice to me and everyone else on the occasions that I’ve been around him and has no significant blemishes on his record of public service. However, at 67 (like Tanigaki) and with limited public acceptance, he is unlikely to be seen by a majority of the LDP rank-and-file and/or Diet members as the appropriate face of the LDP for the looming lower house election. As for Yoshimasa Hayashi, he’s stuck in the upper house, which is a no-starter, now into his third term from Yamaguchi Prefecture. He refused to challenge a DPJ lower house incumbent in Yamaguchi District 2 and failed to convince the 69 year old LDP incumbent in Yamaguchi District 3 to step down for him. And he expects to lead Japan? I think that this guy needs a reality check.

Incidentally, I don’t think that Ishihara will make a good prime minister. Everyone likes him, or at least does not actively dislike him, but that will not be enough in running a coalition, or heaven forbid a minority, government. He has an impressive résumé of choice party assignments and cabinet positions but, like Abe, he has failed to distinguish himself on any of those occasions if memory serves me correctly. I believe that his personable character, the Ishihara glamour (the closet thing that we have to the Kennedy charm; Shinjiro Koizumi’s talents are genuine, I believe), and, within the LDP itself, the need to keep his father the Governor Shintaro Ishihara from pissing into the LDP tent have helped keep his career buoyant till now. But the prime minister’s office is a whole different game. Ishiba by contrast projects clarity, conviction, and consistency, qualities that the public will reward him for with more tolerance for failure and more points for effort: currencies that will be very much in demand in dealing with a fractious Diet.

One last thing, and this should be the matter of greatest concern for many of you out there. All of these candidates, including the superannuated Machimura, are significantly to the right of Sadakazu Tanigaki with regard to external affairs. It’s still pretty mild compared to the rest of the East Asia political scene, but it is clearly noticeable. I’m not saying that it should be a matter of immediate concern for East Asia relations—remember how Abe reaffirmed the Kono Statement then went blank after the flap over his comments in an NYT Norimitsu Onishi article—but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Kono Statement: Where Are We Going with This?

The 1993 Kono Statement states that “of those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, those from the Korean Peninsula accounted for a large part…and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc. Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day”, and the “Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women” and that it would “continue to pay full attention to this matter, including private researched [sic] related thereto.” The statement does not say did the “coaxing, transfer, control, etc.”, much less specify what the “involvement of the military authorities” was. If we take the 2007 claim in the official government answer(1) to a question from a Diet member that “there was nothing written in the documents that the government had discovered up to the announcement of the results of the investigation on the same day [as the Kono Statement] to directly indicate that the military, police, and similar government forces had forcibly taken the women away” at face value, then it is possible that the involvement of the Japanese authorities with regard to the Korean women were closer to their treatment of the Japanese women—indeed those of any civilians—who were taken to the frontlines with the soldiers to satisfy their sexual needs than the women who were seized by the Japanese soldiers, sometimes with the complicity of senior officers.(2) Nevertheless, the Statement generated an image of Japanese soldiers going into the Korean countryside and ripping young girls out of the arms of their parents and shipping them to the frontlines, an image that appears to have taken hold in the imagination of the Western world. The cognitive dissonance was significant from the very beginning—that is why the statement had to be issued as a half-assed chief cabinet secretary—and has grown over time, and the gap between reality and the expectations on both sides of the issue. The 2011 South Korean Supreme Court decision demanding that the government do more to seek redress for the survivors may have forced President Lee’s hand and the approach of the end of his term may have emboldened him to be less mindful of the consequences on the Japanese side, igniting the latest and possibly fateful exchange, but the revisionist clock had been ticking for some time. SO where are the mainstream dailies are lining up, as expressed through their editorials?(3)

It comes as no surprise that the conservative Sankei’s effort is entitled “The Comfort Women Issue: Scrap the False Kono Statement; Make Efforts to Correct the Misunderstanding by the International Society” (2012.08.31)(4) A To Occupying the center-right, Yomiuri formally joined the ranks of the revisionists with the equally decisive if less inflammatory Kono's ‘comfort women’ statement must be reviewed (2012.08.29). Next on the political spectrum, Mainichi has yet to opine; it would not be surprising if the moderately center-left daily decides to sit this one out altogether. But it is the efforts of Asahi, which represents the post-WW II progressive tradition these days, that really caught my attention.

The title itself is a little odd: “Japan should look at big picture on ‘comfort women’ issue”.(5) So what does Asahi mean by the branches, and the trunk? The Asahi editorial states:
“Based on various documents and testimonies, the government admitted in the Kono statement that the Japanese military was broadly involved in the establishment of comfort stations and management of comfort women. The statement offered an apology and reflection of the Japanese government.

It is an irrefutable fact that many women were deprived of their physical and mental freedom and had their honor and dignity violated.

Matsubara and others cited the absence of documents pointing to coercion in their calls for the re-examination of the Kono statement. We believe their argument is tantamount to failing to see the trunk for the branches.
Apparently, by trunk, Asahi means the broad involvement of the Japanese military in the establishment of comfort stations and management of the comfort women and the deprivation of the physical and mental freedom and violation of the honor and dignity of the Korean women are the trunk, and by branch, “coercion” (more accurate translation: forcible taking). Note that Asahi does not directly refute Matsubara’s claims around forcible taking but instead invokes the establishment of comfort stations and management of the comfort women as the offending acts of the Japanese military. As an understanding of the facts, Asahi makes no effort to defend the allegation to which Matsubara (and Shinzo Abe and Yomiuri and sankei) are tossing against the Kono Statement. Think about it: Asahi has all but conceded that the lot of the Korean women was not that different from that of the almost as the multitudes of the almost as dirt-poor Japanese women who were in the same situation as they were. This does not mean that the Korean women—and Japanese women as well?—should be denied Japanese apologies and compensation, but it certainly would put the issue in a drastically light. If so, why does Asahi reject a review of the Kono Statement? The answer lies in this opinion piece by American General Bureau Chief at the Asahi. The bureau chief states:
“As long as there is a confrontation between a state, which assumes war responsibility, and individuals, it is a matter of course that international public opinion will side with those who appear to be in the weaker position, regardless of what legal arguments or interpretations of historical facts are presented. If Japan claims to be a human rights leader in Asia, it should reconsider its stance on this issue. For the sake of the country's dignity, Japan should look again at its war responsibility.”
What he’s saying in effect is that the Japanese government cannot win the public relations fight, so it shouldn’t even think about it. But that’s a far cry from where the Asahi was when the whole issue reared its head, two decades ago. The difference on the facts between the Asahi and Sankei is now only tactical. With the South Korea authorities, the South Korean public, the Korea specialists unwilling to engage in the reexamination of the assertions, expect the matter to reverberate within the Japanese echo chamber of public discourse until review of the Kono Statement from the pipe dream of nationalist politicians to a full-fledged subject of national debate.
(1) Note that the official written answer must be adopted by a cabinet decision, which by custom must be unanimous. The Kono Statement is a statement by the chief cabinet secretary, which does not require any formal procedures. Nonetheless, this device has been used to formalize some of the most momentous policy decisions.”

(2) It is tempting to speculate on the reason why the Chinese, Dutch, Indonesian, Philippine, and Malay rage over wartime rape is so muted compared to the enduring South Korean fury. A charitable and undeniably compelling, if only partial, explanation is that the “comfort women” are yet another symbol of the historical humiliation. I’ll leave it that for now.

(3) As I like to remind people from time to time, editorials may be the least read part of a Japanese daily. However, the absolute lack of distance between the editorial writers and reporters at large means that the editorials reflect and influence the overall outlook of that daily. Their effect on other opinion makers and amplifiers also cannot be overlooked.

(4) It may surprise you, though, to know that the Fuji-Sankei media group provides by far the largest proportion of South Korean programming on its land-based broadcasting network compared to other media groups.

(5) A more literal translation would be: The Kon Statement: Let’s Look at the Trunk; Not the Branches.

Heartbreak, Yes. But Anger too, Surely, from the U-20 Women’s Chollima

We the soccer fans of Japan congratulate the US team—well, I will anyway, though the US team beat our Nadeshiko 11 for the Olympic gold medal—for making it into the semifinals of the knockout stage of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012. But America’s joy is North Korea’s despair, as the U-20 women’s Chollima(1) who fell to the US side 2-1 in overtime. And as if to add insult to injury, the Asian Football Federation is using the South Korean system of romanization for North Korean names. Specifically in this piece of news, for instance, Kim Su-gyong instead of Kim Su Gyong.

The two systems are applied by the two Koreas respectively to the other side of the 38th parallel north. Thus, President Lee Myung-bak is Lee Myung Bak to the North Korean media (when it is not calling him worse) while the South Korean media give the Dear Leader (or whatever they call Kim III over there) the Kim Jong-un treatment, not Kim Jong Un. Now I’m pretty sure that this difference has more political resonance than the 49th parallel, center-centre divide.(2) So, if there are any North Koreans reading this blog, you know who to thank for alerting you, okay?
(1) The North Koreans apparently do not give different names to their men and women’s national teams. By contrast, their political leadership if anything is as dominated by men as that of their communist allies in China (as well as democratic Japan). In fact, it’s fascinating to see how socialist states utterly failed to progress towards gender equality during their decades in power.

(2) Oddly, the South Koreans are foregoing the use of the hyphen for the names of its players and FIFA is recording their names accordingly. Thus, it’s Jeon Haneul, not Jeon Han-eul. The North Koreans make no such concessions.