Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Third Force in Japanese Politics? If There Ever Was a Horde of Cats…

There are four groups that matter: Your Party (6 House of Representatives members, 8 House of Councillors members.), Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Japan Restoration Party (5 HORs, 4 HOCs), Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura’s Genzei Nippon (5 HORs, 0 HOCs; literally, Tax Reduction Japan)*, and ex-Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara’s new friendly acquisition Sunrise Party of Japan (2 HORs, 3 HOCs). They all reflect to varying degrees and in different ways the fears and mistrust building up towards the government around a whole array of issues, present and future. Unlike the established mini-parties, they are competing for more or less the same constituency. This means that they have a choice: cooperate or compete. Lacking game theory expertise, I can only point your attention to the following and ask that you come to your own conclusions.

1.      YP and Ishihara both claim metropolitan Tokyo and its near abroad as their strongholds. Think, Crips and Bloods.
2.      Ishihara supports nuclear power and the consumption tax hike, the others do not. Think, Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey.
3.      Ishihara and Hashimoto are alpha males with massive egos. Think, Shaq and Kobe.

* Good friend Michael Cucek points out that “the DPJ yakuinkai has promised to sit upon…resignation letters [from the two recent defectors from the DPJ to the GN]…until hell freezes over.” This exposes the GN to two risks: potential criminal charges against the two defectors and, less likely, GN itself for misrepresentation under political party law; and political embarrassment over the allocation of the political party subsidies for 2013.

My Two Bits on What the Japanese Government Should Be Doing about the Senkaku Issue

I also offered the following suggestion to my friend in Ohio.

“There's also a fourth option, in which a private entity could be set up to purchase it and hold it untouched in perpetuity. That would restore the islands to their pre-purchase circumstances. Can Keidanren members pony up 2.5 billion yen? Yes, it can! Loss of face for the Japanese government. A little.”

Let me amplify this for my blog. I think that it would be acceptable to the Chinese authorities if they really meant what they said about keeping to the original tacit understanding, or finding third way as they are reported to have indicated in early September. If I’m right and business executives are willing to engage in a little private public diplomacy, it would be doing Shinzo Abe a great favor because he wouldn’t have to figure out how he, as prime minister, would stand up to the Chinese without totaling the Japan-China relationship.

Of course I know that the Noda administration would never do anything like that since it would be tantamount to admitting that they botched the whole affair. The catch? Chinese authorities are unlikely to roll back some of the measures that they took, like naming the islands and drawing territorial lines. Still, it’s more plausible than any idea for actual resolution that includes Japanese concessions on sovereignty, which would be unacceptable to any Japanese administration, while any proposal that does not include one would be a non-starter with the Chinese. Note that economic retaliations are not an option for obvious reasons.

I Have a Friend in Ohio Who Has Taken a Little Time off to Ask What’s Going on with the Noda Administration

And here’s my answer to one of his points, edits in parentheses.

[The story on the diversion of post-disaster aid funds] has been generating headlines intermittently and has surely been another drain on the Noda administration's credibility. Much of the delay, reported well before the Auditing Agency report came out (which may be the reason why it did not receive front page treatment), can be attributed to local causeslack of planning and execution capacity at the prefectural and municipal level and/or consensus at the community levelthough, which limits fallout on the national government. The diversion story is of somewhat more recent origin, weeks if not months old. Some of the items will be excusable as top-priority disaster prevention regardless of location, but the items identified as inappropriately connected to the disaster areas do appear to be stretch credibility. The bureaucracy, tasked to come up with the budget items to bring the total up to a politically desirable level, will use [three] tricks of the trade to that end.
1.      Request funds for items that would normally be part of the regular annual requests.
2.      Dump money into a fund, which will be spent over multiple fiscal years. (Supplemental budgets must in principle be spent within the fiscal year.)
3.      Relabel budget items to give them descriptions that fit the theme(s) of the supplemental budget. (This has been used extensively in the regular budget, where some expenditure categories (ex. energy, small and medium) have a higher ceiling than the overall ceiling.)
There are legitimate arguments to be made for all three practices, but they depend on the specific circumstances, and the political optics and the risk of abuse are always present. Of course the political teams in the ministries and agencies should be keeping an eye on those things so that they don't produce embarrassments down the line, but that's difficult to do when the prime minister, the cabinet ministers and vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries keep coming in through revolving doors, and unprepared for the for their mandates for the most part to boot.*

* Am I being a little too understanding with the bureaucracy? You be the judge.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Why Is No One Worrying about the Lower House Redistricting Process?

The House of Representatives Electoral Districts Determination Council Establishment Act (HREDDCEA) sets forth a process that requires the Council to issue a recommendation to the prime minister for redistricting the lower house single-seat constituencies based on the latest National Census, which is conducted once every ten years. The last time they did this, in 2000-2001, it took 30 sessions after the Census became available over a whole year for the Council to come up with its recommendation. The current Council met on and off since June 17, 2009, took a look at the preliminary results of the Census for the first time at its sixth session on March 28 of this year, but has lain dormant since then as the politics of the times overwhelmed the advisory process. So what makes people think that the Noda cabinet can call a snap election within the year based on a simple five-up, five-down deal if the Council must go through a couple of dozen more sessions before it can come up with a recommendation?

It can’t, of course. And that is why none of this matters.

For HREDDCEA is just a law that has no particular constitutional authority. As such, it can be superseded by subsequent legislation that bypasses it altogether.* In this case, the political parties have no choice but to ignore the Council in order to meet whatever political deadline they end up imposing on themselves.

There is a small possibility that Noda winds up calling a snap election without a deal in place. What happens then? An election, of course. Someone may file a lawsuit to try and stop that and, failing that, another one after the election to have it ruled null and void. I’ve gone over this question before; suffice to say for now that there is little chance that either of these lawsuits will succeed, since the courts are not equipped to resolve the more serious constitutional issues that arise from the kind of rulings necessary to satisfy the plaintiff. That said, there will be enough political fallout on whichever player or players who are seen as the main culprit for an election under the current single-seat districts to all but ensure that such an event will not take place.

* The laws of men and women must not be confused with the laws of physics, which prevent you from, among other things, decreeing that the Earth [is flat] and make that stick. The first are normative, while the latter are descriptive and moreover falsifiable.

Okada’s Whatever about Senkaku? Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here

Michael Cucek kindly sent his friends the link to a South China Morning Post report entitled, “Japan's deputy PM admits Diaoyus dispute, opening path to China talks”. The lede, which I reproduce below, is no less incendiary (or conciliatory, depending, figuratively and/or literally, on where you’re coming from):

“The top deputy to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has acknowledged that a dispute with China exists over the East China Sea - a key concession and potential olive branch to Beijing.

I had my doubts about that, since you would expect that Okada, a former MOFA minister and one-time bureaucrat, to know better. Since Michael subsequently posted on the matter, I decided to look a little further. Sankei, for instance, tells us that what Okada actually said was the following:

Translation: The Senkakus are not a territorial issue but it is true that there is a debate/dispute, and the current situation must be calmed down through dialogue.

Okada’s choice of words turns out to be in line with precedent. MOFA officials have always explicitly recognized that there has been an “issue of Senkaku” but has consistently denied that there is a “territorial (ed. usually translated as “sovereignty”) issue.” Unless you are willing and able, as I am not, to read some subtext into the replacement of “issue” with “debate/dispute,” there’s nothing to see here except the unilateral show of Japanese willingness to talk about Senkaku (but not about the sovereignty issue), a willingness that has been there for decades.

Has nothing changed, then? Well, if this report had appeared in the Chinese version of the People’s Daily instead of the English-language SCMP, it could have been read as a deliberate misinterpretation to prepare the Chinese public for a series of calm-the-waters, high-level meetings between Japanese and Chinese officials. As it is, it’s surely just a case of Teddy Ng, the writer, missing more than just a vowel. So move along, folks, nothing to see here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Justice Minister’s Demise Highlights Prime Minister Noda’s Political Incompetence

Prime Minister Eisaku Sato was poorly regarded in his time by the progressive mainstream media and most of the intellectual class. But few doubted his ability to manage and manipulate the massive egos of the faction leaders and their more or less loyal capos and lesser underlings, a trait that earned him the sobriquet of “Sato of Personnel Management.” (It seems to have worked fine if results were all we had to go by; Sato is the second-longest serving prime minister in Japanese history, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, and he even went on to carve out a personal niche in Amnesty International.) By the same measure, Noda has messed up completely. Let me explain.

The October 22 evening edition of Nikkei has a chart listing the ministers that resigned or were dismissed during the three years of the DPJ regime. It tells us that Hatoyama lost two, Kan lost four, while Tanaka is Noda’s second loss. So one head better than par for the course? Not quite.

Hatoyama’s two losses were Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, who resigned because of genuine health issues but stayed on to play an advisory role to the administration, and Mizuho Fukushima, the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Social Affairs, and Gender Equality, who resigned over a critical policy dispute between the DPJ and her Social Democratic Party. Hatoyama is certainly responsible for Fukushima’s departure, but culpable? I think not. Noda’s two losses by contrast were precipitated by political and legal misdemeanors by obviously under-qualified if personable politicos being rewarded for their political attributes.

But that’s not all. Prime Minister Noda in what must be a national record has conducted three cabinet reshuffles in little more than a year in office. This is not exactly mitigated by the fact that two of those reshuffles were actually pretexts to get rid of a couple of appointees in each case who had exposed their lack of political toilet training and had to go.

Six incompetents kicked out, or three cabinet reshuffles in little more than a year. Pick his poison; whichever explanation you choose, he makes Hatoyama look good and Kan look at worst average as far as personnel management goes. And that’s probably not an easy feat to accomplish.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Newly Minted Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka Refuses to Go Gently into the Night

Keishu Tanaka, the recently appointed Justice Minister, skipped the Friday cabinet meeting and checked into a hospital, which is about as good a precursor of resignation as there is… only, according to Osamu Fujimura, the chief cabinet secretary who took a phone call from the medical patient, he has no intention of resigning.

 It’s hard to believe that Mr. Tanaka could have been hounded out of his assignment if he had faced the lower house Committee on Audit and Oversight of Administration, which not coincidentally happens to be chaired by a member of the LDP, the day before and convincingly repeated his claim that 1) he only met the yakuza capo because they were introduced by a third person and did not know that he was a yakuza at the time and that 2) he did not know that the person whose wedding he presided over as the formal matchmaker was a yakuza and told him when he found out that he should wash his foot of the yakuza business. After all, this is a thirty year old claim and it’s not as if he’d murdered somebody, which since 2010 is not subject to the Japanese statute of limitations. (Accepting political funds from a Taiwanese-owned corporation was destined to be a wash once South Korea-related funds turned up in the coffers of Shigeru Ishiba, the LDP’s new secretary-general.*) But he didn’t, and his evasive behavior compels the public to connect the dots on its own about a politician who had already served twelve years as a prefectural assemblyman at a time when the yakuza was a more acceptable and, if you were an entertainer or engaged in public works projects, unavoidable presence in the public sphere.**

Justice Minister Tanaka is the gift that can’t stop giving for the opposition. As for Prime Minister Noda, with friends like this…

* Pardon the analogy, but this is the closest political thing to having unprotected sex. I realize that it can be difficult to ask each and every one of your many donors and/or their executives/shareholders for proper ID, but if you’re not sure, shouldn’t you just say no? After all, the ban on direct and foreign contributions has been the law for quite some time.
** Tanaka’s still imminent demise reminds us of a greater passing, the passing of the days when the yakuza rode among us mere mortals in all their splendid Cadillac and Mercedez glory, the seamier if more glorified side of the Always - Sunset on Third Street, Showa nostalgia.

Why the Rich Are Not Like the Rest of Us: Professor Yamanaka and His Whacked-Out Washing Machine

You’re a 50 year old tenured professor pulling down upside of 10 million yen (roughly equal to 130 K US dollars) per year plus full health and pension benefits, a scientist who likes to work with his hands. In fact, you liked it so much that you initially set out to become a surgeon but gave up because you were too clumsy and patients would emerge from their anesthesia before you had finished.* So there you are, satisfying your itch for tinkering with something bigger, more tactile than the stem cells that you’re generating in a biological version of alchemy by working on your broken-down washing machine,… when the Swedes drop a Nobel Prize on you and all hell breaks loose. Specifically, MEXT Minister Makiko Tanaka, the heiress to the Kakuei Tanaka fortune, decides that Professor Yamanaka deserves better and begins soliciting donations from her fellow cabinet members to buy you a new washing machine.

Now, it appears that Mrs. Tanaka’s father never taught her the Second Rule of Feeding and Handling a Guy in Captivity, which is: never mess with him your guy when he’s trying to repair the family washing machine. No, you wait until he’s totally F’ed it up and the washing machine is little more than a scrap heap on your basement floor, which is when you gently suggest that maybe, just maybe, when he’s pulling down upside of 10 million yen per year, he can spring for a new washing machine?

Professor Shinya Yamanaka, of course, is too nice to suggest where the cabinet members who are taking away his pastime can stick that contraption where an automatic dryer will come in handy. No, and he knows that they mean well. And it probably helps that they’re forking over the cash, all 160,000 yen of it, instead of having shipping the real thing to Professor Yamanaka’s residence. Still, it’s a little depressing to think that the Noda cabinet apparently believes that Professor Yamanaka is either too poor or too cheap to buy a new washing machine for his spouse (assuming that he isn’t single and doesn’t do the laundry himself).

At least they could have asked first.

* This has the feel of an urban legend and Professor Yamanaka seems just the type of person who would make up that kind of story about himself. But let’s play along anyway, because it’s too good not to be true.

Phew, That Was Quick, Shukan Asahi; Next Up, Shukan Bunshun

On Oct. 18, two days after the latest edition of Shukan Asahi hit the kiosks with its lurid headline about Osaka Mayor and Ishin-no-Kai JRP head Toru Hashimoto’s “bloodline”, its chief editor issued an apology and promised that the next edition would carry an apology in print. Hashimoto and his Ishin-no-Kai are now gearing up to sue the publisher of Shukan Bunshun, a conservative weekly a notch above the sextertainment- yakuza fanzines, for defamation in its latest edition, which went on sale on the 18th. Bunshun most recently scored a hit on Hashimoto in July with a true confessions story on a night club hostess who had an affair with him before he became a politician. Its line of attack this time around is a politically more serious allegation, that Ishin-no-Kai had received 700 million yen in secret donations from Seicho-no-Ie, a conservative neo-religion founded in 1930. This story will play out over a much longer timeline, but it will give Hashimoto another opportunity for counterattack, on which he thrives so well. I realize they’re just trying to sell copies, but they’re doing him a great favor by drawing attention away from the significant growing pains of his Japan Restoration Party.

Phew, That Was Quick, Shukan Asahi; Next Up, Shukan Bunshun

On Oct. 18, two days after the latest edition of Shukan Asahi hit the kiosks with its lurid headline about Osaka Mayor and Ishin-no-Kai JRP head Toru Hashimoto’s “bloodline”, its chief editor issued an apology and promised that the next edition would carry an apology in print. Hashimoto and his Ishin-no-Kai are now gearing up to sue the publisher of Shukan Bunshun, a conservative weekly a notch above the sextertainment- yakuza fanzines, for defamation in its latest edition, which went on sale on the 18th. Bunshun most recently scored a hit on Hashimoto in July with a true confessions story on a night club hostess who had an affair with him before he became a politician. Its line of attack this time around is a politically more serious allegation, that Ishin-no-Kai had received 700 million yen in secret donations from Seicho-no-Ie, a conservative neo-religion founded in 1930. This story will play out over a much longer timeline, but it will give Hashimoto another opportunity for counterattack, on which he thrives so well. I realize they’re just trying to sell copies, but they’re doing him a great favor by drawing attention away from the significant growing pains of his Japan Restoration Party.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

So Three Diet Members Visit Yasukuni…

...and I suppose it’s good enough for brief mention in the national media when they happen to be Shinzo Abe, the new LDP president and odd-on favorite to return to the prime mister’s office after the next lower house election, on the 17th and Yuichiro Hata and Mukio Shimoji, two ministers from the Noda cabinet, one day later.* Pressed by the media on Abe’s visit, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman responded vaguely that “that Japan should strictly abide by its promise on historical issues and handle concerning issues in a responsible way.” As for the two cabinet ministers, my guess is that official China could care less.

For there’s been an unwritten deal in place for quite some time; As long as the prime minster, foreign minister, defense minister, and chief cabinet secretary stay away from Yasukuni while they are in office, official China will not make a fuss. But if they go… well, you saw how official relations chilled when Prime Minister Koizumi persisted in paying his respects at Yasukuni, his condemnation of Class A war criminals, his visits to official Chinese monuments, and the like to no avail.** Give credit to Abe, he declined to reveal whether or not he was visiting Yasukuni while he was prime minister, and he is now refusing to tell us what he’ll do if and when he becomes prime minister. So why should we think otherwise this time around?

I believe that Abe will instead focus on the substance, such as beefing up the Coast Guard and putting Self-Defense personal on Okinawa’s southernmost inhabited islands. There’s an increased potential for physical clashes, most likely unintended, down the line here. And that’s what people should be concerned about.

* The three men are members of the Minna de yasukuni Jinja ni Sanpaisuru Kokkai Giin no Kai (The Association of Diet Members Who Go Together to Worship at the Yasukuni Shrine) includes such notable sinophiles and doves as Ichiro Ozawa, Masahiko Komura, Yasuo Fukuda, and Makoto Koga. Hata and Shimoji went as members of the association.
** There’s an analogy of sorts here to the Chinese reaction to the Noda administration’s attempt to stave off fallout from a purchase of the Senkaku Islands by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shukan Asahi Jumps Shark on “Hashishita”, Joins Mainichi in the Ranks of “Normal” Weeklies

It’s been eons since the weeklies published by the major newspapers were the magazine of middle class choice, and years since they lost their privileged place in the waiting rooms of doctors and dentists and the lobbies of banks and executive offices. Which is what happens, I guess, when you assign your disgruntled and/or out-of-favor reporters and editors to the task of producing your product while tying their hands by forbidding them from publishing nude photos, lurid sex scandals, true confessions and the like. For some time, though, Sunday Mainichi has made significant strides in going over to the dark side, where the “normal” weeklies reside, if its advertisements are any indication.* But Asahi joined the club, it seems, when its Oct. 25 edition came out with the first installment of a series of articles on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto with an advertisement headline along the lines of “exposing, through his bloodline, his true character that even he himself doesn’t know.”

In case you don’t know what Asahi is insinuating with “bloodline,” Hashimoto’s father, who committed suicide was a yakuza member with a burakumin underclass background.** For good measure, Asahi prints his name as Hashishita, which was the original family name before they changed it to the vastly more common Hashimoto. That’s mean. Understandably, Hashimoto is angry, and is imposing a personal boycott on the left-wing/Cold War progressive Asahi media group, which has always had a problem with the Japanese version of the neo-con, neo-liberal.

Actually, it’s a godsend for Hashimoto, who is at his best when he’s on a crusade. And he’s been there and done that on this particular narrative. A couple of non-newspaper weeklies hounded him with reports on his family background during the Osaka mayoral election, and we know how that turned out. But as long as there are people buying copies from the kiosks, I guess Asahi is cool with that.

* I don’t actually read weeklies anymore, because life is too short and the advertisement headlines provide enough information about their contents for my immediate needs.
** Norimitsu Onishi, among other people, have insinuated that Hiromu Nonaka failed to become prime minister because of his burakumin background. Onishi, as usual, was painting by the numbers with his Japanese outsider riff on that occasion, but it is true that it has not been that long since the burakumin stigma all but precluded a career and marriage in mainstream Japan.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Additional Comments on the Chinese Response to the Senkaku Purchase and the Japanese Reaction

Michael Cucek makes the point on his blog that “… the Chinese Communist Party has a vested interested in shutting down fast any discussion of the nature of property rights, especially as to the limits on state action such rights might impose.”

Agreed. That is an important point in the real world because it implies that the Chinese authorities will continue to act adversely to any further attempts by the Japanese authorities to explain the meaning of the government purchase*. It does not mean that the Japanese authorities should cease and desist. To the contrary, that is the Chinese government’s weakness, not the Japanese government’s. The Japanese government should redouble its efforts to get its own story out there, since the global information cloud is currently dominated by the precipitation from the “nationalization” narrative as forcefully iterated by the Chinese side. A MAFF senior vice minister’s clumsy off-turf attempt to get this point out—“let China buy the islands if it wants”—and the subsequent political fallout**, plus the underlying counter-anger generated by the Chinese reaction, has made it more difficult to actively profess the original passive stance, but it’ll still be useful on the global stage.

He also states, “I am not sure that Chinese local cadres and thugs are entirely bereft of an understanding of a concept of property rights as transcending and superseding law.” Just to be sure, I make no such point in my original post. Instead, it is the notion that it is highly difficult for the Chinese to understand that there is such a thing as property rights that are protected by law from the state that is the assumption for my argument.

Incidentally, I’ve given further thought to the matter of the Chinese assault and have some tentative conclusions that may be useful in forming prevention and mitigation strategies. I’ll try to find the time and energy to put something together.

* Shigeru Ishiba’s comment that “he doesn’t seem to know the law” shows that he’s 1) the one that doesn’t understand the law and the meaning of the arrangement under it; or 2) willing to sacrifice a useful line of Japanese counterattack for political gain.
** It also means, of course, that the Japanese authorities, Noda, Gamba, everyone, were barking up the wrong tree when they trekked to China and elsewhere to explain to their Chinese counterparts ex ante. So what was the vaunted China school at MOFA doing? Did they do any better than Ambassador Niwa?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why Did the Heads of China’s Finance Ministry and Central Bank Skip the IMF-World Bank Plenary?

Xie Xuren, China’s Minister of Finance, and Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of the People’s Bank of China, failed to show up at the IMF-WB plenary session and sent their deputies instead. This is being interpreted as part of the Chinese government’s retaliation for the Japanese government’s purchase of the Senkaku Islands that they did not already own from their Japanese owner. I don’t get it.

This was a purely symbolic act. Unlike the reported slowdown of customs procedures or the 2010 cutback of rare earth exports, it had no effect on the real world. It makes no sense to keep the world in the dark about what your act symbolizes. So what gives? My guess is that Xie and Zhou were merely protecting their asses.

These two men are technocrats who first made their mark in the fiscal and financial arenas in the 1990s and kept moving up. In other words, these are B-list leaders. If you don’t believe me, just look at the CVs for Xi Jinping, the next Chinese President, and Li Keqiang, the next Chinese Prime Minister. They never served as state minister. And no, it not a coincidence; neither did the current occupants of the offices Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.

And now, there’s a massive transition of power going on in China and this is their chance to max out, say, Xie as State Council member and Zhou as the next Finance Minister. But the B-list hangers-on of the A-list people, who concentrate their efforts on the domestic CCP snakes-and-ladders game for influence and riches, must view these two men of the world with some suspicion mixed with envy for their global connections. So isn’t it likely that many of them would have brought their knives out if the pair had shown themselves at the plenary, where it could have been difficult to avoid engaging their Japanese counterparts/hosts in a photo-op planned or not? Likewise would they not have capitalized on the negative worldwide media coverage if the two did show but subsequently shunned their hosts, injecting undesirable discord to a global economy at a most difficult crossroads?

I think Xie and Zhou took the safe way out. And that fits to a T the typical profile of the Chinese leadership as a most cautious, risk-averse lot.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Another Poll, My Current Thinking around the Looming Lower House Election

The latest Sankei-Fuji News Network (FNN) poll confirms what other polls have already been telling us about the post-leadership election (LDP, DPJ), post-party launch (JRP)*, political landscape:

Support for the Noda cabinet: 25.6%
Party support: LDP 25.7% (+8.6%), DPJ 14.2% (+2.0%), JRP 7.7% (---)
Vote in next lower house proportional districts: LDP 32.1% (+10.4%), DPJ 16.8% (–0.6%), JRP 14.2% (–9.6%**)

There’s also significant public enthusiasm for Ishiba, not so much for Abe, who will be at the figurative top of the LDP ticket, but that should not affect the broader outlook: the LDP will come out on top in the next election, and the DPJ and the JRP will fight to come in second.

It is hard to see how the LDP can fail, since there’s not much room for an established opposition party to move the needle on its own one way or the other between now and the looming lower house election. It could lose some of its newly-gained support if the JRP manages to claw back some of its most recent losses. It will also come lose some percentage points to the DPJ if the Noda administration manages to maintain an even keel going forward.

The DPJ also has limited self-generated major upside because it has exhausted the two means to shift momentum in its favor with little to show for them: a leadership election, which resulted in the same-old, same-old; and a major cabinet shakeup that was broadly regarded as being all about internal politics and nothing about public policy and tainted to boot by a political financing violation by the new Justice Minister’s political financing organization***. The best that it can reasonably hope for is the gradual, modest upward trend in support for that accompanies uneventful stretches of incumbency. There’s more there than meets the eye, because the DPJ has a secret weapon: Prime Minister Noda. Seriously. The Noda cabinet continues to poll significantly better than the DPJ itself and, for what it’s worth, people that I talk to generally have good feelings for him and give him good marks, all things considered. Seeing also as how the LDP’s gains clearly came at the expense of the JRP, there’s good reason to believe that the DPJ has much less to lose from a JRP resurgence, which is part of the second half of my considerations, than the LDP. In short, it makes sense for the DPJ to play a waiting game.

Of course, the timing of the next election turns on the question of what the LDP (and Komeito) can extract from the DPJ (and PNP, if you insist) with regard to its date as consideration for allowing a deficit bond authorization bill to and possibly a countercyclical supplementary budget (which for practical purposes cannot be compiled until the projected full-year revenue deficit full year is legally covered) to be enacted. The LDP-Komeito coalition can probably do it with brute force****, but they want to look as pretty as possible while doing it, which may limit their tactics. This means that it will be highly desirable to have an election law amendment in place that at a minimum will not invite a media outcry over the election’s obvious unconstitutionality in light of previous Supreme Court decisions. In fact, both sides will be playing to the galleries with the media as the intermediary. Imagine the inevitable faceoff as a mating dance-off by two male birds-of-paradise—okay, tom turkeys—competing for the favors of an unenthusiastic female while yet another male, this one still very young, lurks nearby and you won’t be far off. And with that, I turn my attention to the JRP.

The JRP, despite its most recent setback accompanying the launch, still carries significant risk, up-side and down-, as the party and its public image is far from fully formed. How well Toru Hashimoto and his colleagues perform the following tasks will determine its immediate election outcome and its long-term prospects.

1) Establish a coherent process for decision-making and public communication—and stick to it.
2) Field a significant number of candidates, alone or in cooperation with other opposition parties, who are capable of avoiding major embarrassments.

The first one is the more problematic because of several structural complications in the JRP makeup. First, its leadership consists of two very different elements: the founding fathers led by Hashimoto on one hand and a group of B-list defectors from the DPJ, LDP and Your Party on the other. The media will play up every sign of dissonance between the two sides. Second, Hashimoto’s attention will be split between administering to his mayoral duties while transforming Osaka Prefecture into a new Tokyo-like metropolitan region on one hand and building and leading his new national party while serving as its most visible public figure by far on the other. His multitasking skills will certainly be tested while the national media’s attention will be doubled or more. Third, there’s the matter of Hashimoto himself. Hashimoto has strong opinions, and does not hesitate to air them, often in a colorful voice. This has served him well, first as a popular celebrity lawyer and later as the foremost advocate for his sometimes controversial policy initiatives. He relishes the ensuing public debate and has been willing to compromise or back down when the occasion demands. This refreshing openness has served him well so far, but I’ve never seen anything like this work on the national stage for any Japanese political leader. The commotion around the setup of the JPR’s decision-making process indicates that this is likely to be a more cumbersome process and therefore less appealing spectacle with a multitasking leader laboring under the magnifying lens.

The second task is complicated by the on-again, off-again romancing of the Your Party and the new regional forces mostly in the Nagoya-Aichi neighborhood. Hashimoto’s intermittent public musings, however exaggerated or distorted by the media (if you believe Hashimoto’s claims) on the relationships have if anything obscured the outlook. This does not appear to have materially harmed the prospects of Hashimoto’s movement so far, but an ultimate failure to coordinate election efforts will split the anti-status quo vote in the heavily populated Kanto (Tokyo et al) and Nagoya-Aichi regions with negative consequences at both the single-member and regional proportional district levels.

All in all though, I think that time is on the JRP’s side, now that much of the initial luster of something new and shiny has abruptly worn off. I think that time will help in the JRP candidate selection and preparation process. I think that time will help it in getting its domestic relationship in order and accepted by the media. I think that time will help it in coming to a definitive conclusion above its relationship with the other regional/reformist forces, at least removing one source of uncertainty and controversy for media fodder. I think that time will help it in moving from the laundry list that is the current JRP policy paper into something more presentable as campaign talking points. I think that my views may be colored by the fact of my disappointment with both parties going forward. Perhaps I am personally desperate for a viable alternative.

* You may have noticed that the JRP numbers in the Sankei-FNN poll most resemble the Kyodo News poll results.
** Figure for the Osaka Ishin-no-Kai, which preceded the JRP.
*** I continue to be amazed by the inability of the parties concerned to exercise the minimum precautions that would preclude these recurring political financing embarrassments.
**** There is a very remote chance that Ozawa’s Your Life First and other smaller parties that are just as fearful if not more so of a snap election may oblige and help the Noda administration cobble together enough votes to get the bill through the upper house.

Friday, October 05, 2012

My Comments on Yves Tiberghien on… Yes, “Those” Islands

I received the link to Yves Tiberghien’s highly useful paper on this timely topic. I sent back several comments to him and a group of his acquaintances. Let me share them with you, edited for presentation to third persons.

First, the domestic media make little or no attempt to help their respective publics understand the arguments and supportive material on the other side and allow the dominant narratives to go mostly unchallenged. That this is also true of the Japanese media is unsurprising in light of their treatment of several other issues regarding Japan’s relations with its east Asia neighbors, but it still puzzles me and finds me in rare agreement with Gregory Clark. Needless to say, this is highly unhelpful.

Second, the difference in the legal systems of the two countries regarding real estate ownership and more generally the state and the individual must have contributed significantly to Chinese misunderstanding of the Noda administration’s intent. Simply put, the Chinese public must find the notion that the state would have to engage in a regular bidding match with a local governor for a piece of land that is registered in a private individual’s name absurd. I suspect that most of China’s political and national security leadership, with little to no direct personal exposure to the legal and political systems of the West, also find it intuitively difficult to understand. He touches on this point briefly when you say, “Especially in a Chinese context, it seems unthinkable that there would not be a third option where the national government could step in to prevent the Tokyo deal without doing a full nationalization.” This must have been true at the grassroots and leadership levels alike and contributed significantly to the visceral fury and ferocity and made the conflict more intractable.

Third, there appears to have been an overreliance on formal diplomatic channels on the part of the Noda administration in explaining itself regarding the purchase. Foreign ministries are professionally inclined to downplay conflict, and—correct me if I’m wrong—the Chinese foreign minister is more of an administrative vice minister, but the DPJ’s options were limited given its paucity of political ties with China, particularly after Ichiro Ozawa pulled up stakes and moved out. I suspect that this was one reason why the Noda administration underestimated the Chinese blowback.

Fourth, I believe that making the legal and practical distinction between territorial waters and EEZs is useful to understanding the nature of the conflict. He writes:

“Coast guard tactics started with loudspeakers but, beginning in 2009-2010, gradually have expanded to more hard-ball methods to try to corner individual fishing boats, seize their fish and machinery and thus extract fines from the (mostly poor) fishermen. It is in that context that the clash occurred with Captain Zhang Qixong in September 2010”; and

“In the midst of growing tension in the Koizumi years, a further secret agreement seems to have been reached to reduce conflicts. That agreement stipulated that Japan would not bring under Japanese legal jurisdiction any arrested Chinese fishing boat captains, but would only expel them back to China (after, probably, extracting a material cost on them).”

He implies that the Koizumi administration was arresting Chinese fishermen and “probably, extracting a material cost on them” before 2009-2010. Since it is impossible to arrest fishermen unless you first apprehend their vessels, am I correct in assuming that this also involved some efforts to “corner individual fishing boats”? Is it possible that whatever apparent escalation on the part of the Japanese Coast Guard there was had been caused by the need to match up with bigger and faster Chinese fishing vessels, ever more numerous and aggressive, in executing the same enforcement activities? And what kind of escalation was involved in moving from “extracting a material cost on them” to “seiz[ing] their fish and machinery”? If by “machinery” he means tackling gear and other movables (and not engines and other bolted-down heavy machinery), it sounds very much like the “material cost” of the Koizumi years. To understand what was going on here, it may be useful to make a distinction between the territorial waters of the islands and the surrounding EEZ. If I remember correctly, both were left out of the treaties that determined jurisdictions over the fishing rights in the East China Sea. This effectively meant that Japan maintained effective control over the territorial waters there but had no authority over Chinese fishing vessels in the EEZ. There things might have stood for eternity and a day, but the Chinese vessels got bigger and better and more numerous as Chinese appetite for piscine protein grew, and fishing stock in the EEZ must have deteriorated, making the territorial waters more inviting. There’s an argument to be made that these intrusions into the territorial waters increased significantly quantitatively and qualitatively, leading to the 2010 collision that led to the Japanese threat to prosecute the Chinese fishing boat captain.

Finally, he mercifully spares us the prescriptive my-aunt-as-a-teacart coda so common in these tracts. Believe me, if there were a useful solution with a plausible game plan, we would know by now. Perhaps if someone put the two perspectives together in an overarching narrative presentable to both sides, people might come up with one.

Mitsui Drops off a Shoe; a Correction Is in Order

I mentioned the other day that “Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare [Wakio] owns a pharmaceutical and household goods wholesale business.” My bad. The business that that Minister Mitsui founded is almost certainly not the one with the same name that I located. I have no idea if it still exists. I found out when I learned that he had resigned as the unpaid chairman of the medical corporation that owns the hospitals and nursing homes that I referred to on that occasion and wondered why his company had not been mentioned.

Incidentally, Mr. Mitsui arguably may not in either of these cases, one now maybe purely hypothetical, violate the ethical standards set forth for cabinet and subcabinet political appointees in a 2006 cabinet decision. However, the conflict of interest is far more direct and obvious than two years ago, when he kept his chairmanship as a senior parliamentary vice-minister at MLIT in the Kan administration. Since the LDP opposition research team was poised to jump him the first opportunity it got, the weakened Noda administration must have decided to take no chances. Here’s my translation of the relevant part of the cabinet decision.

“With regard to state ministers, etc. (the prime minister and other state ministers, senior parliamentary vice-ministers (including the deputy chief cabinet secretary; hereinafter the same) and parliamentary vice-ministers; hereinafter the same) shall execute their duties for the public interest, forsake mixing the public and private, and maintain integrity concerning their duties.”
“With regard to for-profit corporations, they shall not concurrently hold positions as executives or employees whether or not compensation is received.”
“With regard to public service corporations and other similar organizations, they shall not concurrently hold positions as executives or employees except for honorary positions without compensation, etc.”
“They shall voluntarily refrain from transactions in stock and other securities…”

Note that a political appointee may have 100% ownership of a company whose interests are directly affected by his decisions as long as he does not serve the company in any capacity.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Some Thoughts around the New Noda Cabinet Polls… on the Japan Restoration Party

Asahi, Yomiuri, and the Kyodo News wire service ran Oct. 1-2 polls right after the media issued reports on the new Noda cabinet. The following are the results for three key questions, with the previous September poll numbers in parenthesis. The only consensus there is that the LDP is up, while DPJ numbers are scattered. What’s truly anomalous, though, are support and voting intent numbers for Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Japan Restoration Party (JRP); they look extremely out of kilter across the board. What’s going on?

Here’s what I think. The numbers in a hypothetical poll that perfectly reflects national demographics would be closer to the Kyodo numbers, but the JRP needs to get its act quickly, in particular putting an end to what looks like a power struggle between Hashimoto and its Diet members, who defected from the LDP, DPJ, and Your Party. Otherwise it will see its numbers slipping to Asahi levels. Let me explain.

Polls tend to reflect the views of the media outlet that is taking the polls. Thus, the LDP, nuclear power and the like tend to do better on Yomiuri polls than on Asahi polls. Although the polling companies conduct their surveys by random digit dialing, they first do declare on whose behalf they are taking the polls. Personal experience and common sense tell me that we are more inclined to spend our time answering pointed questions from strangers when theywe are being polled on behalf of beneficiaries that theywe have some familiarity with sympathy towards. Thus, a newspaper poll should be disproportionately weighted towards its subscribers, who are likely to have been heavily influenced over the years by the editorial slant that permeates the news items*. No wire service elicits that kind of brand loyalty. From that perspective alone, the Kyodo wire service poll should provide less biased results.

* The board of editorial writers and the editorial board are all promoted from the ranks of the reporters, giving Japanese newspapers and wire services a seamless continuity from the correspondents to the editors to much of management.

There’s more. The national newspapers dominate the metropolitan Tokyo-Yokohama and metropolitan Osaka-Kobe areas and their immediate environs (respectively: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaragi; and Wakayama, Nara, Hyogo). In prefectures elsewhere, local newspapers account for roughly one-half to four-fifth of total subscriptions.* This means that roughly one-half to four-fifths of newspaper subscribers outside of the Tokyo and Osaka neighborhoods will be less inclined to respond to any newspaper poll. These local-newspaper subscribers should be getting the bulk of their printed national news from the wire services. If, as I assume, they have less brand-loyalty to wire services than to newspapers, they are unlikely to be overrepresented in the prefectural and national Kyodo numbers. In short, the Kyodo numbers should be relatively free of geographical bias as well.

* A quick 2004 overview, a little old but shouldn’t be far off even now.

Why, then, does the JRP do better in every which way in the Kyodo polls? The local newspapers by definition carry more local news. They also have fewer pages. I suspect that much of the commotion around the somewhat confusing launch of the JRP and subsequent dissonance have been given short shrift in the local papers, which enabled it to escape much of the resultant fallout. Still, it appears to me that the JRP needs to put the commotion behind itself and project a confident, united front going forward, or else the lack of positive reports, coupled with whatever negative reports come in through print and TV coverage will further erode support.

Note also that voter preference for the JRP in the conservative Yomiuri poll is still pretty high in contrast to the more general support. It’s obvious that support for the JRP is still highly transient and the next couple of months, when the JRP lines up candidates and sets up a definitive campaign platform, will be crucial to the JRP’s long-term viability.

Much of what I’ve written is speculative, but it’s the best that I can do, given the time and resources available to me. Hopefully, polling experts can convince media outlets to conduct a more in-depth analysis of these biases and their effects.

Q. Which party do you support?
Asahi: LDP 21 (15); DPJ 14 (16); JRP 2 (3)
Kyodo News: LDP 30.4 (19.3); DPJ 12.3 (12.9); JRP 10.7 (?)
Yomiuri: LDP 28 (21); DPJ 18 (15); JRP 2 (2)

Q. Which party do you want to vote for on the lower house proportional district ballot?
Asahi: LDP 30 (23); DPJ 17 (15); JRP 4 (5)
Kyodo News: LDP ??.? (22.2); DPJ 12.3 (12.4); JRP 13.9 (17.6)
Yomiuri: LDP 36 (31); DPJ 18 (14); JRP 13 (16)

Q. Do you or do you not support the Noda cabinet?
Asahi: Yes 23 (25); No 56 (53)
Kyodo News: Yes 29.2 (26.3); No 55.3 (59.4)
Yomiuri: Yes 34 (27); No 56 (63)

Unit: %
Random digital dialing survey; fixed line-only, no cellphones.
Previous poll numbers in parenthesis: Kyodo News 09.01-02, Asahi 09.08-09, Yomiuri 09.15-17.
September numbers for JRP: Osaka Ishin-no-Kai for Kyodo News and Asahi.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Mori P!sses on Everyone, Then Takes Big Dump on Ishihara Fils

Yoshiro Mori, the last of the real faction leaders, true old-school LDP, is retiring and gives a no-holds-barred interview to Sankei Shinbun, which has been kind enough to reproduce it in its edited entirety on its website. He has something bad to say about everyone involved in the LDP presidential race, including incumbent Sadakazu Tanigaki for not supporting Nobuteru Ishihara, his deputy who essentially forced him to give up running for a second term. Read my translation below of the juicy bits and tell me, is it just me (and the group of academics whom I spent the evening with) who thinks that 1) Mori is a true dinosaur for thinking that it’s okay to tell all now, instead of waiting for another 20 years or his own death, whichever comes first, and 2) it’s no wonder Nobuteru Ishihara got so little support from the LDP Diet members?

Shintaro [Ishihara] says just before the [last] Tokyo gubernatorial election is formally launched that he won't stand for reelection. The LDP is adamant that it wants him to continue. It something can't be done, the LDP leadership may have to take responsibility. Sadakazu Tanigaki, who was LDP PResident at the time, had Vice Predsident Sadamori Ohshima negotiate [with Ishihara] but was making no headway. I was asked by the two, so his son Nobuteru and I pleaded with him to change his mind.
I said to him, "If you leave the Tokyo Governor's office, it won't be good for Nobuteru, who is the Secretary-General of the LDP. He'll have no chance to be prime minister." It took until the night, but it eventually turned out that he would stay on. At that point, the Tokyo governor said, "Make suerre you take takecare of my son." This was a promise of the party. So I had no choice other than [Nobuteru] Ishihara. Actually, both Tanagaki and Ohshima should have taken the lead in supporting Ishihara.

Will Anyone Be Watching CNBC Asia Tomorrow Morning?

Like, around 10:40, maybe?

Just sayin’.

Snap Reaction to the New Noda Cabinet

Noda has picked three former friends of Ozawa, Makiko Tanaka (68), Wakio Mitsui (69), Ikko Nakatsuka (47), which obviously makes sense from a party-unity perspective. But are there any downside risks to that?

As Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, Mitsui would be flagged for conflict of interest in the United States. He owns a pharmaceutical and household goods wholesale business, which gives him a vested interest in the wellbeing of independent drug stores and, more generally, constraining online pharmaceutical sales. Moreover, he owns three hospitals and two nursing homes, setting him up as a natural opponent of efforts to keep costs down in the public healthcare system. A case could be made that he should recuse himself from any decision that affects payments under the public health insurance system and more specifically the item-by-item price control system. Prime Minister Noda will sell his background as expertise and competence, and that just may fly in Japan. We’ll see… if the new Noda cabinet survives deep into 2013.

Nakatsuka has spent his entire political career in the field, on the HOR Financial Committee* and most recently as Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Financial Services. Noda must have seen this as the safe choice, even as he denied the assignment to the People’s New Party, whose previous choice for the portfolio and a novice on financial services, Tadahiro Matsushita, committed suicide.** The misfortune for Matsushita and his family must also have given Noda an opportunity to see Nakatsuka in crisis mode. Noda certainly could have done worse on the eve of the first annual IMF-World Bank meeting in Japan since 1964, when Tokyo also hosted the Summer Olympic Games.

* The official translation notwithstanding, the Financial Committee covers both financial services and government finance.
** The PNP keeps the postal reform portfolio while being compensated for the loss with an extra parliamentary vice minister position.

Tanaka has been put in charge of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. A second-generation sinophile as the privileged daughter of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, she can assure Noda that she is not going to cause any problems around textbooks and history issues at MEXT. However, her previous experiences as Minister of Science and Technology and Minister of Foreign Affairs in LDP administrations were fraught with personality clashes; the MOFA tour in particular was an unmitigated disaster. I now believe that the main cause of the turbulence was the insecurity of a rank amateur unused to being contradicted. This time, she comes with a couple of years as Chairwoman of the Committee on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology under her belt (as well as another year as chairwoman of the House of Representatives Committee on Committee on Foreign Affairs) so she comes equipped with some experience. Let’s also see if, at 68, she shows more maturity.

Other notable appointments? Koriki Jojima (65) as Minister of Finance and the replacement of Motohisa Furukawa by heavyweight Seiji Maehara as Minister for National Policy (among other things). Jojima is the second consecutive MOF head with no political (or bureaucratic) background in fiscal or monetary policy. His appointment, just as the Noda cabinet is about to tackle the FY2012 supplemental budget and the FY2013 budget in earnest, must be an indication of Noda’s trust in the MOF bureaucracy.

Maehara should be playing a more prominent role than his predecessor on comprehensive taxation and social security reform. I’m not sure that this is a positive for Noda, particularly in the context of the twisted Diet, since Maehara has not fared well in situations that require compromise. Of more immediate interest is the removal of pro-renewables, (at least since 3.11) anti-nuclear Furukawa as the point man for energy policy. This will be balanced out somewhat by the replacement of Goshi Hosono by pro-renewables, pro-Kyoto Protocol Hiroyuki Nagahama (53) as Minister of Environment. But Nagahama is one of Noda’s personal allies, and clearly is a political lightweight compared to Maekawa (as well as Hosono) and will not be in charge of the overall debate. This must be a plus… if you are thinking like Keidanren.

And for what it’s worth, the media notes that the other three candidates in the leadership race and their supporters were shut out from the cabinet.