Monday, February 25, 2013

Anime: Natsume Yujuncho

If you are an anime fan, google Natsume Yujincho and you’ll get all four seasons of 13 episode each—a remarkable feat in of itself since the vast majority struggle to survive two. And if you can read Portuguese subtitles, you don’t even have to know Japanese.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

More on TPP, and RCEP, and Japan and China and South Korea

Paul Sracic and Richard Katz have kindly corrected my error regarding the 90-day prior notification to—not approval from—Congress, while reminding me that it is no longer required by law since trade promotion (fast-track) authority (TPA) expired in 2007 but the Obama administration is respecting it any way since it will be seeking fast-track authority when it seeks ratification. Thanks. It’s a slippery road from a technical error to rumormongering if I don’t check the facts with an authoritative source. And it’s unporofessional.

Paul’s substantive point, actually, is that that TPA will be harder to secure than TPP ratification itself because it can be filibustered while ratification under TPA cannot. Paul also mentioned that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pushed by ASEAN is “portrayed as a competitor or threat to TPP.” in the US media. Let’s hope that he amplifies that point in an op-ed or something of the sort. In the meantime, the following was my more general take on the proliferation of FTAs.

Now that everyone—and I mean literally everyone—agrees that the Doha Round is dead, FTA is the name of the game, and there's a lot of (positive) competition going on among the various efforts. The US and EU plant a kicking tee for an FTA? All the more reason for the Abe administration to finesse its way into the TPP negotiations, which in turn is surely pushing China and South Korea to move forward on the trilateral FTA with Japan.

If throwing your hat into the TPP negotiations is enough to help China and South Korea to put domestically combustible history and sovereignty issues aside to negotiate with Japan on a prospective FTA, then it should be more than enough to convince them to move forward with RCEP, a development for which the rest of the prospective RCEP members will offer their unconditional support for commercial, geoeconomic, and geopolitical reasons.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

To Be Sure, It’s Not Really about Tariffs

White House and USTR officials have been quick to add that everything is on the table. Fair enough. But Japan is not the only country that will have a hard time clearing domestic obstacles without one exception or other, and there must be more powerful agricultural lobbies than rice farmers. Does this mean that the Abe and Obama administrations had this preliminary outcome in their sights all along? Could be. And with the 20-30 month-old beef already taken care of under the Noda administration—seriously, Abe really should thank Noda, if he hasn’t already—the Detroit Three’s grievances against Japanese auto manufacturers and US insurers’ complaints against the Japan Post group’s efforts to expand its insurance operations now loom as major non-tariff barrier issues that will have to be addressed, for starters, by the Obama administration, desirably from its viewpoint with a little help from the Abe administration, in the 90-day process to secure congressional consent to allow Japan to join the negotiations.

Abe Says the Right Things in CSIS Talk; Nails Big One on TPP in Summit

“That is the core message I’m here to make, and I should repeat it by saying I am back and – (laughter, applause) – and – thank you – and so shall Japan be.

“That much is what I have wanted to say. I could stop here and take your questions for the next 15 minutes. I know, however, that Ambassador Sasae has started to look very much anxious – (laughter) – so I’ll go on talking anyway. Bear with me for another 20 minutes.”

Prime Minister Abe said the right things in his February 22 CSIS talk that he gave in Washington, the Japan-US alliance, North Korea, China, etc. The “Japan is back” speech and the Q&A short enough to scan through in a few minutes and there’s English language coverage, so I won’t dwell on the contents. Two things on the periphery caught my eye, though. First, the moderator (Michael Green) looked for non-Japanese journalists—a press conference was scheduled for Japanese reporters later on—but only one of the five people who got to ask questions was a journalist (Chris Nelson, proprietor of the ubiquitous Nelson Report). Didn’t anyone else from the US media care enough to show up and lob questions at him to see if he might say something that could stir up commotion, as has been his wont from time to time? It’ll take a little more time and effort before Japan really is back in the eyes of the media, in the United States where it still counts the most for Japan. Second, Abe comes across as self-assured and composed. Both the jokes at the beginning of his speech were told at his own expense, the first a reference to his disastrous first administration, the second a sly recognition of his record of controversial statements (most recently hinting at the possibility of purchasing foreign bonds as part of his easy money policy in a Diet session). Not particularly remarkable and surely prepared beforehand, but they work, at least in transcript. Am I reading too much into one, brief session, and two jokes? Or did America see a truly new, better version of Shinzo Abe?

The real surprise (for me, at least) was that, according to media reports, Abe and President Obama came up with a joint statement in which they “交渉参加に際し、一方的に全ての関税を撤廃することをあらかじめ約束することを求められるものではないことを確認する(confirm that it will not be required in joining the negotiations to unilaterally promise beforehand to eliminate all customs duties)” and that Abe stated in a post-summit press conference that “聖域なき関税撤廃が前提でないことが明確になった(it has become clear that eliminating customs duties without sanctuary is not a premise).” It had been hard for me to believe that Abe could come back from a meeting with Obama without enough cover to come out in favor of an early commitment to the TPP negotiations, not with all the talk surrounding his Washington visit given the negotiations timeline, and still avoid serious political damage. Yet I was still surprised that he managed to come up with wording that will surely keep the LDP naysayers at bay. I think that he owes one to Obama. The Abe administration is the one who manages to keep the agriculture lobby at bay and businesses and the mainstream media happy five months before the July House of Councillors election, while the Obama administration must go to Congress, where opponents of Japan’s participation will have another set piece to offer in resistance.

Is Abe good? Lucky? I’m increasingly convinced that he’s both.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Serious Is the Lack of Pre-School Care?

Something—alcohol?—has made me angry today. This is the outcome. Hopefully, I will not regret it tomorrow morning, when the bourbon (and the cheaper whiskey) has worn off.

Very serious, according to the mothers in this ANN report. Well, it depends on when, where, and how you look at the issue. My tentative conclusion is that it is indeed a serious problem that deserves the kind of attention that these mothers are demanding. Let me explain.

When? More serious in October 2011, when 46,620 pre-school children were looking for day (night?) care in vain, in contrast to April of the same year, when the number of children of the waiting list was only 25,556. The Japanese school year begins on April 1. Case closed.

Where? In Metropolitan Tokyo and its environs, apparently. Tokyo accounted for the parents of 10,489 children who, in October 2011, could not find a place to drop them off so they could go to work (or school, or whatever), while neighbor Kanagawa Prefecture accounted for 5,380, or an aggregate 34.0% of the national total. The aggregate population of the two prefectures in 2010 was 22,236,826, or 17.3% of the national total of 128,057,352. So yes, it’s a metropolitan problem, and a disproportionately (if you really want to know)Tokyo—Kawasaki—Yokohama one. Case closed. Wait, really?

How? There’re always people waiting on any Yamanote Line platform, a 3-5 minute wait for the next train, but very few people will be waiting 3-5 minutes after the last train left on those local lines, where the next one arrives in, say, another 30 minutes. Now, imagine what life would be like if that train came in one a year, and left, oh, 46K (or 16K Tokyo-Kanagawa) preschool-care children on the platform? And we haven’t even mentioned the children of parents who gave up before trying.

Case closed. (The idiots.)

Seriously, what industry runs at full capacity year after year while leaving demand unmet?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Counterfactual: What If the Target-Control Radar Issue Been on the DPJ Foot?

Another piece of counterfactual speculation? Is this addictive or what?

On February 8, the Chinese Ministry of Defense issued a denial against the Japanese allegation that a PLA Navy frigate had locked its target-control radar on a MSDF destroyer. The next morning, the Japanese defense minister indicated that evidence might be released to the public if the Chinese authorities persisted in their denial. Later in the day, however, the same minister appeared to be hedging. As days went by, the Abe administration appeared to be further distancing itself from the disclosure option. By February 16, the Abe administration appeared to have decided definitively against disclosure.

The reasons given for the reluctance and (apparently) eventual abandonment are plausible, though questions remain. First, the MSDF appears to have been reluctant from the beginning because it did not want to reveal its counter-surveillance capabilities. But the factors that went into identifying the nature of the radar were already being made public. Would making the actual wavelength of the Chinese radar public in addition to the information that the MSDF could detect and identify such wavelengths further compromise Japanese security? Second, the defense minister, for one, worries that the Chinese authorities might not admit to the deed even after disclosure. But keeping the evidence under wraps instead of allowing outside experts, of whom there are many, to decide for themselves weakens the Japanese case even more than any Chinese denial. Third, there is the need to collaborate with China, specifically with regard to sanctions against North Korea in the wake of its latest nuclear test. Here, though, Chinese cooperation is grudging. More to the point, is Chinese behavior around the nuclear test influenced by its relationship with Japan? Is Japan, a non-nuclear, non-UNSC member state that has tied its hands against North Korea with its singular focus on the abduction issue, really a player?

There may be perfect explanations to reinforce all three arguments. But the Abe administration has been slow to make a coherent, convincing case for its actions, or lack thereof. In the meantime, a Chinese surveillance vessel has entered the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands as recently as February 18. So my counterfactual question is this: If this were a DPJ administration, would the opposition and the mainstream media have mostly stood by and given it a pass, or would they have swarmed all over it for waffling and, more generally, failing to stand up to China?

I have no personal attachment to the DPJ and did not vote for it in December, but I can’t help feeling sorry for it on this one.

“Currency Wars” on China Radio International

Anyone who’s interested in my thoughts on Prime Minister Abe’s “currency wars,” tune in to China Radio International next Monday between 11:00am-12:00pm Tokyo Standard Time.

CRI is not that bad. I’ve said “Senkaku Islands” twice and that “from our perspective, it’s China that’s been provoking Japan” and they still want me back. That’s certainly fairer and more balanced than… And if you don’t want to tune in but still would like to know what I have to say, I’ll try to remember to post my memo after the event.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Breaking News from Post 3.11, Post-Valentine’s Day Miyagi Prefecture

“The 44 year-old who stole chocolates from national civil servant: ‘I wanted [the chocolates]’”

On February 16 (Sat), a 44 year-old, self-described unemployed Sendai resident was arrested for stealing a bag of Valentine’s chocolates and other things worth a total of approximately 550 yen off a bicycle owned by a national civil servant. The civil servant chased down the thief and took him down.

To be sure, the story did not appear in the hardcopy Tokyo edition. Still, as a former national civil servant, it’s nice to see a civil servant mentioned in the media as the victim, not the perpetrator, of a common crime. What next, an ex-policeman making a citizen’s arrest on a shoplifter? A Self-Defense Force sailor on shore leave rescuing a kitten from a tree? Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Yes, My Net Value May Be Lower than That of the Least Wealthy of the Aso Cabinet Misters… So?

On February 15, the government disclosed the personal assets of the cabinet ministers of the Aso administration, who were appointed on December 26, 2012, and their political appointee subordinates as well as their spouses and dependent children*. This is conducted under a longstanding cabinet decision that requires them to make such public disclosure when they assume and leave office. These disclosures are intended to prevent these political appointees from profiting from their terms in office. So, you were a reporter, you would wait until a political appointee leaves office, and then file a report if and only if you see any significant changes in the financial status of said appointee, right?

But you won’t, will you? Instead, you will file a report when they assume office, and your attention will be focused on who has the most assets (and if you’re really creative, who has the least) and whether this cabinet is worth more than the last one. You’ll do that not because that has anything to do with the “value” of that cabinet and its components but because that’s what the public is fascinated with and because that’s what every other reporter on the cabinet beat is writing about. But when they leave office…fuggidaboutit.

And their upfront efforts are nothing to throw Pulitzers at, either. Some media reports at least have the decency to mention that there’s no way to figure out what shares in privately held companies are worth, but they never bother to mention that the real value of real estate holdings is vastly underestimated even though most of it is relatively easy to figure out. More specifically, real estate is disclosed at the actual tax base, which is 1/3rd of the notional tax base for land (and as low as 1/6 for housing up to 200 m2*), which in turn is only 70% of the publicly assessed market value. Buildings get lesser discounts off the notional value of up to 2/3rds off current value minus notional depreciation. So, if you believe that the current value of real estate is what the disclosures say it is, well, I have a bridge in New York that you can afford.

I’m not saying that the media should do the arithmetic. It’s just that they satisfy the prurient interests of the public in a half-assed way and get paid for it without doing the homework. And that pisses me off mightily.

Speaking of prurient interests, though, there is a truly bizarre factoid lurking in the disclosures. The 70 year-old Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aso claims two children as dependents. Now he’s a Catholic—a surprisingly large number of Japanese prime ministers are Christians—and the two children are listed as “oldest son” and “oldest daughter”, and the son has a golf club membership—yes, you have to disclose that, too—and a car, so I don’t think Aso is pulling a Rupert Murdoch/Andres Segovia here. Is that any of our business? No, but it will be if one of them decides to seek public office. I mean, it’s okay for one of my… but let’s not go there.**

* Yes, there’s a very serious human rights issue here. But it gains little traction here.
** In case you wondered, I have been drinking.
* Added for clarification.

“G20 Steps Back from Currency Brink”? Give Me a Break

The Group of 20 nations declared on Saturday there would be no currency war and deferred plans to set new debt-cutting targets, underlining broad concern about the fragile state of the world economy.”

Whew, that was close…? But read the headline carefully and it’s clear that the G20 finance ministers and central bankers met in Moscow on Feb. 15-16 and decided…nothing, really. Well, what were they expected to do? Censouring deflationary Japan for essentially going QE3 lite in a world where the major currencies, i.e. viable reserve currencies, float freely* would have been tantamount to telling it to give up monetary policy as a macroeconomic tool. (And where was the G20 when Switzerland hard-capped the Franc?) And there’s still plenty of time before the September G20 Summit, when the heads of state/government have to make up their minds about what to do with the 2010 Toronto Summit goals. But even the lead did not satisfy the copy editor, who must be being paid by the eyeball, who jazzed ti up with “Brink.” Brink indeed.

* The Renminbi will only qualify as a major currency when it becomes a viable reserve currency.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why Kyarypamyupamyu Is the Quintessential Japanese

Her official website says that her full name is “Caroline Charonplop Kyarypamyupamyu,” yet she always goes by her last name. Now, how much more japonesque can you get?

And speaking of japonesque, does she follow the ukiyoe artists to Paris? Or is she the next in line after Jerry Lewis, and Philip K. Dick? Kyarypamyupamyu, or, as increasingly is the case, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu?

The Annual Yomiuri-Gallup Survey: The Japanese lack of Trust in Our Institutions

 The results of the annual Yomiuri Shimbun-Gallup survey on Japan and the United States, conducted by random digital dialing and reported briefly at Yomiuri online, are published in more detail in the hardcopy version. Most of the questions concern the Japan-US relationship and/or matters of mutual interest, but it’s the first one that caught my attention, the one that asks responders to choose from sixteen domestic institutions the ones that they specially trust. The following is a full translation of that first Q&A, followed by my minimal comments. Ready?

Q. If there are any organizations and public institutions in our country that we will read out loud, please choose as many as you like.
United States
prime minister
44%  6
56%  8
25% 13
24% 14
police, prosecutors
44%  6
police, prosecutors
71%  4
56%  4
62%  6
Self-Defense Force
71%  1
93%  1
temples, shrines, churches
41%  8
churches (and synagogues?)
77%  3
central ministries and agencies
24% 14
federal agencies
43% 12
local government
46%  5
local government
57%  7
41%  8
69%  5
68%  2
83%  2
57%  3
53%  9
34% 10
44% 11
big business
28% 11
big business
38% 13
labor unions
26% 12
labor unions
46% 10
no answer
no answer
Notes: 1) “–” no one chose this answer.
2) I put the ordinance numbers in for your convenience.
3) I used red for the Japanese/US institution that polled better than its counterpart.

Of the fourteen institutions, twelve US institutions are more trusted domestically than their Japanese counterparts, and mostly by wide margins. The discrepancy is particularly large in the case of “police and prosecutors” and “schools”, national administrative institutions, and religious institutions. The two others only lose out to their Japanese counterparts by slim margins. (I’ll just mention in passing that one of those two Japanese winners are…newspapers!—now who’d’a thunk?) The military tops the list of winners in both countries, followed by hospitals.

The lack of Japanese trust in police and prosecutors and schools can be reliably traced to recent, major scandals, while the disregard for central ministries and agencies is most surely due to the steady negative drumbeat that has continued through the “lost decades,” magnified by the post-3.11 revelations and frustrations. The religious gap is surely a manifestation of the secular nature of Japanese society. I wonder what numbers European responders would provide, particularly in largely secular nations with a significant Catholic presence (France…).

Which brings me to a question about the US trust in churches: The United States has seen many national scandals break out in the religious world, from individual megachurch leaders and televangelists procuring prostitutes to the systemic failure of the Catholic church to protect children from sexual predators of the cloth it its employ. Why hasn’t that translated into lower numbers? Come to think of it, why are the numbers so high for the US police and prosecutors?

Questions, questions, and no way to answer them to my satisfaction, certainly no overarching thoughts to cover them all, but the survey has provided an interesting set of facts to ponder—perhaps I should go look for the results of the previous surveys to see if there’s timeline data—so I’ve brought them to your attention.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Professor Sracic Counts ‘Em So You Don’t Have to: State of the Union Address and Japan

One popular Japanese parlor game (to the extent that Japanese houses have parlors) is counting the number of time that “Japan” is mentioned in a major policy statement by a US president/presidential candidate/cabinet member. Now, Paul Sracic is not one of those counters—he has a day job in political science that makes him cover major policy statements for what they are, policy statements for the United States—but he has been kind enough to tell me that President Obama mentioned “Japan” just once, as in:

“Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan.”

...and a shout-out to Youngstown, Ohio...

Thanks, Paul, we needed that.

Paul is not all sticks and coal, though. He just urged the Obama administration to welcome Prime Minister Abe and Japan into the TPP negotiations. But can Abe take a hint? He needs an exception come his February visit to Washington, when a nod from Obama can seal a July victory for the LDP. Stay tuned.

Unfalsifiable Thoughts: Gangnam Style

I would be one of the handful of people on this planet who have not watched South Korean rapper Psy’s Gangnam Style YouTube video but for most of my fellow countrypersons in Japan, who also met it with indifference. Google “江南スタイル (Japanese for Gangnam Style)” and you get 2.7 million hits, so it’s not as if Gangnam Style has been ignored altogether. Still, Japan is so out of step with the rest of the world, where “Gangnam Style” now produces 753 million hits and the official PSY YouTube video has been viewed 1.31 billion times (both including Japan, true), that people have wondered what’s going on here.

It’s not for lack of interest in or hostility towards things Korean. Japan is still far and away the largest overseas outlet for Hanryu entertainment products with significant knock-on effects on the tourism and, to a lesser extent, language school markets. The most recent cross-straits tiff over history issues have dampened the enthusiasm a tad—and NHK, the state-owned media group, last year dropped Korean entertainers from its new-year’s-eve omnibus variety show—but only a tad; Hanryu soap operas (is there any other kind?) contemporary and historical still grace the TV landscape, largely daytime and late-night in the case of terrestrial broadcasts, 24/7 in the case of satellite and cable* and Korean girls groups continue their valiant battle in against the AKB48 juggernaut in implicit alliance with their shorter, less-leggy, Japanese counterparts.**

Come to think of it, that must be why PSY never caught on here. Hanryu is a lot like us, only more beautiful, more polished, more articulate, more ripped (in the case of male entertainers). Familiarity, with perfection: that’s the Hanryu formula for success, the kind of success that has yet to be found elsewhere outside of Korea. PSY, by contrast, is almost a comic act. A middle-aged guy hopping around on an imaginary horse? Why, we could have far more outrageous stuff on any one episode of our nightly, dirt-cheap, variety shows featuring any number of rent-a-comics from Yoshimoto and its lesser competitors as well as past-consume-by-date straight personalities. There is no market here for weird Asians—we are, come to think of it, Asians***—William Hung never caught on, and PSY didn’t get that far either.

* This is a casual, unscientific observation that does not even have the benefit of a cursory newspaper check on today’s TV programming. Remember, these are my “unfalsifiable thoughts” so the normal self-imposed rules of fact-based blogging do not apply.
** I have an idea here for an SNS game, an industry BTW that appears to have reached or is close to be reaching its saturation point.
*** Reminds me of the Chris Rock joke in his White President Obama video about Obama going into the hoods to organize.

Someone Should Be Doing a Survey on Media-Reader Correlations

Conventional wisdom has it that Sankei Shimbun reports from a neoliberal xenophobe’s perspective while its Asahi counterpart represents the antibusiness, appeasement end of the political spectrum, and Yomiuri and Mainichi lie somewhere in between. It is also widely assumed that there is some correlation between their contents and the mindset of their respective readers, a correlation that I’ve speculated before to be a major cause of the non-random correlation between the results of the random-digit dialing (RDD) opinion polls that major media outlets regularly conduct and the opinions of the media outlets themselves. But how strong is the correlation? And how are the media and their consumers connected by causal relationships? Are we what read, or do we read what we are? I have my own guesses, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t quantitative academic studies on this subject, at least in Japanese. In the unlikely event that there isn’t, there’s a mother lode waiting here for political science PhD candidates with the research money to carry out a well-designed RDD survey.

Moi, on the North Korean Nuclear Test

My instincts tell me that I shouldn’t post this. But I will anyway.

Quoted at length here, on the North Korean nuclear test. There was a minor misunderstanding or two, obviously due to the fact that I had to talk from my stupidphone at a hospital without the best of reception while waiting for a phone call from my sister overseas to my mother, who is now going through her second chemotherapy. And of course, some of what the source thinks is the best stuff ends up on the cutting floor. It always does. But we’re all professionals. And we’re all in. And that’s the way the world works. And I was not misquoted in a materially significant way.

All in all, I should be grateful, and I am.

* For one, it makes my mother happy.*

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Contrasting Levels of Voices in the Radar Dispute

All the information that I’ve come into contact with, publicly available and un-, say that government officials are no better than we are at determining the level at which decisions regarding the lock-on of PLA Navy fire-control radars on Japanese MSDF assets. Jacey, who obviously knows military radars, provides a comment, where he guesstimates that it could have been accidental.

It’s hard to tell one way or other because top Chinese officials give short shrift to the media except in rare, highly stage-managed doses (although Uncle Wen made an effort to be more forthcoming). Still, it’s striking that the foreign and defense ministry have left all the talking on the substance of the issue—did they or didn’t they?—to the defense ministry foreign spokesperson. We haven’t even heard from their foreign and defense ministers, and they are at best the equivalent of our vice ministers and deputy secretaries, outranked administratively by the respective competent members of the State Council, who in turn serve at the pleasure of the Communist Party’s Politburo and its Standing Committee. Then there are the central military committees of the CCP and the government. Contrast that with Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera man the frontlines of the public communications war. It keeps Chinese officials from straying off the reservation in public view, but the asymmetry—partly attributable in the immediate instance to the difference between offense (Japan!) and defense (China) but ultimately traceable to the difference between an authoritarian regime and a liberal democracy—can’t be helpful in finding a mutual landing point going forward.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Radar: Chinese Counterattack and Japanese Counter-Counterattack

Richard Katz, who is one of the few reasons why I hesitate to swear off the NBR Japan forum completely and for good, has had the foresight to ask around and writes:

“I asked the same question and was told by as US security expert that the [Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF)] (and others) CAN distinguish between fire-control radar and surveillance radar. What I don't know is whether the MSDF can, or does, keep any sort of electronic record that would allow them to prove their case.”

I assume that they do since it’s hard to believe that the MSDF can make any kind of definitive confirmation after the fact unless they had detailed electronic records. Besides, how would you go about making improvements to the radar system without that kind of information? But will the MSDF be willing to release them in light of the potential military intelligence regarding its technical capabilities that would be revealed?

Rick wonders too, and I was going to see what I could dig up if the media doesn’t go after the authorities over this long weekend. Well they are. Sort of. Yomiuri reports that Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera went on Yomiuri TV this morning (Feb. 9), where he rejected the Chinese defense ministry’s explanation, stating that “a surveillance radar spins but a fire-control radar tracks a vessel all along. [The PLA Navy frigate] used it in that manner (in the images that the Maritime Self-Defense Force captured)” and that “the government is currently considering the extent to which (the evidence [that the JMSD destroyer was beamed] can be made public.”

Video and pictures should be pretty useful to experts in determining what happened. Although it appears to me that the Chinese side is suggesting, albeit vaguely, that the frigate trained a surveillance radar on the destroyer, the video should provide powerful evidence on the truthfulness of such a Chinese counterclaim even without the electronic records.

The only case where the electronic records would be necessary is where the two radars are visually and electronically undistinguishable in real time. Otherwise, even if it were a surveillance radar, locking it on a vessel would be the maritime equivalent of pointing a middle finger in the dark like a gun barrel. It’s unlikely, if the Japanese claim that it took days to make sure are true, but it would serve as a face-saving, if flimsy, excuse for the Chinese side.

Meanwhile, Sankei reports that the Chinese movements (Sankei uses the word “provocation”) around the Senkaku Islands and more broadly the Ease China Sea have been subdued since the Japanese government revealed the January 30 radar incident on February 5. This may be temporary even if true, but still generates potential for an opening for easing of tensions if the Abe administration is willing to proceed sub rosa from here. Save Chinese face, and perhaps they’ll ease up—surely not terminate—territorial intrusions. But would Prime Minister Abe be inclined to go there? If the Chinese side is willing to settle for a way back to the pre-purchase status quo but under more stable ownership, yes, but I’m not taking any bets here.

Friday, February 08, 2013

What Is a “Warning and Control Radar”?

It turned out to be a half-denial. What the Chinese defense ministry spokesperson told the TV News Ifeng on February 7 was that it had used a “warning and control radar,” not a fire-control radar, on the Japanese destroyer. So did the Japanese authorities jump the gun?

There is such a thing as an “Airborne Surveillance, Warning and Control Radar (ASWAC)” so it would not surprise me if the PLA Navy had a surface (surveillance,) warning and control radar mounted on its frigate. Thus, it’s plausible that the captain of the frigate decided to do the PLA Navy’s version of giving the evil eye by locking that radar, and not the fire-targeting radar, on the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer. So two questions: a) are surveillance, warning and control radars ever used in that manner, and b) are signals emanating from the two types of radars when they are used in that manner distinguishable from each other? Even if it turns out that the Japanese authorities aren’t being lied to, they could have been punk’d—punk’d with the potential outcome just as deadly as if the radar had been a fire-targeting radar. The matter turns on the answers to the two questions. The story is far from over.

MIGA Symposium (February 25) on Japan and East Asia Is Open for Registration

The Meiji Institute for Global Affairs (MIGA), the think tank affiliate of Meiji University, is holding its 2013 symposium on February 25 (12:45~17:30) on the Meiji University Surugadai Campus. There is an opening address (12:45~) by Ryozo Hayashi, the Director of MIGA, and two sessions, “East Asia under the New Leadership and the Security Order (13:00~15:00)” and “Peaceful Development in Asia and Japan’s Role (15:15~17:30)”. Among the featured speakers will be names familiar to those of you follow Japan and its relations within Asia such as Ian Bremmer, the President of the Eurasia Group, Shinichi Kitaoka, political scientist, former Ambassador to the United Nations, and Gerald Curtis, Professor at Columbia University, and Yoriko Kawaguchi, House of Councillors and former Foreign Minister. Please register from this webpage (

Note: I am currently affiliated with MIGA in addition to my longstanding relationship with Eurasia Group.

Corrected at 15:53, same day.

What’s with the Chinese Fire-Control Radars? Addendum

It’s official. The denial. The records of the foreign minister’s regular press conference today (Feb. 8) is up now. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida confirmed that “[yesterday] evening, there was an explanation from the Chinese defense ministry to our embassy in China. According to it, the explanation was that the substance of the case that the Japanese side announced publicly is not in accordance with the facts.”

One of the strengths of an authoritarian regime is that it’s usually much easier to make a story stick and stick it will…domestically. And that’s the one and only priority at this point. So the benefits to the Chinese political leadership are obvious. It doesn’t have to punish (or reward) anyone. More generally, it can kick the Senkaku issue and the broader Japan-China relationship down the road while it consolidates its hold on its domestic constituencies.

The Abe administration does not come out of all this without its own piece of silver lining. It can claim with some legitimacy that it has faced down the Chinese on this issue. True, it must do so in a low-key, dog-whistle sort of way, most likely through media surrogates so as not to goad the Chinese into further escalation on other fronts. Still, it’s a welcome respite from the frustration and sense of powerlessness engendered by the Chinese excursions into the territorial space of the Senkaku Islands. And kicking the can down the road can’t be bad for the Abe administration either, since it helps take one more set of difficult issues off the table in the lead up to the July House of Councillors election.

An unintended incident could always blow all this speculation away of course. But for the time being, I suspect that it’s going to be, move along, there’s nothing to see.

What’s with the Chinese Fire-Control Radars?

The Japanese government is claiming that a PLA Navy frigate locked fire-control radar on a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer in a dramatic escalation of tensions just as attempts appeared to be under way to reach a more serviceable equilibrium in the bilateral relationship. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on so that I can make an educated guess at what’s going to happen next. At this point, I only have suspicions, at best. (And they have shifted as more information is revealed.) Specifically, I suspect that the PLA Navy’s leadership knew of the incidents but am more confident that the rest of the Chinese party and government leadership including those of other three military forces learned of them only after the Japanese defense minister revealed the incidents to the Japanese media. I suspect that the Chinese leadership is buying time to form a definitive response, which I am confident will include an implicit cession of such actions but not an admission of the alleged actions themselves. As a result, barring another unforeseen major incident, the uneasy maintenance of the security and diplomatic status quo will continue until there is a gradual thawing of the government-to-government relationship. Any major improvement will only happen after the incoming Xi Jinping-Li Keqiang administration has consolidated its hold over the political and military realm, which for the outgoing Hu-Wen administration took at least a couple of years and perhaps never was completely consummated.

I’ll be more than happy to elaborate on my reasoning for these not-quite conclusions if there’s any interest from a public forum. In the meantime, the following is a summary of the known facts (including allegations of fact) as they have unfolded. I have not provided any links to the media reports as they are too numerous to pick and choose from except for a handful that I felt necessary to the integrity of the summary in one way of another.

January 25: Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of junior coalition partner Komeito, delivers a letter from Prime Minister Abe to Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, who said, “China and Japan are important neighbors to each other, and bilateral cooperation in various fields has reached an unprecedented level in terms of both depth and breadth since the normalization of diplomatic relations 40 years ago, giving a strong impetus to the development of the two countries. The Chinese government attaches importance to developing relations with Japan and such a policy remains unchanged”, according to the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs.*
January 31: Three Chinese maritime surveillance vessels enter and leave the Senkaku territorial waters.
February 4: Two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels enter the Senkaku territorial waters between 9:23-9:24 and leave between 23:31-23:40, the longest such sojourn ever.
February 6: The Japanese Defense Minister reveals that a PLA Navy vessel (most likely a frigate) locked fire-control radar on a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer on January 30, and had done so on a JMSDF helicopter on the 19th.** The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman says that the ministry has not been informed by the defense ministry.***
February 7: The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman states that “Japan is doing things that fan the flames of the crisis, generate tension, and smear the image of China with mud, which runs contrary to efforts to improve the relationship” and that “the relevant department (ed. presumably the Ministry of Defense) is currently undertaking a rigorous investigation and the confirmation of the facts with regard to the related media reports” and tells the reporters to “please inquire with the department in charge.” Hong Kong-based TV News Ifeng reports that the defense ministry spokesperson issued a denial.****

A few additional comments. According to experts, the radar incidents are a quantum leap in aggression since the Japanese side could justifiably open fire in self-defense.***** (To be clear, the Japanese destroyer prudently engaged in evasive maneuvers until the Chinese frigate disengaged its radar.) Speculation has centered on the authorization (or lack thereof) for the radar engagement. Did the CPC Standing Committee of the Politburo give the go-ahead, or were they rogue acts of a gung-ho captain? Or something in between, such as a PLA bid for more influence and appropriations under the incoming administration, or inter-force rivalry for the same? Remember, the Chinese authorities are a notoriously freebooting bunch for (because they are?) an authoritarian regime—see Bo Xilai.

* The full text of the FMPRC announcement including the PRC take on the rest of Xi’s comments can be found here. Asahi puts a positive spin in its headline with “Xi seriously considers first summit meeting with Abe” while BBC goes with the more prosaic “Japan envoy meets Chinese leader amid islands dispute”. It would be fun to go through the ideological spectrum of the mainstream media on this issue, on this one event, to see how their perspectives color their headlines and, presumably, the hearts and minds of their readers.
** The Japanese defense minister only learned of the second incident on February 5, six days after the January 30 incident. It is unclear from media reports so far when he learned of the January 19 incident. Still, nothing has been emanating from the DPJ except some criticism from Kazuhiro Haraguchi laid against Prime Minister Abe during the February 7 House of Representatives Budget Committee questions. Meanwhile, the DPJ has had to vigorously deny a February 7 Nikkei report that there had been another, similar incident during the Noda administration that then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada decided to keep under wraps for fear of worsening the Japan-China relations. Nikkei stood by its sources.
*** Next day (Feb. 7), most of the “Press and Media Services” pages on the Chinese foreign ministry website said “Sorry, the page you requested cannot be found” at 12:30. They were back to normal by no later than 20:30, likely earlier. However, the foreign ministry spokeswoman’s February 6 press conference records did not include the denial of knowledge.
**** Or so Mainichi reports and appears to be correct as far as I can make out the Chinese headlines. I’m including the link here for the benefit of anyone who can actually watch the video and understand what the announcer is saying.
***** Such incidents were reportedly common during the Cold War and the US and USSR worked out rules of engagement to prevent such incidents from escalating into actual clashes.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Around My “Crazy Talk” Comments on the Abe Decision to Put the Kohno Statement on Hold

It’s been days since I received some comments on this post; here are my answers.

From sigma 1:
“Will the "academic" process be a real one with apolitical figures involved, or will it be one like his collective self-defense committee in Abe 1.0 which while "academic" was clearly going to tell Abe what he wanted to hear due to personnel selection.”

I see two meaningful repercussions from the collective self-defense issue: it 1) Komeito is not pleased, 2) China sees its preconception of Japan as US sock-puppet confirmed. The first point is the more serious one because the LDP needs to keep Komeito in the tent to win in July and stay afloat long-term. However, Komeito’s ultimate pain threshold in this matter should be pretty high since it would have no one else to turn to here. The Communists, Social Democrats, and possibly the Ozawa folks? A coalition of the willing, maybe, but unable, for sure. The long-standing administrative interpretation of Article 9 will be used by opponents, but will the outcry reach beyond the Asahi-Mainichi crowd, particularly as tension ratchets up in the East China Sea. Which brings us to the China question. I believe that it’s useful to reinforce a security alliance when there’s a neighbor under an authoritarian regime that has a very different take on important national security questions, in this case overeignty issues and North Korea. (I can also argue the point in the other direction, but someone will have to promise that they’ll print an op-ed before I interview both my thumbs.) More important, I believe that the kind of people who are inclined to vote for the LDP/Japan Restoration Party/Your Party think that way too. Even more important, I believe that Abe believes too, in which case he would see that bringing across-the-board opponents of collective defense to the commission serves no purpose. Instead, he would want the kind of people who can talk meaningfully about the options available.

I see very different repercussions from the comfort women issue. Repudiating it—even revising it—at this point would bring down the wrath of the entire Western world on Abe’s head. He does not need that. He needs to build a credible picture of the case from the ground up that supports a credible alternative to the South Korean narrative that has built up around the testimony of the South Korean women who came forward (and with which it is not entirely consistent). It is only then that what can be said over and beyond the Kohno Statement. And it certainly will not be something to the effect that “they were highly-paid professionals earning more than the Japanese generals.” What Abe actually believes is unknowable and is beside the point. What I’ve seen of him so far leads me to believe that he is at least aware that a whitewash job will only serve to set his case back. For that, he needs people who have the credibility to bring together and examine the available evidence—contemporary and current testimonies, historical documents and artifacts, and the economic, social, and cultural backdrop—and come to a defensible conclusion, or conclusions, before he can begin to determine the next step forward. Right now, most people with any degree of interest in the matter are wedded to one of two extreme narratives. Abe cannot move forward until he breaks these spells, and I think that he realizes it. Of course, he could turn out to be as dense as his detractors like to think, and I may be overcompensating because I underestimated him before. But I don’t think so.

From Brian B:
“Could you give a link to your past conjecture on the comfort women issue?

From Fernando:
“Given all his talk about the economy, the last thing Abe wants is South Korean boycotts of Japanese goods as a trade off for pleasing the narrow segment of the Japanese population (in my understanding) that resents the Statement.”

The Kohno Statement is probably not a hot button issue for most Japanese, but it is as much a matter of “pleasing” himself as your “narrow segment”. And I for one don’t resent it but do see the need to revisit it because it has not served its purpose and was both incomplete and flawed to begin with. That aside, I would say that a Korean boycott that went mutual would be as damaging, if not more so, the South Korean economy. The relative size and composition of the traded goods and services and the legal constraints on government actions in a liberal democracy mean that South Korea has far less leverage over Japan than China does.

“It was Yohei Kono, not Taro, by the way.”

Yeah, you’re right. I did that with the Fukudas too. My excuse? Seen one turkey,…Yeah, you’re right. I did that with the Fukudas too. My excuse? Seen one turkey,…

Friday, February 01, 2013

On the Senkaku Islands in SMPC

I hold forth in the South China Morning Post on the Senkau Islands dispute. I could quibble about the details, such as the line, “The LDP has a far better relationship with China than the last government.” Yes, I did say that, but I also said something to the effect that sidelining Yukio Hatoyama and later Ichiro Ozawa (who eventually had to leave the DPJ) didn’t help. I’m also much more pessimistic about the outcome than the title and the headline suggest, though it’s not the correspondent’s fault that I didn’t go there. In fact, someone like John Campbell, who told me that he posed a question about this matter on a publicly accessible forum (that I avoid these days because of two frequent posters that I find deeply annoying, though there are people such as John, Mike Smitka and Rick Katz there whose opinions I respect), would immediately find a major flaw in my commentary. But yes, all in all, it’s a fair rendition of the gist of the fifteen-minute telephone conversation.

And that’s it. Have a nice weekend.

In the Media: On Abenomics

Yesterday, a friend advised me over dinner to pitch my wares; specifically, my media appearances. Now, I’ve always felt slightly embarrassed by email that I receive from people that I barely know announcing their appearance in this or that venue and/or recounting their most recent musings on the world at large. I’ve told only a handful of people that I even blog. However, beggars cannot be choosers, and time is running out fast if I’m ever going to capitalizing on my once or twice a month excursions. So here is the latest if not quite the greatest, courtesy of Bloomberg TV.

* Do not fear. I am not quite ready to bombard my email contacts…yet…BWAHAHA*

So Much for Crazy Talk on Abe and the Comfort Women

From Yomiuri online, Prime Minister Abe stated in the January 31 plenary session of the House of Representatives that the Kohno Statement regarding the comfort women issue that it “should not be made into a political issue, a diplomatic issue.” He went on to state that it “was issued by [Taro] Kohno, the chief cabinet secretary at the time, and it is appropriate that I as prime minister refrain from saying anything more about this matter and that it be taken care of by Chief Cabinet Secretary ([Yoshihide] Suga). Later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated in his regular press conference that “it is desirable to have [the matter considered] from an academic perspective.”

Unsurprising, I’m sure, at least to Yoshi Kawasaki (see here, at 00:54:44 for his broader take on Abeplomacy) and anyone else who has actually been following the action instead of jumping all over context-deficient comments that reinforce ones preconceptions. Kawasaki hedges his views on Abeplomacy with the all-too-convenient “at least until the House of Councillors election in July” caveat, but I’ll put ten of my dollars against one of anyone’s that an honest and thoroughgoing academic undertaking and any comments—forward-looking,  according to an earlier Abe comment—by the chief cabinet secretary at its conclusion will leave committed advocates on both sides (or rather, ends, since it sometimes feels as if there were no middle ground, where I put forward my own conjecture a few years ago) highly disappointed.

From My Notes: Who Are the Wizards behind the Abenomics Curtain?

Edits in parentheses, otherwise, served as-is. And yes, in case you wondered, there is a real “we”.

“[W]ho do you feel has made the biggest impression on Abe?”

[*Beats me, but is that going to keep me from talking?*]

The third arrow first, which is actually micro, since it’s industrial policy broadly defined. (Monetary and fiscal are the macros.) It’s METI. Akira Amari, who is the minister in charge, was METI minister for two years (2006-2008) in the first Abe administration and the subsequent Fukuda administration and has staffed half his new 50-member or so policy team with METI secondments (please check numbers). Now the interesting angle here is, some METI officials were or became neoliberals in the reform processes under the Hashimoto and Koizumi cabinet, left public service, and have recently been prominently observed outside the tent pissing in on behalf of the likes of the Minna no Tou (Your party) and Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), often at the same time. MOF’s Yoichi Takahashi is also in the same boat. They may be taking a show-me stance for now since their grandmaster Heizo Takenaka has joined the Abe/Amari team but expect them to attack viciously if the Abe administration tacks toward picking winners and throwing money at them while pushing off difficult structural reforms.

Working backwards, for fiscal policy, [Finance Minister Taro] Aso really likes spending money, although Most LDP members worth their salt generally don’t need prompting to go ahead and spend our money—it’s part of their proverbial DNA—so Abe shouldn’t need much prodding from anyone. But Aso really seems to like spreading the muck around. (Cucek-san has some of the most pungent things to be said on this subject without using four-letter words.)

Finally, on monetary policy, I have no idea beyond Hamada’s obvious, overt influence. But Abe is no economist, professional or amateur, and he and Hamada go back some ways. So you need not look further than Hamada for reinforcement to Abe’s intellectual backbone on this. I’m sure that Robert has suggested Tag Murphy and John Campbell on this and the other macro question. But remember, Hamada’s influence is limited to taming the BOJ and its tightwad monetary policy; Hamada is critical of Abe’s fiscal policy, though he appears reluctant to call him out too strongly on it.

“We are also trying to determine when he first started hammering away at the BOJ, we feel it may have been after the quake around October 2011.”

You’ll have to check the records for that, although Abe reportedly thinks that Fukui’s 2006 abandonment of the zero-interest policy doomed the economic recovery and hurt his incoming (and short-lived) administration.