Monday, January 27, 2014

Off-the-Cuff: Hosokawa, Abe…

A quickie, from a late-night, transpacific email exchange with a couple of people whom I deeply respect. (Yes, I’m the wiseguy.) Speaking of which, I’m going to catch this one if I can. Anyway…

# The Tokyo election? Hey, at least the Vasa sailed 1300 meters before it sank, much better than Hosokawa's candidacy.

# Abe making nice with Erdogan, Putin, and India's defacto lameduck prime minister? The real story here is that all this is taking that much time away from working on his third arrow.

# Abe's WW I analogy? Red herring. (See preceding bullet.)*

* I want to elaborate on what I mean by this.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Japan Catches, China “Asks/Demands,” Japan Releases—So What’s the Story Here?

A friend cites this Japan Times article (translated Kyodo wire) and finds it “very encouraging.” The story is that “Beijing asked Tokyo not to arrest a Chinese man who attempted to land on the Senkaku Islands in a hot air balloon on New Year’s Day and had to be rescued by the Japan Coast Guard in nearby waters” and the “(Japanese) he coast guard did not pursue criminal charges against the man for intruding into Japan’s territorial waters, saying the exact point of his attempted landing on the islets could not be determined.”

I would be careful in trying to read something into this report. First, it’s a Kyodo dispatch, and from Beijing to boot. Second, another Kyodo wire (for those of you who read Japanese) reminds us that in 2012, two years after the infamous 2010 collision, 14 Chinese activists were arrested in flagrante delicto upon landing on one of the Senkaku Islands but were eventually sent back to China without being charged. It appears to be established practice not to call ticktack fouls; there was no reason to believe that the Abe administration would depart from customary procedures. So far, the Chinese side appears to have been careful not to escalate the war of nerves beyond mere words despite Abe’s visit to Yasukuni, which he chose to depict as a visit of tribute and remorse. As for the “arrest” part of the procedures, there was a convenient cover story: it was unclear whether the air balloon actually alit in territorial waters.

The question, of course, is what will happen if and when there is no cover story available. Your guess is as good as mine, but is it my imagination, or have Chinese fishing boats been avoiding the territorial waters since the 2010 incident, leaving the incursions to their maritime authorities?

But there’s a meta- kind of angle to these reports in terms of the glimpse it gives you into the mindset of the Japan Times editors and, more importantly, the key reason why the Japan Times version appeared “very encouraging.” Specifically, the original Japanese version uses the word “要求,” meaning “demand,” which is much more assertive than “asked” and “request” used in the English one. In fact, the title of the truncated Kyodo website version—each paper is free to impose its own title but this is quite representative—is “中国、気球男の不逮捕要求 日中緊迫下、立件見送り,” or “China Demands Air Balloon Man Not Be Arrested; No Criminal Case Brought amid Japan-China Tensions.” By contrast, the Japan Times version is entitled “China secretly asked Japan not to snatch Senkakus hot air balloonist.” Go figure.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Week-old Building Blocks for an Abe Profile

A week ago, I whacked out answers to four questions put to me and likely a few other talking heads by a journalist writing an Abe profile. For what it’s worth, here’s the Q&A. (I don’t know the name or date of the publication—it could one of a handful, from what I know of him—but a week should be more than enough for putting a hold on any lines that he might be using. If he used it just for background, that’s okay. I’m usually cooperative with journalists, academics and students who inquire by email or phone. I also extend professional courtesy to analysts.)

1.      Are there any episodes from PM Abe's childhood, university years, his relationships with his father or grandfather, or events in postwar Japan that you would say have influenced his world view?

Abe provides little information about the events that formed his world view and how they affected him. It is as if he sprang from his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi’s forehead a full-blown conservative. Kishi’s influence as a patriarchal figure is obvious; Abe constantly refers to him constantly with reverence while he rarely mentions his low-key, easy-going father in public. I believe that there is much more to this than a media-created illusion. If my memory serves me correctly, the sole mention of family in his book “Ustsukushii Kuni e (Toward a Beautiful Country)” is an episode from his kindergarten days when he was whisked into the prime minister’s residence during the demonstrations against the Japan-US security treaty.** The next time we see Abe the person in his book is in high school, where he claims to have refuted the anti-treaty views of his social studies teacher, an episode that is telling, I believe, of the visceral strength of his convictions and their relative lack of intellectual depth.***

* I had a close-up view of the father and his entourage in Brasilia, which he visited as foreign minister.
** The child Abe innocently recites an anti-treaty chant “Anpo hantai (Treaty no)”, whereupon he is gently chided by his grandfather, who tells him to say “Anpo sansei (Treaty yes).”
*** According to his rendition, the teacher took the position that the treaty, up for revision after ten years, should be rejected, but made a face and changed the subject when Abe reminded him that the treaty also mentioned “economic cooperation” between the two nations. This is remarkable in that Abe believes even to this day, let alone then as a callow high school student, that the force of this question was enough to take down his social studies teacher.

2.      The commonly held view of Abe is that he is a nationalist ideologue. I've always thought this was a little simplistic. What do you think are the ideological ties that bind his thoughts together? Is it, as some say, a desire to break with the "masochism" of the postwar years and turn Japan into a "normal" nation; is it to appease the people to whom he feels he owes something politically - conservatives in the LDP, the Japan War Bereaved Families Association? Is there more to it than that?

Let’s see what Abe’s doing on the security front. He is clearly in favor of a strong Japan-US alliance. He is pushing for Japan to play a more prominent role in UN peacekeeping operations. He is reaching out to a wide range of states (Russia, India, France…) to enhance bilateral security relationships while keeping his hand extended to China and South Korea with “no preconditions”. Abe is not seeking nuclear weapons (unlike, say, Shintaro Ishihara, who, like many “nationalists”, made common cause with the left in opposing the 1960 security treaty), ballistic missiles, aircraft carriers, strategic bombers, and other trappings of a normal (super-)state. A 2% annual increase (real terms) in the defense budget for the next five years after decades of rising costs have eaten into the weapons acquisition budget? And what part of his constitutional and sub-constitutional agenda (SDF as a “military”, collective defense, arms exports) would look out of place in any country outside of Costa Rica? It is a measure of how abnormal “normal” was in the post-WW II regime that a search for specific motives must be sought.

As I implied in my response to Q1, I find it difficult to pinpoint how he arrived at his views. However, remember that his worldview appears to be shared to varying degrees by many, perhaps a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on where you are coming from) majority of LDP politicians and a good number of opposition Diet members. And they did not have the benefit of having a politically towering grandfather to look to for guidance on such matters. So where are they coming from?

I don’t have a full-fledged answer, but I wish to make the following point: We Japanese, looking back on modern history in East Asia, regard the coming of the Black Ships as the starting point. The Chinese, by contrast, see events through the prism of the Opium War. The Americans? That part of their history began with a bang, at Pearl Harbor. I intuit that this is a highly useful perspective from which to view current events and how they are interpreted. One of these days, I’m going to devote much of my time to elaborate on this point. But not now. There are only 24 hours in a day, and I have work to do.

3.      To what extent do you think he will he allow political realities to temper his policy goals on, for example, constitutional reform, patriotic education, nuclear power, a bigger role for the SDF? Is he pragmatist at heart?

He already has accommodated political realities, hasn’t he? For instance, he has held back on collective defense in order to secure more time to swing Komeito around to the LDP consensus. And there is no way that he will move forward with a Diet vote and a national referendum on a constitutional amendment—something that has been on the LDP agenda for ages, by the way—without support, or at least acquiescence, from Komeito. The injection of more patriotism into public education is a more achievable goal in my view, but do not expect to see any jingoism in what eventually emerges. Nuclear power is an issue that is obviously subordinated to reality. A large number of nuclear power plants in perfectly good working condition will never be re-commissioned under the new regulatory rules and procedures. Orders for new nuclear power plants will only come if and when local communities consent (a prospect which will become more likely as old nuclear power plants are decommissioned, but not one to put your money on). These are realities that Abe and every other Japanese in favor of at least some nuclear power face and accept. The expansion of the UN PKO role of the SDF has been carefully managed for at least the last couple of decades; I see no changes to this under the second Abe administration.
So I guess my question is, is the question “Is he pragmatist at heart” operative?

4.      Finally, how would you rate his first year in office in terms of the economy, structural reforms and foreign-defence policy? Do you think he will stick around for the duration (unlike in 2006-7)?

I am not an economist so I try to leave my personal sentiments aside when it comes to evaluating economic outcomes and making economic predictions. I will say the following, though:

As far as the first arrow is concerned, he placed a bet on sustained quantitative easing, added a few words about its effect on exchange rates that he almost immediately replaced with a wink-wink, and scored some immediate economic gains that have maintained his cabinet’s popularity at remarkably high levels over year after his return to power.

The report card on his second, fiscal arrow remains inconclusive. He will use a supplemental budget to ease the negative macro-impact of the consumption tax hike, a measure that a majority of analysts appear to support, if with some misgivings. But he has yet to show how he intends to achieve primary balance, a goal that he has inherited from previous administrations. (There are economists who argue against its necessity, a discussion that I leave to others to hash out.)

His actions on the third arrow so far has disappointed most people, including me. They come across as incremental rather than revolutionary, intended to minimize opposition rather than to maximize support. I see his personal imprint on the efforts to enhance prospects for women in the workplace, but labor reform more broadly, coupled with significant changes in the composition of the social safety net, is gaining little traction. Agricultural reform likewise looks to be more cosmetic than game-changing. These are the two most prominent examples, but the status quo in healthcare and childcare also calls for changes that will not come easily. And I am personally skeptical about the usefulness of special economic zones in heralding change, though I will be more than happy to be proven wrong, which the Abe administration can do in the coming months as it rolls out the next installment of third-arrow policy initiatives.

Defense/foreign policy? I give him very high marks, domestically on the Okinawa base issues, and internationally on enhancement of bilateral relationships (see Okinawa base issues, plus outreach to allies and non-allies) as well as continuation of the gradual upgrading of Japan’s role in UN operations—up to but certainly not including his Yasukuni visit, which was an unmitigated disaster for his international agenda. I believe that his accompanying statement was largely sincere (I do believe that he would have preferred a more explicitly “revisionist” statement, but still) and designed to minimize the fallout, but he appears to have underestimated the negative fallout in the United States. The practical, on-the-ground effects are unclear to me and perhaps rather minimal, but Japan clearly slipped in the propaganda war with China (and South Korea), while putting a damper on working-level efforts to improve the bilateral relationship with South Korea (and China). That can’t be good at all.

His chances of sticking around for the next two-and-a-half years until the next most-likely double general election are excellent. Barring an act of God or a horrible domestic economy in which his administration is seen to be badly bungling the response to severe international adversities, no challenger will emerge that could unseat him in the 2015, when his current three-year term as the LDP president ends. As for 2016, the elements of regime change are a bad economy, a largely united opposition, and Komeito defection.  The first could be enough to unseat Abe. The first two could be enough to dislodge the LDP as well. The three combined will ensure defeat for Abe and the LDP. The first is possible, the second is unlikely, and the third is, if Abe does not completely alienate Komeito and its Sokagakkai support base, improbable.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Addendum to My Commentary on the Sasae Op-Ed

The following was an afterthought to the memo that became my preceding post, just in case it might come in handy. Since I’m not getting paid for this specific piece of advice (or the previous memo), I free to share them here with you here.

If there's a piece of advice to offer Japanese leaders and their entourage, it's that the modern history of East Asia is seen differently in the public minds of Japan, China, and the United States. Specifically, for us Japanese, it began with the Black Ships, but the Chinese reach back to the Opium War. And Americans? Pearl Harbor, for all practical purposes. These differing perspectives color their respective views on history issues and sometimes affect actual outcomes, of which the treatment of the Senkaku Islands and related disputes is a prime example.

Now Japanese leaders and their entourages may be aware of this and certainly won't like it if they do, but they do have to face reality. For starters, they must be mindful of how "it plays in Peoria." I think that Ambassador Sasae's piece, with its unusually punchy style and emphasis on Japanese contriteness, was an effective rebuttal to the Chinese ambassador's op-ed. On the other hand, the kind of talk coming from special assistant to LDP president (Abe) and right-wing Diet member Koichi Hagiuda blaming the US government's negative response on the Democrats must be avoided. It may be true for all I know (although the last-minute notice to the Americans, eerily reminiscent of North Korea's last-minute notice to China about its most recent nuclear test, would have tested the patience of a President McCain as well), but it doesn't help Japan's cause any, especially when the Democrats are better situated over the long-run in presidential elections for demographic reasons.

The Empire of the Rising Sun Strikes Back (with Its Mighty Pen)

I have been harsh on MOFA at times. This time, I had some nice things to say in response to a link that I received today. (I don’t follow the foreign media on Japan as assiduously as I used to, though I probably should.) I’m posting them here, with minor edits including links.

I believe that this WaPo op-ed by the Japanese ambassador in Washington, a response to this op-ed by his Chinese counterpart, is an effective departure from the typical unmemorable response in the war of words (and sometimes more) that has made the Japanese look, at best, conciliatory and, at worst, appeasing. The conventional wisdom among China hands in Japan outside of the old MOFA China school is that you have to push back against the Chinese before finding the middle ground. This the Japanese ambassador does here to good effect, leavening his charges by playing up Prime Minister Abe’s acts and words on the occasion of his Yasukuni visit to the full.

Two things made this response possible. One is the obvious resolve and conviction of the prime minister. But the other is one that will likely go unmentioned; the assumption that China will not hit back where it will most hurt the Abe administration, namely Japanese exports to and investments in China. The brittleness of the legitimacy of the authoritarian regime ensures that the CCP for now is resolved to do its best to keep the initiative firmly in official hands. I have no idea how long this state of affairs within China will last, but the Japanese authorities are well advised to take advantage of it in the meantime.

BTW I love the resurrection of the word “propaganda,” whose deliberate—“anachronistic” propaganda, indeed!—overtones of charges laid against the Soviets during the Cold War should resonate in Washington. I see the hand of the Japan hands, whose key members surely must have been consulted by MOFA and/or the prime minister’s office, behind it. All the better for Japanese diplomacy, though, if MOFA came up with it on its own.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Whoever Wins, a Senior Citizen Will Be Tokyo Governor (But He Won’t Be an Heirloom Turkey)

Yoichi Masuzoe is the frontrunner for now. Morihiro Hosokawa, his main rival, has stumbled badly before reaching the gate by postponing the announcement of his policy platform initially scheduled for today (Jan. 17) to “Monday or later next week” in order to figure out a way to stop his nuclear power referendum campaign from turning into a two-issue one because of his earlier comments urging the Abe administration to give up hosting the highly popular 2020 Tokyo Olympics.* He probably still has a fighting chance of winning over a plurality of the Tokyo vote if Masuzoe makes a major gaffe or two and a third, hardline anti-nuclear candidate, Kenji Utsunomiya, opts out.** There is a fourth, perennial fringe candidate that the media always mention along with the other three because of his clown/celebrity status as the self-proclaimed inventor of the floppy disk and other gadgets useful or fanciful.

What do they have in common? Well, first, they are old…like the two governors that came before the eventual winner. Masuzoe is 65, the age at which people become eligible to collect under the Japanese public pension system. He also happens to be the youngest of the four. His immediate predecessor, Naoki Inose, was 67 when he resigned under disgrace after bare a year in office. Inose in turn had succeeded Shintaro Ishihara, who was 66 when he assumed office and 80 when he resigned to return to national politics.

But second, on what most people will consider a more positive note, none of the four or the two previous governors (or any other predecessors that come to mind) inherited Tokyo fiefdoms to launch their political careers. They areself-made men, at least in the political world.

These two points are related and, in my view, reflect Japanese politics and more broadly society. I’ll try to remember to come back to this later.

* He also appears to be buying time to search for a way to avoid disclosing details about the money scandal that brought his administration down after less than nine months. This is looking increasing like the most ill-prepared political campaign by a candidate of substance in recent memory.

** Increasingly unlikely, given Hosokawa’s missteps.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Politics Unusual: Four-Nation Study around the “Mongolian” Invasion?

Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hakubun Shimomura gave a talk at the Japan National Press Club yesterday (Jan. 15), where an alert Yomiuri reporter found the following little nugget of a story (my translation).

Four-Nation Joint Study by Japan, China, South Korea [and Mongolia] on Sunken Ships from the Mongolian Invasion
 MEXT Minister Shimomura stated in a press conference at the Japan Press Club on the 15th that “we would like to jointly undertake research with Mongolia, China and South Korea” on the sunken ships from the Yuan military that sank during the 13th Century Mongolian Invasion, proposing a joint study by the four nations.*

Fun facts:
1.      The “Mongolian” Invasion was conducted at the strong urging of the king of the Goryeo Dynasty, which ruled the Korean Peninsula at the time though it had been reduced to tributary state by China’s Yuan Dynasty, which in turn had been set up by Mongolians. The “Mongolian” Invasion later came to be known in Japan as the “Yuan” Invasion.
2.      President Park Geun-hye said early in her regime, “The historical perspective of aggressor and victim cannot be changed, even though a thousand years pass by.” 734 years have gone by since the last Yuan/Mongolian Invasion.

Message (I think):
Hey, it’s history. Let’s get over it…

Will it work? Of course not. No way China and South Korea bite. But there’s entertainment value. Shimomura deserves high marks for finding a clever way to clothes that sentiment in a way that complicates the task of Chinese and South Korean officials to express their indignation in the usual manner. In fact, it has the feel of an anecdote from China’s classic history annals.

* (Original online text)


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Post-Mortem: My Koizumi Call on Hosokawa’s Gubernatorial Bid Goes South

Yesterday (Jan. 14), Junichiro Koizumi offered his full support for Morihiro Hosokawa in his bid for the Tokyo governor’s office after a widely anticipated meeting between the two, even giving indications that he would be willing to actively campaign. So where did I go wrong? More specifically, was there anything that I overlooked that might have affected my judgment materially?

I forgot to take into account the fact that these one-of-a-kind events are more likely than not to be carefully stage-managed, and that is particularly true in Japan. Or look at it this way: Would a former prime minister decide to come out of retirement after two decades to run for a high-profile office and allow the future of his campaign to turn on a single meeting whose outcome he could only guess at? Even if he had been willing to take that risk, his handlers still would have worked with their counterparts on the Koizumi side to stage-manage the event. Once the scheduled event became public, the odds that Koizumi would make it a most favorable occasion for Hosokawa increased dramatically. Or so I should have determined.
This Huffington Post report link looks very robust, and quite informative too.

As for eventual outcome, it’s really anyone’s guess. Koizumi is a great campaigner. But will his participation be enough to make this a one-issue race? Besides, does Hosokawa want to come across as a one-issue candidate? He has two successful terms as governor of Kumamoto Prefecture under his belt in addition to his brief tenure as prime minister. Then there’s the matter of the other antinuclear candidate, activist lawyer and former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations Kenji Utsunomiya, who has the support of the Communist Party. Will he step aside to allow Hosokawa to dominate the hardcore antinuclear vote and possibly rake in more left-wing voters? (The Social Democrats are already switching their support from Utsunomiya to Hosokawa.)

There are other unknowns, such as how well will Yoichi Masuzoe, the preferred candidate of the LDP, fare as a campaigner? Masuzoe is articulate and highly intelligent, plus he is regarded as an expert on the social welfare system. But he only placed third the last time he ran for Tokyo governor, in 1999, and never made his way out of the less powerful House of Councillors, which essentially negated any ambitions he may have had for the prime minister’s office. Plus, if the Hosokawa campaign decides to get down and dirty, there are a good number of skeletons rattling around in his closet. And so on.

Far more uncertainties than I can handle, but what is shaping up to be Koizumi’s active involvement in the campaign improves Hosokawa’s prospects dramatically.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why Waste Prospective Comments on MOF, Businesses, and the Consumption Tax?

I wrote the following memos this morning to prepare for a conversation with a client. It turned out that the client had a very specific prospective investment in mind, with some pointed questions about it, while much of my thoughts here went untapped—cagey investor—so I’ll post them here. Mind you, they were not meant to be comprehensive.


1.      What does the Ministry of Finance want to achieve with the consumption tax hike? What does it think about companies increasing prices to keep in-line with consumption tax increases?

MOF has two problems: 1. Ever rising social insurance costs, partly funded by legally mandated premiums but increasingly reliant on transfers from the general budget, and 2) and ever-rising public debt that it sees as a looming threat to public finance and more broadly the financial market and the overall economy. Since there’s no way that the Japanese public will give way on the universal healthcare and pension systems, MOF has long decided that the Japanese government will go the European way and fund them by raising the consumption tax. Don’t imagine that the rate will stop at 10%.

Politics aside, MOF would be perfectly happy to let the market set post-hike prices. And given enough time, that will happen. But in the meantime, there’s griping from small businesses, who fear with good reason that they will be forced to swallow losses from all or most of the tax hike. And small businesses and their owners are the mainstay of the LDP’s electoral machine. Coalition partner Komeito has a similar electoral base. So special price cartels and FTC advisories encouraging pass-throughs are the order of the day for the Abe administration. Remember, MOF has significant influence over the FTC. MOF also is securing the cooperation of the other ministries in providing administrative guidance within their respective jurisdictions. It’s a jump—how high political reaction.

2.      Why are businesses going along with a tax hike, one that will be repeated in future years to boot, instead of insisting on more belt-tightening?

There are a couple of reasons. First, efficiency gains to be harvested notwithstanding, social insurance expenditures are set to rise. Better consumption tax than the already-high corporate income tax. Second, beyond fiscal transfers, the government has tended to lean on the better-funded corporate employee health insurance systems to make up the premium gap. This in turn falls disproportionately on the shoulders of the better-to-do big business insurance organizations. The consumption tax hike helps cap this drain on corporate (and corporate employee) expenditures. The second reason is given little attention, but is as important as the first.

Secretary/Minister of Defense/Defence

And a little something that I’d typed up last night, extensively reedited in the morning light sans (mostly) the influence of alcohol.


Did you know that cabinet members responsible for “defense” was a relatively new invention? Take a look at the current permanent members of the UN Security Council for example.

1.      USSR: People's Commissar for Defence (1934–1946)
2.      UK: Minister for Coordination of Defence (1936-1940)
3.      France: Minister of National Defence (1944–1974)
4.      Republic of China: Minister of National Defence (1946-)
People’s Republic of China: Minister of National Defense of the People's Republic of China (1954-)
5.      United States: Secretary of Defense (1949-)

(Germany, with its ReichsWEHRministerium (1919-1935) preceded all of them. Note the years of origin—and end.)

Before this, cabinet ministers were typically responsible for “war” and/or individual branches “army” or “navy.” But war becoming increasingly less acceptable as the continuation of diplomacy by other means. That said, it’s hard to stop at pure defense…or in Manchuria…or in Poland…or in Afghanistan…

And while we’re on this subject, note that in most if not all competitive sports, substitution of war by other means, you play both offense and defense. Even in track and field, ski and snowboarding, figure skating and gymnastics, and others where you do not directly engage your opponents but instead play against the clock or geometric measurements, or stage what are essentially beauty contests, there are elements of offense and defense with an eye on opponents at play.

Okay, now back to work.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Will Ex-PM Koizumi Support Ex-PM Hosokawa’s Tokyo Governor Bid and More

Morihiro Hosokawa, the 75 year-old former prime minister, is reportedly looking to run for Tokyo governor to oppose nuclear power and will meet another former prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, tomorrow to seek his endorsement. Hosokawa needs Koizumi’s endorsement because he lost most of his political credibility when he resigned as prime minister after only nine months in office rather than face questions about 100 million yen that he secretly received from a corporation in a heavily regulated industry as he was launching his political career. Koizumi by contrast resigned at the peak of his popularity after five years, a stark contrast to most of the other post-WW II prime ministers, particularly the one-year-and-out sextet that followed him. Hosokawa hopes that Koizumi will support him because they both oppose nuclear power. My call is that Hosokawa will not have to run without Koizumi’s formal endorsement. In fact, if there were a way to place bets on tomorrow’s outcome, I would put some of my money on Hosokawa declining to run after all, since I seem to be the only one that is considering that possibility and could get unbelievably long odds on that outcome. Here’s why.

They both got their start in the LDP but enjoyed reputations as iconoclasts. However, Hosokawa really did try to put an end to LDP rule and briefly did, while Koizumi came to power claiming that he would bust up the LDP but wound up entrenching it in power. Moreover, Hosokawa entered and exited politics all alone, opposed in his choice of career by his ex-noble father and none of his own children following in his footsteps while Koizumi, a third-generation Diet member bequeathed his seat to his son, who has easily lapped his political-generational cohorts in the chase for the LDP’s future leadership. Hosokawa was for better or worse the ultimate amateur; Koizumi was the consummate pro. And that LDP will be supporting a different candidate. Why would Koizumi put the interests of the LDP at stake by campaigning for Hosokawa?

Note also that Hosokawa opposes nuclear power while Koizumi’s main complaint is that he sees no prospects of finding a site for the final disposition of the nuclear waste. Hosokawa makes an environmental argument, whereas Koizumi remains the consummate political animal. It is hard to imagine tomorrow’s meeting producing a true meeting of minds.

The media is going easy on Hosokawa at least in part because they want to encourage him to run. The media wants a race and with Hosokawa, they will have a race, between two high-profile candidates at that. But what will happen once Hosokawa officially declares? It will be open season on his public record, that’s what. Hosokawa bungled the rollout of the public debate on a consumption tax hike, seriously depleting his political capital; he suffered a fatal blow when he failed to account for the 100 million yen cash transfer and resigned instead. The analogy with now ex-governor Inose’s 50 million yen “loan” from yet another donor in a heavily regulated industry will be too delicious for the media to pass up. Moreover, the disgraced Inose is likely to remain in the spotlight throughout the gubernatorial campaign as the suspect in a political financing irregularity probe (at best) and a bribery case (at worst).

Finally, Hosokawa is trying to turn the gubernatorial race into a referendum on nuclear power. Will a plurality of Tokyo voters take a flier on a 75 year-old carpetbagger just to express their displeasure about nuclear power? Stranger things have happened, but still.

I just don’t see the stars lining up for a Koizumi endorsement. Nor victory for Hosokawa.

Add (20140113): Woke up this morning, decided I wouldn’t put money on Hosokawa not running after all, even with the great odds that I could get.

Friday, January 10, 2014

More on Yuki Tatsumi

Another Washington source, a person whom I know and trust, has read and confirmed Tatsumi’s account of the mood there. It is being circulated among national security folks in Japan as well according to a Tokyo source.

Her take on Abe may be off the mark, but her take on Washington appears to be highly reliable. Let’s hope the Abe administration takes heed.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Why Is Abe’s Yasukuni Visit Such a Mystery?

I keep hearing from gaijin who think that/wonder if Prime Minister Abe went to Yasukuni to please his conservative base. (This is not infrequently accompanied with words like “moron” and “idiot.”) Maybe this CNN interview of Yuki Tatsumi started it all?

There are several things wrong with this idea. First, after passing the Special Intelligence Protection Act (SIPA), setting up the National Security Council, launching a review on the constitutionality of collective defense, stretching the envelope on the weapons export ban—where’s your thank you, South Korea?...oh…—and what else, the last thing that Abe needed to do was to shore up his conservative constituency. You know what he needed to shore up?  His pacifist constituency, that’s what. Pacifist, as in coalition partner Komeito/Sokagakkai, whose support is worth maybe 11-14 percentage points of the vote in single-seat districts, which is like having a five- yard head start in a 40-yard dash.

Second, this stretches the notion of “conservative” in every which way. A majority/plurality (depends on the poll) supports prime minister visits to Yasukuni. Does that mean that a majority/plurality of the Japanese is conservative? On the other hand, Yomiuri, which pretty much agrees with Abe on most national security and history issues—the shibboleths of Japanese “conservatism”—and every major news outlet to its left were stunned and disappointed by the visit. In fact, Sankei Shimbun, with the smallest circulation among the mainstream national dailies, was the only one of its kind to welcome it. And you will be hard put to find a single publicly traded company whose support for Abe was shored up by the visit.

Third, why is it so hard to believe that Abe is sincere; that he felt morally compelled to go to Yasukuni to honor Japan’s fallen soldiers and chose a date that he thought would be least damaging to more tangible national interests and still retain some symbolic meaning? People, he is his own conservative support base. Not everything that a politician does is the outcome of a desire to please one constituency or other. But then, it is always hard to accept that people who disagree with what you think is self-evident could actually be sincere.

Granted, Tastumi is a think-tank analyst embedded in the Washington establishment and does have a sobering piece (in Japanese, sorry) that depicts the US-Japan relationship taking a serious hit from Prime Minister Abe’s Yasukuni visit. In any case, it is obvious that the visit was detrimental to the bilateral security relationship, and Abe must be aware of that. Which is another reason why Abe, his psychic needs satisfied, is unlikely to visit Yasukuni this year.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Abe Administration’s Post-Yasukuni Poll Recovery (?)

The Sankei-FNN joint opinion poll (Jan. 4-5) put the Abe administration’s approval at
52.1% up a comfortable 4.7 percentage points from the 47.4% in the preceding post-Special Intelligence Protection Law (SIPL), pre-Yasukuni visit poll (Dec. 14-15). Other media groups will weigh in with their own polls later on, but it’s safe to say that, barring some unforeseen political setback, they will show similar upticks from their respective post- SIPL levels. So should I just claim victory and move on?

Actually, there’s no way of telling if the Kyodo poll (Dec. 28-29) showing a modest 1 percentage point rise, is not the more representative of the immediate effects of the December 26 visit. In fact, it could be argued that the level of support for the Abe cabinet would have been higher as the result of the secular rise following the SIPL hit if the Yasukuni visit had not happened. Specifically, SIPL was a one-off event that had no significant lasting effect on the Japanese perception of the Abe administration’s competence. Once media attention waned, most people promptly forgot SIPL, which has no effect on their daily lives, causing its effect to wear off almost immediately. Something similar could have happened in the wake of the Yasukuni visit*. The Chinese response to the Yasukuni visit has been tightly controlled, with some harsh official statements but no public action on the streets, while South Korea’s response, particularly from President Park after the turn of the calendar year, has also been measured. From this perspective, the apparent recovery in the Sankei-FNN poll (Dec. 14-15~Jan. 4-5) is a composite of the effects of the hit from Yasukuni and the recoveries from the SIPL and Yasukuni hits, whereas my prediction was based on the assumption that Yasukuni would actually have a positive effect on public opinion in Japan.

Conclusion: Inconclusive.

* BTW if you are looking a prototypical example of lasting effects, look no further than the 3.11 nuclear disaster, whose aftereffects simmer to this today. Luckily for the Abe administration, the DPJ and the Kan administration took the political fall for that one, leaving the LDP nearly unscathed despite its political domination throughout all but the last year’s and a half of the nuclear power industry’s decades-long development. Political life is unfair. Likewise, a former TEPCO executive served out his full term on the board of directors at the Bank of Japan, presumably fully pensioned. The fates of METI officials involved in nuclear administration diverged dramatically between those who were in charge on 3.11 (some of them could not show themselves in public for some while after retirement in 2012) and those who came before and after. There must be behavioral scientists who can explain this.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Did I Get It Right on the Public Response to Abe’s Yasukuni Visit? Plus ADIZ Takeback

Does the one percentage-point rise in support for the Abe cabinet from 54.2% to 55.2% in the post-Yasukuni visit December 28-29 Kyodo poll vindicate my prediction? I’d like to, but it appears to be comfortably within the margin of error. Let’s call it a draw.

BTW James Manicom has an important point or two to make about the Mainichi revelation of the Chinese prior “notification” of its ADIZ. I accept his take, which I think has been vindicated by the subsequent lack of follow-up by the players and the media, in principle, so I’m retracting my own take on the matter. Go look him up in the Japan discussion forum moderated by John Campbell.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Why China’s ADIZ Reporting System Actually Makes Sense

Accept for a moment that China’s new air defense identification zone (ADIZ) has been erected purely from a national security perspective and that it is merely coincidence that its dimensions happen to overlap almost perfectly overs its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as claimed, which in turn encompasses the Senkaku Islands and its territorial waters, and the reporting requirements imposed by China on aircraft merely passing through actually make sense to me from a technical perspective. Here’s why.

Credible accounts say that the East China Sea is an area with some of the heaviest air traffic in the world. Now imagine that you are in charge of distinguishing potentially ill-intentioned flying objects from innocent passers-by without the technical sophistication and global reach enjoyed by your United States counterparts. Note also that the offshore parts of the US ADIZ have far fewer aircraft passing through with no intention of entering US territorial airspace. Wouldn’t it make sense to respectfully ask all aircraft entering the ADIZ to report their flight plans, so that you can concentrate on the now smaller number of aircraft (sans the complying ones) that refuse to help out? In fact, this may be the only way that you can avoid being overwhelmed by the noise in the information. It would also be appropriate to issue a caveat to the effect that you may be required to take action to avoid a potential security threat from an aircraft entering the ADIZ if you do not have that information regarding its intents, would it not? After all, you’re the last one to want to touch off an international calamity through misidentification.

Couched in the proper terms, the abovementioned could have been framed and presented as at least as a reasonable, if unprecedented, formula for a Chinese ADIZ. Instead, as is so often their wont, the Chinese authorities announced their ADIZ in the most uncompromising and ominous way possible, earning them across-the-board international opprobrium.

China’s problem is somewhat alleviated by the latest Mainichi revelations of the three year-old prior notice to Japanese MOD and MOFA officials. The attention heaped on Prime Minister Abe’s Yasukuni also helps deflect attention. But I believe that things could have been much easier for the Chinese authorities if they had been more forthcoming about the need for the ADIZ as designed and couched the possible consequences of noncooperation in less assertive tones. But they are what they are, I guess.

The Mainichi Revelations around the Chinese Prior Notice Regarding its ADIZ

Mainichi Shimbun carried the biggest scoop of New Year’s Day as it revealed—it has pictures!—that the Chinese PLA had given an explanation of the Chinese air defense recognition zone (ADIZ) to a Japanese delegation including government officials more than three years before it was announced last November and had proposed coordination regarding the overlapping areas, which, of course, includes the airspace over the Senkaku islands. (The Japanese version here, the slightly shorter and, on at least one material point, inaccurately translated* English version here.) The Japanese side declined to consult and the matter lay there, till now.

This most immediately puts the lie to the Japanese contention that it had not been consulted. Okay, not quite, since the case could be made that the Chinese authorities never made an official approach—this was the third meeting of a working-level group—and the ADIZ was already in place at the time of the meeting, but it still pretty much deflates one of the three major Japanese objections. One of the other two, of course, which I consider is the more important one, consists of the reporting requirements and the possible consequences of noncompliance. (Actually, from a purely technical point of view, the Chinese requirements probably make sense. But I can talk about that on another occasion. I have my own views about the coverage of the Senkaku Island airspace, but they are irrelevant here since this point is all but irrelevant to the global community.)

Okay, a lot of embarrassment there, but it still doesn’t make the Chinese ADIZ arrangement acceptable to the global community. The real problem here is that the Japanese leadership was not made aware of this fact when it registered its complaint and, more seriously, the Japanese authorities had apparently not notified the relevant US authorities of said fact**, forcing the US to share in what appears to be Japan’s great embarrassment.

What does that say about Japan’s competence as a national security ally? From that perspective alone, this must be at least as damaging to the bilateral alliance as Prime Minister Abe’s December 26 visit to Yasukuni. This should be a subtle but career-altering event for many of the Japanese government officials who took part in that fateful meeting.

If anyone got lucky here, it’s the person who leaked the document, since the Specified Secrets Protection Act has not yet gone into force. Yes, you; your jail sentence will be short.

* Specifically:
I indicate below where the original and the translation differ with yellow highlight and the translation adds words of explanation
…stated that it roughly matched what China claimed as its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf -- one way to define a nation's ocean borders. The commodore clearly explained that the Senkakus were inside this zone.

** It is possible that Japanese officials did notify their US counterparts, in which case the shoe will be on both feet, so to speak.