Thursday, July 31, 2014

Oh, Canada, US Beef? Just Chill

A bipartisan group of 140 US Congresspersons sent a letter to President Obama urging him “to pursue the TPP negotiations without any country, including Japan, Canada, or others, that proves unwilling to open its market in accordance with these high standards” with regard to agricultural products. This is a pre-election bluff of sorts. At the end of the day, the agricultural interests will accept what will be a significant improvement over the status quo; to do otherwise will put them at a competitive disadvantage against Australia and other agricultural exporters who sign FTAs with Japan. The key sentence here is: “We owe our farmers and ranchers the best deal possible.”

But before I go on, let me take note of the fact that this must the first time in human history that Japan and Canada has been mentioned in the same side of the same sentence in an agricultural conflict. Now back to the story…

Caveat, I only researched beef, but here’s what happened there. US beef had dominated the chilled beef import market, while Australia had to settle largely for the less lucrative frozen beef market. That all changed when the mad cow disease scare closed the Japanese market to US beef. Australian (and to a lesser extent New Zealand) beef quickly filled that vacuum until US beef was allowed back in (if I remember correctly) two stages. Australia quickly lost ground, and has continued to see modest slippage. The EPS deal that PMs Abe and Abbot struck essentially puts a floor under Australian beef (chilled being the more important) trade as the moving average for the three preceding years (if I remember correctly). That tariff quota is going to be used in combination with chilled beef coming in under higher tariffs (there’s a formula) to undercut US and others competitors. Australia essentially has a fallback position if the TPP negotiations collapse (or, unlikely though it seems, conclude in a deal without Japan) where it will be at a significant competitive advantage against the United States. Does that sound like “the best deal possible” for US “farmers and ranchers”? I didn’t think so.

The bottom line? A better deal than the Australians got. Don’t worry, Aussies, there must be an unwritten MFN clause written into that Abe-Abbot deal. And the Kiwis (and Mexicans) will be the collateral beneficiaries.

If anyone wants me to write a real report, you know where to find me.

Stephen Walt on WW I Reminds Me of the Dangers of a Free Lunch

Stephen Walt is one of my favorite—possibly the favorite—political scientists. In “It's Not the Guns of August -- It's the Trenches of October,” he asks why WW I lasted so long, and gives what to me seem to be a well-considered, fully worked out and concise answer. But I take issue with his following claim.

“…the only country that emerged from World War I in a stronger position than in 1914 was the United States of America.”

Wrong. So did Japan. If anything, “it fought [even further] from its own territory, and its losses were extremely light compared to the… major combatants [including the United States].”

This is not trivial, since this experience—or lack thereof—helped Japan willfully ignore the fact that imperialism had passed its consume-by date. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

You Talked the Talk, Mr. Kaieda, Now Talk the Talk

“There’s someone [Akihisa Nagashima, the DPJ defense hawk] who goes the United States and says something about collective self-defense that is completely different from what I’m saying. I want him to desist.”

Well said, Mr. Kaieda. Now, all you have to do is to tell it to his face.

Not That There’s Anything Wrong with Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing, Mind You

Go back far enough, and most sovereign states have their roots in genocide and ethnic cleansing. Heck, the whole “New” World would look very different today without them. Not that our “Japanese” hands are clean; the Emishi owned half of Honshu during much of the First Millennium (and I haven’t even mentioned the Ainu yet).

So when, why, and how does “history” become history, so that “history” no longer is “history,” but just history?

The Japanese Sanctions, and Putin’s (Prospective) Tokyo Visit

In case anyone wants to know:

1)      Some individuals and organizations to be named later to be added to the list of asset freezes.
2)      Vote with the Europeans on any future EBRD loans to Russia.
3)      Restrictions on imports from Ukraine.

Now about those plans for Putin’s December visit to Tokyo

“‘So far, nothing has been decided on President Putin’s visit. [This issue] will be considered in its entirety, taking into account the whole scope of factors. This is our point of view,’ Suga said at a news conference.”

Interesting. I can’t see the White House letting it happen, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Evidently, in the G-Zero world, you do your best to make sure that the friends of an enemy are also your friends. 

The Prime Minister’s Office, (Almost) Two Week Behind on Its Website

I go to PM Office website to look for English translation of Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga’s July 28 announcement of Japan’s additional sanctions on Russia in the wake of the MH17 shootdown, find that they’ve barely made it to July 18. On the other hand, the July 18 “Message from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Occasion of ‘Marine Day’” is not available in Japanese (not that I really care about that one, but still).

The person responsible for the website should be shipped out to Kiev, and the person in charge of public communications for the PM Office should have his/her pay docked.

Abe Is No Spendthrift Where Defense Is Concerned (Still) and Other Stuff

Collective self-defense means lashing any overseas projections of Japanese military power even more tightly into the US hub-and-spoke network of security alliances. That understandably makes the regional hegemon aspirant whose only supporter in Japan seems to be an octogenarian expat from Australia—yes, the other modern state founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that—upset. But South Korea? Those people should be dancing in the streets by now for this yet another constraint on Japanese plans to retake the Korean Peninsula…except they aren’t…OMG DON’T TELL ME THEY’RE PLOTTING TO COAX CHINA (YET AGAIN) TO REPRISE THEIR JOINT 12TH CENTURY DOUBLE-BARREL (FAILED) INVASION.

…wait till the Sankei Group hears about that

Kidding. Actually, the South Koreans are afraid that Prime Minister Abe will team up with Kim Jong Un, who is on the outs with Xi Jinping, to overrun South Korea (Jong Un, we provide the robots, you provide the men). Now that explains why the Xi-Park relationship is heating up.
Oh, the Japanese defense budget. The ongoing Medium Term Defense Program, which runs through FY 2014-FY 2018, puts the total at 24.67 trillion yen, which runs to about a 0.8% increase per year, a figure that has been talked up by some analysts. But the budget is already up 2.8% year-on-year in FY 2014 at 4.8848 trillion. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, the annual budget would have to observe a near standstill notwithstanding inflation to bring the five-year budget under the 24.67 trillion threshold. The secret, in case you haven’t guessed it already, is that the target was expressed in real terms, with an implicit Abenomics, baked-in 2% inflation target. Factor in the 2% inflation target phased in over three years, and you should be able to work in a 2% increase per year in real terms.

Trust me, kids, it pays to do your own arithmetic.

Still, a 2% increase in real terms is pretty modest, peaking out at 200 billion yen per year—roughly 0.2% of the general budget—if and when the inflation target is met. And if anyone tells you that things could turn out to be otherwise, then that someone knows something that the rest of planet earth doesn’t know, since it was the Abe cabinet that authorized that Program. And Prime Minister Abe will be gone in the last year of the Program—if not earlier if the economy tanks and the LDP decides to throw him out before that. So much for the claims of the scaremongers.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Protecting the Guilty—on History Issues, What Else?

A post on a public forum included the following amusing proposition, which touched off the subsequent exchange between me and a real live human being, a friend whose name will go unmentioned here. (I’ve always wondered why you have to “protect the innocent.” After all, it is the guilty who need the most protection if they are to remain useful sources, no?)

“It is interesting to compare how Okinawa came to [be] incorporated into Japan with the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893, abetted by a company of U.S. marines. On the centennial of this event, the U.S. issued a formal apology, in a joint resolution of Congress that was also signed by Bill Clinton. The apology ‘acknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and further acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum.’”

“Very interesting. So, if you really, really apologize, you don't have to give anything back? (Just let them have a few casinos, if they happen to be genocide/ethnic cleansing survivors?) I'm sure Mr. Abe will be delighted to hear that.”

“Yes you're right, but the key to this is the politics.  Some genocides have zero political cost because all the victims are dead. Other far less serious crimes generate problems due to the circumstances of the deed. I'm afraid that what the PM fails to see. It's not about morality, it's about efficiency.”

“‘...because all the victims are dead...’

Sufficient, but not necessary; you only have to own them. Americans don't have to worry about Native Americans because, hey, they're Americans. Likewise, the Chinese with their Uighurs/Tibetans et al, we Japanese and our Ainu, the Spaniards Basque... The list goes on.

Yes, the Spanish have to worry about the Catalonians and the British about the Scots--but they wouldn't have to if they were willing to kill them all. Israel and the Palestinians fall somewhere in between, like 19th century America.”

Yes it helps to own the corpse. But generally if you've killed them all you end up owning their land.

As a dying Spanish general reportedly told the priest who asked him, while administering the last rites of the Church, to pardon all his enemies: ‘Father, I have no enemies.  I killed them all.’”

“‘Father, I have no enemies.  I killed them all.’

Kim Jong Un can only dream.”

Friday, July 11, 2014

Postscript to CRI Panel Discussion

Not one of my best performances. Need to do this more often. Practice, practice, practice.

But did that commentator threaten Japan with war at the end? Fascinating note to end on. I remind myself that America’s friends did indeed suffer, but its enemies suffered mch, much more.


My crib sheet for China Radio International panel discussion, later in the day, just in case I fail to get my licks in. (The questions, in italics, are theirs. And yes, they’re having me back.)

What does this historic policy shift mean to Japan? And countries in the region?

(Okumura) For many listeners who are not familiar with the Japan issue, Japan has always been a “normal country”, actually a success story of being the second and then the third largest economy in the world. Why is there the pursuit of more room for military buildup?

I sometimes wonder if Mr. Abe hasn’t done too good a job of selling his national security program, raising expectations or fears depending on the beholder. After years of flat or declining military spending, it is going to go up 2% each year in real terms for five years—then Mr. Abe will be gone, and Japanese military spending will still remain at 1% of GDP, give or take a very small fraction, as it has been doing for ages. No, the real change is coming in Mr. Abe’s outreach to allies and other countries with whom he thinks Japan can engage in productive activities security-wise. That is most evident in the increasingly close ties with Australia. His determination to reinterpret Article 9 of the Japanese constitution to include collective self-defense can be seen in that light: Allowing the Japanese military to play a larger role in joint efforts with its allies—first and foremost the United States—where vital Japanese interests are at stake.

And what’s driving all this? Let’s be honest, it’s China. Let’s say that there are conflicting territorial and other sovereignty-related claims, and none of the parties are willing to yield. In that case, if a state wishes to change the status quo, it has two choices: take the matter to the International Court of Justice, or use force. China already had nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles; now it has an aircraft carrier. It has a massive maritime surveillance fleet. Budgets continue to grow by leaps and bounds. And it is aggressively pushing its claims. Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines are feeling the pressure. And Australia worries about its backyard.

(Chinese guest) If you take a look at the Germany and Italy, both defeated like Japan during the WWII, they realized the transformation to become a “normal country” long time ago. Isn’t it natural for Japan to become a normal country? From the point of view of Japan’s neighboring countries, like China and S. Korea, why is that hard to accept?

I’ll leave the conventional arguments to others, and offer a different perspective. There cannot be a starker difference between the reasons for China and South Korea in refusing to accept Japan as a “normal country.”
Take China. Japan is by far the most important security ally of the United States in the Asia-Pacific. Japan is the greatest military asset the United States has there. And it has been positioning itself closer and closer to the United States. If I were Mr. Xi Jinping, I would be very annoyed, and positively alarmed if Japan ever decided to play at the Australian level.
I don’t think that the South Koreans have ever gotten over the fact that it passed from being a subsidiary state of China to a subsidiary state, then territory, of Japan, then a sovereign state, all without putting up any kind of a fight. They would feel much more at ease with a normal Japan if they had been able to beat us to a pulp first.
So China has a real national interest in keeping Japan from becoming “normal” while South Korea has what is essentially a psychological issue that keeps it from accepting something that would actually be in their national interest.

According to Japan’s pacifist constitution, Japan is not allowed to have a national army. But the Self-defense forces are actually the army of the nation. So the normalization process has been started decades ago, right? It seems the normalization has always been about lifting the restraint on the military force? Is that the right impression?

Within reasonable limits, yes, that’s the right impression. Now nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, I think they would be beyond the pale of any reasonable definition of normalcy.

What is a fully normal country, in this case, Japan, like, as currently the US, with a military presence of some 50, 000 troops, enjoys the final say on military matters? When can we call Japan a normal country? When will Japan be accepted as a normal country by China and South Korea?

Actually, one definition of a “normal” country is a country that does its best to convince a more powerful country to do as much of the heavy lifting as possible. People in Japan call that the “Yoshida Doctrine,” but it’s what the Europeans have been doing under the NATO umbrella all these years. In that sense, a “normal country,” at least where the developed countries are concerned these days, is one relying on a US military presence and therefore, as a practical matter, does not have the final say on military matters in its own territory. In that sense, Japan is a normal country. Collective self-defense is part of that normalcy. That should not be a concern for U.S. allies; for U.S. competitors, it should be.


Japanese PM Shinzo Abe took a detour to change the pacifist constitution by “re-interpreting” the war-renouncing articles. Why didn't he amend the constitution directly? Is there enough public support for the re-interpretation?

It’s very simple. He didn’t have the votes in the Diet to put it to the national referendum. As for public support, yes and no. Recent polls show strong majority support for the actual measures that Mr. Abe proposes under the banner of collective self-defense, but there are strong pluralities or majorities against the notion of collective self-defense itself.

When it comes to the opposition to the reinterpretation inside Japan, what’s their major concern?

The unreconstructed pacifist opposition is not the real concern for Mr. Abe. It’s the source of the collective self-dissonance in the people who support the specific and oppose the principle. Win them over completely, and Mr. Abe will have a popular majority. To make a generalization, I think that these people do not see where all this is leading to and are concerned with the fact that there could be more to this story than they’ve been told. And Mr. Abe and the LDP have given people some reason to harbor these concerns. Mr. Abe has his case cut out for him, between now and the 2015 regular Diet session, when he introduces legislation to implement the change. Personally, I believe that institutional constraints, not least the need to keep junior coalition partner Komeito onside, will keep any Japanese prime minister within very strict boundaries, but I only count for one vote.

What does the move mean exactly? Sending troops overseas to the help of US, an ally, and countries with close relationship with Japan, like the Philippines and Vietnam?

In short, no. Protecting foreign ships carrying Japanese citizens from war zones, clearing mines along vital sea lanes while allies do the real fighting, and anything else concrete that the Abe regime can convince Komeito to accept. My advice to people on all sides of this issue? Don’t make Komeito angry.


One of the concern people have is, in the wake of the reinterpretation, what’ll be next steps? Will there be gradual steps toward a final abandonment of the pacifist constitution? 

Everything depends on external factors. The greater the threat, the greater the momentum to relax the interpretation and, eventually, to amend the Constitution.

There’s fear in China at least that militarism in Japan may rise again. How likely is that scenario? Is that an overestimate of the current situation in Japan?

Japan has one tenth the population of China, spends 1% of an economic output that is smaller than China’s, and does not have nuclear weapons or effective means of their delivery. What the Chinese have to fear is a weak, isolated Japan, abandoned by the United States and feeling threatened, that decides to become North Korea on steroids. Now that’s a very low-probability outcome. But you asked for a scenario where militarism rises again in Japan.

Japan has been in close contact with the Philippines and Vietnam, both of which have territorial disputes with China. Is it likely that, following the reinterpretation, Japan may be able to build a loose military alliance with the two countries against China

It depends on what you mean by “loose military alliance,” and what China chooses to do. Would Japan selling coast guard patrol boats to Vietnam and the Philippines qualify as a “loose military alliance”? Most likely not. Would Japan and Australia selling jointly-developed submarines to those two nations qualify? Now the story begins to pick up. But that’s a good number of years in the future, and much depends on how China decides to deploy its military and quasi-military powers over the long-run. In the meantime, Russia is the one selling submarines to Vietnam.


Will there be an arms race in East Asia as a result of the new Japanese move? Will the still strong trade ties among countries be affected by their dispute? (China-Japan and that between S.Korea and Japan?) 

No. Will China’s military expenditures go up even more rapidly? I doubt it. Will South Korea’s? I doubt it. South Korea will buy anything from the United States that Japan does, but that’s the case regardless of the reinterpretation. And no, the trade ties will not be affected. Tourism is already down significantly, consumer purchases may be slightly affected, and Japanese firms may have a harder time securing government business in China, but I suspect that that’ll be it, at most.

Chinese President Xi Jinping paid it a visit to South Korea and the visit has been partly read as an effort by Beijing and Seoul in response to the Japanese move. What’s your take on that?

There are political benefits. And commercial ones too, for South Korea, I’ll wager. But remember, the greater geopolitical bone of contention in East Asia remains the future of North Korea. On that, China and South Korea can only share short-to-medium-term, tactical interests, if that.

The United States has been one of the countries that have welcomed the Japanese defense policy change. What’s their justification?

And everybody else in East and Southeast Asia except China and South Korea. And the bread crumbs leads right back to Beijing. Whether you agree with the legitimacy of the concerns or not, it’s the reality that China has to deal with.

The Strategic and Economic Dialogue between China and the US has just concluded in Beijing. How much a factor is Japan in Sino-US ties?

Japan is the most important ally of the United States in the Asia-Pacific. China cannot push Japan too far without incurring serious US resistance. To put it another way, how much of a factor is the Unites States in Japan-China ties? Very much, is what.


Japanese PM Abe has said his door is open to dialogue. But with the latest move, the hope for a summit meeting between Chinese and Japanese leaders can’t be even further. Do you have expectation of the upcoming APEC meeting later this year in Beijing?

There are actually two factors that still pull in favor of an informal summit, a chat on the sidelines. China is the host. To refuse to see Mr. Abe would make Mr. Xi look small and defensive. Second, China appears to be concentrating its guns on Vietnam, which, unlike Japan and the Philippines, does not have the United States as an ally. Yet. An implicit offer of a truce from Mr. Xi to Mr. Abe might be in the works.

Both Japan and Germany were defeated in Second World War. But Germany has managed to win the trust and respect from its neighbors, while Japan remains embroiled in constant denial of history. Is there anything Japan may learn from Germany?

That it helps to be the biggest fish in the pond when all is said and done? The histories are so different that the comparison favored by so many conventional commentators merely clouds the picture. But I’ll say this. We Japanese see modern history through the lens of the Black ships rolling in, making demands, and Japan’s response to that. But for the Chinese, the Opium War is the seminal event, which I think is also a perfectly legitimate perspective. This means that the Japan-China War in 1894-95 has very different meanings for the two sides. But World War I changed the rules of the game for all the Great Powers except two: Japan and Germany. If the two nations could accept that the other side will have different narratives with regard to the Japan-China War and Japan reiterates its acceptance of responsibility for its post-WW I actions on that premise, then we will have gone a long way to solving the problem. I don’t think that Mr. Abe is there yet, much less Mr. Xi.

As it is said, we can’t change our neighbors, like it or not. At the end of the day, we need to come to terms with each other. Where to start if we still have hope to mend the fences and fix the problems between countries?

I already gave my views about modern history. Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that we Japanese always revered China. Japan is now the only country outside of China and Taiwan that actively uses Chinese characters, teaches Chinese literature as part of our compulsory classic education, and uses Chinese motifs in much of our historical and fantasy anime. And we adore Jackie Chan. Don’t let that affinity borne out of deep history go to waste