Monday, August 15, 2016

On The Meaning Of Yasukuni Today

Over the next few hours a herd of Diet members will march through the confines of Yasukuni Shrine, participating in an annual political and personal rite. The march will offend many inside Japan and many outside of it. The governments of China and South Korea will offer critical comment.

One focus of attention attention today will be on the number of Diet members who show up (we should expect an uptick from last year's numbers as newly elected members of the House of Councillors make their debuts). Another will be a will she/won't she as regards newly-elected governor of Tokyo Koike Yuriko, whose heretofore staunch nationalist posture now clashes with her task of leading a cosmopolitan metropole.

The greatest emphasis, however, will be on visitations by members of the Cabinet. One, Minister of Reconstruction Imamura Masahiro, already paid his visit to the shrine on Thursday the 11th. Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Takaichi Sanae has vowed to pay a visit today. Minister of Defense Inada Tomomi, who leads a special group within the LDP dedicated to visiting Yasukuni, was suddenly dispatched a study tour of SDF operations in Djibouti. Her gleeful departure from the airport on Friday left little doubt that the purpose of of her trip was the government's trying to keep her away from the shrine on the end-of-war day.

In light of Minister Inada's bubbly egress from Japan it is not inappropriate to revisit a point I have made previously about the August 15 Yasukuni sampai.

For some of the 210,000 or so who visit the shrine on a typical August 15, a visit on the end of war day is an act of REVERENCE, a time to reflect upon and pay tribute to the sacrifices of those died in service to the nation.

For many, including those who arrive in various kinds of dress up – black suits and ties, phony military uniforms or Hawaiian shirts (a favorite of gangster bosses) – the visit to Yasukuni on August 15 is an opportunity to TRANSGRESS, to engage in an activity notable only for being in very bad taste. It is the same delicious sense of being stupid and bad in public, of violating the rules of good society along with one's equally transgressive peers, which is the foundation of the current political support for Donald Trump or the hero worship of Vladimir Putin.

The qualitative difference between the two can be summed up by the difference, in English, between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is (and for this definition, I am indebted to my TUJ Summer Semester student T. S.) when one loves one's country enough to die for it. Nationalism is (and for this definition, I am indebted to my TUJ Summer Semester student L. K.) is when one loves one country so much one one hates others for it.

For too many showing up today at Yasukuni today it will be nationalism, not patriotism, which propels them through the torii.

Friday, August 05, 2016

The Grand Illusion

Dr. Noah Smith has been one of the great defenders of Abenomics, that amorphous mass of Keynesian stimulus, Friedmanesque monetary policy and Nice Words About Structural Reform, particularly changes in work-life balance allowing women greater access to executive and management positions.

Dr. Smith, however, seems to have undergone a change of heart about the economics of the prime minister. Either that or he has a particular onus against one particular recent seemingly huge announcement: a 28 trillion yen stimulus package, the details of which will be examined in the Diet this Fall (the overal plan received Cabinet approval this week).

Japan's New Stimulus Is Just the Same Old Thing

Japanese growth is still sluggish. Consumers aren't consuming much, and businesses aren't investing. The government doesn't have many options to remedy this, and the Bank of Japan, which has sent both long-term and short-term interest rates into negative territory, has basically no more room to maneuver.

The dreaded Zero Lower Bound is starting to bite. The BOJ is buying more stocks, but this too has its limits -- eventually companies become de facto nationalized, as the government becomes the majority shareholder. That's scary both because it would affect corporate governance, and because it would be politically unpopular. It's also unclear how much of an economic boost the stock-purchasing program has given the country anyway. The BOJ could resort to policies like a higher inflation target or the much-discussed "helicopter money" approach, but so far it has been afraid to take these steps.

With the BOJ seemingly out of the game, demand-side macroeconomic policy is up to the parliament. So this week the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed a new fiscal stimulus package. It is moderately sized: about $45 billion in U.S. dollars this year, and about $60 billion in low-interest loans, to be followed by slightly less next year.

That move might win a few halfhearted cheers from Japan's battered consumers, but it's unlikely to have much of an effect...

(Click here to read more)

Later today (inshallah) Langley Esquire will be posting to YouTube a conversation Timothy Langley and I had yesterday on exactly the same subject.

(For the Langley Esquire YouTube channel, click here)

What should be setting everyone's teeth on edge about both the stimulus package and Abe's recent Cabinet picks, aside from the knowledge that both are in-your-face I-got-mine-suckers giveaways to cronies, is that with majorities in both houses of the Diet, a prostrate opposition, an emasculated bureaucracy, a totally compromised bond market, increasingly compromised equities markets and no rival power centers within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Abe government has failed to pass a single fundamental structural reform of consequence. No other G7 or OECD leader enjoys the freedom and dominance of Abe Shinzo and his LDP. Abe & Friends nevertheless remain timid and/or clueless.

Amaterasu Omikami, save this blessed land from these poseurs and legacy turkeys.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Friends Of Shinzo Cabinet, Take Two

For the first three years of his second premiership, Abe Shinzo surprised many with his restraint and balance. His Cabinets, with a few exceptions, displayed with a mixture of scandal-free operations, diligent policy implementation and submersion of factional and personal rivalries. A deft hand at personnel and calendar management was evident.

Which is what is making the runup to today's announcement of a new Cabinet lineup such a downer. There are too many returnees, too many members of the Seiwakai (Mr. Abe's own faction), too many non-experts being placed as window dressing in posts requiring expertise and too few unfledged MPs getting their first shot at leading a ministry. Most of the first timers will be doubly hobbled because they will not even have a ministry behind them. Instead they will be state ministers shepherded around by the Cabinet Office.

Staying in place are Suga Yoshihide at Chief Cabinet Secretary, Takaichi Sanae at General Affairs, Aso Taro at Finance, Kishida Fumio at Foreign Affairs, Shiozaki Yasuhisa at Health/Pensions/Labor and the Komeito's Ishii Keichi at Infrastructure & Tourism.

Suga Yoshihide is the heart and soul of the Abe administration. Lacking the prerequisites for leadership of the modern LDP and without a thirst for the premiership, he returns to 1) being charge of the bureaucracy, including the recruitment and advancement of the top 600 bureaucrats, 2) being in charge of the Cabinet's work flow and 3) being the chief government spokesman.

Enough for anybody, really.

Takaichi and Shiozaki are Abe loyalists. Both served Abe as cabinet ministers in his first term (2006-07). Aso is something an Abe frenemy. He needs to be kept close even though 1) he cannot fundamentally be trusted and 2) his tongue repeatedly creates controversy.

Entering the Cabinet are Inada Tomomi and Seko Hiroshige. Both are more than mere Abe loyalists: they are sycophants. Seko indeed has played Mini-Me to Abe these past three years (Link), traveling with him around the world, making a particular spectacle of himself in dealings with Vladimir Putin. Both are largely amateurs in the policy areas they will be managing.

The inclusion of Inada and Seko in the Cabinet, combined with the retention of Takaichi and the rumored slide of Abe personal retainer Furuya Kenji into the vacant party post of elections chairman sends a distrubing message -- that Abe, post-House of Councillors 2016, is not in a mood to share with other factions and forces within the LDP. Closeness or service to the party president will be rewarded; all others will just have to lump it.

Loyalty is of course important for rulers. However, so are knowledge and perspective - neither of which sycophants and/or personal debtors can provide. Leadership demands that one restrain oneself, not take all one can, convincing those not in the inner circle that the system has rewards, not just humiliations, for them.

Abe's seeming abandonment of magnanimity and restraint has me worried. Abe put together a similar team of loyalist and fellow travelers in 2006, one which the news media dubbed the "Friends of Shinzo" Cabinet. Their calamitous performances individually and as a Cabinet make me worried about their echo today.

[For my earlier take on the proposed new lineup of the LDP secretariat, click here.]

The New Abe Lineup At Party Central

In few hours Prime Minister Abe Shinzo will unveil his new lineup for the top party posts of the Liberal Democratic Party and a new Cabinet. From hints that have been leaked to the new agencies so far, Abe seems to be proceeding on the assumption that loyalty and closeness to him, not competence, experience or judgment, should be his main selection criteria.

LDP Party Secretariat

Replacing the seriously injured Tanigaki Sadakazu at Secretary-General will be Nikai Toshihiro. Leader of a medium-sized faction, Nikai was long seen as a potential rival of the Prime Minister. During his stint as chairman of the Diet Budget Committee Nikai was extremely solicitous of opposition members pounding away at the Abe government and the prime minister himself. In the last year or so, however, Abe has made a special effort to woo Nikai, kicking him upstairs into the special post of Chairman of the General Council and visiting him in his home district. The Wakayama legislator has reciprocated with pledges of loyalty and friendship, the most dramatic of which was his recent post-election expression of support for an extension of Abe's presidential term past the party rules-determined 6 years.

[For those with issues as regards Japan's killing of cetaceans, it's panic time. The whaling fleet's mother ship is homeported in Abe's district. The Taiji dolphin-killing "cove" is in Nikai's.]

The appointment of Nikai means that once again the LDP's day-to-day management will be in the hands of a politician with links to China. Tanigaki's ties were largely emotional, his affection for Chinese poetry being one of his remarked-upon traits. Nikai's ties, however, are much more nuts-and-bolts. He is probably the active legislator with the deepest and broadest network of ties with officials and politicians of China. His appointment will likely both please and pain the CCP. If Nikai asks to come across the water and meet with a few old friends, how can the Chinese government refuse?

Ostensibly keeping an eye on Nikai will be Hosoda Hiroyuki, who will take over Nikai's chairmanship of the LDP General Council. Hosoda is the leader of the Seiwakai, the largest faction and the faction to which Abe belongs. It is a measure of Abe's respect for and wariness of Nikai that he has asked his faction leader to step in and run the party’s main meetings.

Moving out of her party position of policy chief and into the Cabinet is Inada Tomomi, a protégé of the Prime Minister's and a fellow Seiwakai member. She will be taking over the defense portfolio – a symbolic, not substantive choice, as Inada has heretofore not been seen as taking a particular interest in defense issues (her own interests can be gleaned from the name of her personal Diet member group, "The Tradition and Innovation Association"). She is also something of an arriviste in party circles, having only served four terms in the Diet. She will be leapfrogging over some 70 LDP legislators who 1) have more elections to the Diet than her and 2) have never served in a Cabinet post.

Taking over her spot as chairman of the Policy Research Council and rising ever so slightly in party rank will be Motegi Toshimitsu. Motegi was the chairman of the party's elections strategy committee and thus nominally the architect of the party's wins in the Hokkaido #5 by-election and the July 10 House of Councillors election this year. However, since the LDP is fighting what is still a prostrate and disarmed opposition, Motegi's actual motivational and organizational strengths remain in question.

Motegi seems to be one of Abe's most important cultivated allies. The Harvard master's degree holder and former McKinsey consultant is a frequent guest and golf partner of the PM. He also has as many elections to the Diet (8) as the PM. Motegi would seem a possible a dark horse candidate to step in to the premiership, should the PM need to suddenly step down. However, Motegi did not start out his political career in the LDP, having first won his seat as a member of the opposition Japan New Party (Nihon Shinto).

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tokyo Gubernatorial Election 2016 - A Last Look

In a few minutes voting starts for the governorship of the Tokyo Metropolitan District(1). Twenty-one names are on the ballot but only a few are worth mentioning. Even fewer have a chance at making a splash.

The prize is a heck of a job - essentially the presidency of the world's 16th largest economy -- the part of Japan that generates, rather than immolates, revenues.

At this writing it looks like Koike Yuriko's Big Decision -- to defy the Liberal Democratic Party's national and Tokyo establishments by offering herself as a candidate -- will pay off with a big electoral win. The Iron Butterfly - my name for her given her hardline realist security policy views and her penchant of flitting from party to party as political expediency dictates -- is leading in the polls. Her main rivals -- former newscaster Torigoe Shuntaro and former Iwate Governor Masuda Hiroya -- have been trying to keep up with on the one hand crippled and the other tepid campaigns.

One has to be appalled by the Torigoe situation. A last minute choice of the four party electoral alliance of the Democratic Party, the Japan Communist Party and micro-party twins the Socialists and Livelihood (made after an inexplicable second-to-last minute dalliance with Abe Shinzo critic and major fruitcake Koga Shigeaki) Torigoe's hopes for victory were immediately torpedoed by tabloid tales of his having seduced an innocent 20 year old a decade ago. Torigoe did what his lawyers told him to do -- say nothing, prepare to sue, threaten with a police complaint of obstruction of an election -- which made him look like he was trying to bury the story. He had an obligation to save himself from extortion and possible prosecutorial misconduct over an incident he thought resolved years ago. Trying to run for governor – and get others excited about his run for the governorship -- at the same time has proven a titanic struggle.

LDP and Komeito's candidate Masuda Hiroya is probably one of Japan’s top thinkers on local administration. He has competently run Iwate Prefecture, shaking off the influence of his mentor Ozawa Ichiro in the process. He has been Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. His May 2014 report on immanent catastrophic population declines in rural areas shook off decades of complacency about the "genteel decline" of Japan exurban environment.

Which is why it is both terrible and wonderful that his candidacy has failed to catch fire even with The Establishment. Terrible in that of all the persons seeking the governorship Masuda is the only one with even an inkling of how local administration works, what it is good at, what it must abandon and what, if anything, Tokyo can do to help revive the rest of Japan. Wonderful in that failure will mean that the poisoned chalice of the Tokyo Governorship will not devastate the career and reputation of a third of Japan's reformers. The snakepit of Shinjuku Ward devoured and then spat out Inose Naoki and Masuzoe Yo'ichi for non-criminal financial indiscretions. Losing Masuda as well to local Tokyo's politics would be Brechtian farce.

Down the ticket, the Tokyo election has attracted this year more than its usual share of right wing nut jobs courting the Empire Should Strike Back vote (a not-to-be ignored and not insignificant constituency, given soon-to-be-felon General Tamogami Toshio's stunning capture 600,000 votes in 2014). Chief among these awful crackpots is Sakurai Makoto (not his real name) the former chairman of the anti-Korean, anti-Chinese hate group the Zaitokukai. One hopes (OK, I hope) the plethora of wacky alternatives and a cooling of Sino-Japanese tensions over the Senkakus (credit to both Abe Shinzo and Xi Jinping for this) keeps him below 100,000 votes.

Turnout is expected to be light. Normally, low turnout would favor the LDP/Komeito candidate, backed as he is by the political machines of both parties. Not even low turnout, however, looks to derail Koike Yuriko’s bid to become the first woman to lead Tokyo.

1) a neologism - the actual English name of Tokyo-to is "the Tokyo Metropolitan Government." I will try to convince the new governor to change the name as calling a geographical area a "government" makes zero sense.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Explaining The House Of Councillors Election - On The Lack Of A Viable Centrist Opposition

In the most recent set of public opinion polls, conducted over the weekend following the Ise-Shima G7 summit, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its leader Abe Shinzo had much to smile about. Most polls showed a leap in Cabinet approval ratings of about 5%, adding on to what are at historic levels of public acceptance of a Cabinet, at least for a prime minister in his fourth in office (not that there have been, historically, many of these creatures). The ruling party's dispiriting four-to-one advantage in support over its centrist rival, the Democratic Party remained unchanged or improved.

Certainly the atmospherics of President Barack Obama's visit to Hiroshima, which pleased an astonishing 98% of respondents in the Kyodo poll (the first time I have ever seen such a polling number anywhere outside the DPRK) have added to the luster of Prime Minister Abe and his government.

Nevertheless, the public's attitude toward the policies of the Abe administration and the LDP remains at best grudging and at worst hostile. A majority of the population does not believe the government's economic policies are a success or likely to succeed. A majority of the voters do not want the government to consider a revision of the Constitution. A majority indeed do even not want the ruling coalition to win the necessary number of seats giving it the potential to alter the Constitution.

So what is going on? Why has the opposition been unable to translate the public dissatisfaction with the current policy directions or potential policy directions of the LDP and the Cabinet into support?

A considerable amount of the blame for the Democratic Party's inability to capitalize on a favorable policy environment has to be laid at the door of party leader Okada Katsuya. He is a bland and earnest individual with poor charisma and paltry appreciation of the value of political symbols. With his wooden speeches and leaden demeanor he practically begs the news media to belittle him. That journalists are recording his words and his image not because he has anything to say but because he is the leader of the opposition bothers him not enough. If not for the sheen of the leadership post, the news media and the public would ignore him.

However, it is facile to attribute the major part of anti-LDP opposition's unpopularity to the current leader of DP. Replacing Okada with someone else (a prospect the DP faces following the drubbing they will receive in July) cannot fix the fundamental problems of the opposition, even if the opposition were to recruit a magnetar like Koizumi Shinjiro, the only current rival to Prime Minister Abe.

For a viable opposition to be both viable and an opposition it has to 1) oppose and 2) have a place upon which to make its stand.

In the current political environment, both internal and external, neither is possible.

In terms of policy stance, the LDP is incorrectly classified as a center-right party. It is in fact a center-left party or even leftist party, with a nationalist/patriotic veneer of ersatz, sheepish rightism. The LDP's current economic policies are the interventionist dreams of European and North American liberals, with not a shred left of the small-government and market-driven drives of the Hashimoto and Koizumi (pere) eras. As for security policy, Japan's politico-military establishment under Abe is as cautious and rule-bound as it has ever been, at least as compared with counterparts in other OECD countries. As for its promises of constant expansion of social spending, only the Japan Communist Party holds a candle to the LDP.

So where is Japan's so-called "liberal" opposition to stand? Yes, it can oppose last year's security legislation on procedural grounds. However, if one looks for concrete difference, one finds that when the DPJ, the precursor to today's DP, was in power, its security plans were identical to those of the current government. On the economy and social welfare, to the immediate left of the LDP is the JCP, with only a micrometer of space between them.

Rob the electorate of the illusion that a change in political parties will in and of itself better Japan, as the DPJ's turn in power did, and you have an impossibly narrow base on which to build a challenge to the current ruling coalition and its leader.

Later - For a review of the latest polling numbers, check out the most recent Sasakawa Foundation post by Tobias Harris (Link)

Friday, April 01, 2016

Some Nice Things About the Minshinto

This past weekend the Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) and the Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) merged, forming a new named party, the Minshinto (which in English could be "the Democratic Progressive Party”but in order to avoid confusion with the Taiwan ruling party of the same name is being called the "Democratic Party"). The so far mild public reaction to the event has prompted the small English language Japan commentariat to offer only a tiny burst of mostly negative reviews. Yuki Tatsumi at Stimson is the most scathing, dismissing the new party as merely the old party, with all the same negatives as before (Link1). Tobias Harris, writing for the Sasakawa Foundation, is a bit nicer but still dwells upon the lack so far of a positive public reaction to the new party’s formation. (Link2)

As hard as it may be to believe, there are some nice things one can say about the Minshinto.

1) DP leader Okada Katsuya headed off a potentially catastrophic split of his own party prior to a House of Councillors election. DP conservatives/Matsushita Seikei products (often both) like Maehara Seiji, Nagashima Akihisa and Hosono Goshi are unhappy at the Okada secretariat's steps toward electoral collaboration with the Japan Communist Party. They have been threatening to leave, joining members of the rump Ishin no To in a new conservative opposition party. With brought their JIP conservative buddies now in their party, the DP conservatives are less likely to depart. The price for this unity was accepting a stupid name change.

2) Japan's largest opposition party got larger, not smaller. That alone is something. DP has 96 seats in the House of Representatives; 60 seats in the House of Councillors. Not bad.

3) The party secretariat is the DPJ's secretariat with a few tweaks. Tatsumi sees reappointment of the DPJ leadership as a weakness, with too few new faces to generate excitement (the one new face in the bunch, attack dog Policy Research Chair YAMAO Shiori, has been slapped back with a financial scandal). One could also turn the analysis around and see a merger where one team's members kept all the important posts and the other team's members, including some with titanic egos (Eda Kenji) got essentially nothing as a pretty sweet deal for that first team.
OKADA Katsuya (DPJ)

Acting Representatives
EDA Kenji (JIP)


Policy Research Chair
YAMAO Shiori (DPJ)

Elections Council Chair
GEMBA Koichiro (DPJ)

Diet Affairs Council Chair

House of Councillors Chair
4) With the Will They/Won't They/Why Don't They phase completed, the opposition can now turn to the important business of coordinating Diet and electoral actions against the still immensely powerful but increasingly less likable Liberal Democratic Party of Abe Shinzo.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

On A House of Representatives Election in April

I hate writing about stupid things...and a Diet dissolution after the passage of the Budget is a very stupid thing.

However, everyone is speculating about an early House of Representatives election, how it will allow Prime Minister Abe to take advantage ofhis  excellent Cabinet and party support poll numbers, how it will allow him to renew the employment contracts of his HoR colleagues well before the next rise of the consumption tax, how it will set up a knockout blow to the opposition in the mandated Summer  2016 House of Councillors election.

Assuming he and his party win big...which is an assumption.

The issue is turnout...and holding a snap election in April could increase turnout -- which could lead to a reversal of fortune (though probably not a loss of the majority) in the currently very accommodating House of Representatives.

Losing seats in a House of Representatives election could set up a reversal in the current scenario for the House of Councillors. The operative plan is to ride the current popularity of the Liberal Democratic Party (it is outpolling the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan 4 to 1) to a repetition of the wholesale larceny of seats seen in 2013, driving the DPJ to marginal status and possibly securing enough seats for an assault on the Constitution -- though that latter goal may require the cooperation of Hashimoto Toru's Osaka Ishin no Kai seat holders  -- and who in his/her right mind wants to associate/negotiate with the volatile Mr. Hashimoto?

We have to remember Fall 2014, when Mr. Abe blew everyone away with his sudden, duplicitously packaged (Reed, Pekkanen and Scheiner called it a "bait-and-switch") dissolution and general election. The DPJ was caught flat-footed in that instance by the dissolution (as was yours truly). It and the other opposition parties never really got a campaign going before the election day was upon them. Nevertheless, the DPJ managed to claw back seats it had lost in 2012 to Hashimoto's Japan Innovation Party and Watanabe's Your Party, while LDP stayed stuck in place.

This time:

1) the DPJ is not waiting for Abe Shinzo to surprise it: the party apparatus seems to have selected House of Representatives candidates and seems to be sending them out on pre-emptive, campaign-like encounters with the voters.

2) Unlike in 2014, Abe does not have a clear referendum issue in his docket, as he had with delaying of the rise in the consumption tax. Discussion of Trans Pacific Partnership legislation will take months, not weeks. Meanwhile, the shock of the Bank of Japan's latest extreme gesture of imposing negative interest rates seems to have already worn off.

Abe could, of course, announce a further delay of the rise in the consumption tax and make that his new referendum issue for an April dissolution. Somehow the adage "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me" pops into the head when I think of Abe trying to pull off the same trick twice.

If we could add to this 3) a return to some of the enthusiasm the electorate used to have for gleeful punishment of the LDP for being the LDP -- an springtime dissolution could be disastrous for Abe Shinzo's hopes of climbing past Nakasone and Koizumi in the list of longest-serving prime ministers.

However, considering the contempt Abe is displaying toward the opposition (check out his introductory paragraphs of his Policy Speech on January 22 or his smart ass replies to question in the Diet regarding a revision of political donation laws), maybe he really is prepped and primed to pull the plug on this Diet come April Fools Day.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Does The Seoul Comfort Women Agreement Exist?

A technical question...but one with implications as to the conduct of foreign policy and the behavior of elites in elective democracies: does the Seoul agreement "finally and irreversibly" ending the comfort women dispute between Japan and the Republic of Korea actually exist?

By "exist" I mean in the way an English speaker would understand an agreement existing, as in "Is there an actual text on paper, parchment, stone tablet or pdf which both sides have signed -- with a pen, a brush, a mouse or a stamp? Is there some object, real or virtual, with the names of representatives of both sides on it?"

And if so, can we see it?

My current thinking is that there is no actual, signed agreement between the two nations containing the details announced at the press conference on December 28. The lack of a signed agreement would explain some of the odder bits of Monday's announcement, including

- why the announcement was not accompanied by a printout (Link)

- why the Japanese government promises in section 1(iii) of the announcement to do what it said it would do in sections 1(i) and 1(ii), with the government of the ROK repeating the assumption ("on the premise that the Government of Japan will steadily implement the measures specified in 1. (1) (ii)above") in 2(i). Under normal circumstances governments making declarations do not immediately double check themselves.

- why a Japanese embassy official in Washington has said the current agreement would not need to be approved by the Cabinet and

- last but not least that stunning adverb "approximately" in the English language version of the agreement, as in "approximately 1 billion yen". In the Japanese version, the numeral is modified not once but twice (omune ni 10 oku en teido - "roughly in the vicinity of 1 billion yen") -- not your everyday binding agreement figure of speech, to put it mildly.

Of course, that the Japanese press describes Monday's announcement as introducing to the world a go'i ( 合意 - "our meanings are in sync") rather than a kyotei (協定 - "formal agreement") should be probably be seen as prima facie evidence there is no document underpinning this supposed final and irreversible settlement.

If no actual document exists perhaps one will be produced later, possibly as a requirement of legalization of the transfer of "approximately one billion yen" from the government of Japan to a special account created by the government of the ROK.

I hope I am wrong in all this: I hope there is an actual signed agreement. I very much like signed agreements when the goal is to end a bitter, longstanding dispute.

However, if there is not one and the two countries end their animosity on the issue with proper restitution and respect being paid to the women, I am not going to niggle about a technicality.

Not today at least.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Looking at the So-Called Comfort Women Agreement

First, read the announcement of the agreement on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. (Link)

Second, read what Tatsumi Yuki of the Stimson Center has dashed out (she is a wonderworker). She nails down the implications of the main points of the agreement like no one else can. (Link)

A few additional thoughts:

- Over the weekend the Japanese news media reported a blizzard of leaked details about the agreement. Many of these reported details turned out to have been wrong.

a) the reported size of the fund was 100 million yen. The actual fund will be TEN TIMES that amount

(Hey, it is Japanese taxpayer money, so who cares, right? It is not as if those who poured oil on the fire of the comfort women issue all these years had to personally pony up.)

b) South Korea is not contributing to the fund. Instead, all it is doing is opening the account in its name.

c) The comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul is not being removed or moved. The South Korean government has merely agreed to talk to the private interests who built it, keeping in mind Japanese government concerns about the statue.

A forensic look at the reporting over the weekend would determine which news organization reported which false assertion when. However, in general, by Monday morning, all the major news outlets, ideological cant notwithstanding, had at least a couple details about the agreement wrong. As a result, on Monday morning, the agreement being described in the news media was unbelievable.

Now just how it was that so many false leads were planted, and by whom for what purpose, is largely an academic exercise. However, a cavalier treatment of reporters, burning them with fake leaks, may have more serious consequences down the road for the perpetrators. The reporters will simply not trust their sources anymore, making the news media less likely to play along with whatever mischief or agenda shaping the leaker may wish to perpetrate in the future.

- Now we have a very good reason for why Inada Tomomi was passed over for a Cabinet post in the October Cabinet reshuffle. A Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) by the full Cabinet is necessary for the agreement to become official government policy. In light of Inada's longtime, vehement assertions that the South Korean position on the comfort women is "all too many lies" (Link - J) her vote on the Seoul agreement would have been uncertain. Most likely than not, she would have had to resign rather than vote in favor of what was announced yesterday, damaging both her career and any image of sincere Japanese government remorse.

So Abe kept her out of the Cabinet, avoiding a certain clash. Smart.

- Aside from the limp ROK promise to talk to private parties on the statue issue, most of the wording of the announcement favors the Japanese side.

Take the first line of yesterday's agreement, with the seemingly missing "its" after the conjunction:
(i) The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women, and the Government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective.
The Japanese military gets off the hook here, with the procurement of women for its officers and enlisted men downgraded to "an involvement" in the trafficking. The Japanese text is actually a bit more forceful, saying that activities took place "under the umbrella of" (kanyo no shita ni) of the Imperial Army. However, the Japanese is also more legalistic, quarantining the military as being not the Imperial Army but "the army of that time" (toji no gun).

As for what might be called "the missing 'its" as in "the Government of Japan is painfully aware of its responsibilities" it is also missing in the Japanese text. When I was reading the first reports of the agreement in Japanese, I wondered whether the lack of a clear recognition of the government's being responsible was the result of a stylistic or an intentional vagueness. The awkward English translation seems to confirm an intentional fudging, again very much to the benefit of the GOJ, of just whose responsibilities are being discussed.

- Is it just me, or does the announcement seem a lot like an agreement struck between children? Both sides agree to fulfill their part of the bargain as long as the other side fulfills theirs first. Adults do not demand these kind of chronologically impossible guarantees, do they?

- Trying to make sense of what was being reported in the news, I came to an incorrect conclusion in my post of yesterday. However, I wrote to a friend:

"I find Abe's diplomacy refreshingly amoral -- never seeking to do what is right, only that which incrementally increases leverage, knocks opponents off balance and fulfills the minimum requirement."

A few days back I also tweeted:

I believe yesterday's announcement not inconsistent with these statements.

As a result of yesterday Abe Shinzo is being hailed as "Japan's Nixon," cutting the deal only he can cut as in "only Nixon can go China."

Uhmmm...please tell me something I did not already know...a year ago.

After careers as arsonists on the comfort women issue, Prime Minister Abe and President Park had their surrogates show up on the scene with fire extinguishers. We will see if the current geopolitical environment allows the pair of hereditary rulers of their respective countries to simply waltz away from their suddenly unfriended extremists.