Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Government With Its Priorities Straight

The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito have been giving the government of Noda Yoshihiko a lot of flack over its response to the announcement of Kim Jong-il's death. They claim that the government's response was lackadaisical and foolhardy and betrayed a lack of sense of crisis over the event.

The timeline on what happened on Monday morning went something like this (all times are JST):

10:00 The KCNA posts a bulletin that an important announcement will be made in two hours' time.

11:00 Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu is asked in his morning press conference whether he has heard about the DPRK announcement. Fujimura replies, "Yes, but we do not know what it is. So?"

11:59 The PM departs for a noontime rally promoting his vision of fundamental reforms and cutting government waste. He tells Fujimura, "If the announcement is anything important, call me back."

12:03 Fujimura learns that Kim Jong-il is dead.

12:05 Fujimura calls the PM; informs him of the situation. The PM's car is turned around.

12:09 The PM arrives at the Prime Minister's Residence.

12:10 The PM calls for a convening of the National Security Council.

13:01 The National Security Council is convened. Missing are Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro (in Washington) and National Public Safety Commission Chairman and State Minister for North Korean Abductions Yamaoka Kenji (in his Tochigi Prefecture constituency on a political tour).

13:30 Fujimura holds a press conference on the news.

Now it must be said that Yamaoka's not returning to the capital in time for the Security Council meeting looks incredibly bad. Then again, since he has been censured by the House of Councillors and is thus on track to resign from his positions in the government (perhaps now a near certainty, despite his being Ozawa Ichiro's right hand man), his absence was not much of a loss.

In truth, the Noda government's unperturbed attitude toward the surprise announcement of Kim Jong-il's death shows it has its priorities straight, not backwards.

First, the prospect of an announcement from North Korea did not drive the Prime Minister's Office into a tizzy. The Prime Minister and the government went about their business, until such time as a real security threat had been confirmed. Instead, the prime minister in particular concentrated on the important task of winning public support for his painful and fundamental reforms of the Japanese economy and public services, a herculean task.

Second, the absence of vital members of the National Security Council, indeed the members most directly involved with the response to national security threats, did not affect the functioning of the Council. Some effort was probably made to whisk Yamaoka back to Tokyo in time for the meeting but when it was clear he was not going to make it, the meeting went on without him.

This is a demonstration of a government in control, not out of touch. It focused on the nation's fundamental and chronic problems, not the sudden irruption of an event that it had no control over, had no obvious consequences and required no specific action (read the list of what the Japanese government committed itself to doing posthaste here - hat tip to Japan Real Time).

The LDP and the New Komeito are just barking -- but their barking will likely be heard by their friends in Washington, who are banking on the LDP-New Komeito coalition's return to power next year.

Later - In reconstructing what went wrong with the summoning of Yamaoka back to the capital following the DPRK's 10:00 a.m. alert as to a coming special announcement, the government has determined that the fault lay with the staff at the Prime Minister's Residence, who failed to contact Yamaoka in a timely fashion (J). Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura has apologized for this failure, absolving Yamaoka of any responsibility.

Lest anyone argue that this apology undermines my thesis, please note that this was clearly an error in execution, not in priorities.


Chysanthemum Sniffer said...

I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been a situation where Japanese lives really were lost and the PM elected to stay on the golf course. Yes, the LDP really does deserve to rule, doesn't it.

MTC said...

Chrysanthemum Sniffer -

Whooey! Oooouch!

You should be writing copy for the DPJ.

F. said...

business as usual. Little Kim might racket up regional tension a bit, but it's not as if nukes will be raining out of the sky tomorrow.