Saturday, December 28, 2013

You Would Not Want To Be One Of His Allies

The Yomiuri Shimbun has published an account of the events leading up Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's visit to Yasukuni Shrine two days ago (Link). If the timeline and the quotations in the story are accurate -- and there is no reason to doubt that they are -- a picture emerges of a ruthless Abe, unbound by courtesy or caution in his dealings with his most prominent political allies.

Here is the snippet on Abe's call to Yamaguchi Natsuo, the leader of the party whose House of Councillors votes Abe relies upon to guarantee the passage of legislation:
"I'll visit the shrine at my own discretion," Abe told Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of his Liberal Democratic Party, over the phone at about 11 a.m. on Thursday, about 30 minutes before he headed to the shrine.

"I cannot support that," Yamaguchi told Abe.

"I didn't think you'd agree with me," Abe said before hanging up the phone.

Abe also informed LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba of his intention to visit the shrine in the same morning.
What the Yomiuri narrative fails to clarify is that Yamaguchi and Ishiba already knew Abe was on his way to Yasukuni before the PM made his courtesy calls. Major news outlets began publishing and airing alerts regarding the Abe visit 30 minutes prior to Abe's 11 a.m. call to Yamaguchi (like this story that appeared on the MSN Sankei News site at 10:26 am). Ishiba found out about the visit from the reporters covering him, when they all started shouting at him, "What is your opinion of the prime minister visiting Yasukuni?" An exasperated Ishiba replied, "Why are you all asking me my opinion of a Yasukuni visit?" The reporters shouted back, "Because it has been announced!" Ishiba, trying to appear nonchalant, turned and walked away, repeating the news to himself, "Oh, it's been announced. Hmmmm."

As for the Yomiuri's account of how Abe handled his chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide -- the man charged not only with making policies happen but devising the cover stories -- that too is eye-opening. Suga's extraordinarily deft management of the policy agenda and the daily message have left many wondering whether he, Suga, is not indeed the de facto prime minister. The Yomiuri's account clearly puts Suga in a subservient role, left to devise a desperate strategy of damage control after failing to change the prime minister's mind on whether or not to visit Yasukuni. The revelation that the Abe statement on why he visited Yasukuni (Link) was devised by Suga after Abe had made his decision goes a long way to explaining the raging insincerity of Abe's post-visit address.

[An aside: I know that the theory that speakers look up and to the right when they are trying to retrieve concocted versions of events from memory has been tested and found wanting -- but gosh, it sure looked like Abe was doing just that during the NHK live broadcast.]

Running roughshod over the leader of the LDP's ruling coalition partner, the secretary-general of the LDP and his own chief cabinet secretary tells all three men Abe's thinking as to who is in charge and who walks three feet behind in this government. The rock hard treatment of Yamaguchi indicates further that the dinners Abe has had in the last month with the heads of the Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party (the latest being a three hour affair with Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru on the Emperor's birthday - Link - J) were not mere social get-togethers. Even after the fission of the Your Party in response to Abe's dinner with party leader Watanabe Yoshimi (Link - J), the number of seats held by the Your Party and the JRP in the House of Councillors are more than enough for Abe to tell Yamaguchi and the New Komeito, "You know, you can be replaced..."

Which is what "I didn't think you would agree with me" means, ultimately.


Robert Dujarric said...

Regarding the timeline, an additional question relates to the US statement. It was issued only a few hours after Abe's pilgrimage to Yasukuni was announced.
1. Did the US write the press release very quickly? Not obvious as such a declaration would have needed to be cleared by very senior DC officials and then the translation would have had to be very thoroughly checked.

2. Did Washington have one ready just in case? Like the obituaries which newspapers store and publish once the person dies.

3. Did Abe inform Washington days in advance?

4. Did US intelligence find out a few days before through old-fashioned spies inside the Kantei and/or the NSA that he would be going ?

MTC said...

Robert Dujarric -

Let us take your #2 as the working hypothesis. You are right, the statement could not have been composed and cleared in the few hours since the act and the release -- especially since it was the evening of Christmas Day in Washington.

Martin J Frid said...

So, why is Komeito still LDP's lapdog after all these years? What do they get in return? ...Power doesn't seem to be part of the equation.

MTC said...

Martin J Frid -

Since its reemergence out of the New Frontier Party (Shinshinto), the Komeito, or more properly the New Komeito, has shrunk from a multi-issue counter to the Communists to a party with but one goal: the protection, mostly through electoral coalition with the LDP and the control of a large number of seats in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, of its mother organization's registration as a religious corporation.

While it is the height of paranoia to think that the mothership faces any threat of having its registration rescinded, the New Komeito nevertheless seems to maintain political alliances, both at the national and grassroots level (not necessarily with the members of a particular party in the local case) with the preservation of that tax-exempt coporation's status in mind.

Nagasaki Mike said...

"... the preservation of that tax-exempt corporation's status in mind."

Which isn't surprising considering the fact that they require their members to donate over 10% of their salaries to the corporation. (domestically anyway - I'm not sure about their foreign branches) One can guess through the size of their organization (both domestic and foreign) just how large of a treasure trove they are protecting.

MTC said...

Nagasaki Mike -

Thank you for alerting me to what I have been searching for for years: a nickname.