Monday, November 15, 2010

Shimoji Lays Down His Marker

In a move that may very likely complicate the government's wish to abide by the May decision with the United States to replace the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station with a partially offshore facility to be built at the town of Henoko, Shimoji Mikio, the People New Party Secretary-General and Representative of Okinawa District #1 has endorsed Iha Yoichi for governor of Okinawa Prefecture. Calling the government's current plan for a Futenma replacement facility at Henoko "unrealistic," Shimoji has chosen to endorse the radical former mayor of Ginowan City -- home of the Futenma -- over the incumbent Nakaima Hirokazu. Shimoji, who earlier this year had himself offered an onshore plan for a Futenma replacement facility at Henoko, has given his nod to the candidate who has insisted that a replacement for Futenma cannot be built inside Okinawa Prefecture.

When a representative who is a member of what is ostensibly part of a ruling coalition picks sides, and he chooses the candidate who will not accept the government's current plan, the government has just one more problem that it did not need.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Opportunism Knocks

One cannot say enough about the political brio of the Komeito.

In the beginning of the extraordinary Diet session, the Komeito indicated that if the government worked together with the party and made some adjustments to the proposed supplementary budget, then the party would support the government when the legislation came up for a vote. The Democratic Party of Japan-led government complied with these requests, saying all kinds of nice things about the Komeito in public and private in the meanwhile.

Now, after the quadruple embarassments of the Chinese trawler captain's release, the inability to lure Ozawa Ichiro into answering questions about his political finances in some Diet forum, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's visit to Kunashiri and the leak of the videos of the collisions between the Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard ships -- all of which have combined to trigger a steep drop in the support levels for the Cabinet and for the DPJ -- the Komeito earlier this week indicated it had found fundamental problems with the structure of the supplementary budget making it impossible for the party to support the legislation.

Today, the Komeito confirmed that the party will be voting against the supplementary budget. However, not unexpectedly, the party confirmed that it will be voting in favor of the enabling legislation for the supplementary budget.

So they will vote against the supplementary budget--but for the legal framework that makes the supplementary budget possible.

Mindless? Pointless?

No, thanks to Article 60 of the Constitution.

The supplementary budget bill will sail through the House of Representatives thanks to the DPJ's huge 307 seat majority therein. The Komeito will join the opposition Liberal Democratic Party in voting against the bill. The bill will then move the House of Councillors where the LDP and the Komeito will again vote against it, meaning that the House of Councillors will have rejected the bill. However, since the House of Representatives will have voted for the bill and the House of Councillors will have taken action on the bill, albeit a negative action, during the Diet session, the bill will become law (Article 60).

Actual implementation of the plans outlined in the budget, including the plans for the tweaks the Komeito requested of the government back in the days when the DPJ and the Komeito were making friendly noises towards one another, requires the passage of some enabling legislation, however. This enabling legislation, being outside the purview of Article 60, must be passed by both Houses of the Diet if it is to become law (leaving aside for the moment the extremely unlikely possibility of a House of Representatives override of a rejection of the bill by the House of Councillors, a process outlined in Article 59 of the Constitution).

Not by strange coincidence is it then that the Komeito has no problems with voting for the enabling legislation necessary for the budget it is going to reject. By voting against the supplementary budget, the Komeito demonstrates its disgust with the lack of leadership of the Kan Cabinet in terms of both international and DPJ internal party affairs. It shows itself in solidarity with the other opposition parties. Yet by voting for the enabling legislation, it free rides on Article 60 to get the budget and the goodies too, with the added fillip of making the DPJ leadership look like fools.

One can have it all.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Too Much Bad News

The latest polls are out and everyone's suspicions are confirmed: the government is struggling and the populace is getting fed up with it.

Do you support/not support the Kan Cabinet? (previous poll results in parentheses)

Yomiuri Shimbun

Support 35% (53%)
Do Not Support 55% (37%)

Kyodo News

Support 33% (48%)
Do Not Support 47% (37%)

FNN/Sankei Shimbun (from Oct. 30-31)

Support 36% (48%)
Do Not Support 47% (35%)

The new numbers are all record lows for the Kan Cabinet, falling beneath the previous lows set in the immediate aftermath of the Liberal Democratic Party's sound defeat of the Democratic Party of Japan in the July House of Councillors election.

It is not difficult to understand why folks are not thrilled with the government right now:

- the yen is at 80 to the dollar, exposing exporters to what one supposes one could called serious difficulties

- someone leaked videos of the Chinese fishing trawler's collision with two Japan Coast vessels, calling into question 1) the government's ability to keep secrets and 2) the wisdom of someone's having somehow influenced the Naha prosecutors into releasing the captain of the trawler, as the videos fairly clearly show his ship ramming at least one of the Coast Guard ships from behind

- a certain Russian president visited Kunashiri, becoming the first Russian leader, in either Soviet or Republican times, to visit any of the disputed Northern Territories islands

- Anti-Japan rallies continue to take place in China and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has proven a remarkably difficult for the Prime Minister of Japan to meet for any considerable length of time

- despite the public anger engendered by the two previous items, the Japanese government, eager to make the November 13 APEC leaders summit a success, has had to swallow its pride and send very sweet invitations to the heads of state of both Russia and China, praying that the leaders of these two nations will attend

- Ozawa Ichiro, finally deigning to meet with Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, flatly refused to appear before the Diet ethics committee, the lesser of the two fates (the other being sworn testimony in the Diet) being demanded by the opposition parties before deliberations can proceed on the supplementary budget

The final item, which turns on its head the concept Ozawa espoused after his failed attempt to defeat Kan Naoto in the DPJ's September leadership election -- that he would retreat from power politics to become a common foot soldier for the DPJ -- is a likely source of diminishing popularity for the party, as is also demonstrated in the latest polls.

Which party do you support? (results of previous polls in parenthesis)

Yomiuri Shimbun

DPJ 28% (36%)
LDP 23% (16%)

Kyodo News

DPJ 29% (34%)
LDP 26% (20%)

FNN/Sankei Shimbun (from Oct. 30-31)

DPJ 27% (31%)
LDP 22% (19%)

The declining poll numbers for both the Cabinet and the DPJ, while not exactly surprising given the cascade of bad news, will make it more difficult for the DPJ to shout down the opposition in the Diet and move its political agenda forward. The numbers also point to an electorate frustrated by the inability of the government to influence or stymie Japan's increasingly potent neighbors, the forces of the international economy, the United States (a great friend when it comes to protecting the Senkaku Islands; a not so great friend when it comes to curbing its easy money policies that have been contributing to the soaring of the yen)-- or one extremely sly old politician who has grasped the point that when you are going to be indicted on charges which no prosecutor is going to be able make stick, the indictment is your party's problem, not your problem.

None of which the government can do much about mind you, save possibly dragging Ozawa kicking and screaming into the Diet (DPJ leaders keep hoping that he can be convinced to go before the Diet voluntarily, for the good of the party...willfully forgetting that if he were to do so he would lose power to torment his rival party leaders). Great shifts in the global balances power and the international order must sometimes just be forborne.

An impatient and annoyed public wants better news...and the Kan Cabinet and the DPJ are not delivering it.

Friday, November 05, 2010

No TPP Authority for You

Who says that agricultural interests are a declining force in Japanese politics?

Just days after National Strategy Minister Gemba Koichiro predicted that the Cabinet will likely be issuing a Decision next Tuesday granting the prime minister a free hand in talks on joining the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership trade negotiations, the idea has been scratched. A meeting of the Democratic Party of Japan project team on the TPP failed to approve a statement giving the prime minister authority to go forward due to strong opposition from lawyers with strong ties to agriculture and fisheries. Instead, the new plan is for the government to use the opportunity of the meetings during the upcoming APEC summit as a sounding board, gathering information on the TPP in a process toward considering whether or not Japan should participate in the pact.

So despite the efforts of Gemba and Prime Minister Kan Naoto, who had hoped to give the PM a solid foundation on which to have discussions with other leaders of other nations interested in the TPP concept; despite the full support of the Nippon Keidanren, which had hoped it had found an issue where it could finally work closely with the DPJ; and despite the goads of strong U.S. and Vietnamese interest in joining the TPP, the government has been stopped dead in its tracks.

To be fair, it was not just opposition within the DPJ that caused the setback. The DPJ's tiny coalition partner in government, the People's New Party, voiced its strong opposition to the granting of negotiating rights. So divisive and threatening is the TPP to the country's agricultural interests that even within the opposition LDP pro- and anti-TPP forces have already mobilized in anticipation for a broad battle across party lines.

The failure of the prime minister to win his own party's approval of authority to proceed with talks on possibly joining the TPP is just one more blow to the government's image. Already struggling with the chronic twin problems of its handling of the Chinese ship captain's arrest and its inability to corral Ozawa Ichiro into appearing in the Diet in some fashion to answer questions about the finances of his political funding organizations -- an image of weakness compounded by the government's inability to disuade (what means did it have?) Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visiting the disputed island of Kunashiri -- the government was scrambling for some kind of win to rescue from its poor polling numbers -- which according to the Sankei Shimbun are at 36% support, lower now than they have ever been.

For the government to knocked off its feet by DPJ's own farm lobby, however, is just too pathetic.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Is Japan Practicing an Encirclement Policy?

With the signing of the agreement to construct two nuclear power stations for Vietnam yesterday, Japan cemented a broad and deep commitment in support of Vietnam's current government. Coming on the heels an acceleration toward a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with India one week ago and the solicitous behavior this summer toward South Korea, it looks more and more like Japan is practicing a sureptitious but rapid policy of encirclement around China, making a concerted effort to bolster and deepen relations with the countries on China's periphery, particularly those currently experiencing serious political difficulties with China.

Japan, at least in the short run, has very little to offer in terms of strategic assets. Its Self Defense Forces are still tightly bound to the defense of Japan's territory and territorial waters. However, it is clear from the content of the economic pacts being signed -- large infrastructure development projects, exchanges of nuclear power generation technology and agreements to explore the mining of rare earth elements -- that Japan's overseas economic development policy has a strategic edge.

The question is if Japan continues to further develop economic ties with a strategic edge aimed at China's periphery (Where are the commensurate approaches to further deepen Japan-Australia ties?) how long will it be before Sino-Japanese relations are indelibly altered? Will China, seeing Japan making friends with countries on China's periphery regardless of whether they are full democracies or not, respond with increased aggression toward Japan -- or at very least a greater feigned disinterest in Japanese concerns? How will Japan balance these very provocative moves when the Sino-Japanese relationship is so precarious, as was witnessed by the cancellation at the last minute of a planned meeting between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit?

Standing up to China, even indirectly through a policy of making common cause with the nations on China's borders, will have consequences.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sovereignty Matters

The Chinese government called off a meeting between Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto at the last minute yesterday. The Chinese side held that the atmosphere for the talks had been ruined by certain statements by Japanese diplomats.
China says talks with Japan have been 'ruined'

A summit involving Japan and China was in jeopardy Friday after a Chinese foreign ministry official accused Japanese diplomats of making statements that violated China's sovereignty, according to the Chinese state-run news agency.

China and Japan are participating in a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi, Vietnam, but Japanese representatives made "untrue statements about the content of a meeting between Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers held earlier in the day," the Xinhua news agency said.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue said that "the Japanese move ruined the atmosphere for leaders from the two sides to conduct talks in the Vietnamese capital."

Japanese media are framing the dispute a different way, saying that Hu told Hong Kong media that Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji was directly responsible destroying the mood that could have led to a summit meeting.

"The truth was that the diplomatic authority of Japan, in cahoots with other nations, tried to create (noise) on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea in the lead-up to the summits between ASEAN and its partners," Xinhua reported. (CNN -ibid)
"Creating (noise)" is not quite the word that the Japanese press is reporting. The Chinese phrase is translated as mushikaesu -- "to reheat" -- an issue.

It is not hard to figure out which nation the Japanese diplomatic authority was "in cahoots" with the most in reheating the issue of who has authority over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands:

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) Deguchi with Kyodo News Service. First a question for Secretary Clinton, and this is about security. Recently – this is about Senkaku Islands, which has (inaudible) spat between Japan and China. And I wonder if the security treaty between Japan and the United States will be applied.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say clearly again that the Senkakus fall within the scope of Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. This is part of the larger commitment that the United States has made to Japan’s security. We consider the Japanese-U.S. alliance one of the most important alliance partnerships we have anywhere in the world and we are committed to our obligations to protect the Japanese people...


FOREIGN MINISTER MAEHARA: (Via interpreter) There was a question about the Senkaku Islands and rare earth minerals. As I have been saying, Senkaku Islands, in terms of history and international law, are inherent territory of Japan and have – we have had (inaudible) control over the islands and will continue to do so.

Today, Secretary Clinton repeated that the Senkaku Islands would fall within the scope of the application of Article 5 of the bilateral security treaty. That was very encouraging.
All these quotes are from the press availability Maehara and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had on October 27 in Honolulu. No shading of meaning, no "nothing has been fully resolved" as regards sovereignty. Just a clear and blunt statement to the Chinese that for the United States at least the Senkakus are Japanese territory -- no, ifs, ands or buts about it.

It is perhaps not fair that Maehara is blamed for destroying the mood in advance of the summit. After all, he was not the one who asked the question and he had no control over how Secretary Clinton chose to present the U.S. position.

Nevertheless, he should know that he is the focal point of Chinese attention, after having called the Chinese government response to the September 7 fishing boat captain incident "hysterical." He clearly did not have to stick the knife at the end of the press conference as regards China's on-again, off-again embargo on the exports of rare earth elements to Japan:
With regard to the rare earth minerals, as Secretary Clinton stated earlier, even if this problem did not exist, to rely for 97 percent of the – these resources on China, as we look back, was certainly not appropriate and therefore we have to diversify the sources of rare earth minerals. And here again, Japan and the United States will closely cooperate with each other in order to engage in more diversified rare earth minerals diplomacy.
While cheering on Japan-U.S. cooperation probably won Maehara kudos in Washington, it could have only made the Chinese steaming (the mushi of mushikaesu means "to steam") mad at the foreign minister.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The DPJ's Completely Muddled Money Message

In something of a surprise announcement, Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Katsuya Okada revealed on Tuesday that the party was repealing its self-imposed ban on receiving political donations from corporations and organized groups.

DPJ to reaccept corporate cash
Kyodo News

The Democratic Party of Japan will resume accepting corporate donations in the face of financial difficulties, a senior lawmaker of the ruling party said Tuesday.

DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said the party has to partially relax its policy of voluntarily refraining from receiving contributions from businesses amid increasing complaints from its parliamentarians that a lack of funds is hampering their political activities.

Okada said at a meeting of DPJ executives that such a relaxation is unavoidable, given that the party has not received contributions from individuals on the scale that it had hoped since taking the reins of the government about one year ago...

It can be argued that the total effects of Okada's announcement are minimal. The DPJ's self-imposed ban was a legacy of a decision made in January by the Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro in what was clearly a public relations stunt trying to draw attention away from his and then Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio's stunning political funding scandal problems. Revoking the total ban was merely reversing a decision that had been made out of political desperation and cynicism.

Furthermore, the DPJ is staying true to its promise in its Manifesto to not accept political donation from companies with with public works contracts with the central government totaling more than 100 million yen. This was the same ban it proposed as a bill when it was in the opposition in 2009. Had that had bill passed, it would be a rule covering all parties, rather than a unilateral and still continuing commitment by the DPJ.

Furthermore, the DPJ has a darn good reason to ask for corporate and organizational donations: it needs the money. Cash from individual contributors has been so far insufficient to move the DPJ away from its longtime dependency on public funding of political parties. The party currently receives 80% of its funding for its political activities from the public elections support fund. By contrast, its main rival, the Liberal Democratic Party, which has no similar restraints on the types of cash it is willing to imbibe, relies on the public elections support for only half of its funding. One (decidedly minor) explanation for the severity of the DPJ's defeat in this summer's House of Councillors election was that its local chapters were simply outspent by their LDP rivals.

This explanation, if valid, looms large over next year's unified local elections, where the DPJ would like to hold its ground, if not indeed win a few prizes from out of the hands of the LDP. If the party does not have the funds, however, it will not have the wherewithal either to make much headway against the LDP's incumbents nor defend its performance as a party. The DPJ is, after all, the party in power on the national level: it cannot run on the low-cost message of "Change" that it could rely on during the years it was in opposition on the national scene. On the local level it will have to compete nose-to-nose, candidate versus candidate against a still vital local LDP base, with the LDP having the ability to raise funds from anywhere.

In politics, however, much depends on timing -- and Okada's timing of his announcement was lousy. Only three days earlier the DPJ lost its seat it had held in the Hokkaido District #5, where the DPJ incumbent had been forced to resign her due to illegal campaign contributions by the Hokkaido Teacher's Union At the same time the Diet is aswirl with rumors on whether or not the DPJ will buckle under to opposition pressure to have Ozawa Ichiro be summoned to give testimony in the Diet or be forced to put in an appearance before the Diet's Ethics Committee, with Ozawa's coming indictment looming over the proceedings.

Announcing a reversal a self-imposed ban on accepting certain types of political donations at this precise moment was, at best, untimely.

What garbles the message further is that despite the announcement of the reversal of the total ban for now, the DPJ remains committed to another of its Manifesto promises that will reimpose the ban universally through legislation, effective in three years' time.

The response to the Okada announcement was predictably negative. The Tokyo Shimbun carried a front page analysis denouncing the reversal as "a betrayal of the public trust." LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru said that reversing its position on corporate and organization donations at time when "money and politics" has been a major topic shows the DPJ is bent on creating "a complete and total mess." Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi simply dismissed the DPJ, with a "Here we go again, saying something and not following through on it. When what you say and what you do diverge, that just accelerates mistrust in politics."

Even among his fellow Democrats, Okada's announcement was derided. "At a time when 'money and politics' are so much in the news, this is hardly a plus," intoned Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito.

Business, which would be expected to pony up some cash to help underwrite the DPJ's chances in the unified local elections, is understandably ticked off by the DPJ's seeming triple standard, and thus unlikely to return Okada's sudden expressions of affection. Rejecting corporate donations, then saying the party will accept them, only to make them illegal for everyone at a later time is hardly the way to show businesses that the DPJ really holds their interests and opinions to be of lasting value.

What is most unfortunate about Okada's announcement is that it only further whittles away the DPJ's identity. One of the founding myths of the DPJ, one it has cultivated and clung to over the years, is that it is the "clean politics" party -- as opposed to the LDP, the party which found the mix of corporate cash, budgetary pork and fairly blatant vote buying downright cozy. Even after the arrests of Ozawa Ichiro's aides on accounting violations involving the Rikuzankai political fundraising group, opinion polls still showed the public believing that the DPJ represented clean politics.

This latest announcement makes a complete muddle of that message, one that gave the people so much hope in August 2009, when they finally and decisively turfed the LDP out in favor of the DPJ.

The bungled Okada announcement may just be a tempest in a teapot--but the DPJ and Okada in particular simply have to start looking a little sharper...and I do not mean Ren Ho in Vogue Nippon sharp.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Little Clarity on National Strategy

One of the long-running dramas since the changeover from Liberal Democratic Party to Democratic Party of Japan government has been who shall be in charge of the government policy making. Having allowed the weekly meeting of the Administrative Vice Ministers to disestablish itself and having abolished the Prime Minister’s Commission on Economic and Industrial Policy (Keizai Zaisei Shimon Kaigi), the DPJ-led government has had a heck of time working out a replacement set of institutions.

The 2009 election manifesto promised that the party would establish a National Strategy Bureau in charge of collating, evaluating, revising and then promulgating coherent national policies for the ministries to carry out. However, after more than a year in power, when the position of Director of the National Strategy office has passed through the hands of such powerful politicians as Kan Naoto and Sengoku Yoshito, the DPJ still had no functioning national strategy center. The National Strategy Unit became the orphan division of the government, overshadowed by its more telegenic rival innovation, the Government Revitalization Unit, whose televised hearings of bureaucrats being dragged over the coals by politicians and civilian appointees were one of the DPJ government's rare total triumphs. In July, it was even thought that the National Strategy office would be relegated to a talk shop, its sole responsibility being the offering of advice to the prime minister.

The fate of a government institution would hardly seem worth getting excited about, what with all the other political theatrics going on (the Hatoyama-Ozawa "money and politics" show, the debacle over the Futenma-to-Henoko move, the Hatoyama resignation and the rise of Kan, the DPJ mauling in the July House of Councillors election, the Kan-Ozawa leadership race). However, the question of just who would be in charge of policy making in Japan was a serious problem. The abolition of the DPJ's policy research council and the aimless course of the national strategy office contributed to the development of one of the most corrosive internal disputes of the party: the fight over the seeming concentration of seemingly all policy making power in the hands of Party Secretary- General Ozawa Ichiro. While Ozawa's grasp on policy making was not necessarily complete, the lack of a clear rival policy making organization or an explanation of how policies were being initiated left many in the party feeling like powerless outsiders. A winter rebellion of the concentration of power in Ozawa's grasp led to a showdown over the dismissal of Ubukata Yukio, a fight Ozawa atypically lost, as Ubukata was reinstated as a party deputy secretary-general before his dismissal became official.

The fall of Ozawa in tandem with the resignation of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio led to a lessening of the angst over policy making but did little to relieve the problem of who was in charge. The previously abolished DPJ policy research council was reestablished and attention paid to the lack of a formal strategy apparatus. However, the relationship between the party's policy research council and the national strategy office was not clarified. Not long after, the DPJ suffered a stunning setback in the House of Councillors election, eliminating the chance that the national strategy office could be raised to the status of a Bureau of the government, empowered to develop policy for all the ministries and agencies of the government.

It was in the period after the election that policy decision making truly became institutionally opaque. The DPJ policy research council existed, the National Strategy Unit existed -- but neither seemed to have a clear function. Instead all policy decision seemed to be arising out of the offices of the two most powerful personalities in government: Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio. Policy seemed to be whatever the last utterance of either man had been. That the new National Strategy minister was immediately embroiled in a tempest-in-a-teacup political finance scandal seemed only to further diminish the office.

The situation improved somewhat after the Cabinet shakeup in mid-September. Newly-installed Secretary-General Okada Katsuya had his hands full with party affairs, leaving policy making to newly-appointed National Strategy minister Gemba Koichiro, who at least had the double institutional punch of being simultaneously minister for national strategy and chairman of the DPJ policy research council. Sengoku, as the incumbent chief cabinet secretary, stood taller than his rivals -- and his grasp on the tiller of policy in no way shaken by the appointment of Gemba.

The absence of a formal structure was all too obvious. When in the afterglow of his victory in the party leadership election Prime Minister Kan announced that in his regime everyone's opinion would be respected, that there would be "a cabinet of 409" - the number of DPJ Diet legislators -- he expressing a nonsensical idea that nevertheless perilously reflected the prevailing institutional reality: that there was no one formally in charge of policy and that every opinion was equal -- with Sengoku Yoshito's opinion being more equal than others.

This week, however, National Strategy Minister Gemba announced a reorganization of the government's policy making system that seems to answer many of the questions of who exactly is supposed to be in charge of what in government.

Under the new plan, two officials remain responsible for policy making: the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the National Strategy Minister. Beneath the national strategy minister, the National Strategy Unit will be split into two divisions: one dedicated to the coordination and implementation of already promulgated government pledges and another dedicated to serve as a sort of think tank for the prime minister, focused on out-of-the-box thinking on national issues, particularly foreign policy and security issues.

More concretely, under Gemba's plan, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and Office of the Deputy Chief Cabinet Minister will be in charge of:

- the move of the MCAS Futenma to a Futenma Replacement Facility
- tax system reform
- pension system reform
- the establishment of a national taxpayer I.D. number system

National Strategy Minister Gemba Koichiro and the National Strategy Unit will be in charge of:

- the promotion of Economic Partnership Agrements and the other trade and investment pacts
- providing a framework for the budget, including tax and fiscal policies
- implementing the National Growth Strategy
- implementing the policies necessary for meeting the national goals on climate change

The individual with direct responsibility for the management of these issues will be Cabinet Office Deputy Minister Hirano Tatsuo.

As for the prime minister's think tank, it will be headed by Cabinet Office Parliamentary Secretary Akutsu Yukihiko, holder of an M.A. from George Washington University who is considered Prime Minister Kan's close confidants and by Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Kato Koichi, an electrical engineer who used to work for Recruit.

The division of labor was done on the simplest of bases. Sengoku and his team of 100 have kept under their control the hardest issues the government is currently facing. The fuzzier, more ambitious and vague plans seem to have been handed off to Gemba and his people, who number no more than 30.

That the policies were divided into categories of hard/immediate versus soft/long term, and divvied out to the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the Minister of National Strategy Minister accordingly underlines that for all its formality, this is still an ad hoc arrangement. These issues are the problems now but what happens later? Can a issue transition from one side to the other? Based on what criteria will the transition take place? When a new issue arises, who gets it, and again, based on what criteria?

The division also makes clear that though Gemba may be the nominal minister of national strategy, the primus inter pares of national policy remains Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku. The extent to which he looms over policy is the stuff of tabloid dreams, where he is frequently posited to be the actual prime minister of the country. The Gemba proposal formalizes this dominance in the hard stuff, while establishing a set of second-tier issues not worthy of Sengoku's direct management.

So while Gemba's proposal offers greater clarity as to who is in charge of what right now -- which was a serious question, so it is good that he is proposing a solution -- it is still clearly only a temporary solution.

The meandering tale of the promulgation of Japan's national strategy under the DPJ meanders on -- with a little more clarity, to be sure.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ozawa in the Picture

Tani Ryoko announced her resignation from competitive judo on Friday, leaving behind a sport that had made her wealthy, famous and one of Japan's most beloved athletes. She is without a doubt made her country's most successful international competitor, with a career record of two Olympic gold medals, two silvers and a bronze and 7 world championships.

As she said her goodby to judo, at least as a professional athlete, television networks showed just her face. They did not pull back to show who was sitting next to her as she announced her retirement.

It was left to the morning papers to reveal that as she gave her farewell, to her right sat a grim Ozawa Ichiro.

"What was he doing there?"

Ozawa ostensibly had a reason to be present at the resignation ceremony. It was he who had personally wooed Tani, convincing her to become an at-large party candidate for the Democratic Party of Japan for the election. It was he who pushed her to the forefront of the July 2010 House of Councillors election campaign, making her one of the party's main "faces." It was for his party leadership campaign that she had worked so tirelessly, traveling seemingly everywhere with him -- all of which kept her from the dojo, where she needed the practice time. It was because of and for him that she simply was no longer capable of putting in the hours necessary to be a world-class athlete -- not to mention the mother of two very young children.

Nevertheless, Ozawa's presence, seated directly beside Tani on dais, still resonates oddly. Tani Ryokyo is an adult. When she accepted the invitation to run for the office, she had the responsibility to herself and to the nation to have know that she was making a major commitment -- one that would involve sacrificing something. That she did not have a clue about this reality was evident -- her comments that she intended to represent Japan at the 2012 Games in London earned her a flood of scorn from the members of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party.

Ozawa's presence at her farewell press conference made it seem in some senses that he was taking responsibility for her having to leave the world of judo behind, when the decision and the responsibility should have been hers.

The picture jars in another way as well. When Ozawa ran for the leadership of the DPJ against Kan Naoto, he promised that if he lost he would fade away and become a common foot soldier for the party. At a reception after his defeat, he told a crowd of his supporters that "Mr. Kan told me I should be quiet, but I went ahead and made a lot of noise. Now I am going to be quiet." In the interim, the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution decided that Ozawa should be indicted for crimes linked to accounting irregularities at his Rikuzankai political funding organization.

Given these promises it was hardly wise, for his political future and for Tani's, for him to show up at a press conference, sit on the dais, then push reporters away wanting to ask him questions about his current predicament -- especially on the very day his lawyers had filed a lawsuit suit against the prosecution for exceeding its mandate. His hasty exit from the press conference after some brief laudatory comments for Tani, insisting he had to go as "he had his public duties to attend to" (komu no tame), was just more fodder for an unfriendly press corps.

Whatever his intentions, the appearance of Ozawa at Tani's side was not going to be portrayed as an expression of remorse for having robbed Japan of its greatest international sportswoman. Instead, it would be read as though he was asserting that he had taken over Tani's life. His looming presence reinforced an impression -- one that the press loves to foster -- that Tani is not so much a member of the DPJ as a member of the Ozawa Group and that he was there because she was his.

Not exactly the attitude or image of a common foot soldier, this.

Of course, no one expected Ozawa to fade into the background, becoming a simple member of the Diet of no special standing, even though he holds no official title (he flatly rejected the title of Senior Advisor to the party when it was offered to him). He continues to enjoy the loyalty and support of members like Tani whom he enticed into dropping their careers in favor becoming Diet legislators.

Nevertheless, the press presents the image that he owes it to the party -- particularly the members of the government who have been tying themselves in knots trying to defend his not resigning or being expelled from the DPJ, not appearing to give testimony sworn or unsworn about himself in the Diet, not even appearing before the toothless Diet Ethics Committee -- to stay in complete seclusion (actually, they believe he owes it to the nation to resign from the Diet). His popping out of the background to appear at one of the most important sports announcements imaginable just feeds the appetite of the newspapers.

That he did not restrain himself from appearing at the press conference is due also to the fact he has some 150 members in his Group -- 150 Tanis, if you will -- at his disposal. His loss in the leadership race and his imminent indictment have shaken the loyalty of some of the members of his group. However, most are likely still loyal to the man -- though not perhaps as visibly and as seemingly deeply as Tani is. Ozawa still can use the possibility he might leave the party together with his followers -- or the threat he might join forces with the Hatoyama Group to form a huge anti-mainstream bloc in the party -- to prevent the party leadership from dealing with him as they would any other common party foot soldier with huge political funding problems.

So though he has sworn he would become unobtrusive, Ozawa remains in the picture.

Image courtesy: Tokyo Shimbun.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Don't Look At Us

As regards the Chinese protests on Saturday, the Chinese national government has phoned in with its own protest.

China calls on public to express patriotism rationally
Kyodo News

BEIJING, Oct. 17 - The Chinese government called on the public to express patriotism rationally and in line with the law Sunday in the wake of sometimes violent protests against Japan the previous day over a territorial dispute.

"We maintain that patriotism should be expressed rationally and in line with law. We don't agree with irrational actions that violate laws and regulations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement issued in the early hours of Sunday and carried by China's state-run Xinhua News Agency...
You have to admit, when a government supposedly as tyrannical and ruthless as China's is reduced to imploring members of the public to act rationally and obey the laws of the land, you are entirely in your right mind to be concerned about the power of said government to maintain control over anti-Japanese thought and action.

What is it that the proverb says is so difficult about riding the tiger? By trying to outdo its netizen patriots in ramping up the territorial hysteria last month, the Chinese government may be finding out.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Chinese Demonstrations

Though the outcome was not necessarily inevitable, it is unsurprising.

In what looks like nice weather, a whole lot of Chinese gathered together in groups today to protest Japan's effective control of the Senkaku Islands. The demonstrators shouted anti-Japanese slogans and called for boycotts of Japanese goods. An Ito-Yokado store in Chengdu lost its front windows.

So much for a winding down of tensions after the Kan-Wen meeting on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting in Brussels.

To be fair, Japan's right wingers got in their licks in first, with a demonstration two weeks ago in Shibuya decrying the Japanese government's lack of spine in releasing with the Chinese fishing boat captain accused of ramming two Japanese Coast Guard vessels. They had a repeat performance near the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo today.

However, today's spontaneous and window-smashing demonstrations in Chengdu, Hangzhou and other cities -- as well covered by the national media as the Shibuya demonstrations of two weeks ago and today's were ignored -- will feed into the growing Japanese populist narrative that the Chinese have lost all sense of proportion, that they have become drunk with power and self-righteousness.

However, before anyone mouthes off about the special character of anti-Japanese feeling in China and its official sanction as special root causes of the demonstrations and the outbreak of violence, there should be an admission that the formation of instant mobs seeking redress for some wrong is a chronic feature of modern China. There are demonstrations of this kind, many descending into violence, on matters regarding land control, food safety, political corruption and the like. Mob activity is therefore not necessarily indicative of a particularly strong anti-Japanese feeling.

Mob actions in China should also be seen as the physical expressions of what were out-oud wishes or off-the-cuff remarks of Communist Party leaders. In attacking Japanese possessions inside China, members of the public are reconfirming locally the threats that leaders such as Premier Wen Jiabao made on the national level.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The 25 Minute Blink

It may not sound like much a of summit meeting -- a 25 minute impromptu meeting in the hallway outside the main dining room at the ASEM Summit -- but the face-to-face meeting between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao represents a significant diplomatic victory for the Japanese side.

I tend to agree with Peter Ennis of Dispatch Japan that the Japanese government succeeded in getting pretty much all it could hope for out of the confrontation with China over the arrest of the Chinese fishing boat captain near the Senkaku Islands.

- Make the Chinese government look like an out-of-control freight train? Check.

- Call into question who is running the show in Beijing? Check.

- Nudge the United States into stating unequivocally that the defense of the Senkaku Islands would be covered by the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements? Check.

- Have the captain freed by a minor functionary, making it possible for the Japan's political leaders to claim (implausibly, it is true) that they had nothing to do with the decision? Check.

- Have the minor functionary read off a list of completely nonsensical reasons for taking the action he was taking, making it absolutely clear that he was reading something someone higher up (Where? Who knows?) wrote up for him to read? Check.

However, the Japanese government did lose out on one extremely important request that it made early on -- that there be immediate high level talks between leaders in Tokyo and Beijing in order to defuse the situation. That request, made by Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, was utterly ignored by the Chinese side. Amongst all the ratcheting up of tensions, mostly on the Chinese side of the ledger, the failure to have its appeal for high level talks honored was the one turning point in the drama where the Japanese side could truly be said to have lost face.

Hence the importance of today's meeting in the hallway between Kan and Wen. The Japanese side went to Brussels without anything in the bag -- only a vague sense of China's intention to improve relations. Securing a high-level bilateral meeting, even under the most restrained of circumstances, plugs a huge hole in Japan's credibility after its valiant climbdown from its dangerously out-of-control confrontation with China last month.

Whether the domestic media, particularly the weekly magazines, which have gone berserk over Japan's supposed humiliation by China, give the government a thimblefull of credit for at last receiving what it had asked for at the very beginning of the crisis, is, of course, highly doubtful.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Ozawa Ichiro Indicted

As this is being typed, the representatives of the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution are tacking up the indictment the committee has handed down against Ozawa Ichiro in the case involving misleading entries in the 2004 and 2005 reports of his fundraising group the Rikuzankai.

Here group dynamics, legal behavior and facts meet in conflict. Prosecutors have twice declined to indict Ozawa, certain that they could not make the direct connection between the entries in the books made by his subordinates and any direct order from Ozawa himself. Having once overruled the Prosecutors Office's judgment, the committee has decided to stick with its earlier request to indict, this even though the committee has new members without a personal stake in the original decision.

Has Ozawa's career in politics been fried on a fluke decision of a group of randomly picked citizens? For now, it seems that answer to that question is yes. He will certainly have to fade from the foreground as he prepares for his trial, at which he is almost certain to be found not guilty.

As for the DPJ, it will suffer minimal damage from this turn of events. The Cabinet is entirely free of Ozawa Group members and even the lesser political positions have only a sprinkling of his followers in them. Without their leader in full, unencumbered command, Ozawa's people are going to have to hew more steadily to the main party line of moderation and caution in matters political and fiscal.

Still, the stain of indictment will be fodder for those in the opposition who wish to avoid real issues and continue bashing the DPJ on "money and politics" issues. Look for grandstanding today, tomorrow and through the week on an issue where in any sane world, the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party should keep its mouth shut.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hatoyama Family Trivia - To Russia With Love

This one is for those who believe that sharing genes and living quarters with our parents tends to make us into our parents.

Hatoyama Kiichiro, the eldest (34) son of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, has just published a book in Russian on the traffic circulation problems of Moscow. In so doing he neatly recalls both his grandfather (and former prime minister) Hatoyama Ichiro's strong desire for normalized ties with Russia and his father's Stanford doctorate in systems engineering.

We are not individuals, beads on a string. We are continuums.

Over-active Memories of China's Past

If one is left scratching one's head as to why the Chinese government's dispute with Japan went straight from lowly fishing captain with an anger management issues to the premier of the China making open threats, it is possibly best to remember that Chinese tend to have long memories...and that what the Chines government is thinking about is not just the government's loss of control over the anti-Japanese rioting to self-organizing groups of citizens in 2005 but the humiliating and costly aftermath of the Taiwan Punitive Expedition of 1874 -- where the Qing Dynasty's failure to step up and respond to a Japanese assertion of sovereignty in the Western mode led to the loss of China's claims on the territory of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus -- modern day Okinawa Prefecture.

The total failure of 1874, where the Qing Dynasty somehow maneuvered itself into accepting the premise that the government of Japan had the right to

1) take punitive action on behalf of Ryukyuans as if Ryukyuans were citizens of Japan,
2) invade nominally Chinese territories in order to pacify nominally Chinese subjects

still stings...and the Japanese assertion of sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands and the EEZ around it is salt in that lingering wound.

What we have is the George Santayana admonition ("Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it") in reverse. By remembering the past -- the Qing government's repeated blunders arising from its lack of appreciation of assertions of sovereignty under the Westphalian system and the violence protests of 2005 -- the present Chinese government has over-reacted, creating a no-win situation featuring a too vigorous assertion of sovereignty under the prevailing international system.

By far the best solution for the Chinese government would have been to wash its hands of the situation, claiming that whatever happened to the captain was his problem and without implications as regards the Senkakus dispute. By asserting that its fishing ship captains can do whatever they want wherever they want, however, the Chinese government has positioned itself into being the defender of international hooliganism. By escalating the dispute to cover all Sino-Japanese relations, they have telegraphed that their rise to power has come without a commensurate increased sense of proportion.

Such is the fate of those who remember too well the slights and failures of yesteryear and who live in fear of the judgment of their own people.

It's All Right To Go All Tokugawa Romantic But Not When Someone Bangs Up Two Coast Guard Ships

Could somebody please pull this poor fellow aside and help him understand that the Sinocentric international relations system that brought peace and stability to East Asia during the Qing Dynasty/Tokugawa Period:

1) had a focus in Beijing on the nomads of the West, always striving to keep them from sweeping in and ravaging China's western borderlands

2) endeavored to keep European imperial expansion to the north and the south at arms' length

3) ignored resource exploitation in the seas around China as a fundamental challenge of international relations

None of which are true anymore and are sort of significant, especially item #3.

Oh, yes, and could somebody ask the police to keep an eye on this poor fellow's house? He is a professor of Chinese Studies and he published this bit of let's-not-dwell-on-what-we-consider-our-sovereign-territory idealism in what is a widely read newspaper.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It Just Gets Worse and Worse -- for China

Now it seems that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will forgo a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Kan Naoto on the sidelines at the UN General Assembly because of the fishing boat captain dispute.

When you have to play "the prime minister will not be meeting you" card, you are signaling to the world you are out of options and have no winning strategy. You always meet, even if only to deliver a finger-wagging condemnation.

As the Chinese government has played its hottest peaceful civilian political card -- what is the next step? A kidnapping/arrest of a Japanese vessel's captain and then an exchange of detainees? Sending the Chinese Navy in force into the Economic Exclusion Zone around the Senkaku Islands?

Later - Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, Chinese analysts do not share my perception of the situation at all.

Well, at least we know now the kind of advice the Chinese government has been receiving.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Tsuribaka Nicchu* Thinking on the Kan Government Versus China

What strikes me as most the dangerous aspect of the escalating crisis in Sino-Japanese relations over one damn fishing boat captain is the pitting of one supremely confident civilian government in total control of how the situation is being viewed in its country against a supremely inconfident government of a potentially trigger happy nation, trying through escalation of rhetoric and the cessation of normal relations to stay ahead of the emotions of its citizenry, all whilst fighting off seeming freelance patriotic behavior by internal rivals hoping to seize part of the foreign policy agenda.

There are only hints, of course, that foreign policy freelancing is going on the Chinese side, beyond the free expression of outrage of the millions of self-appointed Internet patriots and their minuscule public demonstrations. I can see the movement of drilling equipment to the Chunxiao platform and the canceling of airline and coal talks as having a strong tit-for-tat quality. However, they seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the maintenance of public order and the safety of Japanese persons and property in China -- which is the main interest of the Chinese civilian government. As a consequence, one has to wonder what forces are really behind these actions.

This all seems like a promotional event for the new SIPRI paper's conclusions and yet another of Gordon Chang's "we are all doomed" explanation of Chinese political behavior -- one that, unfortunately, this time, might be absolutely on the money.

* Tsuribaka Nisshi is a long running serial (20 installments) about two fishing mad buddies and their adventures.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lightning Strikes Twice

One has to wonder at the luck of Kan Naoto.

He wins the prime ministership and support for his Cabinet soars, twice, each time after having slain the same dragon -- Ozawa Ichiro and his purported political dark arts.

I am not sure that Kan can count on a third rise and defeat of the Ozawa Menace as a means of bolstering his Cabinet's standing with the public. As a consequence he and his reshuffled Cabinet will have to start piling up accomplishments, not just be caught up in the midst of elections, as the previous incarnation of the Cabinet was for the entire three months of its existence.

The intervention in the currency markets was a good start. May there be more decisive and even pigheaded actions ahead...though pigheadedness might not be the wisest course of action in the burgeoning fishing boat captain crisis.

Funny, the last time Kan faced a serious problem where his hands were needed to steady the tiller (a problem he created when he mentioned the possibility of having to raise the consumption tax to rebalance Japan's fiscal situation) he unfortunately could not stick around because he had to jet off to Canada for the G8/G20 meetings -- creating a vacuum in Tokyo, allowing the crisis to spiral out of control.

This time around Kan is scheduled to fly to UN General Assembly only days after naming a new Cabinet, with China suddenly pushing its foot to the floor, precipitating a rapid decline in the Japan-China relationship.

Let us hope that the Chinese know what they are doing -- because with the PM, his entourage and the foreign policy team all at the UN, there will be nobody of consequence comfortably manning the telephones in Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki.

In case the Chinese do not know what they are doing, let us hope that things work themselves out without direct intervention by anyone -- or that when Kan meets his Chinese counterparts in New York, they cut a serious/devious deal. For an interesting discussion of what the contours of a deal could look like, go to the dialogue Okumura Jun is having with Sun Bin over at Global Talk 21.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

More on the New Numbers

As The Japan Times reports, the Kyodo poll asked a nasty question larded with anti-Ozawa sentiment, to see if the subjects would bite. For the most part, they did.

How to describe the cant of this following question -- the mind boggles.

"In reshuffling his Cabinet, the larger number of Prime Minister Kan Naoto's picks were of members of the Diet who keep Ozawa at a distance. Do you see this decision as valuable?"

Valuable 67%
Not valuable 25%
Don't know 8%

Some 70% of those polled said that had high hopes for the tenure of Okada Katsuya as Secretary-General. Seemingly the general populace is unaware that Kan had to really struggle to get others in the party to agree to accepting Okada as secretary-general and that among DPJ members he is perceived as something of a lone wolf -- not exactly the best initial news about the person who has to be in charge of keeping all the various groups of the party happy.

Finally, lest the opposition Liberal Democratic Party not be forgotten, President Tanigaki Sadakazu reshuffled his party's core leadership on September 9, naming Ishihara Nobuteru Secretary-General; Koike Yuriko, the archetypal "wandering albatross" of Japanese politics the chairman of the LDP's General Council; and reappointing Ishiba Shigeru as the head of the Policy Research Council.

Asked by the Kyodo pollsters whether it thought these changes in the LDP's core leadership worthwhile, the public was highly solicitous:

Value the apppointments 56%
Don't value the appointments 36%
Don't know 7%

Not exactly the same numbers the DPJ is pulling down but nothing to be ashamed of, especially when one is in the opposition.

What the appointment of these three youngish (all are in the 50s), sharp-tongued, telegenic figures means is that we will likely be witnessing TV sound bite warfare in the autumn extraordinary session of the Diet and more of the same next year in the regular session of the Diet.

Twisting times lie ahead.

The New Numbers

As is its wont, Kyodo has a run a poll immediately after the reshuffle of the Kan Cabinet and the selection of a new core leadership group for the Democratic Party of Japan. The public relations effects of the election campaign with Ozawa Ichiro, Ozawa's crushing defeat in the September 14 election and the selection of a strong Cabinet packed with Kan allies in high positions seem to have filled the populace with the sense of confidence about the prime minister.

Cabinet support (September 9-10 results in parenthesis)

Support 64% (55%)
Do not support 21% (32%)

What is really exciting about these figures is not just the turnaround -- the support levels of the previous Cabinet having dipped down to 32% in mid-July -- but that the new support level is higher than the initial support level of the first Kan Cabinet, which was 62%. Not even Koizumi Jun'ichiro, who saw his support soar, plummet, then soar again, managed to surpass his initial support level.

Support for the DPJ has also risen again, reaching a new high for the year, with the support of other major centrist and rightist parties for the most part dwindling.

DPJ 40% (38%)
LDP 22% (24%)
Your Party 9% (11%)
New Komeito 5% (4%)
Communist 2% (3%)
SDP 2% (1%)
PNP lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)
Sunrise lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)
New Party Nippon lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)
New Renaissance lss thn 1% (lss thn 1%)

When you are being outgunned by the top party by nearly two-to-one, the chances of your calling for a dissolution of the Diet and a House of Representative election is likely to So I do not foresee the LDP or the Your Party to be making too much in the way of "We need an election!" speeches. Not at least until those support numbers start coming down.

As for what interests the populace, it remains the economy-the economy-the economy. When subjects were asked to pick the top two issues the new Cabinet should be focusing its energies upon, the answers were:

Economic and employment measures 55%

Administrative reform, particularly the clean-up of wasteful spending 39%

Fortify the social welfare system, including reform of the pension system 27%

Reform of the civil service system, including the banning of amakudari 15%

Fiscal restructuring 10%

Fundamental reform of the tax system 9%

"Politics and money," particularly the banning of corporate political donations 7%

Foreign policy and security issues 7%

Transfer of authority from bureaucrats to politicians 5%

Reform of the constitution 1.5%

Note the tiny number for foreign policy and national security. Even with the supposedly looming threats of a nuclear-armed North Korea and an aggressive Chinese assertions of authority in maritime areas near Japan, the foreign policy brief gets less than half the interest of banning amakudari practices. As for the postwar bugbear of Japan reforming its constitution to become a major player in world politico-security arena -- well, my friends, the numbers are just not there.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Miller Light Lite Election

Once upon a time in America, an advertising executive had an unenviable task: how to make customers feel enthusiastic about or ever remember what was, basically, watered-down beer. In a stroke of genius, the ad executive came up with a solution: have a heated showdown between two hyper-partisan groups arguing over differing attributes of the product. "Tastes great!" one side would holler. "Less filling!" the other side retort. And so it would go on, louder and louder -- "Tastes great!" "Less filling!" "Tastes great!" -- without resolution.

While nonsensical -- two sides coming nearly to blows over a product they both liked -- the campaign created an immense brand awareness. It furthermore bored into the brains of those watching the ads that there was something in this product worth the fighting for.

In Japan right now, we are seeing an echo of this strategy in the contest for leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan. The two antagonists are between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Ozawa Ichiro, the two candidates for the party leadership. The product is the DPJ itself, with the antagonists each yelling out at each other differing aspects of the DPJ's main political and philosophical elements. "We will not lie to you!" yells one. "We will not pass the bill for our actions on to future generations!" shouts the other. "We will push decision making down to the local level!" chuffs one. "We will create a central control mechanism for coordinated national planning!" screams the other.

Normally when you have two politicians haranguing in this manner, the pair are from two different parties, each of them flinging at the public what is distinctive about his or her party's platform. However, both Kan and Ozawa are from the same party and what they are arguing over -- if you want to call it that -- is differing aspects of the DPJ.

The first element of genius of this passionate display of party disunity is that in the high-volume dispute between the two men the voices or even the existence of Japan's other parties -- the actual, real opposition -- are being smothered. No one can recall the last time anyone has asked Tanigaki Sadakazu, president of the Liberal Democratic Party -- which won big time in the July elections, thank you very much -- his opinion of anything except the exciting Kan-Ozawa battle. When was the last time anyone saw the leader of the New Komeito, the party that supposedly holds the key to the passage of legislation in the Diet, appearing on television?

The second and crucial bit of genius displayed by this campaign -- which, when one considers the amount of coordination between the schedules of the two men that is allowing them to appear together on television and in public, must be a decidedly less-than-totally-antagonistic affair -- is how deeply the policies of the DPJ are being drilled into the brains of the Japanese people. Whether it is Kan or Ozawa who prevails, the voters are going to be fully briefed on what the party hopes to achieve in the upcoming year, both in the extraordinary fall session and the regular winter-spring sessions of the Diet. With the various proposals very much in the public's mind due to this intense campaign, opposition parties may find it very difficult to oppose what the DPJ proposes, this despite opposition control of the House of Councillors. The public will be looking for action on employment, on the transfer of control from bureaucrats to politicians, on reworking the relationship between the central government and the local governments -- and largely within the binomial framework being outlined by Kan and Ozawa in their debates. For the most part, opposition will be forced to deal with the hands that the DPJ has dealt them, rather than being able to bring their own ideas to the table.

So the battle rages, with paradoxically but quite reasonably, the DPJ the big winner.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Does The Public Care About The 2009 Manifesto?

One of the major pillars of candidacy of Ozawa Ichiro to be leader of the Democratic Party of Japan is his stated faith that the party has lost its way. By pulling back from the promises that it made to the public in the 2009 party Manifesto, the DPJ has lost the public's trust and in such faces ruin. He insists that when he is elected party leader, he will return the DPJ to its true path of fulfilling the promises made in the run up to the August 2009 House of Representatives election, reviving the party's strength.

While the DPJ did sweep to power on a wave of public enthusiasm about what the party could do for the country, does the public really care about the exact promises made in the 2009 Manifesto?

Not according to the polls, they do not.

In the Kyodo News poll released on August 29, 2010, pollsters asked members of the public about specific programs listed in the DPJ's Manifesto - whether they felt the program should be carried out absolutely, carried out to a certain extent (aru teido ni) or not carried out at all.

The result of their questions were:

Supplemental child support payments

Absolutely 20%
To a certain extent 42%
Should not be carried out 35%

Income supplement payments to farm households

Absolutely 23%
To a certain extent 49%
Should not be carried out 17%

Removing the tolls from the nation's expressways

Absolutely 14%
To a certain extent 30%
Should not be carried out 52%

Cancellation of the temporary levy on gasoline

Absolutely 30%
To a certain extent 38%
Should not be carried out 23%

In every case except the removal of tolls from the nation's expressways (a really unpopular idea, the reason being that the expressways' outstanding debts would have to be nationalized) the indication is that the public is most often lukewarm about pretty much every one of DPJ's campaign promises and would be more happy if they were only carried out only partway.

Similarly, the Mainichi Shimbun, in its poll published on August 30, 2010, asked members of the public about the implementation of the promises made in the 2009 Manifesto. The pollsters asked:

"Inside the DPJ, in the face of a severe fiscal situation, there are those who are of the opinion that the Manifesto should be revised showing some flexibility while others are of the opinion that the Manifesto must be carried out strictly. What do you think?"

The responses were:

Should be revised showing some flexibility 70%
Should be carried out strictly 27%

So why Ozawa continues to bang on about carrying out the promises of the 2009 Manifesto when the public is not particularly interested in them is beyond me. Perhaps he cannot divest himself of the principle that a politician should above all avoid the appearance of having been lying. The public has only a moderate attachment to the promises made to them in 2009. These were promises made by politicians, after all -- and the public, after 53 years of LDP rule -- is not naive about what a politician's promise is worth.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Japan's Presidential Election

Japan is a parliamentary democracy, with the Emperor as titular head of state. That being said, the country is suddenly slambang in the midst of a presidential election. There are two candidates, each with a distinct ideological cant and consequent distinct set of policy prescriptions. Both have their core supporters who will vote for them come hell or high water, leaving the pair battling, quite publicly, for the allegiance of undecided voters. Unlike battles of the old days, where intra-party clashes were solved with promises of Cabinet and party posts or even exchanges of cash, the successful candidate in this election likely have to win the affection of those with the votes capable of putting him over the 50% line. To capture these hearts and minds, both candidates are taking to the airwaves. Prime Minister Kan Naoto was on the 9 p.m. evening NHK newscast last night; tonight it will be his challenger Ozawa Ichiro's turn.

This is what political realignment a la Japonaise looks like, folks.

On the one side of the ledger is Ozawa. He leads the fundamentalist wing of the party, those who believe that the party's fate and future are indelibly written down in the party Manifesto of 2009. Either the party follows through on what it promised, or it is finished, seems to be the belief.

There is, of course, a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg problem here. Ozawa personally recruited many of the candidates who following the election are now the members of his camp. He was also the final decision maker on what got into the 2009 Manifesto. To what extent his supporters' faith in the Manifesto comes from Ozawa's having been the 2009 Manifesto's primary author and where Ozawa's championing of the 2009 Manifesto makes him the candidate worthy of his supporters's support, is a question nobody really wants to ask.

On the other side of the ledger are the revisionists and their standard bearer Kan, known from the very first days of the party as "the pragmatic one." Kan voters are the members of the DPJ who believed from the outset that the 2009 Manifesto was provisional - a nice collection of mutually incoherent ideas that taken together could attract enough votes to the DPJ's candidate to win the party control of the country. Seen negatively, these DPJ members saw the Manifesto as facetious, a largely cynical means of fooling traditional Liberal Democratic Party voters and the undecided into abandoning the familiar and accommodating Liberal Democratic Party and instead trying out the Democratic alternative. Once in power, however, the revisionists knew thet DPJ would have to water dowm most the promises made in the Manifesto on the grounds that they were either fiscally irresponsible or simply illogical.

Currently the revisionists control the government and the party, holding virtually all the major posts. Their hold is tenuous, or more tenuous than it should be, due to Kan's having been suckered by the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Finance into talking about raising the consumption tax -- a not terribly unpopular plan now, but a few months ago political poison -- on the eve of the House of Councillors election. When the party did unusually poorly in that election, the fundamentalist wing found themselves with the ammunition necessary to attack Kan and his followers for having sunk the party's fortunes, losing the supposedly vital prize of coalition control of the House of Councillors.

That the battle for the House of Councillors probably had been lost months earlier, at a time when the fundamentalists themselves largely held control, due to the fecklessness of their prime minister Hatoyama Yukio and his and Ozawa's myriad legal troubles, has been neatly swept under the rug.

There is much good news to be found in this new-style presidential battle.

First, the battle is between centrist views. What Ozawa and the DPJ fundamentalists are insisting must happen is not radical change -- merely a reversion to the promises that the party has already made to the voters, ones which the voters ostensibly ratified in 2009 by their voting so many Democrats into office.

The revisionists, for their part, are not asking for a complete rollback of all of the DPJ's 2009 promises. What they are requesting is that the party be realistic, fulfilling promises to the extent that is justifiable both politically and fiscally.

Second, the battle is being fought out in the open over policy rather than in the private rooms of high-class restaurants over spoils. There are two crystal clear policy platforms, with little or no prevarication over what certain words mean or do not mean in terms of the election. Furthermore, although there is no direct voting, there is a huge chunk of vote -- 300 points for the party members and 100 points for local assemblymen -- will fall one way or the other depending expressions of public satisfaction or dissatisfaction with one candidate or the other.

Third, this is not a life-or-death struggle for the DPJ. The persons who have aligned themselves with Kan, the party moderates and fiscal conservatives, survived and even thrived under three years of Ozawa's leadership of the party. They thrived under the puppet prime ministership of Hatoyama Yukio. They are not going to bolt the party just because Ozawa is in charge again.

As for the Ozawa supporters, while they are fanatical in some senses, they are not stupid. Most are from marginal districts where the voters could just as soon switch back to voting for the LDP in the next House of Representatives election, as they did in this year's House of Councillor's election. Jumping ship with Ozawa following an Ozawa defeat could easily mean a quick fall into political irrelevance and electoral defeat.

Both sides in the presidential race, both fundamentalist and revisionist, furthermore cling to a main branch of mainstream DPJ philosophy. To the fundamentalist's credit, they hold fast to the belief that promises mean must something, that a pledge to the public is not just a tool to be discarded once the election is over.

The revisionists believe, on the other hand, that promises have to be grounded in a finite reality -- that one cannot promise one's resources, both financial and political, to one interest group, then turn around and promise those same resources to another group. They believe in tradeoffs: that one must sell sacrifice and offer promises in equal measure. In this, they have the support of the vast majority of the public, who when asked about the promises in the 2009 Manisfesto, would be satisfied if they were honored "to a certain extent" (aru teido ni).

Both of these line of thought -- that one must keep one's word to the people and one must limit one's promises to the achievable -- are part of the core set of founding principles of the Democratic Party. Even now they serve a useful contrasts between the values of the DPJ and those of its predecessor in power, the Liberal Democratic Party.

So when one sees quotations about the closeness of the Democratic Party is to fissioning, one should know that it will not be along ideological lines. Some agitators within the party's ranks may talk about unbridgeable differences. Such comments, however, should be viewed as merely the individual in question stuffing whatever comes to mind into the voracious maw of the media beast.

Moreover, while the image of some of the members of the revisionist camp may seem to be rigid "my way or the highway" types, they are for the most part patient, somewhat older members of the party, willing to bid their time after a reversal of fortune. They know that in politics what goes up must come down. Ozawa's allies and followers, while numerous, are for the most part decidedly lesser politicians than those in the anti-Ozawa camp. While the pro-Ozawa partisans will be insufferably triumphant in early days following an Ozawa victory, their own shortcomings and inadequacies will soon compell the party leadership to call upon the talents of the party's competent anti-Ozawa first-stringers.

The wild card in this presidential race and its aftermath is, of course, that one of the candidates is Ozawa Ichiro, Japan's least popular politician. If Ozawa prevails in the intra-party contrast, the populace at large will feel at least a sense of letdown, if not out-and-out disgust. The election as virtual president, not of the DPJ but, as Kan relentlessly points out, the nation, of a man who is broadly mistrusted and disliked, will likely leave the populace feeling cheated, no matter how legitimately the election is carried out under party rules.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Ozawa Goes For It

One can find English language accounts of Ozawa Ichiro's decision (as if, in a less-than-half-an-hour meeting, there was any internal debate on Ozawa's part) to proceed with his campaign against Kan Naoto's leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan here and here.

By far the best account, however, comes from Paul Jackson at The Diplomat. Ozawa's windup to his announcement of his decision to take on Kan was indeed "seemingly interminable," a stultifying 1283 characters of the most obtuse polite language, dragging along until finally reaching its spirit-crushing climax, "It has come to the point where I decided to do this thing known as running in the leadership election..." (daihyosenkyo ni shutsuba sure to iu ketsui o shita tokoro de gozaimasu). It was performance that, despite an intention possibly to inform, could only upset an already largely hysterically anti-Ozawa press. Had Japan any equivalent of America's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on any of its networks, the long-winded address would have been the subject of merciless ridicule.

Ozawa's overlong announcement of his decision after a highly abbreviated first meeting of the two power brokers of the same party since the July 11 elections -- a meeting Kan, the Prime Minister of Japan, has been asking for since July 12 -- only burnished the reputation of Hatoyama Yukio, adding "negotiating a settlement between political heavyweights" to the list of things he seemingly cannot do. For a man with a Ph.D. in Systems Operations, Hatoyama has an alarming tendency to miscalculate the way certain combinations of actions will interact and bring about suboptimal outcomes. What he thought he was doing when he invited Ozawa and his retinue of 100 up to the Hatoyama mountain retreat to mingle and drink along his own 60-member group, leading to a tipsy and embarrassing chants of "Kiai da! Kiai da! Kiai da!" ("Now's the moment! Go for it!") by the entire mass -- well, he will have plenty of time to think about it, now that his mediation efforts, turgid as they were, have come to naught.

That Ozawa and Kan will be facing each other directly in a contest for the leadership of the party is a good thing. Under the Liberal Democratic Party, too many selections of prime ministers and Cabinets took place out of the public eye, for reasons of power and money that cheapened the image of the prime minister and the government. Here two competing visions of Japan will clash publicly, as well as two personal political styles and sets of practices.

The terrible news is of course that Ozawa could win this contest. An Ozawa victory would be terrible for the country not because Ozawa is an ogre with policies that will break the nation (he is not) nor a sleazy politician on the verge being made to stand trial for his crimes (as far as anyone can tell, he has no connection to the accounting mistakes of his underlings). It is terrible because he has virtually no support among the public and in the party. In the most recent round of public opinion polls, the highest level of support recorded was 17% of the populace in the Mainichi and Nikkei Shimbun polls. His support level among self-identified Democrats was even lower than in the general population. Despite this, so many Diet members owe him favors that he could win the majority of the points needed for election from them whilst getting gored in the local assembly elections and wiped out in the 300 district elections.

To make matters worse, most of the DPJ's luminaries are in the anti-Ozawa camp. When it would come time for Ozawa to pick a Cabinet, he would be able to induce only a cast of B-list and C-list non-entities with little policy experience and even less political savvy to his side.

In addition, the policies Ozawa insists his leadership of the party will save from Kan's lack of enthusiasm are not all that popular with the public. Most of the promises made in the DPJ's 2009 manifesto engender only weak support, while others -- such as the elimination of tolls on the expressways -- are actively opposed by the majority of the citizens.

The press will have a field day.

The fate of the country thus rests on the shoulders of the Diet's youngest members, many of whom were handpicked by Ozawa to run in their districts. If they vote with not their cerebrums but with their limbic systems, writing down Ozawa's name in fear of upsetting their benefactor, they may be handing the country over to a man the people simply do not want as their leader. Whatever his personal and political attributes, that he will be seen and portrayed as one who taken the reins of the country through a sly manipulation of the DPJ's election rules, against the will of the people.

Trouble with a capital "T" -- to put it mildly.

So while Ozawa may be an elections genius and/or the only person with the ability to push legislation through the Diet due to his purported mastery of deal cutting, it will be a national tragedy if he wins this contest.

When the citizens handed the powers of government over to the DPJ last year, the elation was palpable. The voters, finally and without a doubt, had chosen a government, not had one imposed upon them. An Ozawa victory in the DPJ leadership contest would reverse this huge step forward for the Japanese electorate. It could easily snuff out the still fervent belief that, even after a year of DPJ missteps, the DPJ is the party of the people and the people are sovereign -- and that the people's views, feelings and votes are important.

Later - A belated tip of the hat to Okumura Jun for the link to the Ozawa announcement.

Monday, August 30, 2010

We Would Like To Caveat That

Over at sigma1, Corey Wallace has produced a review of the final version of report of the Council for National Security and Defense Buildup in the New Era (Arata na jidai no anzen hosho to boeiryoku ni kan suru kondankai), the non-partisan, non-bureaucratic advisory commission charged with drawing up an outline for the eventual the National Defense Policy Guidelines (for background see "Japan's National Defense Program Guidelines" and "Preparing for the NDPG", both courtesy of Twisting Flowers). The commissioners delivered their final version of the report to the Prime Minister last Friday (Photo).

Wallace quotes from the English summary, which lays out the basic points in the report. Unfortunately, the summary fails to give a sense of the push and pull that went into the preparation of the report. In particular, the summary fails to mention a big step outward taken in the original draft that subsequently has been largely withdrawn.

The topic in question is Japan's Three Non-Nuclear Principles - i.e. that Japan will not possess, will not produce and will not allow the transit of nuclear weapons over its territory or through its territorial waters (motazu, tsukurazu, mochikomasasezu). Revisions of principles one and two were not on the agenda. However, number three -- non-introduction -- was on the agenda, as a part of Japan's ability to defend itself as a non-nuclear nation surrounded on three sides by nuclear powers (China, Russia and the DPRK, for those keeping score). It seemed odd to the authors of the report that Japan purposefully tie the hands of its ally, the United States, in responding to a threat posed to Japan's security by nuclear weapons, with a principle that American weapons platforms bearing nuclear weapons cannot even transit Japan's territories and territorial waters. It seemed to the commission a daft restriction to place upon an ally, so they wrote:

"For the security of Japan, what is most important is that for those countries possessing nuclear weapons 'that they be forced to not use them.' So for us to unilaterally tie the hands of the United States and the United States only beforehand based upon a principle, is definitely unwise."
As the author of Twisting Flowers surmised back in July, the opening of of a back door for a weakening of the "will not accept the introduction" principle did not survive intact a review by the powers that be inside the Democratic Party of Japan. The sentence above still remains--but it is prefaced now by a declaration:

"Emphasizing, in terms of the three non-nuclear principles of 'Japan will not possess, will not produce and will not allow the transit,' there is no situation compelling a revision for purpose of providing for the security of Japan at this time. However, at the heart of the matter...
So the Three Non-nuclear Principles remain inviolate in the eternal present...but at some future date indescribable except as being the time when applying the Third Principle will seriously damage the U.S. military's ability to protect Japan, the Third Principle will be extremely foolish to obey.

So that's that.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ozawa Ichiro Is Not Popular

As expected, Kyodo conducted a snap telephone poll in response to Ozawa Ichiro's announcement on Thursday he would be challenging Kan Naoto for the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan. Also as expected, Kyodo found that the public really does not think highly of Mr. Ozawa's idea:
69% of Japanese polled prefer Kan to Ozawa as DPJ leader
Kyodo News

A majority of Japanese people polled want Prime Minister Naoto Kan to stay on as leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, far surpassing those who support party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, according to a Kyodo News survey released Saturday.

The telephone survey conducted Friday and Saturday showed 69.9 percent of those surveyed backing Kan in the Sept. 14 DPJ leadership election, compared with 15.6 percent for Ozawa... (
That is really 70% for Kan versus 16% for Ozawa but who is counting? (Pollsters - Ed.)

The eye-opening number in the survey is that among Democratic Party voters Kan is even more popular and Ozawa less popular than amidst the public at large. A little over 82% of self-described Democratic supporters want Kan as the party leader and only 13% are in favor of Ozawa. While there is no such thing as a primary system, where members of local districts elect the candidates the party will be sending to the general election, the lack of support for Ozawa among core Democratic voters will have at least some effect on legislators who are wavering or even leaning toward supporting Ozawa. Nobody wants to discourage the core voters, as one needs their numbers and enthusiasm at election time. This is especially true for those Democratic members of the House of Representatives representing districts that have long been bastions of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Also bringing a crinkly smile to the lips is the dramatic jump in the Cabinet's popularity seemingly in the face of the threat of an Ozawa prime ministership. Two weeks ago support for the Kan Cabinet was at 39%, with the percentage of those not supporting the Cabinet at 45%. A month prior to that support was at 36%, with those not supporting at 52%. From the poll conducted Friday and yesterday, support for the Cabinet has rocketed to 48%, with those not supporting the Cabinet falling back to 36%.

The dramatic shift cannot be all about a fear of Ozawa -- but it sure as hell is mostly about him.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What Remains of His Days

They must come to him at night, standing around him as he awakens from a deep sleep -- or sitting round the table in the great tatami room, translucent and glowing in the darkness. Kajiyama Seiroku, Hashimoto Ryutaro, Okuda Keiwa, Nakagawa Sho'ichi with his head buried in his arms or leaning to one side...and always, at the head of the table or the foot of the bed, a stern, thick-lipped Obuchi Keizo.

Those who were and might have been.

Okuda died first, in 1998, aged 70. Then Obuchi in 2000-- Obuchi whom Ozawa betrayed, breaking up the tripartite LDP-New Komeito-Liberal Party coalition. He suffered a stroke and died two days later -- though his body was kept on a respirator, nominally alive and deteriorating, until the middle of May.

The Prime Minister as vegetable.

He was 62 years old.

Then Kajiyama, his bar code hair straight back and gleaming, died just five weeks after that - at 74 years of age a Methuselah for this group.

Then Hashimoto, horribly of septicemia, in 2006, aged 68.

And of Nakagawa what can be said? An hidden yet well-known alcoholic, never pulled aside to seek treatment for his disease. Disgraced by a drunken episode in Rome in February 2009, he loses his seat in August and in November is dead one knows. No tries to know.

His father committed suicide, but Sho'ichi...

Nakagawa was all of 56 years of age.

Hashimoto, Kajiyama, Obuchi, Okuda...four of the Seven Magistrates of the Takeshita Faction (Takeshitaha shichinin bugyo). Two became Prime Ministers. One became Chief Cabinet Minister, the likes of which has not been seen since. Hashimoto, Obuchi, Nakagawa...who all whom got a head start in their political careers because their fathers' having died young.

Ozawa Ichiro must look at the fates of those like unto him and wonder.

Of the Seven Magistrates of the Takeshita Faction only he, Watanabe Kozo and Hata Tsutomu survive. Watanabe, The Talker, has had so many health issues the television news shows have to put subtitles on for people to make out what he is saying. And Hata, good old faithful Hata, has come out in support of Ozawa's bid even after the way he got burned in 1994.

Of those who jumped the to the head of the line in politics thanks to their father's getting out of the way, surviving are himself, Koizumi Jun'ichiro and Abe Shinzo -- and of them all it is Koizumi, the weirdo, the exception to the rule, who is the only one with nary a thing wrong with him.

Hata, Koizumi and Abe -- all of them have been Prime Minister.

Ozawa Ichiro has watched most of his contemporaries in the political world die off or be felled by health problems far earlier than normal for Japanese citizens. He himself is said to be dogged by ill health, hiding his condition from the public and confederates, taking medical vacations overseas.

He is 68 years of age. His father died at age 69.

Perhaps he has always been not like us. For him, perhaps now more than ever, there is no tomorrow -- there is only today. For those of us with expectations of living into our mid-eighties, his impatience, his willingness to smash the toy he has constructed because it would not do what he wanted it to, smacked of selfishness and conceit.

We see him that way still, and the polls this weekend will likely show our fellow believers are in the tens of millions.

Yet we should stop perhaps and consider what may have gripped him, what may haunt him, what may drive him to simply not care what we think -- that what remains of his days are few, and he seeks and has always sought a glittering prize -- one that decidedly lesser men have seized or had handed to them.

And but for a questionable investigation into a land registration issue that had it been anyone else's problem would have been dealt with by a simple fine and an expression of remorse -- except for this investigation that seasoned and publicity-seeking prosecutors have twice judged pointless to pursue -- the prize would already be his.

No matter what the cost to reputation of the the Democratic Party of Japan, no matter that it will look stupid - three prime ministers resigning in a space of 13 months -- Ozawa is racing the darkness.

We should perhaps judge him in that light.

Photo image: Sunset over the Imperial Palace on August 24, 2010. Photo credit MTC.

Later - This post has been edited for greater clarity