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.