Monday, October 31, 2011

Give Up Now, You've Got Us Surrounded

Kyodo has an interesting story, republished in The Japan Times purporting that the decision on whether or not the government of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will participate in Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations has already been made:

Noda to declare Japan will join TPP at APEC
November meet chosen to signal intent to play key role in FTA talks

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda plans to announce that Japan will join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks during a meeting with his Singaporean counterpart at November's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit, sources said Saturday.

By choosing the APEC summit as the stage for the declaration, Noda will effectively turn Japan's pledge to participate in the TPP negotiations into an international commitment.

And by deciding to declare Japan's policy to Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whose country has from the outset been a key player in the negotiations over the multilateral free-trade accord, Noda is apparently signaling Japan's determination to play a leading role in the talks.

Noda and Lee will hold a bilateral meeting that is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 12, the first day of the summit in Honolulu, the sources said...[
I always have a great deal of skepticism regarding Kyodo News scoops. Kyodo is an entity jointly owned by all of Japan's regional newspapers and as a consequence answers to no one authority.

My antennae really start quivering when a Kyodo story is attributed to "sources" unidentifiable. There is absolutely no way to tell how close these sources are to decisionmakers, save on trust in Kyodo's word that they are, which is not worth very much.

Furthermore, what Kyodo and indeed all the other mainline sources of news get from their sources is not so much scoops as trial balloons -- ideas floated in the media in the hope of influencing opinion.

In this case the opinions that the sources are trying to influence are not those of the public, which has little say in the TPP fight. Instead, the sources here seem to be trying to convince the politicians and interest groups fighting protesting against Japan's joining the TPP talks at this time that their efforts are futile, a decision has already been made, give up.

Unfortunately for the floaters of this trial balloon, the fight over whether the government of Japan can or cannot participate in TPP talks is very much undecided. If Yamada Masahiko's count of the number of DPJ members against an immediate pledge to join TPP negotiations (202 was his latest claim) is even close to accurate, that number with the recent about faces by both the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito on the TPP would guarantee that the Diet would reject any future legislation on TPP accession, whether it be enabling legislation or treaty ratification. Yamada has also warned the DPJ party leadership that if it goes forward with TPP negotiations without forging a consensus in the party aforehand, there will be resignations from the party (Yamada has cannily not said whether or not he would resign or even be an advocate of such resignations).

What we likely have here is less a revelation as a desperate swipe back by the pro-TPP side at the anti-TPP forces, which have been landing all the effective punches of late (ja).

One facet of the Noda government the story does bring up is the seemingly emergent strategy of making commitments at internatioal gatherings, then coming back home and facing down opponents of particular policies with a "Well, it's too late. We have made an international commitment. We will lose face and credibility before the world if we do not stand by our commitment." According to analysts, Finance Minister Azumi Jun used exactly this tactic in pushing forward the Noda government's perilously contractionary plans to reduce Japan's budget deficit.

Whether or not this represents a wise strategy is doubtful. Everyone can remember the firestorm Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio found waiting for him at home after he made his pledge at the U.N. General Assembly that Japan will reduce its carbon emissions by 25% by the year 2020. Industry went bananas, and the Hatoyama government had to waste precious weeks and hours on a crash program of settling whether the Hatoyama pledge was even technically feasible.

Trying to squeeze out your opponents by briging gaiatsu back with you as your omiage seems an incredibly risky strategy. That the cautious Noda would sign off upon such an approach would seem to say volumes about the difficult position the government finds itself in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Olympus scandal seems to undermine Japan's reputation as an economic powerhouse more than any talk about joining the TPP. What kind of difficult position does the government find itself in?