Saturday, June 30, 2012

And Ozawa Ichiro As Moe Greene

Former Democratic Party of Japan leader Ozawa Ichiro has met three times over the last two days with his erstwhile friend in the DPJ leadership Koshi'ishi Azuma, this over Ozawa leading his followers and allies in an open rebellion against the leadership's sponsorship of legislation raising the consumption tax from 5% to 10% by April 2015.

After the first two rounds of talks on Thursday, Ozawa said that if the talks end in failure, he will have to make a grave decision. After the third meeting on Friday afternoon, Ozawa promised he would make the decision one way or the other (presumably he was referring to leaving the DPJ or staying) on Monday.

In terms of the content of the Ozawa-Koshi'ishi discussions, one can say with some degree of confidence that it does not require three meetings and a weekend to deliver an ultimatum.

For that, one meeting would have been more than sufficient.

It does take three meetings and a weekend for a talking-things-over with one's minions for a very arrogant man who thought he was in an impregnable position to come to the realization that he has been made an offer he cannot refuse.

In all the discussions of Ozawa's magic numbers -- whether it is

- the 54 DPJ members he would have to drag along with him out of the party (lest any of his followers have second thoughts about the jump, Ozawa made sure to extort letters of resignation from his supporters, which he keeps stashed in his pocket) to reduce the DPJ to minority status in the House of Representatives

- the 43 42 he would need to lead out of the party in order to form a parliamentary caucus of 51 representatives, the minimum necessary to propose a no-confidence motion. however many billions of yen his followers would need to run credible campaigns in their districts, should elections be held

- the percentages of the public appreciate Ozawa's departing the DPJ with his followers in tow to form a new party [15%, according to The Asahi Shimbun; 16%, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun]

two little problems have been overlooked:

1) the Noda government has established a working, if not exactly cordial, relationship with the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito, and

2) whilst the LDP/New Komeito alliance wants to replace the DPJ/rump PNP as the ruling coalition, it absolutely craves the chance to crush Ozawa once and for all.

Talented amateur player of Go that he is, Ozawa may be a little taken aback to find himself in an impossible position, neither able to cut a deal nor walk away from the table undiminished.

Everything hinges now on pride, whether Ozawa overcomes his, or sends the political world reeling again based upon his confidence in the rightness of his own vision.

Later - The original text of this post contained a number of links, all of which were lost in a software crash at midnight, Tokyo time.

Even later - I confess a certain sympathy with the view expressed by Okumura Jun over in his June 26 post over at GLOBALTALK 21: that Ozawa has lost control of his followers, leading to their redefining on their own what fanatical devotion to him should be.

Friday, June 29, 2012

They Do Not Even Bother Hiding It Anymore

On June 27, the power companies of this blessed land (pax Okinawa) held their annual shareholders' meetings.

At the Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) meeting, Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, speaking as the representative of the company's largest shareholder, the City of Osaka, lambasted the company for pressuring the public into accepting the restart of the Oi #3 and #4 reactors and demanded an end to the company's reliance on nuclear power (E)

At the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) meeting, Tokyo Metropolitan District Vice Governor Inose Naoki, speaking as the representative of the TMD, TEPCO's main shareholder, proposed specific cost cutting measures and urged the new management team to regain the public's trust.

If Hashimoto, who is busy establishing a political party, tearing Osaka's civil service to shreds and fathering (if not exactly raising) children at an impressive rate has time to attend KEPCO's meeting, where was TMD Governor Ishihara Shintaro? Like Hashimoto he had an open microphone, has a serious attitude problem, a gift for the cutting put-down, the nation's full attention and the unquestionable right to speak as the local utility's top shareholder.

Nevertheless he passed on the opportunity to display some serious umbrage, or conversely, go against character to offer some constructive criticism.

Say what one may about Ishihara, at least he had the sense to send to the meeting someone who cares the issues: Inose, his unelected and indispensible subordinate.

On more than one occasion I have called Inose the actual governor of the TMD. What is surprising and telling is that the major news outlets are becoming more bold in portraying Inose as such, at least in terms of imagery. (J)

The Ishihara/Inose partnership has been one of the most peculiar yet productive buddy-buddy acts in local administration. Ishihara is the proudly ignorant bombastic arch conservative writer of junk fiction, still riding on the coattails of his brother Yuji, the archetypal male lead actor of the high-growth era. Inose is the cerebral former 1960s leftist radical turned author of dense studies of the arcana of Japan's economic, bureaucratic and political failings.

Ishihara gets to do the running for office, the ribbon cuttings, the dreaming up of wild schemes (like his plan for the TMD to buy three of the Senkaku islands, a whim saved by Inose's setting up of a bank account where hyper-patriots could send their contributions to the cost of buying the islands) and the insulting of the members of the TMD assembly.

Inose gets to huddle with the bureacrats and planners, working how to provide for the present and the future of the world's richest metropolis, home to 13 million persons and 50 of the globe's 500 largest companies. That Inose never, ever has to beg for votes, think about please campaign contributors or attend single a boring opening ceremony makes his the almost perfect job.

So when one is asked how is it possible that the populace of the TMD, which is not particularly obsessed with the nationalist bugaboos that pump up Ishihara, nor thrilled about his pet megaprojects, has nevertheless elected him governor four times, it is perhaps that for at least the last three elections it has been confident that it is not really electing him the governor. Instead, the people of the TMD have been electing Ishihara the megalomanical circus manager, always dreaming up new, flashy acts, thinking outrageous thoughts out loud, whilst Inose sweats out the details in the big man's penumbra.

That Inose is either emerging from or being forced out of that penumbra begs the question of what happens when Ishihara leaves the arena. Inose has never indicated a wish to run for public office. He seems to lack the personality traits necessary to do so.

Any supporters for the creation of a position of Vice Governor for Life?

Later - Due to an HTML breakdown, the original final paragraphs of this post were somehow erased. The above text is reconstructed from memory.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Of Course I Do

Of course I want to write a contrarian post about the present situation inside the Democratic Party of Japan and the Diet following the House of Representatives vote on the three bills paving the way for a raising of the consumption tax, insulting along the way a whole raft of persons, including:

- Hatoyama Yukio

- Ozawa Ichiro

- Tanigaki Sadakazu

- Yamaoka Kenji

- Watanabe Yoshimi

However, such was the jet lag from my trip that when I sat down at my computer, I could see five objects on the screen when I knew there were only three -- meaning I was in no shape to try to tackle the grand opera performance we folks in the cheap seats are not expected to even think about, much less understand.

Suffice it to say that not all the 57 members of the DPJ who voted against the bills or the 16 members who sat out the vote are necessarily ready to commit political suicide out their love for Ozawa Ichiro. A certain fraction are true believers, with enough brains to figure out what their interests are but incapable of seeing that their dear leader is only using them, alternating between bullying and flattering them, terrifying them into craving his approval. A goodly number, the most senior members of the cabal, have made the journey with Ozawa from party to party -- meaning they are just flunkeys, with scarcely a brain wave disturnbing their cerebellums. There are also idiot-savants like Hatoyama who have such a blind faith in the Doctrine of the Mean that they forget the Texas Rule of Politics: "The only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos."

It should also be remembered that the larger-than-expected number of nay-voters and abstainers may not represent a victory for Ozawa but indeed a failure of the imagination of the prognosticators. Think about it: you are a fence sitter in the DPJ, not tight with Ozawa but not tight with the mainstream leadership either. You have a tough election fight ahead of you. The New Komeito and the Liberal Democratic Party are all in on the vote, meaning it will pass by a huge margin. Why not be on record as an opponent of tax rises?

As for the threat to the cohesion of the DPJ, one cannot threaten that which has never existed. Every voter in 2009 had read what was on the DPJ label -- "Contents do not represent an organized political party, just an organized movement against the LDP. Westministerian-like levels of party discipline will be freakish and brief." (E)

The electorate also knew, because the newspapers, magazines and news programs went over the numbers in excrutiating detail, that the 2009 manifesto was a Potemkin Village, an improbable passel of promises to every possible constituency -- and that electorate was still was willing to grant the DPJ a huge majority in the House of Representatives.

As for Ozawa, he is on trial again. Ostensibly, he should have been stripped of his party privileges upon the refiling of charges against him. That he has not means that the party central leadership can choose to strip him of his privileges, making it impossible for him to run or even vote in the September DPJ leadership election. All those who followed his lead in voting against the legislation could suffer similar, if lesser, trimmings of their wings. If those are not punishments eliminating Ozawa's influence on party affairs, then what are? Recall that Ozawa already ordered an auto-purge of his followers from their government and party positions in April. Without party privileges, the rebels are dead to the party.

So whatever it is that Koshi'ishi Azuma and Ozawa Ichiro will be discussing this afternoon, it is likely not the end of Noda Yoshihiko's world.

Well, So Much For That Eternal Verity

I once issued a definitive proclamation regarding Peter Tasker, a founding partner of Arcus Investments.

It turns out I was wrong.

In his latest opinion piece for the Financial Times, Mr. Tasker has nothing interesting to say (Link).

It seems that sometimes even the best just phone it in.

For a better look at the short-term and mid-term consequences of the consumption tax legislation, read this Bloomberg report (E). Ignore the title (titles on wire service reports are too often misleading) and concentrate on what the analysts are saying about 2013, the election year. The looming threat of a tax rise in April 2014 will likely increase consumption over 2013, stimulating overall economic growth, as companies and individuals pick up big ticket items before the 3% jump in prices. The likelihood that consumers will shell out for goods and services at current prices, staring as they are at whalloping, regressive tax rise in 2014, will likely stabilize prices, nullifying, even if only temporarily, the long-term deflationary trend. Whether the halt in deflation triggers a spike in equities investments, given the sudden crash in real returns on bonds, is a question best put to Naomi Fink, a.k.a the Smartest Person In Tokyo, of Jefferies.

I am not as sanguine as Adam Richards (E), I certainly cannot be convinced that in a world where every country's bond yields are low -- some even lower than Japan's -- and a rock hard yen that is killing exporters, that a tax rise taking a first stab at stabilizing the nation's fiscal health is a really bad idea.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Takin' A Time Out

Shisaku will be on hiatus until June 27.

Amaterasu willin' and the creek don't rise.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What Is The Opposite Of "No News Is Good News"?

- Police catch up with Takahashi Katsuya in a Kamata manga coffee house. (Link - E)

Now come the questions:

Since Takahashi and Kikuchi Naoko successfully reintegrated themselves into society, with Kikuchi serving as a professional eldercare attendant, will a national conversation begin on the possibility of personal redemption, even after one commits heinous crimes?

Will doubt seep in regarding the guilt of the eleven followers of the Aum Shinrikyo sect now sitting on death row, that perhaps their mental competence, when inside the cult, was compromised, preventing them from having the ability to make rational decisions about right and wrong?

Will a discussion arise about the propriety of the death penalty, the issuance of which makes Japan an outlier among OECD countries with similar political and social systems?

- The Ozawa-hostile Shukan Bunshun drops a bomb on top of Ozawa Ichiro. (Link - E)

Ay caramba! Unless the purportedly former Mrs. Ozawa comes forth soon to either authenticate or repudiate the published letter and its contents, we are in for a very tense next few days.

- Oh, and that combined pension and tax systems thing, supposedly on the cliff's edge? The mainstream media is now reporting that an agreement on the sheaf of bills is just awaiting the relevant party officers' signatures -- with the kicker that the New Komeito may part ways with the LDP over the agreement. (Link - J)

Later - As regards the first story and the series of questions I ask, I am not holding my breath. "Hang'em high," has a powerful grip upon the national psyche.

Sengoku Yoshito Continues To Bring Joy To His DPJ Comrades

Despite a reputation of being one of the chief thinkers/heavy hitters of the Democratic Party of Japan (E), former chief cabinet secretary and current Acting President Sengoku Yoshito continues to be his own worst enemy.

The denouement of Sengoku's most recent publicized case of self-wounding came on Tuesday, when the judge in his libel suits against Shukan Shincho and Shukan Bunshun ruled in favor of the defendants.

In January of 2011 both magazines reported that Sengoku had sexually harassed a woman reporter in a 2010 end-of-the-year celebration at the Prime Minister's Residence. Rather than going the smart route of doing nothing, only noting that neither of the publications is a friend of the DPJ and neither is very scrupulous about printing the truth, Sengoku pulled an Oscar Wilde, filing libel suits against the publications, demanding 10 million yen from each.

On Tuesday, the judge ruled that far from being libelous, the accounts of the incident at the Residence were indeed truthful -- that Sengoku had said something to the woman and that that something was sufficiently vulgar and demeaning as to constitute sexual harassment. (J)

So, as of Tuesday, Sengoku is no longer a stumble bum and possibly a cad. He is now a stumble bum and definitely a cad.

Sengoku is considering filing an appeal.

In the meantime, Sengoku -- the DPJ's point man on the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors and the nuclear industry in general-- met yesterday with his counterparts in the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito to finalize the details on the legislation establishing a new regulatory system for the nuclear power industry (J). He is also leading the drafting of the DPJ's new policy manifesto. (J)

Good to see that the DPJ is not entrusting Sengoku, who has a demonstrated tendency to trip over himself, with any important tasks.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The End Game

The Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the only three parties that matter -- a state of affairs so grating to the other parties in the Diet that the three leftist microparties and the one libertarian miniparty are joining hands to protest the "price fixing going on behind closed doors" (J) -- are putting the final touches on a final agreement on the shakai hosho zei ittai kaikaku an, the bills enabling the combined reforms of social security and tax systems. (J)

There are some hurdles standing in the way of the three parties coming to an agreement by the Prime Minister's deadline of June 15. The LDP wants the Noda government to repudiate the DPJ's 2009 manifesto pledge to rewrite pension law so as to guarantee that all pensioners receive a minimun 70,000 yen per month from the national pension plan. The LDP and the New Komeito together want Noda to repudiate the DPJ manifesto pledge to repeal the special eldercare system for persons over 75 years of age, a terribly unpopular and initially confusing program of mandatory healthcare prepayment the two parties sweated blood to pass when they held the reins of government. The three parties are also at loggerheads over what, if anything, they should do to lessen the impact of the imposition of the consumption tax on those person living at or below the poverty line.

Now according to the news noise machine, Prime Minister Noda is desperate and willing to sacrifice the DPJ's identity (E) or prepared to discard policies intrinsic to the DPJ's unity (E) all for the sake of winning the LDP's and the New Komeito's votes in favor of the passage of the bills raising the consumption tax.

Maybe. It depends on what one believes DPJ policies are.

If one takes the simplistic route, that DPJ policies are all the policies listed in the 2009 and 2010 manifestos, then the above assertions are true.

If, however, one takes the position that the policies listed in the 2009 manifesto were the ones Ozawa Ichiro tossed together trying to buy the support of every special interest the LDP, in its internal shift to becoming a modern, urban-based party, had left lying in the dust, without any concern as to whether the resulting program was internally consistent or affordable -- i.e., LIES -- then:

a) the DPJ is a party of lies and liars, and thus their promises are worthless rhetoric, not policies, or

b) the promises made in the 2009 manifesto, which Kan Naoto tried desperately to render more concrete and believable in the 2010 manifesto, were never the policies of the DPJ, just electoral dandruff clinging to Ozawa Ichiro's jacket.

When Ozawa loyalist and true believer Kawauchi Hiroshi wails about the impending deal on the sheaf of bills reforming the pension and tax systems...
"The LDP's proposal is unacceptable. If we were to agree, the DPJ would become the LDP."
...he is not only showing that he is more a courtier than a politician but also a poor student of history. Fiscal consolidation, realistic pension funding schemes and a willingness to sacrifice growth for stability are core policy positions of the original DPJ. These were the principles undergirding the August 2005 party platform, under then party leader, now Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya.

That DPJ co-founder Hatoyama Yukio forgets what he used to believe and defends the 2009 manifesto as holy writ (J) is neither implausible nor particularly significant. Like the White Queen, Hatoyama can believe a half a dozen impossible things before breakfast.

What the representatives of the DPJ, the LDP and the New Komeito are going to be banging heads over today are the remnants of the fight. The DPJ has a rather weaker position due to the PM's having set a deadline. This prevents the DPJ from exercising its ultimate weapon of extending the Diet session, forcing everyone to just sit on their tailbones until the LDP and the New Komeito fall into bickering in between themselves over just who is preventing the passage of their favorite bits of legislation. It should surprise no one that the DPJ has chosen this moment to float a trial balloon for a radical restructuring of both the LDP's and the DPJ's plans to reform the House of Representatives which hews close to what the New Komeito has been proposing and which would mess up the proportional seat voting for the LDP (E) -- just at the moment the LDP is showing strength in that half of the ballot.

All could go haywire at the last moment. Someone could say something untoward about someone else's sister, leading to a termination of negotiations.

All indications are, however, is that what we are seeing is the end game, one where the LDP and the New Komeito will wander away from the table having agreed to have their members vote with the government on a raft of bills, with neither the promise for elections nor the Noda repudiation of Ozawa Ichiro which the two parties had been demanding.

The BOJ's Holding The Line And Why Diet Members Do Not Like It

Someone has finally printed an article in English which defends the Bank of Japan's independence and policies. Predictably, the responsible publication is the Financial Times (E) which as recently as yesterday I was chiding for its tendency to plunge its Japanese interview subjects into hot water.

Amidst all the noise "that the bank should be doing more" it is refreshing to read an article observing that the BOJ is doing all that can be done and still maintain the appellation of "bank." The BOJ is not a berserk ATM responsible for counteracting the incredibly bad fiscal policies of countries around the globe. Since the BOJ cannot succeed in this endeavor it is pointless for the bank to attempt it.

And a cleverly run bank the BOJ is, having posted in fiscal 2011 an unexpected and tidy profit in its bond dealings. (E)

As for reports that Diet members are preparing legislation to rein in the BOJ's independence, regranting the Finance Ministry the powers the MOF lost over the BOJ's policies -- or merely to terrify the BOJ into pre-emptively ceding part of its independence from government interference so as to preserve the larger portion of its independence -- the drafting of legislation is what lawmakers do, whether or not such legislation will have significant effects on the economy's performance or not. (E)

Frankly, noting that legislators are preparing bills with the intention of curbing the BOJ's independence is a little like noting that bonobos have sex. (E)

That legislators would want to be seen as doing something, anything, to arrest deflation is understandable. Deflation, as analyst extraordinaire Naomi Fink recently pointed out, diminishes the willingness of companies to borrow (increasing, as it does, the real interest rate borrowers pay) and hammers the stock markets (by inducing companies to raise funds through the issuance of new equity, diluting the value of the holdings of existing shareholders).

That deflation simultaneously delivers real, nontaxable returns on savings is something legislators possibly do not know, have forgotten or ignore as it has no impact on their being able to hit up corporations into paying for fundraising party tickets or for candidates to win the votes of those who live on the margin and are thus unable to save.

So rather than being about doing something, BOJ bashing seems to be about appearing to be doing something.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Union Is Pulled And The Government Is Better For It

At a cursory glance, I have been going a bit overboard on what a bad idea it is to merge Japan's two systems of childcare (Part I and Part II). I saw the unification of the hoikuen and yochien systems as reform for reform's sake: not offering a clear solution to a problem largely restricted to Tokyo and its bedroom suburbs; certain to spawn rivalries in between the personnel of the forcibly merged systems; and encouraging decay in the regulation covering childcare facilities.

Well, the plan to merge the two systems has been dumped. It is being killed in order to win the Liberal Democratic Party's support for the legislation of the combined reforms of social security and tax systems (shakai hosho zei ittai kaikaku, or ittai kaikaku for short). Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Komiyama Yoko (glaringly the only woman in the Noda Cabinet) has stated she will not fight for the unification. (J)

Now commentators would want us to think that this retreat from the promise made in the Democratic Party of Japan's 2010 Manifesto is a demonstration of the hopeless inability of the DPJ to follow through on its promises.

There is of course, another way of looking the situation: that the sacrifice of this promise and others like it are strategic and cheap -- giving up what have upon reflection been very bad or at least unaffordable ideas (eliminating expressway tolls; the 26,000 yen-a-month child allowance system) in return for what would be difficult-to-obtain cooperation from the LDP and the New Komeito on significant reforms, many of which the LDP and the New Komeito were too cowardly to impose upon the country when they held power.

Prime Minister Noda should therefore send gift sets to former party leaders Ozawa Ichiro and Kan Naoto, thanking them for stuffing the 2009 and 2010 manifestos with so many expendable promises.

Of The Financial Times And Japan

I love the Japan team of the Financial Times. Mure Dickie, Jonathan Soble and Michiyo Nakamoto (and former Tokyo bureau chief David Pilling, when he takes a flyer at writing about his former home base) deserve nothing but the most effusive of praise for presenting the country as it is, without only-in-Japan dross or a misguided/lazy rephrasing of what appears in the less-than-reflective, scandal-fluffing domestic news media.

I just wish they would stop one-on-one interviews with Japanese figures. It causes their interview subjects nothing but trouble.

The latest victim of the curse of the FT interview is ambassador to China Niwa Uichiro (J). In an interview with the FT, he was asked about Tokyo Metropolitan District Governor and agent provocateur emeritus Ishihara Shintaro's plan to have the TMD purchase three of the Senkaku Islands from their private owner (if you are Chinese, Taiwanese or from Hong Kong, p-r-iv-a-t-e o-w-n-e-r is of course pronounced "färs-kl ˈkleɪmənt").

According to the FT, Niwa responded:
“If Mr Ishihara's plans are acted upon, then it will result in an extremely grave crisis in relations between Japan and China.”

True, or at least possibly true. It depends on how the Chinese view Ishihara's making Kurihara Kunioki (E) a very rich man in the one-hop transfer, thanks to the quick thinking of Vice and Actual TMD Governor Inose Naoki, of private donations to Mr. Kunioka's account (E). If the Chinese government, which has been very circumspect and withdrawn of late, shrugs the sale off as bunch of self-described patriots throwing their money away, all will be well.

Trigger the deluge of condemnation, nevertheless, from the usual suspects: Ishihara (no surprise here), the anti-government press (E) and the Noda government, obsessed as it is with the concept that nothing -- NOTHING -- can get in the way of the passage of the bills raising the consumption tax.

As for the Financial Times, it landed a two-for-one deal out of the interview, publishing the interview, then publishing the government's response to the interview. (E)

It has been six years since I dashed off my ever-more-seriously-in-need-of-an-update-and-revision Rules of Japanese News. Despite the list's intemperate origins, Rule #2 still seems to have some juice left in it:
"If an exclusive interview produces a scoop for the Financial Times, the interviewee probably did not understand the question."

Later - Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko was waded in the Niwa controversy. In testimony to the House of Representatives, the PM stated he will not be asking for Niwa's resignation, saying that Foreign Minister Gemba Ko'ichiro delivered a warning to Niwa, and that Niwa had reflected deeply upon his actions. (J)

Of course, this was the same vote of confidence that Noda expressed in Minister of Defense Tanaka Naoki and Minister of Infrastructure, Land, Transport and Tourism Maeda Takeshi...and we all know how well that turned out for those two men.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Illusion of Choice

"What's the point of fighting for his right to have babies, when he can't have babies?

- Reg, Life of Brian (1979)
NHK (J - Time Sensitive) and Fuji TV (J - Time Sensitive) released the results of their latest random dial public opinion polls last night.

The pollsters found that:

- The popularity of the Cabinet remains mired in the zone of mediocrity, indicating the Prime Minister received no bounce for ridding his Cabinet of its most troublesome members.

Do your support or not support the Noda Cabinet?

Support 27%
Do not support 51%

Fuji TV
Support 28%
Do not support 61%

- That anti-nuclear power feelings in the country are not visceral, at least not on the national level, and do not extend to a continued moratorium on the restart of Kansai Electric Power's Oi reactors.

Do you agree with the prime minister's statement on Friday that the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors is necessary to protect the livelihood and security of Japan?

Agree 31%
Disagree 27%
Neither 37%

Fuji TV
Are you in favor of a restart of the Oi reactors?

In favor 49%
Opposed 43%

- That the country is once again favoring an early election, after backing off earlier this year.

When should the next House of Representatives election be held?


As soon as possible 20%
Before the September leadership elections of the DPJ and the LDP 15%
Before the year's end 21%
At the end of the current Diet's tenure 36%

Fuji TV

Summer this year 27%
Before the year's end 26%
At the end of the current Diet's tenure 34%

As to who would prevail in an early elections, one has to consult other survey results. The Kyodo poll of June 4-5, which found support for the Noda Cabinet at 32%, makes for grim reading for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

Which party would you vote for in the proportional seat selection of the next House of Representatives election?

DPJ 16%
LDP 30%
Your Party 7%
New Komeito 4%
Communist 4%
Socialist 2%
Other 5%
Do not know/no response 33%

Given party support numbers like these, the probability that Prime Minister Noda will call a snap election is zero. He will not lead his party into oblivion.

Nevertheless, the news media dutifully reports that in his Diet testimony yesterday Noda signaled that should the bills raising the consumption not pass during this Diet session, he might ask the Emperor to dissolve the Diet, triggering elections. The prime minister was purportedly cracking the whip at the anti-tax forces in his own party, most of whom are allied with former party leader Ozawa Ichiro and many of whom would lose their seats should an election be called tomorrow. (J)

Except of course, that the Diet cannot be dissolved tomorrow. Technically the emperor could dissolve the present House of Representatives but the result would be the implosion of the 1946 Constitution.

My bet is that the Heisei emperor will not honor a request to dissolve the Diet -- a refusal that itself would trigger a constitutional crisis.

Indeed blessed land's continuing constitutional constipation and the ruling party's abysmal poll numbers combine to form a blockage rendering public opinion largely moot. The public may dislike or hate certain decisions the government is making. However, that displeasure has no outlet. Unless an alliance is forged in between Ozawa's followers and the LDP -- a pact that the LDP, having once concluded with Ozawa, is determined to never conclude again -- nothing can budge the Noda government from its perch.

So while the poll takers continue to take the pulse of the people, the opinions expressed have no impact on the government's actions.

It is the illusion of choice.

Why Does This Not Shock Me?

The Sankei Shimbun, in a bit of title legerdemain, has made it seem as though it has been given an exclusive look inside the Diet commission report on the Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power plant disaster -- and that the conclusions are damning:


"The Draft Tokyo Electric Power Investigation Report: 'The Intervention of the Prime Minister's Office Fomented Needless Confusion'"

Read that headline too quickly and after hearing so much about the Diet-appointed commission investigating the disaster, and you might misassociate the news flash with a leak from the Diet commission draft report.

Only when you read the article do you realize that what Sankei is promoting as an exclusive is a leak from Tokyo Electric Power Company's own internal report that the company is compiling to compete with the Diet commission's report. TEPCO's report find (gasp) that the Kan government's bypassing of TEPCO's information controls interfered with operations at the Fukushima Dai'ichi plant.


Why am I not shocked -- at TEPCO's conclusions and the way the Sankei Shimbun has filed this story?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nomura Shuya's Preemptive Strike

Does the world know who Nomura Shuya is?

He is a lawyer with Mori, Hamada & Matsumoto, a corporate law firm specializing in M&A, restructuring and finance. He is a professor of law at Chuo University, teaching commercial law, civil law and business law strategy. Just how he has time for any work for his law firm or preparation for his classes is a question, as he has been on 68 different government committees or government report drafting boards since 1998 (J).

Nomura furthermore has a weekly appearance on the Nihon Terebi network's late night newscast. Nihon Terebi is owned by the Yomiuri Shimbun and both have a strong anti-Democratic Party of Japan bias, the television network even more so than the flagship newspaper. Nomura crows about his media appearances on his website (J).

Nomura is also a member of the Diet-appointed Tokyo Electric Power Company Fukushima Dai'ichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident Investigation Committee (Tokyo Denryoku Fukushima genshiryoku hatsuden jiko chosa iinkai), the second official and third major investigation into the government's response to the meltdowns, explosions and release of radioactive materials at the Fukushima Dai'ichi plant.

That being a contributor to Nihon Terebi newscasts during his tenure as a committee member should be considered a glaring conflict of interest has obviously never troubled Nomura's conscience.

The committee held an open hearing on Saturday. Nomura took advantage of his time to read out a series of rhetorical questions, throwing into doubt Prime Minister Kan's decision to by-pass the institutional route of receiving information on the situation at the plant from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which would be receiving its information from Tokyo Electric Power Company's Tokyo headquarters, which would be receiving its information from its workers at the plant. Finding this route utterly dysfunctional, due to the NISA's almost amateurish information collection and dissemination capacities and TEPCO's obsessive secrecy, the prime minister and the rest of the Cabinet carried out direct communications with the plant managers.

Nomura seems to have made a calculated bet that the mediasphere would misrepresent his musings as statements of the committee's findings. Some media outlets, such as TV Asahi, found themselves struggling mightily with the gravitational pull of Nomura's presumed authority as the committee's chief investigator, but still maintained some measure of integrity by presenting Nomura's questions and his "there are those who are of the opinion that" gambits as questions, not statements of fact (J - Time Sensitive). Most of the news media succumbed, presenting Nomura's musings as a preliminary release of the findings of the committee, employing casuistry to cover their tails should the conclusions in the final report, due at the end of this month, be at odds with the headlines of Sunday (see the Yomiuri Shimbun's gutless use of the word shiteki in this article - J).

As for the careless non-Japanese news media, members stumbled over themselves to get the story out and wrong. (E)

The takeaway from Nomura's performance, that a desperate government's bypassing of a corporation's executives and the bureaucrats of the agency in charge of promoting the industry in question led to confusion in the response to the emergency, must have the partners at Mori, Hamada & Matsumoto smiling.

Later - This post has been edited for clarity.

Later still - - Damning excerpt from committee chair Kurokawa Kiyoshi's review of the meeting of June 9.


"In addition, as for the structure of the crisis control system, the way of communicating risks, et cetera, the second set of points of contention, the issues at the moment have been indicated in a provisional way. Still, the clearing up the points of contention has not been an indication of all of the points of contention the accident investigation committee is considering, nor is it indicative of conclusions made by the accident investigation committee. As for the final results of the investigation of the accident investigation committee, these will be reflected comprehensively in the final report."

(Link - J)

Much, much later - The Yomiuri Online's dishonest account of the goings-on at the meeting (E), now happily immortalized on the world's data servers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Life Unspent

Tomohito, the alcoholic prince, has died at the age of 66 (E). Given that his body was riddled with cancer, one hopes the doctors had enough sense to make his last days and hours as pain-free as possible.

Infamous for being most conservative and retrograde of the Imperial Family in terms of the succession crisis, he was paradoxically extremely open about his alcoholism, a disease that few in this blessed land are willing to talk about openly and fewer still are willing to recognize in themselves.

Rather than leverage his status and his confession of an addiction to ethanol into a national debate on the role of alcohol in Japanese social life and the lack of treatment options for alcoholics, the Prince merely acknowledged that he was addict and left the issue as his private problem and nobody else's.

His problems with his private life were not restricted to addiction. His marriage to Princess Nobuko, the sister of former prime minister Aso Taro, was rumored to be utterly broken -- which made suggestion of a revival of concubinage the subject of considerable tittering.

Given what he could have contributed to the national discussion of disfunction, Tomohito goes into the long dark tunnel we must all enter with too much left undone.

Later - Lest I give a false, completely negative impression of a complex man, Prince Tomohito was active in promoting the building of facilities and the creation of sports opportunities for the handicapped.

Adios Amigos! I Go Too A Far, Far Better Place...

It is not often that a minister rides off into the sunset, saying to his successor:

"Adios! I expect you'll be an improvement on me."

Then again during his brief stint as Minister of Defense, Tanaka Naoki did and said the most remarkable things.

Of course, he did not say "Adios!"

What he did say was:

Morimoto daijin no shita de, sara ni boeisho, jieitai no katsudou ga kappatsu ni naru koto o kitai shite iru.

"Under Minister Morimoto, I expect that the the activities of the Ministry of Defense and the Self Defense Forces will become all the more dynamic."

Of course, Tanaka was being self-deprecating. However, considering his achievements, or the startling lack of them, self-deprecation was probably not the best route to take.

Guess Who's Back?

Well this looks like a job for me
So everyone, just follow me
'Cause we need a little...controversy
'Cause it feels so empty without me.

- Eminem, "Without Me" (2002)
Speak of the Devil...and the Devil appears.

Proving that no one ever falls too far in the politics of this blessed land, even after becoming an object of international ridicule, the lead candidate to replaced Ishii Hajime, he of the unfortunate ardor for Philippine vacations, as the chairman of the House of Councillors budget committee, the #2 most influential post in the chamber, is none other than the politician whose name I was using as a pejorative general noun two days ago. (J).

Senator Yanagida, in case you are asked, remember:

"I am humbled by the responsibilities bestowed upon me. Mine is a very hard job...and I will definitely use lots and lots of different phrases while doing it." (E)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Morimoto Appointment

There are many stories to be chasing after.

There is the humanization of arrested Aum Shinrikyo fujitive Kikuchi Naoko in the news media and the implications the humanization of a mass murderer could have on the imposition of the death penalty in her case -- a given, considering the sentences handed out to the other members of the cult -- or even the death penalty's continued application. Can the state kill a person who has, during her life on the run, worked as an eldercare provider? Is there such a thing as redemption after committing great evil? And what of the National Police Agency's incapacity to capture anyone unless that person is handed to them on a platter* or in the case of Hirata Makoto, tries desperately (Link) to hand himself in on a platter? And what of the irony of the Kikuchi arrest coming the day after rededication of a monument to Sakamoto Kuniko -- the Sakamotos being the first of Aum's victims, whose killings, had they been investigated (it would not have been too hard. One of the cult members, horrified at what he and his fellow followers had done, left his Aum Shinrikyo badge at the scene of the crime) would have stopped the whole mad murderous machine in its tracks? (Link - J)

One talk about the flip side of the collapse of the economies in rural areas: that larger-than-one-would-imagine-in-a-country-with-a-population-as-big-as-Japan's tracts of uninhabited land are available for renewable energy resource projects -- nicely graded and leveled abandoned rice paddies, failed golf courses, unused rural economic development zones and perhaps even an underused airport or two make fine candidates for solar farms. (Link) **

However, the big story is the Cabinet reshuffle (Link) and the big story of the Cabinet reshuffle the appointment of academic Morimoto Satoshi as Minister of Defense.

For those looking for background on the appointment there is a wealth of material. Morimoto has been in the public eye for two decades as a public intellectual of the first rank, serving as the media's go-to conservative academic on matters such as the Japan-U.S. security alliance, the DPRK, defense systems, the revolution in military affairs and the rise of Chinese military power. If someone were looking for "gotcha" moments -- stunningly incorrect predictions, overblown rhetoric, rumor mongering, untenable analysis -- there are hundreds of hours of video and ten of thousands of words to troll through. Luckily for Morimoto and Prime Minister Noda, the organizations with the most reflexive tendencies to go trolling for items with which to embarrass Morimoto and the government -- the Yomiuri Shimbun and its Nihon Terebi terrestrial TV network and the Sankei Shimbun and its terrestrial network Fuji TV -- both have relied on Morimoto as the outside expert most likely to hew to their editorial line.

Morimoto is a hardline realist. He has little love for Article 9 and the limits placed upon Japan's ability to engage in multilateral security actions. A former Air Self Defense Forces (the most gungho of the services) officer and a graduate of the National Defense Academy, he has probably always dreamed of being Minister of Defense. Now he has the responsibility to be one. He will be the man in the cross hairs and the guy with his name on the dotted line when the government signs the contract for the acquisition of F-35 Lightning IIs, with the costs and delivery dates to be determined.

Morimoto has previous experience in government, having been appointed the first Special Advisor to the Minister of Defense after the position was created during the premiership of Aso Taro. As a former member of an LDP administration with no previously noted links to the Democratic Party of Japan, he represents a bit of wicked deviousness on Prime Minister Noda's part: after disgracing the position with two Ozawa Ichiro-nominated defense ignoramuses -- whom the LDP had the House of Councillors censure -- he gives the country a defense minister about whom the LDP can raise not a peep of protest.

Morimoto, despite his defense smarts, comes into office with severe handicaps that will limit his ability to transform his own ideas into action. First, he is a non-politician: he will facing the bureaucracy naked, without even a political secretary to back him up. Such support as he will enjoy will come from the Prime Minister's Residence (the Kantei) and in the person of the man who appointed him. Second, the cost of acquiring the F-35 threatens to upset the balance between the ASDF and the already beset Ground Self Defense Forces and the proud and dominant Maritime Self Defense Forces. After personnel costs and procurement costs, Morimoto will have little to spend on actual operations or any expansion of operations he might press the government to consider.

The appointment of Morimoto once again raises the question of whether or not Noda is his own defense minister. While he for once has less experienced in defense matters than person he has appointed as his defense minister, being only the son of an SDF man rather than a former SDF man himself, Noda still believes himself an expert in the nuts and bolts of defense policy.

The appointment seems more a tactical move rather than a strategic one. At a stroke Noda has neutralized potential LDP, right wing and center-right media and nationalist complaints about his support for a robust Japanese defense capability and outlook. Left-leaning and leftist news media have indeed been hopping up and down that the appointment of an academic rather than a politician means that the MOD bureaucracy and uniformed officers will be too powerful, undermining the concept of civilian control (shibirian kontororu***). He will win the applause of the American think-tank-political-appointee merry-go-round ridership, who will be thrilled by Morimoto's heretofore unshakable support of the Japan-U.S. alliance and his hardline security stances, ignoring Morimoto's rather weak bureaucratic and non-existent political support. He also removes from the commentariat one of his most potent and visible potential critics.

So Morimoto has the "right" views and the wrong attributes. We shall have to see which of the two initial conditions proves the more significant.

Later - And yes, I did notice. It was the first thing out of my mouth when I saw the Cabinet lineup in the paper this morning: "What? Again? Where are the women, you torpid [expletive deleted] sea slug?"

Later still - This post has been edited for greater clarity.

Way later - The Magnificent Kiwis have checked in -- Bryce Wakefield in Comments and Corey Wallace over at Japan Security Watch (Link) -- with far more intelligent things to say about the Morimoto apppointment than I have.

* Until further notice, I will remain agnostic regarding the police story that a neighbor recognized Kikuchi and turned her in. The difference in appearances between the 1994 Kikuchi and the woman arrested on Sunday are significant (Link). It seems unlikely that anyone looking at her would see the chubby, smiling former runner, especially as Kikuchi, while living in Sagamihara, was, according to residents, always hiding her face by looking at the ground.

A more likely scenario is that her lover, exhausted by life on the lam, turned her in with a promise of clemency for himself and mercy for her, with police concocting the alert neighbor story to keep the public on the lookout for the last remaining Aum fugitive, Takahashi Katsuya.

** Note to The Economist: the title of your story about this subject has to be, "Huge...tracts of land..."

*** One critic whose opinions I value has said that whenever elites in this blessed land want to reduce the ability of citizens to understand certain concepts, they simply take the English word and transliterate it using katakana. The plague of katakana eigo terms in finance industry terminology (konpuraiansu, gabanansu...) would tend to support the "let's keep them in the dark" thesis.

Monday, June 04, 2012

For Which I Pray

"When God is trying to punish you
He answers your prayers."
-- various attributions
Today Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will shake up his Cabinet for the second time since its inauguration nine months ago. A cursory, dismissive review of the reshuffle would attribute the need for a second housecleaning in a short span of time in office as a sign of Noda's political weakness, a move forced upon him by the demands of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito after he failed, in two rounds of talks with Ozawa Ichiro, to win Ozawa's support for the government's primary goal of passing the legislation necessary to raise consumption tax to 10%.

A cursory review would, as is its wont, be oversimplifying matters.

The meetings with Ozawa last Wednesday and yesterday were never as the news media wanted them to be: for Ozawa to either fall on bended knees before Noda or for Ozawa to come roaring out, announcing that he and his followers were leaving the Democratic Party of Japan. Instead, both men walked out of the meetings with their dignities and the party intact. The most anti-DPJ media outlets called the meetings failures (E) while those with cooler heads merely noted that the two men argued past one another as if on parallel tracks (heikosen).

Both men, especially Ozawa, were very careful in their presentation of what went on at the meetings. Ozawa indeed did the unthinkable last Wednesday, appearing in a mainstream media interview, live, on set during what is the most important, if not most watched newscast: NHK's 9 pm news. Neither on that show nor yesterday did he ever say he would vote against the legislation, if and when it came up for a vote -- only that he was opposed to it. What he and his closest followers would do when push comes to shove has been left hanging up in the air.

With the talks ending inconclusively, Noda has moved on to answer the demands of the opposition, the first of which is the replacement of the Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki and Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Maeda Takeshi, both of whom the House of Councillors censured on April 20. However, according to media reports, Noda is going to go well beyond what the opposition has demanded in the reshuffle, sweeping out of his Cabinet three problematic officials: Minister of Justice Ogawa Toshio, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Kano Michihiko and MAFF Senior Vice Minister Tsutsui Nobutaka.

Ogawa probably did not draw a target on his back for checking up on horse racing reports during Question Time (E). If anything Ogawa's weakness for the horses made him seem more human and approachable.

Ogawa is being shown the door for pulling a Yanagida Minoru (E). In a speech on May 11 at his alma mater Rikkyo University, Ogawa joked that when he was running for office, he had listed on his campaign posters that he had been a judge. "However," he explained, "The three years I spent working as a judge were pretty boring for me, so even though it was not to my advantage, I asked my staff to strip the title from my posters." (J)

It is just amazing what Ministers of Justice will say about their jobs to accommodating audiences whom they feel they need to amuse.

As for Kano and Tsutsui, they are the dead, red meat that has to be thrown to the opposition to prevent questions about the Li Chunguang Affair (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4) from devouring the remainder of the regular Diet session, which has an already hopelessly behind schedule due to the LDP's boycott of House of Councillors' sessions, leaving the Diet only two weeks (in theory) to blow through 60 heretofore unexamined bills. (E)

The upshot is that with the delivery of the heads of Tanaka and Maeda and the dismissal of Kano -- who was going to be a pain the posterior about the Trans Pacific Partnership, another major goal of the Noda government -- and Tsutsui, and with Ozawa's failure to support the consumption tax rise, the onus is now on the LDP, whose campaign manifesto contains a pledge to raise the consumption tax to 10%, to either support the bills or betray themselves.

Of the two, I would prefer the prime minister's position.

The League Of Incurious Stenographers

Journalism is a profession, or at least it should be.

This Kyodo news report declares it to be a profession in peril:
Experts scoff at allegations of spying by diplomat Li

BEIJING/TOKYO — Some people in diplomatic and intelligence circles are skeptical about the spying allegations leveled against Li Chunguang, a diplomat at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo who fled Japan last month after rejecting a request to be questioned by the Japanese police.

The Metropolitan Police Department's Public Security Bureau handed over information on Li, a 45-year-old first secretary at the Chinese Embassy, to prosecutors for potential prosecution action on May 31, on suspicion that Li used a false identity to renew his alien registration card.

The prosecutors appear likely to decide against indictment in the absence of the diplomat, who left on May 23.

"Although we did need to question him, if we could (the request was turned down), so we decided to send the case to prosecutors after nearly completing the investigation," a bureau official said.

Initially, police and some media outlets speculated that Li was involved in espionage. A newspaper said the first secretary is suspected of having obtained information from classified documents leaked from the farm ministry about a project to promote exports of Japanese produce to China.

The public security investigation bureau had been following Li, who is thought to have belonged to an intelligence unit within the People's Liberation Army, since he was posted to Japan in July 2007 as an economic affairs officer.

On May 31, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano said he met the diplomat five times and denied that he or any other farm ministry officials passed classified documents to him.

According to a friend of Li, since returning to Beijing the former first secretary has been fuming about media reports about his alleged spying and reportedly said he never wants to visit Japan again.

The Chinese Embassy in Tokyo said he left Japan because his stint abroad was up. Li's departure in late May came after nearly five years in Japan — which is typical for many embassy officials.

Ahead of that, Li is also said to have consulted with friends about job opportunities after returning from Japan and inquiring about whether there were any good posts with a government organization relating to economic affairs.

Japan's police suspect he renewed his alien card to open many bank accounts to receive "advisory" fees from Japanese firms.

However, people in diplomatic and intelligence circles say a professional spy typically pays for classified information.

"The Metropolitan Police Department tracked him for five years and came up only with the problem with an alien registration card," said an intelligence expert who worked in China. "What's more, evidence shows the first secretary has only received payments when he should have been paying for information."

"It's more than obvious that a fraudulent renewal of an alien registration card will easily be spotted if one does it using his real name," the expert added. "A pro would never do such a thing."

After the latest case, experts say Japan is "too open" when it comes to data held by the government, while China keeps a strict watch via law-enforcement and other government units.

In May 2009, a ranking official of China's Xinhua news agency was sentenced to 18 years in prison for spying and other charges.

The ruling said he was punished for receiving around 207,000 yuan, which was worth around ¥2.5 million at current exchange rates, in cash from then Japanese Ambassador Yuji Miyamoto in return for secret data on North Korea and other matters.

But the "secret" information was said to be about matters already in the public domain.

Unlike China, where even trivial data may be classified, Japan doesn't have strict laws on guarding confidential information. As a result, Chinese spies may view Japan as a sort of heaven where classified data can be obtained legally.

On Li's case, a Japanese police official suggested that the attempt to call him in for questioning was intended to remove someone they suspected of spying. "If we had let him go home without taking any action, he could come back again as a diplomat."

Atsuyuki Sassa, who was head of foreign affairs at the National Police Agency, said, "Requesting his appearance for questioning was perhaps the best they could do, but it certainly had the effect of checking (Chinese moves)."

How quickly we move from "experts" to "some people." The only "expert" named who supports the thesis is an anonymous individual whom we are told has expertise in China.

As for the article itself, it begins in one place, decides to tackle the subject, misses, lolls about regaling us with tales of yesteryear and ends up quoting a single security expert, Sassa Atsuyuki, whose thesis is the exact opposite of the one the article attempts to promote.

"So journalists on deadline on the weekend write crap. So what?"

Wrong! This is what Kyodo is reduced to releasing now that police informants, realizing what a complete disaster the Li case has become, are now either shutting their mouths or pointing reporters into speculating that perhaps Li was not a spy, after all.

Not that the screw up has been all bad for the NPA. As Shingetsu News notes, the Li case is not being used as a lever to pry an espionage bill out of the Diet -- which would be a neat way to play both sides of an issue ("He's a spy; we need a law. He's not a spy; we still need a law!") if the public is lulled into paying no further attention to the machinations of the security apparat.

That both the Japanese and the Chinese government are lying about the Li case is obvious.

Can you imagine how ticked off the career diplomats of the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be if the story the Chinese government has been shopping around turned out to be true, that the #4 position in the embassy -- in the Economics Division, no less, where the misplacing of a single comma in a bilateral agreement could cost the country billions of yuan -- was handed off to some academic wanderer with loads of Japan experience?

Something big and bad happened here. Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Kano Michihiko, who gave crucial support to Prime Minister Noda in August of last year when Noda was running for the position of party president, will today lose his ministerial post, the prize which he had extorted from Noda in return for his support, because of what may have been the most innocent and perfunctory of contacts with Li.

The government is trying to bury this and bury this fast.

* I generally forego quoting whole articles. However, this one is so bad it is likely to disappear quickly into the ether, after having emerged from the muck.

Friday, June 01, 2012

I Spy With My Little Eye

There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong.

- H. L. Mencken (1917)
The Shingetsu News Agency has just put up a story, "Japan’s “Spy” Case That Probably Isn’t." The article very kindly notes my skepticism regarding the narrative spewed out by Channel Sakura, the Yomiuri Shimbun and others -- that First Secretary of the Embassy of China Li Chunguang (now that the National Police Agency has sent papers to the Embassy, the mainstream news media is finally showing his image and reporting his name) used (a) bank account(s) opened under false premises to receive funds from Japanese companies. These funds were then used to pay for spying activities.

The SNA report speculates that a far more probable explanation for the illegal bank account(s) was Li's seeking to build up a little nest egg outside the knowledge of his superiors and outside China.

Correspondence with two veteran Asia watchers, one a Japan specialist, the other a businessman with decades of experience in China, finds them in agreement with the SNA: this is a story about an individual's greed.

I wish I could believe the simple answer. Occam's Razor suggests I should.

However, I cannot.

There are loose ends that make my head ache:

- Li purportedly could open bank accounts in Japan using an alien registration card (gaikokujin toroku shomeisho) which had been issued by a local municipality -- no reports as to which one (See second update below - Ed.) -- after he presented his old Tokyo University ID card.

Can one actually do this? In my experience, unless one can produce a passport, one which the staff members at the ward/town office will always politely ask whether or not they might photocopy, you had might as well not show up at all.

So Li showed up at the ward/town office with his expired Todai ID and a fake passport. The simplest answer as to how he procured this fake passport was from Chinese intelligence. However, it is not the only way he could have procured a faked passport.

Li, for attempting this runaround, must have nerves of steel: so many things could have gone wrong, exposing him. Except, of course, if higher authorities from the central government had forewarned the ward/town office of Li's request for an alien registration card, resulting in Li's documents not being examined with the ward/town's usual level of diligence.

- News reports have Li being under surveillance since 2007. The NPA knows/learns that he is a graduate of the People's Liberation Army language training program and a member of the PLA General Staff. It follows him around for five years (a long span of time for a diplomat to remain at a post - a flashing red light) as he visits and interacts with members of the Diet, the bureaucracy and the business community.

He is likely the highest-level asset China has in Tokyo. He has been followed for half a decade...and the NPA burns him over illegally obtained bank accounts?

Non, non, non, non, suis un con, mais je ne suis pas con au point de croire cela...

We must assume that NPA counterintelligence would never permit the exposure of a compromised asset of Li's stature.

So the most plausible scenario is that someone inside the NPA made a huge mistake, such as:

- NPA counterintelligence uses the illegal bank accounts in order to threaten Li in what is a clumsy attempt to turn Li into a double agent. Knowing his cover blown and his illegal accounts compromised, Li goes back to his superiors with the bad news. Having failed in its amateurish attempt to blackmail Li into betraying his country, the NPA places a formal request with the Embassy to question Li. His usefulness in Tokyo now zero, Li is whisked back to China.

- A misguided patriot inside the financial crimes division, learning that a Chinese diplomat is conducting business inside Japan using false bank accounts and furious that his division does nothing to stop such criminal behavior, leaks information on Li to the right wing press -- in the same way Isshiki Masaharu leaked the video of a Chinese fishing vessel colliding with two Japan Coast Guard vessels in November 2010. The NPA, realizing that Li's cover is about to be irretrievably blown, resigns itself into allowing the financial crimes division to pursue Li through formal procedures.

...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth...

- Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four (1890)

Later - In my first post on the Li Chunguang Affair, I identified Akihiko Tanaka as the Vice President of Tokyo University. Reader RS reminds me that since April 1, Tanaka has been the president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) - Link.

Later still - For the record, the NPA's sending of papers to Li via the Embassy of China makes sense only as a courtesy to the news media, allowing them to start showing Li's face and referring to him by name. As a holder of diplomatic passport, Li had full immunity from arrest for his violations of the Alien Registration Act.

Also for the record, Li filed his false application for an alien registration card and received it in Katsushika City (Katsushika-ku).