Saturday, September 29, 2012

Japan's Strange Ally

Let me see if I have this straight.

After World War II, the United States occupies all of Japan.

In 1952, it ends the Occupation of the main islands but continues to occupy the Ogasawara Islands (the Bonin Islands, according to the Unites States Geological Survey) and the Okinawan Islands, including, at the time, the Senkaku Islands (the Senkaku-shoto, according to the U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency) -- the last of which the U.S. Air Force and Navy use for bombing practice.

In 1968, the U.S. returns the Ogasawaras to Japan.

In 1972, the U.S. returns the Okinawan Islands, including the Senkakus, to Japan.

Now in 2012, the United States government says that it takes no sides on issue of sovereignty over the Senkakus.

Uh...yes do...

Friday, September 28, 2012

The LDP On Course For Disaster

Okumura Jun has put the question to the Internet: doesn’t the LDP want to win?

The answer seems to be an emphatic "No."

First the party's Diet members elect Abe Shinzo, a walking time bomb, as party president, in defiance of the wishes of the party's prefectural chapters.

Now out of either a mindless automatic bow to party unity or a sense of pure malice, Abe is on course to naming a party secretariat whose member will struggle to contain an impulse to strangle each other, all while trying to engage a confident and at last largely internally coherent Democratic Party of Japan.

It is traditional for the winners in LDP presidential contests to offer high-ranking posts to those whom they defeat. However, Abe's naming Ishiba Shigeru, the man whom he beat in the runoff election after Ishiba had won in the first round, his secretary-general shows an inordinate amount of respect for tradition and total a lack of respect for common sense.

First, Ishiba is smarter than Abe. Try as he might to submerge his emotional responses out of respect toward the Party and hierarchy, he will find it difficult to not telegraph when he thinks a certain Abe utterance or position is idiotic.

Second, one of the main responsibilities of the secretary-general is to mollify and unify the Diet membership. However, as the results of the the presidential votes showed, Ishiba is unpopular with his fellow Diet members. He knows that he cannot rely on even 89 legislators who voted for him, as many of them only voted for him as being the "non-Abe" candidate. How Ishiba is going to maintain the peace when so many of his colleagues detest him is a mystery.

Finally, the secretary-general is seen as the commanding general of the party's electoral campaign. He has final say on district candidates and party lists. How is Ishiba ever going to keep Abe from trying to override or go around Ishiba's decisions as regards the running of elections?

Former Internal Affairs minister Suga Yoshihide, a card-carrying member of the Friends of Shinzo, is predicted to be named Executive Acting Secretary-General (Kanjicho daiko) -- the de facto press secretary of the party. He will, due to his close ties to Abe, find it difficult to avoid the temptation of ignoring Ishiba, his nominal superior, and deliver the unfiltered Abe message, however inflammatory that message may be.

Ishiba will, of course, just have to accept whatever Suga says, rather than the other way around.

As for the job of negotiating the management of the Diet with representatives of the DPJ, that job is being handed, of course, to one of Ishiba's core supporters, Hamada Yoshikazu. Abe's coterie knows that the job will be a thankless, if not utterly impossible, one. That their fervent desire for early elections and confrontation with China will make policy coordination with the DPJ as bad or even possibly worse than it was during the presidency of Tanigaki Sadakazu means that the Diet Affairs chairmanship is the booby prize.

As for chairman of the Policy Research Council, the rumored appointment of Amari Akira, another card-carrying FOS (he sat to the left of Abe during the presidential election. Historical revisionism poster girl Taka'ichi Sanae sat to Abe's right) would complete the hemming in of Ishiba, who by title should be in charge of running party affairs, with persons whose loyalty is to Abe alone.

A recipe for party disfunction if there ever was one.

Which begs my question: will the New Komeito still want to hang around with the sad sack of a party, considering how appalled they were at the Abe policy program in 2006-7?

Later - News organizations are saying that Abe will be appointing the brilliant (he passed the lawyer's exam on his first try while he was still in college) former Minister of Foreign Affairs, former Minister of Defense, faction leader and early Abe supporter Komura Masahiko to the ceremonial post of LDP Vice President.

Komura is the chairman of the Japan-China Parliamentarians League. He would be in charge of the LDP's communications with the leadership of China for as long as the party is in opposition and lead Track II diplomacy should the party retake power.

A positive note? Possibly. More likely, however, is that the LDP will play a double game. In public it will push the Noda government to be more combative toward China. In private, Komura will be assuring his China contacts that the LDP is merely engaging in political theater in order to rewin control of the Diet -- and that relations between the two governments will be on a more even keel should the mismanagement of the relationship with China (wink, wink) lead to the DPJ losing power.

In Terra Australis

Down in the land of tuataras, carnivorous parrots and yellow-eyed penguins, Corey Wallace has produced two must-read posts on on Japanese-Australian military cooperation and Osaka City Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s unexpectedly reasonable Twitter tweets on the Senkakus and Dokdo/Takeshima:

Japan and Australia to take Perhaps the Final Big Step in the Relationship?


Hashimoto Digging Himself into a Hole with Japan’s Conservatives?"

The post on Japan-Australia military cooperation contains a salient observation, that “alliances are no longer the weapon of choice for security partnerships.” This presents an interesting lens through which to view Kyle Mizokami's essay for The Atlantic:

Japan and the U.S.: It's Time to Rethink Your Relationship

For another a source on Japan-Australia strategic alignment, J. Berkshire Miller has produced a long post for The Diplomat:

Japan-Australia Ties Key to Regional Stability

So it is not all just the Senkakus, Dokdo/Takeshima, the sex slaves of Japan's Imperial Forces and Abe Shinzo.

Just mostly on those subjects.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hashimoto Toru Says No

One of Abe Shinzo's main selling points, if not his only one in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election, was his purportedly having mesmerized Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru. The conventional wisdom was that if any one of the five candidates in presidential contest was going to work out an entente with Hashimoto's Japan Restoration Party, it was going to be Abe.

Post-House of Representatives election, maybe. Pre-election? No.

Hashimoto went out of his way yesterday to tell a grand lie on Abe's behalf, saying that he was a trustworthy politician:
"I have great expectations for him. I believe him a politician in whom one can place one's trust. I would like to for him to pull the LDP in his wake."

(Link - J)
He also noted that in terms of reform of the constitution, he and Abe were on the same page.

Unfortunately for those in the LDP who were hoping that the 42 year-old Hashimoto would defer in awe to his 58 year-old senior, Hashimoto also noted that the JNR's commitment to the Trans Pacific Partnership and the phaseout of the use of nuclear power were at odds with the LDP's positions on these issues.

As for the all-important matter of election cooperation, Hashimoto dumped a bucketful of ice water on the concept, saying that JNR, which formally begins operations on Friday, will run a candidate in every district possible, irrespective of the LDP's candidate in that district. (J)

Ostensibly Hashimoto's promise means that the JNR could field a candidate in Abe's Yamaguchi #4 district -- not that that would be a very wise move in terms of a post-election bargaining position.

Hashimoto's promise also means that old wine LDP and fresh face JNR candidates could split the right-leaning vote, allowing the centrist Democratic Party of Japan candidates to sneak away with the districts.

Not a pleasant thought for the LDP membership.

As for fresh faces, the JNR secretariat is looking at capping the number of Diet members allowed to flee to the party at around 15 (J). JNR leaders are aware that the party can hardly present itself as an insurgent movement if its ranks are stuffed with retreads from the LDP, DPJ and Your Party. Nine current members of the Diet sat in on the JNR's most recent policy roundtable. These nine are slated to be introduced as party candidates at Friday's unveiling.

JNR leaders are also aware that the party relies on its early converts and those who enrolled in Hashimoto's juku for both ground forces and funding. With the party refusing corporate and union donations, and ineligible for public funding until April of next year, it needs to dangle candidacies as rewards for the sacrifices party workers and supporters must make.

Akita Prefecture Says No

In response to Liberal Democratic Party's Diet members selecting Abe Shinzo on the second ballot in yesterday's presidential election, despite Ishiba Shigeru's having won 55% of the prefectural branch vote, whereas Abe won only 29%, four members of the Akika prefecture LDP Branch including branch chairman Ono Chuemon* resigned in protest. "Is it not the case that [the members of the Diet] are not listening to the voices of the countryside (chiho)?" asked Ono at the press conference.

Branch Secretary-General Shibuya Masatoshi's view was even more bitterly cynical:
"Ishiba received twice as many prefectural votes as Abe. If they are not listening to the voice of the countryside, and not sincerely reflecting the views of us party members, why not just have the vote only of the Diet members right from the start?"

(Link - J)
Note to Abe-san: if the chiho party membership does not like you, and knows darn well the party cannot use the national budget to shower the marginal prefectures with white elephant projects, you had better have a good explanation on how the LDP is going to handle drafting a post-election coalition policy platform with the pro-Trans Pacific Partnership Japan Restoration Party.

*It is grand that there are still folks around with Edo Era-style personal names.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Three Quotes Upon The Victory of Abe Shinzo In The LDP Presidential Election

"If you blunder, don't give up fighting. After getting the advantage, your opponent may relax and let you escape."

- Bruce Pandolfini, "The 64 Commandments of Chess"

"Never, never, never, never give up" (Neba, neba, neba, neba gibu appu)

- Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, 4 January 2012

"You know, there's an old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...I'm LDP!"

MTC, Shisaku, 5 July 2012

It's ABErrant

How unlike was Abe Shinzo's victory in the Liberal Democrat Party election?

I) It had been 40 years since the LDP presidential election had gone to a runoff. It has been 56 years since the winner in the first round (here the former defense minister Ishiba Shigeru) lost in the second round.

A review of the totals from the two rounds of voting (Diet = Diet members)

Round 1

Abe - 141
Local 87
Diet 54

Ishiba - 199
Local 165
Diet 34

Ishihara - 96
Local 38
Diet 58

Hayashi - 27
Local 3
Diet 24

Machimura - 34
Local 7
Diet 327

Round 2

Abe - 108

Ishiba - 89

II) In a posting to the SSJ-Forum of September 4 and in private emails Professor John Campbell of The University of Michigan invited Japan specialists the world over to predict the winners of the Democratic Party of Japan leadership contest, the LDP presidential election and the next election for prime minister of Japan.

Twenty individuals responded to the challenge.

18 of the 20 picked Noda Yoshihiko as the winner of the DPJ contest.

Nobody picked Abe as the winner of the LDP contest.

It's Abe

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has elected former prime minister Abe Shinzo as its new leader.

This is a disaster for the party and for the country. The party of the stupid has elected a leader with history of failure in elections and a mental breakdown during his time as prime minister. He represents the most australopithecine of party's thinking. He will head out into hustings with much of the local party apparatus unenthusiastic if not openly hostile to his leadership, Ishiba Shigeru having won over half the local chapter vote in the five-way first round.

If there were any doubt that the LDP is thinking of a post-House of Representatives coalition of moderation with the Democratic Party of Japan, that scenario has just died. The LDP sees Hashimoto Toru's likely volatile Japan Restoration Party as its new partner in a ruling coalition driving Japan toward a radical dismantling of the post-1945 state.

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and the secretariat of the Democratic Party of Japan must be struggling to not leap out of their chairs, thinking, "This guy...this guy we can beat."

For the good of this blessed land, they had better succeed in doing just that.

Japan's Island Conflicts: What, Where, Why?

A few days ago a friend mailed me:

"Why such a crisis in between Japan and China? Where are we? Where are we heading? Is there a competition for regional leadership? Or are we fooled while something else is happening or coming?"

Sourabh Gupta believes that everything is all a show: that the foreign ministries are all aware where the limits are. So move on, make money, nothing is happening here. (Link)

Those of us watching the extraordinary images of yesterday's non-lethal reenactment of the Battle of Trafalgar (Video J - warnings on link rot apply) in the waters about the Senkakus might be less than confident about the ability of career bureaucrats of the region keeping matters within limits.

Indeed, even prior to yesterday's free-for-all in between a smattering of JCG vessels, 40 Taiwanese fishing boats and 12 Taiwan coast guard escorts, there were plenty of reasons to believe that the governments of the regions do not have matters under control.

One example is very helpfully provided by Mr. Gupta himself. He links to a translated Yomiuri Shimbun article detailing the internal deliberations of the Cabinet over how to best proceed following the government's purchase of the islands from their private Japanese owner. Plans were ranked A to H in terms of likelihood to provoke, "A" being the doing of absolutely nothing and "H" being the deployment of Self Defense Forces on the islands. Prime Minister Noda, who likely wanted to deflect domestic criticism that the government was doing nothing, favored Plan C, which was -- and I am not making this up -- replacing the incandescent bulb in the Uotsurijima's lighthouse with an LED bulb. Foreign Minister Gemba Ko'ichiro and Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya talked the PM out of this plan, arguing that any physical act would be too much for the Chinese government to bear. (E)

This is the level of crazy we are at -- where the changing of a light bulb requires a Cabinet-level decision...

...and no, the foregoing the replacement of a navigational aid's current light source with a brighter, longer-lasting and more energy-efficient one in the end did not diminish one wit the extent to which the Chinese government lost its marbles over the island purchase.

Where is this headed? Ask the government of China. For all the cinematic grandeur of yesterday's maritime encounter, the government of Taiwan has yet to match its inaction with words. While President Ma Ying-jeou did praise those aboard the fishing vessels for their patriotism and those in the Taiwan coast guard for their devotion to duty (E) the government of Taiwan has so far avoided either threatening Japan or accusing the government of Japan of fomenting a state of crisis.

Not that it will not take an age, if that will be enough, to repair the damage yesterday's sea battle will have on Taiwan's previously vital relationship with Japan's right wing. The government of Taiwan will count the costs -- and find them huge.

The government of the People's Republic, however, has talked itself into a corner, ratcheting up the level of rhetoric so high that whoever is unfortunate enough to take over the reins of government from Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao will have to either have to demolish the Sino-Japanese relationship or engineer a deeply wounding climb-down.

Not a great way to start what is supposed to be a decade in power.

As for Japan's other inflamed island dispute, the South Koreans, already in the international doghouse for allowing its obsession over the Dokdo/Takeshima issue to mar the Olympics, yesterday raised their delusion level a notch, with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan taking his turn at the podium at the United Nations to simultaneously support and denounce the use of international law for the use of solving international political disputes. (E)

The English language readout of the UN presentation is a study in self-absorption and victimhood:
3. Minister Kim emphasized that the rule of law should be based on indispensable values such as justice, morality, territorial integrity and sovereignty. He also highlighted the rule of law should not be used as an instrument of powerful nations to coerce weak nations as shown in the (sic) history; or one to advance political agendas.

4. Before Minister Kim's remark, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba took the floor to state that "The International Court of Justice(ICJ) is an important instrument to resolve the international disputes peacefully, and I call on every member states (sic) to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ."

※ 67 countries out of 193 UN member states in total, accepted compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, stipulated in the second clause of Article 36.
- The US, China, France, Russia(permanent members of the UN Security Council), Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia are among those countries which have yet to accept the ICJ's compulsory jurisdiction.
[An aside, but clearly MOFAT-ROK and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have different standards when it comes to English-language press releases. MOFA would discipline officers and their supervisors for releasing a text like the above.]

In a side bilateral meeting, the South Korean and Chinese foreign ministers had what seemed to be extremely cordial talks (E). With the South Korean Foreign Minister to come out from the bilateral meeting and to say that historical issues -- i.e., the behavior Japanese Imperial Forces and the national government of Japan during the period 1868 to 1945 -- should be brought before the UN (J), one cannot fault Japanese news media for finding a zero-sum game underway, with Sino-South Korean friendliness coming at Japan's expense.

Someone, perhaps Mr. Gupta, will have to reassure me that the South Koreans are not so stupid as to make common cause with China against Japan.

Why all are all these different island disputes coming to a head right now? A full answer to that question would fill a book....and needs to be left for another day.

Essential reading on the outlook for the immediate future is Stephanie Kleine-Ahlebrant's Foreigh Policy article "Dangerous Waters" (Link). Her pessimistic conclusion: China's recent moves in submissions to international organizations guarantee a constant Chinese presence in waters Japan considers its own. That in addition to fighting off a crowd of ships from Taiwan, the JCG had to keep an eye on 10 Chinese fisheries and maritime safety agency ships sailing in the same waters indicates that Japan is in for long, enervating and expensive confrontation with its larger, resentful and possibly ungovernable neighbor.

China's leadership, for reasons both temporary and potentially permanent, seems to have taken to abandoning Deng Xiaoping's advice to leave the issue of the sovereignty of the Senkakus to a later and wiser generation. Instead, the leadership seems to be acting on the geology lesson at the heart of the movie The Shawshank Redemption: all one needs to break through to what one's heart desires is time and pressure.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan is in the process of selecting a new leader. Ishiba Shigeru and former prime minister Abe Shinzo, both of them the hardest of the hardliners in the five-way race, survived the first round of voting, the one that combined the votes of local chapters and members of the Diet. Ishiba ran away with the votes in the local chapters, winning over 50% of the local votes. Abe, however, squeaked into the second round with a strong second to Ishihara Nobuteru among the members of the Diet.

In the runoff between the two first round leaders, the decision is in the hands of the members of the Diet alone. Given that Abe has a history of failure and collapse, the election lights are shining on Ishiba.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Japan-Taiwan War Of 2012

It began on this day, with the Japan Coast Guard firing water cannons at Taiwanese fishing vessels and Taiwan coast guard ships replying by firing water cannons at the JCG vessels. (J)

And, according to NHK, the Crown Prince has been selected to attend the wedding of Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Hereditary Prince of Nassau and Prince of Bourbon-Parma Guillaume Jean Joseph Marie.

Thank you NHK, for that timely and vital bit of news.

As for the Taiwanese coast guard personnel, I hope they understand that the Japan Coast Guard is a constabulary force, meaning that Article 9 of the Constitution does not apply.

Image courtesy: Yomiuri Online

The Taiwanese Are Coming Here!

The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that 10 of the reported 50 to 70 Taiwanese fishing vessels that departed Yilan on Monday have breached the 12 nautical mile territorial waters limit surrounding the Senkakus, accompanied by 6 vessels of the Taiwan coast guard. (J)

The entry of the Taiwanese flotilla into the mix represents a dangerous excalation of the conflict over the Senkakus. The government of Taiwan has previously indicated a preference to stay out out of the current Sino-Japanese jousting over the territorial waters about the islands. Any kind of incident involving the Taiwanese ships will provide a pretext for the Chinese to further raise the elevel of rhetoric and increase the intensity of their confrontation with the Japanese Coast Guard over the marine borders, under the guise of "protecting our Chinese brothers."

The interestingle parallel/precedent involves Taiwan. In 1874, otherwise unemployable members of Japan's Imperial Army and Imperial Navy were dispatched on a punitive expedition against aborigines on Taiwan. These aborigines had, in 1871, attacked and killed the survivors of the wreck of the shipwreck on their shores of a Ryukuan Kingdom ship. The Japanese government, which has de jure but not de facto incorporated the islands of the Ryukyuan Kingdom into Japan, went to Beijing to protest the Chinese government's failure to punish the aborigines.

The Chinese government blundered thrice: first in arguing against Chinese responsibility, as the aboriginals were outside its jurisdiction, and twice and more importantly; allowing the Japanese government to speak on behalf of the Ryukyuans, who were at the time still an independent tributary state of the Chinese; and finally in paying the Japanese an indemnity to just go away, implicitly recognizing the invasion as a legitimate act.

The result of the Chinese ignoring the finer points of international law (perhaps thanks to self-serving bad advice from the British Government) was the loss of Chinese claims on the Ryukyus and the Ryukyuan Kingdom's tragically rapid absorption into the Empire of Japan (1879).

If the government of Taiwan is not careful and does not quickly rein in this fleet of vigilante fisherfolk, it might just as well be opening up the door for a PRC protective intervention and an inadvertent Ryukyuanization of the what China traditionaly labels a rebelious island province.

A Moment This Morning, Bifurcation

On Channel 5 (TV Asahi): a long special segment on the fisherman of Okinoshima, reportedly negatively affected by their inability to fish in the waters around Dokdo/Takeshima (the announcers are definitive -- it is Takeshima) and the inability of Fisheries Agency to keep South Korean ships from fishing inside Japan's exclusive economic zone.

On Channel 7 (Tokyo Television): the broadcast of a Korean historical drama.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Koshi'ishi Stays

Contrary to my assertions of Friday, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has asked Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma to remain at his post.

The press has asserted that despite Koshi'ishi's failure to keep some 70 members of the DPJ's Diet delegation from departing during his tenure, his presence is still needed to reassure the remaining disaffected elements in the party that their voices will be heard.

Noda may have indeed been planning to replace Koshi'ishi, only to reverse himself, due to a realization of how close the ruling coalition is to losing its once massive majority in the House of Representatives. More likely, however, the multiple meetings with Azuma over the weekend, ending in a plea for Azuma to stay on, was a careful concocted bit of theater, intent on convincing the losers in Friday's leadership contest that the central core of 220 Noda loyalists will pay attention to the party's fringe elements.

Koshi'ishi's retention as the party's main elections organizer sends a strong signal that elections are not imminent. Koshi'ishi is not credible and may lack the stamina to be the point man of an election pitting the DPJ not only against a default-vote LDP but an untried and as yet unassessable Japan Restoration Party.

Furthermore, the process of rendering the electoral district map constitutional will be a process of several months, not just a pair of votes in the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors.

First, the August reform bill is dead. Diet rules declare null and void bills passed by one House but not accepted in committee in the other House by the end of a Diet session. This is what happened to the bond issuance and electoral reform bills passed by the House of Representatives in an August 28 pre-emptive strike against the August 29 censure vote against the prime minister.

That the same electoral reform bill of August, a combination of the Liberal Democratic Party's so-call +0/-5 solution to the disparity in voting strengths in between the nation's largest and smallest electoral districts, a reduction of the number of proportional seat members in the House of Representatives and a mixed voting system for the remaining proportional seats, will not reappear is a virtual given. The August bill had been designed to fail, combining LDP and New Komeito ideas into a horrible chimera about which the opposition parties could never come to decision whether to accept or reject.

When the new, revised bill comes out of the DPJ's policy research council and receives Cabinet approval, however long that process will take, the draft will likely be so different from the August bill and so favorable to presumed DPJ strongholds that the LDP will gag. The resulting standoff between the two parties will extend for several more weeks, until a final reform bill can win passage from both Houses.

Only then will begin the process of resetting the boundaries of electoral districts, which have, since the last electoral reform, become scrambled by local municipality mergers and population shifts. This process, according a Tokyo Shimbun analysis, will take another two to three months (J).

So even if the ruling and major opposition parties come to a consensus on a basic electoral reform bill in the first weeks of October, an event which is extremely unlikely, the final electoral districts bill will probably not win passage before the end of the fall extraordinary session. This will leave the opposition gnashing its teeth until the 2013 regular Diet session, which means sometime in January.

The strugge over electoral districts would, of course, only become more tortured if a majority of the House of Representatives vote in favor of a motion of no confidence against the Cabinet. Noda wants to both keep his present job and chaos to a minimum. The LDP, which has demonstrated a disturbing nihilism, cannot be trusted to go along with Noda to prevent this catastrophe.

Hence the importance of retaining Koshi'ishi to keep the less-than-reliable DPJ troops in line when the crunch time comes during the extraordinary session.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

On Japan's Maritime Defense Strategy From Here On Out

Dr. Alession Patalano, whose presentation at Temple University Japan I was unable to attend, has written a brief but cogent article for The Asahi Shimbun on what to expect in the Sino-Japanese game of feint and riposte in the East China Sea:

"While war seems unlikely, East China Sea issues are here to stay"

Patalano's assessment is both encouraging and discouraging. On the positive side, he notes that the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), despite its build out, remains deficient in training and tactics, making the chance of the PLA's putting the PLAN to the test in a direct staredown between the two countries unlikely. On the negative, he admits that if the non-military actors, particularly the Japan Coast Guard and any one of China's plethora of maritime constabulary units clash, the escalation curve is dangerously flat.

The easiest way for the Government of Japan to get across the point that it intends to hold on to its uninhabited islands is to dial down the construction of Maritime Self Defense Forces surface vessels in favor of a crash program, easily seen by satellites, of JCG vessels. That and coming down hard upon the Ground Self Defense Forces to learn once and for all that Japan is an island nation in need of marines or marines-like units, not armored ground units -- a process which we know is underway, if on a minute scale, thanks to the video that was released yesterday of 40 members of the GSDF taking part in an amphibious assault with a unit of the 2,200 member-strong U.S. Marines force currently engaged in training maneuvers on Guam. (J - usual warning as to link rot applies)

Not that the development of serious combined amphibious and airborne assault capability will be a popular decision. My morning paper, for example, has an essay in it from military analyst Maeda Tetsuo where he argues that Japan's developing a marines force will be unconstitutional.

On the lighter side of what is a rather tense game going on in the waters around the Senkakus, Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício of Japan Foreign Policy Observatory has posted the latest bit of topical animated lunacy from the busy geniuses at Taiwan's New Media.


Seriously, enjoy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

On Sino-American Nuclear Talks

For further relief from the Sturm und Drang views of East Asian issues, Jeffrey Lewis (full disclosure: I had dinner under the tracks of the Yamanote Line with Dr. Lewis a few years back) offers his eminently readable take on the issue of strategic stability in between the United States and China.

Dr. Lewis always writes on the bright side of life, an attitude that has served him well save in one instance -- that funny box on the Euphrates that turned out to be a North Korean-built Syrian nuclear reactor (with the current violence and chaos in Syria, is anyone sending the Israelis chocolate or flowers thanking them for having bombed that absurdity out of existence?).

Dr. Lewis should come to Tokyo more often and get better press. With the jousting over the Senkakus and yes-we-will-no-we-won't dispute over nuclear power phaseout, a lot of uninformed nonsense about nuclear weapons is issuing from the mouths of individuals who really should be keeping their thoughts to themselves.

How Chinese Rioting Helps Japanese Car Sales... the long run.

A light-hearted analytical view of the unintended consequences of semi-orchestrated hatred against another country.

It's not all ships maneuvering and hot-headed rhetoric (former prime minister and current Liberal Democratic Party presidential candidate Abe Shinzo has yet to realize that China paranoia as electoral jet fuel is oh, so Wednesday) you know.

Friday, September 21, 2012

It's Noda In A Landslide

Prime Minister Noda has won reelection as Democratic Party of Japan leader.

He won in every facet of the election: in terms of the votes of party supporters, in the votes of local legislators and among the members of the Diet:

In the combined party supporter and local legislator vote, the point totals were

Noda Yoshihiko 389
Akamatsu Hirotaka 42
Haraguchi Kazuhiro 92
Kano Michihide Michihiko 27

In the Diet members vote which has just been announced, the totals are:

Noda 429
Akamatsu 81
Haraguchi 62
Kano 86

The point totals are:

Noda 818
Akamatsu 123
Haraguchi 154
Kano 113

The next stage in the continuing drama is an expected reshuffle of the Cabinet and the party leadership on September 28. It is somewhat difficult to guess what changes can be made in the major ministry postings without causing undesirable disruption of various policy programs. In terms of the party secretariat, Koshi'ishi Azuma, whose major raison d'être was smoothing relations within the party, particularly with the now departed Ozawa wing, can expect to be replaced with an elections specialist.

Just who that might be is the question. It sure as heck is neither Okada Katsuya nor Maehara Seiji, the two members of the party's Second Generation most clearly in line for an increase in influence.

As for the tradition of giving special consideration to supporters of defeated presidential candidates, this in order to heal the rifts that the campaign may have opened amongst the Diet delegations, one can expect Noda to follow it. First because in his thank you speech he repeated his pledge of last year to be a "no sides" leader of the party, taking into account the feelings of the marginalized. Second, and on far more practical level, the DPJ-People's New Party coalition is only 10 defectors away from losing its majority in the House of Representatives.

While the losers today's leadership contest got taken to the cleaners, they will be a force that will have to be handled with care on September 28.

The problem child will be Haraguchi. He clearly made an impression on the local chapters and local assembly members through his insistence that the party has to return to its commitment to the policies of the 2009 Manifesto. He is, however, unpopular with his fellow Diet members, who see him as an untrustworthy opportunist. Just how he and his supporters are to be integrated into the party hierarchy, or government appointive positions, will be a major headache for Noda.

LDP and DPJ Leadership Elections

Corey Wallace has written a dense and comprehensive post on the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election, handicapping the race and examining the ramifications of the elections of any of the main three candidates.

I would only have two caveats to what Mr. Wallace writes:

- I think he goes way too far in downgrading the abilities of Ishihara Nobuteru.

Ishihara has had to fight a battle with both hands tied behind his back, having to serve as the loyal lieutenant to Tanigaki Sadakazu, the least capable leader the LDP has ever had (Ed: worse than Mori Yoshiro? Wow!). So perversely attached are the members of the LDP to service to one's superior that voices in the LDP have been calling Ishihara the Akechi Mitsuhide of the Heisei Era. (Ed: Tanigaki Sadakazu is the current LDP's Oda Nobunaga? Double wow!!)

Speaking of wild tales of betrayal, not only has former prime minister Aso Taro -- the only serving LDP secretary-general to succeed a living party president since Takeshita Noboru took over in consensus-based transition in 1987 -- been the most vocal of Ishihara's attempt to make the same move, he is also campaigning on the behalf of Abe Shinzo, the man whom he drove over the edge over the course of August 2007.

Abe must really have no memory of his last weeks in office.

- There is no chance for an LDP-Democratic Party of Japan coalition for at least a calendar year after the next House of Representatives election.

The DPJ has had it with the LDP. The LDP's inability to comprehend even the most basic aspects of being the loyal opposition over the last three years has the DPJ in a "Don't call us; we won't call you" mode.

The DPJ also has the benefit of knowing what being a junior coalition partner to the LDP has meant for the party cutting the deal on forming a government. It has not been a pretty last 20 years for those who have joined hands with the LDP.

Furthermore, the DPJ has a perfectly reasonable response to LDP entreaties and Yomiuri Shimbun browbeating into joining the LDP in a coalition:

"We have had an election and the voter have delivered their verdict. They have found us wanting. We have been relegated to and deserve to be in the opposition."

Privately, DPJ members can tell their LDP counterparts, "Your automatic nay-saying to everything we did and incessant calls for an election fueled voter dissatisfaction with both our parties and energized the regional parties, particularly the Osaka Ishin no Kai. You indeed sponsored Hashimoto Toru in his run for governor of Osaka Prefecture. He is your baby -- you form your government with him."

All this, of course, will be moot if Noda Yoshihiko pulls a rabbit out of a hat over the next few months and leads the DPJ to the position #1 party in the House of Representatives following an election. Currently such an outcome seems farfetched. However, we have months ahead of us before this blessed land can hold an election that is not constitutionally suspect. That is a lot of time.

Noda will win the DPJ leadership election taking place today. He has locked down the votes of 220 of the DPJ's 336 Diet members. While this represents only 440 of the 617 points he needs to win reelection in the first round, it is an automatic win in a second round of voting, in which only the members of the Diet are voters.

They Love Me In the PRC

Friends have been telling me for years that Shisaku is blocked by The Great Firewall of China.

Just now I received an email to the blog address with an intentional misinterpretation of a comment I made to National Public Radio on Thursday.

They, who ever they may be, obviously know my character -- that I would go out of my way to clarify my meaning in an emailed response, revealing my IP address.

Only that that used to be my character. Recently been bombarded with so many emails and opinion articles crammed with inanities and twisted, misleading framings of questions that I have had to learn to just ignore them, rather than wasting my time typing out a response.

If the Chinese only knew how much I worry about their welfare; how much I admire what Deng and his successors have done, guiding and enriching a country which has for millennia struggled with the conundrum of how a small number of highly educated, meritocratically-selected technocrats can improve the lives of hundreds of millions of dirt-poor peasants when between them sits a hereditary local thuggery.

I wish that they could understand what they would gain if they could give up, as every other nation on earth has, the faith that the natural borders of their land are those it had at the zenith of its imperial age (boy, oh boy, would the Lithuanians love that!).

Instead they waste their time tracking down and hoping to shut out the small, unimportant voices of those who are trying to tell it like it is.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thought Over Coffee -- What Is Different About The Current Senkakus Dispute

With the Chinese authorities dialing down the protests and violence inside China, not permitting the departure of 1000 fishing vessels to challenge the 12 nautical mile territorial waters limit about the Senkakus, instead limiting itself to dispatching an admittedly large (12 vessels) contingent of its Maritime Surveillance and Fisheries Administration vessels to conduct annoying forays into the territorial waters zone, it is worthwhile to consider what is could be so different in between the 2010 dispute over the Senkakus, where the Chinese entities escalated their anti-Japan actions daily until the Prosecutors Office in Naha, Okinawa released the Chinese pirate fishing boat captain -- and the current standoff, where the Chinese government is pulling back to florid rhetorical posturing (J) with the Japanese government ceding nothing.

Some analysts might point to the quick deportation this time of the Hong Kong activists who landed on Uorijima as the key difference. However, the violence against Japanese interests in China began after the activists arrived home, and even after the return of their vessel to Hong Kong. The quick resolution of the Hong Kong landing indeed made some hopeful that Japan and China had reached a certain level of entente over Senkakus issues. (J)

Violence erupted later, all over China, and the Chinese government went into patriotic pronouncement overkill -- this over the Japanese government's preventative move of purchasing the available islands in order to keep them out of the hands of agent provocateur Ishihara Shintaro.

The government of China could have gone one of two ways in defusing internal anger over the Japanese national government's move. It could have argued that while distasteful, the GOJ's purchase was the lesser of two evils. The Chinese government could have also dismissed the GOJ's action with contempt -- i.e., "If the Japanese government wants to waste Japanese taxpayer money in a bid to acquire title over lands that are not even in Japan, great!"

So why take the unpredictable and potential global PR disaster route of unleashing the anti-Japanese activists and common folk against Japanese targets inside China? Why not play it cool, treating the Japanese like Lilliputians not worth China's time? Certainly the dry tinder of the patriotic education policy exists -- but why set a match to it, only to snuff it out a few days later?

Two answers come to mind.

The first is that the leadership transition in China has been so fouled up by the Bo Xilai Affair and its aftermath that everyone is grasping at symbols of loyalty and patriotism. The disappearance without explanation of president-in-waiting Xi Jinping during the height of the crisis indicates that something has gone very wrong in what is supposed to be an orderly and heavily foreshadowed process.

With Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are cleaning out their desks and stepping back from the management of daily affairs, and as yet no one officially in place to wield power, nobody in Beijing or elsewhere knew what the actual PRC government policy is as regards the Senkakus islands purchase. As a result there was a sudden burst of policy entrepreneurship, with different parts of the government flashing green lights in the hope of securing their reputations.

The other possibility is that the Chinese government thought it was, and then quickly realized it was not, still dealing with Sengoku Yoshito.

I can be accused of conducting verbal drive-by-shootings of government and party officials. Targets of multiple rounds of my ire include former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio -- who on the 17th announced a correction (shusei) of his previous intimations he would leave the DPJ should party leader Noda Yoshihiko win reelection on September 21 (J) -- and LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu -- though I maintained a long ceasefire in my campaign against him after his wife's passing. I have also been upset time and time again at Ozawa Ichiro out of a profound sense of disappointment at his having spent the last 20 years demolishing every vehicle of progressive reform he has built through his stunning lack of awareness of his vulnerabilities.

Sengoku Yoshito is one of the politicians about whom I find it hard to have a nice thing to say.

He is first of all a bully, his tongue getting him into scrape after scrape. Just last week a judge tossed out, on a technicality, a hefty misuse of office lawsuit filed against him by a member of the LDP, whom Sengoku, when he was Chief Cabinet Secretary, dismissed in a press conference with a "I have no intention of paying the least bit of attention to the crap that a craphead says." (J) In June Sengoku lost a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a female journalist against him for remarks he had made about her, prompting some of the DPJ's women Diet members to ask the party to ostracize him.

If Sengoku's disdain for the rest of humankind were not problematic enough, he has an uncanny ability to misapprehend when he is in an advantageous position. He styles himself a hard-headed realist, not understanding that what he is is, to borrow a phrase from Homer Simpson, a rice-eating surrender monkey.

Sengoku is the presumed architect of the release of the Chinese fishing boat captain in 2010, pressuring the Naha District Prosecutors Office in Prime Minister Kan Naoto's absence to release the captain on the novel legal grounds that a prosecution is impossible because the arrest was becoming an international incident. Sengoku then implausibly denied that he had put any pressure on the Naha Prosecutors Office. He tried to suppress the public viewing of the Japan Coast Guard video of the collisions at sea involving the Chinese ship, despite the images being definite proof the Chinese captain willfully rammed the JCG vessels – when the public release of the video would have redounded to the government’s credit and whose failed suppression became a huge embarrassment when a coast guardsman posted the videos up on YouTube.

More recently, Sengoku was the source of a bizarre story that Prime Minister Noda was ready to accept the LDP’s electoral reform bill, the so-called +0/-5 bill, without reservations or modifications. That the DPJ would throw away its ace card, the ability to draft an electoral reform bill to its liking due to the Supreme Court's having ruled the current electoral map unconstitutional, was sheer lunacy. This did not prevent Sengoku from going on Yomiuri Television (a fine, pro-DPJ news outlet, to be sure) to repeat this nonsensical assertion. (J)

Sengoku is currently Acting Policy Research Chair of the DPJ. While this is a grand-sounding title in English, it is actually a middle-ranking position. It is far enough from the central secretariat to keep Sengoku from meddling in policy formation but is high enough that Sengoku, who has an inflated opinion of himself, does not feel slighted. It also keeps Sengoku at close enough range for Policy Chairman Maehara Seiji to keeps tabs on whatever mischief Sengoku may be up to.

Sengoku has also been given the seemingly crucial task of drafting the party's electoral manifesto. Handing Sengoku this responsibility would seem a risky decision for the party secretariat to make. However, prime minister Noda's habit of issuing statements of policy with adverbs, where the careful insertion of an adverbial phrase undermines the statement just enough that the careless listener believes he has heard what he wanted to hear while the careful listener realizes the PM has not committed himself to anything – guarantees that Sengoku's task of composing a coherent, up-to-date document is a Sisyphean one.

Anyhow, Sengoku, who was one the Diet members and former Diet members scheduled to depart on a special friendship visit to China on September 26 – a visit that has been cancelled (J) -- is not around to wave his white flag of courage in the face of Chinese violence and provocations. Instead, the Chinese government has to deal with with Noda, Foreign Minister Gemba Ko'ichiro and Maehara, who was Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism – the home ministry of the Japan Coast Guard – at the time of the Chinese fishing boat collisions.

Eeek! Sound the retreat!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Four LDP Candidates At The FCCJ (Continued)

Of the four candidates present, Ishiba Shigeru seemed to be most confident.  At the initial four-way handclasp, his was the broadest and most assured of the smiles.  In his answers he was precise, eschewed generalities and tied current hot button issues to the underlying history of the policies involved.

A reputed wonk's wonk who actually is one, unlike the man he wants to succeed.

The only time he lost his cool was when one questioner (whom I respect immensely) asked the four candidates whether they will continue to follow the Tanigaki Line on the bond issuance bill -- i.e., the current Liberal Democratic Party strategy of refusing to approve of the issuance of new bonds to cover the costs of the budget, threatening the government with a shutdown as early as October.

One after the other, the four candidates repeated the party line that the Democratic Party of Japan-led government's budget was full of pork-barrel projects, so that the LDP was merely exercising a bit of ex post facto fiscal prudence. Furthermore, the survival of the current government was intolerable, so any act pressuring Noda into dissolving the Diet and calling elections was worth the risk.

After giving this stock response, Ishiba leaned away from the mike and grimaced.

At first I thought Ishiba was furious at the questioner. Upon reflection, he was more likely disgusted with himself. Back when his candidacy was just a notion, he was a thorn in the side of the Tanigaki-Ishihara leadership group. He would argue that the party leadership's policy of just saying "No" to everything, refusing to release the membership to vote for vital bills unless the prime minister promised to quit, was short-sighted, borderline unpatriotic and stupid.

Now that Ishiba was a candidate, however, he had had to tell a lie -- that he would continue the policy of pushing for elections, unconstitutional as he most likely knows they would be, even at the cost of the government of Japan's credibility.

Having to lie did not kill him...but it left him pretty darn ticked off.

The Four LDP Candidates At The FCCJ

Another very brief post, as I have yet another place to run to.

As regards the candidates:

As Wataru Tenga guesses in his comment to my last post, Machimura Nobutaka was not present. As the eldest of the five candidates, his succumbing to illness is not surprising -- the pace of the campaign being, as I noted in my last post, ridiculous in its intensity.

We hope for his early recovery. He is for all intents and purposes out of the race.

Really surprising was how chipper former prime minister Abe Shinzo looked. He indeed had none of the "I am about to explode" look and fist clenching under the table which have been his trademarks in this election campaign. Given six minutes for an opening statement, he spent 5 minutes and 45 seconds on Sino-Japanese relations, the deterioration of which have clearly perked him up.

Abe's sudden swerve into a comfort zone brings to mind the story of the Beirut psychiatrist who found that the sense of well-being of some of his patients improved as the country slid deeper and deeper into civil war. As everyday life unraveled, a reality of random death and ever-present fear became more consonant with the patients' own pathological views.

Ishihara Nobuteru's hair was black and styled today, rather than orangey-brown and sticking straight up as it was last week, making him look less like Beaker.

The makeover did not make Ishihara look more the winner. Of the four candidates, he was easily the most tentative, the most centrist in his thinking -- of the four candidates he was the only one to call for support for Foreign Minister Gemba Ko'ichiro during this time of crisis.

Ishihara did offer an interesting prescription for fighting deflation: putting folks to work. Drive down the unemployment rate, he suggested, and inflation will surge into positive territory.

Interesting. Just how one creates employment is the tricky bit of the equation, of course.

Hayashi Yoshimasa, while not exactly declaring himself a sideshow, did not comport himself as a serious candidate either. He indulged himself with philosophizing. When asked about his policies regarding nuclear power, he prefaced his remarks with the observation that he was of the era of both Godzilla and Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu), where the Janus-face of the atom was the subject of debate in popular culture. He also did not endear himself with the other candidates when confronted with the question: "What makes you the correct person to be leader of the LDP?" After fumbling about, he blurted out that he was someone the people could trust.

Smooth move. Really smooth.

Seems he forgot he has still has several more days of standing up on top of minibuses with the other three candidates.

To be continued...

Can't Talk, Can't Say

About to head out the door to catch the Foreign Correpondents' Club appearance of the five candidates for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party.

I suppose I should write a post on what I see at the shindig. However, I am not sure I will see any more than what has already been on display. The fivesome has been omnipresent on broadcast media and has been on an on-again-off-again national speaking tour that would blow out the fuses of men half the candidates' ages.

The most important two developments of the last week have been the irruption of heretofore hidden animus in the local chapters against Ishihara Nobuteru and the fallout from the Sino-Japanese tensions over the Senkakus. Both of these developments have benefited the candidacy of Ishiba Shigeru, who is currently the man to beat -- despite his sounding like the python Ka in Disney's The Jungle Book.

More later, maybe. Gotta fly, as the rains will slow the trains down.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Where The Sky Loves The Sea

Sadogashima as seen from along the Echigo-Nana'ura Highway
Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture on September 15, 2012

I have been spending a few days away from a keyboard and the Gmail address, visiting Tanaka Kaueiland, where the likeness of the man reviled by most of the country can still be found on the walls inside homes, a strange messiah of a most simple and durable cult.

I have still been watching the news and reading the newspapers, though.

An aside, but I have a great love for the prefectural newspapers. They all carry uncut and undigested Kyodo News reports -- which is unsurprising, since they own the operation. They also are a window into local passions and worries -- views that rarely are translated and transmitted to the outside world. The problem is not unique to Japan -- I cannot imagine the vastnesses of what one could know about India were one able to read the morning news in the 35 or so main languages of the country -- but even in a country with a single main language and an openness to investigating local conditions, the narrowness of the window through which the world views this blessed land is sobering.

Sobering also has been the intimidation the Chinese government seems ready to turn on and off in an attempt to rattle the nerves of the government and people of this blessed land:
Backing off not an option for China
Global Times
15 September 2012


Intense friction entails high geopolitical risks and the possibility of negative impacts to both economies. But with a high level of support from the public, China is gaining the upper hand psychologically in such a contest.

China is diplomatically resourceful in Northeast Asia compared to Japan, which is notorious in its sovereignty disputes with regional players.

It is clear that Japan touched probably the thorniest issue in bilateral ties, which in turn serves as an opportunity for China. We should seize the chance and make historic advancements in safeguarding our sovereignty by breaking Japan's "administration" of the islands.

China should be confident about strategically overwhelming Japan. The People's Liberation Army's Navy and Air Force, as well as its Second Artillery Corps, are advised to increase their preparation and intensify their deterrence against Japan's Self-Defense Forces.

China will not shy away if Japan chooses to resort to its military. As friction escalates, it is more likely for Japan to retreat in the face of unreliable US security assurances and China's strengthened strategic combat capabilities...
The Senkakus are worth putting China's strategic missile forces on high alert?

Who are these people? What planet do they expect to share with anyone?

Of course, they are the same folks who bring us:
Violence is never appropriate solution
Global Times
17 September 2012


Protests against Japan's provocation over the Diaoyu Islands broke out in several Chinese cities over the weekend. Violent action targeting Japanese products and enterprises happened in places including Xi'an and Changsha, leaving many Chinese nationals to suffer economic losses. The violence was condemned by Chinese media. It appears that public opinion has reached a clear consensus this time.

Since the May 4th Movement of a century ago, mass protests in China have often been accompanied by violence, and unrelated targets can be in the crossfire. Public opinion however often judges violence from a fixed set of values and becomes rather selective in deciding whether to support or oppose it.

Violent protests plague many countries, especially developing economies. Anti-US protests are currently marring the Arab world. China has been making progress in staging orderly protests in recent years. Street protests have not necessarily been disorderly on every occasion. In major hubs such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, protests are often carried out in a more civilized way. Meanwhile, voices against violent protests are on the rise. This time is no different. Violence cannot be tolerated simply because the protests are aimed at Japan...

Nuclear weapons? OK. Drink bottles and eggs? Not OK. Even if the target is Japan.

As for the 1000 ship armada of fishing vessels yesterday reported to be sailing for the Senkakus, it has failed to show up. Whether this is due to the passage of the super typhoon or is simply an example of vaporware journalism, remains to be seen. As of noon, the Japan Coast Guard had encountered but a lone Chinese fisheries patrol boat that quickly popped in and just as quickly popped out of the 12 nautical mile zone about the Senkakus.

Just what the Chinese government's game is, aside from convincing the people of Japan that the Chinese people as a whole are nuts, confounds. The most likely explanation for having police guiding the protests and the news media at once condoning, then denouncing violence, is to smoke out potential troublemakers to be watched and harassed -- or coopted into playing parts in the government's future stage-managed protests.

As for the effect of the images of protestors battling police in front of Japanese diplomatic missions, the burning of Japanese-owned or operated businesses and the interviews of men and women on the street spouting inanities (a smart thing for the individual to do, as one cannot never be sure of the actual identities of the members of the camera crew) it could not be possible less conducive to a passive resignation to Chinese suzereinty over the East Asian region.

Or as one cartoonist for the Global Times chose (out of recondite ironic protest?) to depict the peace China will bring to the East China Sea:

Tips of the hat to Corey Wallace and Bryce Wakefield for links in this post.

Friday, September 14, 2012

On Hiatus

For a few days...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hashimoto Toru's Beast

So it's decided then.

The correct pronunciation of Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru's new party is Nippon Ishin no Kai - the "in your face" pugnacious pronunciation of the two characters making up the name of this blessed land. The same pronunciation used by the dinosaur Sunrise Party (Tachiagare Nippon).

Hashimoto was in his element yesterday at the unveiling party, roving back and forth across the stage, tossing out laugh lines like an American-style stand-up comedian. He looked like the ideal new national leader -- vibrant, youthful, in command of his facts, unconcerned by the challenges ahead, promising a new-different-better tomorrow.

Clearly, Hashimoto has what it takes to shock the uncommitted voters out of their lethargy, getting them to walk over to their local elementary schools to write down on their ballots the names of his candidates and the name of his party -- long and complex though that name may be. The differences between himself and likely offerings from the two mainline political parties is stark.

Of course, that Hashimoto -- as of this writing -- is planning to remain mayor of Osaka, meaning that the voters, in voting for the Japan Renewal/Restoration Party (no word yet on the official English translation) Party and its district candidates will not be voting for Hashimoto to take over as prime minister, seems a huge hurdle for the party to vault.

However, should the JRA win big, a workaround -- one of his party's Osaka district representatives suddenly resigning his/her seat due to illness, for example -- will be found for Hashimoto to earn his seat in the Diet and take over from a seat warmer premier, probably chosen from among the three current members of the House of Representatives who appeared on the JRA stage yesterday.

Hashimoto could also just go back on his word and run for a Diet seat. It would not be the first time he has backed away from a stance.

For good or ill, powering the JRA is:

Testosterone - The Democratic Party of Japan has trouble promoting women -- just look at the Cabinet. However, the JRA leaves the DPJ in the dust in terms of its unabashed celebration of the Y-chromosome. There were women on the stage at the unveiling, shunted way over to the side. At a glance, one would not notice them.

Osaka boosterism - The headquarters of the new party will be in Osaka: a practical matter when the head of the party is the mayor of Osaka. The JRA will indeed hammer away with the message that unlike the traditional parties, it has its home far from the evil influence of the Diet Building and the ministries.

Locating itself in Osaka has positive and negative aspects for the new party. In terms of fundraising, the JRA will be able to draw upon the wounded local pride of wealthy Osakans and Osaka-based companies, who have seen their prefecture fall from second rank to third in terms of population and economic might. However, by locating the headquarters in Osaka, the JRA faces the potential accusation that the party is solely about Osakan pride of place, not about national leadership at all.

Brevity - Hashimoto's performance on stage yesterday demonstrated the message discipline imposed by his constant tweeting on Twitter. Every thought was expressed in chunks of words that if you analyzed them, would probably turn out to be 140 characters long or less. His speech was the dream of every television program director -- pre-edited into 15 to 20 second bits -- and every campaign manager: memorable, direct and short.

In our scrambled, hustling, buzzing present, Hashimoto's punchy concision will overwhelm the rambling, dissembling presentations of his rival party leaders. Though the majority of voters may not respond to all of Hashimoto's messages, they will remember enough of his points to be willing to give his party a chance at power.

Incidentally, former prime minister Abe Shinzo, in announcing his candidacy for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party, sold himself as Hashimoto's blood brother, insinuating that he was only candidate in the race capable of linking the hands of the LDP and the JRA, the grand prize being the two-thirds majority of seats in the House of Representatives and House of Councillors necessary to amend the Constitution. (J)

Considering how Abe does not seem to have made any new friends inside the LDP, the same cast of shady characters (Amari Akira, Inaba Tomomi, Shiozaki Yasuhisa...) standing to the left and the right of his podium yesterday as were orbiting him five years ago, the bond between himself and Hashimoto is the new wrinkle saving Abe's candidacy from being anything but a bad joke.

Later - The use of Nippon instead of Nihon for the name of the country is not necessarily a signifier of revisionist nationalist views. Fans at sporting events chant out "Nip'pon, Nip'pon, Nip'pon" because it is a heck of a lot easier to yell than "Ni-hon, Ni-hon, Ni-hon."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Doing One's Job Because It Is One's Job

The surest sign to the reader that a columnist or regular feature writer has hit rock bottom and will never again be wortwhile reading is when he or she starts out a piece with:

"I was trying to think of what it is I should be writing about today..."

The second surest sign of reaching writer's having hit a nadir from which he or she shall not rise again is when the writer starts using sports metaphors.

I am about to commit the second of these two blunders.

Way back when, Major League Baseball was blessed with a team manager, Roger Craig. Most managers obsess about winning, seeking to motivate or cow either through bluster and rage, or through cool calculation.

Craig was different. He cared about winning, yes -- but he cared even more about putting on a good show, one where the players did their best, and the fans would leave the ballpark thinking only of the next time they and families would be coming to see the ballgame again.

Nothing encapsulated Craig's approach better than his handling of disputes. Whenever there would be a close play or questionable judgment, Craig would trot, never run, out of the dugout up to the umpire who made the call. He would then engage the umpire in a conversation, occasionally pointing his finger at the supposed location of the mistake, jawing away. Sometimes he would get ejected from the game, for some seeming insult to the umpire or other infraction.

What the fans and the players did not know was that more often than not, Craig's conversations with the umpires had nothing to do with what had just transpired on the field. He often agreed with the call the umpire had made. He would talk about family news or whatever was on his mind. In one conversation, he managed to arrange with the umpire a day when they both could get together to play a round of golf. When he would get thrown out, it was often after an umpire had given him a warning of not arguing more than a set amount of time, which Craig would then in a friendly way proceed to violate.

Craig's philosophy was that he had a job to do. Arguing with the umpires was what the fans expected him to do, what the players expected him to do. Getting thrown out of games from time to time was what the fans expected him to do, what the players expected him to do. Otherwise, the fans, the players would not have faith that he was fighting for the the team.

By keeping his arguments within limits, and being honest with the umpires that he and they were merely actors on a stage, playing their assigned parts, Craig gained a strategic edge. Having been shown respect and empathy, umpires would be favorably disposed toward making calls that favored Craig's teams.

What does this have to do with Japanese and/or East Asian politics?

We all have an obligation, when watching, listening or reading the news, to remember that what the actors are doing is their jobs, with a greater or lesser degree of skill depending upon their abilities. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko is doing his job. China Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei is doing his job.

"So what?" is the natural response, "Isn't everyone just doing his or her job?"

Yes, but first, there are those who do their jobs with relish, living inside the roles they are playing. These are the folks one must identify and quarantine, as they are completely nuts. Either these or those who have other persons doing their jobs for them, leaving the otherwise unoccupied to engage in self-indulgent extra-curricular activities (Yes, I am looking at you Ishihara Shintaro and Abe Shinzo).

Second, in talking about the various and sundry events of the day, one has a responsibility to state again and again, "But then, of course he/she is saying/doing X because that is his/her job."

Punching a hole in the fourth wall, deflating a fine tale by reminding the audience that it is only a tale, seems a poor way to sell a story.

Make it dramatic! Make it scary! Make it seem as though we are upon the brink!

Maybe, in the old days, when government officials had to convince ordinary individuals that some Amaterasu-forsaken pile of rocks was worth the dying for. Or when in order to sell the news, one really had to sell the news, as if it were some new, improved version of laundry detergent.

But not now. Not in the 21st century.

So as a pair of Chinese fisheries patrol boats steam for the Senkakus and a squadron of Japan Coast Guard ships maneuver into position to greet them, we should all pray and indeed shout out loud our desire that at the helms of these ships are a slew of Roger Craigs, trotting out to engage in a little make believe confrontation -- because and only because that is their job.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Japan's Politics Stomps On The Accelerator

In The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens entitles one of the chapters "TOO FULL OF ADVENTURE TO BE BRIEFLY DESCRIBED."*

I feel the same way about events in politics these past few days.

-- Liberal Democratic Party president Tanigaki Sadakazu faced reality yesterday, giving up on even running for reelection (E). That he waited so long, forcing his second-in-command Ishihara Nobuteru to forego advance preparation for his own bid for the presidency, either represents faith triumphing over observable fact, or payback for Ishihara's only half-hearted expressions of support for Tanigaki's running for a second term.

Though Ishihara appears to be on course for a victory in the presidential race, and, after the next House of Representatives election, the premiership, it bears noticing that historically his presidential bid is an aberration. Only two secretary-generals have taken over as president since the peaceful, negotiated transition from Nakasone Yasuhiro to Takeshita Noboru in November 1987.

The first was the closed-door, five person negotiated agreement for Secretary-General Mori Yoshiro to take over the premiership from the brain dead but still on life support Obuchi Keizo, three days after Obuchi suffered his fatal stroke.

The other instance of a secretary-general succeeding a party president was Aso Taro taking over for Fukuda Yasuo when Fukuda suddenly resigned on September 1, 2008. Aso had only been in office a month, having been named secretary-general in a leadership shakeup on August 1.

The Aso case points out the main reason why most secretary-generals cannot usually make the direct transition from the party #2 position to the presidency. Under normal circumstances, the secratary-general has been the right-hand man to the president, as much responsible for the daily decisions, right or wrong, as the man in the #1 spot. The secretary-general has also always been seen as bearing ultimate responsibility for the LDP's performance in elections. Many a leadership transition was triggered by the party having a poor showing in an election, mandating that the secretary-general resign and serve a brief stint in limbo.

However, in this instance, the abrasiveness and shallow party roots of Ishihara's main challenger, foreign and security policy specialist Ishiba Shigeru, seem to be showing a green light for Ishihara's election, possibly even in the first round vote of the LDP local chapters.

The other challengers in the LDP race -- former prime minister Abe Shinzo, Machimura Nobutaka and Hayashi Yoshimasa -- seem to be in the race for tactical or public relations reasons.

Hayashi is the Washington think tank candidate -- fluent in English and a familiar face in Washington. He is, however, a member of the House of Councillors -- whose members are seen as not having a personal investment in the party's performance in the House of Representatives.  Hayashi is seen as being only technically available to step into the position of prime minister.

Machimura is the faction head candidate, participating so that the list of candidates has at least one faction head in it. Machimura's candidacy presents another hurdle for Machimura faction member Ishihara, as he would normally count on the votes of his faction as the core of his support in the Diet members' round of voting.

Abe is entering the race for purely tactical reasons. He used to be both the ultra-conservative and Washington think tank candidate. His breakdown while in office, unsurprisingly cooled most Washington and national interest. He does remain, however, the most recognizable of the unapologetic, fantastic history-believing nationalists. He is thus probably running in order to play the part of kingmaker in between Ishiba and Ishihara, extracting a promise of accelerated militarization and anti-Chinese and anti-South Korean stances in return for the votes of his supporters.

-- The window for declaring oneself a DPJ leadership candidate closed yesterday. With Hosono Goshi having been talked out of running on Friday last, a field of four candidates-- deridable as "Noda Yoshihiko and the Three Dwarfs" -- now are set for a whirlwind campaign ending on September 21. (E)

As Okumura Jun has noted, the explosion of interest in a Hosono candidacy last week was prima facie evidence that the three remaining Noda challengers -- Haraguchi Kazuhiko, Akamatsu Hirotaka and Kano Michihiko -- do not inspire. In speeches yesterday, each of the candidates, whilst criticizing the prime minister and his policy of accommodation with the LDP-New Komeito alliance, revealed his particular weakness. Haraguchi fulminated about the public's loss of faith in the party due to the abandonment of the promises in the 2009 manifesto. Haraguchi seems unaware that 1) manifesto author Ozawa Ichiro and his most of his acolytes decamped a few months ago, leaving a very small audience, at least among Diet members, for the "we have forgotten our roots" message.

Akamatsu's and Kano's candidacies seem more tactical, given their comparatively advanced ages (Akamatsu is 63; Kano 70). Akamatsu represents the potential votes of the party's under-appreciated socialists, while Kano can offer the votes of his own group and the votes of the members with a visceral hatred/fear of a DPJ commitment to participate in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Kano already has a history of vote trading, his support having been a crucial component of Noda Yoshihiko's victory over the Ozawa-supported Kaieda Banri in the 2011 leadership election.

Both Akamatsu and Kano railed against the three-party agreement that made the passage of the social welfare and pension reform bills possible. Noda defended it, and defended the extension of the three party agreement into the fall extraordinary session. Both sides are just blowing smoke, however. The three party agreement has falls into abeyance with Tanigaki's withdrawal from the LDP presidential race and the automatic evaporation on Spetember 8 of the bond issuance bill and electoral reform bill.

-- Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru on Sunday hosted a symposium (E) introducing the ideas that will vault his regional movement into a national political party, the Nihon (or Nippon) Ishin no Kai (the Japan Renewal Party or Japan Restoration Party. By the way, forget about running a search on 日本維新の会 -- what you get is the Facebook page of a Haraguchi Kazuhiko study group of the same name). At the seemingly interminable meeting (five hours in real time) Hashimoto introduced the seven members of the Diet who will today (Tuesday) tender their resignations from their current parties in time for the the JRA's coming out reception on Wednesday. That three of the seven are House of Councillors proportional seat members of the Your Party indicates the prescience of Michael Penn's private circulation article, of August 27, "Yoshimi Watanabe's Your Party in Terminal Crisis."

Of the remaining four defectors, three come from the DPJ and one from the LDP. Matsunami Kenta of the LDP is a proportional seat member of the House of Representatives, and from the Kinki bloc where Osaka is located. That the majority of the JRA's Diet members are proportional seat members indicates the cautious attitude district seat holders are taking with towards to Hashimoto's leap into national politics. That the majority of the defectors are also from the House of Councillors, rather than the more volatile and politically significant House of Representatives, indicates a further lack of certainty among those dissatisfied with the status quo that Hashimoto has coattails.

Also attending and speaking at the meeting were the usual suspects of devolution of power to local governments: former comedian and Miyazaki governor Higashikokubaru Hideo and two of The Three Hiroshis: former Kanagawa Yokohama pretty boy governor mayor Nakata Hiroshi and former revisionist textbook inceptor and Suginami City mayor Yamada Hiroshi, whose Spirit of Japan Party (Nihon soshinto) went nowhere. (J)

That Hashimoto featured these pre-August 2009 election retreads at his talk fest, and indeed wants them to run as Nihon Ishin no Kai candidates, indicates that for all the media interest and public opinion poll enthusiasm for the new party, there is little meat yet on the bones.

-- The deployment of MV-22 Osprey aircraft to the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa received what was ostensibly a significant blow on Sunday from a mass protest (E). Organizers claimed 101,000 persons participated in the rally. Aerial images on television seemed to indicate the size of the crowd was closer to 20,000, though it is possible thousands were, like crowd at the July 16 nuclear protest, hiding under the trees from the blazing sun.

Given that signing off on Osprey operations is electoral poison, it is likely that the final OK will be given by a lame duck Cabinet after after the results of a House of Representatives elections are in. That the U.S. Marine Corps generally gets what it wants means that the effectiveness of the protest is about as doubtful as its crowd numbers.

-- The purported suicide of Financial Services and Postal Reform Minister Matsushita is still the top of the news -- as a such a rare occurrence should be.

I loathe conspiracy theories and theorists but the official narratives so far regarding this case do not hold together. We are supposed to believe that a man found toppled over had hanged himself, or strangled himself with cords of some kind. We are being asked to believe that his security detail did not have a key to his condominium, having to use Minister Matsushita's wife's key to open the condominium front door. We are being asked to believe that he left goodbye messages to his wife, Prime Minister Noda and the Cabinet. We are being asked to believe that the imminent publication of a Shukan Shincho expose of a purported mistress may have pushed Matsushita to take his own life. (J)

As to the last claim, when you are seventy-three, recovering from prostrate prostate cancer and are revealed to have engaged in extra-marital shenanigans, you are well past the "this will ruin my career" stage.

Next up should be revelations of the content of the purported three goodbye notes.

Do I expect to be seeing the actual texts, ever?



* Demonstrating that British comic writing has been in the dead-pan, self-referential subversion of the narrative voice business for a very long time.

Worth One's Time #1

Since the Facebook page of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies (ICAS) at Temple University, Japan tells the visitor absolutely nothing about upcoming events, I will step in and reprint the announcement of an must-see presentation:

'Battle stations?' Sea Power and Sino-Japanese Security Relations in the East China Sea
Date: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Time: 7:00p.m. (Talk will start at 7:30p.m.)
Temple University, Japan Campus, Mita 5F
Alessio Patalano
Robert Dujarric
Admission: Free (Open to general public)
Language: English
*If you RSVP you are automatically registered. If possible, we ask you to RSVP but we always welcome participants even you do not RSVP.

Dr. Patalano knows more about Japan's maritime power than anyone else, at least among those publishing works for the general reader. Where others speak of generalities, he speaks in specifics and whether others speak of elements deracinated from time, he embeds everything in the now.

Now ICAS, fix your darn Facebook page!

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Minister Dies A Mysterious Death

Minister for Postal Reform and State Minister for Financial Services and People's New Party member Matsushita Tadahiro is dead. Police responding to an emergency call from his Tokyo home at about 4:45 p.m. found him "fallen down" (taorete iru). With disturbing speed, the news media complex is reporting that the police are investigating the death of the 73 year-old Matsushita as being a likely suicide. (J)

Now there may be good reasons to suspect the minister's having taken his own life. However, to see a report of an older, sickly man's death reported as a likely/possible suicide on NHK's prime time evening newscast only 2 hours and 15 minutes after the police were first called is damn peculiar. Recall this is the cast of clowns who could never come clean about the exact cause of death of Nakagawa Sho'ichi, when 1) his father had committed suicide, 2) he was an alcoholic, 3) he had suffered months earlier humiliation on a global scale (You Tube) which ended his political career and 4) he was found, lying down, at his Tokyo home, unresponsive.

If Matsushita did take his own life, he would be only the second Cabinet Minister to do so while in office since the promulgation of the present Constitution, the first having been the scandal-beset Matsuoka Toshikatsu in May 2007.

Requiescat in pacem.

What this death will mean for the implementation of the postal counter-reformation Ozawa Ichiro and Kamei Shizuka foisted upon us in order to please the hereditary postmaster's association and the postal unions, is probably not much. Speculation on this subject is also better left to institutions such as The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg, which tend to frame world events in terms of their effects on investment portfolios.

Okumura Jun's View Of The Diet Post-Election, And My Own

As is his habit and capacity, Okumura Jun has published a magisterial outlook, laying out the political situation in the Diet, post-House of Representatives election.

Okumura-san and I have been in agreement for a very long time that the Tanigaki Line -- block all significant Diet business in a bid to force the Democratic Party of Japan-led government into holding new elections -- was idiotic, as any post-election administration would have to be a coalition between the Liberal Democratic Party and the DPJ. Aggressively toppling the DPJ government through its effective control of the House of Councillors, only to have to reach out to the DPJ post-election because the LDP-New Komeito alliance lacked a 50% majority in the House of Representatives, seemed at best pointless, at worst a recipe for likely catastrophic intra-party strife.

Now that Osaka City Mayor Hashimoto Toru has unleashed his beast, the Nihon Ishin no Kai (or Nippon Ishin no Kai - E), translated as the Japan Renewal Party -- whose initials are, as Okumura-san has noted, the same as Japan's national horseracing organization, an acronym that is as much a brand name as NEC -- I must part ways with Okumura-san.

The political calculus has changed.

The LDP, the DPJ and the JRA will finish first, second and third in the number of House of Representatives seats. However, in the popularity contest, the proportional seat voting, the DPJ will likely finish behind the other two parties, in third place.

As Okumura has suggested, the JRA's policy platform presents problems for any party wishing to form a post-election ruling coalition with the JRA as a partner. In particular, the JRA's Eight Policies (hassaku) include a host of promises requiring changes to the Constitution, a document that has not seen a single comma altered in it since its promulgation 55 years ago.

The sheer number of improbable promises being made guarantees that negotiations with the JRA on a common policy platform will be onerous.

However, the LDP will have little choice but to approach the JRA, the DPJ having an incentive and a cover story for sitting on the sidelines.

The DPJ's reasoning will be impeccable:

"The voters have spoken and rejected our rule. How can we double-guess the voters' judgment and team up with either of the parties whom the voters have chosen as our replacements?"

The LDP and the JRA will come up with something, probably involving a lot of study groups examining such hopeless causes as direct elections of the prime minister, revision of Article 9 and abolition of the House of Councillors. They will agree on policies to assign an identity number to everyone, to further diminish the independence of teachers, to eliminate the ability of local bureaucrats to engage in political campaigns (a delicious bit of hypocrisy, considering the number of local bureaucrats currently enrolled as students at Hashimoto Toru's juku) and to promote greater love of the government country.

Left behind, despite being ideas that both parties share, will be commitments to unifying of the prefectures into lander (doshusei) and ensuring the country's accession to the Trans Pacific Partnership. These policy changes will go nowhere precisely because of loud commitments the parties will make to them. Mandating unification and the TPP require "Nixon goes to China" decisions: only those who have never been supporters have the credibility to make the leap, in light of the country's changing situation.

After the formation of the coalition and the election of a new prime minister, probably Ishihara Nobuteru, the fun will really begin.

It will likely not be over policy, either.

I have criticized Ozawa Ichiro bitterly on many occasions. However, in one area of political endeavor, his efforts have proven spectacular: in the recruitment of talent. He himself has been dogged by unproven and unprovable accusations of corruption. His recruits to the DPJ, however, have been spectacular in their capacity to stay out of trouble, a stirring contrast to the lurid spectacle of that was and is the LDP. The vetting and courting process of potential candidates would often stretch out over years, with Ozawa involved every step of the way. Indeed, the bringing in of candidates into a party is perhaps the only part of politics Ozawa really enjoys.

The JRA's candidates will be recruited primarily out of the enthusiasts and acolytes who shelled out the cash to attend the Hashimoto juku. As such, it will be a collection of a hundred ticking time bombs of scandal. Messy divorces, delinquent taxes, yakuza friendships, love children for whom no child support was paid, buried stints in hospitals for depression -- you name it, they will have it, just like any neighborhood in this country, where the veneer of civility hides a thousand secrets.

The afternoon broadsheets and the weekly scandal magazines have no incentive to protect any of these fresh-minted politicians or bolster the upstart Hashimoto. Even the much beleaguered Ozawa had at least one evening newspaper in his corner: the JRA boys and girls will have nothing.

It will be as sharks at a feeding frenzy, like Abe Shinzo's Year of Living Luridly (remember the four different Ministers of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries? The attempted coverup of the loss of 50 million pension accounts? Matsuoka Toshikatsu's water purification devices and his suicide a few months later?), only many times worse.

At this the DPJ Diet members will just sit and watch, a frieze of Dr. Gachets, stirring themselves only to ask the occasional pertinent and embarrassing question.

An overwrought vision? Possibly. But a damn sight more likely than the LDP and DPJ cohabiting. Unlike the LDP, the DPJ was born an opposition party. Losing power is unpleasant for the party but does not pose an existential threat. The DPJ will not succumb to a frenzied search for anything -- ANYTHING (a Socialist as Prime Minister? We can do that.) to seize control of the Cabinet.

As was the case in 2009, it would indeed be best for the DPJ to just wait and let the golden apple drop into its lap, again.

Later - My apologies for not fixing the typos earlier. Something has been blocking my access to Blogger.