Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This Senkakus Thing Is Not Getting Any Better, Folks

For all those those who have told me, in communications public or private, for weeks now that the government of China, after a period of bluster, is ready, if only the Government of Japan were not so stubborn, to resume the fostering of a relationship of increasing trust, stability and reasonableness, a message:


China raises stakes over disputed islands *
Financial Times

China has started making concerted efforts to chase Japanese ships out of waters surrounding the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, ratcheting up tensions between Asia's two largest economies.

The Chinese State Oceanic Administration – which enforces the nation's maritime interests – said four of its ships on Tuesday tried to expel Japanese vessels out of waters where they were operating "illegally".


This move by China could change the status quo in a dispute that has escalated in recent years, Chinese analysts said. Last month, Beijing announced a territorial baseline for the disputed islands that defined the exact geographical location of its claimed territory to back its long-standing claim.

"Chinese government vessels did not chase Japanese boats out of the islands' territorial waters in the past, as these waters were an area controlled by the Japanese coastguard," said Li Guoqiang, an expert on border issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "But the situation changed when we created a legal basis for enforcing our claim by announcing the territorial baseline for the islands in September."

Of course the assertion that State Oceanic Administration ships chased out JCG vessels is a falsehood promoted solely for Chinese domestic consumption. However, that China's government and news agencies are collaborating in the promulgation of this false narrative should worry anyone with the least sense of how countries march into wars.

As for the theory behind the actions, The New York Times reported that former Ambassador Chen Jian yesterday gave a presentation to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong that could singe one's ears off.

Ex-Envoy Says U.S. Stirs China-Japan Tensions
The New York Times

HONG KONG — A longtime Chinese diplomat warned Tuesday that the United States is using Japan as a strategic tool in its effort to mount a comeback in Asia, a policy that he said is serving to heighten tensions between China and Japan.

The retired diplomat, Chen Jian, who served as an under secretary general of the United Nations and as China's ambassador to Japan, said the United States should restrain Tokyo and should focus its diplomatic efforts on bringing about negotiations between China and Japan over the disputed islands in the East China Sea known as the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan.

In an unusually biting assessment of the United States, Mr. Chen said: "It is in the U.S. interest to quarrel with China, but not to fight with China." [This is not what Chen said – MTC]

While Mr. Chen has retired from China's diplomatic service, his remarks were particularly significant because they represent the most detailed public exposition of China’s views at a time when Chinese officials have been wary of making comments because of the approaching Communist Party Congress, which is scheduled to begin in Beijing on Nov. 8.

In the speech, which was organized by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was attended by half a dozen Chinese diplomats, Mr. Chen held out an olive branch by urging that discussions between Japan and China should start on ways to reduce the risk of clashes between Chinese and Japanese patrol vessels that have gotten perilously close off the islands in the last month.

But the thrust of his speech was more hard-hitting, particularly regarding the United States. Some in China and Japan see the issue of the islands "as a time bomb planted by the U.S. between China and Japan," he said. "That time bomb is now exploding or about to explode."

Mr. Chen accused the United States of encouraging the right wing in Japan, and fanning a rise of militarism...

Being the skeptical soul that I am, I wondered what Chen really said. Luckily, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong is tech savvy and already has Ambassador Chen's address up on its website. (Link- scroll down)

For those without 26 minutes to spend listening to an inadvertently comic (albeit not Monty Pythonesque comic) view of history and international politics, some of the choicer bits, with commentary:

"Where there is oil, there is always trouble."

No comment necessary here.

"That happened at a time [1968] when China was busily engaged in what is called Cultural Revolution" {my underline – MTC}

Quick, someone call the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dump the stale "Japanese armed forces 'advanced into' (shinpo) China" versus "Japanese armed forces 'invaded' (shinryaku) China" debate. It was never either. Textbooks and government documents should not equivocate: Japanese armed forces were "busily engaged (ii kagen ni shiro) in China."

"I have a story to tell here. I recall at one stage that the then president of Philippines visited China and met Deng Xiaoping. And that former president raised the question of some of the [Nansha] islands, saying that they are so close to the Philippines, why don’t let Philippines hold on to them? And what was Deng's reply? He said, 'For that matter, the Philippines is not that far from China.' (Laughter) Of course what Deng means is not the Philippines is part of China. What he meant is that geographical proximity should not be taken as the solution over sovereignty over islands."

Ha, ha, ha. Funny. They are rolling in the aisles in Manila.

"We are living in a globalized world and an information age. These two factors have changed everybody’s life as well as relations between states. They have quickened the space of changes in the pattern of international relations. So now we say today the world is undergoing a major transformation and adjustment. They have given rise to what is called popularism and nationalism, both of which are on the rise."

Retranslation: "Sorry, when we let our citizens torch your facilities, loot your stores and assault your diplomatic missions, it's not us, it's globalization and silicon chips/glass fiber/signal multiplexing/html that are to blame."

"The interaction of the media, politicians and the general public is far greater than before. The result of that interaction is…often leads to the escalation of tension, whether domestic or between states."

Of course, we are not talking about China here. In China, the government exerts benign control over the media, to promote peace and respect for law, both domestically and in between states.

"While most of China's neighbors regard China's rise as an opportunity, for opportunity I mean closer cooperation to achieve mutual development and prosperity, some of our neighbors regard it as a mixed blessing: opportunity in economic terms and challenge in security terms. As China is in the process of rising, and it will take years for China to be really strong, economically and militarily, some countries that have territorial disputes with China regard these years, I mean now and the coming years, as their last opportunity to take hold of what they believe belongs to them."{my underline - MTC}

Do the smart cookies understand now why I have been such a stick in the mud over the Government of Japan’s never admitting the existence of a territorial dispute over the Senkakus? Or be cajoled into attempting to deploy cute sophistry? (Link)

"What is 'smart power'? As I see it, smart power is combination of two mutually reinforcing means...mechanisms. One, making use of outside force or outside countries. Two, exploiting contradiction among countries of the region."

Outside force or outside countries? The inside being...where? Let me guess: Japan is "outside" and ASEAN is "inside."

As for the second point, someone needs to email Hun Sen and tell him the bad news that from now on, China is relying on dumb power alone. No more mon, no more fun.

"U.S. is urging Japan to play a greater role in the region -- in security terms, not just in the economic terms -- which suits the purpose of the right wing in Japan more than perfectly."

Though not nearly so perfectly as Chinese government-abetted anti-Japan rioting, the promotion of anti-Japanese feelings through education, the boycotts of Japanese products, the cut-offs of the exports of materials vital to Japanese industry, the dispatch of Chinese government vessels into Japanese territorial waters and attacks on Japanese diplomats and diplomatic missions. So suck on that America!

"But, are there guarantees that Japan and the Philippines...and other countries for that matter, will not misjudge U.S. intentions, and carry their quarrel with China too far, and draw United States and China into a confrontation? The danger is apparent and China needs to be alert to that."

"Too far"...What a concept! China asserts that the Senkakus are theirs and the area within the nine-dash line is at the very least a core interest. By definition, Japan claiming sovereignty over the Senkakus and the Philippines having facilities in the Spratlys – i.e., the status quo – is too far.

"No, what are China's policy options? [snip] I see two major determinants: protection of sovereignty and preservation of stability, both at home and abroad. The first is the responsibility of any national state, that is to protect national sovereignty. The latter is the prerequisite of development. China's option must be something less than perfect; it has to be between these two considerations."

A less-than perfect world for China. Oh boo-hoo-hoo.

For Amaterasu's sake, grow up.

"That explains why, so far, the Chinese government has not taken any pro-active action to initiate changes in the status quo, wherever the dispute lies. China only respond to what it sees as provocation. The only question one can raise is whether the response is commensurate."

No, one can also ask the question whether what China sees as provocation is in fact provocation, or merely a pretext for China to leap down from its Olympian foregoing of "proactive action to initiate changes" to a grubby initiation of changes in the status quo.

The above, minus the snarky MTC commentary, is only a taste of what is available. There is a stunningly weird attempt to explain Japanese domestic politics. The conclusion features a ridiculous set of principles for China to follow in its grinding acquisition of territories – a set of principles which, sorry to tell those enamored of the concept of submitting territorial disputes to the International Court of Justice, never once invokes international law. Indeed, Chen explains at the beginning of his presentation that international law is a root cause of the current territorial disputes.

Peace should be the ultimate goal of all actors in the East Asian region. What we have, however, is not peace but a cold ceasefire. Peace requires humility, empathy and an acceptance of reality. The leadership of China, for its own reasons, finds those three requirements inimical to its interests.


* Michiyo-san and Ms. Hille, I got the message. Will your editors cut me some slack, as I select only a small part of the text and provide the link to the original article?

Time For A Change Of Scenery, Mr. Harlan?

When a dispatched journalist in the third year of a year of a stint tells a lie for effect, one has to wonder what it is he thinks he is doing in this blessed land.
Report: U.S. should allow Japan to use Yokota military air base for commercial flights
The Washington Post

By Chico Harlan, Oct 29, 2012 09:49 AM EDT - TOKYO — This city of 35 million says it badly needs a third airport to help it meet rising demand for passenger flights. And its officials think just the right airport already exists: a U.S. air base in the sprawling western suburbs, under the shadows of Mount Fuji.

Despite almost a decade of lobbying from Tokyo and the central government, Japan hasn't persuaded the United States to grant it partial use of Yokota Air Base. Talks stalled after a 2007 feasibility study raised the possibility of emergency-time chaos if the base were handling both military jets and commercial planes...


Yokota Air Force Base? "Under the shadows of Mt. Fuji"? Really?

Let us consult Google Maps...

Yellow - Mt. Fuji summit to Yokota Air Force Base = 70 km

Red - Mt. Fuji summit to Washington Post Tokyo Bureau = 96 km

Hell of an important 26 kilometers. Gets one right out of "the shadows" they do.

Okagesama de indeed.

Mr. Harlan, the relevant authority to which you should send your apologies is the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. Should you want to present your apologies in person, its base is in Tsukuba. You might want to consult a map as to where that is before your departure.

My apologies to those desiring a more substantive post. The mendacious cliché just irked.

Later - Yes, I am going to let the "This city of 35 million" slide. That the population of the Tokyo Metropolitan District is just over 13 million is a technicality. I am not that persnickety.

Later still - I shudder at having to read the Center for A New American Security's report on joint civilian-military use of Yokota (Link). The ancillary effects of such a proposal -- construction of a modern civilian airport terminal and support facilities without affecting the operations of a major military base; the noise lawsuits that will be filed by local residents; the reaction in Okinawa (always negative, no matter what); the transiting through the base of millions of passengers (we are not talking Misawa in Aomori Prefecture, where the total number of commercial departures and arrivals per day at the joint military-civilian airport there is...six); the road and rail link upgrades -- they boggle the imagination.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Worthwhile Reads for October 28, 2012

Philip Brasor is a professional writer...and it shows. He has been writing for the print edition of The Japan Times for what seems an eternity, which makes him eligible for some kind of "bravely facing adversity" award. A while back he and I both contributed essays to a book produced by the tireless Our Man from Abiko. The difference in the quality of the essays left me feeling a deep sense of shame.

Brasor and his partner Tsukuba Masako have published a cracking essay for anyone who has ever wondered, "Given the parade of turkeys the major parties foist upon the electorate, why is it that individuals possessing talent, charm and a modicum of sense fail to throw their hats in the ring? This blessed land boasts an educated and informed electorate, half of whom have no allegiance to any party. A bright and competent person, clearly able to walk and eat a rice cake at the same time, should be able to waltz in and crush the party offerings."

One answer, and it is a big one, is the kyotakukin. Brasor and Tsukuba explain it -- and pay tribute in passing to the Japan Communist Party's almost insane commitment to electoral democracy. For those in need of a comparative figure, 3 million yen is one third of the annual salary of a managerial class employee with 10 years service in a company.

Brasor and Tsukuba - "Candidate deposit requirement guarantees same faces on the ballot"

The essay is the latest post to the pair's economics blog Yen for Living, hosted on The Japan Times' website.

Brasor and Tsukuba also produce a fascinating personal blog on what would seem an unpromising subject: looking for housing in the Kanto area: Cat Foreheads & Rabbit Hutches.

In the "Could it be that simple?" department, The Diplomat published an essay a few weeks back offering possible relief for Japanese exporters exhausted by the hoops one must leap through to do business in China. According James Parker, to finance consultant and lecturer, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA), which the PRK government has promoted as a way of increasing Chinese influence over the economic life of ASEAN countries mutual prosperity, opens a back door, through the law of unintended consequences, for Japanese companies to sell their wares and services in China without the hassle of being in China,. That these companies will also likely end up paying lower wages is a bonus.

Parker - "The Coming Economic Shift?"

It sounds all to good to be true -- and Parker admits, given the gap in between the logistics web and the transport infrastructure China offers and and the capacities of ASEAN countries (pax Singapore and pockets of Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines) -- making the "ASEAN workaround" pay off will be difficult, in the short run.

However, with the government of China making only cosmetic efforts at lessening the risks and aggravations Japanese companies face in China, and with the government of Japan, probably at the initiative of pro-active bureaucrats, quietly ramping up economic diplomacy in the parts of ASEAN where the China has enjoyed undue influence for the last few decades (Link), predictions of an inevitable decline in Japan's engagement with ASEAN (Link) may turn out to have been premature.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Shutting The Door In Noda's Face

On October 29, the much-delayed fall Extraordinatry Session of the Diet will open. In the House of Representatives, the first order of business will be the Prime Minister's delivery of his Policy Address, outlining what he and his Cabinet intend to accomplish in the session.

Under normal circumstances, the Prime Minister would then move to the House of Councillors chamber, to deliver the same Policy Address.

However, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will not be delivering his address to the House of Councillors. In an agreement worked out between the heads of all the opposition parties, who together control the majority of seats in the House of Councillors, the doors of the chamber will be shut to him, and the day will pass without his addressing the Senators. (Link - J)

Now this is a decidedly peculiar beginning to a session of the Diet. However, Noda has infuriated the opposition parties, particularly the Liberal Democratic Party, by his refusal to dissolve the Diet and hold elections before the year is out. Indeed, after privately promising the former LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu that he would call elections "soon" (chikai uchi ni), Noda has refused to name a date for the Diet's dissolution. The delay of the opening of the Extraordinary Session until the final days of October indeed guarantees that there will be no election this year, there being not enough time for the drawing of an unimpeachable, constitutional revision of the House of Representatives electoral map and for a legal declaration of candidates for office. (Link)

More pointedly and pettily, the current House of Councillors censured the Prime Minister at the tail end of the Regular Session. Though s censure motion has no legal force behind it and ceased to be meaningful following the closure of the Regular Session on September 8, the PM is still in essence and perhaps in perpetuity persona non grata in the House of Councillors, even before yesterday's formal agreement among the opposition parties to bar the doors to his entry.

If the Prime Minister and the Democratic Party of Japan wanted to, and the President of the House of Councillors agreed to it, the DPJ members of the House of Councillors, who by themselves represent a quorum, could presumably open up the doors of the House of Councillors, invite the PM in and and sit and listen to him deliver his Policy Address.

Even if the PM and the DPJ could pull off this trick and get out of the Diet building before the opposition arrived -- which is unlikely as the Diet members' offices are across the street from the Diet Building -- there would be no point in such a gesture, aside from striking back at the opposition's insulting refusal to listen to a presentation by the head of the government. The opposition would simply censure the prime minister again, bringing the Extraordinary Session to a halt before it had even begun.

So Prime Minister Noda will suffer a stunning slight on October 29, the first time a prime minister has been denied the opportunity to deliver a policy address since the present constitution was adopted. He is probably overjoyed at the prospect, as not having to address the House of Councillors will free up a couple of otherwise wasted hours in the middle of a busy workday.

In an interesting twist, the LDP caucus in the House of Councillors is picking a fight with the LDP caucus in the House of Representatives over the use of pressure tactics. The LDP caucus in the House of Councillors is raring to insult the prime minister as regards the policy address. However, it is agnostic as regards withholding approval on the bond issuance bill until the Noda government has coughed up electoral district reform legislation that both pleases the LDP-New Komeito opposition alliance and hastens the government's demise -- a request that the Noda government has been reticent to honor. Mizote Kensei, the LDP's House of Councillors Secretary-General, has stated that Diet dissolutions are a House of Representatives affair, House of Councillors members being elected for fixed terms. If a bond issuance bill emerges from the House of Representatives, which it can thanks to the ruling DPJ-People's New Party coalition's still holding a thin numerical majority in that House, then, according to Mizote, "The bill will pass in my House." (Link - J)

If Mizote is not just blowing smoke, and Prime Minister Noda can count on the House of Councillors passing the bond issuance bill for the price of insulting him like no prime minister ever has been insulted before, he will take that deal.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Parsing Okada On The Senkakus - Oh Neo Where Art Thou?

Until yesterday, I lived as so many of you, in an intellectual landscape of great green trees, wide, clear rivers, and in the distance, peaks with their first dustings of autumn snow.

Now my mind wanders in a battered and bruised land, a sere landscape of ghostly shapes appearing and dissappearing, enshrouded in mist hanging above a gray crumble of burnt soil and blackened rocks.

If only I had not stumbled over this:
Japan's deputy PM admits Diaoyus dispute, opening path to China talks
Deputy PM acknowledges dispute with China over islands, potentially paving way for talks
South China Morning Post

Teddy Ng -- The top deputy to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has acknowledged that a dispute with China exists over the East China Sea - a key concession and potential olive branch to Beijing.

Speaking at a meeting of the ruling Democratic Party, Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada said Tokyo's control of the Diaoyu Islands - known in Japan as the Senkakus - could not be questioned, even as he admitted Beijing took issue with its claim.

"The Senkaku issue is not a territorial problem, but, as a matter of fact, there is a dispute between China and Japan," Okada was quoted by Kyodo News as saying. "Both sides must fix the current situation through dialogue."

Tokyo has long refused to acknowledge even the existence of a disagreement, a key roadblock to Beijing's efforts to draw it into negotiations. Noda's government has maintained the position even as coastguards from mainland China, Japan and Taiwan conduct competing patrols in the surrounding waters.

The dispute has resulted in widespread anti-Japanese protests and boycotts in mainland China, which have begun to take a toll on the Japanese economy. Japanese exports fell 10.3 per cent year on year in September.

Okada blamed nationalist Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara's bid to buy the islands from their private Japanese owner for triggering the row. Noda announced his own purchase plan in a bid to defuse the situation, but it only further angered Beijing.

"We need to tell China that it is safer for the islands to be controlled by the central government than by the Tokyo metropolitan government," Okada said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing had always wanted to resolve the row through negotiations.

Luo Zhaohui, the ministry's Asian affairs director, went to Tokyo to meet his Japanese counterparts earlier this month, paving the way for bilateral talks.

What? What? What?

Okada breaks with the official position in a significant way -- and the Sankei Shimbun does not go bananas, issuing a spate of editorials and op-eds battering Okada for his perfidious utterance?

How did a shift in Japan's stance, or Japan's stance as explained by Okada, fly completely under the radar?

I put out an all-points-bulletin for the original Japanese statement, which Mure Dickie of the Financial Times graciously provided:

尖閣諸島「都の購入計画間違い」 岡田副総理

2012/10/21 20:17

 岡田克也副総理は21日、和歌山市で講演し、沖縄県・尖閣諸島の国有化の背景に石原慎太郎東京都知事による購入計画があったことに触れ 「都が尖閣問題に乗り出したのは間違いだった。都は外交問題の責任を取れない。結果的に中国から非常に厳しい反応が返ってきた」と批判した。


(Link - J)

In what constitutes a glaring case of burying the lede, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun chose to emphasize in its headline Okada's stating that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's plan to purchase the Senkakus was an error. A precedent-shattering shift in the government's stance on the status of the Senkakus is left to swing in the breeze in the last line.

For the benefit of those who do not read Japanese, or whose computers do not accept kanji, here is the last line, in romaji and in my translation.
"Senkaku wa ryodo mondai de wa nai ga giron ga aru koto wa jijitsu de, taiwa wo tsujiru ima no jokyo o shizumeru to ikenai."

"The Senkakus are not a territorial issue. However, that a debate exists is a fact. Given this, we must calm/quiet the present situation through dialogue."
The words that Okada puts in opposition are mondai (問題) and giron (議論). Mondai in the phrase ryodo mondai is "issue" – no question about that. However, what does giron mean? According to the Kojien dictionary, giron is:

a) The coming together for the purpose of transmitting of one’s own theories
b) To argue with another on a theoretical level
c) To set opinions to fighting against one another

So calling giron a "debate" is not a bad shorthand.

Now here is where we part with reality.

One might believe that "Let's debate the issues" is an uncomplicated and banal phrase. However, this is not so in the world Okada would have us inhabit.

In this new world one can still debate issues. One can also debate non-issues, such as whether curry with rice tastes better when one puts the curry on top of the rice or when one puts it next to the rice (that I have to ask guests, out of courtesy, which way they want their curry served indicates that the human race is marked for extinction). Non-issues are differences between two states of being that are so trivial as to be not worth one’s time discussing – but we do so anyway.

However, to the polar opposites issues and non-issues we are now supposed to accept a third pole: the not issues.

When the first ideas were being floated on how Japan could hold to its official stance on sovereignty over the Senkakus whilst giving the other side, whether it be Chinese or Taiwanese, some place to stand upon, I joked one had to resort to quantum mechanics to understand the proposals. (Link)

Quantum mechanical explanations, however, will do one no good here. There is no assumption of Japanese sovereignty both existing and not existing, the state of matter called “superposition.” Here, Okada has stated that there is no territorial issue involving the Senkakus. In physics terms, the wave function has collapsed: the territorial issue does not exist.

However, according to Okada, while an issue does not exist, a debate does.

Presumably, Mr. Luo and his counterpart Sugiyama Shinsuke, the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau chief at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have been meeting in order to discuss everything except the sovereignty issue.

Why? Because the sovereignty issue does not exist.

If the issue of sovereighty does not exist, you cannot have a debate about it. If you cannot have a debate about it, you cannot have a debate about anything related to it. All substantive debate about who can and will do what where depends upon who has sovereignty at that "where."

So from the moment you start debating anything peripheral to the Senkakus, you are immediately thrown back to debating about something that does not exist.

So how are Mssrs. Luo and Sugiyama occupying their time?

They could ostensibly be discussing phenomenology: debating whether or not they are really there debating or, as it were, not debating about something that does not exist.

They could be discussing baseball, both in Japan and the United States. Or the U.S. elections. Or the Chinese leadership transition. Or Japan’s constipated legislative process.

They could be amusing themselves and their staffs with role-switching, saying, “OK, for this session I’ll be you and you’ll be me. Let’s see what happens.”

However, they cannot be talking about the issue that has brought them together because that, as we know, does not exist.

At which point I begin to regret not having chosen the blue pill.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Very Briefly On The Blinking One's Resignation As Governor Of The TMD

Way back a few months ago, Ishihara Shintaro, governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan District, started making noises about starting up a new "true conservative" political party -- because Japan obviously has too few national political parties. Ishihara flirted with Hiranuma Takeo (adopted son of executed Class A war criminal), Hashimoto Toru (the man from the mud who through gumption, brass and effort has become overlord of Japan's #3 city) and Kamei "Pavarotti and Leonardo" Shizuka, the now defenestrated leader of the People's New Party and a man who has never met a reform he could not oppose.

All this mutual batting of eyelashes between reactionaries came to naught, however. Hiranuma and Hashimoto in particular were charry of sharing the limelight with the flamboyant Ishihara.

As a consequence, Ishihara went to Plan B: buying three of the Senkaku Islands from their private owner.

That purchasing plan having gone sour a few weeks back with hardly any repercussions of note, Ishihara today went back to Plan A, the founding a new "true conservative" party -- a dream whose realization is so daunting Ishihara will give up his day job in order to pursue it.

Of course, had he ever been doing his day job, rather than farming out all but the ceremonial and lectern pounding parts to Inose Naoki (Link), he would never had had the time for all these extracurricular activities.

A mixed blessing have we in the TMD enjoyed these last 13 years. Voters normally vote for politicans expecting them to do their jobs. However, the voters of the TMD returned Ishihara to the the governorship three times precisely because he refused to do his job, and instead foisted it upon an unelected writer, researcher and critic who just so happened has been really, really interested in running a metropolis.

Now that the pretend governor is leaving the stage, how can we still enjoy the labors of the real one?

In Defense of Noda Yoshihiko's Leadership

Two analysts whom I respect greatly yesterday issued negative assessments of Prime Minister and Democratic Party of Japan leader Noda Yoshihiko's leadership.

In a post to his blog GlobalTalk 21, Okumura Jun writes:

The October 22 evening edition of Nikkei has a chart listing the ministers that resigned or were dismissed during the three years of the DPJ regime. It tells us that Hatoyama lost two, Kan lost four, while Tanaka is Noda’s second loss. So one head better than par for the course? Not quite.


Noda's two losses by contrast were precipitated by political and legal misdemeanors by obviously under-qualified if personable politicos being rewarded for their political attributes.

But that's not all. Prime Minister Noda in what must be a national record has conducted three cabinet reshuffles in little more than a year in office. This is not exactly mitigated by the fact that two of those reshuffles were actually pretexts to get rid of a couple of appointees in each case who had exposed their lack of political toilet training and had to go.

Six incompetents kicked out, or three cabinet reshuffles in little more than a year. Pick his poison; whichever explanation you choose, he makes Hatoyama look good and Kan look at worst average as far as personnel management goes. And that’s probably not an easy feat to accomplish.


In a comment to my post of the wee hours of Monday, October 22 on Maehara Seiji’s act of political arson (Link), Corey Wallace of σ1 writes:

As for the main argument of your piece, I guess my point really is, yeah Maehara is a prat, but he hasn't really blown up any "plan" mainly because the plan was a pointless and ineffective one the moment that Noda chose the cabinet he did (irrespective of the Tanaka issue) and the party's leadership essentially sacrificed the middle and younger ranks of the party by signaling that they would turn over on the electoral redistricting. Maehara has made it easier for the LDP etc to badger them during the temporary session. But it may be for the best. It seems the senior leadership's plan is to extend the life of the administration as long as possible, even if it leads the party into even more devastating annihilation in an election. As long as they survive, the rest of the party be damned (and yes, Maehara is part of the senior leadership). A look at the opinion polls tells you what the public want, and the current Noda's administration survival is the lowest on the list for what they want to see happen over the next few months, perhaps only above the government running out of money.

My friends, respect you both I do, but you are both wrong.

As to the charge that Noda has a bad record of personnel management, consider the DPJ Hatoyama and Kan left him and what he has been able to do with it. Beside (because he most certainly not under) Hatoyama Yukio, Ozawa Ichiro managed to grab every atom of policy making power to himself, alienating the entire middle tier of the party's membership. The struggle reaching a climax in the Ubukata rebellion (Link) that ended in a humiliating stepdown by the imperious Ozawa.

When Hatoyama stepped down, and took Ozawa in a headlock down with him, Kan Naoto took over a party with a major image problem and deep internal fissures. Kan decided that Job One was the restoration of the party's reputation and mollification of the party’s middle ranks – most of whom had been in the party longer than Ozawa. This meant an openly declared policy of "de-Ozawafication," quarantining Ozawa – a process considerably aided by Ozawa's indictment on political funding fraud charges – and also trying to salvage a workable policy program from out of the mountain of impossible-to-fulfill promises made in the Ozawa-drafted 2009 policy manifesto.

However, Kan could only go so far in the de-Ozawafication process, as Ozawa still had sway over at least 150 legislators. So while Kan kept his Cabinet largely clean of Ozawa acolytes, he had to always be cognizant that he and his allies stood on the precipice as regards party unity, that a step too far could split the party in half. Had not 3/11 intervened, Kan could have indeed presided over such a split.

The recovery and reconstruction effort, and the absolutely disgraceful attacks on Prime Minister Kan by members of the Liberal Democratic Party and others in the opposition, submerged for a while the internal battle between the Ozawa followers and the DPJ main line.

However, Ozawa's frightening hold upon his followers and their willingness to follow him even on the most self-destructive of paths was demonstrated in the election to replace Kan. In a move that strains credulity even today, Ozawa picked as his champion Kaieda Banri, a man who had not only written a book denouncing Ozawaism but one month prior to the leadership election had broken down in tears during Diet testimony (Link). Despite the history of bad blood and real possibility of electing an emotionally unstable man party leader, Ozawa's followers provided the lion's share of 143 votes and a top-place finish Kaieda received in the first round of voting.

Noda eventually prevailed in the runoff, 215 votes to 177 – but what to do about those 177 votes? Noda, in his own attempt to keep the party together despite Ozawa’s machination, promised to be a "no sides" leader, willing to share power with Ozawa followers and allies.

Noda made good on his promise, appointing Ozawa allies Ishikawa Tatsuo and Yamaoka Kenji to his Cabinet – ministers who almost immediately came up croppers. Both were censured and had to be replaced in January 2012. (Cabinet Reshuffle #1)

In June, Noda, facing an uphill battle to get the LDP and the New Komeito to the altar on voting for the package of bills including the consumption tax, decided he little choice to but to rid his Cabinet of four vulnerable ministers, two of whom had been censure by the House of Councillors. (Cabinet Reshuffle #2)

The reshuffle did its job, which was to shut the LDP and the New Komeito up about the Cabinet, so that Noda could get down to the difficult business of working with the opposition to pass the tax rise, knowing that if he succeeded on the policy front, Ozawa and his closest followers would jump ship.

Which they did on July 2.

In September Noda breezed through a required leadership election (Link). Since he had won so convincingly, he had no overt reason to reshuffle his Cabinet. However, to do nothing would have been very poor public relations, especially given the low public popularity ratings for the Cabinet. So he moved his most important young allies around in a game of musical chairs in between the power positions in the Cabinet and party leadership. As for the second- and third-ranking Cabinet posts, he handed them out to all the different groups inside the DPJ, whilst deftly avoiding giving anything to any of the three men who had had the temerity to challenge him in the leadership race (try to get away with that trick, LDP presidents-elect!).

For a man with a less-than-10 vote majority in the House of Representatives, the handing out of minor Cabinet posts to the champions and princes of the various sub-groups inside the party was not just smart but necessary.

The opposition called Reshuffle #3 a travesty. Watanabe Yoshimi of the Your Party came up with a trio of epithets: the "Warehouse Clearance Sale Cabinet," the "Goodbye Memorial Cabinet" and the "Graduation Photograph Cabinet" (Link - J). Even I who tries to avoid running with the herd got carried away and called it the "So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish" Cabinet. (Link)

That Tanaka Keishu should have snuck in is hardly surprising. He is the standard bearer of the old Democratic Socialist Party (Minshato) that merged with the DPJ in 1998 but still retains a group identity within the confines of the party. Tanaka of course had a huge warning sign flashing over his head: he had lost his Diet seat in 1990 as a result of the Recruit Scandal. However, he is an old man, with no Cabinet posts under his belt and a much-interrupted and probably doomed Diet career. He was, as I have suggested before, the Prime Minister’s one selection made out of pity.

Politics, however, is a pitiless business.

As to idea that Prime Minister Noda is merely extend his stay in office is a misreading of Noda's approach to politics. With a razor thin majority in the House of Representatives, the Opposition blocking the passage of legislation in the House of Councillors, Cabinet and party support ratings in the cellar and with only nine months left in the terms of the Diet members, he is by definition playing an end game.

But what an end game it has been! He fooled Ozawa Ichiro into walking out of the DPJ with only a half a bushel of followers and no money in his pockets. He drove LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu into humiliating retirement, whilst extorting from him the votes he needed to pass the consumption tax. He maneuvered the LDP to vote for a censure motion condemning itself. He told current president Abe Shinzo, in their first meeting after their respective reelections, to go acquire carnal knowledge of himself should he press on the issue of early elections -- hence the magnitude of betrayal in Maehara’s Seiji's musings on Sunday. (Link)

For the DPJ, the war is lost. The party will be swept away in the next elections, in both Houses. There is nothing that the party can do, nothing that its individual members can do to avoid the deluge. So why not go down fighting, tooth and claw, with devastating tenacity, until the very end?

Unless, of course, Noda and the party choose the Unimaginable Alternative...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Political Mystery - Reprise

My morning paper pulp news transmission device has a short list of a few more choice items from the Tohoku/Fukushima reconstruction and recovery budget, supplementing the list of items I passed on a week ago. (Link)

Take a gander at this pair:

30 million -- to the Ministry of Law, for a program labeled, and I am not making this up, "Improvement in the Measures to Prevent the Reoccurrence of Crimes in the Disaster Regions," where the funds were used for the purchase of small-scale construction machinery and educational materials for prisons located in Saitama Prefecture and in Hokkaido.

8 billion -- to the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry, to subsidize Japanese corporations in the opening up of new rare earths and rare metals mines, on the rationale that shortages in these vital materials could have a negative impact on employment in the disaster-struck zones. (Link)

I swear I am not making this stuff up. No one could. Well, obviously a bureaucrat could. But no responsible, caring and, mostly importantly, humble person could.

I must add a postscript to my October 17 post on these peculiar-looking disaster relief budget items. I noted that 4.7 billion yen of the FY2011 disaster relief budget was destined for ITER, the project formerly known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.

ITER is a worthwhile nuclear fusion project, as far as fusion projects go (Link). While the tokamak itself is being built in southern France, Japan did extort receive a consolation prize of the construction of secondary facilities in Japan, plus ITER's director-generalship and 20% of the research positions (and they say this blessed land is a pushover - ha!).

In the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, buildings housing the machines used to test the equipment bound for use in the ITER at the Naka Fusion Institute in Ibaraki Prefecture (Link) sustained significant damage. Repairs of these facilities on an emergency basis were justifiable as necessary for the Government of Japan to honor international obligations to not further delay the already well behind schedule ITER project.

By coincidence, ITER's Japan arm, the Japan Domestic Agency (JADA) opens its doors today (October 24).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Da Ya Think He Does It?

Extra, extra!
Read all about it!
The pinball wizard and the miracle cure!
Extra, extra -- Read all about it!
- The Who, Tommy (1969)
Open sore in the Cabinet, Minister of Law Tanaka Keishu (Link), was seen last night being driven in official car back to his condominium inside the Diet Members' Residences, a brigade of photographers and reporters in hot pursuit.

According to the Ministry, Tanaka will be attending today's regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting, after his missing the Friday Cabinet meeting due to pains in the chest and exhaustion...and missing his double summons to the House of Councillors Oversight Committee the day before. Tanaka will then hold a press conference, presumably announcing his resignation for...oh whatever it will be.

Not a bad little daily schedule for a vewy, vewy sick old man.

Would you not have wanted to have been in the physician's examining room yesterday?

"You're EKG is normal. Your blood pressure is high but looking at your chart, within the range of your usual levels. Blood sugar is normal. Considering we found nothing out of the ordinary on Friday, I am pronouncing you to be in reasonable health, given your age and lifestyle. We need your bed for someone coming out of the ICU so I am recommending you for immediate discharge. Oh, and one more are an incredibly ugly little toad...and that's on the outside."

Later - Days too late for the action to have anything but a perfunctory meaning, Tanaka has handed in his letter of resignation. (Link -J)

Now the questions are "Why was he selected to be Minister of Law?" and "How did he manage to avoid exposure all these years, only to be outed after he became a minister?"

That latter question begs real questions of the purposes and goals of The Fourth Estate in this blessed land.

Monday, October 22, 2012

These Stars Collide

A Manic Monday for the Noda Cabinet and the Democratic Party of Japan

- The "Let's Demoralize The Embassy Staffs By Sending A Handful Of Old White Boys To Talk Turkey (shichimencho) With Those Quarelling Asiatics" roadshow (Link) rolls into the Prime Minister's Residence for a meeting with the Anaconda himself. I shudder to think who else the Washington Quartet will be meeting today -- though shadowing them the whole day would provide a resourceful journalist with a list of the influence peddlers and weak points inside the Japanese establishment. Knowing the group leader, the quartet are starting out their morning with a sushi breakfast in Tsukiji.

- The ripples of Maehara Seiji's tossing his expectation of a Diet dissolution by the year's end into the pond of Diet politics will spread out everywhere. Already, Democratic Party of Japan's Acting Secretary Azumi Jun has had to, on a Sunday when the Diet is not in session, tell reporters that Maehara's private views are not those of the party (Link - J). Liberal Democratic President Abe Shinzo, probably thinking his visit to Yasukuni (Link) is being rewarded earlier than even he could have imagined, pounded away last night on the theme that when a minister of Maehara's standing says that the prime minister has no choice but dissolve the Diet by year's end, it places a huge burden of expectations on the PM. (Link - J)

Does it ever.

- The heat from the staggering drops in the Cabinet popularity and party popularity figures recorded in the weekend's public opinion poll results could evaporate the DPJ-People New Party's slim majority in the House of Representatives.

The Asahi Shimbun

Cabinet support

Support 18% (-5%)
Do Not Support 59% (+3%)

Which party will you vote for in the party list section of the next House of Representatives election?

DPJ 13% (-4%)
LDP 36% (+6%)

(Link -J)

Fuji News Network

Which party will you vote for in the party list section of the next House of Representatives election?

DPJ 11.6% (-5.2%)
LDP 32.4% (+0.3%)

(Latest figures -J and previous figures - J)

- The pusillanimous and scandal-tarred Minister of Law Tanaka Keishu (Link), still hiding out in his hospital, refuses to resign. (Link - J)

What a way to start a week, eh, Prime Minister Noda?

Maehara Blows Up The Plan

In the 1994 movie Speed, antagonist and bomb maker Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) shouts over the phone to bomb squad officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) to forget about trying to outsmart him:

"Jack, nothing tricky now. You know I'm on top of you! DO NOT attempt to grow a brain!"

After what Minister for National Policy Maehara Seiji said to reporters today, I can imagine the normally imperturbable prime minister Noda Yoshihiko screaming into a phone to Maehara:

"At what point, since you graduated from pre-school, did you think you had GROWN A BRAIN?"

Maehara is, like the prime minister, a graduate of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management. He should ostensibly be of somewhat better than average intelligence and education.

Nevertheless he manages to get into scrapes that leave one wondering, "What was he thinking?" -- which one then immediately repunctuates, "What? Was he thinking?" or even "What? Was he...thinking?"

Prime Minister and Democratic Party of Japan leader Noda Yoshihiko was coming off a very successful Friday meeting with Liberal Democratic Party President Abe Shinzo and New Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo -- successful in that despite the warnings put to DPJ Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma throughout the week by his counterparts in the LDP and New Komeito that if Noda did not offer a date for a House of Representatives election in line with the promise the PM made to former LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu to have an election "soon" (chikai uchi ni) the Friday meeting would be pointless -- the PM, when pressed by Abe and Yamaguchi, told them, "Sorry, can't say when the election will be."

Asked about his promise to Tanigaki, Noda explained, "I have been focusing on taking responsibility for the weight of the words 'Putting matters to the voters soon.' However, for me to make that decision requires preparations of the environment in various ways. I have no intention to extend the life of this administration through dilly-dallying." (Link - J)

That dilly-dallying, stalling, procrastinating, whatever you many want to call it is exactly what the prime minister and the DPJ have been doing (Link) and want to continue doing is, of course, the whole point.

Abe and Yamaguchi stormed out of the meeting, furious at the PM for having the gall to desire a forestalling his own and his party's execution at the hands of the voters...

[A bit of anachronism, but this weekend's polls, partly due to the deeply embarrassing Tanaka Keishu Affair, have been an across-the-board disaster for the Cabinet and the DPJ. The Asahi Shinmbun poll shows Cabinet support diving to 18% and the LDP slaughtering the DPJ in the "Which party will you vote for in the party list half of the ballot?" question (Link - J)]

Harrumphed Abe and Yamaguchi, "We heard nothing from the PM about 'soon'!"

To which any jaded political observer would say, "Yes. Your point being...?"

All of the prime minister's carefully choreographed insouciance as regards the personal appeals of the leaders LDP and the New Komeito is in tatters, however, after Maehara's truly bizarre swerving off of the script on Sunday. In a discussion of the semantics of "soon" on a morning talking show, then an even clumsier attempt to make up for the earlier blunder by attempting to polish the prime minister's reputation, he detonated a landmine under the PM and the DPJ.

On Fuji Television's morning talk show, Maehara said, regarding the concept "soon":

"If I am to relate my own feelings, if the Diet is dissolved after the beginning of the New Year, that is not 'soon.'"

(Link -J)

Ay Caramba, you maniac! Have you looked at calendar recently? Do you know what the date is today? Are you aware that under the election laws there have to be 12 days between the presentation of the list of the names of the candidates and the holding of an election? Have you forgotten also that the current electoral district boundaries are unconstitutional and that no real DPJ plan to rectify the unconstitutionality has yet seen the light of day? And that the DIET IS NOT IN SESSION YET?

But did Maehara stop there? No, he had to dig deeper. Way, way deeper.

Speaking to a reporters' gaggle after his startling Fuji Television performance, he said:

"One cannot say that having a dissolution of the Diet after New Years is 'soon' -right? I for one believe that the prime minister is the kind of person who keeps the faith taking responsibility for his own words."

(Link - J)

Hold it right there. Let me see if I have this straight. If there is no dissolution of the Diet by the end of the year, the prime minister, in your opinion, Mr. Maehara, is not "the kind of person who keeps the faith taking responsibility for his own words"?

Holy moly, one would hardly have thought it possible when this weekend began, but Maehara may be out of the Cabinet earlier than Tanaka Keishu.

In one of the most delicious of ironies, if one plugs Maehara's phrase for "keeps the faith" (shingi o mamoru) into Eijiro, the best regarded of the free online dictionaries, out pops the following quote from Chapter XVIII of Machiavelli's The Prince:

"Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer."

Read your damn Machiavelli, Maehara-san, whether or not you are still around a few hours from now. If you are not, then you will have plenty of free time to study of this the most basic text on political survival.

Keep the faith, brother you jackass.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Washington Establishment Gets Worried, Boards Aircraft

Reading the below report makes me sigh:

In Asia Trip, U.S. Group Will Tackle Islands Feud
The New York Times

October 19, 2012 - The visit, backed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, follows a naval exercise by China on Friday to support its territorial claims and talk by a prominent candidate for prime minister in Japan about stationing personnel on the islands to improve security.

"As each side tries to assert its position, there is a risk of an inadvertent escalation of tensions and even confrontation,” said James B. Steinberg, who served as the deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration and is one of those on the trip. "The question is, how we get back to the relative stability in which the islands were in dispute but people were not trying to change facts on the ground."

Other members of the group include Richard L. Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush; Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush's national security adviser; and Joseph S. Nye Jr., a former Pentagon and intelligence official in the Clinton administration.

The group is scheduled to meet with Japan's prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, on Monday and to visit with the Chinese leadership on Tuesday. China has not informed the group with whom they will be meeting.

The trip was arranged after Mr. Steinberg and other members of the group discussed what might be done to tamp down the tensions over the islands, which are called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.

After the idea of a visit was pitched to State Department aides, Mrs. Clinton endorsed it, giving it a quasi-official status...

Out of respect to the principle that if one has real problems with a person, one should keep one's opinions to oneself, I will refrain from saying what I think of these individuals. The exception would be Hadley, about whom I know nothing, save that he served on the Bush White House national security team, whose provision of nationial security was...mixed?

If the group is coming to the Prime Minister's Residence to deliver the message that the assertions heretofore made by the U.S. government -- that the Senkakus fall under the writ of the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements -- are true only in theory, that would be something Prime Minister Noda needs to know immediately. As to any other ideas the quartet might present, the PM probably will listen to them and digest them -- not necessarily for what they say on the surface (one has to leave open the possibility someone in the quartet knows something about China the GOJ does not), but for what they say regarding the prejudices and preoccupations of the slices of America's transnational policy elite each member of the quarter of represents.

This Cabinet and the rest of the Japanese government are not the gang of uniformed innocents America's permanent foreign policy establishment believes them to be.

[An aside: one of the favorite demeaning tales with which members of the American policy elite regale themselves is the "amateurish" attempt by the Kan government to prosecute the Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed two Japan Coast Guard vessels off the Senkakus in 2010. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Kan government, the JCG and the Japanese judicial system behaved as true professionals, handling in an open, formal and neutral manner a situation no one had considered before as regards the Senkakus: an unprovocked attack on Japanese government personnel by a foreign assailant in an area under the administration of Japan. What was amateurish was rice-eating surrender monkey and then Chief Cabinet Secretary's Yoshito Sengoku's interference in the judicial process in the face of ham-handed Chinese pressure, then his denial of having done so.]

I cannot help but smile at the seeming pointlessness of the itinerary, at least as it is described in The New York Times. They do not know whom they are meeting in Beijing. I do not know what other folks do -- but when I walk out my front door I try to know in advance whom it is I am going out to meet. And even if the quartet did know, Beijing is in the midst of a leadership transition thrown into chaos by the Bo Xilai affair and Xi Jinping's mysterious disappearances. The quartet have no idea whether or not Madame Secretary of Ministry X will, come December, be Madame Nobody.

As for meeting with the Anaconda himself -- oh, why give the secret away...

Later - A much belated afterthought...but if there were a way for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to broadcast her lack of confidence in the skills and contacts of Ambassador to Japan John Roos and Ambassador to China Gary Locke, and all the other diplomats working in those embassies, it would be to give official recognition to an ad hoc Track II mission with only half an itinerary.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pawn Sacrifice - Reprise

Brave Sir Robin ran away
Bravely, ran away...away...
When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled
Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly he chickened out
Bravely taking to his feet
He beat a very brave retreat...

- Neil Innes, "The Ballad of Sir Robin" (1975)
Yesterday Minister of Law Tanaka Keishu failed to show up at not one but two summons to answer questions before the House of Councillors Oversight Committee (Link), leading to the committee's chairman to demand his resignation as Minister. According to the Asahi Shimbun, Tanaka was seen this morning leaving the Diet Members' Residences at 9 a.m., climbing into the back of an official car, talking all the while on a mobile telephone.

After this, all hell broke loose. The Ministry announced that Tanaka would be missing the bi-weekly Cabinet meeting. It then announced the cancellation of all Tanaka's Friday activities.

The news then came down from the Ministry that Tanaka had awoken this morning with pains in his chest and elevated blood pressure. As a consequence he ordered his official car to change direction and take him to a hospital. (Link -J)


How long have I lived in this blessed land?

How could fall into the binary Resign/Fire gravity well, forgetting the notorious Third Option -- the Cowardly Auto-Hospitalization?

Perhaps because it has been such a long time since anyone in the top ranks of politics has taken this route to avoid an inconvenient situation. Even the Liberal Democratic Party, which had for decades provided enough gutless miscreants running for the clinic doors for a "Guess Who's Hospitalized Now?" quiz show, gave up the maneuvre as being just too cheesy. Ozawa Ichiro of course has had his paper surgical mask fetish, donning The Mask whenever the heat got turned up in any of his scandals (Link). However Ozawa's mask is not on the same scale as the full Monty (Python) of running for the ER.

Perhaps I was blindsided by Tanaka's not being on verge of being arrested for anything. For so many of the most successful of this blessed land's political funds fundraisers, the cool white sheets of a hospital ward were preferable to accommodations the prosecutors were likely to provide.

In my previous post on Tanaka, I put forth the proposition that he posssibly lacked the decency to resign.

Clearly I underestimated his capacity for anachronistic douchebaggery.

So Mr. Sam Cooke, if you could, just one more time.

Pawn Sacrifice

Cut your losses. If you must lose material, lose as little as possible.

- Bruce Pandolfini, "The 64 Commandments of Chess"

The time has come for us to say, "Sayonara"...

- Freddy Morgan and Yoshida Hasegawa*, "The Japanese Farewell Song"
Yesterday, Chairman of the House of Councillors Oversight Committee (kessan iinkai) Yamamoto Junzo summoned Minister of Law** Tanaka Keishu to appear in his chamber to answer questions from the Liberal Democratic Party's Kumagaya Yutaka.

Tanaka asked to be excused, citing official duties -- which included unidentified "events pertaining to the courts" and a meeting with the German Ambassador.

"Fine," said Yamamoto, "we will postpone your answering Kumagaya's questions to the evening."

Which Yamamoto did.

Tanaka never showed up.

Tanaka Keishu has been a political vagabond, successfully serving three consecutive terms in the Kanagawa Prefectural Assembly before diving into national politics. His Diet career proceeded in fits and starts, in for a while only to be ousted again, running under the banner of four different parties along the way. He landed in the DPJ in 1998 when his Democratic Socialist Party (Minshato) accepted absorption into the larger party. In the 2005 election debacle for the DPJ, Tanaka lost his district seat, one to be revived as a zombie from the party list.

In 29 years in national politics, Tanaka has managed to eke out six elections to the Diet, the basic minimum standard for mediocre politicians to receive a ministerial posting. Since he is is 74 years of age and a repeated electoral loser, he looks to have been the obligatory pity appointee in the October 1 Cabinet reshuffle.

What a mistake that has turned out to be.

It is not as if Tanaka's ethics problems are anything new: his career has been dogged by scandal. He was one of the Diet members alleged to have profited from stock sales in the Recruit Scandal, rumors which led to his losing his seat in the 1990. Immediately after being appointed, it discovered that his political support group had received donations from a Taiwanese restaurateur. Tanaka was criticized for not resigning his ministerial post as the ultra-slick and ambitious Maehara Seiji had in March 2011 after he was discovered to have received a very minor amount in donations from a foreign national friend.

The revelations in the scandal weeklies that blew everyone's mind were that Tanaka 30 years ago served as the official go-between in a yakuza wedding and havd given a speech at a yakuza function around the same time.

Considering the political hay the opposition would make of such revelations, which Tanaka has confirmed as being true, should have meant the end of his career as the nation's highest ranking administrator of the law.

However, mysteriously, he neither resigned not did the prime minister ask for his resignation. He has lingered on, an open sore in the Cabinet, going through the motions of Law Minister.

If yesterday's mysterious defiance of a committee summons is not the result of illness or a fluke of scheduling, Tanaka's removal from office is imminent. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will be meeting with LDP president Abe Shinzo and New Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo today in the first private get-together of the major party heads since Abe's, Noda's and Yamaguchi's reelections. The two meetings this week between secretaries-general of the three parties have been acrimonious, with the LDP and the New Komeito demanding a fixed date for a House of Representative election and the DPJ dodging the issue. (For my discussion of the impossibility the DPJ to honor the LDP's and New Komeito's demands, click here.

Nothing would help set an intial mood of conviviality at today's meeting than Tanaka's head on a platter.

Will Tanaka go quietly or will Noda have to fire him? Today is Friday, the day of the second of the Cabinet's bi-weekly meetings. The PM may let Tanaka sit in on the meeting, for appearance's sake. He will likely also be patient, allowing Tanaka the time to do the decent and smart thing and resign, then call a press conference to announce his resignation. However, if Tanaka refuses to resign -- a not unlikely outcome given his lack of a sense of decency so far in his political life -- Noda will be forced to fire him, with Noda giving the press conference before the trilateral meeting.

We shall see how this all this plays out.

* One person? Two? Imaginary? No one knows.

** The Japanese name is Homusho. If the Ministry is in anyway interested in administering justice rather than the law, one has to ask, "Since when?"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Modest Proposal Regarding Yasukuni Visits

Last night Abe Shinzo paid a formal visit to Yasukuni Shrine, signing in as "Abe Shinzo, President of the Liberal Democratic Party." (Link - E)

Way to nail down for your party the votes of the tiny minority who are right wing wackos! Was Abe so worried that the rightists and enervated patriots might give their proportional seat votes to Hashimoto Toru's increasingly comical Japan Restoration Association that Abe was willing to exacerbate regional tensions?

Given actions such as Abe's, and the seeming impossibility of finding an uncontroversial way of paying one's respects at Yasukuni (in his five years in office, Koizumi Jun'ichiro tried five different types of visits on five different dates -- no luck) is there a quick and dirty solution to the regional acrimony over Yasukuni visits?

The private organization that runs Yasukuni says that kami, once enshrined there, cannot be unenshrined (someone should go tell this to Taira Masakado). So just evicting the problematic 14 is not in the cards.

What seems to be the only rational solution is to relabel the enshrined 14 Class A war criminals. Something less threatening. Something that countermands the terror that the words "War Criminal" inspires.

How about relabeling the 14 as "Togo Shigenori and the 13 Bozos"?

Spokespersons In The News

It is easy to swallow the constant parade of shaded truths and evasions uttered by the government's main spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu, as he fumbles through his daily press briefing. With his "let me look at my notes here" and soft delivery one gets the impression, that not particularly deep down, he does not believe what he is saying.

Contrast this with the martial verbal stomping of Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the People's Republic of China Hong Lei. His jut-jawed aura of certitude, on display most recently in the response to the rubber bullet killing of Chinese fisherman by the South Korean coast guard, where the crew of the fishing boat fought with "knives, saws, spears, shovels and axes" to repulse a boarding of their vessel (Link) was nearly parodic, demanding that Sought Korea take preventive measures against violent law enforcement behavior.

Why can Hong not say, "These men may have been fishing illegally and used deadly force in resisting a boarding of their vessel. The PRC government has no formal comment on the situation, as the investigation of the incident is still in its initial stages," like any normal spokesperson?

Were I a correspondent of a news media organization, assigned to Beijing, I would likely burn that organization's work visa in a moment. Attending a Foreign Ministry briefing, I would not be able to restrain myself from getting up from out of my seat and declaiming, "Please, Mr. Hong, I beg you. Please tell me one more impossible thing."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Political Mystery

Only a few lines today due to an illness.

The other day I noted the Democratic Party of Japan boycotted a sudden emergency meeting of the Administrative Oversight Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Audit and Administrative Oversight. (Link)

The excuse the DPJ gave for boycotting this unusual out-of-Diet Session subcommittee meeting -- and for ordering ministry bureaucrats summoned to stay at their posts -- was that the party secretariat had not yet selected a Ranking Member for the subcommittee, which is chaired by a Liberal Democratic Party member.

However, the story behind the sudden call for a subcommittee hearing is not frivolous. It turns out that the supplementary budget drawn up to fund the recovery of the Tohoku region and Fukushima was crammed with pork, projects that could not be justified in the regular budget but suddenly became vital parts of the recovery effort.

The rightist press outlets have been all over this story, as can be expected. However, they have been taking their cues from the leftist and progressive press. The Tokyo Shimbun, a left-leaning paper and an avowed enemy of the Prime Minister for his having championed a rise in the consumption tax, has been plastering its front pages with nearly daily exposés of questionable items in the recovery budget, including:

- 7.2 billion, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to support its Japan-East Asia/North America Network of Exchange for Students and Youths

- 2.3 billion to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, to support pelagic research whaling overseen by the Institute of Cetacean Research

- 40 billion, to the Defense Ministry, for the acquisition of fixed wing transport and cargo aircraft

- 1.2 billion to the National Tax Agency, for maintenance on 12 of their dormitories

- 330 million, to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, for earthquake retrofitting of the National Stadium in Shinjuku

- 47.7 billion to the Ministry of Infrastructure, Land, Transport and Tourism for water control projects, only 30% of which are in the disaster zone

- 3.4 billion, to MLIT, for construction of national highways in Okinawa

and in what can only be the greatest of ironies,

- 10.7 billion to MEXT for the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, an agency promoting the use of nuclear energy. The budget outlay includes 4.2 billion for Japan's continued participation in International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)

Now just why all these questionable items are becoming political hot potatoes now, as opposed to several months ago, is a mystery. Of course, the compilation of a new budget and a new recovery budget, with the ministries putting forth their requests for the next fiscal year, may have stimulated the news media to ask, "And what exactly has happened to the money you already received?"

However, how was it possible that the uncovering of all these funny budget items seems to have been left to the national broadcaster NHK (Link), the mildest-mannered of the news networks? Why was the no stink made when the recovery budget was initially compiled?


1) So the new media outlets could put on their best Captain Renault act (Link), shocked at what was promoted as a budget to help the Tohoku being instead a minor festival of pork barrel projects? What country do they think they are operating in?

2) The LDP, in order to force the resignation of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, called up their contacts in the news media with juicy bits from the recovery budget's internal working documents just when the government was about to enter into delicate negotiations with the major opposition parties about the extraordinary Diet Session?

3) Prime Minister Noda and the Cabinet, after ostensibly allowing the bureaucracy to run rampant in a bid to win its loyalty, instead gave the bureaucrats enough rope to hang themselves?

I have no clue.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Can Anyone In The Opposition Play This Game?

On Friday I speculated that the Democratic Party of Japan, faced with a determined and suddenly invigorated Liberal Democratic Party, had out of desperation moved to the Four Corners Offense, where the point is to dribble the ball interminably and pass the ball back-and forth pointlessly so as to keep the other side from ever getting control. (Link)

I was therefore surprised when LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru was able to twist enough arms as to secure a Monday meeting of secretaries-general of the DPJ, the LDP and the New Komeito, the only three parties that matter.

[An aside - Japan does have other parties, a stunning plethora of them. The DPJ's coalition partner, the People's New Party, seems content to have the DPJ speak for it. The opposition parties outside the LDP-New Komeito alliance are, by contrast, frothing at the mouth, furious that they are never invited to meetings of any consequence. Instead, their leaders gather together to issue condemnations of the "three party cabal" ruling Japan.

No combination of any of the other opposition parties adds up to any meaningful number of votes in the House of Representatives for either the LDP or the DPJ. In the House of Councillors, the other opposition parties could come together to help the government pass legislation. However, due to ideological incompatibility with the DPJ’s current political course, they have taken to side with the LDP, whose politics they dislike even more, to just say "No" to every important government bill landing in the House of Councillors.]

Ishiba's success in gaining meeting on what the next working day seemed a harbinger for a more aggressive LDP and compliant DPJ. True, it was only a meeting to set up another meeting, the next step being a meeting of the leaders of the three parties to talk about and perhaps agree on a date for the opening of the extraordinary Diet session and the sequencing of the government's presentation of its bills. Ishiba and his New Komeito counterpart Inoue Yoshihisa went into their meeting with DPJ Secretary-General Koshi'shi Azuma determined to draw out of the DPJ's man an acquiescence to the the LDP’s and New Komeito’s demands that Prime Minister Noda honor the promise he made to former LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu to dissolve of the Diet "soon" (chikai uchi ni).

What Ishiba and Inoue came out of their meeting with Koshi'ishi was...a promise to meet again on Thursday.

Koshi'ishi opened with the gambit that he would want the heads of the three parties to meet later this week and for the extraordinary session to begin by the end of the month. In both cases, he was lying. However, having placed these ideas on the table put the onus on his counterparts to characterize him later as being close-minded and merely trying to delay the opening of the extraordinary Diet Session.

Koshi'ishi continued with the standard DPJ trio of suggestions -- not demands. First, that the bond issuance bill be passed soon so as to prevent a disruption of the lives of the citizens. Second, that an electoral reform bill be passed 1) eliminating any question as to the constitutionality of the boundaries of House of Representatives electoral districts, and 2) reducing the number of House of Representatives seats, this in order to demonstrate to the citizens, who have been asked to accept a doubling of the consumption tax, that the government is making a best effort at cutting back on its size and spending. Finally, the DPJ would want the convocation of the the National Council on Reform of the Social Welfare System (Shakai hosho seido kaikaku kokumin kaigi) in order to begin discussions of the implementation of the reforms passed along with the consumption tax bill.

Ishiba countered with a concession that he would not want his party to be seen as holding the bond issuance bill, an electoral reform bill and a convocation of the National Council hostage to his and the New Komeito's demands. However, he continued, two months has passed since the prime minister made his promise to dissolve the Diet "soon" (Link - J). Inoue piped in, saying that given the deadlines for the compilation of the national budget, the time limit for the holding of an election is early December. (Link - J)

Let us take a moment to consider Inoue's demand. Article 54 of the Constitution mandates that an election take place within 40 days of a dissolution. However, the Constitution is silent as to the minimum number of days that can pass between a dissolution and an election. Article 31 of the Public Elections Act, however, requires that a final determination of the candidates up for election must be made at least 12 days prior to election day. (Link)

Given that an election is almost invariably held on a Sunday, and the process of the Diet's electing a new prime minister, the new PM’s selection of a Cabinet and his/her delivering a Diet policy address eats up a week, and compiling of a rushed budget will take at least three weeks, the realistic December date for an election is December 1. Working backward 12 days from there brings us to Monday, November 19.

So whatever happens, the extraordinary Diet session will have to finish up all its business in a little less than a month. That is the relevant House of Representatives committees discussing the bills, then voting on the bills, sending them to the plenary session for an up/down vote, then presenting the bills to the House of Councillors, with their committee discussions, votes and final plenary session up/down vote.

Of course, the two Houses could look at identical texts of bills at the same time, pass them at the same time, come together and decide that the bills are the same and thus law.

Except, of course, all of this speculation may be moot. Bringing the House of Representatives district boundaries into conformance with requirements set down Article 13 of the Public Elections Act requires months of research, analysis and compromise, not just a few days of politicians bargaining over legislative band-aids.

So what the LDP and the New Komeito are demanding as regards an election "soon" may be possible but will be illegal.

Koshi'ishi knows this. However, he did not have to pull this card out of his sleeve on Monday when Ishiba and Inoue pressed on the dissolution. Already on the 15th he had made clear that he was not going to say diddly about a date for a dissolution on the grounds that a dissolution of the Diet is a solemn duty and privilege of the prime minister and not something he can just lightly say whatever he may think on the subject. (Link)

After 20 minutes of back and forth, the trio broke up, agreeing to meet again on the 18th.

A clearly frustrated Ishiba then went and put his foot in his mouth. Angry that he came out of the meeting having neither learned nor won anything, he told reporters that unless the atmosphere becomes less duplicitous, having a meeting between the heads of the parties will lead nowhere. (Link -J)

Rule #1 of adult behavior: never shut down avenues. Never say that you will not meet to talk.

How long can the DPJ's torture of the LDP and the New Komeito continue? The first and foremost hurdle that must be vaulted is the passage of the bond issuance bill. That has to happen sometime soon, though just when is rather murky, The Prime Minister Noda and the DPJ, weakened as they are, can call an extraordinary session of the Diet and then dare the opposition to allow the government to run out of money. It is a risk the PM and DPJ seem increasingly confident in taking.

As for how long the public will put up with the DPJ's dodging and weaving whenever the LDP and the New Komeito start talking about holding elections, there may be a limit there. Editorialists will start to castigate the DPJ secretariat for stalling just to avoid the certain electoral defeat awaiting them. Guests on this morning's Asa Zuba! news program complained that, "If they are members of the Diet, and they don’t want to go into session, then they should just quit."

However, as regards the delays in convening of an extraordinary session, Koshi'ishi, who has no limits to his ability to state the chapter and verse on any subject, can tell the press, "Look, an extraordinary session is just that, extraordinary. The National Diet Act requires us to be in session for 150 days. We went way past that mark in the regular Diet Session. We have earned our salaries for the year. If the opposition cleans up its act and stops trying to extort Diet dissolutions from our prime ministers in return for votes on normal government bills, then we can go back to work in extraordinary session."

So on my score sheet, after the first round, it is Dead Pharaoh 1, Python 0. (Link)

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Secretaries-General Meeting Preview: The Pharoah Versus The Python

Today is a no newspaper day. If one wishes to know what the heck happened over the weekend one has to turn to the Internet or television.

The latter of which is really not a great thing for Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru.

On Sunday, Ishiba appeared on the NHK's flagship Sunday talk show Nichiyo Toron. The program was not produced in its usual manner, with all the guests together in the studio, government and opposition, facing off across a table -- a format which has, given proliferation of opposition parties over the last three years, become increasingly ridiculous-looking.

Instead, the guests, the secretaries-general of the three parties that matter – the LDP, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the LDP's ally the New Komeito -- appeared sequentially, making the title of the program, "Sunday Debate," something of a misnomer.

First up was Koshi'ishi Azuma, the secretary-general of the DPJ. He spoke on the three main issues of the day – the fate of the bond issuance bill, the outlook for the electoral district reform bill and the timing of the House of Representatives election. All three issues are tied together, as an election cannot be held until the unconstitutionality of the electoral districts is rectified, and the DPJ will not budge on an electoral district reform bill unless it has a deal with the LDP and the New Komeito on the passage of a bond issuance bill immediately after the opening of a fall extraordinary session of the Diet.

Koshi'ishi put a brave face on what would seem an impossible task. First, bully the opposition into passing exactly the same bond issuance bill as was allowed to die at the end of the regular Diet Session. Then the government would submit an electoral reform bill anathema either to the LDP or the New Komeito or both. The subsequent enraged reaction of the LDP and the New Komeito would lead to a freeze in Diet business. Amidst the raging political storm, the government would compile the budget for 2013 and then hang on until extraordinary session ends. Following the New Years' holidays, the DPJ, whose governing coalition still holds a slim majority in the House of Representatives, would then ram the next fiscal year's budget through that House -- with the LDP and the New Komeito powerless to stop the budget passing into law.

The problems with this scenario are:

1) the LDP is so hostile toward the DPJ it will go to any length, even allowing a government shutdown, to force the DPJ into submitting an electoral reform bill to both the LDP's and the New Komeito's liking. Only then would the LDP and the New Komeito agree to allow the passage of the bond issuance bill, after which they will do everything in their power to force a no confidence motion against the Noda Cabinet.

2) Public opinion poll results, which have the LDP outpolling the DPJ two-to-one since the election of Abe Shinzo as LDP party president (Table 2) while support for the Cabinet languishes (Link-J) sap the government's ability to resist the LDP's demands. With the DPJ such a damaged brand, engineering a breakout of scared Diet members from the DPJ should be easy enough -- or so the LDP and New Komeito seem to be reasoning. This would transform the current DPJ-led coalition into a minority government, vulnerable to a no confidence motion and incapable of passing a budget by itself.

When Koshi'ishi finished his alternate parrying of the interviewer's pertinent and probing questions and his resolute presentation of the DPJ party line, Ishiba took over, on a live feed from somewhere.

To a collective shriek from the nation.

Now Koshi'ishi Azuma is no great shakes in the appearance department. Indeed, he bears a striking resemblance to Ramses the Great, post-mummification.

Left: Koshi'ishi Azuma, alive since 1936.
Right: Ramses II, not alive since 1213 B.C.E.

However, it was clear within micro-seconds of Ishiba's face's coming up on the screen that, after losing the LDP presidential election to Abe, he had fired his image consultant.

During the presidential campaign Ishiba was a changed man: grinning often, talking at a normal volume and speed and clearly focusing on a commandment to "open your eyes, man, for Amaterasu's sake, OPEN YOUR EYES!"

However, on Sunday, the old Ishiba -- Kaa from Disney's The Jungle Book -- was back -- hissing hypnotically and ooh sooo sloowwly so that all you morons out there in TV Land can understand the LDP's positions.

Top: Ishiba Shigeru, LDP Secretary-General
Bottom: Kaa, from Disney's The Jungle Book (1967)

A campaign manager's nightmare* …and a challenge to the assertion that the LDP's election of The Smirking One (Link) rather than Ishiba as its leader was a mitigated disaster.

In an attempt to fulfill the commitment made last week (Link) to have the heads of the DPJ, the LDP and the New Komeito meet to discuss the extraordinary Diet session, the secretaries-general of the three parties are meeting today, i.e., holding a meeting to arrange an agenda and a schedule for a meeting.

In having the respective secretariats of the DPJ and the LDP meeting en masse last week, and making arrangements for a three-way party head meeting "soon," LDP has at least learned one lesson from its previous deal-cutting session with the DPJ: under no circumstances let the LDP president be in a room alone with Prime Minister Noda. (Link)

We shall see what the Python squeezes out of the Pharaoh in terms of a date for the three-way party leader meeting.

* Since the secretary-general is the ultimate leader of a party's campaign efforts, the person to whom Ishiba will be giving a migraine is himself.