Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Koike Yuriko Sets The House Secrecy Debate On Fire

Former Minister of Defense (briefly), former Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party General Council and head of the LDP’s Communication Division Koike Yuriko has a reputation as a savvy media manipulator. A former television newscaster, she holds a degree in sociology from Cairo University. Thanks to her Arabic and English skills, she is a fixture in international circles. Publishing in English via Project Syndicate, she has disseminated anti-Democratic Party of Japan and pro-Abe Shinzo propaganda worldwide underneath the radar of the local representatives of the foreign press.

Despite a warm and inviting appearance, Koike holds hardline views on security and is seen as very much a kindred spirit of the prime minister's. Part of her hard defense posture may have developed out of her interaction with and study of the U.S. security community.

Part, however, arises from her political instability. She flitted during the first years of her political career from one political party to another, finally landing in the LDP. Her colleagues have labeled her a wataridori-- i.e., "a migratory bird" -- and were not complimenting her in doing so. She gained prominence under the sponsorship of maverick Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro, becoming the most visible and valuable of his "assassins." Under his encouragement, she moved from her fairly safe Hyogo district to challenge and eventually defeat postal rebel Kobayashi Koki in his Tokyo fiefdom.

Without roots in her district, her patron departed from active politics, her choosing to lean ever harder into militancy has made eminent sense. Her hardline views on defense, together with her earlier mobility prompted me to label her "the Iron Butterfly."

Yesterday, in Diet session examining the Official Secrets bill, the Iron Butterfly crash landed in spectacular fashion:

"Japan is a country stupefied by peace which has pretty much lost any appreciation of top secrets...Every day the newspapers are without fail printing at what o’clock, how many minutes, who it was that went in to see the prime minister and when they left. Doesn’t this transcend the [Public's] Right To Know?"

(Link - J)
The Prime Minister's Schedule (Shusho dosei, also called Shusho no ichi nichi) is an institution of Japanese life. Printed unobtrusively in every day's newspaper (page 6 on the bottom of my own daily paper this morning) it details, with extraordinary thoroughness, the prime minister's schedule of the previous day. With most of the machinations of Japanese government enwreathed in bureaucratic fog and shielded by the press clubs, the Prime Minister's Schedule has been one of the few means the public has had of getting even a glimpse of whatever the hell is going on.

From a security standpoint, Koike's objection to this time-honored practice would make sense if the Prime Minister's Schedule revealed the prime minister's intended movements. However, the Prime Minister's Schedule (I am not going to use an acronym, for obvious reasons) only details whom the PM met the day before. Since Japan has a defense-only military posture, foregoing warfare as a means of solving international political disputes, and the government generally does not engage in nefarious activities, there is little reason for the PM to hide the identities of the person he is meeting.

And the Prime Minister's Schedule already hides the identities of some of the persons the PM is meeting. Very often, only one or two names are listed, followed by a ra) ("and folks like that..."). It is almost certain that the PM's handlers only need to go over to whichever member of the press club is keeping the schedule that day and say, "Look, of those whom you just saw going in, can you keep quiet about Mr. X and Ms. Y? Thanks."

When the head of the LDP's press relations division takes aim at a small but important traditional news media window into the PM's actions, using the loaded terms kimitsu ("top secrets") and heiwa boke ("stupefied by peace") she sets off a red flashing light for a news media already deeply sceptical of if not adamantly opposed (Link) to the Official Secrets bill. If one wanted to create an atmosphere reinforcing the warnings of the critics of the bill, who have been claiming that the reach of the bill is unlimited, then attacking one of the new media's cherished prerogatives is a good way to start.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, in with his usual diffidence, has said that the government has no plans to follow up on Koike's suggestion. "What the various news organizations are making public knowledge regarding the Prime Minister’s movements, these are not within expectations of what would be items of special secrecy under the Special Official Secrets Law."

Suga was trying to tamp down concerns. However, his use of sotei ("expectations"), a term strongly associated in the public mind with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (and the cynical question "you say what happened was outside of expectations but it really wasn't, was it? And the worst did happen, didn't it?”) indicates a deteriorating awareness of the press and the public's growing opposition to the Official Secrets bill. (Link - J and Link - J).

The news media has been extremely circumspect or even supportive during these first 10 charmed months of the Abe administration. The quiet, acquiescent press environment has indeed been one of the most striking differences between Abe's first term as prime minister and the current term.

Blunderbuss threats to press freedom -- the submission of the Official Secrets Bill and extraordinarily ideological moves against the management of national broadcaster NHK (Abe wants to appoint who to the management committee? The author who every so often interviews Abe for the revisionist magazine WiLL and the PM's childhood home tutor? Oh, you have to be joking -- Link - J) are testing the ceasefire. It may be that the Abe crowd is feeling its oats, believing that coalition majorities in both Houses of the Diet making it impervious to whatever an independent press thinks anymore.

Later - In addition to the translated Mainichi editorial linked to above, The Japan Times has editorialized against the official secrets bill. (Link)

Later still - The Mainichi Shimbun has published an English-language translation of its take on the story. (Link)


Andrew said...

I think the problem is that the US is really pushing Japan to adopt this bill, and one thing they say is that American defence intelligence will be withheld from Japan if they don't enact the legislation.

MTC said...

Andrew -

The Tokyo Shimbun argues that the secrets bill and the Japan version of the National Security Council are the inevitable consequences of an Abe and Company obsession with the United States.