Reply to Mr. Alford
Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 25, 2008
PETER ALFORD, the Tokyo correspondent for The Australian, sent in a comment today regarding an article that appeared here earlier this week. He said:
I suppose I’m being very unwise in not just copping this, but could you or Get a Job Son! provide sufficient examples of the frequent perpetrations of sensationalist tripe about Japan?
I am by the way an interested reader.
Here is my reply:
Thanks for your note and for stopping by to read. (Seriously.)
But to start with, the expression I used was “blatant nonsense” and not “sensationalist tripe”.
I really don’t have time to dig through the search engine at your site, but let’s take a look an article in today’s edition of The Australian about Aso Taro becoming prime minister.
The article describes Mr. Aso as a “conservative nationalist”.
It is not possible to do justice to this discussion on a website, but I’ve long held the use of the word “nationalist” should not be used merely to denote politicians who unapologetically give preference to working on behalf of what they consider the national interest. I don’t follow domestic Australian politics, but in the US there are some politicians on the left who think it is wrong to work on behalf of the national interest.
“Nationalist” is a loaded expression that does not really describe Mr. Aso, as I see him today. I suspect some journalists use it as a code word. It edges very close to some rather unsavory political characters of both the past and present. It is also usually used in a disparaging way, based on the assumption that it is backwards and regressive compared to “internationalism”. If the UN and the EU are examples of the latter, spare us please.
I discussed this at greater length last year by comparing Abe Shinzo’s political approach and a Jacques Chirac speech here.
“…succeeding Yasuo Fukuda, who after barely 11 months in office gave up on his attempts to govern against the DPJ-controlled Upper House blockade of his programs.”
Mr. Fukuda’s term (which ended today) lasted 365 days, according to an article I saw in the Japanese press. Did he give up? Perhaps. There has been rampant speculation in the Japanese press since early spring that the party was unhappy with him and would try to find a graceful exit for him after the summit, however. He announced his resignation a month later. I would not make that statement with such certainty.
It also should be remembered that the DPJ passed a non-binding censure of Mr. Fukuda during the last Diet session, merely for exercising his Constitutional authority. They would continue to use that as an excuse to stonewall his government in the future.
“Mr Fukuda, 72, and his cabinet resigned this morning to clear the way for Mr Aso’s team, although the new PM is unlikely to make major changes to the ministry.”
Mr. Aso retained five ministers and appointed 12 new ones. These included a new foreign minister, finance minister, justice minister, defense minister, and chief cabinet minister.
In the piece you wrote, linked to that article, you say:
“Each of Aso’s two immediate predecessors lasted barely 11 months, though they faced no serious threat within the Liberal Democratic Party”
See the above for the length of Mr. Fukuda’s term. Mr. Abe’s was one day longer. See the above also for a reference to the LDP spending most of the year trying to find a way to get rid of him.
I’ve written here before about the considerable opposition within the LDP to Mr. Fukuda, starting from Takenaka Heizo’s article in the Bungei Shunju. The opposition was a reaction to Mr. Fukuda’s return to a reliance on the bureaucracy (specifically the Finance Ministry) rather than pursuing reform. There is even talk among the reformers of forming a new “urban-based” party. This wing is estimated to number about 100 Diet members, though of course the days are numbered for some of them.
“Even now, as another mild recession laps at their doorsteps, the Japanese are a point of stability in a world financial system gone wild.”
Public debt in Japan is a very serious problem, both at the national and prefectural level. Some prefectures are worried about insolvency in 2-3 years. The public debt was 176.2% of GDP in 2006, according to the CIA factbook. This is still, I think, the world’s largest governmental fiscal deficit (at least among developed nations). Consider that Mr. Yosano wanted until recently to raise the consumption tax to hack away at this.
“Ichiro Ozawa, the Opposition Democratic Party of Japan’s bullish leader, who has been correct in most calls for the past 18 months…”
Please name three of those calls.
“…might even give enough government MPs the nerve to try to break the DPJ’s deathly grip on the upper house, at least to the extent of driving through the Diet Fukuda’s emergency economic package.”
I don’t understand this. The DPJ grip on the upper house lasts until the next election, at least, which is three years away.
“Along the way there was only one misstep, but it was Ozawa’s and it showed why some senior DPJ members make no effort to disguise their loathing and suspicion. Late last year he was cleverly inveigled by Fukuda into private discussions about a grand coalition between their parties.”
I would maintain there have been quite a few Ozawa missteps, starting with the idea of challenging the government over the Indian Ocean refueling mission. And really, he wasn’t “inveigled” into talks about a grand coalition. He thought it was a great idea and the best way to implement some DPJ measures. There are also rumors that those talks continue on the QT, by the way, which I’ve mentioned here once before.
“But in a political society where blue blood is almost obligatory for leadership contention, Ozawa’s father was a mere businessman, a backbencher from Iwate.”
Blueblood to me means descended from royalty or nobility. While Mr. Fukuda’s father was a prime minister, and Mr. Abe’s father a foreign minister and grandfather a prime minister, the political antecedents of their predecessors were not that big a deal. Off the top of my head, the last Japanese prime minister to have been a blueblood was Hosokawa Morihiro. And Mr. Ozawa was born and educated in Tokyo, though he succeeded his father in representing an Iwate district, so he is no stranger to privilege.
“He wants to make manga and anime (animated video) and favours other otaku (geek) activities that are at the forefront of Japan’s cultural diplomacy.”
What other geek activities would those be?
“Words such as these won’t hurt Aso’s popularity. In the next weeks, expect to see his personal ratings rise high above those of Ozawa.”
The last poll I saw had his personal approval ratings at roughly double those of Mr. Ozawa’s in percentage-point terms already. But yes, they might go even higher, as Mr. Abe seems to enjoy retail politicking much more than Mr. Ozawa.
Blatant nonsense? Perhaps an overstatement in this particular instance, but clearly these articles could have been much better.
Still, I am not being facetious when I say this is superior to the efforts of many other newspapers. For example, the headline above the West Australian article is “Blueblood Nerd-In-Chief”.
Nor am I being facetious when I say thanks again, and please feel free to comment any time.
UPDATE: Mr. Alford responds in Comment #3.