AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Gemba K.’

All you have to do is look (110)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 17, 2012

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko dissolves the Diet on Friday afternoon. Note his expression compared to some of the other people in the Cabinet, particularly Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro at the far right.

A Diet ends its term with a banzai cheer (followed by applause), and that’s why people are lifting their arms. There is a “proper” way to raise your hands: Like an NFL referee signaling a touchdown with the palms facing each other over the head.

The younger postwar generations are more likely to raise their hands with the palms facing to the front.

Posted in Government, Photographs and videos, Politics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Taking flight

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Japan today is surprisingly diverse, which creates a centrifugal force in society. Right-wing voices adorn the mass media, but that does not represent all of Japan. Many people aren’t interested in the Dokdo issue. More than a few feel ashamed about the military comfort women. Thus, we have one more wish. That is for the sound conscience of the Japanese people who would defend that diversity and centrifugal force…Our job is to shout encouragement to them from the side.

- 3 September editorial in South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo, titled “Grassroots Imperialism, Japan”, from their Japanese-language edition

All things that fly and crash have wings. If it is possible to refer to the group intelligence required for calmly considering history as a set of wings, Japan, which will crash from being a major power to a minor country, is wingless.

- Seoul University Professor Song Ho-gun in a 4 September editorial in South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo, titled “The Crash of Wingless Japan”, from their Japanese-language edition

ONE of these days, after the South Korean polity has reached adulthood, Japan will have to thank the Koreans for the favor they’ve done them, albeit unwittingly. If it’s possible for an entire nation to reach a consensus, there is now a consensus in Japan that President Lee Myung-bak stepped over the line with his behavior last month, and his countrymen have blindly followed. As often happens, no one realized the line was there until after it was crossed. Now everyone sees it.

The immediate effect has been to drive home the realization that the considerable Japanese efforts at reconciliation over the past 50 years in general, and 20 years in particular, have had all the effect of throwing water on a hot rock, as the proverb has it. Many in Japan have been aware of the alternative universe that exists on the Korean Peninsula as manifest in the first quote above, but overlooked it to promote better bilateral relations.

The president’s recent Takeshima visit and his statements about the Emperor has concentrated attention on the entire pattern of Korean behavior over decades. The toothpaste is now all out of the tube, and no amount of shouting from the side by the Joongang to the 5% or 10% of the country still listening will reflate it. It will be more water on another hot rock. As one Japanese Tweet had it, “It’s not ‘Oppose South Korea’, but ‘Disassociate from South Korea in Stages’.”

The signs of a new Japanese attitude are both subtle and overt. One of the former is the change in the description of the Takeshima islets now occupied by South Korea. In the past, the Japanese media referred to them as “Takeshima (South Korean name: Dokdo)”. Now it’s “Takeshima in Shimane Prefecture (South Korean name: Dokdo)”. Shimane was the local government with jurisdiction of the islets from 1905 until the South Koreans seized them in the early 1950s.

More overtly, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has ditched the “Now, now, can’t we all get along” attitude of his predecessors (other than Koizumi/Abe) and crossed a line of his own by saying the South Koreans are occupying the islets illegally. The change is as significant as it is low-key. Where once there was vagueness there is now an unmistakable position.

Speaking for the Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro is now saying openly what the government had refrained from saying before. From an interview earlier this week on TBS radio:

“Japan established (Takeshima’s) territorial sovereignty during the Edo period when townspeople received permission from the Shogunate to catch abalone and seals. Because it was Japanese territory, American military forces designated it as a practice target range in 1952.“

He added:

“Many Korean documents (related to their claim to the islets) have inconsistencies, and there are many doubts about their reliability.”

Refer to the two related articles on the masthead and you’ll see that was actually an understatement. He concluded:

“Let’s resolve the dispute fairly and peacefully.”

By that, he means Japan intends to refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice for third-party mediation.

That suggestion was countered by the suggestion in the South Korean news media that the Korean government might end all military exchange programs between the two countries if Japan takes the case to the ICJ.

South Korean Air Force officers were due to visit Japan Monday in an exchange program, but that visit was cancelled. The South Korean government cited Japan’s position on Takeshima as the reason.

Cadets from Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force were to visit South Korea on the 18th, but that visit was postponed. Said a Korean military official:

“We’ve concluded it would be difficult to force through military exchange with Japan in view of the growing anti-Japanese sentiment among the Korean people”

Yes, he said “force through”.

None of this was a surprise — South Korea also cited anti-Japanese sentiment when it cancelled the signing ceremony for an agreement to share military intelligence earlier this summer, 20 minutes before the ceremony was to be held. That was before the current wrangling gave them a better excuse.

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? Was that a glimmer of sense from behind South Korean curtains yesterday when they scaled down a planned four-day drill to defend Takeshima from an “illegal” approach to the islets? From a Yonhap report:

“Previous exercises sometimes involved Marines rappelling onto the islets from helicopters if the weather was right. But this year’s drills won’t include any landing operations, a senior military official said.”

Declared the office of President Lee:

“We came to the conclusion that it wasn’t necessary…President Lee expressed with the utmost strength the political will to never accept the usurpation of our land.”

But they helpfully added:

“(The drill) was not for the purpose of fighting a war with a friendly country.”

That generated both domestic criticism of the South Korean government for showing “weakness toward Japan” as well as some confusion. Today in the Chosun Ilbo:

“It’s very possible that the significance of this year’s drill would have been greater than usual because it had attracted international attention. This is also one reason (it was called off).”

Thus started the speculation that the Americans had suggested they chill, or some in Seoul began to be concerned that a pointless military drill wouldn’t create a favorable impression overseas.

Japan also asked them through diplomatic channels to tone it down or cancel it. That might have been another factor, though it is inadmissable in the court of South Korean public opinion. The president’s office said:

“It is a mistake to say that we scaled down the drill because of Japanese opposition. It is for us to decide whether or not we conduct a drill, or the scale of any drill we do conduct.”

That brings us to the second passage above from Prof. Song about the wingless Japan’s tailspin into oblivion. By Jove, I think he’s got it — backwards. The events of the month have brought several existing currents into a greater focus and convergence that is more likely to result in the rediscovery of their wings.

That process had been underway for a while, but South Korean behavior has accelerated it. Other contributing factors were Chinese behavior during the incident involving the Senkakus two years ago this month, the ill-concealed Chinese designs on Okinawa as well as the Senkakus, the ill-concealed South Korean designs on Tsushima, the Tohoku triple disaster, the local impact of the international economic malaise, and the inability of the National Political Establishment to deal with any of these issues.

A new national resolve is forming which will mark the beginning of the end of the postwar regime. Already on the table as real possibilities are a radical restructuring of the system of governance, a revised Constitution that no longer has a Peace Clause — and indeed, a Japan That Can Say No.

I wouldn’t be too cocksure about any crash of the wingless Japanese. Unobserved by the rest of the world, they’ve lately noticed they still have wings. Thanks to South Korea, they’re starting to use them.

Afterwords:

* At the end of July, President Lee Myung-bak apologized on national television for the scandals that have sullied his administration. His brother and two aides were arrested for bribery. Roughly 20 associates have now been indicted or convicted for corruption, including three relatives. He once described his own government as “morally perfect”.

Two weeks after his apology, he became the first South Korean president to travel to Takeshima, opening the current diplomatic breach.

* People in both countries will continue to behave as they always have, regardless of the behavior of their national governments. For example, Fukuoka City-based Kyuden Infocom, a subsidiary of Kyushu Electric Power, the region’s largest utility, said it will expand the services offered by the Kyushuro website it operates for South Korean tourists making reservations at Kyushu hotels and ryokans. It will now offer tourists the opportunity to make reservations at hotels and ryokans nationwide. About 2,000 South Korean tourists use the site every month, and the company expects to double that in three years. This decision was announced about a week ago. The largest private sector company in Kyushu and an active institutional investor does not make decisions such as these on a whim.

Cutting off the country’s nose to spite its face might be an emotionally satisfying vote-winner in South Korea, but the businesspeople in both countries know that’s bad for the bottom line. The growth of cross-strait economic ties in the Busan-Kyushu region could briefly slow, but it won’t stop.

* The translation of these and other selections from Korean newspapers is important, and they should be taken seriously. Knowing what people tell each other when they think no one is paying attention is beneficial for everyone, Koreans included.

Or do you find it uncomfortable that they come off like a sophisticated and educated version of the North Korean news agency?

Besides, it’s hugely entertaining to read an editorial in a South Korean national newspaper assuring their readers that Japan is surprisingly diverse.

UPDATE: More entertainment, this time from Xinhua in China:

South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday summoned a Japanese right-wing activist accused of defaming Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

The move came after surviving wartime sex slaves sued 47-year- old Nobuyuki Suzuki last month for defamation for tying a wooden stake to a symbolic statue of a young Korean woman, a monument to the victims of forced sexual slavery.

The statue, erected last year opposite the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul, has drawn protests from Japanese politicians and rightists.

The wooden post read “Takeshima is Japanese territory,”in reference to a set of South Korea-controlled islets at the center of the decades-long territorial dispute between the two Asian neighbors. The islets are known here as Dokdo.

Prosecutors have requested Suzuki, who currently resides in Japan, to appear for questioning on Sept. 18 and plan to seek his extradition in cooperation with the Japanese authorities if he snubs the summon.

Of course they’re going to seek his extradition. Isn’t that what countries always do when an act of terrorism was committed on their soil? From the Kyunghyang Shinmum:

It has been confirmed that the two Japanese men who placed wooden stakes with the words, “Takeshima (Japanese name for Dokdo) is Japanese Land,” at the Dokdo Research Institute and the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum on August 22 left the country shortly after their crime.

On August 28, Seoul’s Seodaemun Police Station announced that the suspects of the “Stake Terror” were two Japanese men, Haruki Murata (61) and Tetsuro Sakurai (38).

“Stake Terror”, eh?

****
Fly fast enough and it creates a sonic boom.

Posted in International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, Mass media, Military affairs, Social trends, South Korea | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Flying hoop and weirdness alert

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

THE literal meaning of the Japanese expression taga ga hazureta refers to a barrel from which the hoops have been removed. The tension of the metal rings around the barrel provides it with structural integrity. Take off the hoops, however, and the whole thing falls apart.

Barrels of that sort are seldom used anymore, but the expression is still used in Japan and applied to analogous situations in life. It’s been used quite a bit lately to describe South Korean behavior since President Lee Myung-bak choppered over to the Takeshima islets last week.

The blogger writing as Ryoko 174 thinks the South Koreans have allowed three “own goals” during the series of incidents. (She uses that name because she’s employed at a major financial institution and feels more comfortable expressing her opinions anonymously.)

The first is the Korean application of the logic of their “actual control” to the circumstances of Takeshima, a point I raised here yesterday. If actual control legitimizes possession, then Koreans have no justification for continuing to ask for compensation for the period of annexation from 1910 to 1945. (The 1965 treaty restoring relations also means they have no justification, but treaties don’t stop Koreans from doing what they want. Observe the Kim Dynasty’s attitude toward agreements about their nuclear program in Pyeongyang.)

The second own goal was scored by Bak Jong-soo, the soccer player who paraded around the pitch in London with a Korean-language sign that read “Dokdo is our land” after his team beat Japan in the bronze medal match.

Koreans insist there is no territorial issue. But Ryoko 174 notes that people don’t conduct demonstrations holding signs that read, “Seoul is our land,” or “Tokyo is our territory”. The need to hold up a sign about Dokdo at an international event, and the hometown support Bak received for it, shows that the Korean nation most definitely thinks there is a territorial issue.

The third own goal was scored by Mr. Lee himself. He provided the local media with two justifications for his Takeshima trip. The first was that it was nothing more than a tour of the outlying regions of his country, so how could the Japanese possibly object? The second was that it was “a diplomatic measure”.

This, as Ryoko 174 observes, is a contradiction. Simple trips to the countryside are not diplomatic measures. It would seem that Mr. Lee also thinks there is a territorial issue.

Rhetoricians everywhere will want to study the formal refusal they’ll send to the request for third-party resolution by the International Court of Justice.

*****
South Koreans are worried that FIFA or the IOC might strip the soccer team of the bronze medal as punishment for the Bak pitch trot. The media and the Korean Football Association are defending him by saying that it was a spur of the moment act inspired by post-victory jubilation. The photograph above suggests otherwise. The sign the man in the first photo above is holding is identical to the one Bak flashed around the world. The photo below shows that he might be an official of the Korean Football Association.

He isn’t the one who actually handed over the sign to Bak, but they’ve got a picture of the guy who did. Some Japanese immediately accessed the KFA website to scan the photos of the board members, and they think they’ve found a match. I didn’t think it was possible to say one way or the other, but the man was able to score a ringside seat at an Olympic soccer match, after all. The FIFA will want to find out for sure.

*****
Objections and rationalizations aside, the Koreans know they stepped in it. The Korean Football Association sent an e-mail in the name of their chairman, Cho Chung-yun, to the Japanese Football Association. JFA Chair Daini Kuniya told the Japanese media the mail contained an “apology” and a statement that they would ensure something like that would never happen again. Mr. Daini told the press that he was content to leave the disposition of the matter to the IOC and FIFA.

The mere thought of Koreans apologizing to Japan over a matter of national honor caused several more barrel hoops to snap over on the peninsula. Here’s an excerpt from an English-language report in the Korean media showing how quickly the KFA had to cover their tracks at home:

Kim (Joo-sung, KFA secretary-general), said “the email was sent to explain that Park’s acts were not intentional and the word ‘apology’ was not inside the mail.”

The KFA has insisted that Park had acted “in the heat of the moment” and said Park seized the sign from a fan, stressing that the incident had not been pre-planned.

“Fan”, eh?

On their website, however, the KFA said the Japanese mass media was clearly mistaken about an apology or “anything like that”. (Note how they were careful not to say that Mr. Daini was mistaken.) What they did, they explained, was express their “regret”. They also said the e-mail contained the sentence, “Let’s work together in the future so that a problem such as this doesn’t arise again.“

The part about working together was superfluous. That’s not how the Japanese behave at sporting events, international or domestic.

*****
Internationalism is a wonderful thing. People get to learn all about other cultures and countries. What they usually discover is the fun and fascinating stuff. But sometimes the big old moss-covered cultural rocks are lifted up to expose the ugly little slugs underneath. Every country’s got ‘em.

That’s what happened when the Joongang Ilbo released an exclusive interview with IOC Chairman Jacques Rogge. In the process of asking a few questions, they inadvertently exposed the creatures under a rather large Korean rock themselves.

Be prepared: If you’re unfamiliar with the Korean mindset, you might have to pick your jaw up off the keyboard when you read what they asked. The Japanese won’t have to. They’re used to it.

The first question was whether Korea would be stripped of its medal. But then they tacked on this:

“Public opinion in South Korea strongly supports Bak.”

Mr. Rogge said he would wait for the FIFA decision. He added that even if there were “special circumstances” in South Korea, the rules are to be upheld.

He refrained from saying, “So what?”

The Joongang followed that up with a statement, rather than a question. They tried to create an equivalency with the 1968 incident in the Mexico City Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised gloved fists in a Black Power salute.

Mr. Rogge wasn’t having it. He said the two situations weren’t comparable, and that the Smith/Carlos demonstration was rather a statement about the social problem of racial discrimination worldwide. Even then, he noted, their act was still, strictly speaking, a political statement.

He concluded by saying it was not possible to deny that the fact that Bak’s act was a political statement about a territorial issue directed at one country.

Now get ready for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Joongang: Doesn’t the rising sun emblem on Japanese uniforms have a political element?

Rogge: This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say there was a problem with the Japanese uniform.

No, they didn’t let it drop there.

Joongang: Does that mean there isn’t a problem?

Rogge: There isn’t a problem in the IOC.

There will also be no problem with Bak receiving an exemption from the mandatory Korean military service, according to the government minister responsible.

South Korean athletes are exempted if they win an Olympic medal. The IOC didn’t give him a medal, but the South Korean government said he was on the team, so…

*****
When President Lee tries to justify his behavior, the barrel hoops fly off the entire stock at the Korean cooperage. People were ducking for cover yesterday.
At an unrelated event, Mr. Lee went out of his way to say:

“The (Japanese) Emperor seems to want to come to South Korea, and we told the Japanese that he can come if he sincerely apologizes to the independence activists who died (during the annexation period)…When President Roh (Tae-woo) visited in 1990, he expressed his ‘deepest regret’. If that’s what he’s going to say, he shouldn’t come.”

This caught Japanese Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro off guard when he was asked about it, and he quickly deflected the question. It’s understandable that he wouldn’t know how to respond. The Emperor hasn’t said anything lately about visiting South Korea, there are no plans for him to go, and the two governments aren’t even discussing a visit. Mr. Lee pulled it all out of the ether.

In fact, then-President Roh was pleased with his visit. Not only did he like the expression of regret, he also was said to have been impressed with the Emperor’s dinner table discussion of his partial Korean lineage. When he returned home, Mr. Roh told his countrymen, “We must build a new age of friendly relations with our neighboring country.”

Perhaps the wheels are coming off in addition to the hoops. It was the political and diplomatic equivalent of footballer Bak’s sign at the Olympics.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry source told the Mainichi Shimbun:

“That’s an unbelievable statement. It is likely to have a negative impact on (bilateral) relations for several years.”

Mr. Lee’s term ends in February, so that means the new South Korean president will be starting off behind the eight ball as far as the Japanese are concerned.

Other Japanese quickly, and logically, reframed that as a Korean demand for an Imperial apology to independence activists as a condition for a visit.

Fancy that. Just two years ago, during the 100th anniversary of the Japanese annexation in 1910, the South Koreans were anxious for the Emperor to come. The idea was to have him get down on his knees in Seoul in the same way that West German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeled in front of the monument to the Warsaw ghetto uprising during his 1970 visit to Poland.

Give them credit for vividness of imagination. Now if they could only get comfortable with the concepts of moderation and self-restraint. Not to mention historical awareness.

Apart from Foreign Ministry sources, the general Japanese response seems to have been: Who do you think you are, pal?

Kobe University Prof. Kimura Kan, whom I’ve quoted several times here lately, suggested the Koreans enjoy this particular tactic. The theory goes that they know the Japanese respect the Emperor, so they intentionally leverage that respect to get everybody upset. He says it’s happened to him several times in South Korea.

See what I mean about arrested development?

There might be more to Prof. Kimura’s idea than you think. Years ago, I read Flying Visits, a collection of non-fiction pieces by the Australian Clive James writing for The Observer in Britain. Each article presented his experiences and observations during a visit to a different country, and one of those trips was to South Korea. Mr. James described a demonstration by Korean workers at an American-owned plant. They stormed the offices, threw out the foreign employees, broke all the windows, and placed the American flag on the floor in the lobby at the entrance, all the better to tromp on it when they entered in their muddy boots.

The management of the American company thought this meant the Koreans didn’t like them very much, so they closed the plant and went home.

The Korean demonstrators were flabbergasted at the withdrawal. “What’s the matter,” they asked. “This is just a demonstration.”

Internationalism is a wonderful thing. People learn all about other cultures and countries.

One of the things they’re learning is that the people who live on the Korean Peninsula are more insular and cloistered than people in some island countries, such as Japan.

*****
To be fair, not all South Koreans are happy with this behavior. Anonymous members of Mr. Lee’s Saenuri (New Frontier) Party think the president has been unwise. The government (i.e., bureaucracy) has postponed indefinitely plans to build a marine science research center near the Takeshima islets, lest they upset the Japanese more than they already have.

But they seem to be in the minority. Today, 15 August, is national liberation from the Japanese day in South Korea. Enjoying some summer holiday fun is natural, as is a bit of patriotism. But if we go by form, we’re more likely to be treated to a three-ring circus than a festival of ecumenical sobriety. Time to break out the popcorn.

*****
I don’t care, let it all hang out. The Koreans will.

Posted in History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

The 17% solution

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 13, 2012

President Lee Myung-bak views a concrete flag on Takeshima

One South Korean justification for their claim that Takeshima is their territory is that they actually control it. Would they have accepted the same argument when Japan actually controlled Korea for 35 years?

- A Japanese Tweeter

THAT didn’t take long

This post last Sunday featured a long interview with Kobe University Prof. Kimura Kan warning that relations between Japan and South Korea could grow worse very soon, and that the deterioration of relations would be caused by the South Koreans.

On Friday, a desperate little man with feet of clay traded in the best interests of his country to redeem the final six months of his presidential term and avoid a life of ignominy in retirement. By resorting to the cheap blaring tawdriness of chauvinism, he chose to burrow into a pit even lower and more squalid than the last refuge of the scoundrel – the affectation of patriotism. That action might have brought about the tipping point in Japan, causing most people to realize what many already suspected: South Korea is not interested in close bilateral ties with them.

On Friday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the islets of Takeshima in the Sea of Japan, though the South Koreans use different names for both of those. The islets are now in South Korean possession because that country found it intolerable for the rest of the world to recognize them as part of Japan in the Treaty of San Francisco, which disposed of the territory the Japanese conquered in East Asia during the war. They seized them by force shortly after the Allies ended the occupation of Japan, understanding that the interpretation of the Japanese Constitution at that time and international opinion less than a decade after V-J Day would prevent the Japanese from stopping them. The details are as described in the two articles on the masthead.

A report in the April 2007 edition of the Joongang monthly in South Korea stated that both countries had agreed to disagree about the islets’ sovereignty in a secret codicil to the then-secret 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations that restored relations. Under the terms of that agreement, both Japan and South Korea would allow each other to claim the islands while putting off a resolution of the dispute until later. South Korea would maintain their occupation, but would not increase their presence or build new facilities.

South Korea never upheld their end of the deal, and has been demanding that Japan void the terms of the agreement since it became public. In fact, the Joongang article states that someone burnt the codicil when it was discovered after the assassination of President Bak Jeong-hui.

The Japanese have always maintained a mild-mannered approach to the issue. Meanwhile, the South Koreans have built lodgings, a lighthouse, a monitoring facility, an antenna, and a docking facility on uninhabitable islets smaller than New York’s Central Park. No one had ever lived there because natural sources of either food or water do not exist. All the South Korean military/police forces and a retired couple stationed there as a duty post to legitimize the South Korean claim survive on shipped-in supplies.

The Yonhap news agency reported that fighter aircraft and patrol vessels were mobilized for Mr. Lee’s visit. The military muscle was required because the South Koreans like to amuse themselves with the fantasy that the Japanese are about to launch a full-scale military assault to retake the islands. They also dispatched the amphibious assault ship Dokdo (their name for the islands) to the area to demonstrate they were prepared for any eventuality that was never going to happen.

The Dokdo awaits the revanchists

In other words, they applied more military firepower for this vaudeville performance than they used to deal with actual military attacks when North Korea sank the ROK Navy corvette Cheonan and shelled the island of Yeonpyeong, killing both military personnel and civilians. Confront a real military threat? Perish the thought.

Double secret embargo

There was enough secrecy for a real military operation. The South Korean government asked the country’s media at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon to embargo the news, according to the Chosun Ilbo. They insisted on this security arrangement to prevent the Japanese government and media from finding out, though some fifth-columnists had tipped off the Japanese embassy and foreign ministry by about 5:00 p.m. The Japanese media reported the story at around 10:00 p.m. that night, and the reports included a Kyodo article in English. The embargo on the South Korean media ended at 10:00 a.m. the next day. Therefore, the South Korean public was the last to know.

The Japanese reaction could be described by the expression, “the (fish) scales fell from my eyes.” The scales had already slid considerably after the South Koreans earlier this year cancelled the signing of a planned agreement to share military information 20 minutes before the ceremony, and after the Korean line turned harder instead of softer last year when Japan returned some Korean historical materials as a gesture of good faith. Of course the Koreans have no intention of returning the Japanese historical materials in their possession.

The comment of Tanigaki Sadakazu, the leader of the opposition LDP, is illustrative:

“It repudiates the past efforts we’ve made to improve Japanese-Korean relations”.

The breach was also noted by former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo:

“It defies common sense in the extreme.”

Well, yes, if the intent is amicable relations, but South Korean actions speak louder than words. Mr. Lee offered the usual excuses. The South Koreans used to complain that the Japanese hadn’t apologized for the system of licensing military prostitutes known as the comfort women. Now that the Japanese have apologized, the line is they haven’t “sincerely” apologized. He also says that Japan is not interested in a resolution of the issue. Translated into English from the Korean, that means Japan chooses not to swallow Korean demands 100% in perpetuity. See more here.

Japan now seems to understand that nothing they do short of total diplomatic capitulation will ever satisfy the Koreans, who will keep reinterpreting their subjective standards for a reconciliation. The Foreign Ministry recalled their ambassador from South Korea for consultations, and called in South Korean ambassador Shin Kak-soo to lodge a protest. Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro placed a phone call to his counterpart Kim Sung-hwan to tell him, “Now, we will have no choice but to take appropriate measures.”

One of those steps was the cancellation of a visit to Seoul by Finance Minister Azumi Jun later this year for a dialogue on government finance.

The Japanese will also apply to the International Court of Justice to resolve the dispute over Takeshima, which they have done twice before. The first time they did so, the Koreans refused, saying:

“It is nothing more than a plot to press a false claim under the disguise of civil law.”

The second South Korean refusal came with the last request 50 years ago. While everyone understands that the South Korean government will refuse again (and has already indicated they will), the Japanese are now past the point of humbly withdrawing in the hope of maintaining a facade the South Koreans don’t wish to maintain. Said Mr. Gemba:

“It is natural for the international community to realize that a territorial issue exists.”

Other factors contributing to the Japanese loss of patience are Korean agitation overseas to change the name of the Sea of Japan and to coax the national legislatures of foreign governments into condemning the comfort women system, as happened with the US Congress in 2007. The Japanese government is now of a mood to call a spade a spade.

Mr. Gemba again:

“It might have been difficult for South Korea to agree before (to the ICJ resolution 50 years ago), but now they’re using the slogan ‘Global Korea’, so of course they should respond.”

In fact, the Japanese government considered an appeal to the ICJ last year when the South Korean National Assembly sent to a special committee for the protection of “Dokdo” to visit Takeshima. They chose not to out of “consideration for the effect it would have on Japan-Korean relations overall.” Now, however, Mr. Gemba said the government understands such consideration is “unnecessary”. The Koreans don’t care, so why should they? It’s time to let the Koreans explain why they find dispute resolution by a neutral third party unacceptable when they claim they have an open-and-shut case.

The public response

The attitude of the Japanese public might have been expressed by a Japanese reader and commenter at this site who uses the handle Aceface. Writing in Japanese on Twitter, he said:

“What Japanese should realize about President Lee’s visit to Takeshima is that the visit of a politician to a place that could start an international dispute just to gain popularity is the act of a Third World country.”

He also said this observation applied to Russian President Medvedev’s visit to the disputed Northern Territories north of Hokkaido, and even former Prime Minister Koizumi’s official visit to the Yasukuni shrine. He added:

“South Korea no longer can find the benefits to a strategic relationship with Japan. Hasn’t South Korean importance to Japan also declined? In essence, (the Japanese investment in diplomatic relations with) South Korea is now a nonperforming loan. Even if Japan were to maintain close relations, the only thing it would receive is the bill.”

A comparison of the public response in both countries to the behavior of the other government is instructive. Over the past decade, unhappy Korean citizens have demonstrated in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul by chopping off their fingers (either in whole or in part) to protest Japanese claims on Takeshima or whatever dark cloud happened to be passing through their psyche at the moment. They’ve shot flaming arrows into the Japanese embassy compound and gutted birds they consider a symbol of Japan in front of the embassy.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, someone drove by the Korean consulate in Hiroshima, threw a rock, broke a window, and left.

And that’s it.

The 17% solution

As the second linked post describes, the Japanese recognize the pattern of escalation from a failed South Korean government. This visit in particular is a useful diversion from the falling popularity of a lame duck administration for a variety of reasons. Mr. Lee came into office pledging a focus on economic ties and the future, but the default emotional state of the polity ended that charade.

Public support for the Lee administration is down to 17% due to the administration’s policy failures, severe economic problems, and, the old reliable for South Korean presidents, financial malfeasance. (This time, Mr. Lee’s brother was been arrested and other aides questioned.) The administration has lost so much credibility, South Korean sources say that government agencies and ministries are now starting to ignore instructions and are waiting for the next government, which will take office in February.

Other motivations for the trip include the amplification gained by timing it a week before liberation from the Japanese day on 15 August, and the use of Takeshima as a substitute for a London trip to catch some reflected rays from the Olympics. Some South Korean reports say aides talked Mr. Lee out of an Olympic visit. He would have gone anyway had the South Korean men’s soccer team won their semifinal match, but they lost.

The ink-stained wretches

Yet another worthwhile comparison is the response of the media in both nations. The Tokyo Shimbun printed an unruffled editorial that contained a wish for reconciliation after the Korean election, but said:

“Both Japan and South Korea have avoided a decisive conflict despite their claims to sovereignty over Takeshima. President Lee’s visit could well ruin the cooperative relationship between the two countries.”

The tone is measured throughout, unlike the editorials (not individual op-eds) and articles in Korean newspapers. To be sure, the Korean media understands and is uncomfortable with the implications of the visit, but when the issue is bilateral relations with Japan, they’ll salute any jingoistic banner the government runs up the Joseon flagpole, even if it’s just the same old bloody shirt.

The Chosun Ilbo thinks the visit might rebound to Japan’s advantage.

“Is this an appropriate attitude for a country that actually controls the territory? We have doubts this action was taken with full consideration of the strategic implications.”

Everyone else shares those doubts, but the paper quickly abandoned the pose of mature deliberation.

“The South Korean government has consistently followed a policy of quiet diplomacy in the Dokdo issue, in consideration of friendly relations between the two countries.”

As the islets’ seizure and the infrastructural improvements alone demonstrate, that’s just an exercise in throwing pixels on the screen.

“The old Japanese national strategy that combined imperialism and ethnocentrism was to increase tension among surrounding countries as a way to disperse externally the people’s dissatisfaction with the logjam of domestic politics. Looking at the recent movements of the Japanese government, one is reminded of past cases that are similar.”

And these recent movements of the Japanese government would be? They mention none, because there are none.

Incidentally, this and most of the other selections from Korean newspapers here are translated from their Japanese editions and cited and linked to on the web by Japanese people. Those Japanese who read and think about public issues are well aware of them. It is ironic that the media outlets’ quest to boost website hits has exposed their intellectual breech and caused as much distrust in Japan as anything their politicians did.

“Japan might temporarily employ ethnocentrism as the driving force in its external policies, but once external restraints are released, they may well resort to adventurism that would destroy the overall peace of the region. Japan must always face directly this lesson of history.”

This goes a long way to explaining why Koreans — and the foreigners who live there — are so whacked out on the subject. Japanese adventurism in the region? They might as well try arguing that Britain “may well resort to adventurism” that would lead to the recolonization of Australia, Nigeria, or Malaya.

It’s easy to spot the family resemblance of both countries on the peninsula with the mass delusions, hysteria, and paranoia. The question is one of degree, not kind.

In keeping with the professional practices of the rest of the guild around the world, the Korea Times found some academics to say for them what they wanted to say:

“In Japan, the Dokdo islets dispute has been raised to the same status as that of the Kuril Islands dispute with Russia and the Senkaku Islands dispute with China,” said Jo Yang-hyeon, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA). “Dokdo is frequently used by Japanese politicians to gain popularity.”

The reason Jo Yang-hyeon mentions none of these politicians is because none of them exist. None of them has tried to used Takeshima as a career enhancer, and no one has been successful doing it. In fact, the primary complaint of the Japanese academics and commentators who want the government to take a stronger stand with South Korea over Takeshima is that most politicians ignore the issue.

“The Senkakus incident hardened the attitudes of politicians and government officials there so that they were unwilling to compromise on territorial issues,” added Jo.

He’s got that one right, though it’s not clear why this should be considered insightful analysis. It’s called “defending national territory against a country without a legitimate claim”. But considering the response to the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong incidents, this might be a difficult concept for some South Koreans to grasp.

Meanwhile, the Joongang Ilbo admits Mr. Lee’s trip was designed to negate opposition attacks on the president’s policy of better relations with Japan. But while even hysterians have occasional periods of lucidity, they don’t last long. They added that Mr. Lee had decided Japan had gone too far with new textbooks — without citing the language in the texts or the percentage of their actual use in schools — and eight years of Defense Ministry white papers. You know, it’s that Imperial Japan tactic of imperialism, ethnocentrism, and adventurism. That old black magic got the country under its spell again.

The Joongang also complains that this year for the first time the Japanese objected to the Korean version of white papers, which “intentionally makes conditions worse.” In other words, we can complain when you do it, but you can’t complain when we do it. Another wave of hysteria throws up the suggestion that Japanese right-wingers might create a situation in which the “inconceivable” might happen, so they had better be prepared.

This would almost be as comical as reading the English-language reports of Pyeongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (which thought Mr. Lee’s visit wasn’t fit to print), were it not for the way it stunts the emotional growth of the citizenry in the way the results of the juche philosophy stunt the physical growth of the North’s people.

Global Korea

After South Korea’s victory over the Japanese team for the bronze medal in men’s soccer at the Olympics, one of the players, Bak Jong-soo, grabbed a banner out of the stands reading “Dokdo is our land” and paraded around the pitch with it. It was written in Korean, so no one knew at first what it said.

Take that!

Other photos taken of the incident show the rest of the Korean team smiling and laughing in comradeship at the Bak pitch trot in the spirit of Olympism. In a later interview, the team captain said they first decided they should have “a meaningful ceremony as a team” on the pitch in advance of the 15 August liberation day. It was to have been a Dokdo-themed ceremony, but they changed their minds when some team members suggested, “It isn’t necessary to bring up something that should be viewed as a matter of course.”

It would have been hugely entertaining to have seen the meaningful ceremony the boys would have staged — “men” doesn’t work here —as well as educational for the rest of the world. Bak was banned from receiving his medal and sent home. All 18 might have been put on a plane in disgrace to return to a hero’s welcome. Both the IOC and FIFA are conducting an investigation.

The Japanese-language translation of the Joongang Ilbo article describing the aftermath of the incident was also remarkable. Their inability to severely criticize Bak for his behavior shows that even the Korean print media is capable of a measured and mature tone. Indeed, the tone was remarkably similar to that employed by the Japanese media when discussing Takeshima.

The newspaper did complain, however, that FIFA bore some of the responsibility for the incident because they didn’t properly explain to the athletes that such displays were not acceptable. There was no mention of holding the South Korean Olympic Committee accountable for the same offense.

Adding it up

The Japanese are now drawing conclusions. A poll taken by the Mainichi Shimbun after Mr. Lee’s wonderful daytrip found that it caused 50% of the nation to have a lower opinion of South Korea than it had before. A total of 44% responded that their opinion didn’t change. That should not be viewed as unconcern over the visit, but rather that they consider it to be yet another act in the sequence of behavior they’ve seen all their lives. Why should they be surprised?

They now realize what has been apparent to outside observers for a while: The growth and maturation of the South Korean National Political Establishment and polity is a clinical study of arrested development. This behavior is likely to continue indefinitely because the country’s NPE is inherently corrupt and instable, which means it is in their interest for it to continue. They’ve had six presidents since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1981 (the Fourth Republic ended with a coup d’etat in 1980), and every one of those men has been mixed up in bribery/influence peddling/political funds scandals, whether the miscreants have been themselves, close family members, aides, or a combination of those three. Two were jailed and one committed suicide. Since the introduction of the current electoral system in 1988 with the Sixth Republic, none of them have won an outright majority. Why will the next administration be different?

Complaining is pointless. It is what it is, and they are who they are. One wonders if the nation as a whole is no more interested in bilateral relations with Japan than the Arabs are with Israel.

The question of the Japanese response has assumed even greater importance because of the regional response to Mr. Lee’s trip. On the 11th, the Global Times of China, the international arm of the People’s Daily (the Communist Party house organ), wrote:

“China should support the positions of South Korea and Russia in their territorial disputes and work together to deal with Japan…We should also win the neutrality of the United States. This would reduce the space the Japanese have for causing a commotion over the Diayoutai (Senkakus) problem.”

Let’s carve up Japan together!

On the 12th, a Hong Kong citizens group claiming possession of the Senkakus known as the “Hong Kong Committee for Action to Defend the Diayoutai” departed from Hong Kong in a boat to land on the islets. Hong Kong authorities have stopped previous boats bound for those same shores after they left the harbor, but this ship successfully eluded them and is now beyond their jurisdiction.

One member of the committee said at a press conference before they left:

“The South Korean president went to Dokdo. China should also take action.”

So should Japan.

Afterwords:

More vaudeville from the world of South Korean politics: Opposition politician Mun Je-in informed the Korean media on the 2nd that the late Bak told the Americans in 1965 he wished he could resolve the dispute by blowing up the islands. Bak’s daughter Geun-hye, now running for president, said no, no, the Japanese were the ones who said that during negotiations. Mr. Mun responded that the Japanese did say it, but documents indicate Bak said it first in the United States before the 1965 agreement. Bak’s daughter said no, no, you’re ignoring the context.

That’s no way to talk about the Holy Land.

And now South Korean newspapers are reporting that Mr. Lee plans to give a speech on 15 August in which he will say that “now is the last chance for Japan to apologize” for historical matters.

Or?

*****
South Korea mobilizes to defend Dokdo from the imperialist ethnocentric adventurers on the far shores of the East Sea.

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Yes, it can be helped

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 7, 2011

DURING a news conference on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi said the following about Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro’s visit to South Korea.

We really wanted him to visit China, but it was the National Day (national founding day) holiday period, so it couldn’t be helped. We had him go to South Korea instead.

Is not the lack of self-awareness among the political class a perpetual astonishment? Does the Diet member/deputy foreign minister not realize how stupid — and undiplomatic — he sounds? Prime Minister Noda is scheduled to visit South Korea himself on 18 October. Has it occurred to Mr. Yamaguchi what the South Koreans might think after hearing that the Japanese government sees them as an option that couldn’t be helped when they needed an excuse to air out the Boy Foreign Minister for a few days?

Ah, but Mr. Yamaguchi is no mere politico. He started his career in the foreign ministry as a diplomat after being graduated from the University of Tokyo Law Department — the ultimate career track for the Japanese elite. He was later convinced to run for the Diet by Ozawa Ichiro. He launched a study group for Diet members called Japan’s Grand Design. He also holds a doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University (most likely the School of Advanced International Studies).

Yet after all the time, money, and effort devoted to acquiring those credentials, he still lacks the common sense of the average gas station attendant or convenience store clerk.

It can’t be helped? Yes, it can be helped. If there’s no pressing need for a foreign minister still in training wheels to travel abroad, keep him harmless and at home. If someone knows less about interpersonal relations than the average housewife and her next-door neighbor, he doesn’t belong in the Cabinet, much less the Foreign Ministry.

William F. Buckley once said that he would rather be governed by the the first 500 people selected at random from the Boston telephone directory than by the graduates of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

That works just as well in Japan as it does in the United States. Unfortunately, the dessicated intellects bearing framed ribboned script who govern both countries don’t work so well at all.

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The little rascals

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 24, 2011

IT didn’t take long for Japan’s media to come up with a nickname for Prime Minister Noda’s Cabinet. In some quarters, they’re now known as the “Chibikko Gang”. That’s how the Japanese translated the name of the troupe of children that starred in the Our Gang comedy shorts made in Hollywood from 1922 until 1944.

No, it is not a term of endearment.

The two main reasons for the selection of the nickname are the new Foreign Minister, Gemba Koiichiro (47), and the new Finance Minister, Azumi Jun (49). Mr. Gemba was elected to the Fukushima Prefectural Assembly at the age of 26. He won election to the lower house of the Diet two years later. His previous Cabinet experience consists of positions created to pander to passing fancies rather than do any real work — three months in the first Kan Cabinet with the responsibility for sexual equality in the workplace, the population decline, and the creation of a new public commons. The latter was a Kan inspiration for building a bottom-up leftist government from the top down. He then was given responsibility for science and technology policy this January.

Mr. Azumi was an NHK announcer for eight years before he was elected to the Diet. He was the host of the network’s Sunday morning political discussion program for a few of those years. He was deputy defense minister for four months in the first Kan Cabinet, and then became the party’s Diet affairs chairman in January. And there you have his resume.

But this doesn’t require a detailed explanation. All you have to do is look.

Here’s a photo of Mr. Gemba and Mr. Noda in the Diet.

And here’s Mr. Azumi meeting World Bank President Robert Zoellick this week:

Now you know the reason for the Chibikko Gang nickname. You also know the reason it’s generally assumed that foreign and fiscal policy are being formulated and executed by the bureaucrats, and enunciated by the ventriloquist’s dummies seated on their laps. Everyone’s long forgotten the DPJ’s pledge to wrest political control from Kasumigaseki.

It is to sigh. The DPJ was finally able to give the country an adult as prime minister on the third try in Mr. Noda. Unfortunately, he was unable to do the same for two of the only four essential Cabinet positions in any government.

*****
What could possibly go wrong when children are given adult roles?

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Ichigen koji (55)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

一言居士
- A person who has something to say about everything

1. This appointment is difficult to believe.

2. At this point, I do not think it will be possible to cooperate with Ms. Tanaka, who attacked the ministry by referring to us as a “den of demons”.

3. The Democratic Party is calling for political leadership, so I think I’ll ask someone in one of the three top ministerial positions (Cabinet minister, deputy minister, parliamentary secretary) to serve in the role of asking Ms. Tanaka for cooperation.

Three comments by senior Foreign Ministry officials who wished to remain anonymous after they heard that Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro had decided to appoint Tanaka Makiko, Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s first foreign minister, to be the chair of the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The outspoken Ms. Tanaka, part diva and part drama queen, is the daughter of the late former Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei, the Japanese version of Boss Tweed. Her battle with the equally unpleasant bureaucrats of the Foreign Ministry was more entertaining than anything on television produced as entertainment. Describing it would require a magazine-length article. It ended with Ms. Tanaka’s resignation.

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Frankenstein’s monster in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 3, 2011

The reason people voted for Kan (in last year’s DPJ presidential election) was because they didn’t want to vote for Ozawa, but we wound up really getting screwed.”
- DPJ Senior Advisor Watanabe Kozo in a meeting with New Komeito

IT’S TIME to draw conclusions from the fact that national governments throughout the world are now part of the problem rather than the solution. Those with the eyes to see will realize that the governments run by people who assume they’re the first rather than the last resort are functioning in the way classical liberals have always known they would. That is to say, they are dysfunctional. Consider the following examples.

* Greece is asking for a second bailout after the first in May 2010 and their austerity measures turned out to be yakeishi ni mizu, or water on a hot stone. Everyone expects them to default even after a booster injection of cash, and a second austerity program with more tax increases has the middle class out on the streets. The problem lies more with the Greek polity than with a specific government, but the public sector has become a work-free zone whose employees receive pre-retirement annuities and call them salaries. They’re just as likely to be found at the beach as at work, or actually working for pay off the books. The government allows it to happen, and the ETA for the default is by 2014:

“A new study by Open Europe breaks down the liabilities between the public and private sectors. Foreign financial institutions currently own 42 per cent of Greek debts, and foreign governments 26 per cent, the rest being owed domestically. By 2014, those figures will be 12 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. European banks, in other words, will have shuffled off their losses onto European taxpayers.

“Of course, the outstanding debt will have have risen substantially in the mean time: from €330 billion to €390 billion. Then again, as Eurocrats remind us every day, it’s remarkably easy to be generous with someone else’s money.”

* Ireland had what is officially being called a “credit event” but is a de facto default of Allied Irish Banks, the last financial institution not under government control. The Irish ceded their right to political self-determination to the EU last year for a bailout to save the banks. Instead of a new bailout, the government is negotiating with the EU to reduce interest rates, but the talks are stalled on the insistence of the EU that the country raise its 12.5% corporate tax rates. Here’s one Irish observer:

“Given the political paralysis in the EU, and a European Central Bank that sees its main task as placating the editors of German tabloids, the most likely outcome of the European debt crisis is that, after two years or so to allow French and German banks to build up loss reserves, the insolvent economies will be forced into some sort of bankruptcy…

“In other words, we have embarked on a futile game of passing the parcel of insolvency: first from the banks to the Irish State, and next from the State back to the banks and insurance companies. The eventual outcome will likely see Ireland as some sort of EU protectorate, Europe’s answer to Puerto Rico.”

Another possibility is that the Chinese will charge in as the white knights. They’ve already heavily invested in Greek infrastructure and Hungarian government bonds, and now say they will support the Euro.

* Great Britain has promised to spend as much on the EU bailouts as it saved through the aggregate domestic spending cuts put in place by its coalition government of Wet Tories and the LibDems, a party that Tony Blair marveled was positioned to the left of Labor, led by a man whose name has become a national synonym for “stonkingly silly”. Government spending in April and May was up 4.1% year-on-year, while government borrowing was up 5.7% year-on-year — despite tax increases in the form of VAT, fuel duties, income taxes, and National Insurance. An estimated 750,000 British civil servants, including teachers, struck symbolically for a day because the government wants them to pay more into the pension and work longer before they get it.

* Barack Obama was elected by campaigning on ending the war in Iraq, which he opposed in 2002. Now he’s committed to keeping troops there until 2015, at a minimum. During his infamous “halt the rise of the oceans” speech, he also said his would be an administration that ended a war, but he began an illegal (in American terms) military operation in Libya this year. The response by the American House of Representatives was to reject one motion to authorize military action and reject a second motion to defund the military action.

The president waved the same magic wand over his promise to close Guantanamo. His and the preceding governments’ stimulus measures have been so ineffective, he now wants to increase the debt limit and raise taxes. He appointed a man who cheated on his taxes twice as treasury secretary — the same man who recently warned that government would have to be downsized unless taxes were increased on small business. He also promised a post-racial society and appointed a racialist as attorney-general. Race riots have broken out in several parts of the country on a scale unseen in 40 years, some fomented by flash mobs organized on social networking sites.

*****
Reasonable people might object that these recent difficulties notwithstanding, any government is better than a cat. That’s how the Japanese of an earlier era expressed the idea of “it’s better than nothing”.

Events are proving them wrong in Belgium, which just set a record for a country in the modern era to have no government (13 months and counting). In brief, one group of parties refused to accept the results of last year’s election and chose not to form a coalition government. The former ministers still have the same portfolio, but there is no parliamentary majority, no legislative program, no party discipline, no new government interventions in the economy, no new quasi-public agencies, no new taxes, and few new regulations. Happily, everything outside of government continues to function normally, so the economy is projected to grow by 2.3% this year.

That brings us to Japan, whose situation is an amalgam of all those above. Not only are the executive and legislative branches barely functioning, their operation is subject to the erraticisms of a man of unabashed amorality who has taken the nation aback by his attempts to retain power at the expense of his Cabinet, his party, and the devastated Tohoku region. For the first time in my memory, the Japanese print media is running articles by psychiatrists speculating on the topic: Just what is this man’s problem anyway?

And just what is going on in Japan?

*****
The Kan Naoto Cabinet was a zombie government before the earthquake/tsunami of 11 March. Absent the disaster, it already would have collapsed. The prime minister had shown himself incapable of handing either domestic or foreign affairs, public support was at roughly 21%, and talk was circulating in Nagata-cho about a no-confidence motion. Post-disaster, the opposition realized cooperation was the order of the day and resigned itself to another two years of a Kan government.

Incompetents are incapable of rising to the occasion, particularly those incapable of standing erect to begin with. Rather than being part of the solution, Mr. Kan and his government became part of the problem. It would take a household full of digits to count the examples, but here’s the latest: After the Hyogo earthquake in 1994, the Socialist/LDP coalition appointed someone to take charge of government recovery efforts in three days. It took the prime minister more than three months before assigning that responsibility to Matsumoto Ryu, a limousine leftist who has never demonstrated the ability to manage a shaved ice stand, much less a national effort that will require the coordination of several Cabinet ministries and the cooperation of the opposition. He was already in the Cabinet at the Minister for Environmental Affairs, a portfolio often given to women appointed to serve as window dressing, and the Minister for Disaster Relief. His only noteworthy accomplishment in the latter role since the March disaster was to get out of the way while other people tried to get on with the work.

Mr. Matsumoto immediately wrapped his mouth around his foot by declaring at a meeting that since 11 March, he “hates the DPJ, hates the LDP, and hates New Komeito”. (He is an ex-Socialist who found refuge and political viability in the DPJ.) When asked if that was the sort of magnanimous spirit designed to win the selfless cooperation from other politicians during a national crisis, he replied that he was trying to show his mission was to take the side of the people in the affected areas.

But everyone had lost their patience with Mr. Kan long before that, including members of his own party. One month ago, senior members of the ruling Democratic Party crafted a lawyerly document the night before the Diet was set to pass a no-confidence motion in his cabinet. Passage would require almost 25% of the party’s representation in the lower house to vote for it, and they were going to get it. The hyper-discipline required of political parties in the parliamentary system meant that would have destroyed today’s Democratic Party, as the dissidents would have either been thrown out or walked.

The document was a brief, vague statement of Mr. Kan’s agenda that his predecessor, Hatoyama Yukio, was led to believe implied an early resignation. That was enough to defeat the motion and keep the party together.

By keeping their zombie government alive, however, the DPJ leadership created the Nagata-cho version of Frankenstein’s monster. Almost everyone, including the news media, assumed Mr. Kan had agreed to step down. One of the few who didn’t make that assumption was the prime minister himself. He immediately announced that the document — which he refused to sign by appealing to Mr. Hatoyama’s sense of camaraderie — had nothing to do with his resignation. Since then, he has never specified when he will step down, and keeps modifying the vague conditions he set for his own departure.

Party leaders took turns hinting that they’d remove him from the position of DPJ president if he didn’t leave voluntarily, but he ignored them. Six members of the DPJ’s leadership have tried to talk him into setting an early date for his disappearance, including Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, and Mr. Edano’s predecessor and back-room string puller Sengoku Yoshito, but he dismissed them all. He has work to do, he told them. They started negotiations to pin him down on a time frame, but instead of meeting their requests, he added another condition: The passage of a bill to reformulate national energy policy. Its primary feature is to require the utilities to purchase renewable energy generated by others at exorbitant prices. Negotiations with the opposition parties on the content of the bill haven’t begun.

Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who is supposed to be one of the prime minister’s few friends in politics, became so frustrated he proposed that the DPJ change its method of selecting party president by entrusting the vote to all party members. They have a vote in the current system, but the votes of Diet MPs are given greater weight.

DPJ executives met again with the prime minister to discuss his resignation, but he again refused to specify a date because he said there was no guarantee the opposition would cooperate in the upper house for the passage of the second supplementary budget, the enabling legislation for the deficit-financing bonds, and the renewable energy program. Kyodo, however, quoted an anonymous party leader the next day saying that the prime minister would resign before mid-August. They thought he would hold a news conference last week to name the date. He didn’t.

Sengoku Yoshito, who has never been impressed with Mr. Kan’s abilities despite a shared political philosophy, remarked that keeping the prime minister in office was like kichigai ni hamono — giving a sword to a lunatic.

Okada Katsuya then took it upon himself to negotiate with the LDP and New Komeito to get a signed document outlining their conditions for cooperation. (That’s more than the DPJ usually brings to discussions.) Both parties agreed to vote for the second supplementary budget and the bond measures, as well as a 50-day Diet extension, on the condition that Mr. Kan set a date for departure and the new prime minister pass the third supplementary budget.

When the prime minister saw it, he banged the table, shouted that the upper house members of the LDP couldn’t be trusted, and threw out the document. His bullying was successful in winning an extension until the end of August without a commitment to resign.

Quitting

It is a mystery why anyone thought that Kan Naoto would willingly resign, much less in June. Indeed, soon after double-crossing his co-founder of the Democratic Party, he became insufferably smug in public, telling one reporter that if people didn’t want to see him around anymore, they should hurry up and pass the bills he cites as his conditions for leaving.

It is no secret that becoming prime minister has been his ambition since he was a young man. He has put an enormous amount of effort and persistence into achieving that ambition, starting from the days when he won election to the Diet as one of four members of a long obsolete party called the Socialist Democrats. Why would anyone think he would go down without kicking and screaming all the way?

And that’s not even to mention the report in the weekly Shukan Gendai that he was bawling his eyes out to DPJ Vice-President Ishii Hajime, telling him, “I don’t want to quit.”

Finally, Mr. Kan said at a press conference on the 27th that the three bills (budget, bonds energy) were conditions for his resignation, but once again failed to specify a date. In fact, the prime minister said the energy legislation is the paramount of the three bills, i.e., it is more important than the budget for the Tohoku recovery or the means to pay for it.

Some think this is yet another Kan policy lurch, which occur with every new moon. For example, he seems to have forgotten about the TPP free trade negotiations, especially now that his expression of willingness to participate served the purpose of impressing the APEC leaders before their November summit.

Koike Yuriko, former Defense Minister and the Chairman of the LDP’s General Council, said:

“About this renewable energy legislation — he seems to have received a briefing from the bureaucracy about it on 11 March, but I’ve heard he wasn’t interested in the subject at all at that time. I suspect his interest was suddenly kindled after his talk with Son Masayoshi (of Softbank).”

On the other hand, whoever’s been writing Mr. Kan’s “e-mail blog” says he has considered energy reform to be essential for 30 years. There is reason to believe him, at least this once. Based on the posts at his Internet blog, he wants to drive everyone batty with windmills.

Here’s a post dated 21 August 2001:

“We should set targets for limiting air pollution caused by dioxins and other substances, and for the percentage of power generated by wind to establish a policy of creating a ‘nation based on environmentalism’. This should spur advances in technical development and capital investment in the related fields.”

10 September 2001:

“If we set targets for limiting the concentration of dioxins 10 years in the future, it will generate substantial demand for the replacement of incinerators. If we set a target of having 10% of all electricity generated by wind in 10 years, investment in this sector should increase.”

24 August 2007:

“In Japan, the power companies can only purchase the power generated by wind and other clean energy sources at rather low prices. This is perhaps rational from the power companies’ perspective, but from the policy perspective, it isn’t a policy at all.”

13 November 2007:

“Germany is promoting the purchase of power generated by wind, solar, and other clean sources at higher prices, and clean energy now accounts for 10% of all power generation.”

30 November 2007:

“For electric power, wind and solar power…For use in vehicles, biodiesel or bioethanol fuel. I’d like to create a headquarters for that purpose, but that is unlikely at the present.”

During questioning in the Diet after the earthquake/tsunami, he expressed a desire to switch to renewable energy. He reportedly told aides, “Tokyo Electric has neglected wind power, which I really love.” (おれの大好きな風力発電)

It is difficult to imagine anyone using that language — especially a person who invested so much time in the overseas sales of Japanese nuclear power technology.

But then, we’re not talking about a man who brings clarity to policy issues. He offered a mythomaniacal proposal for having 20% of Japan’s energy produced by natural sources in 2020 at the recent G-Whatever summit without having told anyone in Japan about it first. Said a DPJ MP who wished to remain anonymous:

“The sharks in government and industry will spy a new interest in natural energy, and get in bed with the government. It would simply exchange nuclear power interests for natural energy interests.”

Paging Son Masayoshi.

Some are critical of the legislation the prime minister thinks is critical because its primary component is to have the government set prices that utilities must pay to purchase the surplus energy generated by businesses and private homes. These prices, as we’ve seen before, are more than triple the unit price for the power generated by nuclear plants. The utilities will of course pass the expenses on to the consumer.

Others wondered why he would make this a priority given that there are ghost towns in the Tohoku region still filled with stinking rubble, with evacuees still living in shelters, and with little money being distributed, though the government has the mechanisms to handle all of that now if it chose to employ them. Is this man even qualified for his job?

Meanwhile, the government’s National Strategy Office leaked their initial draft of the government’s reform of energy and environment strategy. The primary elements of the strategy include energy conservation, renewable energy, electrical power systems, and “the world’s safest” nuclear energy. The last part was written into the draft by a bureaucrat from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry dispatched to the office to work as an aide.

Lest we forget:

* This office was originally intended to be a bureau that served as the DPJ government’s policymaking headquarters, thereby wresting control of policy from the bureaucrats and giving it to politicians. Along with the rest of the party’s promises, its status was downgraded almost immediately after the DPJ took control of the government.

* METI has jurisdiction over nuclear power plants in Japan.

* On the night the no-confidence motion against the Kan Cabinet was defeated in the lower house, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji (members of the same faction in the DPJ), held a banquet in Tokyo for Truong Tan Sang, tapped as the next president of Vietnam. Both Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Maehara (along with Prime Minister Kan), were instrumental in successfully selling Japanese nuclear power technology to the Vietnamese last year, but the Fukushima accident postponed the export of that technology. The media was not allowed to cover the banquet or their meetings (though a photo was released), but Mr. Maehara appeared on television on the 5th and said:

“Mr. Truong told us that he has no intention of altering the nuclear power agreement. It is important to enhance the safety of nuclear power and sell the technology overseas.”

The Democratic Party paid for the banquet.

For its part, the LDP has already refused to negotiate a reworking of energy policy or help pass the legislation without a new governmental structure in place; in other words, a new prime minister and Cabinet.

Mr. Kan’s prioritization of energy policy, while knowing that the LDP isn’t interested, that members of his own party are still promoting nuclear energy, and that the supposed policymaking headquarters of his party is still pushing nuclear energy through bureaucratic subterfuge, has brought an unsettling new element into the political situation.

Who’s ready for an election?

When the bottom fell out for Mr. Kan’s four predecessors, they chose to resign. All of those men — Abe Shinzo, Fukuda Yasuo, Aso Taro, and Hatoyama Yukio — were reared in political families and were familiar with the national political culture since childhood. All of them understood the concept of noblesse oblige, and all of them have money, networks of supporters and friends, and other things to do, either in politics or out.

Kan Naoto comes from an ordinary background, has no family money, few friends or political supporters, and no sense of honor or shame. His name has been mud since last year. If freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, he has the freedom to chose a different strategy when confronted with the same circumstances. Witness his public betrayal of Hatoyama Yukio. He has also had associates circulate a rumor that many people find all too believable.

In substance, it is this: On either 6 August (the date of the Hiroshima bombing) or 9 August (the date of the Nagasaki bombing), he will announce that he thinks Japan should follow the lead of Germany and Italy and renounce the use of nuclear power. He will then dissolve the lower house of the Diet for an election and run on that single issue. He would hope that the Japanese electorate votes in the same way as the Italian voters who nixed nuclear energy by a tally of more than 90%. He would also hope that the overseas media wets its pants in delight.

Speaking of having nothing left to lose, a look at the poll numbers is instructive. The support for the Kan Cabinet is down to 23% in the Fuji Sankei and Kyodo polls, and 21% in the generally more accurate Jiji poll. In other words, the prime minister has lost all the bounce from the goodwill extended during the disaster and the closing of the Hamamatsu nuclear plant in Aichi. Those numbers have reverted to the pre-disaster figures. The Nikkei poll finds that 42% think he should leave as quickly as possible and another 18% by the end of August, while only 16% want him to stay indefinitely.

The Fuji Sankei poll asked those surveyed positive or negative responses to the following statements. Here are the positive replies.

The prime minister’s leadership abilities: 8.0%
The prime minister’s economic measures: 11.0%
The prime minister’s conduct of foreign relations and security matters: 13.0%
The prime minister’s response to Fukushima: 13.5%
Finally, the reliance on nuclear energy should be reduced: 68.4%

Mr. Kan has long been envious of the success of Koizumi Jun’ichiro — that should be me! — and in particular Mr. Koizumi’s bold dissolution of the lower house in 2005 to hold a single-issue election on the issue of postal privatization. He won in a landslide.

The prime minister’s aides suggest the public would agree it was reasonable to conduct an election on that issue, despite any difficulties in the prefectures most affected by the earthquake/tsunami. The local elections held nationwide earlier this year were postponed in the Tohoku region until 22 September at the latest. When a prime minister dissolves the Diet, an election must be held in 40 days. Forty days out from 9 August is 18 September, the last Sunday before the 22nd. Japanese elections are usually held on Sundays.

Speaking anonymously to the media, the prime minister’s aides even suggest he would recruit “assassins” to run against pro-nuclear DPJ Diet members in individual districts, in the same way that Mr. Koizumi recruited people to run against LDP members opposed to postal privatization.

Many DPJ members would be defeated, but that would not necessarily mean the defeat of the larger issue. A formal study group has been created in the Diet among those who favor a shift to renewable energy. It consists of 206 members of several parties. Among them are the LDP’s Nakagawa Hidenao — a Koizumian who has long been interested in hydrogen — and Shiozaki Yasuhisa. Both served as chief cabinet secretary in LDP governments. The group also includes People’s New Party President Kamei Shizuka, Social Democrat head Fukushima Mizuho, mid-tier DPJ members aligned with Ozawa Ichiro, and Endo Otohiko of New Komeito. Many of these people have either separated themselves from Mr. Kan or are his opponents.

In short, as freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi notes, for this issue Kan Naoto is the leader of the anti-Kan faction. An election victory for the anti-nuclear power group could result in a major political realignment that forces him from office. Having achieved that result, however, he would surely go willingly, having established (in his own mind) his place in history.

Most Nagata-cho sources who speak off the record say it is “very possible” the prime minister would call such an election. He is, after all, capable of any number of cockamamie schemes. When he was pushing for a 70-day extension in the Diet session, Mr. Kan told aides, “If we have 70 days, no one knows what’s going to happen.”

Senior members of the DPJ are aghast at the prospect, and one can detect the realization behind their words that Kan Naoto — the man who once insisted his preference was for mature debate in the Diet — is certainly capable of carrying out a threat he has yet to publicly make or deny, but which everyone is discussing. They’ve gotten together for several meetings and agreed on the necessity of a Kan Naoto resignation. Mr. Kan again ignored them.

Said Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, whose prospects as the successor of Mr. Kan would evaporate in such an election:

“It is not possible to dissolve the Diet now. It must not happen.”

Note that second sentence. Doesn’t seem too sure, does he?

Hosono Goshi, the new minister in charge of the Fukushima cleanup:

“I don’t think Prime Minister Kan has that intention in mind.”

He doesn’t think. Sengoku Yoshito is sounding a similar note:

“He hasn’t gotten that weird yet.”

But:

“There are many things we must address as a nation. There must not be a lower house election.”

Said DPJ Secretary General Okada Katsuya:

“It’s a summertime ghost story.”

He added that Mr. Kan could even resign before August if the three bills pass. He also does not think single issue elections are a good idea. No surprise there — he was the DPJ whipping boy in the 2005 elections.

Koshi’ishi Azuma, the head of the DPJ delegation in the upper house, says the prime minister got the 70 days he wanted, but people won’t support him after that. If he chooses to stay 100 days to half year, he is “not qualified as a person to be the prime minister”. He also thought the DPJ would suffer “a meltdown” of its own if Mr. Kan stayed until the end of August.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio helpfully says that reform discussions with the opposition will move forward when Mr. Kan leaves. He’s not necessarily anxious for that to happen before the end of August, however. Mr. Edano has been bingeing on funds from the “secret” discretionary account allocated to his office at a pace much higher than that of his predecessors in the LDP. Chief cabinet secretaries are given JPY 100 million (about $US 1.24 million) at the end of every month, and Mr. Edano (as well as Mr. Sengoku before him), has spent almost all of it. Mr. Edano insists he’s using it for Tohoku relief, but since he doesn’t have to account for it, everyone else assumes he’s using it for DPJ election efforts, perhaps his own. If Mr. Kan stays until the end of August, Mr. Edano will have been given access to an additional JPY 300 million after the failure of the no-confidence motion.

And oh yes, Hatoyama Yukio still trusts him to resign.

The last word belongs to Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi:

“His tenacious obsession for authority is his own renewable energy.”

Along comes Kamei

Mr. Kan’s attitude seems to be borrowed from a James Cagney gangster movie: Come and get me, coppers! He has slightly reshuffled his Cabinet with the advice and counsel of PNP head Kamei Shizuka. There was a misstep at first when Mr. Kan named Mr. Matsumoto as the minister in charge of recovery (Kamei’s reaction: Matsumoto? Who’s he?), but they regained their footing.

No longer a sweetheart of mine

He also named Hosono Goshi as the minister responsible for dealing with the Fukushima accident. Because the number of ministers is limited by law to 17, he had to drop one, and he made the obvious choice by demoting Reform Minister Ren Ho from her ministerial post to serve as his personal aide. The Kan Cabinet isn’t doing any reforming anyway, and Ren Ho, whose real world experience consists of being a model and TV host, was only decoration to begin with.

The classic Kan behavior of a dullwit who thinks he is clever became manifest again when he and Mr. Kamei talked LDP upper house member Hamada Kazuyuki into joining the Cabinet as internal affairs parliamentary secretary in charge of the reconstruction.

Accounts suggest that Mr. Hamada’s motives for going to work in the Kan Cabinet to help in the reconstruction effort, knowing that he would be tossed from his party, were altruistic. That is not true for the effort made to recruit him. Mr. Kamei reportedly approached 10 LDP members in the upper house, opening with the line, “Do you really want to stay in the opposition?” An approach was also made to Maruyama Kazuya, who turned them down.

The idea was to make it easier to pass legislation without negotiation through the upper house, where the DPJ does not have a working majority, either alone or in coalition. Another factor is that when Mr. Kan is not involved, the cooperation among the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito has been smooth. That negates the influence of Mr. Kamei’s single-issue splinter party.

This is not Mr. Kamei’s first involvement in political black ops. He’s the one who detached the Socialists from the eight-party coalition government of Hosokawa Morihiro, the first non-LDP government since 1955, and created an LDP-Socialist coalition. His line then: “Aren’t you tired of that fascist bastard Ozawa Ichiro?” He and the fascist bastard get along quite well now, incidentally.

This move will probably backfire on the Kan-Kamei team, however, because the LDP and New Komeito are now unlikely to cooperate with the DPJ as long as Mr. Kan is in office. The cooperation achieved in extending the Diet session by 70 days ended after fewer than 10.

Others in the DPJ were aware this would happen, and wondered what the prime minister was thinking. Said Finance Minster Noda:

“This has created extremely harsh circumstances by hardening the opposition’s attitude. The thing for us to do is go to their front door and bow our heads (in apology).”

DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Gemba Koichiro:

“It is no mistake to say that the hurdle just got higher for negotiations between the government and opposition.”

DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Azumi Jun wondered why so much difficulty had to be caused over just one official. Another DPJ member chimed in to add that if they were going to go fishing in the opposition for members, what is the point of coming home with one minnow?

Another factor angering the DPJ was that once again, the prime minister didn’t tell anyone what he was doing beforehand, with the exception of Mr. Kamei and Ishii Hajime. Sengoku Yoshito used the phrase tachikurami shita when he heard the news. That’s an expression to describe the brief sensation of dizziness people get when they stand up too quickly.

There was even a report of anti-Kan slogans written on pieces of paper and hung on the walls of the party’s office for officials in the Diet Affairs Committee inside the Diet building itself. One is the Japanese expression hyakugai atte ichiri nashi (100 evils and no benefits), supposedly signed by Sengoku Yoshito.

It has at last reached the point with the DPJ of trying to choose which is worse — a prime minister who elicits that reaction among his own party, or a party unable to do anything about him except create calligraphic graffiti.

Kan Naoto met with the DPJ’s Diet members on the 28th and claimed that the next election would be about energy policy, a position almost no one in the country agrees with. According to the Asahi Shimbun, he was jeered by some of those present.

*******
Higano Harufusa operates the Higano Clinic for psychological counseling in Tokyo. Here’s his professional opinion about the prime minister:

“He’s tough, not in the good sense of the strength to withstand blows, but in the bad sense of being dull. He enjoys it when Dump Kan talk starts circulating, because that makes him the center of attention. He’s not the type to quit unless there are many other contributing circumstances.”

Said Iwami Takao of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

“In a half-century of political journalism, I’ve learned that the post of prime minister is a frightening one. I’ve seen many crises arise over a prime minister’s continuance in office, but never one in which a prime minister stays after announcing that he will resign. But the post of prime minister is also one in which a politician can hold on for quite a while if he wants to.

“Politicians like the expression mushin furitsu (derived from a Confucian analect used to mean that public officials can’t accomplish anything once they’ve lost the people’s trust). Mr. Kan, however, seems to think it’s unusual that people don’t trust him. This prime minister is starting to become abnormal.” (正常さを失いかけている。)

*****
Littering the English-language sector of cyberspace like so much digitized fecal matter are the assertions/opinions/propaganda of professional journalists, academics, and bloggers that a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan would be just the change that Japan was waiting for. That this was fatuous nonsense was just as apparent before the lower house election of 2009 as the claim that Barack Obama was a man of exceptional intelligence and superlative leadership qualities. Some of the poor sods actually believed it, but the gullible will always be with us. Some of them are parroting what other people told them as a way to fill space or appear relevant. For the rest, it was a convenient method for sugarcoating Social Democracy. (There are also a few who combine the first and the last categories.)

After almost two years, the DPJ has given Japan not one, but two prime ministers of unparalleled incompetence. The party itself is incapable of governance. It has introduced no reforms of significance, nor passed any serious legislation that was a national priority. They are still in thrall to the bureaucracy. They produced back-to-back budgets with the highest deficits in Japanese history, funded by the largest amount of government debt, even before the Tohoku disaster. The Chinese and Russians, immediate neighbors and the two largest malevolently aggressive states in the world, treat them with the back of their hand.

The party’s largest single faction is nominally under the direction of Ozawa Ichiro, whom the rest of the party would gladly heave if it wouldn’t threaten their majority in the Diet. Both the more centrist Ozawa faction and the leftist faction centered on Sengoku/Edano/Maehara loathe the prime minister. The latter group put him in that position, supported him through a no-confidence motion, and now can’t get rid of him. They are reduced to wishing, hoping, and taping pieces of paper to the walls of their offices.

Kan Naoto’s closest confidante is now Kamei Shizuka, who turned down an offer to become deputy prime minister and settled for the title of special assistant. Mr. Kamei has everything the bien pensants told us was bad about the LDP — hushed up money scandals, skills more suited to Byzantine plots than governmental administration, and the philosophy of a social conservative whose core beliefs are 180 degrees opposite from those of the man he serves. His mini-party was formed to neuter the best political idea of the decade in Japan, achieved through rare political insight and courage — the privatization of Japan Post. He is the foremost Japanese example of the reason Friedrich Hayek refused to identify himself as a conservative — they are too often too ready to make common cause with statists.

It is only in the field of political commentary that people would retain their platform or reputation after revealing themselves to be shills, ignoramuses, or ignoramus shills. But all journalistic outlets in print, broadcast, or the Net need content to fill the space regardless of its stupidity. Some of those outlets are happy to push the same agenda.

The nation is desperate to have Kan Naoto gone, but he doesn’t give a flying fut. He loves the attention. Why even bother with an election in September? Indeed, it’s been revealed that he is thinking about a visit to China for a summit meeting around 10 October. If he were planning to leave soon, what could he possibly discuss with the Chinese? Some people wonder if he intends to keep this up until 2013, when the current lower house term ends, or even beyond. He’s now become so abnormal that the normal are no longer able to understand what he intends to do.

Unlike Belgium, Japan has a government, but it is not better than a cat. The government it does have is led by a Frankenstein monster that his own party created. It is so bad — there is no other word — that had Japan been in the same situation as Belgium, more progress might have been made on the Tohoku recovery and reconstruction.

For a year or two before the earthquake/tsunami, credentialed space-fillers who know less about Japan than they do about the Sumerian calendar were warning that the country was becoming irrelevant.

But as it says in Ecclesiastes — you know, the Bible — the race is not always to the swift, nor favor to men of ability. For validation, one need only look at the Kantei in Tokyo.

Every day that Kan Naoto remains in office is one day closer to the time when Japan really does become irrelevant. He’ll guarantee it.

*****
You unlock this door with the Kan of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

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Newspapers east and west

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 31, 2011

THE CHUBU SHIMBUN, a regional newspaper based in Nagoya, ran an editorial on Sunday titled The Key to Recovery is the Strength of the Private Sector. Here’s most of it in English:

*****
More than two weeks have passed since the Tohoku earthquake, and the rebuilding work has already begun. While government measures are of course necessary, full consideration must be given to policies that utilize the strengths of the private sector…

…Many from the private sector are contributing to the relief effort. Toyota and Panasonic have pledged JPY 300 hundred million, and the head of the clothing company Uniqlo has offered JPY one billion as an individual. Doctors, nurses, and other volunteers have gone to the stricken area. We believe that the real strength supporting the recovery will arise from these expressions of goodwill, charity, and self-sacrifice.

Unfortunately, from the perspective of the victims and private sector support, the relief and rescue activities of the Kan Naoto government have been insufficient. While it is true that the unprecedented size of the disaster has probably caused delays in gaining a clear view of the situation, we wonder if the government’s efforts to exert control have been so harsh as to squeeze out the private sector’s rescue and support activities. For some time after the earthquake, for example, expressways leading to the Tohoku region were restricted to emergency vehicles from the police, fire departments, and Self-Defense Forces. Private sector vehicles carrying food, fuel, and other supplies found it difficult to enter the area.

It’s natural that the government would be in control of the efforts, but on the other hand, it’s not possible for them to have an accurate understanding of all the circumstances. It is essential that the activities be both detailed and adaptable, and that is possible only in the affected areas and the shelters.

The Democratic Party government were the ones one to have brought up the concept of a “new public commons” to begin with. They also should have been the ones to actively support private sector NGOs shouldering the work of the public sector. Gemba Koichiro combines his portfolio as the Minister for National Policy with the special portfolio of Minister of State for the New Public Commons.

When considering full-scale recovery measures, the government should use the perspective of the New Public Commons to think long and hard to devise measures that utilize the strengths of the private sector

One idea might be a sweeping expansion of the Furusato Nozei to create the funds for recovery. Under the current system, that is a mechanism in which households can contribute to specified local governments through deductions from their residential tax and income tax. The limits on these deductions could be raised. The mechanism could also be expanded to companies paying the corporate tax. The government would thereby encourage the private sector sentiment to help the people in the affected areas. We think this would be a splendid example in accord with the concept of a New Public Commons.

LDP Head Tanigaki Sadakazu has proposed a tax increase to fund reconstruction, but it is not the work of government to conduct rebuilding enterprises using tax money. If the distribution of funds was entrusted to the private sector without government intermediation, it is likely that the money would be used effectively.

Another idea is to establish a special recovery district. This district would be defined as the stricken territory without regard for prefectural or municipal borders. Preferential measures could be devised to enable private sector investment in the district and the use of tax money and subsidies for recovery activities. Again, the private sector should take the leading role–not the government.

Measures designed to maximize human resources are also necessary. Many in the affected area are at loose ends after losing their families and their homes. If they were to be hired by NGOs or companies, the government might subsidize their salaries. This would better serve their needs than being hired by the government directly.

The work of recovery presents employment opportunities. It is important that the basic approach should be to have the private sector take the lead in performing the work and to have the government provide support.

The financial hit from the disaster will probably reach 11 figures in yen, if the amount resulting from the expected radiation leakage is included. We should not be surprised if the cost of the government’s recovery measures also reaches 11 figures. Finding the money to pay for those measures will present problems.

Some have observed the confusion attending the implementation of the rolling blackouts and suggest that a surtax be levied on electric bills, citing energy conservation as the reason. Considering the chilling effect the disaster will have on the economy, however, tax increases should be avoided for the time being.

We think it would be a better idea to have the Bank of Japan subscribe to bonds floated by the government. The BOJ might also increase the money supply by purchasing the bonds in the market. In any event, a joint effort by the government and the BOJ should send a strong message of the intent to rebuild even if extraordinary measures are taken.

The basic issue when dealing with a crisis is the reasons for a government’s existence, and what a government is capable of doing. The fundamental job of the government is to protect people’s lives and their livelihoods. Nevertheless, the government is by no means omnipotent. We should have faith in our own abilities first.

(End translation)
*****
N.B.: The Furusato Nozei idea was devised a few years ago by current LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu and championed by Suga Yoshihide as a way for people to contribute financially to their hometowns after they’d moved to a more urban area.

*****
The basic ideas in this common-sense editorial are quite good (except the one about the BOJ), but if we bet on form, it will go over the heads of the Kan administration. The most apt explanation for that is the Japanese expression Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu—Buddhist sutras in a horse’s ear.

It as if Mr. Kan and his Cabinet are taking a page from the book of the unlamented Rahm Emmanuel, Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, who said that a crisis shouldn’t be allowed to go to waste. They’ve wasted little time in bringing up again the tax increase they’ve always wanted but were unlikely to achieve before the earthquake. One of the deals they cut to gain approval from Big Business for the increase was a reduction in the corporate tax rate. Now they’re ready to take that off the table.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that talk was circulating of nationalizing Tokyo Electric, if only temporarily. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio denied that it was being discussed by any organ of government, demonstrating that he is just as capable of mincing words as he is at slicing bologna. It was certainly mentioned within the Democratic Party, which controls the government. That was evidenced by Mr. Gemba’s rebuttal of Mr. Edano, saying that nationalization couldn’t be ruled out. Further, no one needed another demonstration that the left hand of the DPJ doesn’t know what its right hand is doing, but there it is.

The nationalization of utilities can never be ruled out with governments of the left, and the Kan government in particular might find it a convenient step. They’re also thinking of applying the Act for the Compensation of Nuclear Damages for the first time and assume the complete liability for damage compensation. Those who qualify would be the 220,000 people who evacuated the area near the Fukushima plant, companies whose business suffered, and farmers who can’t sell crops due to concerns—even though the Kan government created the latter concerns themselves with bans of uncontaminated vegetables. The damages are estimated to exceed JPY one trillion.

The law states that the power company should be liable for any damages from a nuclear accident, but one provision allows the government to assume that burden after large natural disasters or social upheaval.

That raises the question of why anyone should be compensated for damages resulting from a natural disaster, absent a finding of negligence. That’s what insurance is for. But that’s a question the DPJ is incapable of answering.

Unless they need an excuse to raise taxes.

It’s not as if the DPJ is entirely serious about finding ways to save money and use the savings on relief. Even after the disaster, they wanted to maintain their unaffordable child subsidy scheme that most people didn’t want to begin with (and winds up costing some households money with the elimination of the income tax deduction for children). It’s one of the few pieces of legislation they’ve managed to pass that represents a clear difference from their predecessors. The subsidy is due to expire at the end of this month. Indeed, rather than cutting back, the government wanted to increase the payments to parents of children up to age three, but the DPJ’s lack of an upper house majority prevented its passage. Most of the opposition parties wanted to eliminate it altogether, but at the last minute the Communist Party said they would vote with the government to extend it.

There you have the augend of two and the addend of two producing the sum of four as the motivation for the payments. It has nothing to do with increasing the birthrate, because that’s not possible. It has nothing to do with helping parents financially, because the income tax deduction was eliminated. Rather, it has everything to do with getting people accustomed to depending on cash payments from the government for things they should handle themselves. In other words, it’s a gateway drug program.

******
Truman Capote famously said that he lost a point of IQ for every year he spent on the American West Coast. The endemic West Coast virus has infected the United States from sea to shining sea since Capote’s time, rendering geographical location irrelevant. The same effect can now be achieved, however, by reading any New York Times article on Japan. Those confident in their intellectual rigor can use their favorite search engine to find the Times’ latest exercise in the use of distorting mirrors. It’s headlined In Deference to Crisis, a New Obsession Sweeps Japan: Self-Restraint.

Self-restraint is the term most commonly used to translate the Japanese word jishuku. This self-restraint is exercised, both individually and socially, when celebrations of any sort would be unseemly. For example, one funerary custom is to refrain from sending New Year’s cards when a close family member has died during the preceding year. People in Japan consider New Year’s to be a happy and auspicious occasion, which is evident from the o-medeto gozaimasu phrase used as a greeting during the season. Some people send cards later to explain the reason they didn’t send a New Year’s card.

That same custom is observed by society after national disasters, such as the death in 1989 of the Showa Tenno and the Kobe earthquake in 1995. That the nation would respond in the same way after the Tohoku earthquake earlier this month should have been anticipated by anyone familiar with Japan.

That leaves out the Times.

The international section of a newspaper is supposed to be a window on the world presented by people employing nation- or region-specific expertise to provide information of interest or of use to the lay reader. What the Times presents instead is an upper-middle class Weird Japan article that gives its readers another excuse for self-congratulation.

That much is obvious from the use of the words “new obsession” in the headline to describe a social custom that is probably more than a millennium old and isn’t obsessive in the least. And no, that word wasn’t chosen by some slope of a headline writer—the authors of the piece use the same term in the body of the article.

Here are some examples of the attitude:

Even in a country whose people are known for walking in lockstep…

A fact known only by those people who don’t know anything about the country.

…a national consensus on the proper code of behavior has emerged with startling speed.

Nothing startling about the speed at all—it arose naturally, as long-established customs do. The unfamiliarity of freewheeling Manhattanites with walking in lockstep seems to have rendered them incapable of recognizing a shared sense of national purpose.

…anything with the barest hint of luxury invites condemnation.

They of course offer no specific examples of the barest hints of luxury resulting in condemnation. In contrast, it would have been easy to find examples of Japanese commentators urging people not to get carried away with self-restraint—for those who read the Japanese-language print media.

For example, Tobita Hidekazu, the director of the Kanagawa Keizai Doyukai, a business group, gave a speech in which he warned that self-restraint in areas unaffected by the earthquake–most of the country–could bring the economy to a standstill. He added that this was a good opportunity to implement tax breaks for companies that choose to relocate their headquarters or factories outside of Tokyo in regional areas.

But his speech wasn’t delivered in central Tokyo, so the Times missed it.

Cosmetics and karaoke are out; bottled water and Geiger counters are in.

They could do their consumers a favor by choosing the appropriate tone–either that of the paper of record they pretend to be or that of a supermarket checkout stand tabloid. Smirking is incompatible with the former.

The almost overnight transformation is likely to continue for months, if not years.

At least this sentence is unobjectionable, including the last three words. The self-restraint won’t last years.

The hot summer ahead is expected to further strain the nation’s electrical network, leading to more disruptive blackouts that make it hard for business to be conducted the Japanese way, face to face and often into the night.

The authors seem not to have noticed that the Japanese also use e-mail these days. They also seem not to know that the western and eastern parts of the country are on different grids. That means the amount of electricity Western Japan can contribute is limited, so the strain on the network will not be nationwide.

The vast entertainment industry that greases corporate Japan, including sushi bars and cabarets, is likely to be deeply hurt.

Last weekend, my wife, two brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, and I took the Shinkansen to another city to attend a wedding. We spent the night there, so 10 of us went out to dinner together afterward. The downtown restaurant was so crowded we had to wait for half an hour to be seated. We decided to stick it out because the wait at all the other restaurants in the building would have been just as long.

The Kyushu leg of the Shinkansen began full service one day after the earthquake. There were supposed to be ceremonies commemorating the start of service, but they were cancelled. The Shinkansen service itself began as scheduled. That is typical of what self-restraint means in these circumstances.

Japan has gone through spasms of self-control before…

Were the editors on a coffee break, or is contorted prose and a superior attitude part of the Times stylebook?

The authors mention that politicians running in the upcoming gubernatorial election for the Tokyo Metro District have toned down their campaigning. They quote only Higashikokubaru Hideo, however, and identify him as a “politician” and “former comedian” without citing his successful term as governor of Miyazaki Prefecture. Conforming to the guidelines of the Weird Japan style manual, they also present examples of politicians who will not exercise self-restraint in the election—the Communist Party, which few people pay attention to, and a vanity candidate.

And they think the Japanese are insular?

*****
While the Chubun Shimbun editorial is full of good suggestions, and the New York Times article is just full of it, a recent Dong-a Ilbo editorial is chock full of the deep-space eccentric wackiness that characterizes much of the South Korean approach to the Takeshima issue. In baseball terms, you might say it’s the face of the franchise.

The Japanese government recently restated its claim to the islets, which the South Koreans seized by force more than 50 years ago. That was all it took for the newspaper to break out in a truther/birther/Heaven’s Gate rash.

The Dong-a finds it mighty suspicious that the Japanese bring up their claims anywhere from four days to one month after one of several North Korean outrages, and “soon after” the Lee Myung-bak administration was inaugurated and anti-American protests about beef imports evolved into anti-government protests. It hasn’t occurred to them how easy it would be for any event to occur in temporal proximity to the most recent unanswered Pyeongyang provocation or a South Korean street demonstration. They don’t explain what they think the point of the timing would be, or what they think the Japanese might gain from it. They’re just sayin’.

There are other possibilities than the figment of Japanese neo-colonialism in the Joseon imagination, however. One might be that the default state of mind about anything to do with Japan in the Korean media is semi-hysteria. Another is that some South Koreans share a personality quirk with the fictional Basil Fawlty, who thought an order for shrimp cocktail from a German patron in his dining room was a reference to the Second World War.

If it is true, as some South Koreans suggest, that the Japanese restatement of the claim puts a damper on the former country’s sympathy following the earthquake, then that sympathy was only ankle deep to begin with.

*****
The Chinese in Tokyo also succumbed to the vapors. The following photo was taken in Narita Airport on the 18th. The lines at the Chinese airline company counters were reported to have been 400 meters long.

****
Linkage

Speaking of hysteria, here’s a link to an article about how the problems at the Fukushima reactor have caused frothing at the mind in Europe.

And to close on a more realistic note, here’s a link to an article that offers six reasons why Fukushima is not Chernobyl.

Thanks to Get A Job Son for the link to the Times article.
*****
Talking loud and sayin’ nothing in New York, Seoul, Nagata-cho…and Shinjuku too.

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Posted in China, Government, International relations, Mass media, Politics, South Korea, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Simultaneous silliness or coincidence?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, February 10, 2011

To take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress
- The editorial policy of The Economist

The folks at The Economist…seem to operate under a kind of distributed version of the divine right of kings — always asking whether the rulers rule wisely, seldom asking whether they have the right to rule at all, and never asking whether and how much we actually need them. That’s why The Economist is the in-house newsletter of The Establishment.
- Kevin Williamson

MORE INFORMATION is now available to more people than ever before, and more people have become more knowledgeable about events and conditions in parts of the world that were once difficult to visit, much less understand. In such an environment, one might assume the accuracy and pertinence of the content provided by the mass media would be exponentially higher than before.

So much for logic. The most significant change technology has wrought on the mass media is to accelerate the dissemination of errata and vapor-based opinion.

For example, was The Economist’s Tokyo correspondent delusional or desperate for content and up against a deadline?

“(J)ust as Mr. Kan seemed likely to follow his predecessors into the dustbin of history, he has put together a package of proposed reforms more radical than anything attempted during two decades of economic malaise. Even Junichiro Koizumi, the prime minister from 2001-06 who dazzled outsiders and quit while on top, did not attempt anything so bold.

“…(F)or the first time since Mr Koizumi, a prime minister is articulating a vision of Japan’s place in the world, as well as a response to a rising China.

“…If he cannot get politicians’ support for his reforms, he should, like Mr. Koizumi, go over their heads and appeal to urban voters fed up with cossetting farmers and others…”

These marvelous reforms presented by a man with one foot on the dustbin of history and his toenail dragging are the suggestion that Japan might–or might not–participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks for free trade. The claim that the prime minister “put together” these reforms, or is articulating a response to a rising China, is hazardous to the health of the magazine’s readership. Laughing too hard and too suddenly might cause a cerebrovascular accident. The only thing going over anyone’s head is the reality of conditions in Japan flying over an oblivious foreign correspondent. Let’s take the last first and mention the most recent Shinhodo 2001 poll numbers for the Kan administration:

Support the Kan Cabinet: 22.2%
Opposed to the Kan Cabinet: 70%

If an election were held today, which party would you vote for?

DPJ (Mr. Kan’s party): 14.8%
LDP: 27.2%
Your Party: 6.8%

Japan’s opposition parties would be thrilled to have the prime minister call for an election and appeal to urban voters.

Here’s what Japanese freelance writer and blogger Miyajima Tadashi wrote about this article, translated into English.

*****
“The Economist is irrationally hopeful about the increases in the consumption tax and TPP participation proclaimed by the Kan administration. As I’ve said before, there is no one so stupid among the Japanese reform wing as to be irrationally hopeful about the Kan administration. In particular, I would like to hear the reasons why we should be hopeful about the Kan administration’s participation in the TPP, considering their efforts to renationalize Japan Post.

“The British media and the self-proclaimed reformers of the Japanese intelligentsia viewed the Abe administration harshly for some reason, yet are indulgent with the Kan administration (as they were at the start of the Hatoyama administration).

“While the Abe administration was criticized for allowing the so-called postal rebels to return to the LDP, all of them had to sign a pledge to support Japan Post’s privatization. It did not halt the flow of privatization. In contrast, the Kan administration is promoting the renationalization of Japan Post. Indeed, they all opposed the privatization. After criticizing the Abe administration and voting for the DPJ in the 2007 upper house election, and being irrationally hopeful about the Hatoyama administration, the self-proclaimed reformers of the Japanese intelligentsia noticed the shift away from reform and became irrationally disappointed.

“To be blunt, these people are cabbage heads. They were accomplices in crushing reforms, and then became indignant when the politicians switched to the anti-reform course.

“The intelligentsia who are self-proclaimed reformers should recognize their mistake in crushing the Abe administration, which had aggressively promoted agricultural and other reforms. Yet they’ve learned nothing and now have irrational hopes for the Kan administration. One can only think they are deliberately playing the good cop as a way to crush reforms.

“The British media completely ignores the real reform wing in Japan and with great bias pays attention only to the intelligentsia who are self-proclaimed reformers. Bill Emmott, the former editor of The Economist, was irrationally disappointed in the renationalization of Japan Post when it was an inevitable result of the change of government. Even Mr. Emmott, who is familiar with Japan, had irrational hopes for the DPJ government for some reason (and later, irrational disappointment). For that reason, it is likely the information sources of the British media are heavily weighted toward the intelligentsia who are self-proclaimed reformers.

“The Economist thinks Prime Minister Kan should follow Mr. Koizumi’s example and call an election to seek approval for the TPP policy and other measures. This is another incomprehensible delusion that treats the voters of Japan as idiots. Prime Minister Koizumi was victorious in the “Japan Post election” because the privatization of Japan Post was one of his long-held beliefs, and he had already established a track record for reform…

“That’s why Prime Minister Kan will not produce Mr. Koizumi’s results through imitation and newly coined slogans. Even before the question of policy content, the impotent Kan administration does not have the ability to pass difficult legislation, and voters, regardless of their political perspective, see no reason to support them. Another aspect real reformers absolutely cannot support is that despite the government’s incompetence, the only measures they have promptly enacted are those based on a left-wing ideology, such as those involving issues with a specific political perspective on history, and policies that protect their hard-core base of support–labor union interests.

“The people who would vote for this pasteboard-thin Kan DPJ are the lightweight intelligentsia who call themselves reformers. I don’t know about Britain, but the average voter in Japan is much wiser about politics than the witless intelligentsia.”

(end translation)

*****
Mr. Miyajima hits most of the high points, but neglected a few because he was writing for Japanese readers. He is probably unaware that strong support for free trade, particularly in agriculture, is part of The Economist’s DNA. They were founded in 1843 to oppose the Corn Laws that limited corn imports and placed high tariffs on the corn that was imported. Not being a regular reader of the magazine, I don’t know their position on the agricultural subsidies British farmers receive from the EU.

But he, and not The Economist, is aware that the Abe administration had implemented reforms to facilitate agribusiness on a larger scale, critical to the success of an open agricultural market. The DPJ campaigned on a promise of higher subsidies to individual farm households. It is one of the few promises the DPJ has been able to keep.

Being a staunch advocate of free trade, however, does not explain The Economist’s circus-level hyperbole over a proposal Mr. Kan is merely mouthing on behalf of the Finance Ministry and Keidanren. They call it “the boldest reform in decades”. Placing it in that temporal context is accurate considering that the Nakasone government in the 1980s privatized the national rail system—before Britain privatized theirs—and the phone company—a year after Britain privatized theirs. It’s also been a couple of decades since the large-scale retail store law was revised to effectively end the old Japanese system of retail distribution and allow the creation of American-style shopping malls. Unlike the Kan proposal, however, those were deeds and not words.

Yet less than a decade ago, Koizumi Jun’ichiro put all his chips on the privatization of Japan Post and won big. In addition to being the nation’s postal service, Japan Post is also the world’s largest bank and sells life insurance. Meanwhile, Britain still hasn’t privatized Royal Mail, and Mr. Kan thought the de facto renationalization of Japan Post with a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat in charge was just hunky-dory.

The Economist is excited about a proposal for which a decision has been delayed until June, and for which the prime minister is serving as a messenger rather than a leader. Any of the accomplishments cited above are beyond the capabilities of Kan Naoto and his party. Indeed, in last month’s Cabinet reshuffle he couldn’t even replace his agriculture minister, who is opposed to the TPP.

In addition, the magazine ignores the Kan government’s shocking botch of national security issues in the Senkakus incident and its capitulation to the bureaucracy. This is reform?

Meanwhile, another article appeared on the same topic in the Asia Times this week by Daniel Leussink that concludes, “This is more Koizumi than Koizumi”.

Golly—what a coincidence!

Stranger still are the headline and the first two paragraphs, which proclaim that Mr. Kan is actually a “fundamentalist”:

“The biggest mystery in contemporary Japanese politics is perhaps the reason why a party that was voted into power in 2009 on a pledge to improve the lives of ordinary citizens has come to stand for economic fundamentalism. That has been the unexpected outcome of the one-and-a-half-year rule by Minshuto, the Democratic Party of Japan.

“Its sudden metamorphosis into a party that chases this kind of fundamentalism has best been illustrated by the full weight that its coalition government has thrown behind new free-trade policies and an overhaul of the tax and social security systems.”

The biggest mystery in contemporary journalism is how so many people who know so little about Japan manage to get paid to write about the country.

Another mystery is how an “overhaul of the tax and social security systems” that would result in hefty increases–eventually to European VAT levels–in the consumption tax, removing tax deductions to promote social theories, raising income taxes on those with higher incomes (above roughly $US 150,000) and raising the death tax, in part to pay for its new and unnecessary social welfare and legal vote-buying schemes, can be described as “fundamentalism”.

What is not a mystery is the reason for Mr. Kan’s turnabout–survival in office.

Had Leussink taken the trouble to pick up a Japanese newspaper last week, he would have read that Gemba Koichiro, the Chair of the DPJ Policy Research Committee and Minister for National Policy, explained the reason the party was voted into power. Mr. Gemba said it would be just fine for the DPJ to drastically revise its 2009 election manifesto without calling for a new election because the manifesto wasn’t the reason the people voted for them to begin with. (Here’s a hint: Disgust with the LDP for abandoning the Koizumi reforms of the economy and governance.)

Most of the article is an unexceptional review of others’ views pro and con on the participation in TPP talks, tilting slightly against free trade, with a brief summary of what would be expected of Japan:

“If Japan were to negotiate more free-trade partnerships, it would be forced to remove tariffs on food produce from the agricultural sector…The TPP is a tariff-free partnership. Subsidies would have to be faced (sic) out within a decade.”

The United States is part of this partnership, but Leussink does not mention whether that country will also have to “face out” its $US 50 billion in agricultural subsidies.

He also flirts with conspiracy mongering by running with this quote from an academic:

“The hidden purpose of Koizumi’s structural reforms was to assist the US government in its demands.”

The professor in question, Kaneko Masaru, is a self-described “al-Qaida economist” and a long-time foe of Koizumi and basic market principles. He thinks any benefits from deregulation and IT are “an empty dream”.

It’s curious that two articles with the incredible claim that Kan Naoto is out-Koizumi-ing Koizumi appeared at almost the same time. There are three possibilities. First, the authors might have simultaneously come up with the same weird idea independently of one another.

Nah.

Second, Leussink might have ripped off The Economist and added his own peculiar spin. After all, the employees of The New York Times in the U.S. and the Asahi Shimbun in Japan have a hard time resisting the temptations of plagiarism.

Perhaps.

Third, it might be that an aversion to doing their own research led both to cooperate in the attempted vivification of a political scarecrow. We already know that Kasumigaseki in general, and the Finance Ministry in particular, plants stories in the Japanese media to manipulate public opinion. The combination of English-fluent bureaucrats and an incurious English-language media has the potential for a marriage made in purgatory. It would be a shame for Mr. Kan to be tossed out so soon after selling out to Kasumigaseki and Keidanren. The least they can do for him is a little carnival barking in the direction of an indolent press.

Leussink shows that he is at least listening to them:

“But despite the economic growth that Koizumi’s policies generated, wages were stagnating or declining, the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry said.”

As if anything else could be expected from the bureaucratic elite speaking of a governmental privateer.

Unlike Koizumi Jun’ichiro, Kan Naoto has achieved nothing other than a sequence of poorly performed pratfalls. Though I support free trade in general, and this proposal in particular if the negotiations are not one-sided and Japan is allowed time to restructure before opening its agricultural market, I would suggest we wait until he actually does something before indulging in hagiolatry. But since it looks as if he will not be prime minister when the scheduled TPP decision comes in June, and his party may even have been turned out at the polls by then, that would be superfluous.

Afterwords:

I watched some televised excerpts of Mr. Kan’s performance during question time in the Diet yesterday with the leaders of the LDP and New Komeito, and it was compelling. The opposition tastes blood in the water and hammered the prime minister in an uncharacteristically charged atmosphere. No one took Mr. Kan seriously, and he had trouble looking at his questioners when offering his excuses. It must be crushing for a person to realize that he has failed so completely after less than a year at a job he had coveted for more than 40.

*****
Hope and change, or I hope there’ll be a change?

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