Japan from the inside out

Abe’s poll ratings: Not a one-size-fits-all answer

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, February 22, 2007

With the continuing decay of serious journalism around the world, coverage of politics and government in Japan—seriously flawed to begin with—has now reached the level of farce.


No clearer example can be found than in this recent article by Richard Lloyd Parry and the gang of halfwits at the Times of London. While there’s no problem with the initial reporting—the Abe administration in Japan has grown disenchanted with the Bush administration in the US and seems prepared to give Vice-President Cheney a frosty reception during his upcoming visit—their interpretation tries to twist the facts like so much pretzel dough into the preconceived scenario they apply to any political news coming out of Tokyo these days. Abe’s unhappy with Bush? That’s because the prime minister’s poll numbers are down!

Don’t laugh—they’re serious!

While Tokyo’s criticism of the Bush administration has been mounting in recent weeks, what really tore it for Abe was Washington’s recent cave-in to the North Koreans during the six-party talks. As Parry notes, Abe likely considers this a betrayal. But then he states:

The surge of bad feeling towards Japan’s greatest friend and ally is symptomatic of the unease which has spread since Junichiro Koizumi stepped down last September…Mr Abe’s popularity has gone into a slump, and he has appeared increasingly incapable of controlling his Cabinet.

The surge of bad feeling toward the US has nothing to with symptoms of unease derived from Mr. Abe’s slump. What The Times needs to do here, assuming they’re serious about being a newspaper rather than just a medium for advertising, is to apply the Sigmund Freud principle to politics: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

If they applied that principle, they’d realize that Abe and his supporters are upset with Bush and his betrayal because it’s a betrayal.

As in, you’re supposed to be our allies, but when the time came to back us, you ditched us instead to make yourselves look good.

The prime minister has gone to great lengths to point out that countries that respect liberty, free markets, and the rule of law are natural allies that should work together. He also repeatedly stresses the importance of the alliance with the US.

The biggest overseas threat to Japanese security today is North Korea’s nuclear program. Pyongyang keeps firing missiles in Japan’s direction. The first, a few years ago, flew over the country, and last year they fired a series of six or so in a line pointing straight at Honshu. (The world’s media concentrated on the failure of one long-range ballistic missile, overlooking the others.) The North Korean propaganda machine, manipulated by that truly malevolent Munchkin, still threatens to turn Japan into a sea of flame.

Everyone in the Japanese government knows that if the North ever gets its missile act together, sticks a functional nuclear warhead on top of one, and is rash enough to actually use it, it’s going to come down a lot closer to Disneyland in Tokyo than to Disneyland in Anaheim. The reason Japan keeps footing the bill for all those bases is that the American end of the deal is to handle the rogue regimes in East Asia that threaten Japanese security. Instead, the Bush administration—the political soulmate of the Abe administration—imitates his predecessor and buckles yet again to Pyongyang.

Abe was hoping for some support in the six-party talks to force North Korea to come clean about the rest of the abducted Japanese citizens. Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame has written a song about Megumi Yokota, one of the abductees, and even showed up in Tokyo to sing it, so the West is starting to cover the touchy-feely aspect (unfortunately one of the few aspects it can still get right). The Japanese listened politely, but primarily consider the abductions to be an infringement of national sovereignty rather than a photo op for an aging folk singer.

So instead of taking a hard line on Pyongyang’s nuclear program and supporting the Japanese—their allies by treaty and by political philosophy—in their efforts to resolve the abduction issue, the US cuts another deal with the North Koreans that absolutely no one in this part of the world expects them to live up to.

And the Times of London thinks Abe’s displeasure with the US is a symptom of his poll ratings? If they want to ascribe dysphoria to a government because of dismal poll ratings, perhaps they should look at Washington instead of Tokyo.

Meanwhile, during his visit, Vice-President Cheney will try to convince Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Aso to provide more assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to this report in the Japan Times (registration required). I hope Mr. Cheney is not expecting a warm smile and a hearty handshake when he walks into the conference room.

Incidentally, the question of Abe’s poll ratings is an interesting one because Abe himself is apparently not that concerned about the drop, despite the obvious glee of the Japanese press. He may be putting a good face on a bad situation, but he also has a point, and I’ll discuss that more here in the near future.

2 Responses to “Abe’s poll ratings: Not a one-size-fits-all answer”

  1. M Kubota said

    I have never read such a good commentary about U.S. – Japan relationships recently.

  2. Sima said

    I bet Cheney won’t get hit by Tokyo chill because there is nothing like that.

    Cheney hit by Tokyo chill
    Richard Lloyd Parry in Tokyo,20867,21268421-601,00.html
    1.Japanese Cabinet Ministers have openly denounced US policy in Iraq as childish and accused the Bush Administration of being cocky.

    2.The latest blow was last week’s agreement on North Korea’s nuclear programme which is privately regarded by many in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Government as an American betrayal.

    3.Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, could hardly have been more dismissive of Mr Cheney’s visit. “Since the other party is coming over,” he said yesterday, when asked what was the point of Mr Cheney’s visit, “it must have some point for the other party.”

    4.Last month his Fumio Kyu-ma, his Defence Minister, became the first Japanese Cabinet Minister openly to question the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq, saying that it was a mistake based on faulty assumption that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

    1. This is a part of what Taro Aso, the foreign minister, said in a speech on February 4th.
    In short, what Taro Aso actually said was that America was failing in Iraq so Japan should help America to reconstruct the Iraq.
    (Here is my poor translation, please read the original article if you can read Japanese.)
    Taro Aso said that US policy in Iraq “is quite poor (childish/稚拙) as an operation after the battles and the occupation, and they are in trouble because it didn’t work well”. Then he said ” how to do it is quite important, and Japan has great power”, and he showed his recognition that Japan needs an active cooperation towards the assistance for reconstruction of Iraq.
    He also said about the collective self-defence which the government regards as unconstitutional that “If Japan is attacked, America will help. We should think whether it is reasonable that Japan will run away if America is attacked.” and he stressed again that it(collective self-defence) should be approved.
    At the same time, he stressed that more strengthened Japan-U.S. alliance is essential, and said ” To make the alliance work effectively at a critical moment in accordance with the treaty, (bilateral) relationships on a routine basis is important.” (Kyodo News Agency)
    占領政策、非常に幼稚 イラク対応を麻生氏批判 (2007年02月04日)

    2. I can’t find any article like that at least on major Japanese news papers.
    I’d like to know where he quoted it from.

    3. Shiozaki’s statement can be interpreted in the opposite way. But it sounds “dismissive” if you omit the last sentence ” We welcome the visit of the vice president”.
    Shiozaki always talks in a bureaucratic way and I’ve never head of his anti-america or anti-Iraq war statement, so I doubt there was a negative connotation in his statement.

    4. Fumio Kyu-ma is well-known for his having opposed the Iraq war from the beginning.
    He said as Parry wrote, but then he admitted that it was his personal opinion, not as a member of the government. And he said he would support the policy of reconstruction in Iraq.
    イラク戦争 久間防衛相「米大統領の判断は間違い」1月25日

    You can find who actually said something anti-america from the recent news.
    Cheney will have a meeting with Aso and Shiozaki, but skip one with Kyu-ma.

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