Japan from the inside out

Ex-Im in East Asia

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, January 16, 2010

The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril
– Shakespeare

THE IDEA that the governments of the region should consider forming an East Asian entity is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. What the politicos in those countries should be doing instead is cracking open a civics book and reading about government by the people, of the people, and for the people.

Let’s wait a few seconds for the laughter to subside.

OK, back to the plot. Chinese President President Hu Jintao recently told the Politburo that they should work together to “establish..a clean government by eliminating corruption.”

Assuming for the sake of discussion that President Hu is serious, eliminating corruption in China would require…

Sorry, I didn’t realize you weren’t finished laughing yet.

That he’s not to be taken seriously is demonstrated by the stench already emanating from the country’s political infrastructure. As this article explains, University of Technology, Sydney Professor Graeme Smith has spent four years in rural China holding his nose as he followed the money. He described sniffing the trails in an article titled Political Machinations in a Rural County, published in The China Journal.

His depiction of the behavior of local Chinese authorities makes one wonder if the country is governed by a crime syndicate:

“(T)he top cadres are dividing up the taxpayer spoils over hot pot, gambling, saunas and prostitutes, usually in that order. It’s not just carnal pleasures that are up for sale, but investment projects, procurement contracts and almost every key position in the bureaucracy.”

In the county government described:

“(T)he Communist Party secretary is king. He has the final say in all personnel decisions and the interpretation of central government policy. He runs the bureaucracy like a giant franchise system.

“The 12 members of his standing committee vie for his favour rather than hold him to account. Below them are the party departments and government bureaus, whose rank and status are determined mainly by the amount of money flowing through them from above…

“Smith says all the township party secretaries paid money for their posts, as did the heads of 80 per cent of government bureaus. Lower officials pay lower sums to ”show their appreciation”. (In another…county…the party secretary was convicted of taking 334 bribes, 297 of which were for bought positions.)”

Some of the problems are universal. Japanese in particular will recognize this one:

“The status of bureaus shifts with government policy. Each new grant from Beijing is an opportunity to open a new bureau or add graduates, retired soldiers and relatives to the payroll of an existing one.”

The journalist speculates:

“My guess is that the sorry state of governance…is more or less replicated across China’s 1600 rural counties. Equivalent systems operate in urban areas, although usually in less blatant form. The patronage networks extend well into the Politburo.”

Malodorous Beijing

The sense of entitlement by the Beijing elites is no less brazen or odiferous, as a China-sourced article in the Nishinippon Shimbun this week makes clear.

The report explains that the Beijing municipal government prohibited the sale of newspapers in city subway stations starting 8 January. The city fathers said they enacted the prohibition to provide for public safety in the event of a disaster or an emergency.

There are no kiosks in the Beijing subway; rather, newsies set up a one-meter-square space next to columns in the stations to peddle their papers. In contrast, there are newspaper stalls in the Shanghai and Guangdong subways.

The subway riders are upset with the new prohibition because most commuters buy a paper at the station and read it while on the train. The subscription and home delivery of newspapers in China is the exception rather than the rule.

The newspaper publishers are upset too, and it’s easy to see why. The municipal authorities distributed a list of dailies whose sale is now verboten on the premises, but left one off the list. That was the Beijing Yule Xinbao (娯楽新報), a free paper distributed under a contractual agreement with the city of Beijing.

The Chinese government already tells people how many children they can have. Why would they stop at telling people what newspapers they can buy where, especially when they’re getting a cut of the action?

Here’s the best part: The other newspapers wrote editorials attacking the policy.

Hang on a minute—now it’s my turn to laugh!

Toilet water, or water from the toilet?

Speaking of Politburos and rank government corruption, here in Japan Democratic Party General Secretary Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro is discovering that hubris is a concept applicable to Asian politicians, too.

You’ll recall that Mr. Ozawa had to step down from the position of party president last spring after his chief aide was arrested for receiving kickbacks from construction companies. The former DPJ boss insisted at a tear-stained press conference that he was innocent, really, honest to God, and the usual political hacks lauded his three-tissue masterpiece of defiance, but they found an audience only among the terminally gullible and those with double-digit IQs. Of course his own party knew better than to believe him.

Bring it on, prosecutors!

It’s turning out that corruption with Mr. Ozawa resembles the layers of an onion: peel back one and the more pungent ones underneath are exposed. The man just doesn’t know how to get people to stop peeling, however. There were reports that he was so enraged at the most recent prosecutorial investigation, he would embark on a project with his party to “restructure” the Justice Ministry. He would go at it with them mano a mano. Bad idea.

The prosecutors asked him to voluntarily come in and provide them information on the new revelations at his convenience. Mr. Ozawa, however, demanded they limit the scope of their investigation, and said he couldn’t stop by because he didn’t have the time.

Meanwhile, he did find the time to have a game of go with a 20-year-old whiz around the time of the coming-of-age ceremonies for young people earlier this month. He also found the time to throw a gala New Year’s party for Diet members at his home. It was almost as if he were thrusting out his lower lip and snarling, “Come and get me, coppers!”

Then came a report in the February issue of the Bungei Shunju, the nation’s most prestigious current affairs monthly, about five cardboard boxes filled with “dangerous contents” that somehow got hidden during the previous investigation of his political fund-raising group’s affairs. A report also slipped out about testimony that Mr. Ozawa directly handed over a paper bag containing JPY 400 million ($US 4,372,210) in cash for a land deal. Well, somebody’s got to be the bagman, right?

Now that’s inviting the punishment of the gods. Divine or not, the prosecutors decided that if Mr. Ozawa was too busy to see them, they would make the time to visit him. So a squad of investigators paid a call on his fund raising office as well as his personal office to see whether they could find any of those five cardboard boxes with dangerous contents, loose cash in paper bags, or any other items of interest. Prosecutors in Japan seldom go on fishing expeditions in these cases, by the way. They go loaded for bear, and they make a point of heading straight for the place they think they’ll find one.

Had they still been in the opposition and Mr. Ozawa been of the other party, the DPJ would be screeching for his scalp like a city full of alley cats in early spring under a full moon, but they were playing Cigar Store Indian instead. The impersonation was so good people would swear they actually had wooden heads.

Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio said he has no intention of asking Mr. Ozawa to step down. Of course he’s not going to ask, unless he wants to watch his party and administration disintegrate by alienating (or cutting adrift to float on their own) the DPJ MPs now sitting in the Diet seats Mr. Ozawa bought for them.

Disclaimer: This website cannot be held responsible for any cases of suffocation resulting from holding the nose while reading Mr. Hatoyama’s defense of his party’s strongman, regardless of the stink:

“He’s a unique politician the likes of which we’ll never see again. He has very strong convictions, and he displayed an extraordinary amount of strength enabling the DPJ to form a government. I hope he continues to display that strength in the future.”

Let’s play a game!

It’s beginning to look as if the countdown has already started for both the prime minister and the secretary-general, but perhaps Mr. Hatoyama thought he could delay the near-inevitable by dreaming up a new amusement for the electorate. This one’s so childish he could have found it in the teacher’s manual of the neighborhood nursery school.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest e-mail message from his office:

“(W)e held a kick-off event in the morning of January 14 for the Challenge 25 Campaign, a national movement for the prevention of global warming.
“The captain of the team of supporters for this campaign is actor and singer Mr. Yuzo Kayama. People active in their respective circles are participating as supporters of this campaign.
“Captain Yuzo Kayama displayed his strong determination, saying, ‘We make a fresh start today. I want everyone to join hands for the sake of our children and future generations.’
The campaign calls for the people to take on the following six challenges.
1) To choose an environment-friendly lifestyle
2) To choose energy-saving products
3) To choose natural energies
4) To choose environment-friendly buildings and houses
5) To support activities that lead to the reduction of CO2 emissions
6) To participate in community activities to prevent global warming”

Capt. Kayama reporting for duty.

Captain Kayama and his Challenge 25 Campaign? If this were a Sunday morning cartoon show, kids would roll their eyes and reach for the remote. Then again, the DPJ has been treating the voters like children since they first put together their party platform in a ring binder, so why should they change now?

He doesn’t specify what “community activities” would prevent “global warming”, but then how could he, now that people are starting to realize the threat of global warming is nothing but junk science paid for with government grants?

Not that Mr. Hatoyama is capable of seeing any of that for himself. At least Mr. Ozawa buys elections, politicians, and construction companies fair and square—he and his lads hit the street and run the hustle themselves. The prime minister, on the other hand, is perhaps the most gormless head of government to have held office in the past…well, I’ll start the bidding with a quarter of a century.

The only reason he woke up to find himself the prime minister of Japan is because Mommy spent an estimated 5% of the Bridgestone tire fortune, by some reports, to buy him a political career and a political party. His party thanked him by electing him to serve as the Hello Kitty prime minister for the first few months of this Frankenstein’s monster of a reform government instead of giving him a gold watch and telling him to get lost. Now they’re going to have to do that anyway, soon rather than late.

Time to try the imported goods

There were reports this week that China likely overtook Germany in 2009 as the world’s leading exporter. Japan, of course, has long been known as an exporting nation.

Exports and imports are transactions between people, rather than between governments, even though public discussions are seldom conducted on that premise. Considering the state of their respective governments, perhaps it’s time for the people of Japan and China to consider importing a concept rather than goods or services.

Applying the principle of the Tea Party movement started this year by Americans fed up after a few months of rule by Mr. Obama and Democratic congressional leadership would go a lot farther toward improving their lot than new passenger aircraft or beef imports.

They might keep jasmine tea in mind. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but at least it has a pleasant fragrance.

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