Japan from the inside out

Japan’s political kaleidoscope (7): More on secrets and Mr. Sengoku

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 25, 2010

THE CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY denies they have a secret deal with Japan regarding the Senkaku islets. A story filtered out last week that the former Liberal Democratic Party governments of Japan promised to immediately deport without arrest any Chinese citizen-buccaneers who sailed to the islets to claim them as Chinese territory, and in return the Chinese promised to stop them from going.

Mr. Congeniality (Sankei Shimbun photo)

But a two-part series that just appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun, titled The Debasement of Foreign Policy: Stopgap Measures Imperil the National Interest, suggests that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan might have cut not one, but two of its own secret deals with the Chinese government. The articles focus on Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito’s role in handling the Senkakus Incident. It doesn’t seem to be on-line in either English or Japanese, so here are the main points.

* The government failed to anticipate Chinese behavior. This might have been due to the Kan Cabinet cutting the Foreign Ministry out of the loop and conducting foreign policy by the seat of its own pants.

* In late September, Mr. Sengoku dispatched DPJ Deputy Secretary General Hosono Goshi as an emissary to China for a confidential meeting with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials. One reason he chose Mr. Hosono was the latter’s association with former party head Ozawa Ichiro, who has skintight ties with many in the Chinese government. Mr. Sengoku arranged the meeting in discussions with Cheng Yonghua, China’s ambassador to Japan. An unnamed consultant on Chinese matters who is an acquaintance of Mr. Sengoku helped secure the attendance of Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo at the meeting.

* Mr. Hosono huddled for seven hours with the Chinese in Beijing. Mr. Dai is said to have arrived toward the end and presented the Chinese demands for improved relations with Japan.

* In their rush to patch over a problem they would prefer disappeared as quickly as possible, the DPJ government made several inadvisable concessions to those demands. One of them was the promise not to show in public the video taken by the Japanese Coast Guard of the Chinese fishing boat ramming their ships. The government hasn’t released any of it, despite calls to do so by politicians of every party—including many of their own—most commentators, and 71% of the public in the latest Shinhodo 2001 poll.

* In return, the Japanese were rewarded with the 25-minute Brussels Hallway Sofa Summit between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and the release of the last Fujita employee arrested by the Chinese on a pretext.

* The primary concern of the Kantei was said to be the November APEC summit in Yokohama. Prime Minister Kan, who will chair the summit, is quoted as telling an associate:

“If (President) Hu Jintao doesn’t attend, I’ll lose face.”

A quick digression

If this story is true, it would mean that Mr. Kan is more concerned with how he looks at an international blabathon than with fulfilling his primary duty of upholding the national interest. Veracity notwithstanding, it would be unsurprising because it has the ring of truth. Mr. Kan is part of that international coterie of politicians and bureaucrats who share the Hallmarkcardian philosophy of promoting global governance—with themselves as governors, of course. They consider the very concept of national interest to be backwards and reactionary. Events in the reality-based community that threaten the national interest do not dissuade them.

For example, earlier this month, DPJ bigwig Koshi’ishi Azuma, a former member of the Japan Teachers’ Union (with all the political ramifications that entails), was asked at a news conference if the Senkakus Incident caused him to change his belief that an equilateral triangle was the model for Japanese relations with China and the United States. Replied Mr. Koshi’ishi:

“My views are the same as I said before. It doesn’t make sense to constantly change one’s mind. China, Japan, and the United States must have an equilateral triangle relationship.”

The Second Secret Agreement?

* Mr. Sengoku met again with the Chinese ambassador last week. It isn’t known what they discussed, but it’s assumed they talked about the possibility of a Japan-China summit meeting. Worth noting is the subsequent change in tone by Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji. Mr. Maehara has argued for the video to be shown to the public, saying:

“It is important to explain (our position) to the world.”

He also criticized the Chinese for their “hysterical” response to the incident. That was the cue for the Chinese to become even more hysterical.

But he’s dialed back since the meeting between Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Cheng. At a news conference on the 22nd, he said:

“I want to work to improve Japan-China relations from the big picture perspective of building a mutual strategic relationship.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry thought that was more like it.

The Foreign Ministry

* The Yomiuri says that a breach has opened in the government since the Kantei decided it didn’t need the help of the Foreign Ministry and the Japanese embassy in China. As a result, the Chinese are bypassing the Foreign Ministry and going straight to Mr. Sengoku. The embassy in Beijing is now non-functional in a political sense. (When Mr. Hosono visited China, he was driven to his meetings in a car provided by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.)

This is in part due to the DPJ’s appointment of Niwa Uichiro as ambassador to China. Mr. Niwa is not a professional diplomat, and the Chinese stir fried him in a wok while he was still new to the job. They called him on the carpet six times during the incident, once in the middle of the night on the weekend.

* The Yomiuri quotes a Foreign Ministry official who is concerned that shutting out the ministry and the embassy has weakened Japan’s approach to China. He said that Japan has been “defeated” because the Kantei created its own separate channel to conduct diplomacy. They were outwitted by Chinese maneuvers to divide the government, which the official said was a “traditional Chinese art”.

Richard Armitage

* The newspaper also interviewed former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (2001-2005). Here’s a summary of what he said. (Keep in mind this is going from English to Japanese back to English.)

* Japan wanted to resolve the problem by releasing the Chinese fishing boat captain, reportedly in consideration of bilateral relations. This was an “unfortunate miscalculation”. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said the Japanese would bear the full responsibility for anything that happened if Chinese demands were not met. Japan lost the battle of wills, and as a result exposed their weakness.

* The ramming of the Japanese Coast Guard vessels should not be viewed as an accident. It’s part of a series of actions to test the will of neighboring countries regarding territorial disputes in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Japanese behavior will have a domino effect on ASEAN countries, which cannot expect China to treat them as equals. Failure to oppose the Chinese means that China will get carried away with itself.

Sengoku Yoshito

Here’s how the weekly Shukan Gendai began the lead article in its 30 October issue:

The heckling from the opposition parties has already become familiar:

“Prime Minister Sengoku!”

“Hang in there, Prime Minister Sengoku!” (がんばれ!)

“Prime Minister Sengoku, you look sleepy!”

Of course, all of this is said with the real prime minister, Kan Naoto, in attendance. But Mr. Kan lacks any presence. Whenever the opposition asks him a question in the Diet, he just answers with a rote recitation of the position papers written by the bureaucracy.

With the defeat of Ozawa Ichiro in the party presidential election last month, Mr. Sengoku is now seen as the main man in the DPJ. While some commentators give him credit for assuming the burden of governing on his own shoulders—Kan Naoto clearly isn’t up to the task—the failure of his leadership in relations with China and his demeanor in the Diet have made him a walking political bullseye.

A former member of the Socialist Party, Mr. Sengoku was an attorney who sometimes defended sokaiya (corporate extortionists) and yakuza gang members before becoming a politician. (The sokaiya are often members of the yakuza themselves.) Some suspect that’s where his attitude problems began.

During question time in the Diet, he was asked to confirm a story that appeared in the media. Here’ s the Yomiuri English translation of his reply:

“I’ve never heard a question that aims to confirm a newspaper report. It’s the poorest way of questioning, and I was at least educated [as a politician] not to do that.”

Within 24 hours he was presented with examples dating back to 2004 of his own Diet questions based on media reports when he was in the opposition. That resulted in Sengoku Apology #1 to the Diet.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji asked him about incidences of so-called urakudari, a variation on amakudari, the practice of giving retired bureaucrats jobs in companies or groups affiliated with the ministries that used to employ them.

Mr. Sengoku’s answer:

“What are you talking about? I want you say something only after you’ve properly grasped the facts.”

Mr. Eda is a former bureaucrat who has written extensively on the problem of amakudari. The elimination of the practice is one of primary planks of his party’s platform.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sengoku is (or was until recently) the head of a liaison group in the Diet working with a large federation of public sector unions. That federation provides votes, money, and campaign workers to the DPJ. Therefore, ending amakudari is not in Mr. Sengoku’s political interest, regardless of the DPJ boilerplate.

Mr. Sengoku wasn’t born that way. He’s doing it on purpose. Put simply, he goes out of his way to piss people off. It’s how he thinks the affairs of government should be conducted. Try this excerpt from an article in the Mainichi Shimbun:

When the DPJ was an opposition party, Sengoku, a lawyer-turned politician, expressed his confidence that he could deal with opposition parties in the Diet. “In the judicial world, a cup is often renamed ‘a movable asset,’ for instance. Such tactics are useful in tricking and suppressing the other party in a debate and defending yourself,” he said at the time.

Most recently, Your Party called in Koga Shigeaki, a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and a critic of DPJ civil service reforms, to testify during a Diet session. Mr. Sengoku opposed his appearance and said:

“It could adversely affect his future.”

See what they mean when they say the gangster ‘tude rubbed off on him?

He was then asked for Apology #2 by the head of the upper house Rules and Administration Committee for his “inappropriate remarks”, and he complied.

Irritated that his statements are being taken out of context, the man some call the Red Gotoda after one of the chief cabinet secretaries in the Nakasone Cabinet has begun putting the complete text of his news conferences on line. The Sankei Shimbun obliged him by quoting in full his answers to reporters’ questions about his most recent apology:

Q: Regarding the inappropriate remarks during upper house question time, what remarks did you consider inappropriate, and what was inappropriate about them?

A: I would very much appreciate it if you accepted what I just said as it is. I have no comment. Yes, next?

Q: What are your thoughts about the apology?

A: No comment.

Q: What do you think about the statement of the head of the (Rules and Administration) Committee?

A: I have no comment on that either.

Q: With the ruling party and the opposition parties discussing the approach to economic measures in the Diet, what do you think of the committee’s view that your statements are a problem?

A: No comment.

Q: Why do you have no comment?

A: I have no comment because I have no comment.

Both houses of the Japanese Diet have a Rules and Administration Committee, and they have directors from several parties. Mr. Sengoku was one of the directors of the lower house committee in 2007 when the DPJ was still in the opposition.

The recent Shinhodo 2001 poll also asked respondents about their opinion of the government’s handling of the Senkakus Incident.

The government’s response was not appropriate: 79.4%
The government’s response was appropriate: 14.4%
Don’t know: 6.2%

With Kan Naoto behaving as if he’s always out to lunch—the three-martini kind—and Sengoku Yoshito infected with the same arrogance and hubris that may prove fatal to the Obama administration and the Democrats who control the American Congress, it isn’t difficult to understand why few people in Japan expect the current government to last any longer than next spring, if that long. Pride goeth before a fall, they say, and we’re already halfway there.

Today the first lower house by-election was held since the Kan Cabinet was sworn in and was pasted in July’s upper house election. It was to replace DPJ member Kobayashi Chiyomi, who resigned her Hokkaido seat in June to take responsibility for irregularities in the management of her political funds.

The DPJ likes to present itself as the youthful, forward-looking choice, and their candidate was a 38-year-old former employee of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.

His opponent from the bad old LDP was 66-year-old retread Machimura Nobutaka, who lost the seat to Ms. Kobayashi just last year, but stayed in the Diet through the proportional representation system. The head of the largest LDP faction, Mr. Machimura was the Foreign Minister in Abe Shinzo’s short-lived second Cabinet and Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Fukuda Yasuo Cabinet. He’s the very definition of the old guard in Japanese politics.

Mr. Machimura was declared the winner within minutes after the polls closed.


Who calls the English teacher Daddy-o?

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8 Responses to “Japan’s political kaleidoscope (7): More on secrets and Mr. Sengoku”

  1. Roual Deetlefs said


    Now what would Mr Sengoku Yoshito do if he was put in charge of police force …

  2. Roual Deetlefs said


    … and if he was put in charge of a Fire Department …

  3. Roual Deetlefs said


    … Any comparisons to DPJ foreign policy ???

  4. Roual Deetlefs said


    I apologize for commenting too much. This will be my last on this good article.

    Nkalakatha is a Zulu word for Big Man or Top Dog. This particular genre of music is called kwaito

  5. σ1 said

    While I believe that the DPJ should have released the video (and I have many questions over their handling of the Senkaku issue)for various reasons, pragmatic and idealistic, we need to call this what it is. Had the political implications and actors been swapped around, you would surely have been calling for heads for an act of “treachery.” Which, it is. To not prosecute, would be an even more gross violation of national interests. Thankfully the CCP is so uncomfortable in its own skin that this is not going to actually have any enduring impact, other than to further undermine the Japanese government.

    A contributor at the NBR forum puts it well:

    Who is supposed to make policy in Japan, the elected government, or bureaucrats, military, or quasi military coast guard personnel? I think the video should have been released from the start. However that is the decision of the democratically-elected government, not bureaucrats or coast guard personnel. The video does not show Japanese officials violating anybody’s human rights or acting improperly. Therefore it is not a case of whistle blowing. It is an attempt to undermine the elected government. The DVDs found in Saitama reportedly came with a note expressing displeasure with the governing party that the Japanese people elected. This is a dangerous attempt by the bureaucracy to undermine Japanese democracy, all the more frightening because it involves insubordination by a quasi-military police force. The history of bureaucratic and military insubordination and defiance of Japanese elected government by “heroes” such as these is not a happy one.
    S: Thanks for the note.

    Had the political implications and actors been swapped around, you would surely have been calling for heads for an act of “treachery.”

    Don’t be too sure of that.

    Thomas Jefferson might not have been, either:

    “There are extraordinary situations which require extraordinary interposition. An exasperated people who feel that they possess power are not easily restrained within limits strictly regular.”

    Or, more famously:

    …Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…

    Alter works for me here.

    And as Talleyrand said, treason is a matter of timing.

    As for the law, we all know that it is sometimes and ass, and sometimes is inimical to justice.

    As for what happened in Japan years ago, that country and those circumstances no longer exist. The Japanese people today deserve more credit than that.

    – A.

  6. σ1 said

    Apologies – this is supposed to go on your latest post, not here, where it makes much less sense.

  7. σ1 said

    I fully agree that they deserve more credit than that, but saying why so is important. Essentially they deserve credit because of their consistent and “heroic” defense of democracy since World War II against self-serving and narrow anti-democratic interests. Do I think that this leak incident will lead to a rise of militarism – no. Thankfully Japanese democratic culture is more robust than that. But is it important – always. In fact one of the most remarkable things about Japan’s modern political system is that the civilian control of the military/security forces is probably inferior to none – the exact opposite problem compared to pre-1945. Might be worth preserving at the expense of political games.

    Of course people should not obey laws and governments unthinkingly, but this case does not fit into one which would justify the breaking of rank which must always be done with due consideration of the consequences. This situation does not enhance the national interest (although I doubt it will do as much harm as Kan et al thought it would), and importantly, it does not catch the government either lying, or in the process of some moral abuse, which would be a justification for someone to pull rank and subvert the system.

    But they are attempting to undermine the decision of the Japanese democracy because of their own narrow interests and narrow perception of national interest. Worse, unlike a citizen, as a public servant it is their very actions that is undermining the government, and more so, the international credibility of Japanese ability to control information. A security concern if I have ever heard one!

    And the information leaked only confirmed what the government was already saying!! Again, it was the leak that has embarrassed the government. It is not like the West didn’t already believe the Japanese version of the story, and as you yourself pointed out, the objective facts were hardly going to change the Chinese government’s mind.

    If the leaker had a problem with the policy content of the DPJ (as I said, no abuse or lying was perpetrated), then he should have waited like everyone else and voted at the next election. Especially because he is in a position of responsibility. This is the system that the Japanese have signed up for, and I believe their public servants should give them credit for that.
    In re: Undermining the decision of Japanese democracy.

    The most recent election was a clear rejection of the DPJ. This is the party that insisted there be a new lower house election when a prime minister steps down. One of the loudest shouters was Kan Naoto.

    So Hatoyama stepped down, they had an election, the DPJ was pasted, and Kan Naoto ignored the will of the people by staying in office. Indeed, he made plans to stay there as long as is legally possible.

    Add to that the violation of the prime directive–defense of national sovereignty–and you get an exasperated people, to reference Jefferson.

    It might be against the Law, but Justice was served.

    – A.

  8. σ1 said

    It was a loss for the DPJ but they still won the most vote in both the PR and electorate categories. Importantly, consistently in surveys, when the Japanese public are asked whether they agree that they are glad that 政権交代 eventuated then a plurality answer in the affirmative. This might reflect even worse on the LDP (we hate the current bunch of morons, but they are still preferable to you)and the public might think the current group are completely out to sea and inconsistent and incompetent. But what the DPJ is doing is hardly “undemocratic”. Justice might well be served to them in the future, but it is the public’s decision, not someone in the JCG.
    Not undemocratic? It goes back to Law and Justice. It may not be against the letter of the law (Constitution), but it violates its spirit, as well as their long-standing public position. They’ve lost the consent of the governed.

    Remember what the Diet members had to say about the version they saw. It really seems as if their version was edited to make the DPJ look good. That might have been the trigger for the You Tube upload.

    I mentioned the Nixon tapes and the Pentagon Papers for a reason.

    – A.

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