AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Kato K.’

Caveat emptor

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CAVEAT EMPTOR–let the buyer beware–is a legal doctrine that warns the purchasers of property they will not be able to collect for damages after the sale absent of fraud.

The motto of the New York Times is All the News that’s Fit to Print. It’s long past time to replace that with either caveat emptor, or Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Read Here.

Example number 24,910 is an article by Martin Fackler published on 7 March headlined U.S. Reaches Out to Tokyo’s Real Power. It starts with semi-accurate snark about Japan, ends with a borrowed, backhanded slam of American behavior, and in between is festooned with comments and observations from unidentified Japanese and American “officials”, unnamed “political experts”, an identified Japanese professor who has little of interest to say, an identified American professor who talks more but says even less, unnamed “others”, and, on five different occasions, unnamed “analysts”.

At the end, all the reader will know for certain is that Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan might or might not visit the United States soon. The rest of the text presents a bottom-of-a-Coke-bottle view of Japanese-American diplomatic relations while omitting the critical information necessary for an understanding of what’s really happening.

To start:

Even as Japan’s new leaders have promised to transform the way the nation is governed, they have left one thing unchanged: the prime minister, like many before him, is backed by a shadowy leader who is widely seen as really running the country.

Japan’s new leaders have left a lot more than one thing unchanged, but if there is anything they modified, it is the prime minister’s role. If some shadowy leader was running the country from 2001-2006 when Koizumi Junichiro was prime minister, he must have worked out of a basement broom closet.

The DPJ regressed to an earlier age because the not-very-shadowy Ozawa Ichiro now running the country was the protégé of Tanaka Kakuei, the man most closely identified with that model in postwar Japan. Mr. Ozawa tried his hand at playing Shadow Shogun once before during the Hosokawa administration in the early 90s, but that lasted less than a year. Meanwhile, the poll numbers for the Hatoyama administration have fallen to basement broom closet levels—a 32% approval rating–in just six months. Running the country from backstage does not seem to be Mr. Ozawa’s métier.

Now, at a time of turmoil in Washington’s ties with Tokyo, American officials are reaching out directly to that power behind the throne. According to Japanese and American officials, diplomats have been quietly negotiating a visit to Washington as early as next month by Ichiro Ozawa, the secretary general of the governing Democratic Party and its widely acknowledged power broker. The possible visit, which could include a meeting with President Obama, was first suggested to Mr. Ozawa in February by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell during a visit to Tokyo…

As we’ll see later, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun earlier this month reported that the Americans might be thinking of calling the whole thing off.

As for the possibility his visit “could include” a meeting with President Obama, Mr. Ozawa discussed the Campbell offer with the Japanese media during a 2 February press conference. He said he would be interested in leading a group to visit the United States, and added:

民主党のオバマ大統領だから、せっかく行くなら大統領にも十分な時間をとってもらわなければ困る
This is President Obama of the Democratic Party, so if we’re going to go all the way (to the U.S.), it just won’t do unless we receive sufficient time from the President.

In other words, Mr. Ozawa’s condition for agreeing to the trip is a meeting with the president that lasts “a sufficient time”.

(T)he offer has also drawn some criticism because it could be seen as circumventing the prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, in favor of a scandal-tainted figure who holds no formal cabinet position.

Someone is forgetting that Mr. Hatoyama is as equally tarred with scandal as Mr. Ozawa. Is it the unnamed critics or Mr. Fackler? Probably the latter—facts have a way of disrupting the narrative flow in historical recreations.

Political experts said the fact that the Obama administration would propose such a move, and the government of Mr. Hatoyama might accept it, appears to underscore a shared feeling that current difficulties like a disagreement over an American military base in Okinawa are caused at least partly by an underlying problem: a breakdown in communications….

That might be a valid point had not the American government already been well aware of Mr. Ozawa and the likelihood that the DPJ would form the next government for at least the past two years. There is no mention at all that Ozawa Ichiro was the DPJ president until last May and would now be prime minister had not the first of his scandals erupted. The Bush administration was in contact with him when the DPJ under his leadership tried to turn Japanese assistance to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan into a political issue. (That ploy failed.) Then-Ambassador Thomas Schieffer asked for a meeting with Mr. Ozawa to explain that the Security Council actually had authorized the operations in Resolutions 1386, 1413, and 1510.

Mr. Ozawa agreed to the meeting, but kept the ambassador waiting for half an hour before seeing him. The DPJ boss is notorious for being imperious and rude, though he makes an exception for Chinese pols.

In February last year, while still party president, Mr. Ozawa met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for half an hour. That same month, he spent 75 minutes in a meeting with Wang Jiarui, the Chinese Communist Party International Department Minister, during the latter’s visit to Japan. That was longer than Mr. Wang’s 60-minute meeting with then-Prime Minister Aso Taro.

The significance of those time differences will soon be apparent.

The Democrats not only swept aside the Liberal Democrats, but they have also tried to fulfill campaign pledges to pry policy making from the hands of bureaucrats and give it to political officials.

Those who pay closer attention to Japanese politics—i.e., people who read newspapers and watch television—realize that the DPJ has been pilloried for months for not trying very hard to pry policy making away from the hands of the important parts of the bureaucracy.

The resulting lack of information fed excessive alarm in Washington last fall when Tokyo began to call for changing a 2006 agreement to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

If Washington began to be alarmed only last fall, they’re not paying attention either. Surely someone in the government knew that Hatoyama Yukio has long called for what he refers to as “a security (treaty) without (military forces) permanenty stationed in Japan” (常時駐留なき安保).

Mr. Hatoyama’s older brother Kunio, who helped create the party that became today’s DPJ in 1996 but departed when it took a leftward turn, referred to that policy last November (my emphasis):

The fundamental idea for Kan Naoto (now Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister), my brother, and Yokomichi Takahiro (current lower house speaker, former member of the Socialist Party, and the leader of the party’s most leftward faction) has always been that American forces do not have to be permanently stationed in Japan. He should (therefore) try to move Futenma overseas as soon as possible. If he can’t do that, his thinking has changed (from the days of the party founding).

It was also last November that Hatoyama Yukio asked Barack Obama to trust him.

Mr. Hatoyama, incidentally, admitted on 16 December that he had always felt that way, but had to put a lid on his beliefs in the role of prime minister. He has never offered a credible alternative program for Japanese self-defense. If he has such a program that involves Japanese military forces, it would require a Constitutional amendment.

The comments by ministers have often been contradictory and confusing, reflecting a lack of consensus in an inexperienced government, analysts say.

Lack of consensus, yes, but the Hatoyama administration is not the world’s first disorganized coalition government. Washington has dealt with that sort of thing before.

As for experience:

Ozawa Ichiro: 41 years in the Diet, served in the Nakasone Cabinet, secretary-general of the LDP and the DPJ when both were in power, de facto ruler during the Hosokawa administration, head of the Liberal Party when the latter was a junior coalition partner in the Obuchi government.

Hatoyama Yukio: 24 years in the Diet, son of a former foreign minister, grandson of a former prime minister, great-grandson of a former lower house speaker, deputy chief cabinet secretary in the Hosokawa administration, a founding member and bankroller of the Democratic Party, now the prime minister.

Okada Katsuya (Foreign Minister): 20 years in the Diet, former president and secretary-general of the Democratic Party.

Their administration is now six months old.

Barack Obama: Part-time state senator for Illinois for seven years, part-time adjunct law professor at the University of Chicago, U.S. senator for four years.

Hillary Clinton: U.S. senator for eight years, wife of former President Bill Clinton till death do them part.

Their administration is now 14 months old.

While Mr. Hatoyama has said he wants to maintain the two nations’ security alliance, his voice has often been drowned out by the din. One result was that American officials misread Tokyo as seeking a much larger push away from the United States than was actually the case, analysts said.

Perhaps Mr. Hatoyama is being drowned out in the din because he’s not speaking with any conviction.

It’s too bad Mr. Fackler didn’t specify the identity of the “analysts” so we could ignore whatever it is they might say in the future. Here’s why.

Yamaoka Kenji, Chairman of the Diet Affairs Committee (who’s served in both houses of the Diet for a combined 27 years) is known as Ozawa Ichiro’s closest associate in politics. It is not just widely assumed that he speaks as an Ozawa surrogate—everyone knows he is the Ozawa surrogate.

Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Yamaoka led a DPJ-sponsored troupe on a trip to China in mid-December. At a symposium in Shanghai on 14 December, Mr. Yamaoka delivered a speech in which he said that the relations between Japan, the United States, and China should be that of an “equilateral triangle”. This is known to be a long-held view of Ozawa Ichiro. He added:

It is a fact that Japanese-American relations have become strained over the base issue. That’s yet another reason why a realistic process to resolve the problem with the United States is to first, strengthen Japanese-Sino ties, and to then create the equilateral triangle.

He continued:

This was confirmed in the meeting between Mr. Ozawa and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Japan’s security has been guaranteed by the United States since the end of the Second World War. The Japanese Constitution does not permit the country to engage even in legitimate self-defense. That’s why there are American military installations in Japan to begin with. The security arrangement defines Japanese foreign policy.

To declare that Japan will maintain an equal distance from both China and the United States is tantamount to abandoning this relationship with the United States. It would be the most important change in governmental policy of the last half century. To initiate the strain in Japanese-American relations, and then use that as an excuse to cozy up to the Chinese, is tantamount to being a creep.

Note that Mr. Ozawa, who is only a party official and not a member of the government, is “confirming” this policy in a one-to-one meeting with the Chinese leader.

Note also that Prime Minister Hatoyama seems to think this was just hunky-dory. Considering that he wants the American military to be gone, and that he wants to rely on an ill-defined, EU-like East Asian entity, no one should be surprised.

Note also that this apparent watershed change in policy was never discussed with or explained to the Japanese public.

The Sankei Shimbun reported on 9 February that Mr. Ozawa referred to a possible meeting with President Obama during a meeting with senior DPJ officials on the 8th. He said—and this was a direct quote:

中国に行ったとき、胡錦濤国家主席にお出迎えいただいた。オバマ大統領もちゃんとやってくれるだろう。

I left that in Japanese for a reason. In unadorned English, it might read something like this:

Chairman Hu Jintao received me when I visited to China. President Obama will probably do the right thing by me, too.

But as readers of Japanese will spot right away, there’s a lot more happening in those two sentences. When referring to Mr. Hu, the DPJ secretary said “receive” or “meet” in the sense of someone greeting a visitor at the door or meeting one at the airport.

More important, he attached the honorific “o” in front of the verb, which exalts the person who performs the action. Even more important, he attached suffix “itadaku” at the end of the verb. By doing so, Mr. Ozawa is signaling (a) that he is inferior in status to Mr. Hu, and that (b) he received a favor when the Chinese leader bestowed an honor on him by meeting him.

In contrast, he attaches no honorific prefix to the verb when talking about Mr. Obama. He uses the verb “kureru”, which is a verb of giving rather than receiving. The speech level also signals that he considers the American president to be either equal to or below him in status.

One university-level Japanese language textbook has the following example sentences for those verbs. Here’s the one for itadaku, the verb Mr. Ozawa used about the Chinese leader:

“I received a dictionary from my teacher.”

Here’s the one for kureru, the verb Mr. Ozawa used for the American leader:

“My roommate gave me a t-shirt for my birthday.”

If the Hatoyama administration didn’t move as far away from the United States as they feared, what was it the “analysts” expected? Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro trying to make their dream come true? Japan’s abrogation of the Security Treaty with the U.S. and recognizing China as its suzerain?

Back to the Times:

But some analysts warn that the move to bring Mr. Ozawa to Washington could send the wrong message. By suggesting that the Obama administration views Mr. Ozawa as the real center of power in Japan, these analysts say, the invitation could undermine the authority of Mr. Hatoyama, who already faces growing criticism at home for weak leadership.

This particular set of “analysts” needn’t worry. No one in Japan has ever thought Mr. Hatoyama had much authority in this administration to begin with. Everyone has viewed Mr. Ozawa as the “real center of power” since Hatoyama Yukio was elected party president last May. That has been the common assumption of every report from every news organization in the print or broadcast media, without exception, regardless of political orientation. The only message the Americans would send in that event is that they’re paying attention.

Here’s a question. Did these “analysts” warn that Mr. Ozawa’s “confirmation” of the equilateral triangle policy with Hu Jintao last December, with neither the prime minister nor the foreign minister in sight, might “send the wrong message”?

Here’s a better question: Did they even know that’s what Mr. Ozawa said?

Washington may also be seen as allying itself with an unpopular political figure who has come under a wave of media criticism here as a last holdout of the old regime’s backroom-style politics.

The headline of the article refers to Mr. Ozawa as Japan’s “real power”. It says “like many before him”, his backroom control is “unchanged” from the past. Now, a few paragraphs later, he’s “a last holdout”.

Warning to the New York Times: You might be sending a confusing message here.

Speaking of warnings:

An Ozawa visit might even be seen as an effort by the United States to engage in petty one-upmanship with the Chinese, warned Gerald Curtis, a professor of Japanese politics at Columbia University. American officials risk appearing as if they want him to repeat his performance last December in Beijing, when he took more than 140 Democratic lawmakers to meet with the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, Mr. Curtis said.

Why anyone would see this as “petty one-upmanship” instead of just the Americans doing business with the man who has the keys to the shop is not explained.

Mr. Curtis, like some other American analysts, said the Obama administration had also stumbled by seeming to stubbornly insist that the new government in Tokyo adhere to the existing agreement. They said this heavy-handed approach has appeared to backfire by raising ire here that Washington was failing to recognize the right of the new Japanese government to change the policies.

Follow this quick summary and timeline about the Futenma Base agreement, and see if you think the Americans have been “stubborn” and “heavy-handed”, if their approach has “backfired”, and which of the two parties is justified in feeling irate.

Futenma is a U.S. Marine Air Corps Station in Ginowan, Okinawa. It has been an airbase continuously since World War II, when it was used by the Japanese military. The U.S. Air Force assumed control in April 1945 and passed control to the U.S. Navy in 1957. The surrounding area is now densely populated area due to postwar development. Under current safety standards it would not be chosen as the location for a new airbase.

September 1995: Three U.S. Marines from the base gang rape an Okinawan school girl.

December 1996: The Japanese and American governments agree to relocate the base to an area offshore Camp Schwab in Okinawa. They decide in 2005 to move the location a few hundred meters further inland at the same location to Henoko in the city of Nago due to the difficulty of building an offshore airstrip in the original location.

December 1996: More than 80% of Nago residents vote against the air station move in a local referendum. Shortly after that, however, they elected a mayor willing to accept the air station.

August 2004: A Marine Corps CH-53D transport helicopter from Futenma crashed into Okinawa International University. Three crew members were injured. No local residents were harmed.

March 2006: A new mayor was elected in Nago, who was also willing to accept the new base. He received more votes than his two anti-relocation opponents combined. He signed an agreement to that effect with Defense Agency chief Nukaga Fukushiro in April 2006. The agreement was later signed by the mayors of the five principal cities in northern Okinawa.

May 2009: After his election as DPJ president, Hatoyama Yukio promised to work to have the base moved outside of Okinawa. He and other party members campaigned in Okinawa during the lower house election in August 2009 on the pledge of actively working to have the base moved. This pledge was not officially written into the party’s election platform, however, because of the difficulties and controversy involved.

29-30 October 2009: In both houses of the Diet, Prime Minister Hatoyama said that developments regarding the base needed to be reviewed, but went no further.

13 November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama met President Obama, said “Trust me,” and promised to resolve the issue soon.

14 November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama said the Security Treaty with the U.S. would not be the basis for his decision about Futenma.

27 November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama said he would resolve the situation within the year.

Late November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama sent Terashima Jitsuro, the chairman of the Japan Research Institute think tank, to the U.S. as a confidential emissary to discuss the issue. The White House called up the Prime Minister and asked why they had sent a private sector employee to negotiate.

Meanwhile, one of the DPJ’s minor coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party of Japan, was due to hold an election for party leader. Current party leader Fukushima Mizuho is a member of the Cabinet as the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Social Affairs, and Gender Equality. The SPDJ was added to the ruling coalition because their five votes in the upper house helps gives the DPJ a majority in that chamber. It is an anti-American party and has long campaigned to have the base removed from Japan entirely. Other party members criticized Ms. Fukushima for being lukewarm on the Futenma issue.

3 December 2009: Ms. Fukushima threatened to withdraw the party from the coalition if the air station was not removed from Japan.

3 December 2009: That same day, Prime Minister Hatoyama said, “I never said I would resolve (the issue) within the year.”

3 December 2009: That night, he summoned Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi and directed him to look into other options for the base site, including Guam. Guam is not part of Japanese territory.

4 December 2009: Fukushima Mizuho was selected by acclamation to head the SDPJ for a fourth term.

4 December 2009: In the morning, Prime Minister Hatoyama said it was necessary to consider Guam as a compromise solution for the base location.

4 December 2009: During the day, Foreign Minister Okada and Defense Minister Kitazawa met with U.S. Ambassador John Roos to discuss the issue. According to the weekly Shukan Shincho of 17 December 2009, they told the ambassador that the prime minister was considering a location for the air station other than Henoko, and it would be difficult to reach a decision before the end of the year. Mr. Roos asked everyone except the two ministers to leave. After they did so, he raised his voice and demanded to know what was going on. He reminded the two men that the prime minister had asked the president to trust him. Was he no longer to be trusted?

Mr. Okada and Mr. Kitazawa had no answer. Mr. Okada finally suggested again the possibility of merging Futenma with the Kadena air base. This solution had originally been suggested during the 1996 negotiations, but the Americans have repeatedly rejected it because Futenma was a Marine facility and Kadena an Air Force facility. The American position is that it is not possible to combine the command structures of the different branches of the service.

Foreign Ministry officials had informed Mr. Okada of this on several occasions, according to the Shukan Shincho, but he tried again anyway. The suggestion was rejected again.

4 December 2009: That same night, Prime Minister Hatoyama said he never brought up the idea of Guam as a compromise solution, claiming that it was the idea of a “different minister”.

15 December 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama announced he would put off a decision indefinitely. When he was criticized for this decision, he said he would decide before the end of the year.

16 December 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama admits that his personal objective has always been to have American military forces removed from Japan.

29 December 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama announced his decision by saying he would reach a decision by May 2010.

25 January 2010: The city of Nago elected as mayor an opponent of the air station move by a margin of 17,960 to 16,362. That’s 52% of 34,322 votes cast among 44,896 eligible voters. The Okinawan prefectural assembly later unanimously voted to oppose the relocation of the base within the prefecture.

Today: Now word is circulating that Prime Minister Hatoyama wants to stick with the original agreement. Reports also say he is claiming that he wanted to stick with the original agreement in December.

Mr. Ozawa, however, has criticized that policy because it could harm the party’s chances among the Okinawa voters in the upper house election in July.

*****

Editorialized the left-of-center Mainichi Shimbun on 3 March:

When there’s a change of government, it is standard practice internationally to uphold the diplomatic agreements of the previous administration. That should have been the guiding principle of this government as it conducted negotiations over several years for further cuts in the Okinawa bases. This childish diplomatic friction has exposed to the international community (the government’s) lack of statecraft.

The Shukan Shincho quoted an unidentified American official:

Japan is (now) a banana republic. It’s not possible to negotiate with them about security matters.

Said Eda Kenji of Your Party about the Hatoyama adminstration:

I want nothing to do with politics of this sort. It’s like children playing house, ignorant of the ABCs of politics and diplomacy.

The Shukan Shincho also quoted Kato Koichi on the issue. Mr. Kato is a former Chief Cabinet Secretary, Defense Agency chief, LDP secretary-general, and was nearly prime minister. Remember, this was in December:

The American government has gotten perversely cross over this, and it’s possible they’ll allow the American auto industry to bash Toyota and refuse to cooperate with interventions to halt yen depreciation in currency markets. In other words, this issue is not limited to security alone. It could also have a harmful effect on automobile trade, Japan’s primary export industry, and foreign exchange policy. It could even cause a further deterioration in the Japanese economy.

That seems rather prescient, does it not?

He added:

Every politician has dreamt once about some of Mr. Hatoyama’s ideas, such as a security arrangement without foreign troops permanently stationed here, or an East Asian entity. But he is completely unable to distinguish between a medium- and long-term vision on the one hand, and circumstances that require a decision within a few months on the other. It’s a new administration, so of course he can seek changes in the promises of past governments. What would be rational, however, is to present a definite substitute proposal.

For its part, the Shukan Shincho wondered whether it will be possible for Mr. Hatoyama to even meet the American president again.

The Times piece concludes:

How does it help improve accountability in Japan if we strike a deal with the powerful man behind the folding screen? Mr. Curtis said.

By this point, the reader should understand the sheer pointlessness of the question. He might also be questioning why Mr. Curtis was interviewed for the article at all.

Now let’s look at what the Sankei Shimbun reported in two articles earlier this month.

*****

The newspaper’s Washington bureau chief, Sasaki (I can’t confirm his given name) wrote the first article on 2 March.

Mr. Sasaki said that discussions were proceeding with the idea of inviting Mr. Ozawa to the U.S., but they were based on the idea that it would not be a formal invitation from the White House or the State Department. If Mr. Ozawa were to insist on a formal invitation from Mr. Obama, he said, it would decrease the likelihood that an invitation would be extended.

The superficial reason is that Mr. Ozawa is not a member of the government. He’s just the head of the ruling party.

Translating back from the Japanese, Mr. Sasaki reports that Mr. Campbell extended the invitation informally “if his schedule permitted”, and that they would “welcome him with respect”. The latter phrase seemed to suggest a presidential meeting.

But Mr. Ozawa’s scandals have begun cause alarm in US government circles, and now some believe it would be best not to invite him at all. As his source, Mr. Sasaki cited someone “familiar with Japanese-American relations”. He added:

An invitation from the American government would mean that President Obama could not avoid a direct meeting. Another reason for the hesitation is the memory of Kanemaru Shin.

Kanemaru met with President George H.W. Bush for 50 minutes on 4 June 1992. At that time, he was the vice-president of the LDP and not in the government. Mr. Bush pledged his support to help Japan in the Northern Territories issue. (Those are the four Japanese islands currently held by Russia.)

Three months later, Kanemaru was indicted for JPY 500 million in political donations in the Sagawa Kyubin scandal, and was arrested for income tax evasion the following March.

It is rare, said the source, for an American president to meet a politician not in the government. Mr. Bush made an exception to help push the bill then pending in the Diet to allow Japanese Self-Defense Forces to participate in UN peace-keeping operations. The bill passed later that month. The newspaper quotes another American source “familiar with Japanese-American relations” who says the “trauma” from that visit still remains.

Ozawa Ichiro was close to Kanemaru Shin, and accompanied him on that visit. Now he’s the one involved in financial scandals.

The paper’s regular Washington correspondent, Komori Yoshihisa, wrote an article shortly thereafter saying that the Obama administration is trying to arrange for the invitation to come from Virginia Senator Jim Webb, the chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

During Mr. Webb’s visit to Tokyo on 15 February, Yamaoka Kenji hit him up to wangle an invitation for Mr. Ozawa. Mr. Webb was non-committal. Mr. Webb has since received phone calls and other contacts from the Ozawa camp asking for help, according to the Sankei’s source. Mr. Ozawa wants a written invitation.

The Sankei article didn’t mention it, but it is not unusual in situations such as these for a foreign dignitary to meet with other political leaders in Washington, and for the president to just happen to “stop by” during the meeting. That might be the situation the Americans envision for Mr. Ozawa.

*****

Zachery Kouwe resigned from the New York Times last month because he was caught red-handed in plagiarism. He wrote several articles for the business section that copied sections verbatim from The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Type “The New York Times” and “plagiarism” into Google and watch how quickly the name Jayson Blair turns up. He was fired. Times columnist Maureen Dowd also got caught copying, but she skated.

The Times even publishes the columns of a Nobel Prize-winning economist. In one of those columns, he refers to a U.S. senator’s statement as a “bizarre point of view”. That point of view is identical to the point of view cited in an economics textbook–written by that same economist and his wife.

On the other hand, the Sankei Shimbun had to issue a public apology when Komori Yoshihisa was caught making up a story. He’s still working for them in Washington.

Then again, his account concerned only secondary details and cited just one or two sources. The New York Times, meanwhile, cited enough unidentified people to cast a chorus line in a Broadway musical, had only a glancing relationship with the facts, and seemed more designed to push a point of view than to present information.

*****

Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio asked President Barack Obama to trust him.

Fat chance.

The New York Times asks us to believe them.

Caveat emptor.

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Marked man

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, January 30, 2010


IS THE JAPANESE MASS MEDIA being manipulated by Tokyo prosecutors to turn public opinion against DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro in the latest installment of his political fund scandals?

That’s what some members of the media suspect, and a large Amen Corner of Ozawa supporters is backing them up in the Japanese blogosphere.

The 5 February issue of the weekly Shukan Asahi that hit the newsstands this week threw some more red meat into the cage. The magazine claims someone in the prosecutors’ office is feeding them leaks to make things look bad for Mr. Ozawa, and they slam the prosecutors for their conduct of the investigation. Here’s an excerpt.

*****
“Someone sent the editors this information immediately before prosecutors interviewed Ozawa. It’s not clear whom the source is, but it is a leak from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s special investigative team.”

‘Whatever happens, they’ll get Ozawa. Otsuru (Motonari, the head of the special investigative unit) is a hard-liner, and he said, ‘We’ve got the proof. Now it’s just a question of how we’ll do it.’ The goal is to get him for accepting bribes for influence peddling, but if that doesn’t work, it’ll be as an accomplice in violating the political funds law. They can even get him for tax evasion. In the end, there’s also the possibility of striking a deal in exchange for him resigning his Diet seat.’

“In fact, the same person brought us information last week.”

‘The person leading the investigation now is not Sakuma Tatsuya, the division head, but Mr. Otsuru. He’s deadly serious, so he lit a fire under his less aggressive superiors, which led to the arrest of Ishikawa (Tomohiro, a lower house MP and former Ozawa aide). That’s because Ishikawa lied his head off during voluntary questioning. The Shukan Asahi is going to badmouth the prosecutors anyway, but you’ll wind up embarrassing yourselves if you don’t quickly change your tune. Sources at the construction companies are blabbing. Ishikawa is going to go down. Ozawa’s done for too. If they indict and convict him, he won’t be able to serve in the Diet.’

“According to this source, six top-notch prosecutors have been brought in from Osaka, Kyoto, and other places in the Kansai region, so it’s possible there’ll be more support to build a case against Ozawa. Both the Justice Ministry and the lead prosecutor are worried about getting ahead of themselves, however.”

‘They’re going up against the Democratic Party, so Mr. Otsuru is well aware that the Justice Minister may exercise her right to halt the investigation. They have to use the mass media to further fan the flames and prevent that from happening. They might have to seek permission from the Diet to arrest him.'”

*****
The reference to the magazine criticizing the prosecutors is clarified by the title of the article: The Out Of Control Prosecutors. The author of the article is Uozumi Akira, who writes: “The aim is to have Mr. Ozawa resign from the Diet. This is a crisis for parliamentary democracy.” He quotes former prosecutor Goharu Nobuo as saying: “The prosecutors have no clear direction. They’re just attacking Mr. Ozawa.”

If that’s the objective, they’ve gotten the public on their side. Here are the numbers from a recent Nikkei/TV Tokyo poll

61%: Think Ozawa should resign from the Diet
30%: Think Ozawa should not resign from the Diet
9%: Don’t know

*****
Poll numbers notwithstanding, some in the media and the Japanese blogosphere think the prosecutors are abusing their power. Mr. Uozumi elaborated the reasons they’re going after Ozawa in a radio interview:

“They’re upset because Mr. Ozawa has political control of Japan. Kasumigaseki (the bureaucracy) wants to control politics. But they can’t put up with him because he’s reversing that situation. The special prosecutors are at the top of Kasumigaseki, and the structure is “All-Kasumigaseki vs. Ozawa”. It’s a struggle for control between politicians and the bureaucracy.”

Another reason cited for the prosecution’s full-court press is that the ambitious Mr. Otsuru is trying to recover from a previous setback. He was the lead prosecutor in a collusion case involving construction companies and politicians in Fukushima. Though local prosecutors were not anxious to pursue the matter, he is said to have brushed aside opposition because he wanted to further his career.

They eventually arrested and tried Gov. Sato Eisaku, who was found guilty, sentenced to three years in jail, and given a five-year stay of execution. Last September, the appeals court reduced that to a two-year sentence with a four-year stay of execution, though the court found that the governor received no money in bribes. Mr. Sato claims the prosecutors created the case out of whole cloth by the prosecutors.

Some hold that Mr. Otsuru—who also led the prosecution team that put young Internet entrepreneur and media sensation Horie Takafumi in prison—is trying to nail Mr. Ozawa to restore his reputation.

*****
Other, more outré conspiracy theories abound. Some claim that Mr. Ozawa is being targeted by Wall Street capitalists and the CIA working with certain LDP factions, the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, and the big Japanese advertising agencies (i.e., television sponsors).

Here’s the most entertaining theory of all: Arrayed on one side is the Rothschild Freemasons of Europe (of which Mr. Ozawa is supposedly a member), the Chinese government, and the Ozawa-led DPJ, who are squared off against the Tokyo prosecutors, a “certain large religious group” (read: Soka Gakkai, whose political arm is New Komeito, whom Mr. Ozawa is trying to crush), the American embassy in Japan working with the CIA, and the Rockefeller-backed Freemasons of the United States.

The American Freemasons are supposedly upset because the DPJ is trying to worm its way out of the agreement to move the Futenma air base to another location.

One part of this theory holds that Mr. Ozawa has convinced Chinese President Hu Jintao to agree to force North Korea to release the remaining Japanese abductees in North Korea this summer just before the July upper house election. That, goes the story, has enraged the Americans because it will allow the Chinese to maintain the upper hand in dealing with the North Koreans.

This yarn has faint echoes of the case against Mr. Ozawa’s mentor as a political boss, Tanaka Kakuei. His daughter Makiko, Prime Minister Koizumi’s first foreign minister, suspected the CIA of being behind the plot to bring down her father—an advocate of closer relations with China.

Those inclined to look for leaks, conspiracies and the print media’s involvement might have a point considering the rash of stories over the past two months describing Mr. Ozawa as a dictatorial, iron-fisted, anti-democrat who brooks no opposition inside the DPJ. They’re believable, seem well sourced, and have turned public opinion against Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ. There are now more people who do not support the Cabinet than do, a sharp reversal in just four months.

*****
Be that as it may, Mr. Ozawa is not helping his own cause. He is a very unlikely Sir Galahad. His political fund management committee has extensive real estate holdings, which have been a source of suspicion for years.

He hasn’t come up with plausible cover stories for the funding of the questionable real estate deal for which his aide was arrested, either. He’s told four different tales over the past year or so, and his most recent is that the money came from his father’s estate. Yesterday, however, a 27-year-old newspaper article surfaced in which Mr. Ozawa said that he received no money from his father’s estate.

When he finally did agree to talk to the prosecutors earlier this month, the conversation lasted four and a half hours in a Tokyo hotel room. He also reportedly spent several hours before the interview mulling over his strategy with his attorneys in a different room of the same hotel.

That doesn’t sound as if the facts behind the real estate deal in question and the money that paid for it are so cut and dried.

*****
This week, some influential members of the DPJ seemed as if they started to put some distance between the party and Mr. Ozawa. There wasn’t as much talk of a full frontal assault against the prosecutors as there was before. For example:

24 January
Sengoku Yoshito, Minister of State for Government Revitalization and Civil Service Reform

We’ll make a decision (on Mr. Ozawa) when the matter is resolved taking public opinion trends into account.

25 January
Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio

I support his continuation in his post for now.

(The Japanese immediately seized on the “for now” part, or 現在は (genzai ha). The Japanese expression makes it obvious that Mr. Hatoyama was giving a clear signal he might not be so supportive in the future.)

26 January
Prime Minister Hatoyama (Referring to the extensive real estate holdings of the Ozawa fund management group)

That wouldn’t be possible for an ordinary Diet member, and I don’t think (an ordinary Diet member) would do it. I think the people view that (in the same way).

Maehara Seiji, Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport

(Fund management groups) shouldn’t use political funds to buy real estate.

Haraguchi Kazuhiro, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications

Generally speaking, politicians and groups about whom there are suspicions must make a sincere effort to clear up those suspicions in the Diet.

(This one is also telling; Mr. Haraguchi is an Ozawa ally.)

29 January
Noda Yoshihiko, Deputy Finance Minister

I do not think the people want to return (government) to the LDP. The most important issue before us is achieving a stable government in the July upper house election. After some facts emerge (about Mr. Ozawa), we will make a judgment in accordance with that issue.

*****
It is theoretically possible that Mr. Ozawa is going to be vindicated, but that will take some time to play out.

In the meantime, staying on as DPJ Secretary-General could seriously harm the party’s chances of achieving a majority in this summer’s upper house election.

If the party disassociates itself from Mr. Ozawa, however, or if he is forced to resign his Diet seat, it’s an odds-on bet that the DPJ will not hold together for the three and a half years remaining in the lower house term.

Yet it’s also unlikely the LDP as presently constituted could regain power. As Mr. Noda says, the brand has become too degraded, and the current leadership is in such a retrograde mode, the public will not be willing to hand them the reins of government anytime soon.

The cement of Japanese politics is still wet.

Afterwords:

If you like conspiracy stories, you’ll love this. Rockefellers, Rothschilds, yakuza, the Imperial household, ninjas, earthquake machines–you name it, this one’s got it. In fact, this guy might be the source for the Rockefeller/Rothschild stories in the Japanese-language part of the web.

As whacked out as it is, I have to admit I was intrigued by the mention of LDP pol Kato Koichi getting wads of cash in an envelope, and the claim later in the interview that the North Koreans bought off the police and the LDP government with the income they received from Japanese pachinko parlors so the authorities would overlook their amphetamine exports.

Recall that Mr. Kato was adamantly opposed to the Abe hard line against North Korea…

Posted in Legal system, Politics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Japan’s political kaleidoscope (2): Aso edition

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

THE YEASTY FERMENT brewing in the world of Japanese politics is a heady blend with ingredients ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Anyone who thinks politics in this country is moribund either isn’t paying attention or their beverage of choice is Kool-Aid. Today’s draft is drawn primarily from the Aso Taro keg.

Politicians say the darndest things

Logorrhea is an occupational hazard for politicians, and all sorts of things come out of their mouths when they’ve switched on cruise control. This is from a recent speech by Prime Minister Aso Taro:

“(The current Japanese national soccer team) doesn’t have a superstar like Nakata Hidetoshi. Eleven people working together—that’s Japanese soccer. If Japan had a superstar, it would be His Majesty the Emperor.”

Do you ever wonder how Mrs. Aso would answer if someone asked her whether her husband talks like this when they’re relaxing together at home?

Then again, if the idea of Jesus Christ Superstar can sell millions of albums, launch productions on Broadway and the West End of London, generate two films with a third planned, and still be performed on stage 35 years later, it should be harmless for some Japanese to consider the tenno to be the local superstar.

Why people dislike journalists #4,937

Journalists defend themselves from the charge of pointlessly repeating the same question by saying it’s their job. Well, yes, for some people, working for a living does involve creating make-work projects designed to convince the boss you’ve got the situation well in hand. All they usually accomplish, however, is to waste the time of people with more productive things to do. Try this dialogue from a recent Aso Taro press conference:

Reporter: First, about the personnel for senior party positions and the Cabinet…

(Mr. Aso leans back and smiles)

Reporter: Last Saturday you had a discussion with Mr. Kuroda (LDP secretary general), and at that time you took a negative approach to making major personnel changes. You said, “I’ve never talked about it; it’s just outsiders making things up.” Could you tell us again what your thoughts are about the personnel issue?

PM: I haven’t thought about personnel.

Reporter: Does that mean you won’t think about personnel until the Diet is dissolved and there’s a general election?

PM: It means I’m not thinking about it now.

Reporter: Now.

PM: Now look, you’re jumping on everything I say as soon as I say it, and you also did it not long ago. This sort of thing…saying these needless things will just lead to a pointless conversation, so let’s drop the subject…well, that was a close call (laughs).

Reporter: I see.

PM: (Clear voice) I haven’t thought about it.

Reporter: OK. Next…

PM: Do you understand?

Reporter: You’re not thinking about it all?

PM: (Laughs, doesn’t answer)

Update: Well, it looks like this reporter knew more than I gave him credit for. The very next day, Mr. Aso said that he had been thinking for a while about “the most suitable people at the most suitable time”. Nevertheless, it should have been obvious he didn’t want to answer the question when he was asked. That’s no reason to bug the man.

Why would Mr. Aso double back on his word so quickly? Some television journalists speculated that former PM Abe Shinzo, a long-time Aso friend, had been urging him to reshuffle his Cabinet and had nearly convinced him. But then party bigwig Mori Yoshiro told Mr. Aso not to waste his time.

How typical: Mr. Aso’s lack of decisiveness and willingness to listen to either of those men for political advice are two of the reasons his popular support is negligible to begin with.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the latest teacup tempest in an administration known for them is that one of the TV journalists casually commented that “he lied” the first time before moving on to comment about subsequent developments.

That does not speak well of contemporary Japanese politics at the highest level, does it?

Grated Aso

A lower house election must be held within the next few months, and it looks very much like the LDP is going to be trounced, allowing the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to form a government for the first time. The ruling party no longer offers a coherent political philosophy, and their post-Koizumi prime ministers have been the politically clumsy manipulated by the terminal klutzes behind the scenes.

It’s no wonder then that some senior party members want to move up the September election for LDP party president (who would become prime minister) to find an alternative to going down with Mr. Aso and the rest of the mudboat crew before the lower house election.

LDP faction leader Yamasaki Hiraku (AKA Taku) has submitted a petition to LDP MPs and other party members specifically calling for an early election. He also set up a special area on his website for citizens to provide their input.

Said Mr. Yamasaki:

“It’s not (designed) to bring down the Aso Cabinet”.

It is to laugh. No one believes that, particularly because the special area materialized on his website the day after the LDP candidate was defeated in the election for Chiba City mayor. A former Cabinet minister also admitted off the record that the idea is to create a popular consensus to replace Mr. Aso.

Indeed, Mr. Yamasaki later quit beating around the bush. A week ago, he claimed he had 108 signatures from lower house LDP members, though he wasn’t showing them to anyone. That’s about halfway to his goal of signing up an outright majority of LDP MPs in the lower house. He says that would prevent Mr. Aso from calling a snap election out of petulant frustration.

Then came the release of the following poll:

  • People intending to vote for the LDP: 16.4%
  • People intending to vote for the DPJ: 40.4%

A 24-point differential causes alarm bells to ring so loudly even those with earplugs can hear them. It also tends to shake up senior party leaders with heretofore safe seats because an electoral tsunami that large could just as easily wipe them out as it would the small fry in marginal districts.

The secretaries-general

Said Kato Koichi at a press conference:

In my 37 years as a diet member, I have never seen the reputation of the LDP sink as low as it has now. It’s the lowest it’s ever been. Calling an election now would be an act of suicide…Some MPs say we can take only 165 seats, but I think that outlook is too optimistic.

Said Takebe Tsutomu to reporters at party headquarters:

“We (Diet members) will work hard until the end of the term on 10 September, (but) we should have a showdown in the election with new policies promoted by a new leader.”

Ibuki Bunmei was slightly more optimistic, if optimistic is the word to describe a prediction of the loss of the party’s lower house majority:

“The cabinet support rate has fallen. We could have taken 241 seats with New Komeito, but now that will only be 220 to 230.”

All four of these gentlemen have served as LDP secretary-general, the top position in the party apparatus, so they know when electoral defeat is staring them in the face. Another former SG, Nakagawa Hidenao, has been saying the same thing every day for months now.

The names that arise most frequently as possible replacements are the Acting Secretary-General (i.e., representative) Ishihara Nobuteru, the son of Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro; Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Masuzoe Yoichi, a former University of Tokyo professor who won public favor as a TV commentator slamming bureaucrats for their handling of public pensions; and former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko, a favorite of the Koizumian wing of the party, but disliked by some for a perceived shallowness of loyalty to the LDP. The problem with all three is that none of them are strong enough on their own to serve in that role without substantial help from the old boys in the backroom, most of whom have been out of touch for a generation.

Not everyone has jumped on the dump Aso bandwagon, however. Those who think they can swim–or cling to the flotsam and jetsam–when the ship sinks include former postal rebel Noda Yumiko and former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Mr. Abe may be a man of principle and party loyalty, but he is sorely deficient in the third P of political acumen.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kawamura Takeo is also opposed to a change:

“Party unity is of the utmost importance before the lower house election. Turmoil in the party will cause its own downfall. Would the people really understand if we only changed the leader? How would we answer the criticism that holding a party leadership election before the general election was done only with the general election in mind?”

Yes, the people would understand if you removed a leader they don’t support who lacks a firm political touch. They’d probably sympathize with you, in fact. To answer the carpers, you could always point out that the parties sitting in the opposition rows don’t get to make policy.

New Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partners, also want to stick with the loser. Said a senior official:

“It will have a negative impact on the election for governor in Shizuoka and the Tokyo Metropolitan District council. It’s also possible the voters would not support (the coalition) in the lower house election.”

You mean the same voters who already favor the opposition over the coalition by a 24-point margin? Those voters?

The official dropped hints the party would withhold support from LDP Diet members who tried to oust Mr. Aso.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that candidates running behind a party leader promoting regional devolution, delinking from the mandarins of the civil service, putting the nation’s finances in order before raising taxes, continued privatization, and a resolute foreign policy probably wouldn’t need New Komeito support to win.

Naturalists speak of the cornered prey summoning all its energy for a desperate counterattack. Some hunters, however, know that cornered prey tracked for a long time often become too tired and dispirited to continue, and willingly surrender. What else could be the explanation for those people who are ready to fight an election campaign led by Mr. Aso—a man who has demonstrated no leadership ability, is not amenable to the reforms the public knows are needed, and who thinks that promising a large tax increase will earn the party public favor?

Mr. Aso might even be among those willing to surrender to the hunter. He’s dropping hints that he’ll hold the lower house election in August. Was this done to forestall a putsch? Was it his idea, or did someone put him up to it?

Why is it that the dimmest bulbs invariably think they’re the brightest?

Taro and the pirates

But let’s be fair: Mr. Aso does have his moments. The Diet recently passed a bill that allows Japanese self-defense forces (i.e., the military) to be sent overseas with the authority to fire on pirate vessels overseas if they do not respond to an order to cease and desist their attacks—even on non-Japanese ships—and allows Japan to participate in joint international anti-piracy operations. It also criminalizes piracy, which permits the offenders to be apprehended and punished in Japan.

Yet the DPJ chose to potentially sacrifice Japanese lives and ships by refusing to pass the bill in the upper house. They and the other opposition parties delayed the measure for two months and forced the LDP to use its supermajority in the lower house to get it through.

Said the prime minister:

“Naturally you’d protect yourself if you were attacked by thieves. I don’t understand (their opposition to the use of weapons). What are they thinking about when it comes to the safety of the Self-Defense Forces and the Coast Guard?”

There have been about 150 pirate attacks on shipping off Somalia this year, already exceeding the 111 attacks in 2008. What was the opposition “thinking”? For starters, the DPJ and the Social Democrats were concerned that the bill allows the Cabinet to send the SDF overseas without Diet approval.

Well, their two-month foot-dragging and gamesmanship while piracy continues unabated demonstrates why waiting for the approval of more than 700 people in both houses of the legislature, many of whom are all too willing to create artificial political crises to delay bills on any pretext, is unwise and possibly fatal when real world circumstances demand prompt action.

Meanwhile, the SDP and the Communists think the Coast Guard should be the only military forces involved against the pirates, and called into action only in Japanese territorial waters. They were also opposed to the relaxed rules on the use of weapons. What do they think works against Third World pirates looking for a multi-million dollar payday? Moral suasion? Do they expect the Somalians to start raiding along the Seto Inland Sea?

Let’s be clear: Many in the DPJ supported this bill as it was. That meant it could have sailed through the upper house with little or no problem, but the party leadership felt compelled to object. That’s partly because they lack the political sophistication to understand that for critical areas of national interest, it really is OK to agree with the government and not to oppose something merely because they’re the opposition. It’s also because they chose again to ignore the national interest by playing a numbers game for their own political ends and ally with the SPD solely to bring down the government.

What this demonstrates:

  1. The SPD hold their countrymen in such contempt that they believe Japanese are still too irresponsible to be trusted with lethal weapons overseas in matters of self-defense. (It’s also possible that the wool in their heads has grown so thick they’re no longer capable of coherent thought.) That, combined with their other positions, past associations with North Korea, their socialist/Marxist background (which includes circumstantial evidence linking a leading party figure to the Japanese Red Army terrorist group of yesteryear) reveals serious character flaws.
  2. That the DPJ would put to risk Japanese lives, commercial interests critical for an island nation with limited natural resources, and nascent efforts to show that the country is a responsible international partner willing to help enforce the basic concepts of right and wrong, solely to feed the fantasies of miniscule fringe parties for the sake of gaining power, is another sign that they are too immature to successfully lead a government.
  3. Communists always behave like Communists.

Want more? DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio was asked if he would roll back the decision if they gained a lower house majority and formed a government later this year. You know, if you’re opposed, you’re opposed, right? His answer:

“We will not make a hasty decision to do an immediate about-face.”

Bless their pointed little heads, but aren’t they dependable? The DPJ can always be counted on to choose expediency over principle.

Some claim the DPJ maintains its alliance with the SPD because it “needs them” in the upper house.

“Needs them” for what? It’s not as if the SPD is going to start voting with the LDP if the DPJ tells them to bugger off.

The Democratic Party of Japan—still shameless after all these years.

Getting real

During the same discussion, Mr. Aso continued:

“It’s the same with North Korea. At a minimum, we must fight when we should fight. If we aren’t prepared to do that, we won’t be able to defend the nation’s safety.”

Added current LDP Secretary-General Hosoda Haruyuki in a Yurakucho speech:

“Who knows what North Korea, which has nonchalantly abducted hundreds of people, will do if they develop nuclear weapons? We must apply more pressure to North Korea. Our ultimate objective is to bring about a collapse of the current regime and have the country be reborn as a peaceful state. The DPJ’s response to (this issue) is extremely soft.”

And why not? Who better than the Japanese to understand that a malevolent regime can become a peaceful state?

Messrs. Aso and Hosoda aren’t the only ones tired of the international pussyfooting. The aforementioned Koike Yuriko resigned last week from the chairmanship of a special LDP committee studying the question of enemy military bases. A party council submitted a statement to Prime Minister Aso on whether Japan should maintain the capability of conducting an attack on enemy military installations. The council adopted a policy of ruling out preemptive defensive attacks, which caused Ms. Koike to walk.

Instrumental in adopting that policy was Yamasaki Hiraku (also mentioned above), who said:

“We must not cause misunderstandings overseas”.

Retorted Ms. Koike:

“A policy exclusively oriented to defense is too restrictive, and a defensive preemptive attack policy is even more restrictive. All we talk about is limiting what we can do. Is it such a good idea to continue to limit Japan’s policies for defense? People say it’s done out of consideration for neighboring countries, but they don’t show any consideration for us at all.”

Bingo. And give that last sentence bonus points.

Duh

The people overseas who might misunderstand could be divided into two groups. The first consists of those in the region who would choose to purposely misunderstand. That would allow them to use Japanese policy as both a diplomatic weapon in bilateral relations, and as a domestic weapon to stir up anti-Japanese sentiment at home. Their feigned ignorance would enable them to continue painting the country as a false enemy, thereby strengthening their base of support.

North Korea threatens Japan with military action every day and has the hardware to make those threats very real. The Chinese are not going to stop until they have made themselves the East Asian hegemon (at least). Russia seized Japan’s Northern Territories after Japan surrendered in 1945 and refuses to return them. South Korea used military force to seize Takeshima in 1954, still illegally occupies the islets, and still refuses international mediation (which Japan says it would accept).

The second group of people who would misunderstand is in the West and principally consists of politicians, academics, and journalists, most of whom can’t be bothered to do the research to get it right to begin with. Perhaps that’s because a real understanding would conflict with their preconceptions.

Japanese diplomatic and military behavior has been the gold standard in Northeast Asia since 1945. Ms. Koike, Mr. Aso, and Mr. Hosoda are right: Japan should choose to defend its legitimate interests as a sovereign nation. The decision-makers in neighboring countries will understand perfectly, regardless of what they say in public for the gullible or the Barnumesque suckers who want to be deceived. As for the people on the other side of the Pacific, there’s a Japanese expression that covers them: Baka ni tsukeru kusuri wa nai. There’s no medicine to cure a fool.

Some people in this country pretended they didn’t understand what Abe Shinzo meant when he said he wanted Japan to move beyond the postwar regime. Well, here you are.

But of course they always knew exactly what he was driving at—they just didn’t want to face the implications. It’s not always easy for adolescents to embrace responsibility and take charge of their lives.

Posted in International relations, Military affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Japan’s political kaleidoscope

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 4, 2009

NOW THAT THE OPPOSITION Democratic Party of Japan has stuck a feather in former leader Ozawa Ichiro’s cap and called it macaroni instead of calling on Jack to hit the road, events in the world of Japanese politics are accelerating with a potentially historic lower house election just a few months away.

Here are some reflections from Japan’s ever-revolving political kaleidoscope while we wait to see how long it takes the mudboat of the ruling LDP’s zombie wing to dissolve, whether the party dumps Aso Taro and replaces him with Hatoyama Kunio to set up a brother-take-all election, and if the members of the DPJ will ever start acting their age instead of their (Western) shoe size.

Kato and Takenaka: Off with the gloves!

Former LDP Secretary-General Kato Koichi has just published a book critical of the Koizumi administration’s structural reforms. To borrow a term used to describe some members of the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, Mr. Kato would be a “wet” in the LDP. He and the very dry Keio University Prof. Takenaka Heizo, the lead privateer of the Koizumian reforms, went toe-to-toe on a recent TV Asahi program.

Mr. Kato’s first punch:

“The reforms exceeded the limits of the weakened regional areas. Your ideas (were inconsiderate of) society.”

Countered Prof. Takenaka:

“(You’re) the man responsible for “ten lost years” (of sluggish economic growth). It’s odd that you would attack Mr. Koizumi, who ended all that, as if you were some cultural critic.”

Mr. Kato thinks the Koizumi administration’s approach of zero interest rates and what he saw as a focus on corporations, reduced personal assets and income, upsetting the public:

“All of society is now irritated!”

Prof. Takenaka pointed out that his antagonist held several important positions in the 1990s, including LDP secretary-general, after the collapse of the bubble economy.

“(You) failed to deal firmly with the non-performing debt, so we did. It’s a mistake to argue there’s a future in going backwards.”

Expect to see more of these arguments, particularly if the LDP falls apart after going into the opposition, thereby liberating its reform wing.

Going backwards

Speaking of retrograde movement, Finance Minister Yosano Kaoru continued his own backwards march into the future, slapping himself during a meeting of the lower house finance committee for daring to support the complete privatization of the Development Bank of Japan as scheduled:

“I’ve done some soul-searching over the shallowness of my thinking for failing to anticipate the current economic crisis. The DBJ should remain as an important tool of the government.”

Which shows that Mr. Yosano remains an important tool of the Finance Ministry, the Big Swinging Dick of the Japanese bureaucracy. The bureaucracy will do anything to maintain its stranglehold on government policy short of strangling babies in the crib. Prime Ministers Koizumi and Abe made some headway on blasting a path through the mountain, but their two successors let the Sisyphean rock roll back down the hill again.

Not only did the lower house committee agree with Mr. Yosano, they also voted to expand the range of assets the bank can buy. The media report said the bank was scheduled for full privatization in three years, but their website (right sidebar) says about five.

Failing to foresee a once-in-a-century economic crisis is forgivable. What is inexcusable, however, is failing to see that it originated in a meddlesome government’s interference with banking practices, and that partial government ownership of those banks to facilitate further meddling will be a cure worse than the disease.

All politics is local, #1

The news media got interested in the usually uninteresting mayoral election in Saitama City last month because it was the first local poll after Ozawa Ichiro resigned from the DPJ presidency. Politicos wanted to know whether his retreat from center stage to the control booth in the wings would boost the local DPJ candidate.

The local DPJ group supported newcomer Shimizu Hayato (47), who easily defeated the incumbent backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The café commentariat saw this as a win for the new Hatoyama-led LDP, especially as Hatoyama Yukio himself campaigned there.

They’d have a point if people always elected municipal chiefs based on the behavior of national political parties, but other factors confirmed the only coherent point former U.S. House Speaker Thomas O’Neill made in his career: “All politics is local”.

Mr. Shimuzu was a newcomer nearly 20 years younger than his opponent, Aikawa Soichi (66). Mr. Aikawa was seeking a third straight term, or a sixth straight term if you count his time as mayor of Urawa before a municipal merger. Many people were looking for a change.

Some of them were in his own party. While Mr. Aikawa had official party backing, a third candidate in the race was Nakamori Fukuyo, who had been a former LDP lower house member with a proportional representative seat until March. The party didn’t support Mr. Nakamori, but former Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei and former postal privatization rebelette and current Minister of Consumer Affairs Noda Seiko swung by to campaign for him. Intraparty vote-splitting is the royal road to an election loss.

Then again, Mr. Aikawa ran a mudboat campaign of his own. After winning the primary, he played up his LDP ties and had Hatoyama Kunio, the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications (and Yukio’s brother) campaign for him. Mr. Shimizu figured he had the election cinched at that point, because his strategy was to highlight party identification, and he knew he was running against a split opposition.

The LDP nameplate has negative cachet regardless of who’s running where, but it must take a brick wall to fall on some people before they get it. Just last month, Morita Kensaku was elected Governor of Chiba despite his LDP ties because he pretended they didn’t exist. But the law of natural selection is valid for politics too.

All politics is local, #2

When Hatoyama Yukio claims to be the champion of regional devolution, that has to mean it’s an idea whose time has come at last in Japan. Since his selection as DPJ head, he has proclaimed:

“What I want to do most after I become prime minister is to change the country into one of regional sovereignty.”

He also lifted a line from former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro:

“Leave to the regions what the regions can do.”

(Substitute “private sector” for “regions” and you have the Koizumi mantra. Combine the two and you’re cooking with gas.)

People knew this was a good idea a long time ago. From Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859):

“Municipal institutions are for liberty what primary schools are for science; they place it within reach of the people.”

But how does that translate into practical policy? And just how serious is Mr. Hatoyama? Here he is answering a reporter’s question:

Question:

“The DPJ claims in its party platform that it will reduce personnel costs for the central government’s civil service by 20%. But establishing regional authority and transferring that authority to local governments will require that (same) amount of personnel, and the national civil servants will probably become local civil servants. So, as for the reduction of personnel costs for local civil service…”

Answer:

“I probably haven’t given any answer. I understand of course that (required) personnel are part of the central government’s public employees. I also think that with the emergence of regional sovereignty, the people working in the regional areas will be necessary. Therefore, I hope that many of the central government’s civil servants employees will become local civil servants and do that work.

“But, it’s natural that when local sovereignty emerges, it will be quite difficult to entrust a large amount of authority and funding resources to such places as small villages. That will have to be decided by the people in the regions, but it is inevitable, you know, that authority, if you devolve a great deal of authority, then municipalities will discuss mergers spontaneously on their own. That is a forward looking discussion. That’s not because they don’t have enough money; they’ll discuss it to perform their work.

“Of course the municipalities that exist will discuss mergers to become ‘basic local governments’. And if that happens, you see, they’ll be able to decrease the total number of public employees. That’s what I think. The national government’s role will decline. Therefore, we will be able to drastically cut the number of national civil servants. On the other hand, there will be an increase in the number of national civil servants becoming local civil servants. But it’s entirely possible that the total of local civil servants will decrease rather than increase.”

I read that three times and agree with Mr. Hatoyama. He probably hasn’t given any answer.

(Mr. Hatoyama’s use of “basic local government” here is confusing; municipalities already are the basic local government unit in Japan, even if they are technically classified as villages.)

To be fair to the nominal DPJ chief, the party policy wanks still haven’t been able to clear their ideas with Ozawa Ichiro, whom many suspect is still pulling the strings behind the scenes. The New Boss publicly supports the LDP state/province system of devolution and sub-national rearrangement, but heaven forbid that an opposition party would officially agree with one of the golden planks in the ruling party platform. The Old Boss favors a different plan, fortunately. The DPJ’s decision, whenever they get around to it, will provide some hints on the identity of The Real Boss.

Meanwhile, last November Prime Minister Aso said:

“Our ultimate objective is a state/province system based on regional sovereignty in which national government offices are transferred to the regions.”

Whether he means it or not–and many in his party do–at least it has the advantage of being short, clear, and to the point.

Answer the phone, Yukio!

Constitutional reform in Japan means more than rewriting Article 9, the so-called peace clause. Some want to remove any obstacles to the innocent use of Shinto rituals in government-related activities, while others want to shift to a unicameral legislature. But since the Japanese have never amended the Constitution, they’re still working out how to go about it.

Both houses of the Diet have a Deliberative Council on the Constitution, but it lacks internal regulations on the number of members and its procedures due to opposition party foot dragging, including the DPJ.

Notable for his silence is new DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio, though he was once so hot for constitutional reform he published his own ideas on the subject in 2005 called A Proposal for A New Constitution (PHP). Given his interest in the issue, the LDP thought his election might signal a change in DPJ policy.

They should know better than to take a politician at his word. He isn’t returning their calls. Both the LDP and junior partner New Komeito have repeatedly asked the opposition to help to formulate regulations, and even submitted a proposal for their consideration. No answer.

Some LDP members are now irritated enough to consider passing their own regulations in the second half of the current Diet session while the party still has a supermajority in the lower house and can override a rejection from the DPJ-controlled upper house.

After pointedly mentioning Mr. Hatoyama’s interest in the issue, LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chair Oshima Tadamori said:

“We really want to reach a settlement (on these regulations) during this session because (the issue involves) the sovereignty of the people. Of course we should determine procedures for Constitutional amendments.”

Replied senior DPJ poobah Okada Katsuya at a press conference:

“This should be thoroughly discussed first. I’ve talked to Naoshima Masayuki (chair of the party’s Policy Research Council, member of the Hatoyama group, and the Chief Cabinet Secretary in the shadow cabinet), and I want to use the council first. It’s not something I should talk about over my head.”

Above his pay grade, eh?

The DPJ can’t use their own committee for constitutional research because they’ve left the chairmanship vacant since the upper house election in 2007.

The reason the party is covering its ears and pretending it can’t hear is because the plethora of tails wagging the dog is making too much noise. With the DPJ so close to taking power, that means there’ll be a whole lot of shaking going on. They’re still holding hands with the pacifist/green/anti-free market–nuclear power—automobile—common sense Social Democrats, who are just fine with the Constitution the way it is except for the positive references to the emperor.

More or less within the party is the notorious Japan Teacher’s Union (see right sidebar), which backs the DPJ in the same way that teachers’ unions everywhere back political parties on the left. In the past, they’ve been caught squeezing members to donate to the political campaigns of DPJ Acting President Koshi’ishi Azuma in Yamanashi and harassed a Hiroshima school principal to suicide. They think competitive tests are bad for education and singing the national anthem is bad for any reason at all.

While serving as Foreign Minister in 2005, the LDP’s largest faction leader Machimura Nobutaka claimed the reason the government did not want Japanese schools to focus more intensively on the country’s behavior in the early part of the 20th century was that too many JTU members were Marxist-Leninists. An excuse? Maybe, but he has a point.

Another favorite JTU technique is to mail razor blades to the people that displease them. Mr. Hatoyama apparently prefers to buy his at the store for the time being.

Kasumigaseki reform

Executives of the self-proclaimed reform kings DPJ and the anti-reform People’s New Party agreed to coordinate policy proposals in their respective platforms in the upcoming lower house election, particularly for postal privatization. In other words, they promise to stand athwart the course of reform and yell Stop! The two parties also called on the SPD to join them for some coordination-a-trois, and confirmed they would work together during the election.

One wonders how many words Hatoyama Yukio can use to avoid answering a question about this contradiction while folding back his forked tongue at the same time.

Ishihara Nobuteru speaks

LDP official Ishihara Nobuteru spoke truth to power regarding the DPJ and Ozawa Ichiro during a recent television interview:

“If he were a member of the LDP, he would have resigned his Diet seat…Mr. Ozawa did not resign his Diet seat, he resigned the party presidency and became acting president without reflecting on his errors and without an explanation. This reveals the nature of the Democratic Party of Japan today.”

In your heart, you know he’s right.

A Kan junket?

DPJ Acting President and former leader Kan Naoto will be jetting to England for a four-day stay starting on the 6th. He says he wants to observe how the country’s Cabinet operates because both Great Britain and Japan have a parliamentary cabinet system.

Mr. Kan has been sitting in the Diet since 1980 and was in the Cabinet as Health and Welfare Minister in 1996. And he needs to go to England for four days to see how Cabinets and Parliaments work?

They say London is nice this time of year.

More fad Diets

The Asahi Shimbun enjoyed running an article describing how the LDP is trying to work out its preference among various internal plans to downsize the lower house of the Diet—ranging from cuts of 50-180 seats—while pacifying junior coalition partner New Komeito. If they cut only proportional representation districts, New Komeito would lose 23 of its 31 MPs. That party, widely seen as the political arm of the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, provides the campaign foot soldiers for the LDP in the same way the unions back the DPJ.

A recent meeting of a parliamentarian’s group formed to slash 180 of the seats and bring the total to 300 drew LDP Election Strategy Council Chair Koga Makoto, the keeper of the Koizumian flame Nakagawa Hidenao, and Sato Yukari and some other Koizumi children (figurative, not literal).

They discussed three plans:

  1. 300 winner-take-all districts
  2. 200 winner-take-all districts and 100 proportional representation districts
  3. A 50-50 split.

But the Asahi, the print wing of Japan’s leftist media voice, didn’t mention that the DPJ, their horse in the race, faces the same problem. Party boss Hatoyama Yukio wants to shed 80 seats, but the survival of the DPJ’s small party allies depends on proportional representation too.

Just an oversight, I guess.

Padding the bill

Governments at the prefectural level are mad as hell about the money they’re forced to fork over to maintain the local agencies of central government ministries, and they’re not going to take it anymore. (See this post for plenty of details.) Every year the national government just hands them a bill and tells them to pay up. The local governors demanded the bills be itemized, and the government finally complied. Now it probably wishes it hadn’t.

Saga Prefecture discovered that personnel costs, including pensions and the operating costs for agency buildings and employee dormitories, accounted for 10% of their financial liability to the central government. In addition to being seriously displeased at the discovery, they claimed the standards for determining payment were vague and demanded further disclosure.

This is a critical issue for some prefectures. Saga Governor Furukawa Yasushi has warned the prefectural government will be bankrupt by 2011 unless present conditions change.

In fact, prefectural governments are being billed for the mutual aid association liabilities of national civil servants for their retirement benefits and annuity reserves. The national government’s justification was that the local regions are the ones to benefit from the work of the national bureaucracy, so they should be the ones to pay.

The governors didn’t buy that for a second. Wondered noted devolutionist Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo of Miyazaki:

I’m having a hard time understanding why these benefits are included in the bill.

But here’s some good news for those who think you can’t fight the central government and win: Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Kaneko Kazuyoshi said the government will probably not bill local governments this year for those retirement benefits.

Here I go again: devolution could be a reform whose time has come.

Chips off the old block

The DPJ successfully created a new wrinkle in the political numbers game by claiming they will nail into their election platform a plank denying official party support to new candidates with family members who’ve served in the Diet in the past three generations. They insist this has something to do with “reform”.

What it really has to do with is making the retiring Koizumi Jun’ichiro look bad for trying to pass his Kanagawa Diet seat off to his number two son. Former Justice Minister Usui Hideo planned on handing over the family business to his son in Chiba this year, too.

Some LDP members realized the media would froth it up to make them look even worse, so they called for the institution of a similar rule. But local party officials in Mr. Koizumi’s district objected because they had settled on Jun’s boy last November, and there isn’t enough time to find a new candidate. So the party said they would apply a hereditary seat restriction rule for the election after next. They also said they wouldn’t back the two lads as independents and have them sign up for the party after the election. That would be cheating.

Aha, shouted the DPJ, you’re not reformers after all! Asahi TV helped whip up the media froth with some predictable tut-tutting and cluck-clucking on their morning roundtable discussion program.

Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

If the DPJ were serious about real reform that served the people, they would knock off the political otaku games and spend more of their time involved with the real affairs of government.

If they thought inherited seats were such a bad idea, they could apply the rule to everyone TODAY instead of making it a grandfather clause. But that would erase from the rolls the party’s standard bearer, Hatoyama Yukio, whose patriarchal line of Diet members stretches back to great-grandfather Kazuo. He started the family business during the Meiji period.

You know–the 19th century.

It would also have disqualified in his time Koizumi Jun’ichiro, who managed to accomplish or initiate more reforms in his five years as prime minister than are dreamt of in the DPJ philosophy.

Instead of running numbers in a numbers game and pandering to those who think politics is a spectator sport for the public rather than the means for the public to directly participate in self-rule, the DPJ policy wanks—as well as the LDP mudboaters—should give the power to the people and let them decide who is best qualified to serve in a district through a primary system. If the well-connected kids win, so be it.

You know–make yourselves accountable to the voters. Respect the popular will. Behave like bona fide reformers instead of the mandarins you really are.

Maybe someone will explain it to Kan Naoto during his London junket.

Afterwords:

I just ran across this in The Guardian, Britain’s premier newspaper of the Left:

Political reform can no longer be put aside as an abstract idea, of appeal to dreamers but not to voters who face the harder realities of life. The public is calling furiously for a better system. People want an honest parliament. They want leaders who are prepared to act. They loathe the old system, and many of the people who are part of it.

The subject is the British political crisis, but that same tune works with Japanese lyrics as well.

That’s a story well worth following, but it’s curious that people are overlooking the several intertwined stories in Japan, which in many ways are even more compelling.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The shame of the shameless DPJ

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 24, 2009

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
– Mark 8:36

CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGIST Ruth Benedict famously described Japan as having a culture of shame and the United States as having a culture of guilt. She elaborated on the latter description by asserting that guilt inculcates standards of absolute morality, which America had but Japan didn’t.

Her viewpoint on the differences between the two countries quickly became both influential and controversial. Some discredit it for being “deeply flawed”, “politely arrogant”, and “anthropology at a distance”. Psychoanalyst Doi Takeo, the author of the equally influential Anatomy of Dependence (Amae no Kozo), criticized the concept for deliberately implying the superiority of the American value system to that of the Japanese.

Regardless of the validity of Benedict’s thesis, events in the 1990s demonstrated that notions of guilt and morality were obsolete in American political culture. The American President during most of that decade was publicly and credibly accused of rape; reports suggested that he might well have been a serial rapist. As a state governor, he committed the most puerile and tawdry acts of sexual harassment on state employees and used the state police as his personal procurers. While President, he toyed with an intern and a cigar in his office while keeping an overseas visitor on government business waiting in the Rose Garden.

Yet 66% of the American public thought the mass media should not follow up the rape accusation. The public was insufficiently aroused to demand his conviction when impeached. (No sniggering until you finish the sentence!) Needless to say, the Democrats, the President’s own party, thought none of this disqualified him to continue serving in the nation’s highest office.

Now, 10 years later, their namesake, the Democratic Party of Japan, seems to have placed a bet that the sense of shame in Japanese culture has become equally extinct.

L - R: Pinocchio, Geppetto

L - R: Pinocchio, Geppetto

On 10 May Ozawa Ichiro finally took it upon himself to resign his position of party president after his chief aide had been arrested six weeks earlier for accepting a total of $US 3 million since 1995 in illegal campaign contributions from a dummy organization established by a construction company. Had Mr. Ozawa a sense of guilt, morality, shame, or even held himself to the standards to which his party holds other politicians, he would have resigned immediately after his aide’s arrest.

Some in the political class now cling to the legal presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. But like Caesar’s wife, politicians should be above suspicion; their position and their dependence on the public trust demands that they conform to a standard higher than that for a high school dropout caught using a crowbar to jimmy open a vending machine for spare change. That would be the case even if the DPJ had not tried to sell itself as cleaner than thou.

Some insist that Mr. Ozawa should have relinquished his Diet seat in addition to his position in the party, and a few people speculated that he might eventually do just that. But he did not. In fact, his official statement on the DPJ website does not refer to the fund raising scandal at all:

In order to strengthen party unity with a view to ensuring victory in the forthcoming general election and realising a change of government, I have decided to sacrifice myself and tender my resignation as President of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Translation: The only reason I quit was to keep the party from breaking up and to make sure it takes power in the next election.

Well, if that’s the story he wants to stick to, he’s the one who’s going to need a prescription to get to sleep every night. But a political party with integrity and character would insist—at a minimum—that he have the decency to keep his public profile subterranean for the rest of his political career. What did the DPJ do?

They bestowed on him the honor of appointment to an executive position called “acting president”. That’s the same title held by Kan Naoto, one of the party’s founders and a past party president himself.

They also put him in charge of the upcoming election campaign. All five senior party officials appeared on stage together after their appointment looking for all the world as if happy days were here again. In other words, they thought their tainted political meat was still fit to serve to the voters as long as they covered it in enough sauce to mask the stench.

By doing so, they validated the apprehensions of party detractors and supporters alike by behaving precisely as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party might have done 30 years ago during the reign of Mr. Ozawa’s mentor, Tanaka Kakuei. The party has now forfeited any claim to political probity, relative or otherwise.

Some are concerned that the disgraced party president has become a Svengali in his own right who will continue to wield the real power in the DPJ while new president Hatoyama Yukio performs his role in front of the cameras as their public face. Just who, one wonders, is the “acting” president, and who is the real president?

Mr. Ozawa still has not fulfilled his basic obligation of explaining how he used all that money. Who could blame anyone for drawing the conclusion that public disclosure would result in more unpleasant encounters with The Law? Because the party changed only the label without changing the contents of the container, nothing at all has changed.

The LDP response

That made it even easier for the members of the ruling party, the Liberal Democrats, to take their own turn on stage as moralists. Said Prime Minister Aso Taro:

If we’re talking about the citizens’ mindset, their feelings would be that since Ozawa has become the acting president, the questions they most want to ask (Party President Hatoyama Yukio) are about the money connection with Mr. Ozawa. There might be a sense of a disconnect between the popular will and what the DPJ is saying. (Public opinion polls show that) most people think their explanation has been inadequate….

Mr. Aso swung at a fat pitch and nearly whiffed–not surprising for a man with a batting average below the Mendoza Line. But former party Secretary-General Kato Koichi connected more solidly. Mr. Kato was rumored to be examining the possibility of forming a new, small party last autumn with himself at the head. The idea would be to form a coalition with a stronger DPJ after the next lower house election and become a credible candidate for prime minister in a broad coalition government.

That option doesn’t seem to be in play any more. During a television broadcast last week, Mr. Kato said:

“When the people saw the photograph of Mr. Ozawa shaking hands with the new party president, Hatoyama Yukio, I suspect they thought, ‘They’re the same as the LDP’. (It means) the DPJ is no longer able to win an outright majority in the next lower house election…A movement transcending parties might now arise.”

In other words, he foresees the possibility of a post-election political realignment and the creation of a real reform bloc that does not include either Mr. Hatoyama or Mr. Ozawa.

Perhaps the unkindest cut of all was delivered by Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Hatoyama Kunio, Yukio’s younger brother. The atmosphere might be chilly at the next get-together of the Hatoyama clan:

“It’s apparent to everyone that (Yukio is) Ozawa Ichiro’s puppet. I’ve always thought of forming a fraternal alliance with him, but an alliance is impossible unless he dumps Ozawa.”

Hatoyama the Younger helped form the DPJ in 1996 with Yukio, but later left to rejoin the LDP. Here’s what he had to say about his handiwork:

“I’m the one who gave the Democratic Party its name. Yet, it’s regrettable that what they’ve done is the most undemocratic thing. I didn’t want my brother to get involved with those procedures (that allowed only the party’s diet members to vote for party president)”.

Politicians never pass up the chance to bash the opposition, but seldom does a man call his brother a willing dupe in public, member of the political opposition or not.

The late American humorist Fred Allen once observed, “You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood, place it in the navel of a fruit fly, and still have room enough for three caraway seeds and a producer’s heart.”

The same could equally apply to all the sincerity in politics, and the reason the DPJ chose to praise Caesar’s wife rather than bury her is as we’ve noted before: They’re afraid he’ll take his 50 supporters in the Diet, flounce out of the party, and find someone else to go to the ball with. That has been the chief activity of Mr. Ozawa’s career, after all. The DPJ is also well aware of its electoral impotence with anyone else at the helm, so why muck around with principle and honor when the chance to take power is still up for grabs?

What comes next?

The ultimate verdict will be rendered by the electorate, and if recent polls are any indication, the DPJ might get away with it. The party itself got an eight-point jump in polling after placing Mr. Hatoyama in the shop window. Before Mr. Ozawa resigned, voters favored Aso Taro by more than 10 percentage points in a head-to-head comparison. Now a similar advantage is enjoyed by Mr. Hatoyama.

Yet the same polls show that more than 70% of the respondents found Ozawa Ichiro’s explanation for resigning unacceptable. As always, we’ll have to stay tuned to see whether the polls hold firm, this is just a temporary bounce or a transient phenomenon, or if the DPJ discovers yet another way to fumble its opportunities.

Despite the naked opportunism and alley cat scruples, some good might come of an eventual DPJ victory and formation of a government. It could lead to the eventual creation of a legitimate two-party system in Japan. If the party behaves in power anything like they did in opposition, the voters would soon realize that incompetence and venality transcend party affiliation and start drawing conclusions. The inevitable early crumbling of a DPJ-led government might accelerate the political realignment the country desperately needs. And finally, it would provide people like me with what the American military calls a “target rich environment”.

But even with the accrual of all these benefits, the bad would still outweigh the good. When people such as these win, everyone loses in the end. It would show just what the Japanese are prepared to put up with from their politicians. And finally, it would reveal their contemporary attitude toward shame.

The word for shame in Japanese is haji, and the word for shameless is hajishirazu; literally, not knowing shame. A victory in the lower house election with Ozawa Ichiro pulling the DPJ strings without bothering to stand behind the curtain hiding him from the audience’s view would lay to rest for good Ruth Benedict’s notion of Japan as having a culture of shame.

That’s because it would be hajishirazu its own self.

Afterwords:
C. Douglas Lummis had this to say about Ruth Benedict:

Militarist Japan was for her simply “Japan” – Japan as it had always been, and as it would continue to be unless changed from the outside.

Ruth Benedict, who died more than 60 years ago, worked from second- and third-hand sources. But isn’t it odd that Mr. Lummis’s observation could just as well be applied to contemporary Western mass media and some maladjusted foreigners, despite the accessibility of international air travel and the libraries of information available with just a few keystrokes?

UPDATE:
The U.K. is now undergoing the mother of all political/financial scandals in which, very briefly put, MPs of all parties are being exposed for diverting public funds and the benefits derived from their position to their personal gain.

The Archbishop of Canterbury makes an excellent point here about the limitations inherent in regulating the behavior of politicians:

The question “What can I get away with without technically breaching the regulations?” is not a good basis for any professional behaviour that has real integrity…

…if the culture is such that regulation takes the place of virtue, we shouldn’t be too surprised if public figures show signs of the virus and take refuge in the “no rules were broken” tactic.

Daniel Hannan of England, a member of the European Parliament, approves. He says the concept:

…is the basis of Protestantism, of liberalism, of the British conception of freedom. It is the foundation of modern Conservatism too. As Keith Joseph used to say, when you give people responsibility, you make them responsible. And, although Dr Williams quite properly refrains from saying so, it is the strongest possible argument against Gordon Brown’s plan to subject MPs to an external quango.

I’m neither British nor a Protestant (though I will cop to being a broadly non-denominational, classic liberal), but I wholeheartedly agree.

That’s why I think some well-intentioned laws, such the Japanese law funding political parties (defined as having five Diet members) from the Treasury to prevent a corrupting reliance on corporate donations, are ultimately self-defeating. (Not to mention an infringement of the rights of those people who choose not to contribute to political parties at all.)

That’s also why I think such innovations as the lay judge system, which began functioning last week amidst controversy and some public opposition, are excellent ideas. As the man said, when you give people responsibility, you make them responsible. True reform of the Japanese political system will not be achieved until the people are given as much responsibility as they can handle–and that means downsizing government to the lowest levels possible while enforcing the basic laws governing human behavior.

Regardless of the reasons people give, I suspect the opposition to the lay judge system is based mostly on the absence of a sense of civic responsibility. For some people, it just takes too much time and trouble to assume that responsibility, and it cuts into their social life and TV-watching time to boot.

The attitude I would hold up as a model was that of a former housemate of mine in the United States who was summoned to jury duty. He would be the first to admit that it took a lot of time and trouble. But he has a strong sense of both curiosity and integrity, which meant that he was fascinated by the glimpse his service provided into the legal system and human nature, and that he performed that service in the most conscientious way he could.

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The platypus and Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 20, 2008

THE DONKEY is the symbol of the Democratic Party in the United States, while their GOP rivals are caricatured as an elephant. What animal would best illustrate Japanese politics, the membership of the country’s two major political parties, and their respective factions? Some might suggest the Australian platypus.

Political character goods

Political character goods

The platypus is so odd that some European naturalists in the 19th century thought reports of the creature were a deliberate fraud when they first heard them. One of the few mammals that lays eggs, it has thick fur, a bill like a duck, webbed feet like an otter with nails for digging, and a tail like a beaver. Males have hollow spurs on their ankles that carry enough venom to kill a dog. Females have two ovaries, but only the left one is functional. It finds food by sticking its bill in the dirt and using spots on the bill that detect minute electrical discharges from its prey.

That agglomeration of anomalies is the perfect description of politics in Japan. Members of the same party or faction often have ideologies as different as a turtle and the moon. They can be at such variance it’s difficult to see how they can function as a coherent group.

Nevertheless, the system created by the Liberal Democratic Party not only functioned, it served as the structure for rebuilding Japan from postwar ruins to the world’s second largest economy. More than a half-century later, however, the evolution of the national polity has exposed the rusted girders, frayed wiring, and sagging foundation of the old system. The Democratic Party of Japan has finally given the country a credible opposition, though they are every bit the platypus as the LDP. Nevertheless, the combination of their growing electoral strength and tactics designed solely to generate political crises has created a stalemate that forcing everyone to confront the reality of a major political restructuring. For Japan to continue functioning at a level that everyone now takes for granted, nothing less will do.

When this restructuring is complete, the new entities will resemble animals that are more commonly found in political zoos. Until then, however, we can expect the cloning process to create many morbid failures.

Iijima Isao, once the top advisor to former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, declared earlier this year that political realignment had already started. But money is the ultimate guarantor of political viability, and Japan’s three foremost political parties are efficient fund raising mechanisms. (The subsidies of public funds given for votes received also help.) Turning one’s back on that cornucopia of cash, going out on a limb, and forming a new party requires more courage that most politicians would like to muster.

By now it is obvious that the Aso Taro administration is going nowhere, mainly because his Cabinet is a front for preventing further governmental reform of the type sought by an estimated 70% of the LDP Diet members, some in the DPJ, and most of the Japanese public. There is also the suspicion that the Aso administration wants to roll back the hard-earned achievements that have been gained so far. Making matters worse for the LDP is that unless the mudboat wing wants to bite the bullet and return to the Koizumi days, there’s not much left in the leadership locker room after Mr. Aso.

Now that the stars have finally aligned, fate is kicking the political class in the pants to reject their inner platypus and launch a political realignment that will be painful, bloody, and last the better part of a decade. Here’s a summary of recent events and the people driving them.

Nakagawa Hidenao

“I want to examine the popular support for the LDP and DPJ reformers to emerge and form a coalition.”

The 68-year-old Mr. Nakagawa is both the most prominent champion of Koizumi-style political and governmental reform and the strongest pro-growth, anti-tax voice left in the LDP. A former chief cabinet secretary and party bigwig, he has written books describing the pernicious influence of Kasumigaseki, the government-within-a-government run by Japan’s bureaucracy. He is also a member of the Machimura faction, the party’s largest and a particularly ungainly platypus.

In a television interview on the 7th, Mr. Nakagawa addressed the coming political realignment and suggested an alliance with some opposition politicians:

“This is not on the minor level of asking who’s going to leave the party, or whether I will be leaving the party. Public opinion wants a reform element to emerge from both the ruling coalition and the opposition to overturn the entire political world.”

He added that he wasn’t yet at the stage of bolting the LDP, and said he would decide his course of action on realignment “in the instant after the lower house election.”

Abe, Nakagawa H., Koizumi, Ishihara; platypus not pictured

L-R: Abe, Nakagawa H., Koizumi, Ishihara; platypus not pictured

Mr. Nakagawa is perhaps the most important member of a new group launched by Mr. Koizumi to keep his privatization of the postal system alive. As he nears retirement, the former prime minister is concerned that anti-privatization members have received high-profile roles in the Aso Cabinet. He also knows that Mr. Aso was anti-privatization (and anti-bureaucratic reform) to begin with. For all the campaign shouting it does in favor of reform, the opposition DPJ has become a center of anti-privatization activity among the opposition groups. It is not out of the question that postal privatization—supported by 70% of the electorate in 2005—may be derailed.

Who handles the dwindling amount of physical mail that people send these days is not important. Rather, privatization keeps the government’s hands off the money in the postal savings accounts. That prevents it from being used to finance pork barrel public works projects to buy off the construction industry and rural voters at the same time. It is the cornerstone of governmental reform itself, and a highly visible symbol.

The former prime minister, whom some polls still show as the man Japanese view as the person they’d most want to run the government, was applauded by 60 MPs when he said:

“I want to remind people of what sort of election was held three years ago. It seems that many of the people who are doing these incomprehensible things (i.e., anti-reform) were originally opposed to privatization. But they were allowed back into the party after writing a pledge and admitting their mistakes.”

Mr. Nakagawa added a warning against gutting the Koizumi reforms:

“There is meaning in sending a message to the people that we will not reverse course.”

Yet sitting at the head table with Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Nakagawa was this platypus tribe:

  • The 56-year-old former Environment and Defense Minister Koike Yuriko (Machimura faction), who was once an ally of opposition DPJ leader Ozawa Ichiro in a party that governed in a coalition with the LDP. A hawkish supporter of Yasukuni visits, Ms. Koike recently ran against Aso Taro for the party presidency as a reform wing candidate and received fewer than 50 votes. (Some question her party loyalty.) Mr. Koizumi was something a realpolitik feminist, and one of his favorite tactics was to put women in prominent positions, either in the Cabinet or in Diet seats. Some think Ms. Koike is being groomed as a potential prime minister of the type that minds the store while Mr. Nakagawa and others handle back-office operations.
  • Ishihara Nobuteru, the son of Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro, Abe Shinzo ally, and Mr. Koizumi’s former reform minister.
  • Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who was responsible for allowing the anti-privatization rebels back into the LDP in the first place. Indeed, one of them, Yamaguchi Shun’ichi (Aso faction), was just tapped by Prime Minister Aso to serve as an aide. Mr. Yamaguchi is involved in another group launched in October to stop the privatization process.

Though he too pursued governmental reform during his administration, Mr. Abe did so because he is first of all a party man. He said at the meeting that he supported privatization because it was a policy that had already been approved by the party and the Diet.

In the audience were many of the so-called Koizumi Children, younger MPs who won their seats on the former Prime Minister’s coattails in the 2005 election. This group has been talking openly since the spring about breaking away and forming a new, urban-based party headed by Mr. Nakagawa or someone like him. There is some irony in their self-description as urban based. In the old days, big city folks tended to vote for the opposition, while the LDP derived much of its strength from rural strongholds.

Also present at the meeting was upper house member Yamamoto Ichita (Machimura faction), generally a Nakagawa ally on domestic issues. Said Mr. Yamamoto of the need to continue privatization:

“The debate in the party now seems to be that since we face a crisis, it’s acceptable to return to the old pork barrel ways.”

The latter complaint is often heard now within the LDP about Prime Minister Aso. Here’s still more irony: It is also the complaint most frequently heard about the DPJ’s electoral platform.

The Nakagawa group

Mr. Nakagawa launched his own 87-member study group on the 11th to examine social welfare issues. The members plan to look for ways to resolve the problem of the botched national pension records that became the final nail in the Abe administration’s coffin. They also want to refine the concept of what is called the Social Welfare Card, an Abe Cabinet proposal that involves combining the social welfare and tax systems into personal accounts. Since the DPJ has suggested a similar idea, they want to explore areas of agreement across party lines.

In addition to Mr. Nakagawa, the members include:

  • Koike Yuriko
  • Abe Shinzo
  • Watanabe Yoshimi (no faction), a crusader and firebrand profiled here a few days ago. Of all the LDP reformers, he has taken the most outspoken anti-Aso, anti-mudboat wing stance in public.
  • Suga Yoshihide (Koga faction), who is close to Prime Minister Aso and a former member of the Abe Cabinet. Mr. Suga is another party-first man, and is known for having refused to join the revolt against Prime Minister Mori in 2000.

This group was widely seen as an anti-Aso vehicle for the mid-tier and younger LDP members starting to distance themselves from the prime minister. Mr. Nakagawa insisted otherwise, and asked people not to get excited because it was “an extremely pure study group”.

He added:

“The Aso Cabinet should boldly present its own policies without worrying about the polls. Now is not the time to bring down the Cabinet. No one is farther apart from Prime Minister Aso than I am, so if I say it, it has to be the truth.

Mr. Watanabe chimed in:

“There is such a feeling of obstruction that people even think this serious study group was formed to create a sense of political crisis.”

Not everyone buys that line, however. Some think the group was actually organized to explore post-realignment politics in addition to social welfare questions, but was co-opted by the mudboat wing of the Machimura faction to create yet another platypus.

Here’s why: Mr. Nakagawa called former Prime Minister Abe personally to ask him to join, and Mr. Abe, who resigned from the faction when he became prime minister, agreed. Mr. Machimura later objected to the formation of the group, but Mr. Abe and former Prime Minister Mori, the former faction head, convinced him to let Mr. Abe participate to prevent a factional split.

Their strategy was to use Mr. Abe to neutralize Mr. Nakagawa and dilute the impact of the group’s formation. Indeed, Mr. Mori is said to have angrily telephoned some of the younger faction members thinking about signing up to say:

“Don’t do anything stupid when Mr. Aso is in such serious trouble. Do you seriously intend to install Nakagawa as party president?”

The subtle subversion disappointed many people who wanted to see a Nakagawa challenge. The disappointment grew when former Prime Minister Abe publicly said the group wanted to get together and support Mr. Aso.

Privately, nobody believes that for a second. Nor does anyone believe it is an anti-Aso step so much as the start of several post-Aso steps. Everyone has factored Mr. Aso’s eventual departure into their thinking.

Watanabe Yoshimi

Mr. Watanabe is raising the voltage as Prime Minister Aso’s popularity is falling. He has openly criticized the prime minister, made references to creating a new party, and shifted from merely being anti-Aso to encouraging political realignment.

Here’s a taste of Mr. Watanabe going off on Prime Minister Aso in public:

“He won’t hold an election. He puts off economic measures. Just what the heck’s going on here?”

The critical question is how long it takes for people to move in his direction, or whether they decide to stay put for the time being.

At a party on the 8th attended by 800 supporters, Mr. Watanabe started talking about “mental calisthenics”, which he used as an excuse to segue into speculation about a new party.

He ended his intellectual workout by saying:

“Starting from scratch will have an impact and has the potential for great transformation. (Creating a new party) is possible to do with resolve alone.”

He started ramping up the voltage on 21 November when he and 24 younger Diet members called on Prime Minister Abe to quickly introduce a second supplementary budget and hold elections. Even that group bore a slight resemblance to a platypus—one of its members was Shiozaki Yasuhisa (Koga faction), the chief cabinet secretary during the Abe administration. It was the Shiozaki appointment, his first to an important position, that led critics to use the term “Friends Cabinet”. Somewhat less of a foreign policy hardliner than his former boss, his spat with Koike Yuriko over the appointment of a deputy in the Defense Ministry led to her resignation from the Cabinet after fewer than two months.

Watanabe Yoshimi and his mental calisthenics

Watanabe Yoshimi and his mental calisthenics

Mr. Shiozaki cautioned reporters that the group, which is expected to grow to 40, was not formed as an anti-Aso faction or the predecessor of a new party. But nobody believed that, either. One of the doubters was Koga Makoto, his faction boss and current head of the party’s Election Strategy Council. He made a point of warning his charges, including Mr. Shiozaki, to hold their tongues where Aso Taro was concerned.

Other party elders are getting as snippy as a flock of old maids chaperoning a college mixer. Earlier this month, Mr. Machimura noted:

“Attacking another person’s weakness and preventing them from advancing is not the action of a responsible adult. I hope he (Watanabe) keeps running further away.”

But Mr. Watanabe did not back down. He repeated his call for a new election, and retorted:

“If that voice becomes a chorus, it’s possible (I’ll leave). I’ll prepare myself for any activity to bring down the Cabinet.”

There’s another curious aspect to this situation. When Ozawa Ichiro was fishing for someone to replace Hosokawa Morihiro in 1994 as the head the only non-LDP government of the past half-century, he nearly coaxed Watanabe’s father Michio, a former foreign minister and LDP faction leader, to leave the party and serve as prime minister. (He settled on Hata Tsutomu instead.)

It’s also worth noting that while Mr. Watanabe’s name has not been linked to the DPJ, the party has declined to officially sponsor a candidate for his lower house seat–one of only five seats nationwide that it’s conceding.

YKKK

Another most unusual platypus is not to be found among the reformers, bogus or otherwise, but in a bunk full of strange bedfellows whom the press immediately dubbed YKKK.

Mr. Y

Mr. Y

During the 1990s, Yamasaki Hiraku, Kato Koichi, and Koizumi Jun’ichiro worked together as a band of LDP reformers the press called YKK for the initials of their family names. Mr. Kato, assisted by Mr. Yamasaki, led a failed insurrection against Mori Yoshiro in 2000 that ultimately cleared the way for the third musketeer Mr. Koizumi to become prime minister about six months later.

This time, the YKKK platypus is:

  • Yamasaki Hiraku (AKA Taku), a faction leader
  • Kato Koichi, no faction
  • Kan Naoto, acting president of the opposition DPJ
  • Kamei Shizuka, representative of the People’s New Party, a splinter group formed of politicians thrown out of the LDP by Prime Minister Koizumi for opposing postal privatization and who chose not to return when invited to do so by Prime Minister Abe.

YKKK appeared together on a recent TV program in the political equivalent of a jam session to discuss political realignment. Mr. Yamasaki riffed:

“Let’s face it–political realignment will happen in the future. An axis is necessary to promote political realignment. At that time, the four (of us) could form one such axis….The gridlock phenomenon must be eliminated. It is clear that a political realignment will occur regardless of what conditions prevailed before or after the election.”

Kato Koichi:

“The LDP has borne an historical mission, and now confusion is deepening among both the LDP and the DPJ, which have neither a mission nor an ideology.”

The other two members of the team are trying to coax Y and K1 to bolt and form a supergroup.

Kamei Shizuka:

“After the next lower house election when an Ozawa Ichiro government (DPJ) is formed, it will be meaningless to say, ‘Me too’.”

Mr. Kato downplayed his suggestion that he leave the party by saying that’s not in the cards for now.

Kan Naoto:

“(What happens) next will not be a mere breakup and reassembly. It will be a major transformation of the system…I would like those people who have courage to leave the LDP, just as Mr. Ozawa fled from right in the middle of the party.”

It’s difficult to see just what’s going on here. Mr. Kato and DPJ head Ozawa Ichiro have not been on good terms for some time. Mr. Kato values party loyalty, and he was highly critical of Mr. Ozawa when he left the LDP. In fact, he fought against his readmission to the party when that was discussed in the late 90s.

It’s also difficult to imagine that he and his longtime ally would join the DPJ. One possible area of agreement might be a shift in foreign policy away from an American orientation toward closer relations with East Asian countries. Mr. Kato in particular is strongly opposed to the hard line against North Korea. But foreign policy questions have little or nothing to do with the crisis in Japanese politics.

Still, Mori Yoshiro didn’t care for this development at all. In Yamagata City earlier this week, he said:

“(YK) joining forces with Mr. Kan and, depending on the circumstances, forming a new party…Mr. Nakagawa joining forces with the DPJ and, depending on the circumstances, opening up a third axis…They say it’s for the benefit of the LDP. But if they start taking off in different directions, it will cause instability among the younger party members. That’s shameful…Japanese politics seems to have nothing but these lightweight, shallow-minded politicians. I apologize to all of you who have worked so hard to create politics (in this country)”.

Perhaps Mr. Mori needn’t have worried abut YK forming a new party, though that seems to have been Mr. Kato’s intention. This week’s edition of the Shukan Bunshun quotes an unidentified member of the Yamasaki faction saying that Mr. Kato had dreams of leading a second rebellion:

“Mr. Kato has been trying to form a new party with an eye on the political realignment after the next lower house election. He thinks it’s possible the head of a small party could serve as prime minister, depending on the election results, just as Hosokawa Morihiro became prime minister in the non-LDP coalition in 1993.”

According to this source, Mr. Kato, now unaffiliated with a faction, called on his former faction members for help, and asked Mr. Yamasaki to “lend” him a few members temporarily. He also suggested that Mr. Yamasaki could join later.

Mr. Y put the kibosh on Mr. K pretty quickly:

“Even if I were to say that I was forming a new party, no one would join. It’s entirely out of the question for me to lend my faction members to anyone.”

But a “new axis” in an informal alliance with opposition party members? That seems possible.

A ruling coalition breakup?

No talk of platypuses is complete without mentioning the ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito, an alliance that never has made much sense from an ideological perspective. The latter party is more interested in domestic social welfare policies, and they do not care for the LDP’s more assertive military stance in international affairs. For example, they’ve had to be cajoled into supporting the Indian Ocean refueling mission for NATO forces that the LDP used its supermajority to pass.

Rumors are circulating that both the LDP and the DPJ want to end New Komeito’s influence for good. One story had the two parties continuing discussions about another grand coalition, despite the failure of the first effort, and eliminating the proportional representation districts in the lower house. That would effectively neuter New Komeito as a political force, because the allocation of seats based on the percentage of votes is the reason most of their lower house members are in the Diet at all.

Earlier this week, Koga Makoto (photo below) casually dropped a bomb when discussing the dates of a possible lower house election at a party gathering in Tokyo:

“I’ve said it will be when the cherries bloom. But they bloom in Okinawa in February, and Aomori in May. In fact, there is such a tree as the “October Cherry”. Taking all that into consideration, the current Diet term could end when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.”

This was an astonishing statement on several levels. First, it potentially pushes back an election until the end of the full Diet term next September—nearly a year after Aso Taro was elevated to party president on the assumption that he would have already led the LDP election campaign by now.

koga-makoto1

Of course the LDP wants to delay the election to prevent a catastrophe at the polls, but that’s not the surprise. Rather, their coalition partner New Komeito has been demanding an election as early as possible to enable them to play what many think is their favorite voting game. Japanese election laws require three months to establish official residency, so the party needs that interval between the national election and local Tokyo elections in July to switch the registered residences of their supporters.

Could this mean the LDP is thinking of writing off their partners?

It might. At the same party, Mr. Koga also hinted that the LDP might reevaluate—a Japanese euphemism for stop—automatically allocating some proportional representation candidacies to New Komeito and keep them for themselves. The Aso ally Mr. Suga is also said to have suggested this to the Prime Minister, who surely must be tempted.

Yet that would alarm those LDP members who won their seats by narrow margins. The voter mobilization efforts of New Komeito and their assumed allies, the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, provides an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 vote advantage in some districts. Those LDP members who squeaked by in the last election could be bounced from office without the New Komeito foot soldiers, as the party ruefully discovered in a recent Yamaguchi by-election.

Still another sign of a possible ruling coalition rupture is that Prime Minister Aso insisted that the party include an increase in the consumption tax in three years in its plan to reform the tax code. He claims this is the only responsible and realistic choice Japan faces to pay for the care of its aging population.

New Komeito is opposed for obvious reasons. It’s not easy to win elections when a tax increase for voters is a key campaign promise. And tax increases are the last thing the small(er) government Nakagawa Hidenao/Koizumi reform wing wants to hear about. Put that all together and it starts to look as if the LDP platypus is an endangered species.

Economist J.A. Schumpeter referred to progress in the free market system as “creative destruction”. By that, he meant that the replacement of obsolete businesses by those with technological and organizational creativity was a natural and beneficial process.

That’s an excellent analogy for the next step that must occur in Japanese politics. But in this case, however, creative destruction must be combined with another natural process—Darwin’s survival of the fittest.

For that next step to occur, the political platypuses must turn pterodactyl.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

What was Kato Koichi thinking?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 17, 2008

IT IS CURIOUS how otherwise level-headed men can skate so close to the thin ice of irrationality just to embrace indefensible concessions to tyrannical thug-states in the name of diplomacy.

The classic example is Neville Chamberlain and his misguided effort to hold civil discussions with Herr Hitler. A more modern instance has been the Europeans’ insistence on using “soft power”—such a contradiction in terms—to deal with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and that country’s nuclear weapons program.

There are people in East Asia with the same disorder. One politician in Japan exhibits the full-blown set of symptoms: Kato Koichi, a member of the lower house of the Japanese Diet and the former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In the face of all evidence and lucid observation, Mr. Kato takes Japan’s previous political leadership to task for its behavior towards North Korea while making excuses for the latter country. No, Mr. Kato is not talking about the annexation/colonization period that ended more than a half-century ago. He’s talking about events that occurred in the 21st century.

He well and truly stepped in it last week. He asserted during a television interview that after North Korea had allowed five Japanese it had seized and held for more than 20 years to return for what was supposed to be a brief visit, Japan should have kicked its own innocent citizens out of their own country and sent them back to their overseas dungeon, willing or not.

The ensuing uproar was not as intense as might have been expected, if only because most Japanese were already aware of Mr. Kato’s delicate condition. The abductees’ parents were livid, of course, and one went so far as to question Mr. Kato’s allegiances.

But that was nothing compared to Mr. Kato’s reaction. In for a penny, in for a pound, they say, so the politician upped the ante by claiming that Jiji Press misrepresented his comments by selectively quoting them. He insisted that everyone would be able to understand the righteousness of his position when they saw the entire context of the interview.

So he uploaded the relevant section of the interview to his website, which Japanese readers can see here. Mr. Kato thought that would exonerate him with the public. If anything, however, it makes him look even worse than the Jiji article did.

The background

But let’s go back to the beginning. The issue involves North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens, mostly on Japanese soil, from 1977 to 1983. The Japanese government officially recognizes 16 prisoners, though as many as 70 or 80 may have been snatched. The abducted Japanese are thought to have been used to teach their language and culture to North Korean agents.

After years of denial, Kim Jong-il finally came clean in 17 September 2002 and said yes, a few of our agents got carried away with themselves and snuck into Japan and brought some people back against their will. He had to cop to it if he expected relations with Japan to improve enough to enable the receipt of food aid and other assistance for his slum nation. The North Koreans also provided death certificates for another eight people, but Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor who worked in that country from 1999 to 2001, immediately spotted them as forgeries. (Pyeongyang later admitted it.)

A month later, the North Koreans allowed five of the abductees to return to Japan for a few weeks on the condition that they be sent back. They were Chimura Yasushi, his wife Fukie, Hasuike Kaoru, his wife Yukiko, and Soga Hitomi.

Once they were home again in Japan, however, public opinion would not allow them to leave. That’s assuming any of them were interested in boarding the return flight, even to see their children. North Korea claimed this violated the terms of the deal, so they cut their nose off to spite their face and refused to continue talks. One of the few diplomatic skills exhibited by that country is their alacrity in walking out of negotiations.

You’d think they’d have figured out by now that no one really wants to talk to them anyway.

But a problem remained because the children of the abductees were kept behind in North Korea. They included the three children of the Chimura family and the two children of the Hasuike family, who were allowed to rejoin their parents in Japan in May 2004. There were additional complications regarding Soga Hitomi’s two daughters and her husband Charles Jenkins, a deserter from the American Army, but they were finally reunited that July and returned to Japan.

Kato’s contention

Here’s the bee in Mr. Kato’s bonnet: He maintains that Japan should have returned the five to the North Korean gulag. He thought that Japan’s broken promise convinced the North Koreans the country was untrustworthy, and sullied its international reputation. He thinks the abduction issue would have been quickly resolved because the North Koreans were afraid of an American attack and were eager to deal.

Wait, there’s more. Here’s how he concluded that part of the television interview:

The six-party talks would have been held in Japan, Japan would have solved Asia’s most intractable problem…a nuclear North Korea–one of the world’s most serious issues–would have been denuclearized, and we could have gotten the world to say, hey, Japan is capable of making things happen too, isn’t it?

Perhaps there also would have been a parade of unicorns down the Ginza and a brace of rainbows festooning the eastern sky.

Let’s hope this disease isn’t contagious. One or two sufferers a generation is quite enough.

How could Mr. Kato be so oblivious of reality as to behave decently toward a country that has never behaved decently for a single day of its existence? The Frankenstein monster created in the northern end of the Korean Peninsula has never abided by any international commitment, yet Mr. Kato thinks Japan was supposed to have stepped on the faces of its own people (one of whom was on the verge of malnutrition) and pushed them back into the cesspool just to keep its own word to Kim Jong-il?

Facts on the face of it

The infiltration of another country by secret agents to kidnap private citizens minding their own business—non-combatants, let’s not forget—and force them to train others to conduct terrorist acts against their own country is an act of war under anyone’s definition.

North Korea denied the abductions for decades while threatening to turn Japan into a sea of fire. To make sure everyone got the point, it launched missiles both into the Sea of Japan and over the archipelago into the Pacific Ocean.

They were afraid of an attack by the United States? North Korea has shared nuclear weapon and missile technology with Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, none of which are stable and most of which regard the concept of world peace as outside the sphere of their national interest. They also ignored the declaration for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the framework agreement with the United States by continuing their nuclear weapons program.

In addition, the North Koreans reap an estimated 100 million dollars annually by counterfeiting U.S. currency, primarily $100 dollar bills. They’ve also diversified their bogus bill portfolio to include counterfeit yen, Thai baht, and euros.

The only reason they’ve never been torched by one of those cowboy American presidents is that their border is so close to Seoul.

That is the country Mr. Kato wants Japan to treat with honor and respect.

But Japan has no obligation to treat with honor and respect a country and its malevolent oligarchy that neither honors nor respects any other country, any of its international commitments, the normal conduct of diplomatic affairs between nations–and any of its own citizens, for that matter.

The alternate reality

Forget for a second Mr. Kato’s delirium about a successful conclusion of the six-party talks under Japanese leadership had the abductees been returned to North Korea. Consider the more realistic scenario:

Public incredulity and anger would have combined to end the life of the Koizumi Administration. That would have been followed by months, and perhaps years, of political turmoil, which would have adversely impacted the economy. The domestic eruption would have rendered the nation incapable of dealing with any other issue. Perhaps that’s what the North Koreans were hoping might happen.

Soga Hitomi for one might well have refused to go back. (She detests North Korea so much she has always refused to speak Korean to her two daughters, both born in Pyeongyang.) It is not so far-fetched to conceive that she would have gone into hiding rather than return.

Now picture the scene of Japanese authorities scouring the country to apprehend her and forcibly send her back.

All this would have been covered every day in meticulous detail by the Japanese mass media. Someone surely would have found a way to film or photograph her being prodded onto an airplane bound for Pyeongyang International Airport.

Then consider: How would Japan then have gone about securing the second return of the abductees, this time with all seven children and Ms. Soga’s husband, Charles Jenkins?

Would Mr. Kato have had his country rely on the non-existent honor of the North Koreans? Did he even imagine the terms North Koreans would have dictated realizing it had the upper hand and knowing that the tenor of Japanese public opinion would have left no choice but capitulation?

Happily ever after

Thankfully, no one had to deal with that nightmare. Instead, the former abductees and their families are living peaceful, well-fed, and anonymous lives in Japan. Even Charles Jenkins was granted permanent residence status earlier this week.

Kato Koichi nearly became prime minister of Japan in 2000. Some people sigh with regret that he never had the chance to lead the country.

Regret? The Japanese should thank their lucky stars they were spared the leadership of a man whose struggles with the Chamberlain Syndrome rendered him so obviously ill-equipped to provide it.

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Posted in International relations, North Korea | Tagged: , | 9 Comments »