Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bell on the Chinese way of sport

The always enjoyable Daniel Bell has an essay in Dissent called "The Politics of Sports: Watching the World Cup in Beijing." Before elaborating further, I just want to note as an aside how much I look forward to Bell's essays from Beijing. Bell is one of my intellectual heroes, and he has an extremely sharp eye for observing societies, which in recent years he has cast upon China and East Asia in general.

In any case, in this essay Bell dissects how the Chinese view international athletics. I have previously looked at how at Japanese attitudes towards international competitions, so I found this essay particularly useful for the sake of comparison. The Japanese too are greatly interested in how their national teams perform in international competitions (and how Japanese nationals perform in foreign professional leagues: witness the nightly recaps on how Japanese baseball players in the US and footballers in Europe perform). But at the same time, I haven't noticed a prevailing pattern in Japanese attitudes to competitions in which Japanese teams or players are not involved (although there is apparently some interest in American football, based on there being university football teams and broadcasts of NFL games).

But Bell finds something interesting about the teams Chinese fans support internationally:
Chinese fans support traditional soccer powers such as Germany, England, Brazil, Argentina, and Italy. It is difficult to overestimate the passion for such teams. In the 2002 World Cup, the CCTV hostess Sheng Bin wept openly at Argentina’s early exit. When England went down in defeat against Portugal in 2006, my son’s piano teacher’s husband was so depressed he could barely get out of bed. Partly, the preference for traditional soccer powers can be explained by the love of the game: Chinese fans support teams that have performed well in the past and are likely to generate exciting games in the future. But there may also be a special form of internationalist nationalism at work. The support for established teams may be an expression of a more general appreciation for nations with long and rich histories and cultures.
Bell suggests that the flip side of this attitude is an aversion to supporting underdogs in sports and in politics, which is hardly surprising given that the CCP has tried to cultivate the impression that it is the natural heir to five thousand years of Chinese civilization, and the rightful counterpart to other nations that are heirs to great civilizations. A good example of Beijing's about-face since Cultural Revolution is the creation of Confucius Institutes beginning in 2004. It seems that the more the CCP appears as the guardian of Chinese civilization, the more legitimacy it expects to enjoy at home and abroad.

Accordingly, expect the Beijing Olympics to be steeped in Chinese history, presenting China as a worthy world leader.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Japan considers its own NSC

This past weekend saw Prime Minister Abe move into the Kantei, meaning that he will now be on the job twenty-four hours a day. It is hard to believe that the head of government of a major developed democracy could spend the first month of his term living away from the Official Residence.

Abe's move comes at the same time as a special committee of experts -- chaired by Abe -- begins meetings to consider how to create a Japanese National Security Council. A security council in some form is long overdue, because it will enable the Government of Japan to formulate more systemic responses to changes in the regional and global environments.

The question is what kind of NSC Japan should make. How much independent authority should it possess? Should it play a coordinating role as a opposed to a policymaking role?

These are questions that the US has grappled with since the NSC was created in the early years of the cold war -- and as David Rothkopf's Running the World shows, the US has never been settled on the proper role the NSC should play in the national security establishment. Much has depended on the personalities involved, both at the White House and in key cabinet posts.

There is no question that Japan will have to tackle similar issues if and when it establishes a national security council at the Kantei. But as Michigan political scientist John Creighton Campbell argues in an interview published in today's edition of the English language Asahi, Japan would be wise not to move too far in the direction of executive centralization. He said:
The Kantei is not going to be big enough to control the policy information necessary for devising detailed policymaking and implementation in most areas. That means that the bureaucrats will have to be involved and the question is how to do it. I think there are lessons from Japanese-style management, which is based on having lower-level people involved in meetings and consultations before finally arriving at a decision. The leader's role is not as obtrusive as the "man on a white horse" style that Americans like. We used to joke that in the United States we could reach a decision in a week but it takes a year to convince the lower levels to go along. In Japan, making the decision takes a long time but it can be implemented quickly because everyone had participated. That is an oversimplification, of course, but I do think Abe and his circle are ignoring some successful Japanese approaches and overvaluing our rather peculiar system in the United States.
Perhaps the best administrative reform Japan can make to its national security establishment -- and its policymaking apparatus in general -- would be to ensure that ministerial and vice ministerial portfolios are distributed to policy experts in the governing party and not to the most senior party member in line for a promotion. There has been a move in this direction in recent years, and it should continue.

That should be the national security council Japan aims for: a panel of strong, knowledgeable cabinet ministers in firm control of their ministries, supported by a staff of experts at the Kantei as they formulate Japan's grand strategy and set clear goals for what role Japan intends to play in the US-Japan alliance, in the region, and in the world -- and how it fulfill its duties in these various capacities.

Unless this exercise results in an answer to that nagging question, it's hardly worth the effort.

The paranoid fantasies of Lou Dobbs

This morning before work I caught Lou Dobbs on CNN International while flipping through the news channels. In the span of the few minutes I watched, he reported on grassroots efforts to fight illegal immigration quashed by the US corporations and the government, US cooperation on policing with "totalitarian" Red China, "the march of the leftists" in Latin America, and the specter of Putin's menacing new Russia.

Much attention has been focused on his staunch economic populism and anti-globalism. This attention is not misplaced or unwarranted, but just from watching a few minutes of his show I discerned a much broader and much more dangerous worldview than simple economic nationalism.

As the stories mentioned above indicate, Dobbs essentially believes that America is a haven amidst a sea of troubles. The countries of the world are dysfunctional and/or dangerous. Unfair economic competition is only one facet of the dangers posed by the rest of the world. Foreign governments and peoples are hostile to America, and therefore we must retreat within our borders, tend our own garden, and watch the world fall to pieces.

Even if this approach were possible, it would be undesirable. Despite apparent disorder in the short term, the world may be on the brink of true peace and prosperity, as the likelihood of great-power war diminishes and billions of people are pulled out of debilitating poverty by economic liberalization. The US has an interest in using its power to usher this new era into being, and interdependence means that it has little choice in the matter. Thus to view the world as a cavalcade of threats to the American way of life is paranoid to the extreme.

Take his views on China. His report on US cooperation on policing and law enforcement expressed bafflement at the "contradictions" in US China policy. This reporting is gravely misleading, given that as every observer of US-China relations knows, US policy vis-a-vis Beijing has been riddled with contradictions ever since Nixon and Kissinger went to China. "Coopetition" is the watchword of the relationship, as every US administration since 1972 has found in China a potential partner in the management of regional security and, post-1978, a trading partner of ever-growing importance, even as the same administrations saw a looming threat to Taiwan and a brutal oppressor of its own people. But China is changing rapidly, and in unknown ways -- it's impossible to know what it will look like in ten, or even five, years. So to talk of "Red China" like some kind of 1950s newsreel is unhelpful in the extreme. The US should cooperate wherever possible and criticize and cajole only when necessary, but most importantly it must not view China as a kind of unmitigated enemy of America.

In short, America must not succumb to Dobbsian paranoia. The challenge of my generation -- indeed of every generation of American leaders -- will be to use American power to help usher in a more peaceful, prosperous world, which necessarily means rejecting the fear peddled by Lou Dobbs and his ilk.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Quality control for "Cool Japan"

The Washington Post has an interesting article about the corrosion of Japanese cuisine abroad. Of all the "products" that signify the export of "Cool Japan," Japanese cuisine might be the most significant, having grown to occupy a significant place in haute cuisine throughout the Western world.

The version of Japanese cuisine presented to Western diners, however, is an adulterated version of the real thing, as this article suggests. What surprises me is that Japanese officials haven't reacted sooner, given the important place food has in Japanese culture. One simply needs to turn on the television to see how the Japanese food. Countless shows have hosts visiting a region to try its specialties or tasting a unique dish in the studio. Restaurants and grocery stores are ubiquitous, and the food they provide is invariably fresher. And who can forget the omiyage, the gifts Japanese tourists bring back from trips (almost always some kind pastry or snack -- Kamakura is known for cookies shaped like pigeons, for some reason I've yet to discover).

As such, it surprises me that Japan has yet to try to exercise some control over how Japanese cuisine is marketed abroad. The vision of Japanese cuisine marketed abroad -- i.e., sushi as the staple of the Japanese diet -- hasn't harmed Japan's image, but it has presented a distorted picture of the national palate, in which sushi usually takes a back seat to donburi, noodles, and curry. The Japanese diet includes more meat, usually pork, than a visit to a Japanese restaurant in America would suggest.

That said, it's unclear how exactly Japan can exert control over how Japanese food is sold abroad. Will Japanese restaurants abroad buy into a kind of "seal of approval" system, especially considering that the most exclusive Japanese restaurants tend to deviate most from the Japanese way of food? And, moreover, as the article suggests, how can Japan criticize others for doing what Japan has long done to dishes imported from abroad:
But some here have expressed caution about the launch of the government approval system, arguing that Japan is a country also notorious for adapting foreign foods to local tastes. Indeed, that rare talent gave birth to Japanese seafood and mayonnaise pizza.
All this points to one of the major problems with soft power of the cultural kind: it's pretty much impossible to wield explicitly as a policy tool.

Asia changes -- will Japan change with it?

Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to India this week supposedly signifies a shift in Asia, as Hu's visit indicates that the region's two emerging giants are drawing closer to one another. This conventional wisdom perhaps contains not a small amount of wishful thinking, because, as this article in the FT suggests, major differences remain between the two powers.

The visit nevertheless contains an important lesson for Japan.

Experts are quick to point out that this is the first time that China and Japan have been strong at the same time, but that won't be the case for long unless Japan remains a top-tier economic and political power.

Continuing economic and administrative reforms initiated under Prime Minister Koizumi are important, but the government needs to develop a comprehensive aim for reform. Why is Japan reforming? Is it simply to revive the manufacturing powerhouse that looked like it would overtake the US in the early 1980s? If so, Japan will find that the manufacturing field is more crowded than in the 1980s -- and China is leading the way as the workshop of the world. With a declining, aging population Japan will eventually be completely out-classed (although China is due to age rapidly in coming decades).

The task for Japan? Make the same leap to a post-industrial, service-based economy, just as the US and European economies are in the midst of doing. Shirakawa Hiromichi, chief economist at Credit Suisse, made this argument in an op-ed in the English version of the Asahi Shimbun.

His main point:
A rise in the share of the service sector in the overall economy can stoke job and wage growth, which in turn can bolster consumer spending, leading back to yet more job and wage growth. This virtuous cycle would make companies more willing to distribute accumulated profits to their employees.
This shift would have massive implications for Japanese society, beginning, perhaps, with education, because a service economy has to educate its children to be flexible, creative, and enterprising -- very different than the education provided to students in an industrial society.

The Abe Cabinet does not appear to be thinking in this terms; Finance Minister Omi Koji has, in fact, insisted that Japan will remain focused on industrial production. In a time of change in the region and the world, the government -- and all of Japan's governing class -- has to be more imaginative in thinking about how Japan can retain its international position in a rapidly changing region. The first step should be conceiving of broad renovation of Japanese institutions.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Another take on the abductions issue

The Japan Times reported yesterday on comments by Columbia's Gerald Curtis at a forum at the Korea Society in New York, in which he suggested that the abduction issue -- the dispute that has followed upon North Korea's 2002 admission to having abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s -- has isolated Japan.

It's worth considering whether Japan is wise to expend diplomatic effort on an issue that may not have much traction. Unlike Curtis, I don't think the abductions issue is necessarily isolating Japan -- there are plenty of other issues by which Japan can be isolated from its neighbors -- but the real concern would be if the US and North Korea actually began trading concessions (unlikely but not impossible). In that case, Japan would be isolated, because it would be pushing a hard line just as the US softened.

Of course, a lot needs to happen for this scenario to unfold, but it's interesting to consider whether Japan should back off on an issue that is, after all, wrapped up with the whole package of North Korea's atrocious behavior.

But then, this is one of those foreign policy issues where the public has, in part, led rather than followed. While Prime Minister Abe has taken the lead on this issue since 2002, the public has demanded action, and moreover the issue carries sentimental weight, to which posters, lapel pins, and films attest.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

(Thanksgiving) Evening in Japan

Meanwhile, Thanksgiving here has come and gone. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

Thanksgiving being my favorite of American national holidays, I would have liked to find somewhere to have Thanksgiving dinner tonight, but emails went unanswered, so I made pancakes and watched Simpsons DVDs while waiting for Kamakura Cable to set up my internet and cable television. For "Thanksgiving" dinner I made vegetable udon, salmon, and rice. At least I had the day off, it being Japan's Labor Thanksgiving Day.

The nicest thing about being in my own apartment -- apart from living in Kamakura, which is truly amazing -- is cooking for myself again after a long hiatus. There's something therapeutic about coming home at the end of a long day and making a meal with your own hands.

In any case, believe it or not, having had the cable installed I'm all set up now. Posting will now be on a more regular schedule.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Morning in Japan

In my Cambridge M.Phil dissertation, I wrote the following:
Koizumi, a self-described ‘henjin’ (literally ‘odd person’), was elected on a platform calling for extensive political and economic reforms, in a sense similar to Ronald Reagan’s conservative, reform-minded campaign in 1980. Like Reagan, Koizumi was elected as Japan confronted debilitating economic turmoil and a profound crisis of confidence, and like Reagan, his reputation as a maverick cemented his reformist credentials in the public eye. In short, he constituted a decisive break from politicians who had preceded him, who had been less decisive, less willing to take risks and less keen to push a comprehensive agenda for reform.
I'm not posting this just to cite myself approvingly; I'm citing it because it seems that "Morning in Japan" thinking is all the rage in Japanese politics -- the spirit of Reagan was hardly the unique property of Mr. Koizumi, as it is also lodged in the DPJ.

I was prompted to write this post because I've noticed that the posters with which Mr. Asao's prefectural office is festooned include the exhortation "ニッポンに、あさを," which roughly translates to "make it morning in Japan."* Posters for LDP candidates include similar phrases declaring the candidate's commitment to continuing reforms undertaken under Prime Minister Koizumi. If Koizumi has one legacy, it's changing the terms of Japanese political debate, perhaps for good. Both the LDP and the DPJ are trying to show that they are more dedicated to reform and more capable of executing reforms than the other party. While implementation has been piecemeal, and the LDP has yet to enunciate a grand vision of what a reformed Japan will look like -- Abe's "beautiful country" remarks notwithstanding -- it is an extraordinary thing that "reform" is the undisputed goal of Japanese politics, with politicians hastening to declare to voters that they are fully committed to remaking Japan.

At the same time, this puts the DPJ in a difficult position. Now that it has to share the "reformist" mantle with the post-Koizumi LDP, the DPJ will have to convince voters that it is more capable of implementing reforms, which may be true, but fifty years of nearly uninterrupted LDP rule tell me that the voters may stick with the known quantity.

In any case, I've continued my work on the municipal campaign in Zushi. The candidates are all on the younger side (mid- to late thirties) and are all appear to be proteges in some form of Mr. Asao. I was right in my hunch that Mr. Asao -- who is the prefectural party chief -- is trying to turn Kanagawa Prefecture into a DPJ stronghold, except that it turns out that he has already done so. Hence the attention from the national party leadership: municipal election it may be, but a win further solidifies Kanagawa Prefecture and places DPJ politicians in positions of authority. On Wednesday Mr. Asao himself came to Zushi Station at 6:30am to hand out pamphlets to commuters and make a speech on behalf of the candidates.

To make Morning in Japan, I guess you have to be up mornings in Japan.

* - Nippon ni, asa o: This is somewhat difficult to translate, because there's no verb in this statement, but the particles "に" and "を" indicate that Nippon (Japan) is the indirect object and "asa" (morning) is the direction objection. If this phrase included a verb it would be something along the lines of "to make," meaning that this phrase roughly translates to "(I aim to make it) morning in Japan."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tightrope walking

Before I continue with my running commentary on Japanese politics, I want to just make it clear to my readers the fine line I'm treading. Because I'm on the staff of a senior member of the opposition DPJ, I'm perhaps not as free to be objective about Japanese politics as my academic's mind would prefer to be. I have to be careful about (1) being overly critical of the DPJ and (2) being overly supportive of the governing LDP.

That said, if it seems like I am a cheerleader for the DPJ, I'm not. That's not why I'm writing this blog. I will, however, be writing a lot about events from the DPJ's perspective because that's the value I can provide, and beyond that, the question of if and when the DPJ will be ready to govern Japan is one of the most interesting questions in Japanese politics today.

So if it seems like I'm cheerleading, let me know, but also be aware that because of my position I must exercise discretion.

Having made that clear, now I can describe what I've seen thus far. I've already been fully incorporated into Mr. Asao's prefectural office in Kamakura. Yesterday his entire staff -- divided into the constituent support/communication side here and the policy side at the Diet -- gathered here to discuss campaign strategy. Japanese politics too has the permanent campaign that is present in most advanced democracies. Interestingly, Asao is using his office to support candidates in a forthcoming municipal election in nearby Zushi. I don't know how common this is, but it seems that Mr. Asao would like to make Kanagawa Prefecture into a kind of DPJ stronghold, and a bastion for his Young-Turk reformist ideas.

I started work today at 6:30am: standing outside Higashi-Zushi station with the candidate and several other Asao staff members handing out pamphlets to commuters entering the station. I think some were surprised to see a foreigner assisting with a local campaign, at least that's what I think the laughter meant. All I had to do was bow, say "ohayoo goizamasu" and "arigatoo gozaimasu," so they couldn't have been laughing at my Japanese (to which I'm all too accustomed -- the Japanese regularly laugh at foreigners' linguistic mistakes, even if they appreciate the effort).

The election is in early December, so my work for the next several weeks will largely be helping the campaign. I may even be going door-to-door.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Summiting in Hanoi

So President Bush and Prime Minister Abe have had their first meeting, in the wake of the APEC summit in Hanoi.

As the recap provided by the White House indicates, the agenda of their conversation was not particularly surprising and the meeting provided no major changes in US-Japan alliance policy. (Although, as this Yomiuri summary indicates, the two leaders spoke of a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, which, if it could be achieved, would be a significant development.)

What is interesting in the recap is that it is Prime Minister Abe who spoke of the importance of the alliance's fundamental values of "freedom, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law." This is the continuation of a trend, noted by Michael Green, that began under Koizumi; Japan has begun to speak more of the alliance's values and of Japan's commitment to spread freedom and democracy as a way to contrast itself with China, which may be an important market but is still governed by a one-party dictatorship and has yet to become a responsible stakeholder in Asia and the world. Also interesting in Mr. Abe's remarks is that he suggested that the "globalization" of the alliance, which intensified under Mr. Koizumi, will continue.

There is no indication, however, as to whether the strong personal rapport that characterized the Bush-Koizumi relationship will also characterize the Bush-Abe relationship. We may have to wait until this week's issue of the Prime Minister's email magazine to learn more.

Setting the record straight

On the sidelines of the APEC summit in Hanoi, Japanese Foreign Minister Aso Taro and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhao Xing discussed plans to convene a joint Sino-Japanese committee to review Sino-Japanese history. The committee is expected to meet before the end of the year, consist of ten members, and have subcommittees that discuss both ancient and recent history. The committee will present its findings by 2008.

This committee could have value -- but I'm doubtful, because, as an op-ed in the IHT (not online, so far as I can tell) by Brookings visiting fellow Masahiro Matsumura notes, nationalism has proven politically useful to both governments. In particular, he writes about China, "The Chinese do not have a deeply entrenched sense of national identity. Instead China is divided by competing regional, ethnic and class identities The Japan history question is an issue on which all Chinese can reach consensus and on which a temporary and precarious sense of unity can be fabricated."

In other words, Chinese nationalism -- which has become more virulent as the country has developed -- may be a necessary and unpleasant evil preferable to the alternative, namely a China on the brink of splintering due to intense internal pressures, some of which have been exasperated by China's rapid growth. Beijing criticizes Japan for historical misdeeds for which Tokyo has apologized repeatedly because it is too politically useful for it to refrain from doing so.

The CCP's mounting of the tiger of nationalism may ultimately result, however, in dire consequences for the CCP itself and for surrounding nations. Should the CCP be perceived as failing to protect the Chinese nation's (where do the minorities fit in this China), will the party's standing be diminished, perhaps fatally so? Will it drive more adventurous forays abroad, whether in the Taiwan Strait or in the waters surrounding Japan?

Perhaps a joint committee could be useful as a tool for helping Beijing dismount from its nationalist mount, but if that is the case, Beijing has a lot of work to do in the next two years to dampen nationalist sentiment among its people.

Hey CCP, good luck walking that tightrope. Better find a new raison d'etre.

Friday, November 17, 2006

I move to Kamakura, and the education bill moves to the Upper House

I have now moved out from Kaiyo Gakuen -- where I spent my last night speaking to the students, pegged as future leaders of Japan, about the importance of learning about foreign societies and appreciating Japan's responsiblities as a great power. (I previously wrote about my surveying of students' ideas here.)

I have moved to Kamakura, and have begun working -- today, in fact -- for Asao Keiichiro.

The timing for my arrival is auspicious. On Monday the Upper House is due to begin debate on the Abe Cabinet's revision of the Fundamental Education Law, which it rammed through the Lower House over strident opposition from all opposition parties. The DPJ is in the process of determing its strategy for resisting the bill, as well as attacking Abe on a range of issues, including the government's reported manipulation of town hall meetings on education policy and Messrs. Aso and Nakagawa's remarks on nuclear weapons.

The opposition's offensive is on hold for the moment, as the governing coalition and the opposition parties have been geared up to contest the 19th November Okinawa gubernatorial election.

The Lower House's passage of the bill was undoubtedly a defeat for the opposition, but some in the DPJ are hoping that the government's tactics will be rejected at the polls next summer. There's certainly an argument that the Abe Cabinet's aggressive legislative strategy could be presented as consistent with the overall impression that the Abe Cabinet is unfit to govern (previously discussed here). I expect the formation of this election strategy by the DPJ in the coming months, particularly if the government continues to furnish examples that support this picture.

For the moment, however, the LDP enjoys the upper hand.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What were the Red Sox thinking?

Switching gears, the big news in sports this week is that the Boston Red Sox had the highest bid in the auction for the right to talk -- that's right, talk -- to Seibu Lions pitcher Matsuzaka Daisuke. They reportedly paid $51.1 million.

Mull that over for a minute.

$51.1 million. To talk.


Sorry Red Sox fans, but I'm with ESPN's Sean McAdam on this one: "...In submitting the winning post for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox also forfeited the right to whine about [the Yankees'] economic might ever again."

I've never understood the whole "Yankees-as-evil-empire" trope as mouthed by Red Sox fans. After all, in 2004, the year that the "Idiots" succeeded in their assault on the, er, Death Star, the Red Sox payroll was second in Major League Baseball, around $50 million behind the Yankees. I'm afraid that hardly counts as virtuous. Now had the Red Sox beaten the Yankees with the Brewers' MLB-lowest payroll ($27.5 million), that would have been something to get excited about.

Arguably, the Red Sox only upped their payroll because the Yankees did first (time to break out the game theory). And that reasoning is certainly understandable. But at the same time, given that the Red Sox management decided to copy the Yankees, the Red Sox (and their fans) have indeed forfeited the right to complain about how the Yankees are outspending everyone. As McAdam writes:

No more suggestions, please, that the Yankees are some financial superpower capable of trampling the rest of baseball with their reckless and boundless spending. No more talk about the Red Sox being the plucky underdogs that somehow must make do with less.

The Sox's insistence that the Yanks were economic bullies always seemed a bit hollow, anyway. Sure, the Yankees have baseball's deepest pockets, as might be expected in a sport in which local revenues are critical to a team's financial footing.

Here, though, is what the Red Sox never acknowledged: Although the Yankees could indeed outspend them, the Red Sox, in turn, could outspend the other 28 teams in baseball.

Do the Gettys complain about the Rockefellers?

It was the Red Sox's misfortune that the one club with more resources just happened to be their longtime rival, with whom they're locked in an annual battle for divisional supremacy.

That's not some cruel inequity; that's merely geographic bad luck.

I secretly hope that the Red Sox will be unable to seal the deal with Matsuzaka, but then signing Matsuzaka might provide a greater opportunity for schadenfreude. To spend upwards of $100 million on a pitcher who has never pitched in the US, to spend that much on any pitcher -- given that pitching involves motions that the human body wasn't designed to perform -- seems absurd. Consider, moreover, that Japanese teams have historically run down their pitchers' arms early in their careers, meaning it's possible that the Red Sox could only get a couple good years out of Matsuzaka before he's finished.

In any case, if the Red Sox manage to sign Matsuzaka, they will be an elbow ligament tear away from wasting an awful lot of money. As a Cubs fan, I have seen two very promising young pitchers' careers go up in smoke in recent years. Don't think it can't happen to Matsuzaka.

The Susanoo boom?

Once again David Pilling, the FT's Tokyo correspondent, has a superb analytic piece on Japan, in this case the Japanese economic recovery (unfortunately subscription only). He reports that forthcoming statistics are expected to confirm that the economic recovery that began in 2001 will surpass the fifty-eight-month "Izanagi" boom that lasted from 1965 to 1970.

He cautions observers, however, from being overly optimistic about the current boom, which should perhaps be called the "Susanoo" boom, Susanoo being the mythological offspring of the creator god Izanagi, characterized by a stormy temperament (hence he is known as the god of the sea and storms).

The current boom has been relatively smooth, thanks in large part to the reforms implemented by the Koizumi / Takenaka duo. But those reforms were, in Takenaka's words, reactive: "Mr Takenaka argues that the Koizumi administration pursued largely 'reactive reform' -- chiefly cleaning up the banking system's -- aimed at restoring a modicum of economic health. The only 'proactive reform', he says, was privatising the post office, a giant bank whose savings he hopes will be used more productively by the private sector. More proactive reform, including deregulation and further freeing the labour market, could raise the growth potential further, he argues."

Underlying indicators suggest, however, that like the sea that follows the whims of the tempestuous Susanoo, Japan's economic recovery could hit a rough patches if the government fails to manage demographic change carefully, or should it use contractionary fiscal policy restrict demand. I would add to this mix the consequences that could result from the BoJ's raising interest rates preemptively.

Resurgent Japan -- perhaps playing the role of Amaterasu in this tale -- has emerged from its cave, once again shedding its radiance on the regional and global economies. But Japanese policymakers must be careful to ensure that stormy Susanoo does not lead Amaterasu to retreat back into her cave.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Takenaka criticizes Fukui (and the Abe cabinet?)

With the Bank of Japan sending signals that it will raise Japan's interest rates soon, Takenaka Heizo, former Prime Minister Koizumi's point man on the economy and structural reform, has criticized the BoJ (and implicitly its president) for prematurely tightening monetary policy, reports the FT.

For a high-ranking "Koizumian" to criticize Japan's monetary policy -- which was defended in the FT by current Finance Minister Omi, as I discussed here -- suggests that the LDP might be fractured on more than the nuclear weapons question.

Are we looking at the beginning of an LDP crackup leading up to the Upper House elections?

It is too early to say, but the DPJ has been aggressive recently, pushing back on all fronts in the special Diet session. It has sought to delay the passage of the bill upgrading the Japan Defense Agency to a full ministry, demanding answers to questions regarding a bid-rigging scandal in the JDA's Defense Facilities Administration Agency that rocked the JDA earlier this year. It has hammered, albeit with uncertain success, the Abe Cabinet on nuclear weapons. And now it is looking to prevent the revisions of the education law from coming to a vote.

Should economic growth soften, as observers fear, and the BoJ raise interest rates regardless, economic management could become another contested front, particularly if others join Takenaka in criticizing Japan's monetary policy (and the cabinet, implicitly, for not questioning the BoJ's wisdom publicly). Japan's Democratic party could then borrow from its American counterpart's playbook and run on a campaign criticizing the Abe cabinet's lack of competence.

Unfortunately, this chain of events would mean borrowing from Lenin -- the worse things get, the better for the DPJ -- but it might be the only way for the DPJ to win a major victory next summer. The policy differences between the LDP and the DPJ are too slight for the DPJ to build a campaign on anything other than personality and competence at governing.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Asia's hotel lobby

With Vietnam set to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next weekend, a recent spate of news suggests that it will be a busy weekend...but not necessarily because of what's on the official agenda.

While this year's formal agenda will consist of the usual calls for greater openness among APEC members and a push to restart the World Trade Organization's Doha round -- not to mention the always hilarious picture of heads of state and government in the host nation's national costume (click here for last year's, held in South Korea) -- the talks on the sidelines of the summit will be much more interesting, and will likely provide the lion's share of headlines:

The FT reports that the US and Russia will ink a deal in Hanoi on Russia's joining the WTO.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that President Bush will meet Prime Minister Abe for the first time, with Secretary of Rice and Foreign Minister Aso also in attendance. The agenda will, of course, focus on the response to North Korea's nuclear test. Both leaders and their subordinates will meet with their Chinese, Russia, and South Korean counterparts during the week to continue preparations for the forthcoming reopening of the six party talks (see here).

The Korean Herald reports that the US might even hold lower-level talks with North Korea, which, for the record, is not an APEC member.

This confirms what I've always felt about APEC: it is far too broad to be the source of any kind of groundbreaking agreement that could lead to the creation of some kind of deeply integrated Asia-Pacific politico-economic space. APEC members come from five continents (if you count Russia as European, and you should), have a variety of political system and cultures, and a vastly disparate range of interests. This is not a forum designed to produce a highly detailed, comprehensive program for integration.

At the same time, however -- and hence the title of this post -- it is incredibly useful in providing a space for leaders to talk face to face, and yes, wear clothes that make them look downright silly. (Seriously though, look at pictures from recent years: I personally find Bush, Mexico's Vincente Fox, and Russia's Vladimir Putin to be the most humorous year after year.) APEC might provide some steps in the direction of more open trade among members, but it's at its best when it acts as a vast hotel lobby in which the region's leaders can tuck off to the side and discuss what's most important to them. It is an overwhelming enough event that quiet talks could slip under the radar screen (i.e., between the US and North Korea).

It's hard to complain about APEC. It keeps the region's leaders talking face to face and it reminds the world of the inevitable shift to the Pacific already underway in the global economy.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fukui's itchy trigger finger

It seems that while Prime Minister Abe is busy fending off opposition attacks in the Diet on nuclear weapons, Fukui Toshihiko, the president of the Bank of Japan, has been signaling that the BoJ will be raising interest rates again soon, this despite ambiguous signs about the strength of Japan's recovery.

There are serious questions whether the time is right for Japan to rise its interest rates again, as this interview in the FT with Finance Minister Omi Koji by David Pilling and Martin Wolf indicates. This bit is of particular interest:

Paul Sheard, global chief economist at Lehman Brothers, said he was concerned that Japan's economic authorities were applying the brakes at the wrong time. "The big picture in Japan is that deflation continues and monetary and fiscal policy are both being tightened," he said. "I challenge you to find any textbook where that is described as an optimal policy mix."

Of course, economics textbooks are far from infallible. Nevertheless, the point is a good one.

This remark is interesting in light of the Abe Cabinet's latest push to trim the budget. Reducing Japan's colossal deficit -- in part the product of pump priming in the depths of Japan's "lost decade" -- is a necessary and long-term task for Japan's government (previously discussed here). Because the government is committed to contractionary fiscal policy for the indefinite future, however, the BoJ must exercise extreme caution in its monetary policy decisions in the coming year. Anything more than a light tap on the brakes could bring the Japanese recovery to a screeching halt.

One impact of an interest-rate hike that overshoots the mark could be an unwinding of the carry trade -- moves by global investors to take advantage of Japan's low interest rates to buy cheap yen and then turn around and sell it for currencies with better returns (i.e., higher interest rates). As this article in the FT suggests, interest rate hikes designed to preempt inflation could have the perverse consequence of leading yen to flow back into Japan, raising the exchange rate, which would likely have severe consequences for Japan's economic recovery. But then, I am probably the wrong member of my family to ask about the carry trade.

The data on the course of Japan's recovery is probably too mixed at the moment to make a firm judgment as to its sustainability, and the BoJ may be acting a bit too hasty to be assuming that the next two years will see growth continue unhindered.

Politically speaking, I wonder whether Japan's new air of confidence could survive a serious economic downturn. At the same time, though, a downturn could obviate the need to consider a consumption tax hike, about which Mr. Abe has determined no decision will be made until autumn 2007, after the Upper House elections.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Recent reading on China

As long as this blog is already banned by China, there's no reason for me not to post on a recent book I read by exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian. Called Red Dust, the book traces the author's journey across most of China in the early 1980s, just as Deng Xiaoping's "Four Modernizations" came into effect.

Before getting into the political and social aspects of the book, I first want to comment on its literary merit. Red Dust is an extraordinary bildungsroman. Although the author undertook his journey when in his early thirties, he nevertheless comes to see through his travels to mistakes of his earlier beliefs and rediscovers his place in Chinese society -- albeit not for long, as he fled China not long after publishing this book -- after years of traveling, mostly in China's remote western provinces.

The travelogue also functions as an extraordinary piece of existentialist literature, as Ma Jian gradually comes to see various forms of belief, beginning with his rejection of Chinese communism from the very beginning and continuing on through Chinese Buddhism, Daoism, Tibetan Buddhism, and rampant consumerism (and I'm probably forgetting a few). Man, concludes Ma, ultimately cannot rely on an system of beliefs to lead him through the universe. He can only rely on himself.

This extreme individualism dovetails with the book's anti-communism, as at numerous points throughout the book Ma Jian points out the corrosive effect of communism on the individual; he writes, for example, "When a country is ruled by a band of thugs, men behave like savages." His critique of communism is deeply humanistic, and Ma should rightly take his place alongside Czeslaw Milosz and others as a great humanistic, literary critic of communism.

At the same time, however, what makes this book of considerable interest today is the picture it provides of China at the beginning of the tremendous period of economic growth that it continues to experience today. Ma shows the tumultuous forces unleashed by economic liberalization combined with severe restrictions on personal behavior. (I was particularly haunted when Ma describes a list of public executions scheduled to take place; one criminal was "guilty" of dancing "cheek to cheek in the dark, forcefully hugging his female dance partners and touching their breasts. Seduced a total of six young women and choreographed a sexually titillating dance which has spread like wildfire and caused serious levels of Spiritual Pollution.") He shows a China that if anything has been made worse by liberalization, because people's souls have remained enslaved even as they've been permitted to practice entrepreneurial capitalism -- rapacious capitalism combined with (and perhaps made rapacious by) a soul-crushing political system. Look at the recent corruption scandals for examples of what happens when markets are combined with a one-party political system.

Ma also calls attention to an aspect of China that often goes unnoticed outside China: namely, that while the Han constitute the overwhelming majority of the Chinese population, there are fifty-six officially recognized minorities, totaling over 100 million people, with some provinces in western China being "minority-majority" (although China's "Great Leap West" has tried to tip the balance in provinces like Xinjiang in favor of Han Chinese). Ma Jian shows that these minorities had been largely left behind even by the rudimentary modernization experienced prior to Deng; one wonders whether their status has changed much since Ma wrote this book. The minority question means that China is not simply trying to modernize rapidly. It is also trying to modernize undeveloped corners inhabited by peoples conquered by Communist China's imperial predecessors who have never been integrated into Chinese society proper (meaning that China is an empire masquerading as a state).

If none of these points is sufficient to convince you to read this book, Ma's descriptions of the landscapes he traverses and the peoples he encounters are alone worth the read.

Final roundup on the Democratic victory

In the past day several writers have produced worthwhile post-mortems on the elections that have echoed my concerns about the Democratic victory.

First, at the New Republic website (free registration required), John Judis -- who must be happy now that he can return to his "emerging Democratic majority" trope -- provides a sober review of the election that suggests that the Democrats benefited in 2006 from "Perot voters":

In the South, independents tend to be former Democrats who have begun to vote Republican but are unwilling to describe themselves as Republicans. In the North and West, however, they occupy a much more distinct political niche. They include libertarian-minded professionals and small-business owners--especially in the West--and white working-class voters in the Northeast and Midwest. They are equally uncomfortable with the feminist left and the religious right. What they dislike most is government interference in their personal lives. They see Washington as corrupt and want it reformed. They favor balanced budgets but also Social Security and Medicare. They worry about U.S. companies moving their plants to Mexico and about China exporting underpriced goods to the United States. They favor a strong military, but they want it used strictly against foreign aggression.

In the 1980s, these voters generally supported Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; but, in 1992, many of them abandoned Bush for Ross Perot, who received 18.9 percent of the national vote. Perot did well in the West, Midwest, and Northeast, but not in the Deep South. In 1994, two-thirds of Perot voters, disgusted with what they saw as continuing corruption in Washington, backed the Gingrich revolution, accounting for much of the GOP's success outside the Deep South.

It's Perot's variety of anti-globalization -- if anti-globalization is the word for it -- that characterizes the positions of many members of the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. They support a kind of populism at home, populism abroad, that sees the struggle between Main Street and Wall Street as little different than the struggle of the US against foreign countries that supposedly play dirty: Japan in the 1980s, China and the other BRICs today. I doubt these voters would think of using the word "anti-globalization" to describe their positions, and compared to those who proudly wear that label, they're not. They just want the fair deal they think they deserve individually, and that the US deserves internationally.

While this position sounds innocuous enough, the policies that could result from this sense of insecurity -- whether retaliatory tariffs against countries with trade and exchange policies deemed detrimental to theUS or the rejection of bilateral trade agreements that have strategic as well as economic merit and multilateral and regional agreements that could assist development in benighted regions of the world -- could devastate the international economic order and effectively cede US leadership to...well, that's anyone's guess. (For an example of foreign fears of economic retaliation from the Democratic Congress, see this article in the English edition of South Korea's largest circulation daily, the Chosun Ilbo.)

So the question is what the Democrats will do to ease the insecurity of their new constituents. As Judis writes, "In this election, the Bush administration's failure in Iraq and the corruption of the Republican Congress allowed this heterogeneous group to find a temporary home in the Democratic Party. But it will take all the ingenuity and craft that Democrats can muster to turn this halfway house into a permanent residence for a long-term Democratic majority." Will they build their "permanent" majority by pandering to the fears of these homeless voters, or will they find a way to convince them to "buy in" to globalization, introducing reforms that alleviate their insecurity and convince them that they too can benefit from global economic openness? If they opt for the latter, the Democrats will be doing a great service to the country -- something that George Bush's Republican Party has yet to attempt.

Gerard Baker too suggests, in his column in The Times, that the results of the election hardly provide a clear policy mandate. He wrote:

Republicans lost not because the American people have suddenly seen the wisdom of the collective leadership of the European Union or the editorial pages of the world’s press but because they deserved to lose.

When you foul up as comprehensively as this Administration and Congress have done for six years you need to spend a period of time contemplating politics from the other side. The recent debate on these pages about whether Iraq was a bad idea in origin or just badly executed has been entertaining but jejeune from a political standpoint. It is literally impossible to know whether it was misconceived because what is absolutely certain is that is has been almost miraculously mismanaged from the moment Baghdad fell.

When you throw in “Heckuva Job” Katrina and a Congress that has devoted most of its time to enriching itself at the expense of every principle and value it was supposed to hold dear, you wonder why anyone even doubted that the good common sense of Americans would demand a change.

And how. It seems that all that mattered this year was that the candidate had a "D" next to his or her name on the ballot.

Baker ends with a note of doubt, however, suggesting that the (James) Baker survey on Iraq due in several weeks could, combined with the new Democratic majorities, spell the end of the line for the Bush administration's revolutionary project to transform the Greater Middle East.

Meanwhile, in the FT, former Harvard President Lawrence Summers suggests that previous "repudiation elections" in which the opposition parties made significant gains as voters rejected the sitting president's policies may provide a guide to the next two years in American politics. Summers too concludes that there is no clear way forward regarding domestic and foreign policies. He expects that both sides will be maneuvering to the center, with neither party getting everything that it wants. Bush may actually have to use the veto pen, or else make real efforts to compromise with the opposition.

The American political system will likely benefit from the change. One benefit may be that by no longer being locked out of power, the Democrats could shed the poisonous anti-Bush rhetoric that has characterized their past six years in the wilderness.

In any case, the only clear conclusion that can be drawn from this election is that the American electorate punished the Republican Party for a series of policy failures and for the shameless corruption of congressional Republicans. What the new majority will mean in terms of policy will remain largely unknown until next year.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Ozawa v. Abe, round two

DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo had their second sparring match in the Diet yesterday, much of which was spent discussing the ongoing 『核保有』 問題 (the possession of nuclear weapons problem). The FT provides a good summary of the debate up until now here.

The Mainichi Shimbun reports that Ozawa spent fifteen of his forty-five minutes talking about the nuclear weapons issue, but Mr. Abe seems to have parried Ozawa's thrusts. The LDP's main tactic in replying to DPJ criticism has been quoting from speeches made by DPJ officials in which they argued that Japan should consider producing nuclear weapons (these remarks seem to come from the late 1990s, not long after the DPJ's founding, when it was flirting with "Gaullism" regarding the US-Japan alliance as a way to distinguish itself from the LDP). Mr. Abe restated his commitment to the three non-nuclear principles, but, as this article in the Japan Times suggests, Mr. Abe seemed to suggest that debate among party executives and cabinet officials on this question is not objectionable, which would contradict the message coming from senior LDP officials in recent days (see here and here).

So despite Mr. Abe's insistence that Japanese policy on nuclear weapons remains unchanged, it seems perhaps that the prime minister doth protest too much. What you have now seems to be a non-debate debate, which is worse than no debate at all, because it means that important questions, questions related to Japan's national identity, are being discussed without input from the Diet at large and the public as a whole. If there is going to be a debate on this issue, it must be broad; pretending that there is no debate does the Japanese people a disservice.

So Mr. Abe, when are you going to become a "fighting politician" and have the courage of your convictions?

Japan watches and waits

As the Election Day dust settles in Washington, foreign governments are watching closely to see what will change.

Japan is no exception. Arguably, for Japan and Asia as a whole (with the potential exception of congressional retaliation aimed at China), the impact will mainly be felt in its impact on how the Bush administration conducts foreign policy rather than in any substantive policy change emanating from Congress.

Sean, over at White Peril, comments on the Nihon Keizai Shimbun's comments the changes in Washington. Sean suggests that the Japanese are worried about the impact of the election results on the US-Japan alliance, and he's right to note that the Japanese trust the GOP more on the alliance, but I think "worry" might be too strong a word. The alliance remains the exclusive preserve of alliance managers at the Pentagon and, to a lesser extent, the National Security Council and State Department. Beyond that, there is a bipartisan consensus on the alliance, as indicated by this noted 2000 report on improving the alliance being the product of a bipartisan study group co-chaired by former Clinton administration Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye and soon-to-be (at that time) Bush administration Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, in fact, in its editorial (in Japanese) on the election suggests that it may be an exaggeration to call President Bush a lame duck; it points to major foreign policy initiatives launched by Presidents Reagan and Clinton in the final years of their terms to suggest that Bush is not doomed to irrelevance yet. It argues, furthermore, that the presidency still retains considerable foreign policy powers, regardless of who controls Congress. The Yomiuri does express concern that the ongoing failure in Iraq may distract the administration from North Korea, allowing Pyongyang to continue developing a nuclear arsenal unhindered, but that is a danger regardless of which party controls Congress. If anything, should Iraq continue to crumble, Bush may turn to Northeast Asia in the hope that he might restore some respectability to his legacy by helping to ease the Kim Family regime out of power and create a new regional order. That may depend in part, however, on how Bush gets along with Prime Minister Abe, about which we'll learn more next week when they hold a bilateral summit on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Hanoi.

Given that Japan hosts thousands of US military personnel, the departure of Rumsfeld -- a fanatical advocate of the global transformation of US forces overseas -- may prove more important to Japan than the transfer of power on Capitol Hill. Indeed, the Asahi Shimbun ran a long article speculating on the consequences of Rumsfeld's departure for the planned transformation of US deployments in Japan, agreed upon in May 2006. Asahi quotes Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki as noting that the two governments have agreed on these matters together, so the policy remains unchanged, although Japan may have to continue to wait for progress in implementing the transformation plan. Shiozaki may be right, but given the wait that has followed the initial US-Japan agreement on Futenma in autumn 1995, a similar wait may be in the offing.

Given that Gates's appointment comes as something of a surprise, it is hard to know what his priorities will be (outside of Iraq) upon coming to office. He began his career as a Sovietologist, and does not appear to have any particular expertise or interest in Japan; with the US foreign policy apparatus lacking Japan hands in senior positions (unlike in the early years of the administration), US-Japan defense relations may be pushed down the agenda for want of a policy entrepreneur to push the issue forward. Much will depend on the Bush-Abe relationship. I doubt that it will be as strong as the Bush-Koizumi relationship, which could mean that the process of reforming the alliance will stall, as it did in the final years of the Clinton administration.

An end to openness?

Obviously the biggest stories of the day -- pretty much all around the world -- are the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.

I gave my take on the former yesterday, in this post, but I want to call attention to comments on the election over at Maderblog, and a column by Jacob Weisberg appearing simultaneously in Slate and the FT. I think Weisberg nails it on the head. I am not going to be shedding tears for the departed Republican majority, but at the same time I think there are real worries that the incoming crop of Democrats could mean a significant turn away from the US commitment to free trade and other policies that undergird that spread of globalization. If the Democrats think they can fix structural problems in the American economy related to the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial society by scapegoating foreigners, whether in the form of Mexican illegal immigration or those scheming cadres in Beijing, they are in for a shock.

The US and other developed economies are in the midst of a major shift to an economic model that for the most part is not rooted in the production of tangible items. For people in developed countries still engaged in these activities, the shift is proving painful, as developing countries have out-competed them. But US economic policy must not be "Ohioized"; the only way is forward, with the federal government acting to limit the destructive impact of the reordering on citizens employed in sunset industries and easing the transition to the new economic order. Meanwhile, the US needs to maintain its liberal trade policy, using access to its market as a carrot to induce developing countries along the path to capitalism, and ultimately liberal democracy. (Daniel Drezner has more on this meme here.)

Congress alone may be unable to implement an agenda detrimental to economic openness, but it can stymie the administration's effort to promote openness, most notably by withholding trade promotion authority from the president, as noted by Weisberg. This means that the White House must redouble its efforts to secure a multilateral trade agreement (with regional and bilateral trade agreements second-best options). And it means, as I've said before, that Henry Paulson will be the most important cabinet official during the final two years of Bush's presidency, especially now that Rumsfeld has resigned.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The importance of Henry Paulson

So the Democrats reclaim the House. And the Senate remains within reach, with results from two races pending.

There's not much I can say about this that isn't being said elsewhere, but what I will say is that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson may now be the most important man in the Bush administration, if not in all of Washington, because he now stands between China and congressional Democrats eager to punish China from growing. Paulson, who in recent months has emerged as the point man on US-China policy, will have to ensure that the Democratic House does not do something stupid, like imposing tariffs to goad China into raising its exchange rate.

Ironic that an administration that entered office determined not to view China as a "strategic competitor" is now in a position of defending China from China bashers in Congress. (Or maybe not so ironic, because since Nixon went to China it seems that the executive branch always finds itself defending China, while Congress bashes China, whether on human rights, trade, or national security grounds.)

Nevertheless, Paulson's significance remains. He will have his work cut out for him, but given that he has already performed well in office -- possessing more power in the administration than both of his Bush administration predecessors combined -- I expect that he will be up to the task.

A changing US-Japan alliance?

Meanwhile in the midst of the nuclear weapons flap, two senior US State Department officials were in Tokyo for meetings with Foreign Minister Aso. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Robert Joseph, undersecretary for arms control and international security, met with Mr. Aso to continue alliance coordination in response to the DPRK's nuclear test but also to coordinate positions in advance of a meeting between the five parties -- the two allies plus China, South Korea, and Russia -- on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Hanoi in mid-November.

Such coordination is, of course, to be expected and is not especially notable except that it shows the goal to which the two allies should aspire. Policy consultation should be ongoing; it should not be limited to emergency situations. That is how Japan can be the "Great Britain" of Asia (as called for in the 2000 Armitage-Nye Report) -- not through the use of force or having nuclear weapons, but to be an indispensable partner politically, capable of taking the lead on important issues, including regional democratization. Accordingly, the sooner the alliance establishes a standing politico-military planning and coordination cell in Tokyo, staffed by suitably high-ranking officers and diplomats, the sooner the alliance will be able to play a more creative role in the region.

Without such a step, alliance cooperation will remain reactive, as is the case now.

The Yomiuri Shimbun weighs in

Having already written at length on the nuclear debate once today, I still feel the need to comment on the Yomiuri Shimbun's editorial today (in Japanese) -- 「議論すら封じるのはおかしい」 (roughly, "It is laughable to even try to stifle the discussion."

The Yomiuri argues, as I have elsewhere, that the debate is less about nuclear weapons and more about how Japan should contribute to international peace and security, and how it should respond to the growing North Korean threat. The editorial maintains that the three non-nuclear principles are outdated, a product of the cold war no longer appropriate given the evolving security environment in East Asia, and it concludes by saying that just as talk of constitutional reform was once taboo, such that any mention of which would result in a cabinet reshuffle, so must talk of nuclear weapons go from being taboo to being openly and earnestly debated.

Given that heads have yet to roll in this latest flap, clearly the power of nuclear taboo has been eroded, although it still retains some power.

Japan will not become a normal great power so long as restrictions remain upon even talking about radical changes to Japan's security policy. Japan has yet to make an unambiguous statement of how it will exercise its power and contribute to regional and a global security; while nuclear weapons will most likely not be a part of that role, it is still important that Japan has an open debate in which any and all options are discussed -- including acquiring nuclear weapons and distancing itself from the United States. It need not and should not embrace these options, of course, but so long as Japan remains bound by taboos and implicit restrictions, it will remain unable to contribute properly to global order.

The nuclear debate "fallout" continues to spread

Quite a bit has happened in the intervening days since Mr. Nikai called for restraint. As I expected, it seems that the "loose lips" of Mr. Aso and Mr. Nakagawa have led to greater outrage from other parties and more calls for prudence from LDP senior officials.

First, as this article in the Asahi Shimbun reports, the New Komeito Party, the LDP's coalition partner, has publicly aired its misgivings about calls for a debate about nuclear weapons. New Komeito, the political party founded by the Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, is strongly opposed to nuclear weapons (and I should add, aggressive military force in general -- see its policy aims here [link in English]).

Accordingly, Asahi reports, Sasagawa Takashi, responsible for maintaining LDP party discipline, advised at a liaison group meeting of senior LDP officials that the party must "hasten to extinguish the fire" and ease the concerns of the New Komeito. LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao echoed Mr. Sasagawa, insisting that this issue will not be discussed by the party, and that, even if the LDP and the Abe Cabinet were to consider revising Japan's three non-nuclear principles, which prohibit Japan from producing, possessing, or permitting the stationing of nuclear weapons on its soil, it would have considerable difficulties in doing so, not least because of fears that doing so would undermine American support.

And what did Abe have to say? "The government's policy is already decided. There will be absolutely no changes."

Will this sustained assault by nearly all of the LDP's heavyweights silence Mr. Nakagawa (Mr. Aso has apparently decided not to mention nuclear weapons anymore)?

If not, perhaps the DPJ -- together with New Komeito -- will raise the pressure, resulting in the LDP's forcing its wayward leaders out. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the DPJ is doing just that; Secretary-General Hatoyama Yukio, in fact, said in a speech in Tokyo on Monday, "If Prime Minister Abe cannot dismiss Mr. Aso, then we will introduce a non-confidence motion against Mr. Aso." Mr. Nakagawa, the LDP secretary-general, replied by pointing out Mr. Hatoyama's hypocrisy, considering that Mr. Hatoyama is on record of having voiced his support in 1999 for a debate on nuclear weapons.

Mr. Nakagawa's reply may be effective at pointing out the DPJ's difficult political position (discussed here) but it doesn't change the fact that by not squelching this issue early, Mr. Abe may have stumbled into the first serious political crisis of his tenure. If the LDP's executives had come out immediately to denounce their colleagues for their indiscretions and reaffirm the LDP's and the government's commitment to the three non-nuclear principles, this incident might have reinforced the impression formed by his early trips to China and South Korea that Mr. Abe is in fact quite moderate and not eager to introduce radical revisions to Japan's security policy. By waiting to respond, however, Mr. Abe has tarnished his reputation, undermined the LDP's relationship with its coalition partner, given a gift to the opposition, and exposed cracks in the LDP.

If anything, the LDP's cracks may continue to grow, as the creation by former LDP secretary-general Kato Koichi of an LDP study group on Japanese foreign and security policy vis-a-vis Asia -- characterized as an "anti-Abe" study group by the Japan Times -- indicates. This issue, together with the nuclear weapons issue and the question of whether the LDP should readmit members ousted for their opposition to postal reform, shows that not only is the LDP riven with policy differences -- as a party geared to securing power instead of promoting an ideology, it's always been home to a variety of policy positions -- but the mechanisms it has used to manage disagreements have broken down. This is not a new development, but because Prime Minister Koizumi had a relatively clear sense of what he wanted to do and little fear of going after opponents within the LDP, the differences were less visible.

Mr. Koizumi, in fact, was the epitome of what Mr. Abe calls in the introduction to his 「美しい国へ」 (Toward a Beautiful Country) a "戦う政治家" (fighting politician) -- which Mr. Abe defines as 「批判を恐れず行動する政治家」, "a politician who acts without fear of criticism" (my translation).
Mr. Abe, however, has yet to show whether he has the same quality.

In the coming weeks, as the special session of the Diet draws to a close, expect Mr. Abe to go on the offensive in policy terms, to establish his reputation as a reformer and draw attention away from the nuclear question. He will likely begin with a serious push to pass the reform of the Fundamental Law on Education. Should he fail to recover from this first political blow to his cabinet, his tenure may well be short-lived.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Pre-election doubt

I said that I would try to limit my discussion of American politics, but I read a few pieces today upon which I couldn't resist commenting.

First, in the FT Alan Beattie writes about American attitudes towards globalization, noting that despite the common perception that Americans are much more tolerant than Europeans of the "negative" consequences of globalization for the American economy, Americans have many of the same fears and doubts as Europeans when it comes to dealing with the dislocation caused by economic openness.

Why is this important?

Well, as this analytical essay by Edward Luce and Krishna Guha, also in the FT, suggests, the Democratic party appears to have turned away from the commitment to economic liberalization that characterized the Clinton administration's international economic policy (also discussed in this New Republic essay [free registration required] by Peter Beinhart on the liberal flirtation with populist CNN broadcaster Lou Dobbs). Should the Democrats abandon a commitment to globalization, the US will see a partisan divide reminiscent of the 1890s, as the central political issue becomes the degree to which the US partakes in the global economy.

If the stakes were high in the 1890s, they are innumerably higher now, with the US now a leading engine of growth for the entire global economy. The danger is that should the perception that large numbers of middle-class Americans are being devastated by globalization take hold, the beleaguered defenders of an open economy and open global economic system may be able to do little to stop the US from undertaking a populist rampage, turning on other economic powers for their "cheating" and scaling back the US commitment to globalization, with untold consequences for the US and the global economy.

At the same time, however, even as this issue looms over the political landscape, America's political class seems to have no interest in actually discussing how to ensure that the US remains committed to furthering globalization. As Christopher Hitchens writes in an op-ed in the Times (of London) -- a piece that expresses my thoughts exactly -- the election campaign this fall has been fought over trivial questions, not the great national questions that must be answered.

The behavior of America's political class and its various hangers-on on K Street and in the media this year show them all to be incapable of leading the country properly, but sadly I don't expect them to be replaced anytime soon (and no, a Democratic pickup of one or both houses will not qualify). America needs real, fundamental change in how it thinks and talks about politics, and, in particular, how it talks about America's place in the world. The dividing wall between domestic and foreign policy in the US has broken down, and America's leaders need to start talking and acting as if they recognize that fact.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Nuclear "indiscretion" causing problems for Abe?

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports today that Nikai Toshiro, head of the LDP's Diet Strategy Committee (国会対策委員会, kokkai taisaku iinkai, usually abbreviated as 国対, kokutai), publicly cautioned Foreign Minister Aso Taro and LDP Policy Affairs Research Council chief Nakagawa Shoichi to exercise "prudence" in their remarks on Japan's acquiring nuclear weapons.

The source of this comment is interesting. Mr. Nikai, as head of the LDP's kokutai, is responsible for managing the LDP's nemawashi -- behind-the-scenes consensus-building -- in the Diet, meeting with kokutai heads from other parties to smooth over disputes and formulate compromises. Accordingly, Mr. Nikai is not necessarily a policymaker. As Columbia University's Gerald Curtis wrote in his The Logic of Japanese Politics: "The role of the kokutai is not to negotiate the substance of policy, but to arrive at understandings about how to advance the parliamentary process. More than policy expertise, a successful kokutai chairman needs to have the ability to arrange political deals" (p. 119, but for an excellent account of how the Japanese political system has changed since the end of the cold war the entire book is highly recommended).

As such, while the Yomiuri reports that Mr. Nikai based his remarks on concerns that "the international community might misinterpret" Messrs. Nakagawa and Aso's calls for a national debate on whether Japan should acquire nuclear weapons, I believe that given Mr. Nikai's responsibility for ensuring orderly relations with other parties in the Diet, his comments have greater significance domestically.

The Yomiuri article tacitly confirms my suspicions, because it goes on to discuss how other parties have reacted to these remarks by Prime Minister Abe's senior advisors. The article notes that opposition parties have called for Mr. Abe to dismiss Mr. Aso (they're not really in a position to call for the dismissal of Mr. Nakagawa, who is merely a party official), suggesting that opposition pressure may have led Mr. Nikai to call on both officials to exercise restraint. The article quotes Mr. Tagaki Yoshiaki, the Democratic Party of Japan's kokutai chief, as saying, "The foreign minister's remarks go against national policy; they should not be ignored."

Mr. Nikai's remarks may be directed at Mr. Abe as much as at his impertinent advisors. Mr. Abe has tried to have it both ways, publicly declaring that Japan will not acquire nuclear weapons at this time and proclaiming that his cabinet will not debate the issue, while at the same time doing nothing to stop his advisors from calling for a debate on nuclear weapons. Mr. Nikai seems to be saying that Mr. Abe's strategy will not be without political consequences -- permitting these men to continue calling for a nuclear debate may upset relations with opposition parties (and the Komeito, the LDP's coalition partner), making it more difficult to move his agenda forward in the coming months. Moreover, should this issue continue to fester it could provide an angle from which the DPJ can attack Mr. Abe's leadership in the run-up to the 2007 Upper House election.

Mr. Nakagawa, meanwhile, continued his quest to mention the need for a nuclear debate in any and every possible setting yesterday in an appearance on Fuji TV. It may just be the case that Japan is not ready to have this debate now, and sooner or later he will have to accept that or else cause not inconsiderable harm to his party and its leader.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

North Korea as schoolyard bully

North Korea has demanded that Japan be excluded from the next round of six-party talks, to be held in Beijing sometime before the end of the year. What did Japan do to deserve Pyongyang's scorn? Well, aside from colonizing Korea during the first half of the twentieth century, Japan is guilty of having questions about whether the DPRK's return to the table should be celebrated (see here and here).

Reports the Japan Times:

"But it is only Japan that expressed its wicked intention, letting loose a spate of balderdashes," the Foreign Ministry said, referring to comments that Tokyo won't accept a nuclear North Korea. "The Japanese authorities have thus clearly proved themselves that they are political imbeciles incapable of judging the trend of the situation and their deplorable position."

Heh. Spate of balderdashes.

North Korea also said that Japan shouldn't participate because "it is no more than a state of the US and it is enough for Tokyo just to be informed of the results of the talks by Washington."

This bizarre tirade reveals something important about North Korea, namely that Pyongyang is just like the schoolyard bully who may not be the toughest kid around, but he's certainly the meanest -- and he is just as apt to use words as force to hurt others. This comment about Japan's being a "fifty-first state" goes straight to the jugular. It's the kind of concept that Japanese intellectuals are constantly debating as it encapsulates all the feelings of inferiority that come with Japan being the junior partner in the US-Japan alliance, "forced" to accommodate the presence of US forces on Japanese soil and all the spillover costs, material and psychological, that come with it.

As with any bully, Japan can either ignore the taunting or it can (theoretically) react violently; Japan will, of course, choose the former course of action. But the time may come when North Korea's even bigger neighbors may decide that they've had enough of its thuggery and act to end the DPRK's bullying once and for all.

This all goes to say that while international relations is a sophisticated discipline with its own jargon and cardinal concepts, it is important to remember that it is a social science -- concerned at heart with studying the behavior of humans in groups. Therefore its conclusions reflect not just state behavior but human behavior, particularly human behavior in settings that involve measurements of relative power and status and ego (whether individual or national).

It's not so much a matter of "everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten" but rather human beings in groups -- whether around a conference table in Beijing or in a children's playground -- act in similar (often similarly immature) ways.

Nukaga calls for Japanese cruise missiles

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports (article in Japanese) that former JDA Director-General Nukaga Fukushiro gave a talk at a Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) symposium on North Korea's nuclear test and East Asian security. In his remarks, Mr. Nukaga asked: "If North Korea decided to use force and fired a Nodong at Japan, which American warships then shot down, would the constitution problem be a good reason to remain indifferent to using our Aegis cruisers to shoot down a Taepodong 2 fired at the United States?" Thus he calls for an end to the constitutional interpretation that prohibits Japan from exercising its right to collective self-defense. He rightly suggests that doing so need not obligate Japan to collaborate in every US campaign around the world -- Japan can set limits to what it can do and can't do (as it's always done). He insists that the main focus on US-Japan security cooperation must be in situations in areas surrounding Japan.

More controversially, in his remarks Mr. Nukaga called for Japan to investigate whether it should develop a Tomahawk-like cruise missile that would enable it to strike at "enemy bases" (presumably meaning North Korean bases).

There are several problems with this idea. The first is technical. Would a Japanese strike force actually be useful as a deterrent given that North Korea's intermediate-range Nodong missiles -- the missiles that pose a major risk to Japan -- are launched with difficult-to-locate mobile launchers and can be fueled on a short notice? (For more on North Korea's missile, see this March 2006 report [pdf] from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.)

The second problem would be the impact of an independent Japanese conventional deterrent on alliance cooperation with the US. In terms of defense industrial cooperation, would Raytheon, current manufacturer of the Tomahawk, assent to Japan's developing its own cruise missile instead of buying off the shelf from Raytheon? (This question is of particular interest because the president of Raytheon's international division is Torkel Patterson, a Japan expert who was head of Asian affairs at the National Security Council early in the Bush administration.)

More fundamentally, how would an independent Japanese deterrent affect US deployments in Japan? Would Japanese cruise missiles make a forward-deployed US conventional deterrent unnecessary?

The third problem is the impact on the region. Japan would have a hard time convincing its neighbors that its cruise missiles are strictly defensive, and thus a cruise missile program would risk contributing to arms race with China and South Korea, not to mention North Korea. This latter difficulty is the least significant -- Japan cannot predicate its security policy on what its neighbors might do in response -- but at the same time it is not an irrelevant consideration.

Of course, all of this is speculative, because Japan still has a long way to go before it will be in a position to deploy an independent deterrent. For the moment, the big question remains how Japan would pay for such a deterrent, and whether the Diet would cough up the money even if it were available. I have my doubts.

At the same time, remarks like Mr. Nukaga's are encouraging, because it means that Japanese leaders are at least thinking and talking about Japanese defense policy and how it should change as the regional and international environments change. A "normal" Japan is impossible without a sophisticated national conversation on security policy.

Pulling the rug from under Chen

Forty-eight hours after Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's embattled president, spoke of drafting a new constitution, he finds his presidency in danger of being cut short by a vote in parliament in light of corruption charges that have implicated his wife and further tarnished his damaged reputation.

It seems that Taiwan's constitution won't be frozen and replaced after all.

If Mr. Chen were removed from office, it may be for the best. His election in 2000, which made him the first non-Kuomintang president in Taiwan's history as the Republic of China, was an encouraging sign of the maturation of Taiwan's democracy and democracy in region on the whole. But his administration has been unsteady, and threats to move towards formal independence made the situation in the Taiwan Straits ever more unstable.

One would expect that Mr. Chen will be succeeded by a Kuomintang candidate, which would make a return to more stable cross-straits relations, because the Kuomintang -- China's last non-communist ruling party -- has little interest in renouncing the Republic of China's claim to govern all of China and not just a handful of islands off the coast, which would necessarily result from a formal Taiwanese declaration of independence.

Beijing is surely watching the developments in Taipei with great interest (and, no doubt, considerable glee). But China won't breathe easy until Mr. Chen is gone, whether in the weeks to come or after the March 2008 elections.

Friday, November 3, 2006

The perils of being noncommittal

As I discussed here and here, Abe Shinzo has been extremely reluctant to present anything that resembles a detailed agenda for his cabinet.

During his first month, it seemed that the Japanese people were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt that sooner or later he would present a detailed program that they could support. It seems that the honeymoon is over. As this Yomiuri Shimbun article reports (article in Japanese), a recent Yomiuri poll has found that 63% of respondents found Abe's foreign and domestic policies "difficult to understand," while only 31% found them "easy to understand." The "hard to understand" number was particularly high among independent voters. The poll found that voters are particularly unclear about Abe's "Beautiful Country" concept, although as with the other figures, understanding was higher among LDP supporters than non-supporters.

The poll's findings are not particularly surprising. In a democracy, once the campaign is over and the prime minister (or president or governor or legislator) begins governing, citizens will notice if the elected official fails to make the transition from "campaignese" -- long on "wills," "shoulds" and "oughts" -- to the somber, realistic language of governance.

So this poll doesn't have any particular long-term significance, but it does show that Abe cannot drift through the next eight months and hope that voters won't notice the lack of results when they vote in the upper house elections.

He will actually have to govern, at some point, and governing means risking public disapproval.

China and the "land of myth and miracles"

Apparently that's what propaganda posters advertising the current China-Africa Summit in Beijing are calling Africa, according to this article by Joseph Kahn in the New York Times.

I'm not even going to try to figure out what makes Africa a land of myth and miracles. Apparently the CCP's propaganda department hasn't benefited from China's rapid growth.

But this article is still important, because it points out something that has been obvious to observers for some time now: China, desperate for natural resources, is cultivating whatever markets it can find, regardless of the quality of governance in said markets. Therefore, I am skeptical when I read quotes such as this one, by Wang Hongyi of the China Institute of International Studies: "The Western approach of imposing its values and political system on other countries is not acceptable to China...We focus on mutual development, not promoting one country at the expense of another." I suspect that in China's economic relations with primary commodity-producing African countries, there is definitely one country gaining at the expense of the other -- at least at the expense of the other's people.

This should be a wake-up call to Western democracies and to Africa's regional powers that they cannot allow China to promote its top-down development model unchallenged in Africa -- but it should also warn Western leaders that they cannot expect African leaders to liberalize their economies and move toward democracy without offering some tangible benefit. For starters, it is imperative for the developed countries to reach a trade agreement that reduces their agricultural subsides and price supports, thereby opening their markets to agricultural products from Africa.

The deep pockets of developed consumers should be a major weapon in the advance of liberal democracy and capitalism, but Western governments must make the decision to use their markets to encourage African governments to move in the direction of greater liberty. Developed countries cannot stop China from doing business with unsavory African governments, but they can outmaneuver China by opening their sophisticated, extraordinarily wealthy markets to African producers.

The China-Africa summit should signal only the beginning of the ideological "battle for Africa," not its denouement.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

New survey on Japan's Iraq mission

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports today on a government survey that shows that among those surveyed (around 1800 people), 71.5 per cent said they "valued" the JSDF's reconstruction operation in Iraq, with only 22.6 per cent saying that they didn't value the mission.

Among those who said they valued it, as with earlier polls, they pointed to the mission's contributions to the Iraqi people, its role in improving the security environment, and its contribution to improving Japan's position in the world.

At the same time, the survey shows what I've said before: the Japanese people will support a Japan that cooperates by sending troops abroad to uphold stability, keep the peace, and rebuild shattered societies, but it will not support dispatches to fight -- not yet. As the JDA concluded from this survey (my translation), "There has been increasing popular recognition of how the JSDF helped Iraq, but the public also highly values that the JSDF troops left Iraq without suffering any fatalities."