Saturday, September 29, 2007

More on DPJ parliamentary strategy

Following on Asahi's report on Mr. Ozawa's order to the DPJ to prepare a storm of legislation, Sankei provides a fuller survey of the DPJ's arsenal as it prepares for battle against Mr. Fukuda.

One pillar is, of course, submitting a host of legislation to the Upper House. Sankei notes that in at least one case, the political funds control law, Mr. Ozawa is trying to break the LDP-Komeito coalition — but the daylight between the LDP and Komeito on this and other issues may be shrinking as Mr. Fukuda sets about repairing a fundamental prop of the current government that was woefully undermined by Mr. Abe.

The second two pillars are more obstructionist, concerning the use of parliamentary investigative rights and censure motions (and nixing personnel decisions) in the Upper House.

The former is the key to the DPJ's making the Upper House the place where government policies go to die (or at least gather dust). The investigative powers will give the DPJ the power to request documents and call witnesses, at least in the committees it oversees. To delay government legislation and to undermine the effectiveness of the Lower House supermajority — cumbersome to have to wait two months to pass each bill, after all — it will undoubtedly call witness after witness.

On personnel questions, the DPJ can throw a spanner into the works by nixing personnel appointments that require the approval of both houses, such as the presidency of the Bank of Japan. As for censure motions, the DPJ had considered bringing a censure motion against Mr. Abe, but he resigned too early into the Diet session for the DPJ to deliver on this threat. The article suggests that the DPJ recognizes that at this point a censure motion isn't a realistic option; for the moment, they're stuck with Mr. Fukuda.

But for that reason I'm not clear on what Mr. Ozawa is aiming to accomplish. The DPJ cannot pass laws without the government's approval; the government can, if necessary, pass laws without the Upper House. With his "legislative storm," Mr. Ozawa may be trying to call the government's bluff: "You say you want to cooperate — well, how about these laws?" But what if Mr. Fukuda and the LDP cooperate? I think the LDP probably has the most to gain from cooperation, hence the persistent calls for a grand coalition. The DPJ, meanwhile, wants the government to appear out of touch and lethargic. In game theory terms, under cooperation the DPJ doesn't exactly "lose," but the payoff is smaller — it gains less than it would in a situation where the government is inactive, while the DPJ is actively passing legislation in the Upper House. But that scenario seems to be increasingly unlikely. Mr. Fukuda is certainly aware of what's at stake, and will do whatever it takes to regain the public trust, including swallowing what for some LDP members is the bitter pill of cooperation with the DPJ.

Is Mr. Ozawa certain that he has the public behind him? Or are the Japanese people weary and actually willing to give Mr. Fukuda a chance to succeed? If the latter, the DPJ's use of obstructionist tools in the hope of triggering an early election — Mr. Ozawa's "Jiminto delenda est" strategy — could quite easily backfire.

I am by no means saying that the DPJ shouldn't be submitting legislation to the Diet; having won its near-majority, of course it should. But the question is one of intent. Is the DPJ submitting legislation simply to pressure the government, or is it submitting legislation because it actually wants to see laws passed? If the latter, it has no choice but to cooperate with the LDP-Komeito coalition, meaning, like I argued before, that if the DPJ actually wants positive legislative achievements before the next election, it has no choice but to cooperate with the government, which will paradoxically lessen the electoral significance of said legislative achievements.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Legislative storm!

As Nagatacho waits for Mr. Fukuda's maiden speech to the Diet, which will presumably outline how his government intends to proceed in the remaining weeks (months?) of the current special session of the Diet, the DPJ has decided to strike first on the legislative front.

Following Mr. Ozawa's orders to the DPJ's Next Cabinet, the DPJ is executing what Asahi calls a "storm of legislation."

"This offensive," writes Asahi, "originates in Mr. Ozawa's 'command.'"

"On the morning of the 26th, Mr. Ozawa spoke on the phone with his inner circle on 'how to proceed on legislation.' Reporting on the problem of 'leading without followers,' on the same day he attended a meeting of the DPJ's 'Next Cabinet.' Calling on responsible NC members one by one, he said, 'If nothing is submitted, the DPJ's popularity will fall to earth' and strongly pressed for all sorts of legislation to be submitted to the Diet during the current session."

The ledger of bills includes a bill to revise the system of support for disaster victims and post-disaster reconstruction, a bill on support for the disabled, an emergency countermeasures bill for hepatitis, and a pensions system reform bill.

Does this pronouncement suggest a reduced emphasis on pressing for dissolution of the House of Representatives and a snap election, an election for which the DPJ may not even be ready? (The DPJ just concluded a "regime change" pact with the PNP and SDP, with provisions for DPJ support for 20-25 PNP, SDP, and independent candidates, and a perusal of the DPJ website shows that the party has not finalized its Lower House nominations yet — a process which Mr. Ozawa reputedly wants to micromanage, though I can't help but wonder what kind of time he has to review each candidate for the LH.)

Perhaps the increasingly likely prospects of a general election — a Mainichi poll found 74% of respondents desiring a general election within the next year, and Mr. Fukuda has certainly made clear that he's not averse to the idea — have focused Mr. Ozawa's mind on the problem of how to sell the party in an election that could be just around the corner, particularly in the face of a more competent government. But the "legislative storm" could backfire, in the sense that any legislation the DPJ manages to pass will be the result of cooperation with the government, leaving the DPJ to fight with the LDP over who deserves the credit (and criticizing the government for bills not passed).

This could have the opposite effect from what advocates of a two-party system have hoped for: rather than having election campaigns focused on policy, divided government could result, at least this time around, in a campaign rooted in the personalities of candidates and the party leaders and vapid slogans about advancing reform and castigating the other as "the old LDP." (With Ozawa as the leader of the DPJ, a Fukuda-Ozawa showdown could actually come down to this last point.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A tailwind, but where to?

In a year that has been nothing but hurricane-strength headwinds for the LDP, the party has for the first time in months a wind at its back.

The talk of the day is, of course, the first opinion polls on the Fukuda cabinet, which show, across the board, a considerable boost for Mr. Fukuda and the LDP. Yomiuri found 57.5% support for the new cabinet, Mainichi also found 57% support (apparently the same support Fukuda the elder had upon his inauguration), Nikkei found 59% support, and Asahi, not surprisingly, found 53% support. Given the depths to which the Abe cabinet had sunk, I think these numbers are about as good as the LDP could have expected. The underlying weariness after the disappointments of the year of Abe has not dissipated, but the voters are at least willing to give Mr. Fukuda a chance, even if a majority of Asahi's respondents think Mr. Fukuda marks a return to the old LDP.

Mr. Fukuda, due to give his maiden speech to the Diet on October 1st, is already giving signs that, like Mr. Koizumi, he understands that the root of Japan's economic and social problems is political. At a meeting with senior bureaucrats today, Mr. Fukuda emphasized that without the trust and confidence of the people, it will be impossible to execute reforms. Restoring confidence will depend on (to continue the maritime metaphor) Mr. Fukuda's running a tight ship, preserving discipline in his cabinet and demanding that his government be accountable to the people. That alone will not guarantee success, but it will make Mr. Ozawa's life that much more difficult.

You have the public and your party behind you Mr. Fukuda. Now what?

Like father, like son

Following this post from last week, this article in Mainichi today caught my eye:
Fukuda cabinet: many common points between father and son

Coming to the plate in a "ninth inning, two outs, bases loaded" crisis
The article proceeds to discuss the number of similarities between the circumstances faced by Fukuda the elder and Fukuda the younger, not least the problems involved with reports of widespread corruption and recovering from a major electoral defeat that empowered the opposition.

But, the article notes, if the LDP couldn't afford any errors thirty years ago, it has even less margin for error now, hence Mr. Fukuda's adoption of the catchphrase "last stand cabinet" to describe his government. As Mr. Fukuda said yesterday, "If we take even one false step, the LDP will lose power."

I wonder if the sense of crisis Mr. Fukuda has himself tried to evoke isn't slightly hyperbolic. The LDP is undoubtedly in dire straits — I've said as much myself. But one mistake? I think Mr. Fukuda will find that having given himself some breathing room in the early going, he will have some room to push an agenda — and make many voters think twice about whether they really want Mr. Ozawa to be the prime minister. Of course, he will still have to avoid making the amateurish mistakes that doomed Mr. Abe. But then again, Mr. Fukuda will benefit from the favorable contrast with his predecessor, just as Mr. Abe suffered from governing in the shadow of Mr. Koizumi. Just imagine the benefit to Mr. Fukuda's support if in the event of ministerial graft (or a ministerial gaffe) he were to act forcefully and quickly to demand accountability and dismiss the wrongdoer.

Meanwhile, Kyodo has come out with the first poll numbers for the Fukuda cabinet — 57.8% favorable. Not a bad position to be in as he readies himself for a clash with the DPJ.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

From Team Abe to Team LDP

The first day of the Fukuda cabinet has passed, and the new prime minister has already put himself in about as advantageous a position as possible in light of the difficult circumstances in which he has taken office.

Criticism from the opposition and the media about the return of the factions notwithstanding, Mr. Fukuda has ensured that the party's respected elders are at his side, responsible for the government — they will not be sniping at him from the sidelines. While the question of the LDP's unruly conservative ideologues remains, in the meantime Mr. Fukuda has ensured that cabinet and party leadership will serve him. The Fukuda cabinet will not be characterized by a power vacuum at the top, unlike in the Abe cabinet. Significantly, the Policy Affairs Research Council (PARC), which has historically served as the primary organ by which backbenchers and zoku giin could exert bottom-up influence on policy making, is in the hands of Mr. Tanigaki, who is undoubtedly just grateful to be back in power after a year in the wilderness and thus will (gladly?) be taking marching orders from the prime minister.

So I have to disagree with Garrett DeOrio on this: the inclusion of faction chiefs is not automatically a bad thing. Indeed, for all the talk about the return of the factions, this argument seems odd in light of Mr. Fukuda's being the fourth consecutive prime minister from the Machimura faction. The inclusion of faction leaders in the cabinet might be more a sign of just how cheaply their support can be bought, rather than a sign of the undue influence the factions are prepared to wield over policy. (And it is necessary to recall that the factions have not historically been cohesive ideological units, being more about personal and monetary ties than about policy agendas — the zoku have been as or more important for policy making purposes.)

Meanwhile, he has made a wise choice in assembling his foreign policy team, shifting Mr. Komura from defense to foreign affairs and giving the defense portfolio to Ishiba Shigeru, defense policy wonk and JDA chief under Mr. Koizumi. With Mr. Ishiba's inclusion in the cabinet, the Fukuda cabinet now includes perhaps the two most prominent critics of Mr. Abe's decision to remain in office after the July landslide, the other being Mr. Masuzoe. If Mr. Fukuda is serious about sending a message that he recognizes the LDP's problems and seeks to learn from Mr. Abe's mistakes, including internal "dissidents" is a good way to start. Mr. Ishiba's appointment will undoubtedly also placate Washington, as Mr. Ishiba is a prominent but sensible advocate of closer US-Japan defense cooperation who pushed hard for a Japanese contribution to Iraqi reconstruction. (The US will also no doubt be pleased by Mr. Fukuda's intention to visit Washington in November, hopefully with a new anti-terror law in hand — or at least a new law in the pipeline.) When it comes to expertise on defense matters, Mr. Ishiba can go toe-to-toe with any of the DPJ's defense wonks, important considering that the point of contention this term is the anti-terror special measures law, a new version of which Mr. Fukuda intends to submit this Diet session. (And his being telegenic won't hurt the government's attempt to spin reports that the MSDF, in fact, assisted Operation Iraqi Freedom illegally.)

Beyond consolidating his support within the LDP, Mr. Fukuda has acted quickly to calm the fears of Komeito, the LDP's nervous coalition partner. Komeito's leadership is undoubtedly thrilled to see Mr. Abe replaced with Mr. Fukuda, seeing as how the former exposed the extent to which Komeito had sold out its principles for the sake of holding power with the LDP. Mr. Fukuda has agreed to support two legislative proposals favored by Komeito, a freeze on plans to raise the burden of elderly health care born by patients and a political funds law revision that makes it a requirement to attach all receipts for expenses exceeding one yen to funds reports (meaning that support for this version of the political funds control revision effectively has uniform support among the government coalition and the DPJ, although Mr. Ozawa took care to emphasize that the LDP has come along reluctantly). Whatever threat Komeito posed to the durability of the coalition under Mr. Abe has been more or less neutralized.

That leaves the DPJ. Mr. Ozawa has welcomed Mr. Fukuda to power by insisting once again that the House of Representatives should be dissolved and a general election held. Asked to comment on Mr. Fukuda, Mr. Ozawa said, "I have no comment on him as an individual. For the LDP-Komeito government, it will be the same whoever takes the place of prime minister. The continuation of LDP-Komeito government has meant the distortion of Japanese society, giving birth to injustice, inequality, and disparities in all areas." Should Mr. Fukuda's cabinet score highly in the polls that will be published any day now, however, the pressure on the DPJ to change its tune could become unbearable. The DPJ cannot rely on Mr. Fukuda to give them gifts in the manner that Mr. Abe's cabinet did. They will have to work on outfoxing their new opponent, because I don't think the rejectionist line will be sufficient in the face of a new prime minister who has acted quickly to neutralize (some but not all) potential enemies within the coalition and is now prepared to deal with the DPJ.

The restive right

In recent days I've argued that Japan watchers may soon find that Mr. Fukuda, who is ascending to the premiership with a hail of acclaim as a unity candidate, will turn out to be no such figure; he will likely face considerable opposition from within his own party.

As MTC notes in a brief but astute post, the meaningful division within the LDP — aside from urban-rural differences — is not along factional lines but along ideological lines (a division that to some extent follows generational lines). Except that there is little contest as to who holds the upper hand in the party: on social and foreign policy questions, the taka-ha (hawks) is in control.

The pragmatic Mr. Fukuda's surprising climb up the greasy pole notwithstanding, the LDP is increasingly an ideologically coherent party. As Richard Samuels and J. Patrick Boyd wrote in the monograph discussed in this post, the relegation of conservative ideologues to the LDP's anti-mainstream positions for the duration of the cold war (with few exceptions) has collapsed since the cold war's end, meaning that ideologically speaking, Mr. Fukuda and his hato-ha beliefs are actually anti-mainstream. He is only ascending to power today by virtue of a political crisis that has left the LDP paralyzed and scared, prompting the LDP's more moderate elders to turn to one of their own. As MTC notes, the hawkish youngsters did not feel the same, and gave Mr. Aso a surprisingly high tally in Sunday's presidential vote.

Komori Yoshihisa today provides another reminder that the ideologues and their allies in the media will not be forgiving of "lapses" by Mr. Fukuda. Mr. Komori digs up a record of a meeting between Mr. Fukuda and the abductee families after Mr. Koizumi's September 2002 visit to Pyongyang, when Mr. Fukuda was chief cabinet secretary, in which Mr. Fukuda apparently acted callous to the families. Just because Mr. Abe, an exemplary member of the young hawks, crashed and burned doesn't mean that the ideologues are marginalized — which means that the abductions issue, their pet issue, will not be abandoned without a fight.

How much slack will the restive ideologues give the pragmatic, flexible prime minister?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Yosano out, Machimura in

It looks like Mr. Mori will get his wish.

Mr. Fukuda, in advance of his assumption of the premiership, has named Machimura Nobutaka to the post of chief cabinet secretary. Readers will recall that Mr. Mori was insistent during August that Mr. Abe named Mr. Machimura to the post of chief cabinet secretary, unsolicited advice that Mr. Abe chose to ignore.

As expected, Mr. Mori will once again be a force to be reckoned within the party — and that's probably not a good thing for anyway.

Mr. Machimura's promotion means that, as Jun Okumura notes, the foreign affairs portfolio is free for Mr. Aso to reclaim it, provided that Mr. Fukuda — and his backers — want to reward Mr. Aso with such a high profile post, especially given the differences in how each man thinks Japan should deal with North Korea. For my part, I'll be surprised if Mr. Aso returns to the Foreign Ministry, not least because he has adamantly rejected the idea of taking a major cabinet portfolio.

"Just wait 'til I get through with it"

In honor of Mr. Fukuda's anticipated election as prime minister today, please enjoy this clip from "Duck Soup" (1933), the Marx Brothers classic.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fukuda (not surprisingly) purges Aso

Not surprisingly, Mr. Fukuda has acted quickly in replacing the LDP leadership. Mr. Aso is out as LDP secretary-general, Ishihara Nobuteru, his supporter, is out as PARC chairman, and Suga Yoshihide is out as election strategy chairman. Messrs. Nikai and Oshima will retain their positions as chairman of general affairs and Diet strategy respectively.

Stepping in are Ibuki Bunmei as secretary-general (vacating the education portfolio) and, coming in from the cold, Tanigaki Sadakazu as PARC chairman.

I can't say that the new party leadership is surprising, and I'm not altogether sure it's an improvement. Competent, maybe, and sure to do the bidding of Mr. Fukuda — but I guess that's what counts.

UPDATE — I mistakenly omitted the appointment of Koga Makoto as the election strategy chairman, meaning that, as MTC points out, the Fukuda cabinet has become a "faction head employment agency." All but three faction heads (including Aso) are now in either the cabinet or the LDP leadership. I'm not sure what difference it will make, if any. It certainly makes it harder for Mr. Fukuda to present himself as standing for a new LDP, as the DPJ has hastened to note. But will it mean that Mr. Fukuda is excessively deferential to factional interests?

Will Fukuda have a honeymoon?

In his initial remarks yesterday, Mr. Fukuda indicated that he recognizes what Mr. Koizumi recognized, namely that the LDP is responsible for the state of the economy and politics.

Describing the election results, he insisted, "This is not old-style solidarity among factions." His task: "Regaining the people's trust." He spoke at length on the problem of trust in politics, sounding like the most forthright of "outsider" American presidential candidates.

"In particular, concerning the pension problem, the truly big problem is that the people have been given the impression that they cannot trust politics and government," he said. "I think this is an exceedingly big problem. Regarding this problem, each ministry is responsible, but I think that it is also the major responsibility of politicians, who have the position of directing this. In particular, I think the responsibility of the LDP, which has sustained governments for a long time, is great. I fully realize this responsibility, and it is essential to be committed to the idea that the LDP must be reborn."

I have to imagine that we would not be hearing the word "caretaker" if these words came from a new prime minister twenty years younger and considerably more telegenic than Mr. Fukuda. As it is, it's an open question whether Mr. Fukuda will be able to repeat Mr. Koizumi's feat of leading the LDP to victory by campaigning against the LDP. [Ed. — Fool me once...] But I think he means it when he dismisses the idea of his being a cat's paw of the factions. He has his own ideas about the LDP and its future — and they might be disappointing to his backers, Mr. Mori included. The question is whether he will be able to implement them.

Meanwhile, the tone he took on the looming problem of the anti-terror special measures law was distinctly different than that of his predecessors. Namely, he conceived the law in largely negative terms, as a way to avoid the opprobrium of other countries (which have been so kind as to thank Japan for its contribution). Not surprisingly, for this way of thinking Mr. Fukuda has earned the appellation of "realist" from Michael Green. The Fukuda cabinet will likely mean a turn away from the exuberant embrace of the US that characterized Japanese foreign policy under Messrs. Koizumi and Abe. As Mainichi suggests, a flexible, prudent approach will undoubtedly characterize Mr. Fukuda's foreign policy in all areas. The perfervid ideological thinking that resulted in the Abe cabinet's scheme for an "arc of freedom and prosperity" is set to retreat to the back benches and study groups of the LDP, for the time being anyway.

It's actually an amazing trick Mr. Fukuda has pulled: he has managed to convince everyone (or the media, which has subsequently convinced everyone) that he is a mellow conciliator, when in fact his positions will make plenty of people unhappy. For all the talk of LDP unity, how long before young firebrands and old faction bosses get fed up with his way of governance and make their gripes known, loudly and persistently?

One thing is certain. Mr. Fukuda will not enjoy a honeymoon in his relations with the DPJ, no matter how eagerly he tries to reach out and cooperate. The DPJ has signaled that it will not relent in its confrontational stance and will continue to push for an early general election. Whether this strategy will succeed is entirely different question.

Kono looks on the bright side of life

Kono Taro, wunderkind Lower House member from Kanagawa, and Aso supporter, looks at the bright side of Mr. Aso's defeat in a post at his blog:
In Saitama prefecture, with 10,055 and 10,498 votes, we lost by only a difference of 400 votes [Ed. — fuzzy math?]. If we had one won this, we would have taken three votes, giving us a total of 200, and influencing Saitama's Nakano, Imai, and Yamaguchi.

Our predictions were exceeded considerably, and we were in good spirits. Aizawa Hideyuki-sensei [Ed. — 89, LH, Tottori 2] made a toast and joked about not saying congratulations. Someone said it was like the wake of someone who died at 100 years of age, disappointing but sufficient. Someone else said, yes, ninety-seven years of age. The Saitama three laughed bitterly.

The received votes were Aso 197, Fukuda 330.

The party member votes were Aso 65, Fukuda 76.

But the actual numbers of party members' votes cast around the country were Aso 252,809, Fukuda 250,186. Aso won by more than 2,000 votes.

In Tokyo, Osaka, Kagawa, and Miyagi, where he made campaign stops, it was all Aso.

In Kagawa, Ehime, and Kochi, where there were no Diet members publicly supporting Aso, it was all Aso.

There were seventeen prefectures in which Aso won the vote among party members, eighteen where Fukuda won, and twelve prefectures in which party officials decided without regarding member votes.

The population of prefectures Aso won totaled 64,700,000, the population of prefectures Fukuda won totaled 37,890,000. (The remainder was 25,180,000.)

Among the ten most heavily populated prefectures, Fukuda won only fifth-ranked Saitama and seventh-ranked Hokkaido. Excluding the three votes Aso automatically won in ninth-ranked Fukuoka, seven were Aso's (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka, Aichi, Chiba, Hyogo, Shizuoka).
I'm not sure how much significance one should attach to these numbers, but they do suggest that while an Aso insurgency didn't materialize, he did find not inconsiderable support among broad swathes of the country. His support in urban areas, however, may not matter much, because the challenge in a general election is appealing to nonaligned voters — not the party rank-and-file. For the immediate task at hand, healing the party's wounds in advance of a general election, means appealing to the rural rank-and-file, who have recently shown their willingness to desert the party.

Mr. Kono's remarks suggest relatively little ill will, meaning that the risks of an Aso irritant within the party are pretty much nil. He will return to the fold, chastened.

But as Asahi finds in its analysis of the vote, the result among Diet members was beyond the Aso camp's wildest dreams: "It's a protest vote against the contemporary LDP."

Can the anti-terror law be rescued this session?

The most significant challenge facing Mr. Fukuda as he enters office may be responding to allegations that the MSDF refueling mission in the Indian Ocean was in fact refueling US ships participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which would, of course, contravene the terms of the MSDF mission.

In addition to the allegations noted by Jun Okumura, the former commanding officer of the USS Enterprise told Asahi that Japanese vessels provided fuel for operations related to OIF — with the Ministry of Defense's admitting that this was possible.

All of this gives credence to the DPJ's claims that the government has been less than forthcoming with information about the MSDF mission, thereby justifying the DPJ's opposition to the extension of the law.

Argues Nagashima Akihisa, DPJ member of the House of Representatives: "And still the government argues this [the MSDF only support OEF] vehemently! They not know when to give up, and they're excessively dishonest and insincere." Mr. Nagashima suggests an important point — namely that American officers weren't particularly concerned about the finer points of the law enabling Japan's contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom when they went about their missions, which straddled OEF and OIF. He is unclear, however, about the impact these revelations will have on public support for renewal, which has been trending in the government's favor of late.

But Mr. Fukuda has expressed his determination to introduce a new bill this session that authorizes support for OEF, this despite the recommendation of Yamasaki Taku, his ally, that a new bill should wait until next year's regular Diet session. He insists that it is necessary to pass the bill this session, lest other countries begin to wonder "what is Japan really doing." It's altogether unclear to me how Mr. Fukuda can do this. As Amaki Naoto suggests, these latest revelations about the deception surrounding the MSDF mission should and will likely stiffen Mr. Ozawa's and the DPJ's resolve on this issue, which means that presumably any anti-terror bill sent by the Lower House to the Upper will languish there until the end of the session. Regardless of how quickly the government could get a new law through the Lower House, that would mean that the government would have to wait until several weeks into the new Diet session before the bill automatically became law by virtue of the Upper House's not acting on it.

The wild card might be public opinion. If Mr. Fukuda is given a honeymoon, he may be able to use public support as a bludgeon to pressure the DPJ to compromise on the Indian Ocean mission, regardless of the allegations of illegal activities by the MSDF. The ASDF's Iraq mission is probably beyond salvaging in light of these revelations, if it wasn't doomed already; it's too good a bargaining chip for the government not to use to get a compromise on a bill that has become the single biggest test facing Mr. Fukuda.

It's official

Fukuda Yasuo is the new president of the Liberal Democratic Party and will be (presumably) be elected prime minister on Tuesday.

For coverage of the oh-so-predictable voting, check out Shisaku and TPR.

There's not much I can add to Jun Okumura's assessment of what this means. Mr. Fukuda ended up winning comfortably enough so as not to further exacerbate intraparty tension. While not winning by a landslide in the prefectural votes, Mr. Fukuda had a strong enough showing so as to deny Mr. Aso the opportunity to continue to contest the presidency as a pretender to throne with legitimacy derived from support in the grassroots.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Fukuda will be able to salvage the current Diet session, and whether he will even last long enough to finish Mr. Abe's presidential term, which lasts until September 2009. To hasten the return to normalcy, he is expected to retain most of Mr. Abe's second cabinet. (Yomiuri speculated today that even while removing Mr. Aso as LDP secretary-general, he'll retain Hatoyama Kunio, Mr. Aso's ally, as justice minister.) But he will face a DPJ that is aiming to make the Fukuda cabinet but a short interlude between the Abe train wreck and a DPJ triumph in a general election.

The DPJ has used the unexpected break caused by Mr. Abe's resignation to "go to the people" and continue to sell its agriculture policies to restive rural Japan, reassuring farmers that the money exists to provide the promised subsidies. The party has, in fact, announced that it will submit its income compensation bill to the Diet in mid-October. The debate over that bill, if and when it happens, may be more consequential for the balance between the parties and their prospects leading to a general election than the ongoing battle over the anti-terror special measures law.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A new era dawns?

On the brink of today's LDP election, the government dissolved the "Building a beautiful country" planning group that was to be the vanguard of Mr. Abe's campaign to leave the "postwar regime" behind. The Abe revolution is over.

But what will replace it?

As LDP members vote today, I think that my assessment is correct: an Aso insurgency has not materialized. While Mr. Aso may get a few more defections from among Diet members than initially expected after the factions threw their weight behind Mr. Fukuda, it seems that Mr. Fukuda still enjoys the support of more than two-thirds of Diet members, and the early returns are strongly in Mr. Fukuda's favor — Asahi reports that he has already secured 61 votes to Mr. Aso's 44. Even if Mr. Aso were to sweep up the remaining prefectural chapters (and receive all three votes from each), his victory would be relatively small, winning fewer than two-thirds of the prefectural vote, not nearly high enough to embarrass the faction heads and Mr. Fukuda.

Now to governing. It is unclear what the rise of Mr. Fukuda, the awkward, impolitic reluctant politician — he has actually said that he doesn't really want the job — who apparently resembles Homer Simpson and wears glasses that haven't been style since the 1970s, if ever, presages. To take up Devin Stewart's post asking whether "it's 1975," the emergence of Mr. Fukuda might suggest to some that Japan is going back to the future politically (given the role of the factions in Mr. Fukuda's candidacy).

But for Japan, the US (the subject of Stewart's post), and for Europe, there is no going back to 1975. I view this question from a "Tofflerian" perspective (Future Shock and The Third Wave in particular). The crisis faced by the industrial democracies in the 1970s was effectively the end of industrial society — the end of plans, the end of confidence in the ability of technocratic elites to control reality. Whatever the superficial resemblance of current events to the 1970s, it is only that. The challenge of the present in Japan, the US, and throughout Europe is to build a new order for the post-industrial age. The problem is probably most acute for Japan, which has been slow to de-centralize, is more hierarchical than the other post-industrial democracies, and has had a relatively higher share of its population engaged in agriculture. Of course, in cultural terms, Japan is probably leading the way into the future as its cities grow and urban culture evolves (and influences the rest of the world).

The challenge for Mr. Fukuda, and for his successors for years to come, is to build political and economic institutions for an urban, post-industrial Japan: an education system that prepares children for work other than that in large, hierarchical organizations; trade policy, especially in agriculture, that acknowledges that Japan will not be self-sufficient and thus puts consumer interests ahead of producer interests; a pension system in which the burden for supporting retirees shifts from the private sector to the government. The list goes on and on. Japan is in dire need of institutions befitting an urban society.

Mr. Koizumi understood that without change the LDP would be unfit to lead Japan into a new era. Does Mr. Fukuda recognize this, and is he prepared to do something about it?

Observing Japan in audio, part two

The second part of my conversation with Trans-Pacific Radio's Garrett DeOrio is now online. It focuses mostly on foreign policy questions surrounding today's LDP presidential election.

You can listen to the first part here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The DPJ pushes on all fronts

In the midst of chaos in the LDP, the DPJ has been working to press its advantage on all fronts in anticipation of an early election for the House of Representatives. At the grass roots, the party leadership has directed young members to return to their districts to campaign — and bear the message of the need for a quick general election, regardless of who the next prime minister is. Mr. Ozawa has in fact signaled that in mid-October he is set to undertake another trip around the country, ostensibly to thank voters in rural prefectures for their support in the Upper House election but also to bolster the DPJ's support in advance of another election upon which Mr. Ozawa is "staking his political life."

Meanwhile, on the legislative front, the DPJ made clear in Upper House budget hearings this week that it intends to trim the pork from the budget, while bureaucrats signaled that they would perform the necessary nemawashi with the DPJ, working with DPJ legislators to formulate the budget and related policies. (It's not like the ministries have much of a choice.)

Finally, on the foreign policy front, the DPJ has dismissed the UNSC resolution that included a line thanking Japan for its support in the Indian Ocean, with Mr. Hatoyama once again condemning the government's lobbying for the expression of thanks as "deplorable" and "shameful."

At the same time, Sankei's Komori Yoshihisa has responded to the DPJ's "UN-centered foreign policy" with a broadside that asks whether the "UN can defend Japan" or "prevent war." Now, I don't disagree. In fact, I've criticized the DPJ for the same — a UN-centered security policy is not a security policy, it is the absence of a security policy. But should the alternative be remaining dependent on the US? Komori's own basis for criticizing the UN is the lack of support Japan has received from the UN on the abductions issue. Fine, but the US hasn't exactly been sticking its neck out on the issue either. In other words, Japan's foreign policy should not and dare I say will not be all or nothing at all. It should use the UN when it suits its purposes, it should maintain a healthy relationship with the US (in which Japan is free to disagree with the US without fearing for its security), and it should develop a panoply of relationships within the region to maximize its flexibility as an actor in the Asia-Pacific. It is useless to spend one's energy tearing down the UN — or, for that matter, the US-Japan alliance. As an increasingly middling power in a region of giants, Japan will be best served by expanding its options, which will mean embracing any and every tool and mechanism that enables Japan to wield influence in the region and globally. (And given that the region will not be neatly divided along clear battle lines, this approach is well suited to Asia in the twenty-first century.)

I think the DPJ is groping in the direction of a Japanese foreign policy that would follow these lines; it just needs to do a better job articulating it.

Fukuda follows his father

The LDP presidential election is now just two days away, set to be held on Sunday. All signs point to Fukuda Yasuo being elected as party president and thus prime minister.

Mr. Fukuda evidently has the support of seventy percent of the 387 Diet members and leads in at least twenty-three prefectures.

Mr. Aso simply overplayed his hand, as the controversial article in this week's Shukan Gendai — which discusses Aso's "coup" and his overweening ambition to be prime minister — makes clear, and whatever concerns the prefectural chapters have about Mr. Fukuda's ascending to the premiership on the back of factional support, those concerns do not seem to be significant enough to lead them to buck the parliamentary LDP.

And so Mr. Fukuda will step into the leadership of a broken party, facing circumstances not unlike his father's ascendancy in 1976. Fukuda Takeo took over the LDP following the Lockheed scandal that consumed Tanaka Kakuei and in the wake of the LDP's worst House of Representatives election since the LDP formed, in which official LDP candidates failed to take a majority (the LDP was only able to hold a majority by virtue of conservative independents who ran without the LDP's endorsement and joined the party after being elected). One of the elder Fukuda's first acts as prime minister was to create a headquarters for executing party reform of which he was the head. The headquarters ultimately introduced a primary system for the election of party leaders open to all party members.

Fukuda the younger will not have it as easy as his father: there is no magic bullet to solve the LDP's problems, because there seems to be no easy way to reconcile the party's rural past with an urban present and future, all while holding together a coalition with Komeito and locking horns with an invigorated DPJ.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he's giving few hints as to how he plans to deal with these problems. But I suspect that once in place he could surprise everyone, being a tough, crafty competitor who makes life difficult for rivals and enemies within and without the LDP.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thanks Japan!

The UN Security Council has passed its latest resolution authorizing the activities of the ISAF in Afghanistan, and, as I discussed yesterday, took care to thank Japan for its contribution to Operating Enduring Freedom.

There's very little of note regarding this resolution, except that for the first time it did not pass unanimously — Russia decided to abstain, arguing that OEF is beyond what the UN is capable of supporting.

Will this latest resolution make any difference in the debate in Japan? If the previous resolutions passed by the Security Council authorizing coalition activities in Afghanistan were not enough for Mr. Ozawa, I doubt that this latest measure, with its cloying attempt to coax Japan's continuing involvement, will make any difference.

But there you have it: the UN officially appreciates Japan's Indian Ocean gas station. (And if you think this is just me being unfairly dismissive, a certain prominent Tokyo University academic and public intellectual described it in just those terms when we spoke last year.)

Wanted: a new Japanese grand strategy

Japan apparently has a new strategic concept to replace the irrelevant Yoshida doctrine. At least that's what Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian, thinks.

To Mr. Sheridan, Japan is back, regardless of the troubles following the downfall of Mr. Abe, because "Japan's new strategic personality will transcend individual politicians." There is a certain truth to that, but the problem with Sheridan's piece is that he doesn't quite get around to telling readers what exactly Japan's new strategic personality is.

We get bits and pieces, like these:
"...Japan, like Germany, can undertake its share of the global security burden, can participate in a degree of collective security and need not be shackled by the post-World War II restrictions."

"The alliance now is reciprocal and Japan is an independent strategic player. That does not mean it will always agree with the US, but as such it is an infinitely more valuable ally to the US and a much more valuable strategic partner for Australia."
And, as is obligatory for articles about Japanese security policy now, the slam of Mr. Ozawa:
This was a monstrous bit of opportunism by Ozawa, who has in the past backed the US alliance and backed Japan becoming a normal nation. Operation Enduring Freedom is authorised by the UN and should not be the subject of controversy. But precisely because Ozawa's move was so cynical it probably does not presage a revolution in Japan's new strategic personality. I suspect that with Abe gone the anti-terrorism law will pass. If it fails, this is a blow to Japan's emerging new strategic personality, but Washington and Canberra will try to work around it, not to let it become a litmus test of the US alliance.
I like that: monstrous bit of opportunism.

In the midst of this, however, Mr. Sheridan does not come even close to elaborating what exactly Japan's new strategic personality is. A "normal" Japan that bears a greater global burden and acts as "the only country besides the US willing to talk about Chinese human rights or to caution China meaningfully on Taiwan" is about as close as he gets.

I can't blame Mr. Sheridan for having little to say on this, because Japan itself doesn't know. Japan "doing more" is the beginning of a discussion on Japan's new security role, not the end of it. For all of Mr. Ozawa's "opportunism," there is a real critique asking whether Japan wants to be a junior member of the US global posse. There is still a debate waiting to be had about how Japan can take up more responsibility for its own defense, enabling it to say "no" when it feels its interests aren't at stake, instead of feeling obligated to say "yes" for fear of displeasing the US.

And so the problem with Mr. Sheridan's talking points. Japan's "strategic independence" has meant, in practical terms, strategic isolation in Northeast Asia, as Japan as pursued an independent course in the six-party talks and found that even the US has a hard time standing with Japan on the abductions issue. Ambitious initiatives hawked by Messrs. Abe and Aso have been met mostly with deafening silence. And last time I checked, the constraints on Japanese security policy were still in effect — and there are few signs that they will change anytime soon. (A re-interpretation of the prohibition on the exercise of the right of collective defense, most pressing from Washington's perspective, looks to be on hold indefinitely, between the DPJ's opposition outside the government and Komeito's opposition within.)

The closer one looks at Japan's much-vaunted strategic change, the less impressive it looks. There are a number of questions yet unanswered. Does Japan have the will and the wherewithal to be a global power (and do the Japanese people want that)? If Japan is focused solely on the Asia-Pacific region, will it act as a genuinely independent strategic actor, even if it means disagreeing with the US (on China, for example)? Will it be able to respond to crises in its near abroad, with or without the US? Would Japan's new "posture" — i.e., the road to a greater security role leads through Washington — survive a change of ruling party?

So, no, Japan still hasn't found a replacement for the venerable but archaic Yoshida Doctrine.

What Fukuda has to look forward to

The LDP presidential campaign is proceeding apace, with substance occasionally intruding into the discussion.

Mr. Fukuda's remarks on North Korea policy — discussed here — have apparently triggered rumbling on the right, if Sankei's editorial today is any indication. Mr. Fukuda is obviously not a favor of Japan's right wing, not being one of their number and apparently not owing them anything. Labeling him as a proponent of the "dialogue line," Sankei calls Mr. Fukuda out on the abductions issue, asking him to provide concrete policies that he intends to pursue. The editorial then quotes some past Fukuda quotes on North Korea to show its readers just how soft Mr. Fukuda would be as prime minister. For example: "It is important that we come to embrace a flexible discussion approach." And: "It is natural that we face a changing international environment. It is likely that tactics will change." Both these lines sound good to me, but I guess the average Sankei reader — or perhaps just the average Sankei editor — is outraged by such unabashed pragmatism. (Sankei depends to know what Mr. Fukuda means by "changing international situation" and "tactics.")

Meanwhile, I wonder what Sankei will make of the prospects of better relations with Japan's Asian neighbors under a likely Fukuda administration. Kim Dae Jung, former South Korean president, has said while on a visit to Washington, DC that a Fukuda cabinet will probably mean a reinvigoration of Japan's relations in Asia. (I can't imagine that Sankei is all that pleased about Mr. Ozawa's December trip to China either. Mr. Ozawa will apparently be taking three charter planes full of DPJ Diet members [fifty in total] and supporters to meet with Hu Jintao.)

The Sankei's — and Yomiuri's — comments on Mr. Fukuda's approach to North Korea are a good reminder of what Mr. Fukuda will have to deal with both within and outside the LDP should he be elected party president. He is set to become the moderate, dovish head of a party of unruly hawks who want nothing more than to see Japan slap around North Korea until Kim Jong Il relents. (I think it's fair to describe Mr. Aso's North Korea policy as the "slap around" approach.) For the moment, the desire for unity and calm within the LDP is outweighing any concerns about Mr. Fukuda's ideas, but how long will his honeymoon last should he become prime minister?

Anti-terror bill fight moves to the UN?

Calling the DPJ's bluff, the government is apparently changing its approach on the extension of the MSDF mission by seeking the passage of an UNSC resolution that will thank Japan for its contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom.

Somehow I don't think that's the kind of resolution Mr. Ozawa has in mind when he argues that Japan's contributions abroad must follow a UNSC resolution. Mr. Hatoyama, DPJ secretary-general, dismissed the idea of a resolution thanking Japan resulting from the Japanese government's lobbying as a "farce," and Asao Keiichiro, the DPJ shadow defense minister, said, "Just expressing gratitude is meaningless." [Full disclosure: I was an employee of Mr. Asao's until recently.]

This latest ploy to get the mission extended strikes me as absurd. Short of inventing a time machine and going back to 2001 to convince President Bush to get a UN resolution explicitly authorizing the US campaign in Afghanistan beforehand, I doubt there's a thing the UN Security Council can do at this point to the save the government the embarrassment of having to bring its ships home November 2nd.

Beyond the specific issue of the anti-terror law, however, Mr. Ozawa should clarify precisely what kind of UN sanction he thinks is necessary in order for Japan to be able to send its armed forces abroad — does he really envision more clear-cut scenarios like the first Gulf crisis? If so, his foreign policy stance is nothing but the abdication of a foreign policy, raising the bar for Japanese contributions to international missions to prohibitive heights.

In the meantime, the government should probably have a better plan than begging the UN for a fig-leaf "gratitude" resolution. Going to the UN first might have made a difference in the debate over the bill, but now after weeks of sniping across the Pacific, the government will not be saved by a scrap of paper bearing the UN seal.

Observing Japan in audio

Yesterday I met with Garrett DeOrio of the always useful Trans-Pacific Radio project to record an episode of Seijigiri, TPR's political analysis program.

Listen in here to the first part of an interview that (I think) covered most of the important issues involved in forthcoming LDP presidential election. A second part will air soon on the foreign policy implications.

Comments welcome, especially since this was a new experience for me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Apparently Fukuda isn't just sounding like the DPJ — he's actually using slogans that DPJ leaders used sometime ago.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Ozawa Ichiro joked about Mr. Fukuda's "self-reliance and harmony" slogan, saying that he had been using it from years before, back in 1993 when he left the LDP to create the Shinseito. Hatoyama Yukio also said that his former Democratic Party had used a similar formulation as one of its principles.

Joking aside, I think this just goes to show the threat posed to the DPJ by Mr. Fukuda's increasingly likely premiership. While the LDP and the DPJ are still expected to clash on foreign policy, especially on the extension of the MSDF mission in the Indian Ocean — Mr. Fukuda emphasized yesterday that "discussion is not the same as cooperation" — in general the softer domestic approach advocated by the front runner will make it that much harder for the DPJ to characterize itself as anything other than a "calorie off" LDP.

Mr. Ozawa will no doubt continue to push for a general election, but as the new cabinet forms and sets to work, his calls will likely become less and less effective as the momentum that the DPJ has enjoyed dissipates, at least for the time being. Sooner or later the DPJ will have to put its Upper House majority for something other than saying no.

Monday, September 17, 2007

It's all about Koizumi

It is impossible to talk about the LDP today without acknowledging that the party — and thus Japan's political system — stands in the shadow of Koizumi Junichiro.

For his enemies in the party, branded by Mr. Koizumi as "opposition forces," he is the symbol of everything they loathe, enabler of what the French call "Anglo-Saxon" market fundamentalism. To the Japanese people and his followers within the LDP, he is the symbol for the changes Japan needs to make in order to remain successful, and a decisive break from the old way of politics. Despite withdrawing from the spotlight since leaving the premiership in September 2006, he is the man central to any discussion about Japan's political future, even if the man himself is likely to remain on the sidelines (and may even be out of the Diet by the next House of Representatives election).

Not surprisingly, then, both Mr. Fukuda and Mr. Aso are positioning themselves in relation to Mr. K. Mr. Fukuda, whatever his personal disputes with Mr. Koizumi, has positioned himself firmly in the Koizumi stream, with the caveat that "If problems arise, reform should be carefully amended." Mr. Aso, however, has been described as taking on a distinctly "leaving Koizumi behind" cast. Consistent with his "rural insurgency" campaign strategy, he is using phrases like "market fundamentalism" to argue for prioritizing the concerns of rural Japan over pushing ahead with painful reforms.

For the LDP's short-term political prospects, it cannot be an either/or decision. By dint of his charisma, Mr. Koizumi was able to forge a national movement under the LDP umbrella that could compete in the cities without chasing rural Japanese from the LDP. Absent that charisma? The increasing incompatible and contradictory interests of urban and rural Japan have become apparent. As Takenaka Heizo, Mr. Koizumi's former lieutenant, writes in Sankei, the legacy of Mr. Koizumi is as much about appearances as about substance: "In a democratic society, to make policy for the people, the government has the responsibility both to explain policy in a way that is easily understood by the people and to execute." For Mr. Takenaka, Mr. Abe's problem is that he failed to market his policies well, and poor personnel selections hindered his ability to execute.

And so the LDP's dilemma. One candidate says the right things and will undoubtedly be wise in his choice of advisers but is utterly lacking in charisma; the other desires a departure from Mr. Koizumi's path, but has popular appeal and the ability to attract voters to his side throughout the country, including younger voters in cities. For the time being, it seems like Mr. Fukuda will do, but it is unclear to me whether he will be able to reassemble the Koizumi movement that led the LDP to a historic victory in 2005. Is there a leader in the LDP who can? I'm skeptical, and so I wonder how much longer the LDP can last as a party that it is trying to compete in the cities without losing its rural supporters (or vice versa). The DPJ obviously faces similar pressures, but the LDP, as the ruling party, has more at stake.

Sympathy for the devils?

A common trope among the Japanese right's apologists, revisionists, and other outright deniers of Japan's wartime crimes is that Japanese imperialism was little different from the European imperialism that had divided up Asia over the centuries — indeed, Japanese imperialism was superior because it had the effect (intended or not) of liberating Asians from the European empires.

This may have been the case in the early years of the Japanese empire, when the Meiji oligarchs who conducted Japanese foreign policy were following lessons learned from the imperial powers. But Japan's imperialism from the 1930s onward (with roots in the immediate aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war) was arguably a different matter entirely. (Perhaps this difference is best illustrated in the differing legacies of Japanese imperialism in Taiwan and Korea.)

Why? In The War of the World, Niall Ferguson provides one explanation:
The new empires of the twentieth century were not content with the somewhat haphazard administrative arrangements that had characterized the old — the messy mixtures of imperial and local law, the delegation of powers as well as status to certain indigenous groups. They inherited from the nineteenth-century nation-builders an insatiable appetite for uniformity; in that sense, they were more like 'empire-states' than empires in the old sense. The new empires repudiated traditional religious and legal constraints on the use of force. They insisted on the creation of new hierarchies in place of existing social structures. They delighted in sweeping away old political institutions. Above all, they made a virtue of ruthlessness. In pursuit of their objectives, they were willing to make war on whole categories of people, at home and abroad, rather than on merely the armed and trained representatives of an identified enemy state. It was entirely typical of the new generation of would-be emperors that Hitler could accuse the British of excessive softness in their treatment of the Indian nationalists.

"Introduction," lxvi
I am not suggesting that I buy this argument entirely, but it's worth keeping in mind the next time a Japanese hyper-nationalist rolls out the argument that Japan was just doing what Britain, France, and Holland were doing.

Troubles abroad

In the midst of considering the problems that either Mr. Fukuda or Mr. Aso will inherit, it is important not to forget the foreign policy problems that Japan faces, not least the six-party talks and the North Korea challenge.

As a consequence of Mr. Abe's abductions-centered North Korea policy, Japan is isolated in the six-party talks, insistent on the need for progress on the abductions issue before Japan will consider providing economic support for North Korea and normalizing bilateral relations. Relations are frayed with the US, with Washington impatient concerning cooperation on the war on terror and the lack of progress on revising Japan's restrictions on collective-self-defense — and frustrated by the political turmoil in Tokyo. Relations with China are stable, but relations with South Korea remain frigid. Ambitious diplomatic initiatives for the region have amounted to little more than rhetoric.

Both Mr. Aso and Mr. Fukuda have insisted on their ability to reinvigorate Japanese foreign relations, with the biggest difference being on North Korea policy. Mr. Fukuda signaled today that he desires normalization with North Korea and would entertain it following progress on the nuclear and missile problems; Mr. Aso, however, would continue the Abe line, emphasizing pressure, pressure, and more pressure until North Korea caves. It's not exactly clear what effect pressure will have on Pyongyang when the other participating countries are preparing to move ahead in cooperation with North Korea. As the US has learned with Cuba, unilateral sanctions are more or less useless in forcing a country to change its ways. And so if Mr. Fukuda means what he says, Japan might actually be ready to rejoin the six-party talks and work with the region's other powers in achieving a workable modus vivendi for the Korean peninsula.

Meanwhile, on the Japanese refueling operation in the Indian Ocean, Mr. Fukuda has the upper hand on Mr. Aso, simply by virtue of his reputation as a compromiser. Any solution on this issue will have to involve the DPJ — and it makes good political sense too. The more conciliatory the government, the more pressure on the DPJ to cooperate (and the better to exacerbate tension within the DPJ). According, one should expect more cooperative motions from the DPJ leadership — like Mr. Hatoyama's today suggesting that the DPJ could support actions for the peace of Afghanistan, but not military actions — as Mr. Fukuda's premiership becomes more closer to being reality. The next prime minister will also enjoy more support from the Japanese people, as a Jiji poll has found a majority of respondents in support of extending the mission. A majority of that majority reluctantly supports the measure out of fear that US-Japan relations will worsen, which may be well suited for a more moderate Fukuda cabinet. (Fear for worsening relations is no way to conduct an alliance, but that's a whole other discussion entirely.)

The considerable overlap between Mr. Fukuda's and the DPJ's foreign policy positions — on Asia policy especially — may be both good for Japan and bad for the DPJ. Fukuda's Japan may play a more constructive role internationally, which the DPJ presumably supports, but Mr. Fukuda will make it that much more difficult for the DPJ to distinguish itself from the LDP in an election campaign.

Recommended book: Will The Boat Sink The Water?, Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao

Speaking of rural troubles, I have just finished reading Chen Guidi's and Wu Chuntao's Will The Boat Sink The Water?, which documents the poverty of rural China and the hardships imposed on peasants by a bloated bureaucracy. (This book was briefly available in China, but has since been blacklisted.)

The first half of the book is comprised of anecdotes from Anhui Province, showing episodes of the struggles of rural Chinese as they fought for justice against corrupt officialdom, while the second half using the anecdotes to make a broader argument about how to change conditions in rural China.

The entire book has the feeling of a morality play from an earlier period of Chinese history. The actors are the same — downtrodden peasants, the occasional righteous advocate within or outside the bureaucracy, corrupt taxmen and their goons, and the distant imperial government — but the setting is Mao's New China, in which the peasants were to be liberated from oppression. Ultimately, Chen and Wu provide a glimpse at what lies behind the glittering skyscrapers hugging China's coast and suggest that without rapid and systematic change, the entire growth process will come crashing to a halt.

The book is effective because it presents the problem from the bottom up. Rather than viewing political and economic change from the usual Beijing-centered perspective, Chen and Wu illustrate how the overwhelming majority of Chinese citizens interact with state and party. And it's not pretty. The growth of the bureaucracy in China — thanks in no small part to the country's having five layers of government — has given a class of knaves, thieves, and criminals extraordinary power over the lives of millions at the township and county levels. Not unlike the image of the state in Franz Kafka's "The Great Wall of China," the central state and party organs play a small role in the tale, a distant presence that has promulgated decrees that make defending rural Chinese from oppression state policy but has little ability to exert control over the officials responsible for executing the policy (who also happened to be the target of said policy).

Accordingly, rural "revolts" and unrest cannot necessarily be construed as being directed at Communist Party rule. In fact, in the anecdotes related by Chen and Wu, the peasants who raised concerns about excessive taxation and misrule by officials often have official party policy on their side; their desire is to see "the law" implemented. They seem to look to Beijing with hopeful, not accusatory, eyes.

It remains to be seen how long they will place their hope in the central government and the party's senior officials.

Meanwhile, another problem briefly identified by Chen and Wu is that of rural migrants to the cities, who are second-class citizens at the very least, who enjoy few legal rights, who struggle to find work, and who have no access to public services. This is what prompts them to use the phrase "one country, two nations." How long, they ask, can this system prevail, wherein urban Chinese, who have enjoyed a disproportionate share of economic growth, enjoy a set of privileges denied to hundreds of millions of rural Chinese (either still living in rural areas or having migrated to cities)?

The persistence of rural poverty does not, of course, diminish the impressive achievement that is China's development since the late 1970s — but awareness of what remains to be done should temper more enthusiastic accounts of the rise of China.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fukuda the conciliator

The campaign is well under way, and Fukuda Yasuo is starting to sound like, well, the DPJ just a few short months ago in its campaign for the Upper House.

He has emphasized the need for a "self-reliant and harmonious" society and talked of fixing broken institutions and ease the insecurity of dispossessed portions of the populations; Aso Taro, meanwhile, has been going on about "continuing economic growth," Mr. Abe's line in the Upper House election.

Mr. Aso, however, also seems to be burning his bridges by basing his campaign on the "factional collusion" that worked to give Mr. Fukuda a commanding lead. Mr. Fukuda met with parliamentary supporters yesterday, and according to Mainichi, LDP Diet members are unhappy with Mr. Aso's new approach. In response to his remark about "a fatally flawed majority," members described it as "disagreeable" and "excessive."

In addition to wondering about what will happen if Mr. Aso can pull off a landslide victory in the prefectural chapters, I also wonder what position Mr. Aso will be in at the end of a losing campaign, with or without a landslide in the countryside. Will he return to the fold, chastened by the defeat of his insurgency? Will he continue to be a thorn in the LDP's side, payback for his treatment at the hands of party elders? Will he stay in the party?

An Aso victory looks ever more remote, and a Fukuda administration a (temporary) restorative for both LDP and the political system. Mr. Fukuda has said that he would limit changes to cabinet personnel. He also said that in the event of an intractable situation he would be willing to consult with the opposition about dissolving the House of Representatives and calling an election. It seems less and less likely that the government will make it another two years without calling a general election.

Outside the LDP, Mr. Fukuda appears to enjoy considerable support among the public. An Asahi poll shows him enjoying a commanding (if irrelevant in terms of the party election) support rating of 53% to Aso's 21%. Those surveyed favor a "conciliator" for the next prime minister, and not surprisingly an overwhelming majority sees Mr. Fukuda as a conciliator.

The Japan that Mr. Fukuda looks set to inherit is an insecure Japan, and not simply or primarily because of Mr. Abe's tenure. Concerns about pensions and economic disparities remain paramount, but there is still a desire to continue Mr. Koizumi's reforms (favored by 54% to 36%). And there's the challenge: continuing reforms and finishing the job of destroying the ancien gime, but ensuring that the transition isn't too painful and that too many Japanese aren't left behind by the changes. (For a discussion on this subject that is a bit more loopy, check out this Gordan Chang post and the accompanying responses.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The battle for rural Japan

The campaign for the LDP presidency officially opened on Saturday, and its contours are already apparent.

As now widely acknowleged, Fukuda Yasuo enjoys a commanding position thanks to support of every LDP faction but Aso Taro's.

Mr. Aso, therefore, will be campaigning as a rebel. Thanks in part to the rapid commitment of the factions to Mr. Fukuda, Mr. Aso has now started calling attention to the perils of faction rule, borrowing from the Koizumi playbook to campaign as the candidate for a new LDP. It is unclear whether he can succeed by taking this message directly to the party grassroots.

As Asahi found when it asked LDP prefectural chapter officials about the race, it's not exactly clear what they want from the next leader: "There are differing views: On the one hand, there is the view that approves of the factions' simultaneous embrace of Mr. Fukuda as 'resulting in party unity,' but there is on the other hand the objection that 'it's strange before a policy debate.'" For example, Hokkaido's officials mentioned leadership, while Tohoku officials mentioned the kakusa mondai. Outside of Gunma, Mr. Fukuda's home prefecture, Asahi did not find great enthusiasm for Mr. Fukuda's candidacy — and the process by which the factions rushed to his side seems to have raised eyebrows.

What will it take to placate the prefectural chapters? Will vague promises from Tokyo to listen to their concerns be enough to make them fall into line behind the will of the party elders?

Meanwhile, the discussion about what Fukuda administration's agenda will look like continues, and the consensus increasingly seems to be that it will be like Mr. Abe's, but stripped of ideological fantasies and vacuous slogans. Jun Okumura fleshes this out in considerable detail in this post.

This approach — reformist at home, moderate abroad — could be enough to ensure that the LDP remains competitive in urban Japan, putting pressure on the DPJ in the coming months to work with the government on the budget and related legislation, or else risk getting its hoped-for early election in circumstances more favorable to the government. But rural Japan remains the wild card. Was July's desertion a fluke, or will Mr. Ozawa's "back to the future" strategy actually serve to pry rural voters away from the LDP in general elections as well? If the latter, it's wholly unclear to me what Mr. Fukuda will do to regain the trust of rural Japan.

A potentially ominous sign for the government is MAFF's recent decision to begin working with the DPJ on agricultural policy. It is well known that in the past the bureaucracy has declined to work with the DPJ in drafting its own legislation. For MAFF to begin talking of "conciliation" with the ascendant opposition could well signal just how parlous the LDP's situation in rural Japan is. At the very least, it shows that Mr. Ozawa has actually seized the initiative on agricultural policy with the DPJ's plans for introducing an "income compensation" system, earning the support of sympathizers within MAFF, who are more than happy to support a plan criticized by the LDP as baramaki seisaku (i.e., throwing money around).

Mr. Fukuda, should he hold on to win, has his work cut out for him.

Readers can now visit this blog at

The old URL will redirect you there.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Perhaps not"

Fukuda Yasuo was asked whether he would visit Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister. His answer: "Perhaps not."

It's certainly better than committing to visit, and considering that China was content with Mr. Abe's "neither confirm nor deny" approach to the Yasukuni problem, undoubtedly Beijing is preparing a little party to celebrate if and when Mr. Fukuda is chosen as the next LDP president.

It is still too early to coronate Mr. Fukuda, but there are few obstacles standing in his way. A potential obstacle is the decision by thirty-seven prefectural chapters to hold elections among party members to choose which candidate will receive the chapter's votes (a kind of electoral college system). This means, of course, that Mr. Aso is not guaranteed to receive the support for twelve prefectural chapters. But it also raises the possibility of an awkward scenario. What if Mr. Aso were to somehow win a resounding victory in the vote among the prefectural chapters? While it seems that such a victory would be mathematically insufficient to best Mr. Fukuda, it would create an awkward situation whereby the parliamentary party would be seen as arrogantly dismissing the interests of the regional party members — who already feel slighted and disaffected, as the Upper House election made clear. What would that mean for Mr. Fukuda's efforts to unite a broken party? How would Mr. Aso react?

If Mr. Fukuda talks too frequently and enthusiastically about structural reform — as much as it pleases some of us, myself included — this scenario could become that much more plausible.

Then again, voters could fall into line behind the consensus forged in Tokyo behind Mr. Fukuda's candidacy.

I cannot speak to the probability of these scenarios, but I think it's worthwhile to consider the possibility that the prefectural chapters could throw a spanner into the works.

Who is Fukuda Yasuo?

Another day has passed, and it looks ever clearer that Fukuda Yasuo has cemented enough support to ensure his victory in the Sept. 23rd LDP presidential election. As this Asahi article notes, Mr. Fukuda has apparently gained the support of 298 Diet members, which is well over the necessary 264 votes he needs to win. (The total number of votes in the election is 528, divided between 387 Diet members and 141 prefectural chapter representatives [three from each prefecture].) Mr. Aso is trying to stay in the race by making up lost ground in the regions so to reverse Mr. Fukuda's momentum, but talking about the aged, the sick, and the left-behind, while important, will probably not be enough to reverse the flash flood that has all but drowned Mr. Aso's campaign.

And yet for a man about to become Japan's prime minister, it is unclear exactly what to expect. As Jun Okumura wrote, "It's remarkable how little I know of Mr. Fukuda's views." And if he doesn't know, well, then Mr. Fukuda truly is an enigma. (Jun, you're forgiven for referring to him by his father's name — until he declared his candidacy, I had to remind myself constantly that Yasuo is the son, Takeo the father.)

Mr. Fukuda, now trying to sound prime ministerial, has given some hint as to what his priorities will be. "Mr. Koizumi's way of structural reforms is right. Continuing reform is a major premise." On foreign policy, he noted that a concern for him is "how to strengthen relations with Asia on the foundation of the US-Japan alliance."

One thing that might be worth considering is that Mr. Fukuda is by no means an old-style LDP politician, even though his victory, should it happen, will depend on the vicissitudes of faction politics. In fact, he did not enter the Diet until 1990, when his father retired, although he had worked as his father's secretary during the latter's time as prime minister. This means that Mr. Fukuda entered the Diet only three years and one election before Mr. Abe, who is almost twenty years younger. He too, like Mr. Abe, is set to rise to the premiership without extensive service in the cabinet. Unlike Mr. Abe, however, he is older, wiser, and his record 1259 days as chief cabinet secretary mean that he has a deep knowledge of the workings of the government. He is, as Tomohito Shinoda makes clear in Koizumi Diplomacy, a committed centralizer. Mr. Fukuda coordinated the Koizumi government's response to 9/11 and managed the passage of the anti-terror special measures law. Under Fukuda's watch, Shinoda writes, "...There was a power shift from MOFA to the Kantei in the area of foreign and defense affairs, which is a desirable phenomenon. The emergence of the Kantei...has made it easier for the prime minister to exercise leadership." (85) Mr. Fukuda obviously does not deserve all the credit for this development; indeed, former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko might be the most responsible for the shift in foreign policy making power away from MOFA at the start of the Koizumi cabinet. But Mr. Fukuda helped execute a drastic shift in policy making power to the Kantei, and I would be surprised if he would be overly deferential to the input of LDP policy making organs and the bureaucracy as prime minister.

Mr. Fukuda clearly comes to the job with a certain proficiency for foreign policy — in other words, neither Mr. Fukuda nor Mr. Aso is campaigning on the basis of concrete plans for the Japanese economy. But as the above statement suggests, the personal animosity between Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Fukuda clearly does not extend to the realm of (domestic) policy. As for foreign policy, unlike Messrs. Abe and Koizumi, Mr. Fukuda will not only not go to Yasukuni Shrine, but he might even come out and say that he will not go to Yasukuni Shrine. (He's also a vice-chairman of the Diet member's association in support of the Beijing Olympics, an organization headed by Kono Yohei, and featuring a number of reputed LDP "doves" as vice-chairmen. ) He is clearly not one to prioritize ideological gestures over good and proper policy, meaning that from the start he could not possibly be as miserable a prime minister as Mr. Abe. He has also inherited an interest in maintaining sound relations with Asian powers from his father — author of the Fukuda Doctrine.

In some way, a Fukuda cabinet could be like rewinding the clock to the early weeks of the Abe cabinet, when people were hopeful that Mr. Abe would both restore balance to Japanese foreign policy by concentrating on Asian diplomacy and preserve Mr. Koizumi's emphasis on structural reform.

Unfortunately for Mr. Fukuda, it is no longer October 2006: the LDP's fissures have been laid bare, the DPJ has been calling the tune on the policy agenda, and relations with the US are troubled. He will likely be able to calm some of the tension with Washington, even if he will find it difficult, if not impossible, to give the US what it wants on the anti-terror legislation. His moderation may also serve to embarrass the DPJ before the public, making Mr. Ozawa's aggressive campaigning for an early election look inappropriate given the new mood that Mr. Fukuda would likely convey. But I don't expect him to solve the urban-rural dilemma facing the LDP.

The Afghanistan mission is doomed, for the time being

In the midst of the chaos at the top of the LDP and the government, Yamasaki Taku has announced that any new legislation to enable the MSDF to contribute to coalition operations in and around Afghanistan will be postponed to next year's regular Diet session. Mr. Abe's "international promise" is effectively dead.

This is interesting in light of a recent Mainichi poll that actually found that a majority of respondents favor continuation of the MSDF mission, by a margin of 49% to 42%. Not surprisingly, among the LDP supporters surveyed a whopping 83% supported the mission. I was surprised, however, to find that 39% of independents and 31% of DPJ supporters approve of extending the mission. While the 31% is dwarfed by the 62% opposed, I wonder what the figures would be in a survey of DPJ parliamentarians. Could Mr. Maehara actually get 31% of his fellow Dietmen (and women) to support what was his initial position on the MSDF mission?

In any case, the public is clearly not irrevocably hostile to the idea of the MSDF's contributions, which leads me to wonder whether putting the government in surer hands might lead to the majority support that Mr. Yamasaki said was necessary when he began deliberations on a new bill. In the meantime, I suspect this move will clear the way for LDP cooperation with the DPJ on a civilian reconstruction aid bill to ensure Japanese participation in some form until the Diet can deliberate on another JSDF enabling bill next year.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Two horse race

Nukaga Fukushiro, finance minister and member of the Tsushima faction, the LDP's second-largest, has reportedly abandoned plans to run in the party presidential election, due to pressure from his own faction. This means, of course, that Mr. Fukuda is the undisputed "anybody-but-Aso" candidate — and now the undisputed front runner, having sewed up the support of the party's elders at the head of the major factions.

The outlook is not brilliant for Mr. Aso. As his ally, Hatoyama Kunio, the justice minister, said, "It's extremely tough. Each faction has one after the other come forward to support Mr. Fukuda. But is the number of factions good enough to decide the matter?" It seems that Mr. Aso will have no choice but to launch an "insurgency" in the regions in the hope of highlighting the division in the party between Tokyo and the prefectures and presenting himself as the man who is best prepared to address the concerns of the prefectural party chapters.

Mr. Aso has already begun to take this tack. Asahi reports that at the press conference scheduled for this afternoon he will "stress the regions."

But even that may not be enough. I don't think the LDP is looking to Mr. Fukuda to win a general election, so even if Mr. Aso can convincingly present himself as someone who can appeal to voters around the country, it may not matter. He is a divisive figure at a time that the party elders are craving stability and unity.

The opposition might be looking for a snap election — the DPJ, SDPJ, and PNP have criticized the rush to support Mr. Fukuda as symbolic of the return of old-style LDP faction rule — but I think the LDP is just trying to get through the campaign and the Diet session in one piece. An interesting question is what Mr. Aso will do if and when he loses this campaign. Will he be resentful, and will he take it out on the LDP?

Mr. Aso and the Fukuda headwind

The official campaign period for the LDP presidential election begins today, and the situation is extremely fluid due to the entrance of Fukuda Yasuo into the race, which Mainichi describes as having attracted an instant majority of Diet members thanks to support of the Machimura faction (80 members total) and some members in the Koga (which totals 46 members), Tanigaki (15), and Yamasaki (39) factions. [NB: he doesn't have the total support of those factions, but I'm including the numbers to give their comparative weights.]

As AC wrote commenting on an earlier post, the fervent opposition to Mr. Aso that in the past served to present a significant obstacle to his succeeding Mr. Abe has coalesced, despite Mr. Aso's best efforts to make himself appear as the inevitable successor. Mr. Aso's machinations since the election, including his role in picking the new cabinet, firing Mr. Endo, and otherwise making it clear — as I argued before — that the second Abe cabinet was a de facto Aso-Yosano cabinet, appear to have backfired. (In retrospect, perhaps Mr. Aso was responsible for including Mr. Endo in the first place as a kind of time bomb — or is that too cynical?) He is being held responsible for the chaos that has beset the LDP, not to mention being judged as insensitive to the hospitalized Mr. Abe.

Mr. Fukuda, as the weightiest of the other LDP candidates to enter the race, naturally is benefiting from pent-up opposition to Mr. Aso; he has even gained the support of Koizumi Junichiro, who has swallowed his resentment for Mr. Fukuda, which stems from a long-standing personal grudge. Now that's a broad foundation for victory: Mr. Fukuda already has Mr. Mori pushing hard for him, and now Mr. Koizumi says he "stands in the vanguard" in supporting his candidacy. Apparently Mr. Fukuda's candidacy has even led Mr. Tanigaki to reconsider his candidacy.

Sankei warns, however, that "there is deep-seated support for Mr. Aso among members in various factions, and he intends to work across factions to build a majority."

Also in Mr. Aso's favor is that twelve prefectural chapters have already pledged their support to him (Ed. - ...And received an official Aso Taro tote bag full of his favorite manga), including his home prefecture of Fukuoka, leaving thirty-five prefectural chapters yet to decide, at least six of which will be holding an election among party members to decide the chapter's vote. A survey of the prefectural chapters that asked about what issue they most want the new party president to tackle provides some clue to how they might vote. Given one choice, twenty-six chapters said that the "regional disparity" problem is the number issue they want the government to tackle, while Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures indicated that "foreign and security policy" ranks highest for them. Will the restive regions bow to the judgment of party central, or will they act independently on the basis of which candidate addresses their concerns?

Given that intraparty turmoil is the major consequence of the LDP's July defeat, I suspect it may be the latter; Fukuda hasn't sewed up the premiership yet. He remains the safe choice, a reassuring presence who seems to be the man who can bring calm to intra- and inter-party relations and relations with the US that were roiled as Mr. Abe came crashing down. But would a Fukuda premiership do anything more than paper over the wounds that have been painfully exposed over the past year?

I think that there are centrifugal forces at work on the LDP that neither Mr. Aso nor Mr. Fukuda will be able to overcome. I think Mr. Aso, however, is that kind of man who will try to leave his stamp on the party one way or the other, leaving others to take it or leave it. Mr. Fukuda, meanwhile, would probably mean a return to the mythical LDP past: "competent" rule and the guiding hand of the factions, until the next series of scandals that finally snaps the public's trust. Mr. Fukuda is, in short, is little more than a temporary solution to the party's problems.

Maybe the only way to read this situation is Amaki Naoto's: "The LDP is finished."