Friday, November 30, 2007

Ozawa to China

Despite the extension of the Diet session, Ozawa Ichiro, DPJ president, will still be going to China with nearly fifty DPJ members of the Diet from 6 to 8 December. Mr. Ozawa will meet with Hu Jintao and mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations.

Mr. Ozawa's visit comes just as turbulence in Sino-US relations continues following China's denying port visits to US Navy vessels. The Chinese government has evidently explained its reasoning for its decisions, suggesting that US arms sales to Taiwan led China to turn the warships away.

Foreign Minister Yang's purported explanation that the denial was the result of a "misunderstanding" has been dismissed, but I wonder whether Foreign Minister Yang was being sincere, in that the decision without the Foreign Ministry's input, leaving the foreign minister to try to explain it in Washington. In other words, the decision to welcome the Kitty Hawk, then the decision to turn it away, then the last-minute decision to permit its entry could reflect not Chinese inscrutability but infighting within the government and between the CCP and the PLA fueled by Chinese insecurity. Now, granted, it is reasonable to question whether Beijing's sense of insecurity is justified, but I still think it would be a mistake for the US (and Japan) to overreact to China's actions.

And so will Mr. Ozawa address this affair, which has drawn in Japan, when he meets with President Hu? Will Mr. Ozawa use the occasion to present a positive vision for Japanese Asia policy that aims to coax China to play a more responsible security role in the region? Perhaps Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Fukuda could work together on an Asia initiative, seeing as both see the value of reorienting Japan's foreign policy away from the US to some extent. In doing so, will he be able to strike the proper balance, approaching Mr. Hu not as a supplicant but as a fellow great power interested in the maintenance of order and stability in the region?

A necessary revision

In light of the ongoing speculation about the probability and timing of a snap election, it is worthwhile to step back and consider structural flaws in how Japanese governments are formed.

Why, after all, should Mr. Fukuda's government function on the basis of a parliamentary majority secured more than two years ago under his predecessor before last? What mandate does Mr. Fukuda have to govern? For that matter, what mandate did Mr. Abe have to govern? This is a flaw of parliamentary systems. Why should executive power be handed from one leader to another, like an heirloom, without the people being consulted whether they're still content with the governing party?

While constitution revision is, for the moment, off the table, perhaps the Japanese constitution needs an amendment that will give the public some oversight over the process of selecting prime ministers. In place of the occasionally suggested direct election of the prime minister, which is inconsistent with Japan's (admittedly incompletely) Westminster democracy, a revised constitution could approximate direct election by making a general election compulsory within a given period of time following the election of a new prime minister in the Diet.

A prime minister should earn his own governing majority, and the composition of the House of Representatives should reflect prevailing political conditions. If asked, the public may always accept the Diet's choice of prime minister and give the new government a majority, but the Japanese people should at least be consulted.

I am not automatically against constitution revision — no document should be so sacrosanct that it cannot be altered to reflect new realities. A problem with contemporary Japanese politics is that the idea of constitution revision has been hijacked by the ultra-nationalists, who have prioritized revisions that will have little practical impact on the workings of the Japanese government. There is a dire need for political change — including constitution revision — that will make the Japanese political system more open and more reflective of the concerns of the public.

Of course, it's probably too much to expect the political elite to push for this manner of constitution revision. And as a practical matter, Mr. Fukuda and the LDP are in no hurry to ask the Japanese people for a new mandate for governing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hold steady on China

Following the ASAT test conducted in January of this year, the behavior of the PLA is once again providing China hawks in the US with reason to bang the war drums (or perhaps just the containment cymbals, not that those are any less distressing). The latest incident, of course, involves China's last-minute rejection of a planned visit by the USS Kitty Hawk to Hong Kong, where the crew would meet with family members for Thanksgiving. This followed on the heels China's denial of safe harbor to US Navy minesweepers that were seeking shelter from a storm, contravening centuries of maritime custom.

The Pentagon, reports the BBC, has protested to the Chinese government, which responded by claiming that the Kitty Hawk incident was the result of a "misunderstanding." The FT suggests that the two incidents could jeopardize ties between the two navies, which have matured in recent years. Remember earlier this year when Admiral Timothy Keating, the new commander of US Pacific Command, suggested that the US might help China develop aircraft carriers?

There are two separate but not mutually exclusive theories floating around to explain these incidents. Some suggest that Beijing is retaliating for the Dalai Lama's receiving the Congressional Gold Medal. Others talk darkly of the PLA's being beyond the control of the Communist Party (an argument I considered here).

If it's the former, there's nothing to worry about — the issue will have passed, and Sino-US relations will continue to be as positive as the People's Daily says in an article about a meeting between President Bush and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. Meanwhile, even if this incident is part of a pattern along with the ASAT test and reports of Chinese cyber raids on the Pentagon, that still should not preclude a deepening of defense ties between the US and China.

The US has no choice but to deal with China. A PLA unaccountable to any authority, while worrisome, does not change this fact. Indeed, the greater the independence enjoyed by the PLA, the greater the need for regularized interaction between the military officers and government officials not just from the US and China, but from the other countries in the region. Scaling back or cutting security ties with China and its military will simply make the PLA more hostile and less cooperative, reaffirming the impression surely common in certain circles within the PLA that the US and its allies seek to encircle China.

Yes, China's behavior is maddening and hard to understand. But the US, as the maintainer of stability and order in the region, has the duty to ignore the slight and focus on the task of coaxing China into acting as a pillar of order, not an unpredictable actor and potential menace. Clearly, the signals from China are mixed — interesting that this incident has unfolded just as a PLAN destroyer arrives in Japan for a historic visit. Decisions made by the US and its allies still have the ability to affect the direction of China's emergence for better or worse.

Here's hoping that cooler heads within the US Navy and the defense establishment prevail, despite those inside and outside the government who look for incidents like this to confirm their worst fears about China (like, say, Lou Dobbs, as mentioned by Tom Barnett).

Perhaps it's time for that Organization for Security and Cooperation in Asia.

Expanding options

I am increasingly led to think that there is one principle common among both states in the international system and politicians within a domestic political system (especially democracies), it is that power is rooted in flexibility. The more options an actor has, the better able he is to outmaneuver rivals and secure other interests.

A classic example of this principle in the Nixon-Kissinger opening to China, in which the US, in a stroke, exercised the option of a tacit anti-Soviet alliance in Asia to hem in the USSR while expanding US flexibility.

Prime Minister Fukuda, I think, understands this — the fewer the commitments, ideological or otherwise, the greater the flexibility and thus the greater the advantage over rivals. The more one is open to a rival's policy ideas, the easier to undermine that rival. Mr. Koizumi was a master of this, "borrowing" DPJ policies to the consternation of the DPJ. This principle was undoubtedly behind the prime minister's cabinet picks, neutralizing potential rivals by depriving them of reasons for contention (and co-opting them into his government).

Accordingly, it is no surprise that on Wednesday Mr. Fukuda met with Takagi Tsuyoshi, the head of Rengo, an ally of the DPJ, to discuss labor policy, including the minimum wage and pensions. The prime minister proclaimed his desire to cooperate with the DPJ on pensions reform and urged Mr. Takagi to push the DPJ to cooperate with the government.

At the same time, Mr. Ozawa, as a result of his restlessness, has painted his party into a corner. He has spurned cooperation with the government — by which I mean routine cooperation across party lines, not a coalition. He has shifted course in opposition to the government's anti-terror law enough to give whiplash to DPJ members and members of other opposition parties alike. As a result, he has, according to MTC, weakened his party's bonds with the minor opposition parties whose support the DPJ needs within the Diet in order to exercise a majority in the Upper House and whose cooperation is essential if the DPJ is to have any chance of winning a general election.

There is no guarantee, of course, that Mr. Fukuda and the LDP will succeed in the battle over the anti-terror law as the extraordinary session concludes. But I think that, despite the appearance of tottering on the brink of disaster, Mr. Fukuda is in a good position. He has stabilized his party's situation following the wreck of the Abe cabinet and has maneuvered the DPJ into a position of passing legislation in the House of Councillors that stands little chance of being adopted in the House of Representatives, such as the newly passed bill calling for the withdrawal of Air Self-Defense Forces elements in Iraq.

Of course, Mr. Fukuda's leadership has not been free of mistakes that have limited his room for maneuver. The biggest mistake may have been retaining the anti-terror law as agenda item number one. Dropping it may have been politically untenable for the new prime minister — I still suspect he has no great desire to commit Japanese forces to the mission, this being the unspoken message of his remarks in Washington — but the result is that Mr. Fukuda may have no choice but to use his government's supermajority in the House of Representatives to pass the bill lest he lose credibility with the US, undermine his position within the LDP, and hand a victory to the DPJ. I don't think Mr. Fukuda has a problem using the supermajority, but I think he would rather use his government's silver bullet on issues that are higher on his government's and the Japanese people's list of priorities.

Accordingly, look for Mr. Fukuda to continue to seek partners for his initiatives, ignoring party and ideological lines in the process. At some point, he will have to deliver something, but in the meantime a willingness to cooperate will not be his undoing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interview at the Japan Times Blogroll

After being delayed a few months, the Blogroll at the website of the Japan Times has published an interview with me, available here.

Your comments, as always, appreciated.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Individuals matter

With the start of another week, there are now fewer than three weeks before the already-extended Diet session is scheduled to end. It is still unclear how Japan's first experiment with a divided Diet will end.

Six important questions, it seems, will be postponed into the final days of the Diet session. (1) Will the DPJ reject the anti-terror law outright, or (2) will it simply not act on the bill? In response to the former, (3) will the Fukuda government use the supermajority to pass the bill again? In response to the latter, (4) will it extend the session into January so that the sixty-day waiting period will lapse, giving the LDP a chance to pass the bill again in the Lower House (depending, of course, on its answer to question #3)? (5) Will the DPJ respond to use of the supermajority with an Upper House censure motion? And (6) will the government respond to an Upper House censure motion by dissolving the House of Representatives and calling a snap election?

MTC presents his answer to the penultimate question in this post, in which he argues, "A censure motion is, in a certain sense, a declaration of war. The power of the censure motion comes not from what it says about the present but what it says about the future." His argument that a censure motion will effectively sink the prime minister by ending any chance that the DPJ and LDP would work to facilitate cooperation between Diet chambers is convincing, but I cannot help but wonder whether the DPJ actually views it that way.

For my part, I remain agnostic about the meaning of the censure motion: by its very nature as a non-binding resolution, its power derives entirely from outside factors. Would a non-binding censure resolution have any power against a prime minister with Koizumian popularity? Would it have power if used against the prime minister over a policy issue in which he enjoyed public backing? I'm not saying that Mr. Fukuda enjoys a shield of high poll numbers — he doesn't — or that he has the public's overwhelming support on the refueling mission — again, he doesn't — but that's precisely the point. The public has been decidedly indecisive on both Mr. Fukuda and his refueling bill: he obviously doesn't enjoy the support he enjoyed upon taking office, but the public hasn't abandoned him, and the refueling mission continues to enjoy a near-majority of support so far as I can tell (and insofar as the Japanese people care). Thanks in part to public ambivalence, the meaning of a censure motion is essentially open to interpretation. (Another factor is, of course, that there are no meaningful precedents for this situation.) As a result, both parties will be busy with extracurricular maneuvering in the media to either talk down (cf. Mr. Koga) or play up the significance of a censure motion in the hope of moving the public decisively in one direction or the other.

Accordingly, the current situation is not unlike the situation in early 1993, as described by Gerald Curtis in The Logic of Japanese Politics — "It is a story of how politicians maneuver to exploit opportunities and how the context of their actions constrains the choices they make." The answer to the above questions will depend on contingencies. Which leader — both, as MTC notes in another post, extremely adroit — is gutsier? Which leader has the fatal flaw that will become apparent at the critical moment in the drama? Which party (and party leadership) is more disciplined? What role will the Japanese media — the omnipresent chorus of the drama — play in answering the six questions? And the fickle Japanese public? What part will the ongoing sideshow of Mr. Moriya, his relationship with Yamada Yoko, and corruption at the Defense Ministry play in the shifting calculations of the various actors?

As Curtis (and Richard Samuels, another advocate of the importance of leaders in spite of structural constraints, as discussed here) recognize, individual politicians have tremendous room to shape outcomes for better or worse. As this Diet session reaches its climax, we will get an illustration of just how much individuals matter.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'm with Mr. Koga

Koga Makoto, head of the LDP's election strategy committee, has once again come out with remarks that suggest that the government is trying to deescalate tension in the political system that has resulted in a situation in which the press parses every comment by LDP and DPJ leaders in search of its significance in suggesting the timing of an election.

Addressing (ok, indirectly) a question that I asked in this post, Mr. Koga said, "By no means must the prime minister resign and the Lower House dissolve in the event of an Upper House censure resolution." He also reiterated that the LDP is in no hurry to surrender its supermajority in the House of Representatives.

I expect that the government will take this line should the DPJ use one of the few weapons that comes with control of the House of Councillors. And why not? There is no precedent of a non-binding censure motion taking down a government. Why would Mr. Fukuda want to set one? He could and should shrug off such a motion as an abuse of the powers of the Upper House, and press on with his agenda.

Looking back at my response to Mr. Koga's earlier remarks about delaying a general election, I'm inclined to think that this is another way to reiterate that contrary to appearances, the LDP still has the upper hand in the current political situation: the government will not be tricked or forced into calling an election it doesn't want.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New wind in Asia?

Is it me, or in a few short months has the mood in Asia changed?

Remember Sydney in early September? A bedraggled Prime Minister Abe, fresh from proclaiming a new era of cooperation among Asian democracies in India, went to Sydney for APEC, where he met with President Bush and Australia's John Howard. It was at that meeting, days before his resignation, that Prime Minister Abe promised that Japan would not withdraw from the Indian Ocean, a promise of support for his fellow democrats.

Now, in November, the second of the three leaders at that summit has left office, this time directly at the hands of his voters in a shining example for the region of the workings of democracy. John Howard, Australia's prime minister for eleven years, has lost to the Labour Party's Kevin Rudd in a landslide.

With Fukuda Yasuo replacing Mr. Abe, and the Mandarin-speaking Mr. Rudd replacing Mr. Howard, the "deputy sheriff," the "quad" may be no more. Both Mr. Fukuda and Mr. Rudd seem to believe that their power is best spent promoting cooperation in Asia, not deepening security cooperation among democracies conveniently located on all sides of China.

But how to build on this happy coincidence of leaders interested in an Asia without walls, an Asia of which I saw hints at the September APEC meeting? For the moment, the Bush administration will be absent from Asia as it prepares to launch yet another initiative in pursuit of peace between Israel and Palestinians. But should this latest effort fail — as seems to be universally anticipated — perhaps the presence of Messrs. Rudd and Fukuda will present Mr. Bush with another possibility to leave some sort of positive legacy.

Asia needs an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Asia. China's integration into the regional security environment has lagged behind its integration into the regional and global trading systems. Accordingly, there is a grave need for an organization that will promote military transparency, arms control, and conflict resolution in a region that combines territorial disputes and burgeoning defense budgets. Critics will no doubt argue that such an effort is futile, that China (and the PLA) cannot be trusted to participate in such an effort in good faith. Maybe, but the region's powers should at least give Beijing the opportunity to refuse. Even US Pacific Command seems to think that efforts to cultivate more open security relations between the US and China are worthwhile.

That said, without US engagement — sustained engagement — this sort of initiative would be doomed to fail. Perhaps this is an opportunity for two US Asian allies, which have periodically chafed at their dependence on the US, to carve out new political roles in the region by pulling the US and China to the table to discuss building a new Asia-Pacific security architecture. There might never be a better opportunity to construct a durable framework for security cooperation in Asia: the US, distracted in the Middle East, is increasingly interested in regional stability and cooperation with China, at the same time that changes of government in two of its major allies in the region have brought to power prime ministers interested in better relations with Beijing.

It will take persistence from Canberra and Tokyo — and it is probably overly optimistic to expect progress before January 2009 — but now is the time to start urging the US to reengage in Asia in a big way. The more concerted the effort the better.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The elusive rules of the game

Prime Minister Fukuda held another meeting with Ozawa Ichiro and the heads of the other opposition parties on Thursday.

Unlike the last meeting, nothing of note occurred — perhaps the other leaders were there to forestall a "corrupt bargain" between Messrs. Fukuda and Ozawa — and the LDP and the DPJ appear to be no closer to establishing the rules of the game for a divided Diet.

The editorials of the major dailies blame Mr. Ozawa for standing in the way of compromises on, "many things that should be done." (Believe it or not, that's in the headline of Asahi's editorial, not Yomiuri's.) Mainichi, while recognizing that both sides need to work together to make policy on behalf of Japan, singled out Mr. Ozawa for not taking a position amenable to cooperation on the new decision making rules, calling it "regrettable."

Yomiuri, not surprisingly, has the most strident tone in criticizing the DPJ: "Under the divided Diet, the DPJ, as the largest party in the House of Councillors, bears great responsibility in driving the political situation...However, on the DPJ's side, one cannot see them bearing this responsibility." The editorial goes on to criticize the party's irresponsibility at length for opposing the anti-terror law without passing alternate legislation, and raises the prospect of a "a debate on the uselessness of the House of Councillors."

Sankei largely echoes Yomiuri and Mainichi, and Asahi devotes most of its attention to the LDP and its agenda, but the common thread running through these editorials is dissatisfaction with gridlock.

I do think that the blame falls on the DPJ's shoulders. Had the party — and Mr. Ozawa — been more flexible on foreign policy questions, upon which the political debate is now focused, the DPJ could have pressured the LDP to approve all or most of the DPJ's domestic plans in exchange for the DPJ's assent to the MSDF refueling mission. But Mr. Ozawa has refused to give on anything, instead staking out a hardline position and hoping that the LDP will bend to his will. When push comes to shove, Mr. Fukuda and the LDP control a supermajority in the Lower House, and should public dissatisfaction (or, perhaps more accurately, media dissatisfaction masked as public dissatisfaction) grow, the DPJ will lose. The fact remains that the DPJ needs the LDP more than vice versa. I think the DPJ has completely mishandled the current Diet session. Even while compromising with the government on the anti-terror law, the DPJ could have criticized the LDP for ignoring the concerns of the public — which are overwhelmingly domestic, "lifestyle" issues — and for serving as the tool of the Bush administration. By holding its nose and supporting the MSDF mission, the DPJ could have refocused discussion on domestic policy issues, to its advantage, I think.

Now, in the wake of the meeting, it seems that talk is growing both of yet another Diet extension and a snap election. The former step will be necessary if, as I suspected (as in this post), the DPJ uses its control of the Upper House to delay action on the anti-terror law. Remember that according to the constitution, if the Upper House takes no action within sixty days — not counting days out of session — the bill is considered rejected, giving the Lower House the opportunity to pass it again. Should the bill be passed in this manner, however, a snap election could be unavoidable; Mainichi suggests that an Upper House censure motion would follow Lower House "re-passage" of the bill, leading to a general election. (I still disagree with the assumption that an Upper House censure motion against the government will necessarily lead to a snap election, but I recognize that it is a plausible outcome.)

Whatever the difficulties ahead for Mr. Fukuda as the debate over the MSDF mission reaches a climax, whatever the problems associated with corruption at the Defense Ministry, the DPJ has squandered its advantages — and, for the moment anyway, the prime minister may be enjoying a slight boost thanks to two successful foreign trips. It is not at all clear how this Diet session will wrap up, but as MTC suggests, Mr. Fukuda has not faltered in the face of adversity.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Matsuzawa Shigefumi's experiments

Working out in Kanagawa-ken , I had the opportunity to become familiar with Matsuzawa Shigefumi, Kanagawa's reformist DPJ-backed governor. Mr. Matsuzawa, who worked for former Congresswoman Beverly Byron (D-MD-6) when he was younger and won three elections to the House of Representatives before being elected governor of Kanagawa in 2003, is one of those Japanese politicians who single handedly gives me some hope for Japan's future. (I suppose I might also group Masuzoe Yoichi in the same category.)

He recently made national news by pushing for term limits in Kanagawa (explicitly suggesting that Kanagawa should serve as an example for the nation, i.e., a laboratory of democracy), which prompted criticism from the national government. His push for term limits is wholly consistent with the reformist thrust of his businesslike campaign manifesto, which he has announced should be the yardstick by which his government is measured. This may sound simple, but look at the manifestos put out by both parties in 2007 and ask yourself whether they can really be used as yardsticks. Mr. Matsuzawa's 2007 manifesto also reminded voters of his 2003 promises, and showed whether he succeeded or failed at implementing his agenda. A token measure, perhaps, but I think it goes a long way to making candidates more accountable to voters — and I think it's no accident that Mr. Matsuzawa won reelection by a resounding margin in April.

With that as an introduction, I strongly recommend this challenging essay by Mr. Matsuzawa at the Genron NPO blog.

As the governor of one of Japan's most populous and economically dynamic prefectures, Mr. Matsuzawa takes aim at the notion of the revenue gap between urban and rural prefectures, suggesting that contrary to public perception, the gap between wealthy prefectures like Tokyo and Kanagawa and poorer, sparsely populated rural prefectures is not all that great, because urban prefectural governments have greater responsibilities (due to burgeoning populations) but get less revenue from the central government. Central government subsidies, according to Mr. Matsuzawa, effectively close the gap between urban and rural. He argues, in fact, that once central government taxes distributed to local governments are added to local taxes, rural prefectures like Shimane, Tottori, Kochi, and Fukui receive the most tax revenue per person, with Kanagawa receiving the least per person in all of Japan.

The problem, he suggests, exists, but is not as large as the media would have the Japanese people believe.

Accordingly, he is vehemently opposed to the government's plan to enable Japanese citizens to pay a portion of their taxes to places where they are not in residence (their former hometowns, for instance). Mr. Matsuzawa is quick to see that the costs of this plan would be paid by urban prefectures such as his own, which are swollen with "refugees" from rural prefectures who under this plan could send some tax money home, thereby depriving his government of revenue that rightfully belongs to it. Without denying the desperate economic conditions in rural Japan (for which he credits Mr. Koizumi and his attacks on public corporations), he attacks this problem from a variety of angles. He argues that this plan violates the basic principle of "no taxation without representation" — in other words, why should the vote of someone who pays full taxes to one prefecture be worth the same as someone's whose taxes are divided among jurisdictions ? (And from the perspective of a taxpayer, why should a taxpayer pay taxes to a jurisdiction in which he has no vote and thus no way of holding the taxing authority accountable?)

Moreover, Mr. Matsuzawa wonders how money will be transferred from one jurisdiction to another. Who will build and maintain a computer system to ensure that it happens smoothly? (And, I would add, echoing Mr. Masuzoe, can bureaucrats be trusted to handle the transactions without losing or embezzling the funds?)

I am not in a position to debate Mr. Matsuzawa's numbers, but he provides an important reminder that in the rush to solve the "Yubari problem," Japan's stressed metropolises must not be forgotten.

Mr. Matsuzawa, I think, represents the best of the DPJ. (Yes, he's officially independent, DPJ-backed, but as a former DPJ representative, it's fair to say that this distinction is meaningless in this case.) An urban governor, he is sensitive to the needs of urban voters and aware that jaded Japanese voters, disappointed by their government over and over again, desire accountable, transparent government, even if they can't quite articulate it that way. His critique is just one way for the DPJ to remind urban voters why they can't trust the LDP, ensuring that by the time another general election rolls around, the DPJ will be in a position to trounce the LDP in urban Japan.

The question is whether the DPJ, under the rule of Mr. Ozawa, the "king" of Iwate, can fully stake a claim as the true representative of the interests of urban Japan, or whether Mr. Ozawa's efforts to appeal to rural voters will undermine the party's message in the cities. If the latter — and I fully expect this to be the case — a general election campaign will be simply a matter of two nearly identical parties struggling to balance a message of reform in the cities with pork-barrel promises in the countryside.

In this scenario, urban Japan will, as always, lose.

Fear and loathing in the global economy

Every once in a while, I read an article that is worth posting largely without comment. Tony Judt, a professor of European history at NYU, has written one such article, a review in the New York Review of Books of Robert Reich's Supercapitalism.

The key paragraphs:
But we have good reason to believe that this may be about to change. Fear is reemerging as an active ingredient of political life in Western democracies. Fear of terrorism, of course; but also, and perhaps more insidiously, fear of the uncontrollable speed of change, fear of the loss of employment, fear of losing ground to others in an increasingly unequal distribution of resources, fear of losing control of the circumstances and routines of one's daily life. And, perhaps above all, fear that it is not just we who can no longer shape our lives but that those in authority have lost control as well, to forces beyond their reach.

Half a century of security and prosperity has largely erased the memory of the last time an "economic age" collapsed into an era of fear. We have become stridently insistent—in our economic calculations, our political practices, our international strategies, even our educational priorities—that the past has little of relevance to teach us. Ours, we insist, is a new world; its risks and opportunities are without precedent. Our parents and grandparents, however, who lived the consequences of the unraveling of an earlier economic age, had a far sharper sense of what can happen to a society when private and sectional interests trump public goals and obscure the common good.

We need to recover some of that sense. We are likely, in any event, to rediscover the state thanks to globalization itself. Populations experiencing increased economic and physical insecurity will retreat to the political symbols, legal resources, and physical barriers that only a territorial state can provide. This is already happening in many countries: note the rising attraction of protectionism in American politics, the appeal of "anti-immigrant" parties across Western Europe, the call for "walls," "barriers," and "tests" everywhere. "Flat worlders" may be in for a surprise. Moreover, while it may be true that globalization and "supercapitalism" reduce differences between countries, they typically amplify inequality within them—in China, for instance, or the US—with disruptive political implications.

In the midst of an unfolding credit crisis that could wind up destroying major US banks and who knows what else, Professor Judt is sobering as only a historian of the European twentieth century can be.

Read the whole thing. (HT: Andrew Sullivan)

Monday, November 19, 2007

What does Osaka tell us?

In the first major election since Mr. Fukuda took office as prime minister, the DPJ-backed candidate for mayor in Osaka bested the LDP-Komeito-backed candidate by some 50,000 votes. Mr. Hatoyama, the DPJ secretary-general, was quick to proclaim the significance of the victory: "This election is symbolic for national politics. This is proof that the people of Osaka do not approve of the Fukuda cabinet." DPJ leaders also were quick to point out that the party need not fear consequences of the turmoil surrounding Mr. Ozawa's "resignation."

The LDP response is more confused, with some dismissing the significance of the municipal election and others suggesting that this is a continuation of a trend that began with the LDP defeat in July.

It is important to keep things in perspective. Yes, the government lost a municipal election in a city in which the LDP and Komeito combined to win eighteen seats in the 2005 general election. But that was twice as many seats as the two governing parties won in Osaka-fu in the 2003 general election. In other words, the DPJ would have been well-placed to succeed in Osaka regardless of the quality of the party's leadership or the occupant of the Kantei. It should be no surprise that the LDP will face an uphill battle in places like Osaka and Tokyo, where its vote totals were inflated to abnormal, unsustainable levels.

The critical factor when looking to the outcome of a general election remains the countryside. A repeat of July 2007, and the LDP could be in serious trouble. This election tells us nothing about the LDP's prospects in rural Japan. It does tell us that Mr. Fukuda still has a lot of work to do if he's going to pick up where Mr. Koizumi left off in the project to turn the LDP into a modern, urban-based party.

The DPJ should not take this occasion to gloat. As Mainchi reports, the DPJ's legislative agenda is at "a do-or-die moment," as the fate of bills passed by the DPJ in the Upper House remains uncertain. In other words, the DPJ is facing the reality of the post-July Diet: it needs the LDP's assent to do anything constructive. It could, of course, pin its hopes on public backlash against LDP obstructionism, but there are few guarantees that the public will react exactly how the party hopes it will.

The result may be a quid-pro-quo, with the DPJ's backing down on the anti-terror law in exchange for the LDP's assent to laws passed in the Upper House relating to pension funds and agricultural subsidies (although I have a hard time seeing how the DPJ can back away from a position on which Mr. Ozawa seems to have staked his reputation, and which has conveniently united most of the DPJ). Nevertheless, with Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Fukuda set to meet once again time this Thursday, a bargain of this sort could be in the making.

Nothing may come of this next meeting — at least, nothing like what happened in the wake of the last meeting between the two party leaders. But the underlying challenge of establishing the rules of the game for the divided Diet remains, regardless of the latest election returns.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Early election? Maybe not

Answering a question on election timing during a visit to Akita prefecture, Koga Makoto, the LDP's election strategy chairman, said, "It's good if done slowly. The term of office has another two years. We cannot possibly attain two-thirds of the seats. By this way of thinking, the end of the term is good."

This is, of course, no different from what most observers of Japanese politics have been saying for months now, since rumors of a snap election began proliferating in Nagata-cho last spring.

I do not think, however, that Mr. Koga's will be the last words on this subject. It may be what Mr. Koga, Mr. Fukuda, and other LDP leaders hope for — if I were an LDP backbencher, especially a first-term LDP backbencher, I would be angry if this isn't what they're thinking — but the LDP and the DPJ are engaged in a bit of parry and thrust on the subject of a snap election. The DPJ, vacillating between despondency about its electoral prospects and eagerness for a snap election, has dropped hints of a censure motion in the Upper House in the hopes that it will force Mr. Fukuda to call an election and effectively give up his government's supermajority. The government, meanwhile, has dropped hints of an early election, perhaps out of a desire to lure the DPJ into taking a more confrontational stance, potentially angering voters.

Where does Mr. Koga's statement fit in this scheme? A way to coax the DPJ to cooperate? An honest statement of the LDP executive's thinking? Mr. Koga and the Fukuda government may be trying to calm the political situation, draining some of the tension out of the nejire kokkai by reminding the DPJ, the media, and the public that the government can wait nearly two years before calling an election, and therefore it's necessary to think practically about how to formulate policy in the meantime.

Hard road ahead

Prime Minister Fukuda, upon returning to Japan, was greeted with criticism by the association of abductee families, whose representatives were also in Washington last week (meeting John Bolton, among others).

Interviewed at a press conference upon arrival at Narita Airport on Sunday, Iizuka Shigeo, the deputy head of the family association said, "May not Japan, as an ally, voice its opinion a little more?"

Undoubtedly the complaints of the families will be echoed by abductee advocates within the ranks of the LDP, the self-appointed enforcers of an uncompromising negotiating position in the six-party talks.

Whatever glimmers of the hope there are for Japan's reengaging in the talks, Mr. Fukuda still has formidable obstacles in his way. I think that if he pushes too hard for a shift in Japan's negotiating position, Mr. Aso's retainers will cause trouble for him.

Mr. Fukuda has thus far smoothed over the divisions within the party that were in full view under Mr. Abe, but he has been helped by the DPJ's opposition to the anti-terror law, on which the LDP is by and large united. But once he starts trying to move an agenda forward — both within the Diet and in Japan's foreign policy — the need to keep the party united and challenges to that unity will rise in tandem.

After a period of calm following the LDP presidential election, the LDP right is organizing again. Nakagawa Shoichi, PARC chief under Mr. Abe and Mr. Abe's id, has announced the creation of a new conservative study group (with independent Hiranuma Takeo). That alone isn't troubling for Mr. Fukuda, but it is a reminder that he walks a fine line as the head of a party that doesn't exactly share his cautious pragmatism.

Friday, November 16, 2007

He came, they talked...what next?

Prime Minister Fukuda, cold bug and all, arrived in Washington as scheduled on Thursday evening and spent Friday meeting with President Bush and then dining with the president and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The Swamp, the Chicago Tribune's politics blog, has a summary here, and takes care to note that Mr. Bush served US beef to Mr. Fukuda, just as he did for Mr. Abe at Camp David in April.

There appear to have been few surprises in the summit. Mr. Bush made a point of mentioning, yet again, his meeting with Yokota Megumi's parents and the US commitment to the resolution of the abductions issue, despite proliferating signs that the US is ready to move forward in removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The agenda ran the gamut, from Iran to Burma to Afghanistan to the beef trade (of course) to climate change. Mr. Fukuda promised to exert full efforts to pass a new law that authorizes Japanese participation in operations in and around Afghanistan. Whatever differences exist in their respective positions, they were papered over in the joint press conference.

There was some talk, mostly by Mr. Fukuda, on the question of what the alliance is to become in the future. Following on his pre-summit interview in the Washington Post, in which he emphasized the alliance's Asian "vocation," Mr. Fukuda spoke at length about the role the alliance should play in Asia. "A firm US-Japan alliance," he said, "is the foundation for peace and prosperity in Asia."

Mr. Fukuda made very clear in his remarks that his vision of the alliance is of a contributor to peace and stability in the region, which means cordial and open relations with all nations in the region. This is a very far cry from Mr. Aso's amorphous arc of freedom and prosperity and Mr. Abe's address in New Delhi about an alliance of democracies (promptly ignored) — for the better. The alliance's success in the future ought to be measured by how it bridges gaps in the region, not how it exacerbates gaps in the region, as would undoubtedly result from the schemes of some American and Japanese conservatives. Mr. Fukuda unequivocally recognizes this. Does the American foreign policy establishment?

The tension over the refueling mission and the differing positions in the six-party talks remains, of course, but the crisis atmosphere will likely subside as a result of this summit. Neither government is truly prepared to begin addressing the structural problems that underlie the most recent bilateral disputes — and they have no choice but to live with one another under the current arrangement, warts and all.

But, as Jun Okumura notes in his response to the summit, the problem of North Korea remains a sword of Damocles hanging over the alliance, a problem that has been papered over for far too long in alliance discussions. I have a hunch that with Mr. Fukuda in charge in Tokyo, the allies will find a way to work through it. There are enough hints that Mr. Fukuda wants to change Japan's bargaining position in the talks, if not to improve relations with the US then to reengage Japan in addressing a challenge that is a major test of Japan's ability to be a political power in the region. It may depend on the US somehow giving Japan enough concessions as to provide political cover for Mr. Fukuda in battles with the conservatives in his own party who are both outraged over the US shift and adamantly opposed to any changes in Japan's positions on North Korea.

Whatever the policy implications of the summit, I suspect that the Washington trip will prove to be a boon for Mr. Fukuda's public support. He persevered in coming despite his illness, he stood alongside Mr. Bush without being overly sycophantic, and he avoided embarrassing gaffes that might have exacerbated tensions with the US.

He may have also boosted his popularity among that other important constituency to which Japanese prime ministers must be attentive — the community of American Japan hands. Mr. Fukuda specifically requested a meeting with Japan hands from universities and think tanks to discuss the problem of Japan's dearth of international intellectual and academic exchanges, especially with the US. Given that some of the experts invited to the session were among those who questioned the durability of his government when he took office, Mr. Fukuda may have earned some points in giving this select group the opportunity to question him in an intimate setting.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On the road

I will be in Chicago for Thanksgiving week.

If any readers in the Chicago area are interested in meeting, please drop me an email.

Ozawa, on top again

Ozawa Ichiro has granted an interview to Asahi (one of the papers he didn't single out for criticism in his "parting" remarks) in which he reviews the circumstances surrounding the meetings with Prime Minister Fukuda that resulted in his decision to resign, his plans for a general election campaign, and the DPJ's policy goals.

With a confidence that is perhaps the result of being firmly in control of his party, Mr. Ozawa is defiant and seemingly free of doubts surrounding his position and that of his party.

In recounting his discussion with Mr. Fukuda, he denied that they discussed the timing of a snap election or the distribution of cabinet posts in an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. But he did, as Amaki Naoto notes, "even now assert with amazing self-confidence and arrogance that the grand coalition plan was right," suggesting that the plan would have given the DPJ an opportunity to pass its cherished policy goals, enhancing its position for an election and helping DPJ members "know power." He also snapped at opponents within the DPJ. When asked about rumors that he was considering leaving the party with enough members to throw the Upper House back to the government, he said, "Isn't it stupid? It's awful that there is a group of people within the party who say such foolish things."

As for his party's strategy, he insists that winning the next election comes first — indeed, winning elections is the only thing that matters. He suggested, regarding the party's plan to aim merely to become the Lower House's largest party, that the DPJ is open to a coalition with all parties — Communists included — except the LDP. He demurred when asked about conditions that could lead to a snap election, and declined to say whether the DPJ would push for an Upper House censure motion in the event of the government's passing its anti-terror law over an Upper House veto.

Meanwhile, as far as policy goes, I detect a desire on Mr. Ozawa's part to shift the discussion away from foreign policy and the Afghanistan mission and back to the "lifestyle" issues that helped the DPJ win in July, the issues about which the Japanese people actually care. Indeed, asked about ISAF participation, he said, "Since we promised participation in UN activities to the people in our manifesto, from now on we will not speak of a debate. Why this simple debate is not understood — it's a mystery to me and can't be helped." Finally, he both dismissed the idea of a compromise with the LDP on a permanent law on JSDF dispatch and suggested that a DPJ government would prepare to revise the constitution to make provisions for JSDF dispatch.

In short, as is widely assumed, a DPJ government, especially one led by Mr. Ozawa, would differ very little from LDP rule. Beyond the policy questions, of course, there could be value to a DPJ victory in producing alternation of ruling parties, but then, if the DPJ doesn't try to take a majority of its own, a DPJ victory would just result in a sloppy reenactment of 1993 (especially if the JCP were to join a coalition government).

For my part, I think Mr. Ozawa comes across as arrogant in this interview, and, as I suspected, he seems to be in more control of the DPJ than ever before.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ozawa prepares for his last stand

Mr. Ozawa, back at the helm of the DPJ — and apparently no longer estranged from the other party leaders — has fixed his attention squarely on a campaign that many seem to think will happen any day now (another "Happening Dissolution" [Japanese Wikipedia]).

Accordingly, the DPJ is scrambling about to conclude the nomination process for its candidates for a general election.

At present, there remain eight-five districts (out of 300) for which the DPJ has not designated a candidate, with the ultimate aim being between 270 and 280 candidates for the single-seat districts (the remainder being DPJ-backed Socialist and Kokuminto candidates). The vacancies, according to Mainichi, are particularly pronounced in urban areas, with candidates nominated for only thirteen of Tokyo's twenty-five districts. Asahi notes the same, but also suggests that DPJ may end up with only 250 candidates of its own.

Mr. Ozawa has acknowledged the difficulty the DPJ faces in a general election, and suggests that the party's goal is to become the largest party in the House of Representatives — as opposed to winning an outright majority — and form a coalition with other opposition parties. Even that may be a stretch.

Given the documented discrepancy in Japanese voting patterns between Upper House and Lower House elections, given Mr. Fukuda's skill at navigating the perilous situation he inherited upon taking office (with the help of his predecessor's dismal performance making him look great without doing much of anything), and given the very public display of the DPJ's internal disorder, it seems extremely unlikely that the LDP would lose its position as the largest party in the House of Representatives. It may lose its supermajority in the event of a snap election, but I think the Japanese people are still willing to give Mr. Fukuda a chance. Recent opinion polls on the Fukuda cabinet may be downward trending — a recent NHK poll (not online) showed a four-point drop to 54%, a recent Sankei poll showed a fourteen point drop to 41% (largely due to the idea that Mr. Fukuda wanted a grand coalition with the DPJ) — but a recent Nikkei poll found a four-point drop (to 28%) in support for the DPJ, with a four-point increase (to 42%) for the LDP. The bottom certainly hasn't dropped out of support for Mr. Fukuda, and a good performance in Washington — which, as today's Nelson Report confirms, truly is more open-ended than US-Japan summits have been of late — could shore up his support.

The DPJ has yet to give the voters any reason to defect from the LDP. The key to a general election remains rural Japan. Mr. Ozawa undoubtedly still hopes that he can pry rural voters away from the LDP again, with the result that the LDP's norin zoku are panicking and will no doubt put pressure on Mr. Fukuda to throw some pork ("emergency countermeasures" in response to the fall in the price of rice, for example) their way as the budget process progresses. The DPJ has already passed its plan for income compensation for farmers in the Upper House — and it's unclear what the LDP will do in response. Kan Naoto suggested, "The LDP is working to adopt the DPJ's thinking."

Whatever his desire for fiscal rectitude, Mr. Fukuda may find demands for more largess for farmers irresistible. What better way for him to placate LDP backbenchers, shore up support in the countryside, and steal the DPJ's thunder.

But will Mr. Fukuda be tempted to strike fast and call an early election, while the DPJ is disorganized? I still think that Mr. Fukuda would like to keep the DPJ guessing right up to September 2009.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An unscripted summit?

Mere days before President Bush and Prime Minister Fukuda are scheduled to meet in Washington, a State Department spokesman has announced that the US will not give concrete consideration to the abductions issue when it comes to removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Now, I don't disagree with this policy — the US shouldn't let what it is a bilateral issue between Japan and North Korea interfere with what the US government feels is in its best interests. There seems to be little chance that progress towards delisting North Korea will stop, especially considering that the Israel-Syria-North Korea mystery seems to have vanished from the media space. Even John Bolton, of late the Bush administration's most vociferous critic from the right, admitted to a delegation of abductee advocates in Washington, "I agree with you completely, but the flow towards delisting will be extremely difficult to stop."

The problem with this announcement is the timing. Mr. Fukuda has in recent days and weeks suggested that the Japanese government might be prepared to re-engage in the six-party talks, despite its reservations (which in a sign of progress increasingly concern the problem of verifying denuclearization as well as the abductions issue). For a State Department spokesman to deliver this message prior to the prime minister's arrival in Washington strikes me as indicative of a gratuitous disregard of the difficult position that Mr. Fukuda faces in trying to shift Japan's bargaining position in the six-party talks. Style matters as much as substance; the US should be trying to coax Japan back to the table, not bludgeon it over the head until it concedes.

Of course, the gap between the US and Japanese bargaining positions may be unbridgeable, meaning that it is high time for the allies to discuss the implications of being unable to coordinate policy on the North Korea question.

In any case, that an announcement like this can be made this close to a major summit suggests that there may be a surprise or two in store this Friday. For once there might be a US-Japan summit that is more than a photo-op and a joint press conference that enables the two leaders to exchange sweet nothings about the alliance.

Observing Japan in J@pan Inc.

The November-December issue of J@pan Inc. magazine includes an article by me on why the DPJ's Upper House election might not have been such a great thing after all.

It went to press before changes could be made to reflect the Ozawa follies earlier this month (thankfully Mr. Ozawa returned to the helm), but otherwise I think it is still relevant when it comes to the current political situation, perhaps more so now.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

Fukuda makes it explicit

Following my discussion of the US-Japan alliance in this post and this post, Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, a few days before his summit with President Bush in Washington, has told the Washington Post that "his government's reach in global security affairs would not be as expansive as the Bush administration wants."

In other words, Mr. Fukuda is making it explicitly clear that Japan is not prepared to share Washington's global security policy. Instead, "I believe the heaviest responsibility for Japan is to see to it that there is stability and prosperity in Asia."

So it seems that Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ are not alone in being discontent with the US-Japan relationship, even as Mr. Fukuda reassures Washington that the alliance remains essential to Japan's foreign policy. (Indeed, this week the allies will break out that favorite word from the 1990s — "affirm" — to demonstrate the importance of the alliance.)

I hope — but doubt — that Washington will view Japanese discontent as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship, not as either grounds for panic or grounds for ignoring Japan and focusing on China (as some seem tempted to do).

Monday, November 12, 2007

The alliance in an Atlantic mirror

I went to Carnegie Hall last night for a panel discussion on US-German relations held as part of the current Berlin in Lights festival underway in New York City. Moderated by Richard Holbrooke, the discussion featured Henry Kissinger, Josef Joffe, John Kornblum (a former US ambassador to Germany), and Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg, a member of the Bundestag from the Christian Social Union (CSU).

In light of recent difficulties in the US-Japan relationship, I was fascinated, if not surprised, by how easy it would be to subsitute "Japan" for "Germany" in the discussion without skipping a beat. Indeed, Japan was mentioned one way or another by every speaker, including Dr. Kissinger, who as readers of Kenneth Pyle's Japan Rising will know has not exactly been appreciative of Japan. In fact, Dr. Kissinger made a point of saying that Japan is a country to watch, as he thinks it is quietly and slowly making itself a substantial player in international security. If by slow he means glacial, perhaps, but Japan's "normalization" is far from linear and is only impressive when compared to what Japan once was, not when it is compared with other countries.

Nevertheless, the discussion had a pessimistic edge to it, and all of the speakers made clear that the reasons for doubt about the relationship are structural and have little to do with George W. Bush. The problem is interests. Just as in the US-Japan relationship, there is a growing gap in how each country perceives its national interests. At the heart of the problem are the differences between global and regional powers. As a global power the US increasingly views the world holistically; few problems are too distant for the US, and thanks to the reach of its military, the US government is capable of considering action (military or otherwise) in response to a range of situations around the world. Germany (and Japan), on the other hand, are firmly rooted in their regions and near abroads. Their publics have a hard time understanding why campaigns in benighted corners of the world have anything to do with them. Indeed, as Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg argued, Germans have a hard time thinking in terms of national interests. (I would say the same thing about the Japanese people and their representatives in the Diet.) But even if they were better able to articulate their interests, the gap with the US would remain.

The US, as Dr. Kissinger argued, will have to change the way it interacts with its allies as a result. It will have to stop issuing orders to allies and start presenting them with problems in the hope of finding solutions. It will actually have to seek out the opinions of its allies, even if those opinions are different from Washington's. Because that is the other side of the "coalitions of the willing" coin. Just as the US is free to choose its partners for campaigns, so its allies are free to say no to the US (without Washington's throwing a tantrum).

The future of America's alliances it seems is one of standing organizations that facilitate cooperation between militaries, intelligence agencies, and other security organizations, but lack the political cooperation they had in the face of the Soviet threat. They will have some value as vehicles for defining international agendas, dealing with terrorism and other nonstate actors, and providing basic security in the form of nuclear deterrence, but it would be a mistake to expect (as the Bush administration seems to do) that they will continue to serve as vehicles for waging protracted wars in distant lands.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Election talk

The second phase of the extraordinary session of the Diet has begun, and the talk is largely of snap elections and censure votes.

Policy, as Jun Okumura suggests, has pretty much taken a back seat to politics as both parties continue to position themselves in the new political landscape.

The immediate challenge is the prospect of the DPJ's passing a non-binding censure motion against Prime Minister Fukuda should the government use its Lower House supermajority to pass the new anti-terror law over Upper House opposition. Mr. Fukuda has suggested that he would call a general election in response to a censure motion. While Hatoyama Yukio argued that the DPJ should not sell this weapon cheaply, the chances of the DPJ's Upper House caucus pushing for a censure motion are high.

But why can't Mr. Fukuda ignore it? The power of a non-binding censure motion derives entirely from perceptions. If Mr. Fukuda were to dismiss the motion as an abuse of the powers of the Upper House by the DPJ for partisan purposes, would the Japanese public dismiss his reasoning outright?

As far as the government is concerned, both Ota Akihiro, Komeito chief, and Ishiba Shigeru, defense minister, have rejected the idea of an early election, even as the DPJ announces plans to ratchet up its preparations for a general election.

I still remain dubious about the prospects for an early election anytime before the passage of the budget in the spring — and even then, I think the LDP may be able to hold off, especially if Mr. Ozawa is sincere about his critique of his party's inadequacies and the need for some form of cooperation.

"The state is less dependable than a convenience store"

Masuzoe Yoichi, minister of health, labor, and welfare and the LDP's resident political scientist, has an essay in the December issue of Chuo Koron in which he details the crisis of confidence in the Japanese state and calls for systemic change that will restore the confidence of the people in their government.

The title of his article — which I've borrowed for the title of this post — is based on the idea that somehow banks, post offices, and convenience stores manage to handle the transfer of funds without problems, but the national and local governments cannot transfer social security payments without embezzlement. In part one, he pins the blame squarely on bureaucrats.

"From old it is said, 'Kanson minpi [bureaucrats exalted, the people despised],' with the hidden premise being that bureaucrats are steadfast and the people terrible. However, now it is the exact opposite of that. Therefore, it is basically good to entrust "to the people that which the people can do."

In the second part, he discusses how the scandal-ridden Social Insurance Agency — part of his ministerial ambit — cultivates a culture of unaccountability for lower officials. As he writes, "In other words, since there are no orders from above and a lack of scrupulous oversight, it happens anyone can do whatever they want. The result is that this invites the occurrence of scandals like the sloppy management of records and embezzlement." He even goes so far as to suggest that the contemporary bureaucracy, as a system of irresponsibility, is "completely the same as the Japanese Imperial Army."

His solution is the implementation of a top-down system in which responsibility and accountability are clear.

In addition, he suggests that other checks on administration are needed, pointing to the example of the ombudsmen in Scandinavian countries. And he suggests that rather than viewing the nejire kokkai as a bad thing, it might be a good thing for accountability in Japanese governance. (Indeed, it was for this very reason that I think that a grand coalition would be a bad thing.)

In the third part, he explores the Japanese policy agenda, looking at the implications of the faulty social welfare system for the Japanese economy as a whole. He argues that consumer spending is low due to fears of inadequate care in old age. Ergo, if the Japanese government can alleviate insecurities about retirement, it can get people to spend more, jump-starting the Japanese economy. He suggests that an increase in the consumption tax rate from 5 to 10% is necessary, with the difference alloted to maintaining the social welfare system. Accordingly, the more people the spend, the better funded the welfare system. (This proposal strikes me as too good to be true — and it's not entirely clear to me why people wouldn't react to a consumption tax hike by spending less.)

Mr. Masuzoe concludes by calling for radical restructuring of Japanese sub-national governance, reorganizing prefectures into larger regions with radical subsidiarity, reducing the central government to nothing more than the cabinet office and the foreign, defense, justice, and finance ministries.

Mr. Masuzoe's heart is in the right place, so to speak. In particular, longtime readers of this blog will be aware of my belief in the importance of systems of accountability both inside and outside of government. Mr. Masuzoe clearly recognizes that Japan is missing the institutional checks present in other democracies that ferret out and punish wrongdoing by legislators and bureaucrats. Its courts are weak, its prosecutors face a standard of evidence that keeps many cases from going to trial, its agencies lack ombudsmen and inspectors general, its journalists and media outlets have all-too-cozy relationships with those in power (without a tradition of investigative journalism), and the political parties and the Diet, thanks to the LDP's nearly uninterrupted hold on power, are enablers of bureaucratic incompetence and corruption rather than a check on administrative abuses. NGOs are a recent arrival, and many depend on the government for funding.

In other words, this is where Mr. Masuzoe and other reformers should focus their attention. Regular alternation of ruling parties will help too, of course, but barring that reformers should push for the creation of accountability systems throughout the Japanese government.

Meanwhile regional subsidiarity strikes me as a scheme that would, if anything, ensure that certain rural regions that are already dying would have even less chance of reversing their fortunes. As MTC notes in the post linked to above, the central bureaucracy has much to answer for as far as the decimation of the Japanese countryside is concerned. But it is not altogether clear to me how removing impoverished regions from the hands of the central government and putting them into the hands of cash-strapped regional governments will make them any more likely to thrive. As a matter of principle, subsidiarity is great — after all, as students of the American progressive movement know, states can be the laboratories of democracy. But moving government closer to the people is no guarantee of good governance; I think it's just as likely that the mega-regional governments in Mr. Masuzoe's scheme could be just as prone to profligacy and venality as Tokyo has been.

In short, I agree with Mr. Masuzoe's diagnosis, but I don't think he paid nearly enough attention to the cure.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Towards a new alliance

Looking over Secretary Gates's visit to Tokyo, there were few surprises.

He "demanded" to legislators that Japan renew its refueling mission. He voiced his opposition to proposed cuts in Japan's host-nation support (i.e., the sympathy budget) for US forces in Japan. And has become standard for ministerial visits to Japan, he reasssured Japan of the viability of the US nuclear umbrella (as he noted in this conversation with Asahi editor-in-chief Funabashi Yoichi).

But, at the same time, in his speech at Sophia University on Friday, he hinted at a new vision for the US-Japan alliance. He asked,
What should Japan and the U.S. do together, and with others, to secure our mutual interests? Do we have the proper capabilities, individually and collectively, to address future challenges and uncertainties? Have we the proper mechanisms and infrastructure to meet our common objectives? These questions underlie the alliance transformation effort we have undertaken over the last few years. But we need to deepen our discussion and more importantly, be prepared to act on our findings and make the investments now that will better prepare us for the future.
Secretary Gates did not answer these questions, but these questions must be asked, if not in the final year of the Bush administration, then in the early days of the administration that will take office in January 2009.

Both Washington and Tokyo have come to have different expectations of the alliance, and as a result the alliance is handicapped, prevented from playing a constructive role in the region. The US, it seems, especially in the past six years, expects Japan to follow it wherever it goes, even with token commitments. It expects Japan to add its name to the list of any coalition of the willing. Japan, meanwhile, is happy to send token support (and continue underspending on its defense and punching beneath its weight internationally), in exchange for the US security guarantee, which has increasingly become interpreted to include supporting Japan on whatever areas Tokyo deems essential (i.e., the abductions issue).

The dissatisfaction with the US over Japan's bringing its refueling ships home and Japan's growing discontent over the US shift on North Korea suggest that this arrangement is unsustainable.

Nothing short of a fundamental bilateral rethink of the relationship will suffice. The region is changing too quickly not to, as the alliance is silent on the issues on contemporary security environment in Asia, as discussed by Secretary Gates. Most pressingly, the alliance has yet to coordinate an approach to China. To some, it is a bulwark against China. To others — and I think it's safe to include Mr. Gates in this category — the stronger the US-Japan alliance, the better able it will be to reach out to China and work on incorporating China into the regional security architecture. As Mr. Gates say of China, "I do not see China as a strategic adversary. It is a competitor in some respects and partner in others. While we candidly acknowledge our differences, it is important to strengthen communications and to engage the Chinese on all facets of our relationship to build mutual understanding and confidence."

As time passes, it becomes increasingly clear that for all the bonhommie in the alliance during the early years of the Bush administration, when Messrs. Bush and Koizumi played catch and the Bush administration was full of friends of Japan, both governments wasted the opportunity to that goodwill into real, fundamental change in the alliance. Instead, they opted for symbolic measures that signified ever more US-centrism in Japanese foreign policy, bringing the alliance to where it is today.

The next administration's Asia team must be prepared to tackle aggressively the challenge of forging a new relationship. It will require radically reconsidering the number and composition of US forces in Japan and altering how the US treats Japan and the opinions of its government in the hope of forcing Japan to be free — forcing Tokyo think hard about its national interests and what capabilities it needs to be able to secure them.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The alliance cools

Robert Gates, US secretary of defense, is in Japan for talks with Prime Minister Fukuda and members of Mr. Fukuda's cabinet, including the defense and foreign ministers, for talks on US-Japan security cooperation. Not surprisingly, Japan's interrupted refueling mission in the Indian Ocean topped the agenda.

It's a shame that Mr. Gates did not take office until too late in the Bush administration, with Iraq more or less the sole focus of his attention. A low-key administrator who has a pronounced tendency to say the right thing at the right time — unlike his predecessor — Mr. Gates might have done some good for the alliance. He certainly possesses an ability to listen to other governments, a quality that has been altogether rare among members of the Bush administration.

As noted by Thom Shanker in the New York Times on remarks on constitution revision in a speech by Mr. Gates at Sophia University, "...Mr. Gates made clear that such decisions were an internal matter for Japan."

As for the substance of Mr. Gates's talks with Mr. Fukuda and others, there appears to have been lots of "urging" and reminding Japan of its international responsibilities regarding the war on terrorism and operations in Afghanistan. With Foreign Minister Komura, there was talk of a resolution this month of the dispute over a proposed cut by Japan to its "sympathy budget" for US forces in Japan.

In general, though, the mood seems to be more subdued than earlier bilateral security meetings under the Bush administration. The joint press conference with Messrs. Gates and Ishiba seems remarkably businesslike and free of excessive flights of rhetoric. This may in part be a function of personnel changes: neither Mr. Gates nor Mr. Fukuda and his cabinet lineup are prone to outbursts of enthusiasm about the glories of US-Japan cooperation from which Mr. Abe and Mr. Aso suffer. But it might also be indicative of a new realism about the alliance. By now, both governments cannot deny the existence of tension in the relationship, and it does not serve the relationship well to raise expectations about the health and value of the alliance to unreasonable heights.

The allies have a lot of work to do to alter their relationship for a new era. It is probably too much to expect that the Bush administration will get this process rolling in its final year in office, or, alternatively, that Mr. Fukuda and the Japanese government will take the initiative in the absence of US leadership.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Political Japan's never-ending year goes on

After this past week's drama, the LDP and the DPJ are now returning to business. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is in town for his first visit since taking office, with a packed agenda of issues of concern; Nagata-cho is abuzz with rumors about an early election to be called by the LDP to catch the DPJ off balance. Indeed, Hatoyama Yukio suggested that with the DPJ in tough straits, the government may opt to "ask the people for their trust" and call a general election. "It is thought to be entirely possible for a dissolution by the end of the year and a general election in January." (Is the DPJ trying to make Mr. Fukuda and the LDP overconfident so that they might opt for a general election and quite likely throw away the supermajority?)

In any case, it looks like there will be another month of the sparring and rumormongering, as the Fukuda government has announced plans to extend the extraordinary — and extraordinary — session of the Diet another thirty-five days to enable his government to pass a new law authorizing the MSDF refueling mission in the Indian Ocean. The government hopes to have the bill pass the Lower House by early next week at the latest, which will then dare the DPJ to reject it in the Upper House.

The never-ending Diet session, which began, you'll recall, nearly two months ago with then-Prime Minister Abe's giving an oddly belligerent maiden speech before resigning two days later, forcing the Diet to wait while the LDP selected a new leader. Since then we've had sniping across the Pacific, the justice minister's suggesting that he's two degrees of separation from a member of Al Qaeda, the withdrawal of MSDF ships from the Indian Ocean, and the bizarre saga of Ozawa Ichiro's resignation that wasn't.

All of this, of course, is on top of events earlier in the year: the decline and fall of Mr. Abe, the demise of Matsuoka Toshikatsu, the as-of-yet unresolved pensions scandal, the LDP's historic defeat in July, and who knows how many other episodes of note that I've already forgotten.

And for all that, here we are, with momentum in the LDP's favor as it renews its push for a new law in support of coalition operations in Afghanistan.

In spite of (or maybe because of?) the grand coalition debacle, the LDP is redoubling its efforts to secure some manner of coordination with the DPJ. According to a Sankei headline, in fact, the government and the LDP are making "amorous glances" to the DPJ in pursuit of policy cooperation. The DPJ, facing the prospect of the government's anti-terror bill hitting the Upper House soon, has agreed on the basic outline of its counter proposal and will have it ready for presentation next week. The DPJ apparently intends to include a proposal for sea lane defense, as well as civilian support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Whether the parties will cooperate on this issue remains to be seen, but as Jun Okumura rightly points out, there are other, less controversial areas where the two parties can easily cooperate. It's just a question of whether the DPJ can stifle its self-destructive, confrontational urges and shake hands with Mr. Fukuda.

Ozawa in charge

Ozawa Ichiro addressed a conference of the DPJ's Upper and Lower House members on Wednesday, where he spoke at length about the crisis that saw him resign from the leadership of the party only to reverse his decision days later.

He was, of course, exceedingly apologetic in his remarks, and, I think, exceedingly forthright in explaining his reasoning for entertaining the notion of a grand coalition with the LDP. He recognizes the DPJ's predicament — he knows that winning the Upper House may not have been the best thing for the party after all. "In the twisted Diet in which the LDP has overwhelming numbers in the House of Representatives, how do we implement policies promised in the manifesto that place the life of the people first?" (The press conference following his remarks can be read in three parts here, here, and here.)

This problem remains for both the LDP and the DPJ; Mr. Ozawa may stay away from any formal arrangement, but the DPJ will still have to find a way to cooperate — quietly — with the LDP if it wants to see its bills pass both houses. This will undoubtedly entail some concessions from the DPJ. It is unclear to me why the Japanese political system, in which the LDP has for decades paid heed to the views of opposition parties through the Kokutai system, cannot handle a slightly more involved form of this cooperation between the LDP and the DPJ to ensure smooth management of parliamentary affairs. Neither side will get everything that they want, but then Mr. Fukuda is not Mr. Abe: unlike his predecessor, Mr. Fukuda does not necessarily believe that policy is everything. Procedure counts too.

The DPJ is to blame for having failed to change its approach the moment that Mr. Fukuda took over for Mr. Abe, with the party's intransigence effectively driving Mr. Ozawa into Mr. Fukuda's arms as a way out of the predicament — producing the latest drama in Japanese politics, and effectively exposing the party's frailty to the world.

Maybe Mr. Ozawa's wielding greater power over the party will be a good thing for the DPJ. Perhaps I have underestimated his ability to manage the delicate task of being an opposition party responsible for a whole house of the Diet. But he better get to work forging a cooperative Diet strategy that his party can support.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Recommended Book: In The Ruins of Empire, Ronald Spector

My apologies for not recommending a new book sooner, but blame it on a hectic few weeks in Japanese politics.

This book, though, is well worth reading. A sequel of sorts to Eagle Against the Sun, his account of the Pacific War, Ronald Spector outdoes his earlier effort in providing a comprehensive record of the bloody aftermath of the war in In the Ruins of Empire, a subject that may be as important for understanding Asia today as the war itself.

Spector, a professor of history at George Washington University, focuses on the aftermath of the war in Korea, China, Indochina, and Indonesia and the problems of reconstructing the domestic political orders faced by the US and its allies throughout the region (while trying to get stranded Japanese forces back to Japan).

There are a few points that struck me as particularly relevant. First, the US in 1945 was wholly unprepared for life as a superpower. Responsibility for postwar Asia — China especially — fell into Washington's lap, and for the most part the US government failed to forge a postwar settlement for the region. It was not for want of talent, at least on the spot; indeed, Spector is full of praise for individual OSS agents, military officers, and diplomats who worked with local political leaders and allied counterparts to set up new regimes. The fault, to Spector, was in Washington and other allied capitals, where senior leaders were inept in the face of considerable uncertainty. As he writes in the book's concluding paragraph, "The most deleterious effects of the Allied military presence developed not through blunders or misjudgments of those charged with carrying out the occupations, but when the highest levels of government acted indecisively, had mistaken notions or no notion at all about what was actually happening on the scene, and neglected or ignored reports from the field."

In the first months following the war, the US had no plans for Korea or Indochina, and its plans for China amounted to little more than pushing for a ceasefire between the Guomintang and the Communists, even as it assisted in moving Chiang's forces to northern China and providing Chiang with arms. The strategic vacuum in the early months of the postwar period made it all the more likely that US Asia policy would be viewed solely through the prism of anti-communism as the cold war unfolded. The consequences for US policy in Indochina, Korea, and China up to the present day require no further explanation.

If Washington suffered from a failure of imagination in its postwar Asia policy, the policies of Britain, France, and the Netherlands were almost impervious to the reality on the ground, especially the latter two. It was absurd to think that France and the Netherlands, broken nations reemerging from German occupation, could reassert imperial control over distant colonies whose peoples saw the mystique of the empires crumble as the imperialists were in turn conquered and whose national consciousnesses emerged during the war (not unlike the national movements that followed in the wake of Napoleon's conquests in Europe). The Dutch, lacking sufficient force to reassert control over Indonesia, actually had to rely on the British to do much of their fighting for them. Despite the fact that their empires were on the edge of oblivion, the European empires were determined to restore their empires to their former glory. They failed to appreciate both the political awakening among Asian peoples and their own attenuated statures.

A final interesting thread that ran throughout the book is the variegated roles played by stranded Japanese forces throughout Asia. While waiting to be repatriated to Japan, Japanese forces were present on all sides of the conflicts in the immediate aftermath of the war — in some cases helping to preserve order for the allied powers, in others working with opposition movements.

Spector's book ultimately provides an excellent reminder that history is messier than the textbooks would have us believe. Wars don't end when peace treaties are signed. Especially for wars in the modern period, the end of war presents a whole new set of challenges for the restoration of political and economic order (not to mention the lingering remnants of wartime hatred, which result at least in part from the need to mobilize whole populations and mar postwar relations between former adversaries).

It's Ozawa's party now

After imploring Ozawa Ichiro to remain as head of the party, Mr. Ozawa has decided to embrace the party once again: "I want to give my best once more."

I'm still not convinced that Mr. Ozawa — a bull in a china shop if I've ever seen one — is the man to walk the tightrope between being an opposition party and cooperating with the LDP on matters of mutual concern. But the DPJ chiefs evidently think differently.

Perhaps it's time for the DPJ to consider its own (formal) factions, as a way to ensure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again. If Mr. Ozawa was obliquely trying to make the case for factional politics, he succeeded admirably. Think about it: a stable of leaders who can step in at a moment's notice, institutionalized jockeying for power, and checks on the party leader.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A thorny question

Does anyone else find it strange that the reaction of nearly all the DPJ's leaders to Ozawa Ichiro's decision to resign as head of the party was to beg Mr. Ozawa to stay?

To my knowledge, not a single DPJ politician openly declared his intentions to succeed Mr. Ozawa, and both Kan Naoto and Okada Katsuya, likely candidates in a party leadership race, have urged Mr. Ozawa to stay.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that one characteristic that every political organization has in common is that they're political: they are rooted in the struggle for power, no matter how much that desire is cloaked in civility. The DPJ is certainly no stranger to infighting of varying degrees of intensity. And yet when a vacuum opens up at the top, giving an ambitious politician a chance to lunge for power, not unlike Mr. Aso's petite coup in September, there is not one who makes a bid for control of the party? Not a single politician who thinks that Mr. Ozawa's departure can mark the beginning of a new era for the DPJ, pointing to Mr. Ozawa's own critique of the party (discussed in this post) as a sign that change is needed?

If so, then the DPJ is weaker than I thought, in which case it is no surprise that its leaders are practically begging for Mr. Ozawa to stay.

Should Mr. Ozawa decide to remain as the party's leader, whatever "dictatorial" control of the party he exercised in the past will likely pale in comparison to what's to come. How could it not? The DPJ has practically admitted that it is lost without Mr. Ozawa at the helm, that only with him planning its Diet and election strategies can it contemplate winning a general election and forming a government. The party, should Mr. Ozawa remain, will be linking its fortunes to that of its leader.

Could this be a case of Stockholm Syndrome?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The DPJ stares into the abyss

Learning of Mr. Ozawa's intention to resign while in Nagoya, Hatoyma Yukio said, "I have received it, but I cannot accept it." He subsequently returned to Tokyo to consult with Mr. Ozawa.

The public sentiment among party leaders seems to be a desire for Mr. Ozawa to stay, but whether that desire stems from an appreciation of his leadership qualities or a fear of the chaos that will likely characterize the "post-Ozawa" era. The genuine shock emanating from the DPJ leadership strikes me as indicative of a lack of preparation in the party for the Ozawa succession. Messrs. Kan, Hatoyama, and the rest of the party apparently put their trust and hopes in Mr. Ozawa and were not prepared to deal with his departure.

While Mr. Ozawa left open the possibility of staying based on the appeals of his colleagues, it seems that reversing his decision at this point would do little more than deepen the turmoil and perhaps even force a rupture.

It seems to me that Mr. Ozawa has burned his bridges: "Doubts have been continually raised from the people, 'The LDP's hopeless, but does the DPJ truly have the ability to wield political power?" That strikes me as an odd complaint for the outgoing leader of a party to make, particularly for a leader criticized for his dictatorial control of the party. What did Mr. Ozawa do to address those doubts? He certainly exploited public dissatisfaction with the LDP effectively, but it's not clear to me that he had a constructive plan to demonstrate the DPJ's seriousness.

The concern now is that Mr. Ozawa will leave the party, with party members beginning to guess how many members he could take with him.

This succession crisis might get a whole lot worse before it gets better.