Saturday, December 8, 2007

On Ozawa's statecraft

Over at 空, Ken Tanaka wonders about my criticism of Mr. Ozawa's remarks in China in this post, echoing the questions of several commentators to the same post.

Let me be clear: Japan has no choice but to have cordial and constructive relations with China, the same as for the United States, Australia, India, and other countries in Asia. I have little quarrel with the substance of Mr. Ozawa's visit, insofar as there was substance. (A summary at the DPJ website contains lots of talk of intellectual and cultural exchanges and declarations of intention to cooperate on issues of shared concern.) And there is certainly nothing wrong with opposition leaders meeting with heads of state.

My issue remains Mr. Ozawa's style. Apparently it was not enough for Mr. Ozawa to take a low-key visit to Beijing, praise Mr. Fukuda for his own overtures to China and congratulate the prime minister for seeing the wisdom in the DPJ's China policy, say a few speeches, and go home. Instead, he had to travel with some 400 people (originally intended to be an expedition of 1000, according to Mainichi) and speak in unrealistically effusive terms about the Sino-Japanese relationship.

I prefer statesmanship that prioritizes substance over rhetoric. As President Bush has illustrated time and time again during his presidential term, rhetoric often raises expectations to unreasonable heights. The difficulties still present in the Sino-Japanese relationship — which will be on full display over the next couple of weeks in the lead up to Mr. Fukuda's visit — do not merit the flights of fantasy in Mr. Ozawa's Beijing remarks. Speak softly, with an eye firmly to national interests.

I'm also dismayed because Mr. Ozawa has failed to provide a more comprehensive vision for Japanese foreign policy. We're left to guess on the basis of his speeches and actions: strict constitutionalism (the basis for his opposition to the MSDF refueling mission), strict UN-centrism (the basis for his suggestion that the GSDF can participate, armed, in ISAF), and now, apparently, deference to China. For all the rhetoric from Mr. Ozawa since July, there's been remarkably little effort on his part (and the part of his DPJ colleagues) to outline a strategic vision for Japan, one that includes a realistic vision for the US-Japan alliance — the Koizumi-Abe LDP has left them plenty of room to do this — that squares with the Sino-Japanese relationship.

I think the DPJ has been poorly served by Mr. Ozawa, whose gaze is fixed squarely on the tactical, on short cuts to power, when what it needs is a strategic visionary who can elaborate a vision for Japan's domestic and foreign policies that is more than just a rejection of whatever the LDP has argued. It's not a matter of having detailed plans for every aspect of Japanese governance.

As Mr. Koizumi showed, a vision presented in a compelling and easy-to-understand way can make up for deficiencies in the details.


Ross said...

How do you square this circle? You state:

"I prefer statesmanship that prioritizes substance over rhetoric."

But then end with a nod to Koizumi who was mostly style over substance.

I'd be a bit more forgiving. They are all politicians after all, just trying to survive and looking good generally is a safer bet than leading.

That said, I agree with both your basic point that Ozawa is playing this very poorly and your implied point that the DPJ is wasting valuable time that could be used to build party ID for voters to cue on.

Japan Observer said...


Point taken, although the nod to Koizumi is more that he pointed the way — his approach was far from perfect. There's also a difference between domestic and foreign policy. Much of the time foreign policy is rhetoric and style, which makes the choice of words that much more important. (And Koizumi was far from perfect on this front, as the deep freeze with China illustrates.)

In domestic policy, I think there's an expectation that words should be turned into action relatively quickly (with the price for inaction being a loss of popularity).

The question, therefore, is the kind of vision domestically. Masuzoe Yoichi speaks to this in his book "Naikaku Soridaijin," in which he criticizes Koizumi for speaking only of the short-term steps for his plans without effectively linking it up to a bigger vision for the Japan he wanted to create — the metaphor he used was something like, Koizumi destroyed the house without having a new house into which to move.

It's a tough line to walk, and you're right: I should be more forgiving.

Bryce said...

And more than that, he is an opposition politician in a unitary parliamentary system who has something of a chance at near term political vistory. I've been banging on about the systemic aspects of Japanese politics for a while now, but (as Ozawa himself notes) it is not the responsibility of opposition members in such a system to be statesmen. It is their responsibility to oppose. They must critique every aspect of the government's approach while offering a credible alternative manifesto at elections.
The axis of opposition lies within the Diet in Japan. It is not spread across states and branches of government. You can't blame the guy for being combative under such a system, and as I've noted before, it's a model of democracy that has served others well.

I hate so-called "statesmanship". What it generally means is a man (usually) will take on the veneer of honesty and moral rectitude while lying through his teeth.

Japan Observer said...

Except after July, his party is not purely an opposition party. It has some responsibility for policy outcomes.

And, again, it's not that he's opposing the LDP, it's how he's doing it. His approach lacks all subtlety, making Fukuda and the LDP look reasonable.

"Regime change" in Japan could and should be more than just a change in the name of the ruling party. There is room for the DPJ to articulate a plan that outlines political and administrative reforms needed to rejuvenate Japan, but to date, it hasn't.

As for statesmanship, sometimes the national interest requires a bit of lying.

AC said...

"I think the DPJ has been poorly served by Mr. Ozawa, whose gaze is fixed squarely on the tactical"


Bryce said...

"There is room for the DPJ to articulate a plan that outlines political and administrative reforms needed to rejuvenate Japan, but to date, it hasn't."

Because until this point it hasn't needed to. It's been capitalising on discontent with the political and administrative reforms of the LDP. But remember, it's the DPJ that outlines its policies in a manifesto. It might seem like a facsimile of "Blueprint for a New Japan" at the moment, but at least it is something.

"As for statesmanship, sometimes the national interest requires a bit of lying."

I'm subscribe to the interpretive school of IR. I don't believe in an objective "national" interests.

I'm sure there are many, myself included, that think it is in Japan's "national interest" in the long term to have a strong opposition. It works into the accountability I have mentioned before. The more combative the system (within reason), the more responsible the government. Now that we have the DPJ in a position where they can force a little honesty out of the LDP, I'm not sure its a good thing for Ozawa to buddy up to Fukuda, for either Japan or the DPJ. Interparty pacts don't work for the minor party, for the simple fact that people don't vote for governments, but against them. If the DPJ concedes to the LDP on policy, softens its opposition, or, heaven forbid, negotiates a coalition deal, the LDP will take the credit for the resulting stability as the major party in power.

Anonymous said...

To disagree with the analysis here, you all seem to be missing something important: the LDP a party of substance? I think not. We seem to hit the reload button every time we get a new prime minister: from Obuchi's pump priming to Mori's education revolution to Koizumi's reform without boundaries and fiscal tightening to Abe's beautiful Japan. The list goes on.

On China we have China as buddy, cash cow and lover (via interpreter/spy) (Hashimoto) to China as irrelevant to Japanese FP (Koizumi) to China as something closer than that (Fukuda). I'd submit that the LDP on its China policy has been wholly without substance or direction for years. And on this score the LDP, including Mr. Fukuda, should be judged as a party, not a collection of prime ministers each of whom gets to start again. The LDP utterly fails on its China policy.

As to Ozawa, read his early 90s book again. Look at which policy proposals have been enacted - you'll be surprised. You'll also see that the position he has on FP hasn't changed one iota. You may disagree with the direction, but to claim it lacks direction or is purely tactical or rhetoric-filled and without strategy misses much evidence to the contrary.

Or am I missing something here?

Bryce said...

I agree with anonymous whole-heartedly. I've often thought of Ozawa as one of the only effective Japanese politicians of the 1990s. And he still has some distance to go before he reaches his foreign policy goals. I think too many people focus on the necessary tactics he deploys and confuse them with his strategy.

Japan Observer said...

Anonymous, I disagree with your LDP as a party without substance. For the first forty years of its existence, in fact, its substance was quite clear. In simple terms, it governed Japan on behalf of its donors (corporate Japan) and its voters (farmers and small businessmen), ensuring that the former enjoyed conditions in which to grow and that money from the growing pie made it to the voters. That, together with a passive commitment to the western bloc was the LDP mainstream for nearly four decades.

All of the examples you cite of the LDP changing with every cabinet are from the post-1993 period, in which the LDP, like Japan, was unclear what it was. All that you're illustrating is that successive leaders of the LDP have tried to steer the LDP in the way they saw fit, but failed. As I argued in my latest post, the LDP still hasn't quite figured out how to replace what it lost in the early 1990s.

Mr. Ozawa may have some strategy in mind, but he keeps his cards awfully close to his chest. And yes, Mr. Ozawa had some fine ideas during the 1990s, but I'm not entirely clear that he really gets the changes afoot. I recall a speech he gave sometime in the mid-1990s — at Waseda, I think — in which he drew upon Lampedusa's "The Leopard" for his motto: "change so as to stay the same."

Mr. Ozawa is obsessed with the idea of a new Meiji restoration, but I don't see how another top-down revolution will solve Japan's problems.

I cannot, however, quarrel with your assessment of LDP China policy. (What China policy?) I think the US may bear some blame for this, because China has been strangely absent from the US-Japan agenda, in explicit terms. The allies have danced around an approach to China (and Taiwan), but it is impossible to say that there is a joint US-Japan position on the rise of China. Some see an emerging containment policy, but that is more indicative of the absence of a policy: people see what they want to see in the US-Japan alliance's approach to China because the truth is that there is no approach.

That doesn't excuse the LDP, but it does put it into context. And to bring it back to Mr. Ozawa, it is unrealistic for the DPJ to consider a China policy that doesn't take into account Japan's relationship with the US.

(By the way Bryce, I agree with you on national interests being at least mostly interpretative. I also agree — and have argued before — that political competition is essential for accountability.)