Monday, April 30, 2007

The end of the F-22 question?

Sharon Weinberger at the Danger Room notes that General Jeffrey Kohler, head of the Defense Cooperation Agency at the Department of Defense, quashed reports that the US is prepared to sell the F-22 to allies like Japan and Israel.

The Chosun Ilbo, of course, reported this immediately.

There may be the occasional report that appears to contradict Kohler's statement, but I think it's safe to say that the US will not be permitting the export of the F-22 anytime soon, if ever.

I guess there won't be any F-22s "emblazoned with the rising sun" after all.

There are a few lessons in this, however.

First, the Bush administration appears to have a lost whatever grip on policy coordination it had remaining. This story was driven by contradictory messages from different administration officials (including Ambassador Thomas Schieffer), until it was finally quashed by the one man who actually had power over arms export decisions.

Two, and more significantly, this was something of a false alarm that illustrates just how sensitive the countries of Northeast Asia are to perceived fluctuations, however small, in the balance of power, especially, not surprisingly, South Korea.

It seems that the old realist rules of the game aren't quite as obsolete as the heralds of globalization would have us believe; indeed, they remain front and center in the thinking of the region's powers. So Thomas Barnett's optimism on China's military role may be a bit too hopeful. While China may be looking to contribute to global order on the margins, all signs point to its fundamental concern with the balance of power in its own immediate neighborhood. (And so it goes for Japan, the Koreas, the US...)

Was Abe's trip a success?

That's the argument made by an editorial in the Japan Times and Jun Okumura at GlobalTalk 21. The Yomiuri, meanwhile, was cautiously optimistic, suggesting that while there were positive results from the Bush-Abe summit, the future is unclear, and there is a greater need for better bilateral communication (a point I've stressed on a number of occasions).

Okumura, for his part, limits his praise to the abductions issue, as it seems to have been successfully shunted off the agenda thanks to Abe's discussion with congressional leaders on Thursday. The Japan Times, however, suggests that unity has been achieved on North Korea policy.

But has it? My concern remains the same as it was when the February agreement was forged. If North Korea decides to comply in some form on the nuclear issue, but remains stubborn on the abductions issue, is the US really going to nix a potential breakthrough? Granted, I doubt a real breakthrough is likely anytime soon (or at all), but one should not underestimate the skill of North Korean diplomats, particularly when it comes to finding ways to outwit and divide the US and Japan.

The Japanese and English-language press have been full of stories praising Abe's diplomatic deftness, and there is no question that Abe has a gift for summitry, arguably because it fits his profile as a Gaullist-style political leader concerned with the direction of the ship of state over the long term. Abe has subsequently demonstrated his deftness in the Middle East, and the Japanese people seem to have acknowledged his ability to conduct diplomacy with other heads of state and government.

But does Abe's talent for diplomacy mean that his summits should automatically be judged a successful, particularly regarding his summit in Washington? Beyond the cordial facade, the US-Japan relationship has serious issues, not least the question of whether the US will continue to require the alliance with Japan as the foundation for its position in Asia in the coming decades (and the parallel question of whether Japan can afford to look solely to the US for support in the region). As the region becomes ever more fluid, will the US and Japan be able to sustain the political coordination necessary to confront regional challenges without a standing arrangement that unifies bilateral political and security planning?

In short, the Abe-Bush summit did nothing to address the fundamental disconnect in the alliance: cooperation between the US Military and the JSDF is deep and sustained, but it lacks a detailed plan for the future of the alliance, particularly if Abe succeeds in re-interpreting the constitution to permit limited collective self-defense. What is the purpose of the alliance? Is it a global alliance committed to spreading values shared by the US and Japan (as suggested by Foreign Minister Aso Taro's initiative to create an "arc of freedom and prosperity)? Is it, as per Article VI of the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, committed to the maintenance of the security in the Far East? If so, what does maintaining security in the Far East mean? Or is it simply an alliance for the defense of Japan, a purpose that seems increasingly irrelevant as Japan becomes more than capable of defending itself and the US prepares to realign its forward-deployed forces?

Can a US-Japan summit that did not even touch upon these issues be considered a successful summit?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Deflating the F-22

Over at Wired's Danger Room blog, covering defense technology, Noah Shachtman writes of the long, weird history of the development of the F-22, noting that as the price of the F-22 went up, the US Air Force had to derive new roles for what was originally intended as solely an air superiority fighter.

In discussing the efficacy of the F-22, Shachtman cites a revealing remark by USAF General Ronald Keys on where the F-22 can be deployed: "If war breaks out, I'm sending the F-22...But not for operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. I didn't buy the F-22 for Iraq. We're looking for what can sop up intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance [ISR] in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is the investment [of sending the F-22] worth it? Is it a good idea or just an attractive idea? Will it complicate the air component commander's problems for no gain?"

As such, concerns about Japanese interest in purchasing the F-22 for the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force — such as the three articles published by South Korea's Chosun Ilbo (found here, here, and here) — are, for the moment, vastly overblown. Given the natural reluctance to use a fighter aircraft with a $300 million price tag when another plane might do the job, one has to wonder if Japan would go through with the purchase of a fleet of F-22s when what it needs is a durable workhorse, not a fighter so advanced that it nearly crashed when its systems failed while crossing the international dateline.

A hazy shade of Beijing

I arrived in Beijing yesterday -- and was immediately struck, even before landing, by the dirty haze that shrouds the city. I had read, of course, about how polluted Beijing has become, but reading about it does not convey just how filthy the air is.

Beyond the pollution, it is hard to believe the scale of the city, in particular the monumental scale of buildings and avenues. China may be a "socialist market economy," but the style of its capital is more Bucharest than Tokyo. (Of course, the similarities with a city like Bucharest are strengthened by the landscape's being dotted with communist-style apartment blocks that stand alongside the new glittering architectural wonders built for the 2008 Olympics.)

Meanwhile, there's no confusing China for Japan. The impression I get is that, economically, China is like a vastly super-sized version of one of the Southeast Asia tigers, in its frenetic pace and fiercely materialistic, crass capitalism.

I realize that none of these observations are particularly novel, but these aspects of the "new China" are immediately apparent, and highlight the contradictory nature of Chinese development.

More in the coming days...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Abe in Washington, day two

Bush and Abe have eaten their burgers, they've talked, and they've had a press conference that shows how little will actually come out of their meeting.

The press coverage (FT; Washington Post) focuses on statements that hint at a firming up of the US position in the Six-Party talks -- "Our partners in the six-party talks are patient, but our patience is not unlimited" -- but then there is little more than a hint of the consequences North Korea will face if it fails to comply:
The interesting thing about our position is that if it looks like the North Korean leader is not going to honor his agreement, if it looks like that there are reasons other than the financial arrangements that will cause him to say, well, I really don't mean what I said, we now have a structure in place to continue to provide a strong message to the North Korean. We have the capability of more sanctions. We have the capability of convincing other nations to send a clear message.
Given recent signals from the other parties in the talks — South Korea's rice contributions, for example -- does the president really anticipate a robust reply from the others to North Korean intransigence?

Meanwhile, the abductions issue was raised, of course, and Bush responded with rhetoric that I'm sure warmed his buddy Shinzo's heart:
Any discussion about ways forward, however, shouldn't -- should not obscure my strong sentiment about the abductee issue. The Prime Minister mentioned how Mrs. Yokota was affected by her visit to the Oval Office -- well, I was affected by her visit to the Oval Office. It broke my heart to be in the presence of a Japanese mother whose love for her daughter has not diminished over time and her grief is sincere and real. I remember her bringing the picture of the child as she remembers her, right there where I go to work every day, and sitting it on the couch next to her.

So I'm deeply affected by her. She needs to understand that her visit added a human dimension to an issue which is obviously very important to the Japanese people. And I will never forget her visit and I will work with my friend and the Japanese government to get this issue resolved in a way that touches the human heart, in a way that -- it's got more than just a, kind of a diplomatic ring to it, as far as I'm concerned. It's a human issue now to me; it's a tangible, emotional issue. And thank you for bringing the question up.

Any hint of a concrete guideline as to what will constitute progress on this issue? Nope.

So while Bush and Abe were perhaps able to clear some of the air, there still remains a fundamental problem: the US threshold for staying committed the talks remains higher than Japan's, in part due to the simple fact that the president is not particularly focused on them in the first place, leaving the State Department to craft the US bargaining position.

Meanwhile, the joint statement released from the summit focuses on energy and the environment, perhaps helping to meet Japan's goal of making an environment "in which it will be easy for the US to participate" in a post-Kyoto agreement.

So, as usual for a summit of this nature, the offerings were bland and uninspiring...but thankfully the portions were small.

Hopefully the 2 + 2 meeting next week will be meatier.

Observing China

George F. Will writes in the Washington Post about whether advocates of engagement with China are overly optimistic in their assessment that economic liberalization and the profusion of choices that comes with a modern service economy will result in political liberalization.

While I disagree with the more rosy assessments of the benefits of engagement -- whose "political idealism through economic materialism" seems a bit too far-fetched for my tastes -- I also think that China skeptics like Will (and James Mann, whose book he discusses) downplay the likelihood of change in China.

China is changing rapidly, in ways beyond the control of the neo-Mandarins in Beijing. But the mistake is to assume that change will necessarily result in political liberalization.

All of this is a long way of saying that like the rest of political Japan, I am leaving Japan for Golden Week. For the next week I will be visiting -- and blogging from -- China.

Posting will be lighter than of late, in part because there will be less to write from out of Japan due to the holiday, but I will be recording my observations of China as diligently as possible.

I also want to take this occasion to thank you all for reading, and for your comments.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Abe in Washington, day one

Apropos of US Asia policy over the past several years, Prime Minister Abe's arrival in Washington was overshadowed by the Senate's passage of a war spending bill that includes a withdrawal plan -- entirely consistent with the US government's "Iraq, Iraq, Iraq" foreign policy.

While discussions between Bush and Abe over cheeseburgers and apple pie at Camp David on Friday will be unaffected by the bill, the attention Washington might have paid to questions about the future of the US-Japan alliance will most likely not be forthcoming.

In any event, prior to the low-key dinner at the White House on Thursday night, Abe met with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders, where, of course, the comfort women issue was raised -- prompting Abe to express his apologies once again both as an individual and as prime minister. Interestingly, the Sankei Shimbun reports that Tom Lantos (D-CA-12), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said, "It is fitting that Japan should become a great power even in the area of security. To accomplish this, I strongly support Prime Minister Abe's policy of constitution revision." This is a good reminder that on the US-Japan alliance, there is a broad bipartisan consensus supporting bilateral security cooperation.

His schedule also included visits to Arlington National Cemetery and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he met with veterans wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And, of course, Abe Akie and Laura Bush toured Mount Vernon, prompting Steve Clemons to speculate on how Bill Clinton would handle these duties if Hillary Clinton is elected president.

Does any of this mean anything? Arguably no. Abe's genuflections to congressional leaders might defuse some of the tension surrounding the comfort women issue -- although this op-ed co-authored by former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Henry Hyde in the Washington Times (hat tip: Shisaku) suggests that the vein of opposition from the right, due to the influence of veterans of the Pacific theater, is deeper than Democratic initiation of the resolution would suggest.

Meanwhile, on North Korea, is Abe going to be able to reverse the "Bush shock"? Is another reminder of the plight of Japan's abductees going to make any difference for the US position? And are the two governments really capable of following through on last year's agreement on the realignment of the US military presence in Japan?

I do not anticipate these issues to be resolved at Friday's summit at Camp David or at next week's 2 + 2 meeting of foreign and defense ministers and secretaries. When looking at US-Japan relations over the past two decades, at least on the US side the principals at the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom mattered relatively little, except as sponsors of their subordinates' work on the alliance.

The sub-cabinet officials -- the assistant and deputy assistant secretaries -- holding Asia and Japan portfolios have been far more important. With Chris Hill the most prominent of the sub-ministerial Asia hands and Richard Lawless's departure pending, alliance matters are of secondary importance within Asia policy (which is itself of secondary or tertiary importance in US foreign policy as a whole). Commitment from President Bush, together with Prime Minister Abe, might be able to create an environment within which sub-cabinet officials could discuss the alliance's future in more concrete terms -- but that commitment is unlikely to be forthcoming, and even if it was, the personnel lineup at State, Defense, and the NSC does not favor the alliance.

I will reserve final judgment until the joint statement is released Friday, but I have no expectations for dramatic change. The alliance is on cruise control, and cruise control means drift.

UPDATE: Speaking of personnel, the Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Victor Cha, director for East Asian affairs (including Japan, the Koreas, Australia, and New Zealand) at the National Security Council, will be leaving the administration and returning to Georgetown. The Yomiuri's take is that this is yet another blow to the influence of North Korea hawks in the administration and a victory for the "dialogue faction." Of course, the gap between the US and Japanese negotiating positions on North Korea has grown as the influence of the hawks in Washington has declined.

I wonder who the administration will find to serve in this post for the remainder of the term, not an insignificant span of time by any means. (Although it's hard to believe that the Bush administration still has more than twenty months before it expires.) As with the departure of Richard Lawless, Japan and the Koreas will be watching closely as to who succeeds Cha.

Japan's long road to normalization

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff early in the Bush administration, has an op-ed on the occasion of Abe's visit that title of which says it all: "Asia's Overlooked Great Power." (Hat tip: Project Syndicate)

Most of Haass' essay is innocuous, typical proposals about more regional cooperation and a more apologetic stance on the history question, but one point he made strikes me as problematic.

He writes, "Intellectuals, journalists, and politicians are now saying and writing things about Japan’s role in the world that were unthinkable a decade ago. It is a question of when, not if, the Japanese amend Article IX of their constitution, which limits the role of Japan’s armed forces to self-defense."

I don't disagree with the former point. One of the more interesting pieces of Japan's normalization has been the normalization of the security policy debate, with the removal of taboos on what security policies can be considered and an eagerness to discuss the regional and global security environments. But a more robust security debate has not necessarily resulted in -- nor resulted from -- an abiding change how the Japanese people think about their nation's role in the world. While fears of North Korea have enabled the Japanese government to deepen missile defense cooperation with the US, it is unclear the extent to which the abductions issue -- as opposed to direct concerns about North Korea's ballistic missiles and nuclear arsenal -- has shaped Japanese public opinion on North Korea. And beyond North Korea, the Japanese people aren't exactly clamoring for their country to take on more risky missions abroad that could result in combat deaths.

Will this reluctance ultimately give way?

I don't think so. The process of normalization has not been, and will not be, a linear process. It has proceeded with baby steps and the occasional step backwards -- and lots of standing still. While the younger generation of politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators has shown itself to be far more willing and eager to see a more robust Japanese global role, they operate in a policy environment in which change happens slowly and in which compromise is a matter of course. And there are a number of politicians who may favor a more prominent Japanese role abroad, but would prefer to be a European-style "soft power" great power. (I suspect that that stance will not be tenable given Japan's highly uncertain regional environment.)

As such, Haass should not be so quick to assume that constitution revision is a foregone conclusion. Given falling support for revision and given that Abe's government may not last the year, Article 9 may live long beyond the sixtieth birthday that it is celebrating this year. I am convinced that re-interpretation is far more likely, but while re-interpretation of the prohibition on the right of collective self-defense would resolve some of the ambiguity surrounding Japan's defense role, especially in the US-Japan alliance, doubts would remain -- and doubts mean that every proposed action (outside of actions requiring immediate response, i.e. a missile launch) will be subject to endless debate in the Diet, parsing whether the proposed mission fits with the new interpretation.

So change is happening, and will continue to happen, but not in the direct, clear-cut, expeditious manner expected by Haass.

The future of the Japanese RMA

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported today on the release of a report by the Japanese Defense Ministry's Technical Research and Development Institute providing a medium- to long-term technology estimate, essentially outlining the future of the Japanese variant of the revolution in military affairs.

The question is, essentially, how will technology impact Japanese force structure and doctrine.

I have only skimmed the executive brief, but several things jumped out at me.

First, the Defense Ministry expects that restricted defense budgets will continue into the future, even as the security environment changes and the JSDF undertakes more peacekeeping and humanitarian missions abroad, in accordance with "overseas activities" becoming one of the primary missions of the JSDF late last year (at the same time the JDA was elevated to ministry status).

Second, there is a heavy emphasis on robotics and unmanned vehicles (not just aerial drones).

Third, the emphasis is on technology that will strengthen Japanese defensive capabilities, especially against unconventional threats.

As such, the shape of the Japanese RMA, rather than facilitating Japan's becoming a more independent military power, will support military cooperation in the US-Japan alliance. The Defense Ministry is not planning on the development of technology that will undergird an independent Japanese deterrent (conventional or nuclear). Instead, there is a heavy emphasis on advanced sensors and other technologies that will create "systems of systems" among units in a given battlespace.

In any case, it's worth a look.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mr. Abe goes to Washington

Abe is set to begin his visit to Washington, which means that there is a surge of media coverage repeating the same questions that I have been asking at this blog for the past six months. Domestically, does Abe represent a return to the pre-Koizumi style of LDP governance? Internationally, is Abe truly committed to the alliance, or is he a Gaullist who views it more as a relationship of convenience (meaning Japan should have capabilities independent of the alliance)?

The doubts surrounding Abe come out strongly in Mary Kissel's interview with Abe in the Wall Street Journal, previously discussed here. Kissel makes the same point that I made in this post yesterday:
Mr. Abe might yet surprise on the domestic front; he deliberately mentioned that Japan's tax rates are higher than the OECD average--a signal corporate-tax burdens could ease. His team could aim for something small; perhaps by resolving a long-running dispute over U.S. beef imports, or by cracking open immigration.

But in the long run, that's not the kind of sweeping reform Japan so desperately cries out for. Mr. Abe needs to make Japan an easier place to do business for foreigners, break down regulatory barriers to trade and keep plugging away at the anti-reform base in the LDP. Period.
Once again, the Koizumi formula is the way to go: political reform must precede or accompany structural reform of the economy.

As for this weekend's agenda, the transcript of a press conference with Dennis Wilder, the National Security Council's Senior Director for Asian Affairs, is available here.

Several things stand out.

First, there will be no escaping the comfort women issue. Even if President Bush leaves it out of discussions, as I expect he will, press coverage of Abe's visit will necessarily mention the resolution before Congress and Abe's ambiguous response, from which he has backtracked.

Second, there will be no way for Abe to avoid comparisons with Koizumi, which, as I've mentioned before, is something that Abe's advisers are working assiduously to avoid within Japan. In part due to the heavily covered visit to Graceland last summer, Koizumi raised expectations of Japanese prime ministers in the US as well -- Koizumi indubitably became more recognized among Americans than all of his predecessors combined.

If you read the transcript above, there is much talk about the Bush-Koizumi relationship. Wilder even made clear that since leaving office Koizumi remains "a close friend." This means that throughout the weekend, this man

will be casting his shadow over the proceedings at the White House and Camp David -- and there's not a thing Abe can do about it.

Of course the US-Japan relationship is bigger than the relationship between the president and the prime minister, but close cooperation at the top facilitates greater cooperation at the ministerial and sub-ministerial levels, ensuring that the work of individuals focused exclusively on the bilateral relationship enjoys the blessings of the leaders who make the ultimate decisions.

So that's the big question for the weekend. Will Bush and Abe be able to forge a cordial relationship, that while not having the same bonhomie of the Bush-Koizumi relationship, will be able to serve as the basis for efforts to strengthen the US-Japan relationship during the waning years of the Bush administration and remove some of the doubts that have set in over the past six months?

The offensive continues

Yesterday I wrote that the Abe Cabinet launched an "offensive" on the question of collective self-defense.

It seems that that offensive continued today, with Prime Minister Abe meeting with Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state, co-chair of the groups that produced the two reports on the US-Japan alliance that bear his name (alongside Joseph Nye), and all-around advocate of greater US-Japan cooperation. (At present, it seems that Sankei is the only major daily covering this story.)

The article reports [my translation]: "Armitage said after the talk, 'If the conclusion leads to more flexibility, it will be good for Japan. He indicated his hope that Japan will become able to exercise its right of collective self-defense. On the other hand, he pointed out that 'it's Japan's decision' and he stressed that Japan is struggling [with the issue] itself."

I expect that in advance of this weekend's summit, Armitage will inform the president about the contents of his conversation with Abe -- and whoever else he happens to meet while visiting -- making clear to the president that Abe is committed to overcoming the prohibition on collective self-defense, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of greater US-Japan security cooperation.

Thus Armitage's meeting with Abe is as much a part of the offensive as remarks in the Diet by Abe's senior advisers, helping to clear the ground in Washington for changes that could be in the offing.

Those changes are far from guaranteed, however, as Komeito Secretary General Kitagawa Kazuo made clear in his remarks in the Diet today, in which he warned the government to be "prudent" in its reconsideration of the prohibition on the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, suggesting that the current interpretation provides for the cases under consideration.

Nevertheless, as I said yesterday, the push for reinterpretation may prove more important than constitution revision, which remains a distant prospect, the national referendum bill notwithstanding. Washington must be ready, however, to work with Tokyo to determine the structure of the alliance should Japan become able to act as a full (or fuller) ally.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Postponing structural reform

Following on the heels of an announcement last week of a plan to amend Japan's rules separating banks and brokerages, the Abe Cabinet has announced, in connection with its Asia Gateway Initiative, that Japan will revise its customs rules and standards to better comply with international standards and make Japan more competitive regionally and globally.

Both of these plans reveal the broad thrust of the Abe Cabinet's ideas on economic reform. Both are reforms that serve Japan's corporations well, enabling them to better compete with other global corporations. Neither does much to change the structure of the Japanese economy over the long term, nor to address the concerns of Japanese citizens about their future of the Japanese way of life. And both are the kinds of reform that are relatively easy to pass when the currency is cheap, the economy is growing, and corporate chiefs see only blue skies ahead.

I think it would be a mistake to expect anything other than this kind of "pro-growth" tinkering from the Abe Cabinet; there will not be any ambitious, concrete plans to facilitate and hasten the shift to a post-industrial economy, to lessen the role of Japan's numerous, uncompetitive small- and medium-sized businesses -- Japan's mittelstand -- in the economy, or to transform the manner by which Tokyo governs the Japanese economy.

No, this is the reality of "growth, then reform": tinkering to ensure that coffers remain full, making it easier to delay the tough political decisions that will have to be made to ensure Japanese prosperity over the long term.

Collective self-defense offensive

In the past day, the Abe Cabinet has been on the offensive on the question of the review of the prohibition on the right of collective self-defense.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Abe said at a press conference, "As the era changes, I want to have a debate about how the constitution should be interpreted."

At the Diet, controversial LDP PARC chairman Nakagawa Shoichi gave a speech explaining the thinking behind the collective self-defense study group. (The same article reports that in accordance with Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki's reassurance that any recommendations made by the study group will go through the normal LDP policy channels, Ishiba Shigeru, JDA director-general under Koizumi and currently chairman of the LDP-PARC National Defense division, Defense Policy Investigative Subcommittee, will spearhead the debate.)

Then, today, Defense Minister Kyuma reiterated to the press the points made by Abe yesterday about the importance of reviewing the constitutional interpretation that prohibits the exercise of the right of collective self-defense.

The Abe Cabinet's push behind the review is important, perhaps more important than the push to revise the Constitution -- because reinterpreting the constitution to permit collective self-defense, even in limited cases, is a far easier way of strengthening Japanese security policy than revising the constitution. Should the government succeed, it will impact the US-Japan alliance immediately, directly, and concretely.

Perhaps this reflects a tactical shift by the cabinet, recognizing that with constitution revision a distant prospect, the government's efforts are better spent trying to realize a very real policy shift in the short term. There is probably a PR element too, allowing Abe to demonstrate to President Bush this weekend that his government is pushing all-out for a more generous reinterpretation of the constitution.

But make no mistake: reinterpreting the constitution would be a hugely important step in the normalization of Japanese security policy.

Koizumi comparisons continue

Hanaoka Nobuaki, journalist and onetime gubernatorial candidate in Nagano, has an interesting op-ed in today's Sankei Shimbun looking at how Abe has yet to find his "Three Sacred Treasures," the equivalent of the three advisors to Koizumi who helped shape his reform agenda: Shiokawa Masajyuro, his finance minister; Takenaka Heizo, his reform guru; and Iijima Isao, his private secretary.

The roles played by these three close advisers to Koizumi were important in his (failed) bid to shift the center of gravity in policy making away from the LDP-bureaucracy complex and place it squarely in the hands of the prime minister and the cabinet. Beyond the policy roles played by Koizumi's treasures, however, Hanaoka suggests that each was critical in ensuring that the government's message remained clear and coherent. (Although, again, their successes were hardly unambiguous.)

Abe, meanwhile, chose loyalty over competence -- doesn't that sound familiar -- and has paid the price in terms of public support for his cabinet.

Whether Hanaoka is correct in his assessment of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the Koizumi and Abe Cabinets is a question for debate, but his op-ed reveals real fractures in the LDP as the party prepares for July's Upper House election. Much of Hanaoka's analysis is drawn from comments by a "veteran LDP parliamentarian." Whoever that may be, it is clear that the parliamentarian in question supported the shift in policy making power away from the organs of the LDP and to the Kantei and cabinet. Is there a Koizumist insurgency lurking in the shadows of the LDP, discontent with the failure of Koizumi's chosen heir to adhere to the Koizumi legacy?

Meanwhile, it seems that Abe will never be able to shake comparisons with his predecessor. Koizumi raised the bar for his successors, making the office of prime minister a far more public position than ever before. To date, Abe has failed to fill those shoes.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The hint of a worldview

Barack Obama has delivered his own "major foreign policy speech," at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. (Full text available here; NY Times article here.)

This speech is not worth reading for its policy proposals, which are more or less standard Democratic boilerplate proposals. Rather, as Scott Paul writes at The Washington Note, this kind of speech helps to reveal the candidate's worldview.

Compared to Mitt Romney, whose first major foreign policy address I blogged about here, there is the strong suggestion of an actual worldview and the beginnings of an appreciation that the world that Bush's successors face will be radically different not only from the global environment that Bush faced upon taking office, but also radically different from the pre-Iraq war environment. Obama, it seems, thinks that the changes are simply a function of poor leadership from the US.

But I disagree: while poor US leadership -- and an obsession with the Middle East -- has exacerbated the changes afoot, what's happened is the end of the unipolar era. The changes are structural, which means there's relatively little that the next administration will be able to do to resist them. The post-Bush world will be characterized by soft balancing and "mini"-polarity (regional balances of power), which will create new challenges and opportunities for the next president. And it will require greater skill at wielding American power, with more emphasis on trying to understand how other countries see the world as a way to make them want what we want.

In contrast with Romney, though, at least Obama thought it appropriate to mention Asia, the region to which the world's center of gravity is shifting. He said:
In Asia, the emergence of an economically vibrant, more politically active China offers new opportunities for prosperity and cooperation, but also poses new challenges for the United States and our partners in the region. It is time for the United States to take a more active role here – to build on our strong bilateral relations and informal arrangements like the Six Party talks. As President, I intend to forge a more effective regional framework in Asia that will promote stability, prosperity and help us confront common transnational threats such as tracking down terrorists and responding to global health problems like avian flu.
There's not much new or profound there, but at least he acknowledges that the US has an important role to play in the region.

The speech is worth a glance. Based on this address, there might actually be hope for Obama as a leader in the post-Bush, post-unipolar era.

Criticize the media, but don't let up on the pols

Ampotman directs another post against the media -- this time the Wall Street Journal -- for being unfair to Japanese prime ministers, this time Abe's august predecessors from the revolving-door nineties.

Now, I don't disagree with his main point: the Western media's lack of attention to what happens in Japan is shockingly bad, with the possible exception of the FT and the Times of London. (Longtime readers will recall my fondness for articles by the FT's Tokyo correspondent David Pilling; Pilling attempts to explain Japan as it is, instead of reducing it to a handful of cliches about resurgent nationalism, etc.)

But that does not mean that Japan's prime ministers, especially those who governed during Japan's "lost decade" should be let off the hook. Japan's prime ministers, up to the present day, have largely been content to operate in a system in which their ability to initiate policies and lead are strongly limited, with significant policy making power resting in the hands of the bureaucracy and the LDP's policy making organs. (And with cabinet ministers "captured" by their ministries rather than serving the prime minister's goals.)

To quote from Aurelia George Mulgan's Japan's Failed Revolution, which I've touted before:
The role of the prime minister in this system has not been to lead and impose his will on the party and the government, but to articulate the agreed consensus reached in party-bureaucratic negotiations. Prime ministers have largely been figureheads for the political and bureaucratic forces operating outside the cabinet who exercise the real power. They have exercised weak powers of policy direction and leadership, including within the cabinet itself, where they have lacked explicit legal authority under cabinet law to propose items for debate on the cabinet agenda. They have chronically had no views on matters of policy. Former Prime Minister Mori's reply during a 2000 interpellation session in the Diet is indicative. Responding to a question from a member of the DPJ about giving foreigners the vote, he said simply: "This is a very important issue having relevance to the basic structure of the state. I have my own ideas about it. But, as the prime minister and the president of the ruling party, I think I should not say what I think about it." [emphasis added]
Can you imagine the leader of any other mature democracy, any other leading power, abstaining not only from voicing an opinion, but from leading the country on an "issue having relevance to the basic structure of the state"? The Japanese political system has discouraged the top-down leadership that Koizumi tried to wield, much to the detriment of the Japanese people.

Now with Abe depending on LDP heavyweights again, it is entirely reasonable for media outlets to question whether the Abe Cabinet signifies a return to the worst aspects of the LDP rule. Are Western media organizations lazy? Yes. Have they neglected Japan for far too long, failing to report on the changes afoot in Japanese politics for society? Yes. And they should be criticized for their shoddy reporting. But they are not wrong to compare Mr. Abe to his predecessors, Mr. Obuchi included.

Who cares if the late Mr. Obuchi traveled around the world in his youth? What matters is how he (mis)governed Japan as the head of a party congenitally incapable of governing the country with national -- as opposed to sectional -- interests in mind.

Meanwhile, the discussion of former Prime Minister Murayama -- the product of perhaps the most shamelessly opportunistic maneuver in the political history of postwar Japan -- misses the point. As I asked in this post, on whose behalf was Murayama apologizing? As the fate of the June 1995 Resolution to renew the determination for peace on the basis of lessons learned from history shows, Murayama was pretty much speaking for himself. The resolution, intended to foreshadow Murayama's August apology, was watered down to appeal to conservatives, alienating the resolution's original left-wing supporters; it passed, but with only half the members of the Lower House voting.

Criticizing the media for its shortcomings should not serve as a substitute for critical analysis of the Japanese political system, which is much needed, both within and outside of Japan.

The beginning of a trend?

Yomiuri reported today that exit polling from Sunday's by-elections in Fukushima and Okinawa suggests showed a pronounced tendency among independents to vote for the DPJ candidates.

In Okinawa, 55% of independents voted for Karimata Yoshimasa, the candidate backed by the DPJ and three other opposition parties, while 36% supported Shimajiri Aiko, backed by the LDP and Komeito. In Fukushima, the difference was even more pronounced, with 65% of independents supporting victorious DPJ candidate Mashiko Teruhiko, with the remainder split between LDP (16%) and JCP (13%) candidates.

While yesterday I said that it is too early to make solid predictions for July, if these by-elections signal the beginning of a shift by non-aligned voters to the DPJ, then July might ultimately prove disastrous for the Abe Cabinet and the LDP. That doesn't mean that the DPJ can relax: quite the opposite. But if independents have begun turning away from the LDP, then the DPJ might have a major opportunity to win big and present itself as a serious contender for power.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Abe's first six months

The FT's David Pilling provides a solid summary of Abe Shinzo's first six months in the Kantei.

Being a summary, there is, of course, little new in this article, but it serves as a good reminder of the problems with the Abe Cabinet -- and of Abe's tendencies as a leader.

I found this paragraph, though, particularly distressing:
Those close to him say he would have benefited from a fight for the premiership. Many of the ruling Liberal Democratic party factions take credit for propelling him to office and all are busily seeking political patronage and influence. As a result, Mr Abe has appeared far more willing than the stubborn and single-minded Mr Koizumi to listen to often competing advice.
If Abe somehow manages to go the distance, remaining as president of the LDP for the maximum six years, how will six years of governance in this vein leave the LDP -- and Japan? Imagine six years of window-dressing legislation like the education reform, that seeks to create a more self-confident Japan even as public finances and public services crumble in the face of Japan's demographic collapse.

None of this will, of course, be discussed at Camp David this coming week, at least not in any particular depth. Abe will no doubt reassure President Bush that he is in firm command at home, that he is moving his agenda forward -- pointing to recent legislative victories -- while reassuring Bush that the Japanese government remains his firmest ally. (Bush will no doubt be pleased to hear that -- remember this cartoon -- and there will no doubt be lots of flighty rhetoric about how strong the alliance is today.)

In light of the anticipated love fest, however, I wonder how Bush will go about telling Abe that the US will not be selling the F-22 to Japan anytime soon, no matter how much Abe, Kyuma, and company lay on the "bar-none ranch" rhetoric. Given that the US has already said no to John Howard's Australia, the Bush administration's other remaining close ally, I just don't anticipate the US turning around and offering to amend the Obey amendment's restrictions for Japan. (For more on the F-22 question, check out Shisaku.)

LDP and DPJ split in by-elections

In today's by-elections for Upper House seats in Okinawa and Fukushima, the results surprised no one, with the LDP winning in Okinawa -- Abe personally campaigned hard -- and the DPJ winning in Fukushima.

As with the election results from two weeks ago, it's hard to make predictions for July based on these returns; as Jun Okumura notes, "What happens in Okinawa stays in Okinawa."

But now that the second round of local elections is finished, preparations for July will begin in earnest -- or at least in Kanagawa. 900 posters for DPJ candidates for Kanagawa's two contested seats arrived in the office late last week.

Book of the week

In honor of Prime Minister Abe's visit to Washington later this week, this week's selection for book of the week is an oldie but a goodie -- senior Asahi correspondent Funabashi Yoichi's Alliance Adrift, an account of the process of reaffirming and redefining the US-Japan alliance during the middle and late Clinton administration.

As I have argued consistently, the alliance is in the midst of a similar period of political drift, and as Abe heads to Washington to patch up relations, it is worthwhile to look back to see how the US and Japanese governments struggled with and briefly overcame problems in the relationship.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Japan's unchanging defense budget

Courtesy of Japan Probe, I came across this summary of Abe's interview with the Wall Street Journal, which seems to have focused more on defense matters than the Washington Post/Newsweek interview.

Abe apparently told the WSJ that Japan does not plan to raise its defense spending to match China's growing defense expenditures, which, the article reports, have actually been falling in Japan for the past five years. This is yet another reminder that for Japan, normalization is a legal process, not a rearmament process -- changing the software of Japanese security policy, not necessarily the hardware.

Accordingly, I wonder how Japan's defense budget will accommodate the purchase of F-22s (which are not even for sale yet) to replace the ASDF's aging fighter fleet. All the more reason for Japan to desire a readjustment of its contributions to the relocation of US Marines to Guam.

But all in all, Abe's remarks serve as a reminder that Japan -- with or without the US -- is hardly prepared to balance against China. "Coopetition" will remain the watchword of the regional security environment for decades to come.

Abe interviewed in the Washington Post

In advance of Abe's impending visit to Washington, DC, the Washington Post has published an interview of Abe by Lally Weymouth, journalist and daughter of the late Katherine Graham. It is unclear in which language the interview was conducted or whether Abe was speaking through an interpreter.

But regardless of the language, Abe once again displays his inability to say anything of substance.

It is no fault of Weymouth's. Her questions were pointed, and she actually pressed Abe on the comfort women issue. She also asked whether Japan feels "sidelined" in the six-party talks over the abductions issue, to which Abe laughably replied, "On this question, Japan and the United States are fully coordinated." Really? Fully coordinated? Based on what? "I discussed this matter on the phone with President Bush." If Abe actually thinks this, then he has learned nothing from the shift in US foreign policy that resulted in the current (failing) agreement in the first place.

What follows is typical boilerplate about cooperation in East Asia with China and Japan's bearing a greater share of the burdens of maintaining regional and global order, after which Weymouth raises the question of the Constitution. She questioned him as to whether a major impetus for constitution revision is a desire to have a constitution written by Japanese hands, to which he replied, "...The important thing is that we write the constitution ourselves. Because the constitution is the basic law of the land."

I'm not quite sure how those two sentences are connected. Yes, the constitution is the basic law of the land, but is the current constitution somehow less than a "basic law of the land" because it was drafted during the occupation? I recognize that there are good reasons for Japan to revise its constitution -- which, in Abe's defense, he does articulate in this interview -- but wounded pride from having a constitution written by occupation authorities shouldn't be one of them. After sixty years of governance under the postwar constitution, the national pride argument just doesn't hold water. Japan has made its constitution its own.

The conversation then moved to the comfort women issue, in regard to which Abe stated, "As a human being, I would like to express my sympathies, and also as prime minister of Japan I need to apologize to them." If he needs to apologize, what's stopping him? He is the prime minister, after all. If he thinks it's important, then he ought to quit talking about apologizing and just do it.

All in all, there's not all that much to take from this, other than that Abe remains a slippery character -- just as I wrote back in November when Abe was interviewed by the FT's David Pilling.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Abe a success?

Over at Ampotan, I found this post that attempts to question the perception of the Abe Cabinet's having been a failure thought provoking, but ultimately wrong.

The mistake is equating legislative victories with success. Given the size of the LDP's majority in the Lower House, Abe hardly deserves credit for doing what a government supported by a large majority is supposed to do. And as I've written before, the implications of the national referendum bill are far from clear.

Meanwhile, his successes in foreign policy should come as no surprise, because as I've argued previously, Abe is in reality a Japanese Gaullist, at home and abroad; in his long-term vision for a "beautiful country, Japan," his desire to play the statesman on the world stage, his careless management of his own cabinet, and his inattention (or indifference) to the alliance with the US, Abe has governed in a decidedly Gaullist vein.

The question is whether he should be judged a "success" for that, and whether his style of governance -- and his vision for Japan, insofar as it has been expressed in concrete terms -- are good for Japan.

Stylistically, Abe has not done much to appeal to the Japanese people or address their concerns, which of late have little to do with constitution revision. Indeed, one significant difference between Abe and De Gaulle is that unlike De Gaulle, Abe is, unlike his predecessor, not particularly interested (or able, it seems) to play the great popular leader.

Instead, Abe has come to rely on the LDP's traditional policymaking mechanisms to move his agenda. If the past decade of LDP misrule have taught us anything, it's that the old LDP policymaking system, with the LDP Executive Council and Policy Affairs Research Council having veto power over policy, has failed Japan. Koizumi at least acknowledged this fact and struggled, in vain, to change it. (For an absolutely superb account of this, read Aurelia George Mulgan's Koizumi's Failed Revolution, especially her chapter on party government.)

Abe, whether out of conviction or out of deference to his LDP-ruling ancestors, seems to have abandoned attempts to change the LDP -- and thus has reverted to the old LDP mantra, "growth then reform." Should Abe's effective abandonment of structural reform -- and the party reform that must necessarily occur in lockstep -- be considered a success?

As for his foreign policy "triumphs," I simply cannot agree with Ampotman. What should be considered a success? His effective isolation of Japan within the six-party talks? His utter failure to maintain close and effective political communication with a US government that needs to be reminded constantly about concerns outside of Iraq, a failure that resulted in his government's being surprised by the US about-face on North Korea?

As for Sino-Japanese relations, remember the adage that "success has many fathers." I wonder if the Chinese role in the rapprochement might be a tad bit more significant than Abe's. Is there anyone out there who does not think that in PR terms, Wen was positively brilliant throughout his visit to Japan (whatever his inadequacies as a baseball player)? And might Ampotman be slightly exaggerating the concrete results of the Sino-Japanese talks? "Stepping up to pace of talks" on the East China Sea dispute hardly constitutes a "major step forward."

So no, I think there's very little to suggest that Abe deserves anything above a failing grade, or, at the very best, an incomplete.

Reviewing collective self-defense

While all of political Japan continues to discuss the assassination of Nagasaki Mayor Ito -- which I discussed here -- I am interested in the ongoing preparations for Prime Minister Abe's visit to Washington at the end of the month.

Today, the Sankei Shimbun reports, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki addressed questions about the Cabinet's study group on whether to permit the exercise of the right of collective self-defense. Namely, Shiozaki confirmed that no changes will be made to the constitutional interpretation prohibiting collective self-defense without the ruling party's approval. He said, "Naturally, policy cannot be changed without getting the ruling party's understanding." He added, "While the security situation changes, should we not effectively reconstruct the legal foundation? The relationship with the Constitution is being investigated within the administration. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's position is that we should think together with Komeito about what legal foundation is necessary."

Shiozaki uses the word 与党 (yotoo), which can be translated as "ruling party," "government party," or "majority party," but I have a hunch that when push comes to shove, Shiozaki really means to say 自民党 (LDP). While the statement about including Komeito suggests that he might mean ruling coalition, is Abe really going to let Komeito -- which has declared its opposition to both constitution revision and the exercise of the right of collective self-defense -- determine his government's agenda on the normalization of Japanese security policy?

Beyond that, the important point to derive from Shiozaki's statement is that Japan's security policy, unlike that of every other major power, is legislature-directed. Normalization is a legislative process; over the past fifteen years, Japan has -- aside from token, though important, PKO and reconstruction operations -- done little more than pass laws that expand Japan's security policy potential, starting with the International Peace Cooperation Law and continuing on through the series of laws to implement the revised US-Japan Guidelines and permit Japanese contributions to coalition efforts in the Indian Ocean and Iraq.

Despite the "presidentialization" of the Kantei, the Diet remains the place to watch for developments in security policy.

A Korean admires Koizumi

This op-ed from the Chosun Ilbo by Tokyo correspondent Jong Son-U -- entitled "We Can Learn Much From Japanese Patriotism" -- provides yet another reminder of why it is unfair to view Japanese nationalism as a unique threat to the region.

Jong writes of a visit to Yasukuni by Koizumi last year:
I felt strangely envious at the Yasukuni Shrine that day. People criticize Japan leaders' visits to the shrine as irresponsible, but that's not how I was feeling at that moment. Instead I wondered if our own president could attract a thousand young Koreans to the National Cemetery in Seoul. I shook my head. Clearly we can't compare Yasukuni with the National Cemetery; I use the analogy only to discuss the matter of encouraging patriotism in young people, whether it is right or wrong. In his inimitable way, Koizumi was able to use his innate gift for showmanship to further a state effort: a bill in Japan requiring the teaching of patriotism was passed into law this year.
In Asia, everyone's (more than) a little bit nationalist. It's just interesting to see a Korean journalist look to Japanese nationalism with envy instead of rage.

Perhaps that explains why, after initially reading this article over coffee this morning, I was unable to access it again to write about it until now. (I suspect there was some tinkering, but I can't tell what has changed, if anything.)

In any case, it's a good reminder that Japanese, Chinese, and Korean nationalists are not all that different: each is interested in interpreting history to show their nation in the best possible light, each seeks to assert the broadest possible claims on national territory, and each feels more than a little uneasy about the activities of nationalists in neighboring countries.

It seems that the nationalism problem in East Asia may get a lot worse before it gets better, but this is hardly surprising, as the region's powers are reaching their maturity as modern nation-states, just as Europe's nation-states slouch into the post-national retirement home that is the European Union.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Subterranean Japan blues

The big story, worldwide, out of Japan today was, of course, the assassination of Nagasaki Mayor Ito Itcho. (BBC; CNN; Yomiuri editorial)

The suspected assassin, Shiroo Tetsuya, a local Yakuza boss, seems to have had no other motive than to avenge a trivial wrong.

The coverage within Japan seems to hinge on the supposed threat to democracy posed by the assassination, occurring as it did just before Sunday's second round of local elections. The coverage outside of Japan seems to emphasize Japan's being a gun-free society, with the assassination "shocking" the docile Japanese.

I think the hysteria emanating from Japan's politicians and media outlets about the threat to democracy is way overblown. Japan is not about to enter the "dark valley" again.

What this incident does call attention to is that not far beneath the surface of Japan's seemingly ordered and stable society seethes a murky world of Yakuza, shady corrupt corporate dealings, and far-right nationalist groups and their politician allies, a theme that runs through many of Murakami Haruki's novels (and is stated very clearly in his non-fiction book on the Aum Shinrikyo subway attack, appropriately entitled Underground, which obviously refers to the subway but also to the idea of Japan's social pathologies lying just beneath the surface).

This thread can be found in Bruce Wallace's story on the assassination in the LA Times. (Hat tip: Shisaku)

Japan's own Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act

The Abe Cabinet, in the interest of promoting a more globalized and more competitive Japanese economy, has announced that it will seek to repeal Japan's equivalent to the US New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act, which was repealed in the US in 1999 with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act. (The FT's coverage can be read here.)

The Abe Cabinet's move -- like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act -- is in some sense a concession to the reality that Japanese financial institutions, to become globally competitive, need to be able to realize the economies of scale and the diversification of services that characterizes major financial institutions from the US and Europe.

But removing the barrier separating banks from brokerages raises the same risks of a moral hazard -- institutions that are "too big to fail," requiring government assistance in the event of trouble -- that the US deregulation did, perhaps even more so, given that Japan's banking system is still on the road to recovery from the bad loan problem.

And what will this mean for the soon-to-be-privatized Japan postal savings bank, which upon privatization will become the world's largest private bank?

Demographics and political change

The Japan Times has a brief article about the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' latest survey of Japan's population, conducted in October of last year.

The survey found that Japan's population held steady at roughly 127 million people, but there was considerable change in the populations of Japan's prefectures, a continuation of the shift of Japan's population away from sparsely populated, rural Japan to densely populated prefectures, particularly Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures.

If one looks at the top and bottom five prefectures in this survey, and looks at the relative numbers of LDP and DPJ candidates those prefectures send to the Diet, several things stand out.

First, the top five, with the latest growth figure (relative to the previous year), population and population density per square kilometer:

Aichi +.74 7,043,235 1,366

Tokyo +.66 12,059,237 5,514

Shiga +.61 1,342,811 334

Okinawa +.5 1,318,281 580

Kanagawa +.43 8,489,932 3,515

And the bottom (from fifth lowest growth rate to the worst):

Shimane -.77 761,499 114

Nagasaki -.83 1,516,536 371

Kochi -.86 813,980 115

Aomori -.98 1,475,635 154

Akita -1.02 1,189,215 102
In 2005, the top five growers elected a total of eighty-one LDP candidates -- between constituency and block elections -- and twenty-one DPJ candidates, comprising respectively 27% and 18% of each party's caucus in the Lower House. The bottom five elected twenty-one LDP candidates and five DPJ candiates, comprising approximately 7% and 4% of each party's caucus.

The greater weight of the densely populated, growing prefectures is by no means surprising -- but among the eighty-one LDP candidates elected in the top five in the 2005 landslide, forty-two of them were elected for the first time in either 2003 or 2005. They are, in short, Koizumi's children, beneficiaries of Koizumi's popularity throughout Japan, helping the LDP grow outside of its traditional rural base. (Note that in the shrinking bottom five, of the twenty-one LDP candidates elected in 2005, only five were running for the first or second time.)

So the question is, what will happen to the LDP in the next election, when LDP candidates first elected due to Koizumi's coattails face the voters again, this time with Abe instead of Koizumi at the head of the party? Will voters in growing prefectures be as eager to elect LDP candidates without a vigorous reformer at the helm of the party?

Another interesting question is at what point will the growing population disparities lead to pressure for a new round of redistricting (or even a new mechanism for redistricting).

These numbers do not suggest the LDP's doom; it is well placed, in the short term, to contest and win in urban Japan. But over the medium to long term, can the LDP shift its policy bias away from protecting rural constituencies to legislating towards the interest of urban workers and consumers? If Koizumi couldn't do it, is there anyone in the LDP who can?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Weird moment of the week

Seated next to Dr. NakaMats at a study group at the International House of Japan, I listened to researcher Watanabe Tsuneo -- not the onetime Yomiuri boss -- explain the meaning of "nappy-headed hos" in Japanese to an audience of businessmen and retired diplomats and politicians.

Beat that, if you can.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Towards a trilateral mechanism

Robert Zoellick, former deputy secretary of state and architect of the Bush administration's "responsible stakeholder" approach to Sino-US relations, has an op-ed in the FT -- subscription required -- in which he calls for a new "Shanghai Communiqué."

He wrote:

Chinese leaders place value on determining the principles that should guide policy. That is sound logic. Yet concepts such as “peaceful rise” or “development” have to come to life through policies and actions concerned with real problems and opportunities. Others will assess China’s – and the US’s – rhetoric by considering deeds and achievements. The economic relationship between the US and China has burgeoned since 1972, yet the political foundation for this economic edifice is increasingly lopsided and the risks of slippage are increasing. China has prudently encouraged economic opportunities for countries in other regions.

It would be sensible for China to build the same strong, sustainable mutual interests with its largest economic partner. The US and China will also need to intensify their co-operation on many interconnected foreign and security policy interests – concerning North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and even Sudan.

The challenge of becoming shared stakeholders is not an easy one. China is a rising power and rising powers engender fears. The US is the pre-eminent global power but, unlike most successful powers, it is in the nature of the US to question the status quo. This transforming spirit can cause anxieties in others. Yet America’s practical outlook and openness to change foster respect for China’s accomplishments as well as a proclivity to solve problems. We need to turn to the next stage of work in defining the strategic relationship between China and the US that began with the Shanghai Communiqué.

Zoellick's argument is sensible, but he fails to note that a new communiqué is as important for the US as it is for China, as it would be a means of signalling the importance of a steady Sino-US relationship to the American people, their representatives in Congress, and US allies across the region -- especially Japan. The Sino-US relationship is far more critical now than it was in 1972, and it is time for the US and China to issue a document that updates the principles, goals, and expectations of the relationship for the twenty-first century.

That said, Zoellick's piece lacks imagination, because rather than simply pretending like the Sino-US relationship is all that matters, the new Shanghai Communiqué should be the founding document of a more formalized US-China-Japan trilateral relationship. The strategic triangle is the relationship upon which the peace, security, and stability of the region rests. While recent steps to regularize communication and cooperation within the constitutive relationships of the triangle are important, Tokyo, Washington, and Beijing should become accustomed to addressing regional issues in concert. A trilateral arrangement would also reduce the temptation, surely faced by each government, to divide and conquer, and would do much to undermine the argument that the US and Japan are secretly planning to balance against and contain China.

As Daniel Drezner suggests in this post, due to China's vulnerability in the months leading up to the Beijing Olympics, the time may be right for an ambitious move by the US to lock in China as a "responsible stakeholder" both regionally and globally. Japan, as the major US ally in the region and China's major economic partner in the region, must be a part of this process.

Japan's campaign trucks

Over at Japan Probe, James writes about Japan's ubiquitous -- during election season -- campaign sound trucks, about which I have a certain appreciation, having been on the working side of several election campaigns now. (See this post, for example.)

As annoying as noise pollution is at 8:30am, foreigners resident in Japan must realize the severe restrictions on campaigning in Japan.

Aside from the hilarious DPJ ad, how many television ads for candidates have you seen?

How many visits to your home by candidates have you had? Heard much about debates about policy? And how many foreigners, like yours truly, have you seen on the hustings? (I learned before the first round of local elections that I was prohibited from campaigning.)

My point is that political campaigns have little choice but to rely on blunt methods, like driving around sound trucks and handing out leaflets at train stations, in trying to put the candidate's name before the public. In short, the barriers to entry facing a first-time candidate are steep.

In the traditional formulation, Japanese politicians need three "bans" to enter politics: the jiban (local support base), kanban (name recognition), and kaban (money). Each factor depends heavily on interpersonal connections, meaning that while of course the voters have to vote on the candidates, the real work towards getting elected is behind the scenes. The reliance on superficial means of exposing oneself to the public, therefore, is a symptom of deeper problems in Japanese democracy.

So gripe, but realize that the problem is bigger than just noise: it is that noise drowns out substance in the public sphere, and that even today too many decisions are made away from public eyes.

Friction in the coalition?

The Mainichi Shimbun reports in a brief article that the New Komeito Party, the LDP's coalition partner, wants to maintain clauses one and two of Article 9 and does not seek the ability to exercise the right of collective self-defense.

Surely a disagreement within the LDP-Komeito coalition on constitution revision and the related question of collective self-defense is not insignificant, given the priority Prime Minister Abe has given these issues. Since the LDP does not hold the necesssary two-thirds majority in either house that it would need to pass constitution revisions, Komeito's support may be the deciding factor in whether and how the Abe Cabinet decides to push forward on constitution revision. I suspect that opposition from Komeito -- the political affiliate of the Buddhist Soka Gakkai organization, which believes in a kind of conservative pacifism -- might temper the ultimate shape of a revised constitution, if revisions manage to take shape under the Abe Cabinet.

Perhaps the prospect of all of Japan's political parties uniting against Abe's government would be enough stop his efforts -- or at least make the government substantially more deferential to the wishes of the Japanese public and opinions from across spectrum of the Japanese political system.

Yet another reason for observers not to overreact to steps being taken towards constitution revision.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Book of the week

Readers will notice a new feature to the right: the book of the week.

Each week I will suggest a new book that might be of interest to readers of this blog.

This week's book is About Face, by veteran journalist James Mann, who has just released a new book on US-China relations entitled The China Fantasy.

In About Face, Mann provides a thorough retelling of the US relationship with China since Nixon's visit, showing how the same patterns reemerge in every administration, whether Republican or Democratic. It is both accessible and erudite, providing a useful guide to understanding a relationship that will only become more important over time.

Not surprised at all

The Japan Times reported today that when Vice President Cheney visited Japan in February, he asked Abe for clarification as to what constitutes progress on the abductions issue.

I knew there had to be more to those meetings than Cheney simply reassuring Japan of US support.

Amazing, though, that it took two months for this story to leak.

Legislative happenings

In the shadow of the passage of the national referendum bill by the Lower House, the Abe Cabinet managed to push another bill through the Lower House, over active DPJ opposition: the bill supporting the advance of the realignment of US forces in Japan, which calls for increasing responsibility for realignment to local communities and budgeting money for the relocation of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam (as outlined in the May 2006 agreement).

Unlike the national referendum bill, which was initially intended to be the product of cooperation between the DPJ and the LDP, the DPJ has actively opposed this bill, based on concerns about the lack of transparency in the total sum involved and how it will be spent.

Lower House DPJ member Nagashima Akihisa articulates opposition to the bill in this post. He demands more deliberation on the bill, and urging the government to hold the US accountable for plans surrounding the relocation to Guam. He suggests that in light of growing inequality in Japan, the money Japan will be paying to the US could be better spent elsewhere.

It's worth a read, for a look at how one DPJ member thinks the DPJ can distinguish itself on policy terms in advance of this summer's Upper House elections.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sunday in Yokosuka

I was the guest of a friend -- thank you, again -- to the 18th annual Yokosuka sumo exhibition. Some pictures follow:

Banners outside the Yokosuka taiikukan where the exhibition was held; the banner for the yokozuna Asashoryu is on the left

No explanation necessary

Entrance of the top-grade wrestlers

The exhibition was attended by a number of VIPs, including newly reelected Kanagawa Governor Matsuzawa, US Navy and JSMDF brass, and Yokosuka city officials, as well as a number of US Navy sailors and American civilians. At the close of the exhibition, the winner was presented with prizes from VIPs, include two senior US naval officers. All in all, today's events illustrate the uniquely close relationship between the two navies in Yokosuka, and the US Navy's established presence in the Yokosuka community. The relationship did not emerge overnight, and it has taken considerable work to build and maintain -- but in that sense it's an example of what the US-Japan relationship can be when properly managed.

Speaking of navy-to-navy relations, Yokosuka was crawling with Indian sailors in uniform, who are part of a five-ship Indian flotilla that has been visiting Yokosuka this week, in advance of trilateral US-Japan-India naval exercises. Note that the Indian visit coincides with the visit of Chinese Premier Wen. While Wen's visit may have resulted in the Indian port-of-call being more low key than otherwise, it still went forward, a reminder that Asia's international relations cannot be simplified to either all cooperation or all competition.

After all, two of the Indian destroyers in Yokosuka now are moving on to Qingdao in China, where they will participate in exercises with the PLAN.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Constitution revision -- still a long way away

The big story out of Japan today, aside from Chinese Premier Wen's final day in Japan, spent visiting Kyoto, is that the Lower House's Special Investigative Committee on the Constitution passed the LDP draft of a national referendum bill that is a critical precursor to constitution revision.

A massive piece of legislation (printed in its entirety in the Yomiuri today, at left), the bill still has to go before the whole Lower House, as well as the Upper House's Special Investigative Committee on the Constitution and the whole Upper House.

The bill will in all likelihood be passed into law, but the question is whether the opposition will be able to stall debate and push the date of passage past 3 May, the sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution and the date by which Abe wants the bill passed.

Beyond the national referendum bill, however, constitution revision remains a distant prospect -- as I mentioned in this post, the Yomiuri's own poll recorded a drop in support for revision, and an earlier poll found that constitution revision was a low priority compared to more pressing policy concerns. The process of revising the Constitution will depend greatly on the leadership of the prime minister, whether Mr. Abe or a successor, and I have great doubts as to whether Abe would be capable of commanding debate within the Diet and selling the product to the nation.

How's this for a sign of Abe's tenuous position: The Mainichi Shimbun reports that former Prime Minister Koizumi's offers of support for LDP candidates in forthcoming Upper House by-elections in Fukushima and Okinawa prefectures have been rejected, according to an unnamed source, who is quoted as saying, "If Koizumi works [on behalf of candidates], Prime Minister Abe Shinzo will necessarily be compared with him. The number one thing Koizumi can do to offer his support is to do nothing."

Does that sound like the strategy of a prime minister and party leader secure in his office and capable of leading a landmark campaign to revise the Constitution?

Ozawa Ichiro, Japan's Gingrich?

Alex Pappas at Japundit calls attention to this recent Asahi article on DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro.

When the political history of Japan during the two decades following the breakdown of the 1955 system is written -- although in The Logic of Japanese Politics, Gerald Curtis has already provided a fantastic account of change (or the lack thereof) in Japanese politics during the 1990s -- Ozawa will loom large. As LDP secretary general during the early 1990s, Ozawa fought a tough losing battle, arguing for Japanese participation in the international coalition to liberate Kuwait. He subsequently headed an LDP study group on foreign policy that called for a more significant Japanese role internationally.

In 1993, however, he bolted the party, created his New Frontier Party and assembled the coalition that became the first non-LDP government since the LDP's creation in 1955. Always more comfortable working behind the scenes, Ozawa's activities to isolate the Socialists in the coalition undermined the integrity of and ultimately destroyed the seven-party coalition government. His subsequent activities as head of the Liberal Party were equally opportunistic, as he joined a coalition government with the LDP -- and then, at least according to one person I've spoken with, drove the late Obuchi Keizo to his death by constantly threatening to leave the government.

The most recent twist to the Ozawa saga was, of course, his being elected president of the Democratic Party of Japan in the spring of 2006.

Ultimately, I think Ozawa may be remembered as a Newt Gingrich-like figure, his personal presence undermining his ideas for political reform. Ozawa must be given credit for having seriously thought about how to reform Japan, particularly Japanese foreign policy: the ideas discussed in his Blueprint for a New Japan, written in 1993 before Ozawa left the LDP, remain relevant even today. But his outsized ego and presence have undermined every party with which he has been affiliated, and ultimately undermined his efforts to advance the ideas he claims to hold dear.

As for the Asahi article, it discusses Ozawa's efforts to travel the country and bolster the DPJ presence across the country -- often by cooperating with the Rengo, Japan's Trade Union Confederation. The article notes criticism of Ozawa's neglecting Diet debates for his travels, but I would not be so quick to criticism him on this count. Focusing on building a local foundation for the DPJ may be a better electoral strategy, given that elections -- even to the Diet -- often depend on more parochial concerns, together with the candidate's personal background and relationships with voters; it is the kind of strategy that may not pay immediate dividends, but if pursued consistently could result in major gains over the medium to long term.

For the time being, I think a Diet-centered electoral strategy would fail, given that the DPJ remains trapped between its desire to obstruct the government's legislative agenda and its own reformist ideas, which often overlap with ideas pushed by the LDP. While the transition from Koizumi to Abe has lessened the tension somewhat, given Abe's apparent lack of commitment to structural reform, the problem remains. So why shouldn't Ozawa focus on developing a local presence, given that the size of the LDP's majority in the Lower House limits the opposition's ability to obstruct the government's agenda, and engaging in debate reveals the similarities between LDP and DPJ policy positions as well as the differences?

I am more concerned about the cooperation with Rengo, because compromises made to secure the support of labor unions could blunt the DPJ's reformist edge and make it even more like a mere imitator of the LDP: some reformers, but too many ties with interest groups that have a lot to lose from reform, dulling the party's progressive edge.

Ozawa has long desired a Japanese political system led by two major parties -- but a system in which the two major parties simply mirror each other is not a step forward (cf. France, Germany, Britain, etc. etc.) Hopefully this will not be Ozawa's final legacy.