Thursday, May 31, 2007

Keep an eye on Russia

In recent days, Russia has announced plans to tighten sanctions on North Korea, with an emphasis on arms, spare parts, and luxury goods — this is the first concrete step Russia has taken in regard to sanctions since the aftermath of the October nuclear test.

While Russia has its own reasons to be irritated with North Korea, due to North Korea's outstanding debts to Russia from the Soviet period, I cannot help but wonder if this step has more to do with Russia's relations with other regional powers than with North Korea. I am thinking, of course, of Russo-Japanese relations.

With Abe and Putin due to meet soon on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Germany, Russia could very well be taking this step, which brings it closer to Japan's position, as a way of creating some momentum towards a grand bargain with Japan that resolves the Northern Territories issue, strengthens energy ties, and gives both Japan and Russia greater strategic flexibility in Northeast Asia. The logic of closer Russo-Japanese ties was spelled out during Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's February visit to Japan, during which officials discussed creating "A Relationship Grounded in Shared Strategic Interests."

The time for Russo-Japanese rapprochement may be right. As noted by Asahi's Yoshibumi Wakamiya back in December, Russo-Japanese relations tend to move in fifty-year cycles, and the regional environment is such that both Moscow and Tokyo could see the value in overcoming the thorny and heretofore irresolvable Northern Territories issue for the sake of larger strategic interests. For Russia, greater cooperation with Japan reduces its dependence on China as a regional partner, whose growth, after all, is potentially harmful to Russian control of Siberia. (And it will also help raise the bidding price for its energy resources.) For Japan — for Abe — rapprochement with Russia will give Japan that much more strategic independence in the region, a move to greater strategic flexibility to match the similar shift underway in US Asia policy. (As a result, US tension with Russia may not have any impact on Tokyo's Russia policy.)

Securing a grand bargain with Russia may well become more appealing to Abe as his domestic political situation weakens, particularly if the Upper Elections go poorly. Like his grandfather Kishi, Abe has come to rely on trips abroad that show himself playing the statesman to raise his popular support and thus enable him to pursue other parts of his agenda. As George Packard wrote of Kishi, "Kishi tried to strengthen his power case through popular support, making trips to Southeast Asia, Washington, Europe, and Latin America, but he never succeeded in launching a 'Kishi boom' or even in developing a large popular following. Nor was he the type of politician who could play the 'strong-man role' that Yoshida had made famous." And for Abe, sensitive to his position as an LDP prince, the appeal of reaching an agreement that proved elusive to earlier generations of LDP leaders may prove irresistible. (Remember that his late father, Shintaro, was greatly interested in an agreement with Russia).

Accordingly, a compromise on the Northern Territories — which to date has been impossible, with Japan demanding the return of all the Kurils — may take shape. The contents of a compromise will have to be hammered out in the coming months, but look for a softening of Japan's public position on the islands in the aftermath of the Abe-Putin summit on the sidelines of the G8 meeting in Germany. (Asahi's Takahashi Kosuke surveyed options here.) Consider that MOFA's press secretary said, earlier this month, "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to enrich the bilateral relationship; put a human face, if you like, on the bilateral relationship. But, beyond that, I cannot speculate on what actually Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is going to pick up as important issues to be discussed by the two nations." This suggests to me that any Russian initiative is being handled in the Kantei, and that the prime minister may have a surprise in store for Heiligendamm.

So in Germany, expect a road map to an agreement, with a more firm announcement about an exchange of visits, with Putin visiting Tokyo and Abe visiting Moscow before the year is out, with Putin perhaps making the first visit. Maybe Abe will even get Putin to voice his heartfelt understanding of the plight of Japan's abductees.

And then look for a complicated dance within and between Russia and Japan, as they figure out the contours of an agreement that will satisfy both.

Change the LDP, change Japan — now more than ever

David Pilling, the FT's Japan correspondent, indirectly responds to a point I made earlier this week when discussing Matsuoka's suicide in an op-ed entitled "No way back to old Japan" (subscription required).

As the title suggests, he argues that Matsuoka's suicide actually marks the death throes of the old political system:
The postwar system that is now morphing into something new depended on fast growth to survive: the LDP shovelled tax money from the cities to the countryside via huge public works programmes. It reaped dividends in the form of votes from over-represented rural constituencies and "political donations" through grateful interest groups. That system is no longer viable, for the simple reason that the money has run out. The public works budget has been savaged in the past decade. The system of paying for roads and dams with post office savings is being wound down. Indeed, the post office itself, the world's jangliest piggy bank, is being privatised.

Gerald Curtis, a Japan expert at Columbia university, says that Japan is undergoing the third great change in its modern history. The first was the Meiji Restoration, when leaders ditched feudalism. The second was the postwar construction of a machine to deliver rapid economic growth. Professor Curtis calls the third phase a "20-year decade", a glacial but valley-carving response to domestic economic crisis and globalisation. That adjustment has meant the slow breakdown of convoy capitalism, reflected in the unwinding of cross shareholdings. It also heralds the abandonment of egalitarian income distribution. In politics, it means the end of elections by money-stuffed envelopes and the rise of prime ministerial power and accountability.

Interestingly, he also argues that Abe's emphasis on education and constitution revision are signs of change, rather than examples of how Abe is interested in anything but midwifing the creation of a new political system.

I wish it were so. I wish the old system were transforming before our eyes, the Abe Cabinet being the swansong of the old era. But I think the evidence to support Pilling's argument is thin.

Undoubtedly the money is running out. There's no way around that. Politicians like the late Mr. Matsuoka have a smaller pot to fight over — but how will that affect the system? Will pork-barrel politicians decide to become reformers when faced with difficulties in earmarking funds for their constituencies? Will the incumbency advantage actually fail them as the amount of money they send home shrinks? On the contrary, won't politicians simply compete that much more fiercely to earn their share of the shrinking pie?

As for the rise of the prime minister in the policy making system, the new power of the Kantei can and has been overstated; as Mulgan argues, what's happened is that the prime minister is now the third leg of a triangular policy making system, forced to contend with the LDP's policy making organs and the bureaucracy (who still collude with one another).

The implication in Pilling's argument is that the new political system is going to emerge organically, without any individual or party actively shaping its creation. But I disagree. I don't see how Japan's political system will transform into a system in which policy is made in service of public and national interests without an LDP president willing to impose discipline on party ranks, cut PARC down to size, sharply limit interaction between bureaucrats and Diet backbenchers, and centralize campaign funding in the party. Each of these steps would require the willingness to overcome fierce opposition from the LDP. Is there anything Abe has done that would lead someone to think that he will be the man to create a new political system?

What is likely to happen that even as the old system loses its potency, it will limp along in the absence of someone stepping forward to propose a replacement. The problem is that Japan cannot wait forever to reform. Its demographic sword of Damocles (hat tip: GLOCOM), together with the inexorable rise of China and India, mean that failure to act now to "rationalize" its political system will doom Japan to irrelevancy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Does Abe have nothing to worry about come July?

From the English-language blogosphere's resident Abe apologist comes another post arguing that all is well in Abe's beautiful Japan.

Hey, Ampontan, do you do this pro bono, or is there some kind of secret yarase blogger program run out of the Kantei? If the latter, is it too late to sign up?

I think, if the price was right, I could write posts with titles like "Let us all thank our Dear Leader for making Japan so beautiful," "Never stop being so gorgeous Japan," and "How did you get so gosh darn beautiful in the first place?"

Scratch that. I would rather ask pointed questions than make excuses, even if it doesn't pay nearly as well.

Seriously though, does Ampontan really think that this whole sordid Matsuoka affair is going to vanish overnight? This is unprecedented in the political history of modern Japan: a sitting cabinet minister committing suicide, as investigators began to uncover gross misuse of his ministry to favor political supporters. While it remains too soon to tell what impact it will have on July's elections, it is also too soon to wave it off by suggesting that Matsuoka's death will "close the book" on the seiji to kane issue of which he was emblematic.

I love Ampontan's alternative: pocketbook issues are what matter, so let's all stop paying attention to the massive corruption — and the government's alleged role in covering it up — and talk about how Japan's economy is growing again. No mention, of course, about the lingering doubts about the depth and breadth of the recovery (Ken Worsley's Japan Economy News blog has documented the bevy of mixed signals on the "longest sustained expansion" in the postwar period). This just doesn't hold water. And Ampontan doesn't even ask the obvious question of whether the Japanese people, the people who will, you know, be voting in July, are actually benefiting from The Longest Sustained Expansion in Postwar Japan. [Ed. - Laying it on a bit thick, aren't we?]

Arguably that's why the pensions scandal — which Ampontan also seems to dismiss — is important. When people are economically insecure, they tend to worry about reports that their source of income may be disrupted due to government incompetence. Is it really appropriate to doubt that the pensions scandal might be important in a country in which the percentage of over-65s in the population is set to rise sharply?

All of which goes to say that it's impossible to say at this point what issue will move this election. In Japan, more than in the US, all politics is local (to use a quote from American politics that it's even more appropriate for Japan than the quote used by Ampontan for the title of his post), making it difficult to tell which issues that seem important at the national level will filter down to the local level and affect voter behavior.

But that is no excuse for saying that all is well because the economy is growing: there are plenty of reasons for Japan's voters to "throw the bums out," even if it is unclear whether they will opt to do so (another topic of discussion entirely).

A feeling in the air

David Shambaugh, a China expert at George Washington University, has a straightforward op-ed in today's IHT that should serve as a wake-up call to Kasumigaseki.

Shambaugh writes:
Going forward, Washington must build on its successes, but it must also recalibrate its strategy to manage regional complexities.

An effective American policy in such a complex region requires closer ties with Beijing and New Delhi, deeper engagement with Asean and Central Asia, a recalibrated Japan policy, an appreciation of the increased regional role of China, adjusting to changing security dynamics and a new institutional architecture, and a more proactive and engaged regional diplomacy at the official and nonofficial levels.

This is something about which I have written before (namely here and here): as Washington's attention returns to Asia, it will find that American interests will best be served by flexibility in the region. And who will bear the cost of flexibility in the US Asia policy? That would be Japan. As Shambaugh writes, "Washington needs to move beyond its Japan-first policy and its orientation towards alliances. Both are outdated and need to be adjusted. Asia's future lies with China and India, not with Japan." In other words, US maneuvering in the six-party talks is a less fluke than the shape of things to come. Having learned that if it wants to secure its interests in Asia it will have to lean on China, the US will no doubt continue to do so in other areas.

Is Japan ready to shift too, or will the government's lack of foresight result once again in a "shock" that leads to a crisis of confidence in Japanese foreign policy and a sudden, unexpected policy shift, rather than one considered in advance?

That, I think, is the real significance of the abductions issue. Abe seems to have grasped on to US assurances of support like a safety blanket, a means of pretending that whatever rumblings can be heard on the horizon — the rumblings of change noted by Shambaugh — the alliance will be fine. But, as I've asked before, is that the case? I expect that will start to see more cracks in the facade, like this one.

Significant change is afoot, and it may be only a matter of time before the US stops cosseting Japan — which, for all its concerns about entrapment, has been happy to be cosseted. The question is whether it will be the history issue, as Shambaugh suggests, or differing strategic interests that lead the US to retire its "Japan-first" Asia policy.

And as for what follows, it must be an Asia policy: not a China-, India-, or ASEAN-first policy, but an Asia policy that considers the region as a whole, and sees every country in the region as a possible partner to further American interests.

The Matsuoka saga is far from over

As fallout from Matsuoka's suicide continues to spread — with an executive at J-GREEN, the MAFF agency under investigation for dispensing contracts to companies supporting Matsuoka, following Matsuoka to the grave — the probability of the Matsuoka/seiji to kane issue looming large over the Upper House elections seems to rise by the day.

What was once a nuisance issue (remember how funny Matsuoka's claims about his drinking water were at the time), which the government could dismiss by pointing to instances of corruption within the DPJ, now increasingly appears to be symptomatic of Abe's government. Not only is Japan facing ghosts of LDP governments past, but it seems that those ghosts never left in the first place: they just found places to hide during the Koizumi interlude.

Are voters going to be forgiving of the government as stories like this emerge? Apparently on 24 May Matsuoka dined with Suzuki Muneo, who during the 1990s was Matsuoka's "twin" in the game of interfering with policy and intervening on behalf of corporations. Muneo (he is commonly referred to by his first name instead of his surname) ended up exiled from the LDP and convicted in a bribery case involving Yamarin, a logging company; Matsuoka was also implicated, but escaped legal proceedings and remained in the LDP and the Diet. Muneo, now back in the Lower House as a representative of his own New Party Daichi, has reported that Matsuoka told him that he wanted to apologize to the Japanese people for his wrongdoing, but he was forbidden from doing so by the government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki and LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa have both denied Muneo's claim.

If Muneo's claim is true — and given that the exiled Muneo's motives for exposing foul play by the government are far from pure, that's a big if — it throws another twist into this fiasco. Did Matsuoka sincerely desire to come clean and ask for forgiveness from the people? Truth be told, that is not altogether inconsistent with his behavior in the past. One reason why he was able to avoid prison, unlike Muneo, is that Matsuoka seemed to have an idea of when he went to far. He was capable of groveling if it meant avoiding punishment and preserving his career. As such, if the government actually muzzled him, his suicide could well have been an attempt to drag the government down with him.

That said, if that was the case, why would he leave eight suicide notes, reportedly none of which contain claims similar to Muneo's? Of course, the actual contents of the notes may never be fully reported to the public.

All of this means that there are enough unanswered questions — without even mentioning the details of the scandals in which Matsuoka was embroiled — to keep this matter festering for the next two months, no matter how hard the Abe Cabinet tries to stifle it.

This is a question for readers and my fellow bloggers: what do you think could bring down Abe — outside of disastrous election results? Could questions about the wisdom in selecting Matsuoka in the first place, which would cast serious doubts on Abe's political judgment, be enough to spark a movement within the LDP to show Abe the door before his leadership causes more damage? And, as an indicator of that movement, should we expect to see moves within the LDP to coalesce behind a successor sooner rather than later?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Whitewashing Matsuoka

Others bloggers have provided thorough reviews of the press response to Matsuoka Toshikatsu's suicide — see Adamu's post at Mutantfrog and Matt Dioguardi's at Liberal Japan — so I will not do so here.

Instead, I want to take issue with the Yomiuri Shimbun's editorial on Matsuoka's death (and by extension Abe's high praise for Matsuoka's skills as an agriculture policy specialist), specifically what it says about Matsuoka's role in agriculture policy.

Yomiuri comments:
High priority has been given to the promotion of the WTO and free trade agreements, and agriculture policies to reform domestic agriculture.

Prime Minister Abe appointed Mr. Matsuoka, a former MAFF bureaucrat, as minister of agriculture because of his command of the details of agricultural issues. He judged that if Matsuoka was the minister, he could stifle domestic opposition so to maintain progress on liberalization.

Moreover, in the agreement to commence negotiations on economic partnership agreement (EPA) with Australia, he valued the agriculture minister's abilities.

In the age of globalization, what should Japanese agriculture do? His death comes at a critical moment.
The implication in this passage is that Matsuoka's presence at the head of MAFF made a critical difference for the adaptation of Japanese agriculture to globalization, that he was a great free trader struggling against the forces of protection in Japanese agriculture.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Matsuoka's activities as a norin zoku member would know that he has, if anything, been the leader of the forces arrayed against liberalization of agriculture. Aurelia George Mulgan describes incident after incident of Matsuoka — prior to his service as minister of agriculture — traveling abroad to harry WTO officials and trade representatives from other WTO members, trying to impress upon them the uniqueness of Japanese agriculture as grounds for protecting it. Defenders of Matsuoka might point to his efforts to promote Japanese agricultural exports, efforts that drew the support of former Prime Minister Koizumi — but promoting exports did not make Matsuoka a free trader, they made him a mercantilist of the basest sort, because he was hardly enthusiastic about the prospect of more liberal food imports. If he supported trade agreements, it was because they presented an opportunity for the government to redistribute funds to farmers — his supporters — who would purportedly be harmed by trade agreements. It is telling that one of Matsuoka's major activities during the 1990s was participation in the LDP's committee concerned with Uruguay Round countermeasures.

Matsuoka was similarly opportunistic as an environmentalist, which he came to realize was another way to direct funds to rural Japan; he could argue that support for farmers was critical to keeping Japan "green."

If Matsuoka was an expert on the details of agriculture policy, it was because he spent so much time trying to figure out ways to direct more money to rural constituencies, resulting in more money for his campaign chest.

None of this is secret. It was all laid bare in Aurelia George Mulgan's Power and Pork, which in some way reads like a record of the charges against Matsuoka from the span of his career.

Grief over a tragic death is no excuse for whitewashing Matsuoka's past as protectionist Japanese agriculture's best friend in Nagatacho.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Seeing the world through China's eyes

Susan Shirk, author of China: Fragile Superpower, noted in an interview at China Digital Times:
To get anywhere diplomatically you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person sitting across from you at the table. I traveled with Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji when they visited the U.S. and joined many meetings with them. I have met Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as well. In their informal comments as well as their formal statements they make no secret of their worries about China's political stability. But the leaders do try to hide differences of opinion over foreign and domestic policy which undoubtedly exist.
I'm with Shirk. How the US, or any country, can make foreign policy without trying to understand how an interlocutor sees the world is beyond me. As such, I think that was the thinking behind Admiral Keating's offer of help on aircraft carrier development; looking through the eyes of the PLA Navy, Keating seemed to recognize that China might have legitimate reasons for wanting an aircraft carrier, and from there sought to provide practical advice from a navy that has been operating carrier groups for decades.

A recent article by Richard Halloran spells out Keating's thinking in more detail, and notes that among the five reasons why China might develop an aircraft carrier — international prestige, power projection, defending lifelines, regional rivalry, and relief operations — attacking Taiwan is not one of them. Indeed, there seems to be little in Halloran's list that would result in war. Rather, after decades of watching US carriers show the flag, especially in the Taiwan Straits, it should hardly be surprising that China wants a similar platform.

So China's reaction to the Pentagon report is understandable: the US report is drafted from the perspective that the decision by China to develop its conventional and nuclear forces is an insult, as well as a threat, to the US. Clearly we're not threatening you, it thinks, so why should you need to modernize your armed forces? (Ed. — How can a report think? Quiet, you.)

But is the Pentagon really incapable of appreciating the fact that China might have legitimate reasons for military modernization that have nothing to do with threatening the US directly? And, does the Pentagon realize that the US pursuit of military predominance can last only as long as other countries are deterred? Once a country decides to develop an advanced military the jig is up; the US needs to think of more creative approaches to a country with a sophisticated military, other than insisting, "From where we stand, you're not threatened." It seems that's what Admiral Keating is groping towards.

To connect Keating to Shirk, the admiral is trying look at the world through Beijing's eyes and alter the US Military's approach to China so that it acknowledges that China has legitimate interests that may require an advanced military. That does not mean acquiescing entirely — Keating clearly communicated American concerns, after all — it simply means acknowledging that the world looks different from Beijing than it does from Washington.

I should note that I do not think that the US will be helping China with aircraft carriers anytime soon — nor should it, at least not for now. But this is yet another sign of a new flexibility in US Asia policy; the old San Francisco system of bilateral alliances is simultaneously being agglomerated, as the US, Japan, and Australia seek to deepen trilateral ties, and de-prioritized, with the US less inclined — in practice, if not in rhetoric — to view the region as marked by stark, clear divisions.

"An indispensable man of talent for agriculture administration"

Prime Minister Abe has given an official response to the suicide of MAFF Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu — what Sankei Shimbun has dubbed a "shock" to Japan's political world. While all parties and players are shocked by the news, however, the uniform response seems to be that Matsuoka's suicide, coming on the heels of revelations about widespread government mismanagement of pension payments.

Facing another crisis of confidence in his government, Abe addressed the news, noting, "Naturally as prime minister I feel responsible for actions taken by ministers in my cabinet." He also said that there will be no investigation of either allegations about the misuse of political funds that Matsuoka claimed to have used to pay utilities in a rent-free office at the Diet Members' Office Building or allegations about funds received from companies that received contracts from MAFF.

I suppose that that was to be expected, but at the same time, this issue should not be swept under the rug. Japan needs to confront how its politicians make policy, corruption and all. While it would be inappropriate now to make Matsuoka the face of corruption, the record of his wrongdoing remains — and he is far from the only politician to indulge in the acts that he allegedly performed. The challenge for the DPJ and other opposition parties in the two months before the Upper House elections will be to find a way to emphasize the need for comprehensive political reform, especially as far as political funds are concerned, without being seen as attacking the late agriculture minister personally.

Meanwhile, as Asahi (and every other newspaper) reports, pressure within the LDP for a cabinet reshuffle, already strong before this incident, has grown inexorably. The likelihood of Abe's nominating a new cabinet in the month between the end of the Diet session and the Upper House elections seems high. Will it make a difference? If events continue to unfold for the government as they have the past week, probably not. While Abe may survive the elections intact — barring a DPJ landslide — his authority as prime minister seems to have taken a critical blow, from which it may prove difficult to recover.

Matsuoka Toshikatsu, RIP

Beleaguered Agriculture Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu was found dead by his own hand this afternoon.

I am somewhat hesitant to comment on the political ramifications, seeing as how this is a grim end to a sordid affair (and career); but it demands some response. Obviously I mean no disrespect to those grieving. This is a terrible end, and it should not be celebrated.

Nevertheless, as the campaign for the 2007 Upper House elections ramp up, Matsuoka's suicide may have dramatic ratifications for the outcome of the election. Consider that just before his death, newspapers reported that the Abe Cabinet's popularity had suffered a drastic decline (Mainichi reported 32% support versus 44% opposed; Nikkei reported 41% support versus 49% opposed, with a 12% drop in support). It is difficult to see how Matsuoka's suicide will stanch the government's hemorrhaging of support. If anything, Matsuoka, by his death, may have raised the "money and politics" issue to greater prominence in debates leading up to the election. It is certainly hard to see the election being contested on constitution revision after this, no matter how much Abe insists that it should be.

The unknown factor is whether there will be a sympathy vote, and if so, will it be big enough to turn the tide in the LDP's favor. Obviously it is much too early to tell. But this election will be closely contested, and every little twist in the coming days could have an impact come July.

In any case, Matsuoka ought not to pass on without leaving his mark on Japan. With luck, the full extent of his gross misuse of his office since his first election in 1990 will see the light in the coming days and weeks — spurring the Japanese people to demand an end to, once and for all, the LDP-controlled policy making system that has enabled Diet members to direct public funds to private ends and to place private interests before the public interest. Now that would be a fitting tribute to a man who lived on a steady diet of pork-barrel spending and borderline bribery.

Does anyone really think that a political system headed by a cabinet in which one minister commits suicide to avoid facing questioning over his alleged corruption, two others resign due to corruption charges, and a third stonewalls when criticized for calling women "machines for making babies (with the prime minister defending each in turn) is healthy? (But as Shisaku rightly points out, it is not the suicide that makes Japan's political system problematic, seeing as how it's the first suicide of a cabinet minister in the postwar era.)

UPDATE: I should add that I actually had a grudging respect for Matsuoka. Unlike many of his peers in the Diet — who either inherited their seats from their fathers or glided effortlessly from Tokyo University to elite, generalist positions in the bureaucracy to the Diet — Matsuoka was a self-made politician. After failing to earn admission to the National Defense Academy, he went to Tottori University, where he studied forestry, after which he began work as a specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Being a specialist and not a generalist, there was a limit to how high he could rise in the ministry.

When he quit the ministry to enter politics, he had to struggle to acquire the three "bans" necessary for a Japanese politician: the jiban (local support base), kanban (name recognition), and kaban (money). Elected in 1990 under the old medium-sized electoral district system, he ran without LDP endorsement against four LDP incumbents in a five-seat district.

In short, whatever limits he encountered, Matsuoka strived to overcome them. The shame is that once he acquired power, power became an end in itself. (All of this is discussed in Aurelia George Mulgan's excellent — and timely — Power and Pork, discussed in this post.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Reading Packard on the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty

On my way back to Japan, I began reading Protest in Tokyo, a classic account of the crisis surrounding the approval of the 1960 revision of the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty by George Packard, president of the United States-Japan Foundation.

As Prime Minister Abe forges ahead in his campaign to abandon the postwar regime, I think it's worthwhile to look back at how exactly the postwar regime came to be. How did Japan shape its future in the years after independence was restored, when Japan became the anchor of US policy in the Asia-Pacific region? Arguably the cleavages rent during those formative years of Japan's postwar democracy were the fundamental battle lines in Japanese politics throughout the cold war, and while the end of the cold war deprived those cleavages of some of their potency, the debates of the 1950s and early 1960s remain relevant to understanding Japan today — both in terms of the unresolved questions about Japan's place in the world, and the impact they've had on Japan's current leaders.

Consider what Prime Minister Abe wrote about the anti-treaty demonstrations in 1960 (forgive my rough translation):
The encircling of my grandfather's house by demonstrators

On June 18, 1960, the day before the automatic passage of the US-Japan Security Treaty, the Diet and the Kantei were surrounded by demonstrators whose numbers approached 330,000.

My grandfather, confined at the Kantei, was conscious of death, but said while drinking wine with my great uncle (Sato Eisaku, at that time finance minister), "I am by no means mistaken. Even if it kills me, I am satisfied." Immediately after signing to begin the work of revision, forces of opposition around the Socialist Party intensified conflict inside and outside the Diet.

At that time, I was still six years old, and it was before I had entered primary school. To my grandfather, I was, together with my older brother, who was two years older, very cute. We would always go to play at my grandfather's home in Shibuya's Nanpeidai district.

But, there too was often surrounded by demonstrators. "Ampo, hantai!" was shouted in unison repeatedly, and stones, screws, and burning newspaper were thrown at the house. At that time, my father, who was a member of the House of Representatives, was also confined there, and my grandfather, who could not go outside and was bored, summoned us.

My brother and I, with our mother, boarded a newspaper company's car flying the company flag and went to my grandfather's house.

My brother and I, as children, heard the voices of the demonstrators from afar, and thought that it sounded like the band at a festival. We stamped out, as a joke, before my grandfather and father, "Ampo, hantai, ampo, hantai!," to which my father and mother joked, "You should say, 'Ampo sansei.'" My grandfather, while smiling at that, seemed happy.

I asked my grandfather, "What's ampo?" I dimly remember that thereupon he answered, "The Mutual Security Treaty [ampo] is a treaty so that Japan will receive protection from America. Why everyone is opposed to it, I don't understand."

(Utsukushii kuni e, pp. 21-23)
For the prime minister, for all Japanese politicians, the questions surrounding the constitution and the alliance are fundamental to their identities as politicians, not to mention Japan's identity as a nation. It is a mistake for Japan to rush into revision — and for the US and foreign observers to urge Japan on — without a clear sense of what's a stake and what the participants bring to the table.

One point that comes out early in Packard's book, in his discussion of the 1951 ratification of the initial US-Japan treaty and the debates on Japan's foreign policy that followed, is that the pursuit of independence was the fundamental goal shared by all participants in the debate, even as they differed tactically. (Conservatives, whether of a pragmatic or revisionist variety, felt that independence could be achieved via alliance with the US; socialists sought de jure independence via unarmed neutrality and rapprochement with Beijing and Moscow.)

While the rhetoric might lead observers to think otherwise, I think there's good reason to think that independence has been the consistent goal of all Japanese governments throughout the postwar era right up to today, even as successive prime ministers have talked about how valuable the US-Japan alliance is to Japan. While Japan has evinced fears of abandonment often and continues to do so today, fears of entrapment, if voiced less frequently, are just as real and are perhaps more important as a determinant of Japanese alliance policy over the long term.

All of which goes to say that American alliance managers should approach revision with a sense of caveat emptor: alliance managers may think that a Japan that has accepted collective self-defense via revision of article 9 will result in a kind of "roles-and-missions plus" arrangement (roles and missions being the new ideas about an alliance division of labor pushed in the early Reagan administration), but the US may be getting an ally that is eager to break out of the old framework and flex its muscles. That need not be a disaster for the alliance, if the US is prepared for a Japan that might become more like De Gaulle's France after revision. If the US is unprepared for a more independent Japan, however, the alliance could break at the first sign of a crisis during which the US expects Japanese support — which Tokyo fails to provide.

I will be writing more about this as I read through Packard, especially his notes about Prime Minister Kishi.

Book of the week

As the regular session of the Diet winds down — and with the government's priority legislation passed — it seems that the matter of Agriculture Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu has returned to the forefront of the national political agenda.

In light of that, this week's book of the week is Aurelia George Mulgan's study of Matsuoka, Power and Pork. (I should also note that the Far Eastern Economic Review's June issue will include a review of this book by yours truly.)

In this book, George Mulgan narrates, in lavish detail, Matsuoka's career from his time as a specialist in the Ministry of Agriculture through his political career from his first election to the Lower House in 1990
to the time when he joined the Abe Cabinet, just prior to the publication of this book. The picture that emerges is that for all the talk about how Japanese politics changed when the LDP briefly lost power in 1993, the rules of the game remain depressingly familiar. Despite the Koizumi interlude, when it looked as if maybe, just maybe, Japan might be on the brink of a new era, under Abe it seems that Nagatacho is back to business as usual. With Matsuoka stonewalling his critics under the protection of the prime minister, the Japanese political system seems as inadequate to the challenges it faces as ever before. (For a summary of the Matsuoka saga, check out this recent post at Trans-Pacific Radio.)

Of course, each week seems to bring new news of Matsuoka's wrongdoing, and more criticism. On Saturday, at a general meeting of the Gifu branch of the LDP, Kaneko Kazuyoshi, chairman of the Lower House Budget Committee, suggested that Matsuoka should resign after the Diet session ends and further suggested that a cabinet reshuffle may be in order. This is in light of revelations this week that Matsuoka received donations from construction companies that received contracts from the Japan Green Resources Agency ('J-GREEN') of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. Readers of George Mulgan's book will find that this is entirely consistent with the span of Matsuoka's career. Matsuoka has excelled at securing public funds for corporations, which subsequently direct donations to his political support groups.

In short, putting Matsuoka at the head of MAFF is about as good an example of putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop as one can find.

Of course he should be forced to resign. But that's a matter of course. Political reform, starting with measures to require detailed reporting of all donations and expenditures by political support groups and measures to curtail interaction between bureaucrats and Diet members, is needed to deprive Japan's Matsuokas of opportunities to pervert the system to private ends.

Will the newly buoyant prime minister add political reform to his agenda, starting with the sacking of Matsuoka? With Abe, and Nakamura Shoichi, Abe's id, defending Matsuoka, not bloody likely.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

China bulks up

The US Department of Defense has released its annual Congress-mandated report on Chinese military power, available for download here. (Hat tip: China Digital Times)

For a China hawk's take on this year's report, check out this article by Bill Gertz in the Washington Times. Gertz manages to spin a relatively tame report, the product of a committee and thus including something for everyone (a more accurate way of describing what Gertz calls the "subject of political fighting every year as part of pro-China officials' efforts to promote the Bush administration's pro-business agenda with Beijing") into a report of a more alarmist sort.

There is actually very little new in this report. There rarely is. The Pentagon's annual reports on China are useful compilations of information on the progress of China's military modernization, but they seem to do little more than provide journalists with a way to fill space.

As in previous reports, the Pentagon notes that preparations for conflict in the Taiwan Straits remains the primary focus of China's military activities, although as in earlier reports this year's edition suggests that there are signs that China is looking beyond Taiwan as it considers longer term defense acquisition plans. As before, the Pentagon reports that Chinese military doctrine emphasizes asymmetrical warfare and the development of capabilities that will enable the PLA to neutralize American advantages in the event of war.

One element that seems to have been given special emphasis this year is China's nuclear arsenal. As I noted yesterday, China is developing a new generation SSBN that will greatly enhance its nuclear deterrent. The Pentagon notes, "The addition of the DF-31 family of missiles and the JL-2 and JIN-class SSBNs will give China a more survivable and flexible nuclear force. New air- and ground-launched cruise missiles that could perform nuclear missions will similarly improve the survivability and flexibility of China’s nuclear forces." The report goes on to note that there is some ambiguity surrounding China's "first use" policy, particularly in the event of conflict in the Taiwan Straits.

But all in all, this report is pretty meager, in part because of the PLA's lack of transparency. While it is the job of Pentagon planners to consider that the lack of transparency is a cloak for a range of worst case scenarios, it is also the job of the media and opinion makers to question the plausibility of the Pentagon's worst-case scenarios.

One snippet that must be questioned is this: "Given the apparent absence of direct threats from other nations, the purposes to which China’s current and future military power will be applied remain unknown. It is certain, however, that these capabilities will increase Beijing’s options for military coercion to press diplomatic advantage, advance interests, or resolve disputes."

In other words, as China becomes more wealthy, it is directing its wealth to its military, which will enable it to secure "press diplomatic advantage, advance interests, or resolve disputes." Does anyone expect it to be otherwise? Even if China was a mature democracy, would it be any different? Once again, the comparison to the rise of the US is telling. As discussed in considerable detail by Robert Kagan in his Dangerous Nation, as the US grew wealthier over the course of the nineteenth century (with foreign trade no small part of US economic success), US interests abroad grew accordingly, and as interests grew, demands that the US have the military means to secure them grew accordingly (which led, of course, to a further expansion of US interests). China is not altogether different. Its interests are growing rapidly, and globally, leading it to desire a military to will be able to secure those growing interests.

But what does that mean in practical terms? China still does not possess a force capable of significant power projection, even in its near abroad, and the PLA is a long time away from being able to project power globally on the order of the US Military, if it will ever be capable of that. Is it not too early to be alarmed, particularly since there seems to be little the US can do to curtail China's military modernization?

Another question is, if China is starting to think in global terms, why should that alarm the US? A China interested in global order could just as well be a partner of the US as a rival. China's future is far from ordained, and much will depend on the decisions the US makes. As Joseph Nye and others have been saying for a long while, if the US acts rashly in the face of China's military modernization, it may well make fears of a hostile China a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And finally, I fail to see why the US should be surprised that China is seeking to strengthen its military despite "the apparent absence of direct threats from other nations." Again, going back to Kagan, what direct threats did the US face in 1889-1890, when it began a major naval modernization program? China's military thinking is consistent with every rising great power in history: even today, only military powers are taken seriously as great powers. Perhaps Beijing has looked at Brussels and Tokyo and concluded that to be a "civilian superpower" is to not be a superpower at all. After all, Russia was, by virtue of its nuclear arsenal, able to force its way into the elite chambers of the G7 despite being an economic basket case.

So while the US should continue to track China's progress closely, it should also not be particularly surprised by China's decision to develop an advanced military capable of power projection.

Japan's revenge

Over at Project Syndicate, Thomas Palley outlines the argument about how the yen carry trade is fuelling global asset bubbles — although Finance Minister Omi denies that Japan's low interest rates are the cause of the carry trade.

Aside from rehearsing the standard arguments about how Japan's barely-over-zero interest rates contributes to global instability and the appreciation of the dollar, Palley also suggests that Japan's lagging growth in consumption could be corrected with an interest rate hike because a hike could signal to Japan's elderly that their income is safe over the long term: "Current ultra-low interest rates may be scaring people about the adequacy of future income. Raising rates could alleviate those fears, increasing consumer confidence and spending."

In Chicago on business this week, I had a conversation with my father — whom I should probably have write here from time to time — about the global risk environment, and he noted wryly that the carry trade is Japan's revenge for the 1987 Louvre Accord, which mandated that Japan permit the yen to rise as the dollar fell, correcting for the overshooting of the 1985 Plaza Accord. The outcome of the Louvre Accord was Japan's asset bubble, bringing us — after the interlude of a "lost decade" — to where we are today, with Japan in no hurry to be the first to alter its monetary policy to correct global imbalances.

Will the Bank of Japan raise interest rates again? Knowing Fukui's eagerness to "normalize" Japanese monetary policy, it seems like a matter of time — although probably not until after July's Upper House elections.

The one certainty though is that it will be at a time of Japan's choosing, not the product of pressure (in the G7 for example) to alter its policies to carry a greater share of the burden of global readjustment.

And all that is a long way of saying that I'm back in Japan, after an unplanned overnight stay in San Francisco, so my posting will be back to normal

Friday, May 25, 2007

The naval arms race in Asia continues

Back in April, Paul Kennedy, professor of history at Yale best known for his The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, had an op-ed in the IHT in which he discussed the meaning of the growing naval arms race in Northeast Asia in terms of the center of balance of the international system, with a striking imbalance between Europe and Asia in terms of naval strength.

Today saw two more examples to support Professor Kennedy's point — and, thinking slightly less in terms of world history, to support the idea that the East Asian balance of power is becoming, despite US predominance, vigorously multipolar.

First, South Korea has reportedly become the fifth country in the world to deploy an Aegis-equipped warship (hat tip: Marmot's Hole).

Second, the FT reports that the US is concerned about Chinese plans to develop a new ballistic missile submarine. While SSBNs are not necessarily a factor in the naval balance, being more directly related to questions of nuclear deterrence between the US and China (and Japan, on some level), the development of more sophisticated SSBNs will likely put pressure on the US and Japan to improve their anti-submarine warfare capabilities, prompting other navies in the region to respond.

The dance of the powers continues: one week the US offers to help China with its aircraft carrier program, the next it expresses fears about Chinese SSBNs. All the while the US navy presence in the region continues to provide the maritime public goods that growing Asia desperately needs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is $6 billion too high a price?

As the Diet session winds down — and the Upper House elections loom — the Upper House has passed a bill approving Japan's commitment to executing the 2006 agreement on the realignment of US forces in Japan.

Mainichi reports that the bill was opposed by all opposition parties, meaning that the bill passed by the relatively slim margin of 112 to 88.

Retired diplomat Amaki Naoto, who has written often of the need for a more equal, open bilateral US-Japan relationship, harshly criticized the bill, which calls for Japan to pay approximately $6 billion towards the relocation of 8,000 US Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam and includes financial support for local communities that sign on to the deal.

What I find interesting about Amaki's criticism — found here and here — is that he hammers the government for its "tyranny" and for squandering the people's money paying for the US to go away (and rewarding communities that acquiesce silently).

Given Japan's dire fiscal circumstances, and that the US expects Japan to contribute more to its own defense, is it really fair of the US to ask Japan to pay the lion's share of realignment costs when even the US has conceded that relocating to Guam can be a positive good and not just a concession to Japanese opposition?

I would not be surprised if the DPJ begins tying this bill to its campaign strategy of calling attention to growing inequality in Japanese society, arguing that instead of using the government's limited budget to address inequality, the Abe Cabinet is using public funds to smooth over the US realignment. If the alliance was more open, Amaki implies, perhaps Japan would have no problem informing its ally that it cannot afford the share of the bill.

I am not opposed to Japan paying a smaller share; Japan's budgetary difficulties are very real. And the relocation of US Marines to Guam benefits the US as much as Japan, making it less likely that a incident involving US Marines (an aircraft crash, a rape, a murder, etc.) will have a disastrous impact on the alliance, lessening the humiliation that comes with hosting a large contingent of US ground forces, and making US forces in the region more flexible in case of an emergency.

Meanwhile, the door to further reductions in the US presence in Japan is wide open, now that the agreement to make major cuts is set to move forward. The day may be in the offing when Japan is home to a US aircraft carrier, an air wing, and some command elements (sharing premises with the JSDF, of course) — and that's it.

I expect the alliance will be better for it, less connected to cold war-era "Japan-as-unsinkable-aircraft-carrier" thinking that assigned Japan a passive, subordinate role in the alliance. With Japan less dependent on the US for its defense — and thus less prone to feeling pressured to support the US even when it disagrees with or feels uneasy about a US campaign — the alliance will be healthier, with more open political coordination and less fear of consequences resulting from disagreement.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

UN tells Japan to tend its own garden

That's the message one could conclude from criticism of Japan by the UN Committee Against Torture, calling attention to Japan's justice and prison system, and even criticized Japan for dismissing comfort women cases on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.

As the FT's David Turner writes:
The report comes at an embarrassing time for Japan. The government has been trying to restore the country’s status as a nation with the moral and political authority of a world power, in addition to an economic powerhouse. Shinzo Abe has tried to accelerate this process since he became prime minister since last year, but with mixed results.
One element of Abe's — and Foreign Minister Aso's — "proactive diplomacy" has been an emphasis on "Value Oriented Diplomacy," which of course serves to contrast Japan with China.

But somehow I find it hard not to laugh when senior Japanese officials speak about Japan's creating an "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity" and similarly flowery language about democratization. I am not one to deny that Japanese is a democracy — but as readers of this blog will note, I do not think it's an especially healthy one. And while that should not stop Japan (or the US, for that matter), from using their wealth and influence to support developing democracies, it should stop them from being too loose in their rhetoric, because loose lips lead observers to question just how much the speaker's own country matches up, undermining the purpose of the rhetoric in the first place. Quiet, determined, and respectful of limits presented by conditions within the countries receiving aid: those should be the principles that guide support for democratization by mature democracies.

And as for the substance of the UN committee's criticism? Certainly not unmerited. I mean, really, a country with a 99.8 conviction rate? As the FT reports, in 2006 there were 77,297 convictions to 63 acquittals. Yet another indication of the governance problem present in every sector of Japanese society.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The failure of Ozawaism?

Apologies for not having posted sooner, but once again I'm out of Japan, this time back in my hometown of Chicago for business.

Having stepped out of the news cycle for a day, it might be a bit before I am completely up to speed, but meanwhile I highly recommend this recent post at Shisaku on the DPJ's approach to rural Japan in advance of this summer's Upper House elections.

He concludes:
Now there is a word for citizens of a prefecture dependant on government subsidies and handouts who vote against the ruling party.

That word is "stupid".

Combine this basic "knowing where your rice and fish come from" impetus--based a promise the government knows it does not have to honor--with the Abe Clique's special message of loving the Emperor, patriotism, traditional gender roles and respect for the nation's honored dead (remember the demographics of the rural areas are strongly titled toward the elderly) and you have a potent, almost omnipotent electoral strategy in the single-seat districts that the DPJ can only bang its poor little pointed head upon.
I concur wholly with Shisaku. Despite efforts by Ozawa to reach out to rural Japan (see the strong emphasis on agriculture in his recent book, Ozawaism), I strongly doubt that rural Japan can be "turned" from the LDP prior to the dramatic transformation of the Japanese political system. The LDP was, is, and will, after Koizumi's failure, continue to be the party of rural Japan. As I argued here, that will likely be unsustainable in the long term, but in the short term, the LDP will undoubtedly have no problem securing the support of rural voters, thanks to the combination of a more buoyant economy and a prime minister who seems wholly indifferent to the idea of making the LDP a modern, urban party.

In the process, however, by drawing the DPJ to the countryside in an effort to try to outspend the LDP, the LDP may well destroy the DPJ, or at least its soul, making it look ever more like the LDP's shadow (and thus unelectable, because why vote for an LDP copy when you have the real thing).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The revisionists ascendant

Western commentators who only intermittently pay attention to Japan seem to be befuddled by the Japanese constitution. They seem to have a hard time grasping the difficulties associated with changing it, the totemic significance it has been made to bear by both pacifists and revisionists — and thus tend to assume that revision is easy, right, and only a matter of time. One example is Thomas Barnett's glib comment about the inevitability of revision, discussed here. Another is this post at Commentary Magazine's Contentions blog by Gordon Chang, who tells readers that "article nine has not been enforced for decades." True, perhaps, but missing the point entirely. Citing one of Japan's "most prominent journalists," [I have a hunch; do readers have any guesses?] Chang argues, "The constitution stigmatizes the past and...prevents Japan from becoming 'a normal country.'"

Think about that: people don't stigmatize the past, the constitution does. In other words, if the constitution were revised, Japan would be able to have an honest debate and there would be no more obfuscation or outright denial regarding atrocities committed by Imperial Japan during World War II.

Rather than continue to pick apart Chang's argument, however, I would rather call your attention to an excellent monograph that spells out the history of Japan's constitution revision debate and tries to answer the question of why, despite persistent pressure from revisionists, the constitution has gone unrevised to this day.

Written by J. Patrick Boyd and Richard Samuels in 2005, Nine Lives?: The Politics of Constitutional Reform in Japan outlines, in a mere sixty pages, the contours of Japan's contested constitution (a book by that name, collecting primary sources related to revision, is this week's book of the week [see link at right]). The Boyd and Samuels monograph is available from the East-West Center here.

What I especially liked about their argument is that it cuts through the flighty rhetoric that all sides have employed when talking about revision. Their rather elegant, parsimonious argument is that while pacifist norms and the global and regional balance of power have played a part in the revision debate, the constitution — and Article 9 in particular — has survived unchanged due to a balance of power among political forces within Japan during the postwar era.

Boyd and Samuels show that a triangular balance between revisionists, pragmatists, and pacifists has prevented the revisionists from succeeding, with the pragmatists — the school of Prime Minister Yoshida and his successors — holding the balance against revision in tacit alliance with the pacifists throughout the cold war. In other words, while for some Japanese the importance of the constitution has been its deeming Japan a "peace state," the pragmatists defended it — sometimes by rejecting revision entirely, other times by pushing re-interpretations or compromises that preserved the essence of the amendment — as a means of avoiding the costs of alliance with the US that other "normal" allies had to bear. Accordingly, throughout the cold war, the pragmatists and revisionists battled for primacy in the LDP and thus in the Japanese political system, with the pragmatists holding the upper hand for much of the postwar period. Even during the Gulf War, when revisionist LDP Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro wanted to commit Japanese soldiers to the coalition, the pragmatist wing managed to defeat him and commit only funds to the campaign (with the perverse consequence that international backlash against Japan's checkbook diplomacy fed into the revisionist argument that a newly wealthy Japan had to contribute more internationally).

Moving into the 1990s, Boyd and Samuels note that the pragmatist-pacifist dam holding the revisionist flood waters in place collapsed, with the Japanese left breaking down and the pragmatists in the LDP outmaneuvered and isolated by revisionists, who were encouraged by the more uncertain post-cold war international environment. Symbolic of this was the end of the "YKK" trio of Yamasaki Taku, Kato Koichi, and Koizumi Junichiro, an alliance between the pragmatic Yamasaki and Kato and the revisionist Koizumi. The pragmatists are not gone, of course — Yamasaki criticized the collective self-defense study group the other day — and with the Komeito an essential coalition partner for the LDP, pacifism still has a voice within the government. But the balance is undeniably shifted.

And so we see the revisionists ascendant, first under Koizumi, and now under Abe. Disagreeing with Graham Webster, slightly, I think the difference between Koizumi and Abe is not so much a matter of "sentimental" versus "practical": it's more a matter of political style. As in Isaiah Berlin's useful (but perhaps over-used) dichotomy, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Koizumi was a classic fox, jumping from subject to subject, sometimes seeming to care more about style and image than substance. Abe, meanwhile, is obsessed with the constitution (and the "post-war regime) — his "one big thing." Accordingly, although both Koizumi and Abe have seen disorder grow among opponents of constitution revision grow even as revisionists consolidated their control of the LDP, Koizumi abjured from striking directly at Article 9. Obviously, Abe has not, thanks in part to the LDP majority assembled in the September 2005 "postal reform" election.

Interestingly, as Boyd and Samuels note — and as I've argued before — that with the collapse of organized opposition to revision within the political system, the only potential source of opposition is from the Japanese people themselves. Whether they can or will is another question entirely, but the push for revision is an opportunity for the Japanese people to raise their voices and claim the process for themselves.

Another point they raise relevant to the situation today is that even as the revisionists gained power during the 1990s, they opted to hold off from re-interpreting Article 9 to permit collective self-defense, arguing that it was a waste of political capital to push for re-interpretation — reversible by a future government — when revision, a more permanent change, was so close at hand. And yet we see Prime Minister Abe pushing simultaneously for both revision and collective self-defense in limited cases. Is his ambitious agenda simply a function of his obsession, or is it a natural product of fifteen years of revisionist ascendancy? With Abe, are the revisionists not merely ascendant but triumphant?

Samuels and Boyd, wisely, hesitate to predict if and when revision will occur, arguing simply that Japan's political dynamics over brought Japan to a critical turning point.

Meanwhile, they make an interesting point about a potential consequence of revision. Namely, if Abe succeeds, if Japan embraces collective self-defense and revises Article 9, Japan's long-standing fears of entrapment by the US — an important part of the pragmatist position — will be more justified than ever. It becomes that much harder to say no to a US determined to go to war with Japan by its side without having Article 9 to hide behind. Given the tremendous unease with the alliance and with the prospect of Japan contributing to America's wars that I've seen evinced by the Japanese people time and time again during my time here, changing Japan's constitution to enable Japan to be a better ally of the US may have the unintended consequence of leading Japan to balk when asked (with all the attendant consequences).

With three years of debate to come, I strongly hope that if and when revision occurs, it will take into account the doubts and questions outlined by Boyd and Samuels — and that the ultimate form of any proposed revisions reflect the input of actors other than the revisionists.

Hopefully now that the Diet has passed the referendum bill, Samuels and Boyd will do some revising of their own and release a new version of this monograph that reflects the changes under Abe.

Benign neglect for the alliance?

Upon further reflection, I wonder if the Asia team that the Bush administration has assembled — which I previously discussed here — for its final years in office might be a good thing for the US-Japan alliance.

For too long, the alliance has been a cozy love fest. Even in rough patches, the alliance has been characterized by each ally stroking the other's ego, providing constant reassurance that the alliance is secure.

When I was doing research on my master's dissertation, I spoke with Carl Ford, who was at the State Department early in the current administration and was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia-Pacific affairs during the administration of George HW Bush. Speaking of the differences in alliance management during the Clinton administration and the twelve years of Republican administrations that preceded it, Ford said, "The Republican Asia team pampered Japan. They regularly told Japan how important it was – the US-Japan relationship is very high maintenance. When the Clinton administration came in, things changed – not dramatically so, but noticeably so. There was less pampering of Japan."

So at what point does pampering Japan and providing it with constant reassurance stop being a good thing and become an obstacle to forming a genuine alliance, in which the allies are comfortable airing grievances or questioning the direction and extent of cooperation?

Maybe a couple years dealing with an Asia team whose attention is directed elsewhere will be good for Japan. Perhaps a couple years of not hearing how important and special Japan is for the US will help Japan get used to the idea of being a more independent, flexible actor in changing Asia. If the alliance is as healthy as both countries' leaders insist, this should not be so hard to manage. (Although there will be more pressure on US officers and diplomats in Japan and James Shinn's team at the Pentagon to push the 2006 realignment plan forward, which will perhaps be more difficult without an experienced Japan hand at the White House.)

Besides, with a new Korean administration in the offing, maybe it is best that the US give priority to patching up the bruised relationship with South Korea?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cyber war against Estonia?

This New York Times story, "Estonia Computers Blitzed, Possibly by the Russians," strikes me as pregnant with implications that reach far beyond the Russo-Estonian dispute over the removal of a Soviet monument commemorating the "Great Patriotic War."

The Times reports that Estonian officials have blamed Russia for a series of attacks on its government websites, although the Russian government has denied involvement.

I found this statement striking, however: "'If you have a missile attack against, let’s say, an airport, it is an act of war,' a spokesman for the Estonian Defense Ministry, Madis Mikko, said Friday in a telephone interview. 'If the same result is caused by computers, then how else do you describe that kind of attack?'"

What is the value of an alliance like NATO, designed to protect the people and physical infrastructure of an alliance member from attack, in an age when threats may increasingly be of the sort described in this story, attacks on the virtual infrastructure that are increasingly the source of prosperity for countries like Estonia?

If NATO — and other standing alliances among democracies, like the US-Japan alliance — are incapable of deterring new, unconventional threats that target a country's vehicles of wealth creation in ways short of what is recognized as war, can those alliances survive without substantial change?

While the details of the campaign against Estonia have yet to be elucidated, this incident strikes me as a harbinger of something with which all developed countries will have to contend: as the risks of interstate conventional warfare diminish, states will have to contend with new ways for states to flex their muscles in disputes with other states. Are existing alliances and international organizations up to the task?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Checking premises

In questioning the Associated Press's use of the term "nationalist" to describe Prime Minister Abe, Ampontan, in this post, asks, "What is it they mean by calling Mr. Abe a 'nationalist'? And because they so frequently insist on using that term to describe him, they must think he demonstrates more of those characteristics than other political leaders elsewhere. This naturally leads one to wonder, the prime minister is nationalistic…compared to whom?"

A worthwhile question, indeed. Is Abe Shinzo a nationalist?

In answering this question, though, I think Ampontan makes the mistake of looking abroad for points of reference. He looks at Jacques Chirac's farewell address from this past week, in which Chirac used the kind of language a French president is expected to use. All French presidents since De Gaulle, whether of the left or of the right, have been expected to appeal to French greatness, and France arguably remains the most nationalistic country in Western Europe.

But French nationalism means something entirely different from American nationalism or British nationalism or Japanese nationalism, because France is not the US is not Britain is not Japan. It reflects France's unique history, and thus any comparison between nationalisms can only be analogous. There is no absolute, global scale of nationalism.

For the same reason, I find, at least in the Japanese context, that it's difficult to use words like left and right, conservative and liberal — given that without considerable explanation, the terms are meaningless in and of themselves (and having to explain further defeats the purpose of a label in the first place).

After dancing around these issues, and slandering writers who dare to suggest that Abe Shinzo maybe, just maybe, is a nationalist, Ampontan gives a few points to argue that he is not, in fact, a nationalist:
Calling Mr. Abe a “hawkish nationalist” sails even closer to the edge of delusion. The prime minister is working to amend the Japanese Constitution to allow the use of the military for both individual and collective self-defense. That is hardly in the same class as colonizing the Korean Peninsula.

Japan claims the islets of Takeshima, now illegally occupied by South Korea, and four islands near Hokkaido, seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in World War II. Were Mr. Abe a “hawkish nationalist”, would it not stand to reason that somewhere in his career he would have suggested using military force to reclaim that territory? Yet not a hint of that is to be found in any of his public utterances.


Prime Minister Abe’s ideas about Japan and its place in the world are not significantly different than most of his predecessors in the Liberal-Democratic Party—including his immediate predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, who, after all, paid annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine.
I think Ampontan's problem is that he assumes that nationalism is a dirty word. I suppose it is often used as one, which is unfortunate, since it can be quite useful for describing what someone actually believes.

But what is nationalism? Ampontan throws out a few examples — resistance to colonial rule, love of country, the belief in the superiority of one's country — but he ultimately never gets around to describing what nationalism actually is. A glance at Wikipedia's thorough entry on nationalism shows you just how complicated a question this is. Not only does nationalism differ from country to country, but nationalism can be expressed in manifold ways. It is not always or even primarily about expressions of state power, often being expressed linguistically or culturally (this was the nationalism that emerged in the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian empire during the nineteenth century, for example).

So what does nationalism mean in a Japanese context? (An essential question that Ampotman does not even begin to address.) Arguably, in some ways the Japanese are innately nationalistic, a sentiment often expressed through the casual use of nihonjinron arguments. While Japan may not be as homogeneous as the Japanese believe, this belief has fed into an understanding of the Japanese as a single nation, with ancient roots. It entails a certain pride in the cultural achievements of the Japanese people and the qualities that make the Japanese distinct from other nations.

But what does this mean politically? I do not think Japanese nationalism in the twenty-first century has anything to do with a lust for conquest. Japanese imperialism was as much (or more) a product of prevailing international norms about how great powers should exercise their power as it was a product of something innate to the Japanese people. Seeing as how international norms have changed, fears of Japan's trying to conquer anything are laughable.

This, my friends, is a straw man: Abe has not said anything about conquering Japan's neighbors or even little Takeshima, ergo he must not be a nationalist.

What makes Abe a nationalist has little if anything to do with his ideas about Japan's place in the world and more to do with his vision of Japanese society. In short, Abe and his allies in the LDP want to use the state to recreate a more unified Japan as a means of coping with the problems Japan will face in the twenty-first century. What makes Abe a nationalist is his desire to forge (or re-forge) a kind of dynamic unity among the Japanese people, under the rule of the emperor, of course. As he said in his debate with Ozawa Ichiro this week, "If Japan's long history, traditions and cultures can be likened to a tapestry that the Japanese people have been weaving, the emperor is the warp."

Abe's speech to open the current session of the Diet is a case in point. In the speech, available in English here, Abe explicitly aims to remake the Japanese nation for a new age: "In order to realize 'a beautiful country, Japan,' my mission is none other than to draw a new vision of a nation which can withstand the raging waves for the next 50 to 100 years to come." His terms, his aims are designed to shape Japan as a nation. He speaks as if Japan is a homogeneous whole, and not a developed democracy in which there are tremendous differences from region to region, from city to city, from person to person.

A similar kind of thinking can be found in the education bills passed by the Lower House of the Diet on Friday, one of which — the School Education Law — mandates teaching the love of country as a means of solving Japan's nagging social problems. As Abe said in his January speech, "We believe we have, until now, neglected values such as public service, self-discipline, morals and attachment to and affection for the community and country where we have been born and raised. We believe it is absolutely essential for Japan's future to instill these values in our children."

One can disagree as to whether teaching patriotism is right or not, but I do not think that there is any question that teaching these values in schools is nationalistic.

Look also at Abe's political compatriots. Asahi wrote yesterday of the formation by forty-three LDP members of a group to support Abe's foreign policy that is, in Asahi's words a "de facto Abe faction" and "cheering group" for the prime minister. The article notes that not only do the members support Abe's "proactive diplomacy," but they are also opposed to legal changes that undermine traditional Japanese society, a hallmark of nationalist thinking. (This is the same kind of thinking that produced, in early LDP drafts of a revised constitution, clauses that made certain civil rights conditional, just like in the 1889 Meiji Constitution.)

One is free to agree or disagree with the thinking of Abe and his fellow nationalists in the LDP, but it is a disservice to debate to deny outright that the prime minister's thinking is nationalist.

The search for a more unified Japanese nation less tainted by individualism at home and more independent abroad: that is Abe Shinzo's nationalism. And in East Asia in the early twenty-first century, Abe is hardly alone.

The story that wouldn't die

Bill Gertz, Washington Times reporter and leading proponent of the "China Threat" thesis, has published yet another item in his weekly "Inside the Ring" feature talking about how "pro-China officials" in the administration are undermining Japan's bid to purchase F-22 stealth fighters.

I previously discussed here that General Jeffrey Kohler, head of the Defense Department's Defense Cooperation Agency, quashed reports that the US was even thinking about taking the necessary steps to put the F-22 on the market, and before that I asked if the seemingly fragile F-22 was even the right choice for Japan.

And yet Gertz continues to bang the drum on the F-22 — wailing about a conspiracy in the administration to deprive Japan (and Australia and Israel and South Korea) of the advanced fighter.

Gertz is probably the most prominent example of an opinion maker inclined to ignore signs of Sino-US cooperation, such as this one discussed earlier today, and assume that the US and China and destined to come to blows. Anyone paying attention to the region, however, cannot ignore just how ambiguous the regional security environment has become, which is why prudent management of US Asia policy is more important than ever.

If the "China threat" thesis was true, if China was simply an unambiguous threat to American interests that had to be stopped immediately, US Asia policy would be simple: cut ties with China, round up our friends, and goad China into changing its behavior. The reality of the region is that no country can afford to take such a stance vis-a-vis China. The US (as well as every other country in the Asia-Pacific) and China have shared interests, and it is Washington's responsibility to find ways to secure those interests and minimizes the consequences of divergence in other areas.

I guess, as implied by Blake Hounshell in this post on Foreign Policy's Passport blog, people tend to see the China they want to see.

The Bush administration has left the building (in Asia, anyway)

South Korea's Dong-A Ilbo reports that the Asia team for the denouement of the Bush administration is complete...

Daniel Drezner could not have been more right when he said that the Bush administration is looking for "September call-ups" for its foreign policy team.

Look at the roster provided by Dong-A. While some, including Dr. Paul Heer and James Shinn, have publication records, suggesting that they have experience in and knowledge about the region, others show just how hard the administration had to work to find staff to fill positions.

Victor Cha's successor holding the Korea and Japan brief at the National Security Council is Katrin Fraser, indicated by Dong-A as a "professional diplomat" but in fact assistant to Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Kristin Silverberg (who is herself a former political adviser to Candidate Bush, not to mention an adviser to CPA viceroy Paul Bremer until October 2003). The only newsworthy bits about Fraser seem to be that she taught English in Korea as a Fulbright a few years ago, and that she wrote an article criticizing the Bush administration for insensitivity to Korea.

From Victor Cha, an accomplished expert on the region to a woman who only very recently taught English in Korea? I am sure that the Japanese government is thrilled with this choice.

Yep, this is the Asia policy team that will handle the continuation of the six-party talks, turbulent relations with China as the 2008 Olympics approach, and a Japan that is grappling with fundamental questions about its position in the region and the world. For nearly the next two years, this is the team that will handle Asia's becoming the global center of gravity.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"We them"

Having previously written about the strategic and political questions surrounding China's rumored aircraft carrier program, I found this VOA article (hat tip: China Digital Times) on Admiral Keating's visit to China fascinating.

VOA reports that Keating discussed the operational difficulties of deploying and maintaining aircraft carriers with Vice Admiral Wu Shengli of the PLAN — but not necessarily as a way of dissuading China from developing aircraft carriers.

Rather, Keating apparently said that if China is determined to develop an aircraft carrier, the US will offer its assistance: "It is not an area where we would want any tension to arise unnecessarily...and we would, if they choose to develop [an aircraft carrier program] help them to the degree that they seek and the degree that we're capable, in developing their programs."

With the US offering help to the PLAN in developing aircraft carriers, does anyone still think that the region's security environment can be neatly summarized as the US seeking to build up a coalition to contain China?

I think Keating's suggestion contains a certain logic. US help in building a blue-water navy reinforces the idea that a Chinese blue-water navy need not be a threat to US interests, because the US and China share an interest in keeping maritime Asia stable and open.

I wonder, though, what Japan thinks about Keating's offer.

Gaiatsu revisited

After reading this post by Matt Dioguardi at Liberal Japan. and reading that MTC was "not thrilled" with yesterday's admittedly dyspeptic post about gaiatsu and constitution revision, I feel that it is necessary to clarify about what the US should do over the coming years as Japan debates constitution revision.

Pace Matt Dioguardi, gaiatsu is not simply a matter of the US government communicating to Japan what it would prefer Japan to be able to do in the alliance. In the case cited by Dioguardi, this article in the Japan Times, Secretary Gates telling Defense Minister Kyuma that the US would like Japan to be able to exercise its right of collective self-defense so that it would be able to shoot down, hypothetically, a missile fired in the direction of the US is simply a restatement of a long-standing US position — as is telling Japan that if it did not try to shoot down a missile in that scenario, it would have serious repercussions for the alliance. That's not a threat; that's a fact.

Can you imagine how quickly the phrase "free rider" would be on the lips of every single member of Congress if that were to happen?

It seems that Gates was simply taking a page from the 2000 Armitage-Nye Report, which said:
Japan's prohibition against collective self-defense is a constraint on alliance cooperation. Lifting this prohibition would allow for closer and more efficient security cooperation. This is a decision that only the Japanese people can make. The United States has respected the domestic decisions that form the character of Japanese security policies and should continue to do so. But Washington must make clear that it welcomes a Japan that is willing to make a greater contribution and to become a more equal alliance partner.
That also happens to be my position on what the US can do. The prohibition on the right of collective self-defense is the most significant obstacle to further alliance cooperation, but the days of press-ganging allies must end. (Isn't that the meaning of coalitions of the willing?)

The US can make its desires known through bilateral diplomatic channels, but gaiatsu — which involves actively supporting advocates of policies desired by the US in domestic policy debates — should not be used. While that may seem like a fine line, statements by Secretary Gates and Ambassador Schieffer on what the US would like Japan to be able to do fall within the realm of diplomacy.

But that's it. The US should communicate its desires, but it should not use its power to bend Japan to its will, lest any new settlement on the constitution and the alliance be as tainted as the old. I am thinking, of course, of the demonstrations surrounding the passage the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan; while Japan and the US will not be drafting a new treaty, the potential changes resulting from the reinterpretation of the prohibition on the right of collective self-defense and constitution revision could be of the same importance as the treaty. They must be — or be perceived — as the result of decisions made by the Japanese people, not decisions made or perceived to be made as a result of collusion between Japanese politicians and the US.