Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Upper House elections and Japanese security policy

Of all the factors that went into the LDP's historic loss on Sunday, it is safe to assume that the security policy pursued under the Koizumi and Abe cabinets — an emphasis on the alliance with the US that has seen the JSDF deployed to the Indian Ocean and Iraq, albeit in non-combat roles — was not a significant factor in inducing voters to abandon the LDP.

As Michael Zielenziger argues, echoing a point I made here in advance of the election:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stinging defeat in parliamentary elections demonstrates that the Japanese people aren't interested in abandoning their pacifist constitution and taking on the mantle of military might to help Washington manage some form of global hegemony. Japanese citizens don't want to send troops to Iraq and are rejecting Abe’s stand on North Korea which is even tougher than Washington’s own now that direct talks are moving forward between officials from Pyongyang and the State Department.

Instead what voters affirmed on Sunday is that they want a government that will end years of eroding wages and prices, offer hope to millions of alienated young adults, and pledge to the nation’s growingly restive reserve of the elderly that their pensions and retirements will be protected and that the gap between rich and poor will somehow be narrowed.

That seems to be the lesson that the DPJ has drawn from its victory (or perhaps non-defeat is more accurate?) on Sunday. And so almost immediately after the results became clear DPJ Secretary-General Hatoyama Yukio voiced the party's opposition to the renewal of the anti-terror special measures law when it expires in November. The law, first passed in November 2001 as the keystone of the Japanese response to the 9/11 attacks, enabled the dispatch of MSDF vessels to support coalition efforts in Afghanistan, and there they have remained, refueling coalition warships in cooperation with the ongoing multinational campaign against the Taliban. Note that this law applies only to the campaign in Afghanistan; Japanese forces are in Iraq under a different piece of legislation, renewed earlier this year over opposition objections.

DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro, having left his election-day sickbed, has confirmed Hatoyama's proclamation, suggesting that it will be part of an aggressive strategy on the part of the DPJ to force an early election. If the DPJ plans to cooperate with the LDP to make good policy, it's being awfully coy about it.

For Ozawa to hold the special measures law hostage to Diet tactics is shamefully opportunistic, and it will give Ozawa the dubious honor of having both authored Japan's shift to bearing a greater burden in upholding global order and pushed for a new period of isolation. As LDP secretary-general during the Gulf War he pushed hard for Japanese boots on the ground, and when that failed, he authored the postwar international peace cooperation law that resulted in Japanese peacekeepers being sent to Cambodia, the beginning of the legal expansion of Japanese security policy that eventually produced the anti-terror and Iraq special measures laws as well as the formal adoption of "international peace cooperation activities" as a primary mission of the JSDF when the Defense Agency was elevated to ministry status. And yet now he has signaled his opposition to a bill that has enabled Japan to contribute materially to a multinational coalition assisting the reconstruction of Afghanistan, note multinational, not simply the US.

My concern is that backing away from contributing to global security even in minor ways like serving as a floating gas station for coalition ships will encourage passivity among the Japanese people. Passivity, not pacifism: I think the former is more of a problem than the latter, because free-riding is easy to do and does not particularly require the moral commitment of pacifism. The Japanese people did not vote against an activist foreign policy, they just didn't vote in favor of one either, which means that if Japan is going to play some role as a security provider, it will take political leadership to hammer the point home to the people, the kind of leadership that Ozawa once promised but has apparently decided to abandon for the sake of partisan expedience. As US Ambassador Thomas Schieffer noted, "Japan is a responsible member of the international community and I would really hate for Japan to decide that the issue was not important any more or that they didn't want to contribute."

This isn't about Iraq. (I happen to think there are plenty of good reasons for Japan to remove its transport aircraft.) This is about Japan's not withdrawing into itself, focusing on its own problems to the exclusion of the rest of the world. What happens outside of Japan has tremendous importance for the Japanese people — considering their extreme dependence on imported energy and food, for example. The temptation to withdraw clearly still exists, among people and elites.

Japan obviously has a host of domestic problems to confront, and the lesson of this election is that they should be the government's top priorities. But it is not an either/or proposition. The DPJ leadership should think carefully about whether it wants to lead Japan back down the road of free-riding, and it should also consider carefully what impact this strategy will have on party cohesiveness. How far can the DPJ go down this road before pushing its conservatives out of the party and potentially into the arms of the LDP?

New month, some changes

You will, I'm sure, notice that I have decided to open the new month with a change to the layout. I thought a picture of the National Diet building bathed in sunlight might liven things up a bit.

You will also notice that I am now officially a former aide to a member of the Upper House of the Japanese Diet.

As noted before, I am now available to take on political research and analysis projects — and expect to see more of my writing in proper periodicals over the coming months.

This time around, definitely a farce

The Kishi (or is it Sato?) clan has an interesting relationship with the Japanese people, and with Prime Minister Abe digging in his heels despite a resounding vote of no-confidence on Sunday, it looks like the prime minister versus the people once again.

Of course, in 1960, the stakes were serious, the issues being matters of constitutional governance and Japan's position in the cold war — and Japan's wartime legacy, as embodied by Prime Minister Kishi, chief of economic planning in Manchuria and then architect of Japan's total war planning, signatory to the rescript resulting in the Pearl Harbor attack, and imprisoned Class-A war criminal.

And now, in 2007? The people have indicated their disapproval at the ballot box, without even having to bother with demonstrations at the gates of the Diet. The issues at stake largely concern the public's loss of confidence not just in Prime Minister Abe but in the governing class as a whole, as the Japanese people have struggled to deal with changing economic conditions. Insofar as Prime Minister Abe has failed to so much as even nod in the direction of popular anxieties, he ought to pay the price, legacy of short-lived premierships in the 1990s notwithstanding. That was then, this is now. Mr. Abe, of course, does not see it that way. As Asahi notes in its editorial today, "'I take the people's stern judgment rigorously and sincerely, and I should reflect, and while I reflect I will modestly fulfill my duty to reform and build the nation;' in a word, the tough election results are not an expression of non-confidence in the prime minister. He probably takes it as a scolding from the people."

Pathetic, really. Like his grandfather, Mr. Abe clings to an ideological perspective when all the people want is economic security; that is why the civil conflict that some feared in the aftermath of Kishi's resignation in 1960 never materialized, because the LDP opted for Yoshida protege Ikeda Hayato, who not long thereafter announced his income doubling plan — and the rest is history. Despite having dragged his party to a historic loss, Mr. Abe still doesn't understand that the vague ideological package that he peddles in Utsukushii Kuni e is of so little interest to the Japanese people that they haven't even bothered to oppose it actively. They see a prime minister obsessed with waging the battles of the past rather than running a government responsive to their concerns, many of which are the product of the policies of his predecessor.

And that is why Mr. Abe's tenure is doomed. Sooner or later, the LDP's chiefs, inheritors of a tradition of political survivalism almost without parallel in the developed world (except for perhaps Italy's Christian Democrats, as argued by Richard Samuels) will rediscover their survival instincts and find a way to ditch Mr. Abe. The question is whether they will do so in time to salvage the party's reputation in its formerly "iron jiban" in rural Japan — and whether it is still possible for the LDP to exercise the kind of unchallenged dominance over large swathes of Japan that it once did.

Does anyone really anticipate Mr. Abe's survival in the face of unremitting unpopularity among the people, control of the Upper House by the opposition, and growing fears within the LDP that their electoral prospects diminish with each passing day?

To once again borrow from Marx, if the resignation of Kishi Nobusuke was a tragedy, marred by violence and involving grand, historical stakes, the resignation of his grandson, whenever it comes, will be a farce, a product of his oblivious leadership in the face of public insecurity and his stubborn insistence on ideological governance when all the people want is a competent response to their concerns. And as a result, the conservative machine forged by Kishi in 1955 may well meet its doom with Mr. Abe acting as the unwitting and witless executioner.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Let the hyperbole begin

Congress has passed House Resolution 121, the "comfort women resolution," by unanimous consent — there were no nays voiced, and there was no roll call vote. According to one of my trusted correspondents, Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, introduced the legislation by suggesting that there is no statute of limitations on apologies for these crimes and that asking for this apology is not asking too much of Japan, a friend and ally. Said Lantos: "The true strength of a nation is tested when it is forced to confront the darkest chapters in its history. Will it have the courage to face up to the truth of its past, or will it hide from those truths in the desperate and foolish hope they will fade with time?"

H.Res. 121 is an exceedingly modest piece of legislation. Non-binding, it does not request that the administration take steps to pressure Japan by linking the issue up with another bilateral issue; it appeals to Japan's good conscience to do the right thing by history, to do its duty to ensure that its children are fully aware of their country's bloody past, a burden that must be carried by every country (as discussed in this post).

I have already documented some of the extreme rhetoric emanating from Japan's ultra-nationalists in advance of the resolution's passage, and that rhetoric will undoubtedly intensify in the coming days and weeks.

Non-Japanese critics of the resolution are vulnerable to the same rhetorical excesses as Japanese critics. Take this post by Matt at Liberal Japan, in which he asks, "Are we all Fascists these days? Imperialists?" Hyperbolic fulminations along these lines have devalued terms like Fascism and Imperialism to the point of being analytically useless; they are now little more than slurs.

Imperialism, Matt? Really? The US isn't occupying the Diet until the government apologizes. It isn't threatening to stop defending Japan, abandoning it to its fate, or slapping economic sanctions on Japan. The US Congress is making an appeal out of good conscience, from one democracy to another, for Japan to strive harder to ensure that the truth of Japan's past is not revised, relativized, or ignored — to ensure that Japanese children have a full appreciation of their country's wartime past. The time for debate about the hypocrisy of the US or whether it is within the duties of the Congress to pass such legislation is past; the resolution is on the books. H.Res. 121 is not the equivalent of the invasion of Iraq, Matt, but a simple piece of non-binding legislation that seeks historical justice, both because it's the right thing to do and because it will make Japan a better US ally.

This resolution's passage ought to mean the end of hysterical rhetoric about how the US Congress is bullying poor Japan. It won't, but it should. Instead, H.Res. 121 will no doubt find a prominent place on the list of wounds inflicted on Japan's precious self-esteem by the US.

For a review of this whole process and the resolution's implications, including its connection with US Asia policy, I strongly recommend this post by Mindy Kotler at The Washington Note.

The emerging contours of post-7/29 politics

I am back from the lunchtime session with Professor Curtis, who gave a thorough and pessimistic account of the era in Japanese politics coming into being.

I do not think it inappropriate to speak of a new era in Japanese politics; Professor Curtis is certainly convinced that Sunday's catastrophic electoral defeat for the LDP marks the beginning of a new period of policy stasis, political gridlock, and perhaps the catalyst for the final destruction of the LDP. Indeed, the one bright spot in his remarks was the idea that this election was a victory for Japanese democracy — a notion I discussed here — since the voters punished the government for its inattentiveness to their concerns.

I will not even try to provide a full summary of his talk, which contained enough nuggets of wisdom to fill a long article or two, and anyway, you will be finding bits and pieces of his talk in foreign press coverage of the election over the next several days. I will, however, give you his main points. First, this election, rather than signifying an embrace of the DPJ, represents a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Abe, with voters saying no to his leadership, his policy priorities, and to his predecessor's economic reforms (at least in the countryside). Accordingly, Professor Curtis insists that Abe should resign on account of the failures being a product of his insecurities, his ideological obsessions, and his reliance on yes-men, and yet he won't: "He does not get it. He does not know why the voters rejected him." (In that sense, Abe is just like his grandfather, who just couldn't understand why the people were demonstrating against him and his treaty. As Abe wrote in his book — mentioned in this post — "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.'")

Professor Curtis sees no good scenario resulting from the election, and he does not envision an early departure for Mr. Abe, who will try to use the cabinet reshuffle to signal a "new start" for his government. (Indications suggest that the reshuffle will not come until early September, after Mr. Abe's tour of Indonesia, India, and Malaysia.) He will hold power in large part because opposition within the LDP is scattered and cowardly, an unfortunate consequence of the Koizumi era, which resulted in the emasculation and marginalization of faction heads and actors who might moderate the Kantei. At present, Abe's opponents, including the "New YKK" of Kato Koichi, Yamasaki Taku, and Koga Makoto, as well as former Finance Minister Tanigaki are unable to agree on a successor — aside from preferring anybody but Aso — and are thus unwilling to take steps to oppose formally and publicly Abe's remaining in power. This despite the widespread recognition, according to a senior LDP politician with whom Professor Curtis spoke about the election, that the LDP is like the Titanic except the passengers know it is going to sink — and they are powerless to stop it.

An intriguing question raised by Professor Curtis is whether Komeito, seeing its candidates lose unexpectedly and still caught uncomfortably between its principles and the pull of power, will use this defeat as an opportunity to back out of the coalition, or whether it too will go down with the ship. For the moment, it looks like Komeito won't be going anywhere.

And the DPJ? Professor Curtis praised Ozawa for his brilliant electoral strategy of swooping in to rural areas alienated by the Koizumi reforms, but cautioned that Ozawa has a "fifteen-year-history of upsetting expectations that he will do good things for Japan," and that his overweening pride and inability to cooperate with those who disagree with him undermine any party with which he is affiliated. He nixed the idea of any DPJ members leaving for the LDP, given the extent of the LDP's loss, but he was skeptical of the idea that the DPJ is ready to assume the reins of power and suggested that the best thing for the DPJ might be Abe's holding on to power for longer, giving them time to consolidate and build on their gains, and draft a coherent agenda — this of course runs contrary to DPJ's now publicly stated objective of using its Upper House position to force an early general election.

So at this point anything is possible. An LDP crackup, a new partisan realignment, a moderate coup within the LDP that unseats Mr. Abe and tries to draw the DPJ's conservatives to the LDP, Mr. Abe's cabinet somehow lasting until September 2009, an early election called by Mr. Abe to try to profit from DPJ obstructionism: any one of these scenarios is possible, which in the meantime will mean that the policy making process grinds to a halt.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The morning after

The final breakdown: DPJ 60, LDP 37, Komeito 9, Independents 7, JCP 3, SDPJ 2, PNP 2, NPJ 1.

That gives the opposition parties 137 seats to the government's 105, with the DPJ becoming the largest party with 109 seats, more than the government parties combined. With the thirty-two-seat differential between opposition and government parties, there is no possibility for the LDP to undermine the election results by political legerdemain.

Interestingly, the DPJ won big without a major increase in turnout, which was 58.64%, only a slight increase over 2004.

As expected, the full significance of the election will take some weeks to sink in, with a cabinet reshuffle not likely to come until September. The landslide has, of course, already claimed LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa and Upper House head Aoki, but the battle lines within the LDP are being drawn. Older party barons are making supportive gestures to the prime minister — each faction head has reportedly indicated his support — but it seems that younger party members are more inclined to jettison the Abe albatross. Yomiuri quoted former JDA chief Ishiba Shigeru as saying, "Prime Minister Abe should resign. If he doesn't, the LDP is finished."

The DPJ, meanwhile, has stated that its goal is an early dissolution of the Lower House and general election. But while the DPJ comes out of this election with a strong tail wind in its favor, it will face the tricky task of preserving its momentum. Recall that right up until the pensions scandal broke in May, the DPJ was riven with infighting, with members openly questioning the wisdom of the party leadership. The factional and ideological divisions remain. The whiff of power that comes with control of one house of the Diet may temper the divisions somewhat — after all, the LDP has survived for decades despite being more a microcosm of a party system than a cohesive political party. But then again, if Ozawa is forced to step down for health reasons, the resulting leadership fight could aggravate the party's rifts.

And that's before even considering the ideal strategy for managing the Upper House. Should the DPJ be uniformly opposed to the government's agenda, making the Upper House the place where the government's policies go to die? Doing so might force the government's hand on a Lower House election, particularly if the public expresses its distaste for policy gridlock. Alternatively, should the party make a good faith effort to forge a national agenda, or at least national policies? I suppose it all depends on whether there really is a way for the opposition to force the government to cede its super-majority anytime before September 2009. I see little reason to think that the LDP will be tricked into doing so.

And what of the balance of power between LDP, Kantei, and bureaucracy? Will the bureaucracy find its policy making powers restored in the face of gridlock in the Diet? If so, it would reinforce the idea that Japan is in for a period of policy stasis, because the bureaucracy is hardly likely to be the vehicle for dynamic change.

I will have more to say about this election later today — and I will address Noah's questions in the comments then. In the meantime I'm going to the FCCJ to hear Gerald Curtis's take on the election.

The results are in...

UPDATE, 1:04am — The final five PR seats have yet to be assigned, but regardless of which party gets them, the impact of this election is hard to understate. The polls leading up to the election were correct: the LDP was abandoned by voters across the country. Urban voters, rural voters, all opted to oppose the LDP by voting for the DPJ. This election may prove an important milestone on the road to a proper two-party system.

I will dissect this election over the coming days and weeks as the fallout becomes more apparent, but for now, the 135 to 102 distribution of seats between governing and opposition parties (as of now) suggests a new balance in the Japanese political system, the government's Lower House super-majority notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, NHK just reported that Ozawa has been AWOL this evening due to illness.

And on that downbeat note, here ends my live blogging of the 2007 Upper House elections.

UPDATE, 12:50am
— NHK reports that LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao has submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Abe.

UPDATE, 12:41am
— Two more PR seats, one to Tanaka Yasuo's New Party Japan, one to Kokumin Shinto. Five remain.

UPDATE, 12:38am
— NHK has called Fukui for the LDP by a margin of 192,439 to 189,642. The LDP now has 35 seats to the DPJ's 59, with seven left. The final count of single-seat districts? The final count is 23-6 in favor of the DPJ, four seats below what I thought was the LDP's worst-case scenario.

UPDATE, 12:33am
— Does anyone else find Ozawa's absence on the night of one of the greatest triumphs of his political career unusual? NHK is running through the results, and in prefecture after prefecture, DPJ and DPJ-backed candidates have won convincing victories. With eight seats left undecided, it is probably safe to say that Ozawa's strategy of prioritizing building campaign organizations throughout the country over confronting the government in the Diet has paid off (although he obviously had a lot of help from the Abe Cabinet). And yet Ozawa is nowhere to be found.

UPDATE, 12:25am
— The final margin of victory in Kagoshima is 402,395 votes to 399,227. The race is similarly close in Fukui, which is the last open single-seat district.

UPDATE, 12:23am
— Responding to Ken's comment, NHK is reporting that Marukawa is the sole LDP winner in Tokyo, meaning yes, Hosaka is out.

UPDATE, 12:16am
— Kagoshima has been called for the LDP, raising its total to 34 versus 59 for the DPJ. The JCP has picked up another PR seat, its third seat.

UPDATE, 12:10am
— Komeito wins another seat, now up to eight. Down to ten seats...

UPDATE, 12:07am
— NHK has yet to call Kagoshima, where the LDP leads the DPJ by 3,000 votes with 99% counted.

UPDATE, 12:04am
— The DPJ's Mito Masahi — for whom I prepared fliers — has won the third seat in Kanagawa Prefecture, giving the DPJ two of the prefecture's three seats. The DPJ now has 59 seats to the LDP's 33, with eleven left.

UPDATE, 11:52pm
— The LDP has won the fifth and final seat in Tokyo, LDP seat number 33. Twelve seats remain.

UPDATE, 11:49pm
— One more LDP seat, DPJ 58, LDP 32, thirteen left. Of those thirteen, nine are PR seats, one is in Fukui Prefecture, one is in Kagoshima Prefecture, one is in Tokyo, and one is in Kanagawa. In the single-member districts, the current balance is 23-4 in the DPJ's favor, with two remaining.

UPDATE, 11:38pm
— And another, now DPJ 58, LDP 31.

UPDATE, 11:36pm
— The DPJ defends a seat in Niigata, raising its total to 57. Fifteen seats left.

UPDATE, 11:32pm
— Another LDP win means the balance is now DPJ 56, LDP 31, sixteen seats left. NHK has been interviewing the party heads in rapid succession (Hatoyama and Kan have spoken for the DPJ, but still no sign of Ozawa). The party heads look uniformly exhausted, DPJ included. Kan and Hatoyama seem barely capable of showing any sign of exhilaration.

UPDATE, 11:24pm
— DPJ-backed independent Morita Takashi has won in Toyama Prefecture, another opposition win in a single-seat district. Seventeen seats left...

UPDATE, 11:20pm
— Komeito picks up its seventh seat, this one in Tokyo, leaving one more that will presumably (?) go to the LDP candidate. Imagine though, if the LDP is locked out of Tokyo after winning all but two of Tokyo's twenty-five Lower House seats in 2005 (one went to the DPJ's Kan Naoto, the other to a Komeito candidate).

UPDATE, 11:07pm
— While Hatoyama is interviewed, the screen shows that the DPJ has won in Saga Prefecture in Kyushu, raising its total to 56 seats, now with nineteen remaining.

UPDATE, 11:05pm
— Abe is being interviewed on NHK now. Same blank stare, apologetic phrasing — and now he's speaking of building a "new country" instead of a "beautiful country." (Apparently a country in which the opposition controls one house of the Diet is no longer fit to be called beautiful.)

UPDATE, 10:59pm
— One more LDP win, 30 to the DPJ's 55 with twenty seats left. (A number of the seats that remain too close to call are in Kyushu, and if the DPJ emerges triumphant there, then its victory will be total, having beaten the LDP resoundingly throughout the country.)

UPDATE, 10:43pm
Mainichi reports that LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa will, not surprisingly, be falling on his sword to protect the prime minister: "It is my responsibility as secretary-general. I want to apologize to the prime minister for all the results." Meanwhile, the LDP picks up two more, raising its total to 29 to the DPJ's 55, with twenty-one left.

UPDATE, 10:31pm
— Another upset in Chugoku: Kokumin Shinto candidate Kamei Akiko has defeated the veteran LDP incumbent Kageyama Shuntaro. This is Kokumin Shinto's first victory of the night, and adds another seat to the majority already won by the opposition. Twenty-three seats left...

UPDATE, 10:28pm
— NHK just showed footage of Ozawa Ichiro on the campaign trail, the first I think I've seen of Ozawa this evening. But now Abe is getting to speak at LDP headquarters; he's wearing the same blank, unblinking stare as Nakagawa, with perhaps the glint of a tear.

UPDATE, 10:23pm
— The LDP has lost each of Shikoku's four single-seat election districts, one better than my most optimistic prediction. The fourth winner was retired J-leaguer Tomochika Toshiro, running as an independent in Ehime.

UPDATE, 10:17pm
— Prime Minister Abe is at the dais at LDP headquarters, receiving modest applause as underlings indicate the locations of the party's latest victories and Abe places a rose next to each. (And Katayama, the loser in Okayama, has just apologized for his loss.)

UPDATE, 10:08pm
— Phrase of the night: "Tough conditions." [厳しい状況]

UPDATE, 10:05pm
— NHK reports that the balance in the single-seat districts is now 19-3 in favor of the DPJ. DPJ has now reached the upper limit of my predictions for the single-seat districts, with seven more to go. And LDP Upper House head Aoki has just described the situation in the single-seat districts as "extremely tough."

UPDATE, 10:02pm
— I kind of wish that NHK would cut over to Pyongyang to Kim Jong Il's Upper House election night party and show the Dear Leader doing a round of banzais every time a DPJ win is announced.

UPDATE, 9:51pm
— NHK calls Okayama for the DPJ's Himei Yumiko, who has apparently defeated LDP Upper House Secretary-General Katayama Toranosuke. I predicted that "If Katayama cannot hold onto his seat, the LDP is in major trouble." Major trouble, indeed. NHK has also called Nagasaki for the DPJ. DPJ 55, LDP 27, twenty-four seats left.

UPDATE, 9:48pm
— The DPJ adds one more, now 53 to the LDP's 27. Twenty-six remaining.

UPDATE, 9:45pm
— It looks like Yamamoto Ichita, the LDP incumbent in Gunma, may be the only LDP candidate who can sleep easy tonight, doubling up his rival with sixty percent of the vote tallied.

UPDATE, 9:43pm
— NHK reports that Prime Minister Abe has arrived at LDP headquarters. Cannot wait for that press conference...meanwhile, the LDP defends a seat in Osaka, meaning that with twenty-seven seats left, the DPJ has 52, the LDP 27.

UPDATE, 9:37pm
— An independent candidate in Tokyo picked up one of the five seats, raising the independent total to six. Twenty-eight remain to be called.

UPDATE, 9:35pm
— The LDP picks up another seat, one of the three in Kanagawa. DPJ 52, LDP 26, with twenty-nine seats left. Meanwhile, NHK is reviewing some of the seats yet to be called, showing excruciatingly close races in Okayama and Shimane. (And among the LDP losers is Tamura Kohei, who critized Abe for his "beautiful country" rhetoric.)

UPDATE, 9:19pm
— DPJ Secretary-General Hatoyama, meanwhile, looks shell-shocked. The history books will record this as a landslide for the DPJ, but the results make it look easier than it's been. And Komeito just picked up another seat, its sixth, leaving thirty seats left to be called.

UPDATE, 9:16pm
— Interview with Nakagawa Hidenao...his face is still frozen in that eerie blank stare. I mean, really, he's barely blinking.

UPDATE, 9:05pm
— The single-seat district balance is now 17-3 in the DPJ's favor.

UPDATE, 9:04pm
— NHK is currently at LDP headquarters, showing LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa sitting in front of a microphone with about as blank a stare as I have ever seen on his face. One more called for the DPJ, now 52 to 25, with another called for an independent. Now thirty-one seats remaining. The opposition parties now have 121 seats, the line of majority.

UPDATE, 8:58pm
— One more called for the DPJ, now 51 to the LDP's 25. Thirty-three left.

UPDATE, 8:56pm
— While waiting for more results, they're now showing the headquarters of Tani Hiroyuki, DPJ candidate in Tochigi, who has been declared the winner over LDP candidate Kunii Masayuki, a veteran norin zoku. I had expressed doubts about Tani's chances, although I noted his chances for an upset. It seems that the Japanese voters did indeed opt for a new era in Japanese politics.

UPDATE, 8:52pm
— Another called for the DPJ, DPJ 50, LDP 25, thirty-four to go. NHK is currently looking at results in Kanto, where the balance at this point is DPJ 12, LDP 3. Seems like a good sign that the urban appeal the LDP gained under Mr. Koizumi is gone.

UPDATE, 8:50pm
— Two more called for the DPJ, DPJ 49, LDP 25 with thirty-five seats still to be called.

UPDATE, 8:48pm
— Kyoto is called, not surprisingly splitting its two seats between the LDP and the DPJ. Thirty-seven left, DPJ 47, LDP 25.

UPDATE, 8:47pm
— Thirty-nine left now...DPJ 46, LDP 24.

UPDATE, 8:45pm
— Balance is 114 to 87 now, with forty-one seats left. DPJ 45, LDP 23.

UPDATE, 8:40pm
— Forty-four seats left, DPJ 43, LDP 22. Still waiting for most of the seats in three- and five-seat districts, and about half the single-seat districts. The current balance in single-seat districts is DPJ 12, LDP 3.

UPDATE, 8:38pm
— Forty-six seats left, DPJ 41, LDP 22. The opposition has 110 seats, the governing coaltion 86.

UPDATE, 8:35pm
— NHK gives 19 PR seats to the DPJ, 11 to the LDP, 5 to Komeito, 2 to the JCP, and 1 to the JSP.

8:30pm — The results for all but forty-seven seats have been called, and it's already shaping up to be a good night for the DPJ.

The results as of now: LDP 22 seats, DPJ 40 seats, Komeito 5 seats, JCP 2 seats, JSP 1 seats, Independents 4 seats.

NHK has also ran through the exit polling from each district and it looks as if the rural revolt went as planned, with the exit polls suggesting that the DPJ could pull off upsets deep in the heart of LDP country in Shikoku, Kyushu, and the Chugoku region of Honshu.

More soon as results come in...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Desperate to the end

The last day of campaigning is done, and tomorrow, Sunday, the voters will decide whether to punish the LDP and Komeito for the Abe cabinet's corruption, lapses, and policy failures and hand control of the Upper House of the Diet to the DPJ and other opposition parties.

(Find my predictions for the critical single-seat district campaigns here; my final notes here.)

I want to add an additional note on a theme that has emerged in the final week of the campaign. As election day has approached, the Abe cabinet's and its representatives have introduced foreign policy into the campaign in the form of North Korean policy. Perhaps not surprisingly, the LDP has borrowed a page from the 2004 Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, suggesting that an LDP defeat on Sunday will give comfort to Pyongyang. (Karl Rove keeping himself busy, perhaps?)

Here is Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki on the hustings in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture (from an Asahi article not online): "The most pleased with a loss in the election will be the DPJ. Perhaps number two will be North Korea. The abortion of the Abe line will send a mistaken message to North Korea." Shiozaki said something similar earlier this week, and Prime Minister Abe himself turned to the abductions issue as a basis for appealing to the voters. "If North Korea does not resolve this problem, it will not receive the acceptance of international society," he told voters in Ehime and Chiba prefectures. "We will, until the day that all abductees set foot on Japanese soil and are reunited with their families, strive to resolve this issue with an 'iron will.'"

Shiozaki's formulation — that voting against the LDP gives comfort to Japan's enemies — is particularly egregious, but the insertion of the abductions issue into the campaign at this late stage is a sign of LDP desperation in the face of what looks to be certain defeat and an indication of the extent to which the government has been on the defensive throughout the campaign. And I don't think it will work.

In fact, as AEI's Chris Griffin observes in an altogether sensible op-ed at the Washington Post, one reason why foreign policy is not a major point of contention in this election is that the differences between the LDP and the DPJ tend to be more a matter of degree than of kind. Unlike the differences between the LDP and the JSP during the cold war, when the JSP refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the US-Japan alliance and the constitutionality of the JSDF, the LDP and the DPJ largely agree on Japan's playing a more significant global role, with differing degrees of emphasis on the US versus the UN, for example. The overlap between the LDP and the DPJ also applies to North Korea and China policy, although the DPJ may not view the abductions issue in the same light that Prime Minister Abe does (discussed in this post).

Writes Griffin:
A vote against the LDP, however, is not a vote against the U.S.-Japan alliance. While many within the opposition party leadership may be skeptical of Abe's ambitions, they have chosen to focus the their campaign on such social issues as pension reform. So a defeat for Abe does not necessarily mean a repudiation of his agenda of constitutional reform and a stronger defense. And while Abe has made a stronger alliance a priority, both parties seek a healthy relationship with the United States.
(Griffin also questions the political wisdom of the timing of Congress's vote on the comfort women resolution, now scheduled for Monday, 30 July, even as he praises the resolution's "sentiments." Given that the vote will not be held until Tuesday Japan time, two days after the Upper House elections, I fail to see what the problem is. And if Japan has a problem with the vote being held so close to the elections, it has only itself to blame, given that at each step in the process Japanese officials and commentators have aggravated members of Congress, culminating in Ambassador Kato's letter to congressional leaders.)

Nevertheless, Sunday's election will not result in a drastic shift in policy, heightened rhetoric notwithstanding. If Abe survives, chastened, he will be ever more beholden to party leaders, not least among them former Prime Minister Mori — who took initial steps to placate the DPJ by appealing to the national interest, suggesting that there are many areas in which the DPJ and the LDP to cooperate following a DPJ victory, and that the parties should embrace a politics "for Japan." A chastened Abe more dependent on senior party leaders will be a more cautious Abe, ever more disinclined to pursue Koizumi-style structural reform. There will be efforts to calm rural voters, perhaps a new welfare initiative or two stemming from cooperation with the DPJ, and less talk of constitution revision, with the latter even more likely to vanish from the agenda in the event of Abe's being replaced by Fukuda or another less flashy candidate.

But it is an open question whether a cautious approach will be enough to calm the restive voters and undermine the momentum that the DPJ will take from the election in the event of an impressive victory.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Another sign of lingering Japanese war guilt

Following yesterday's finding that a plurality of respondents indicated that Japan still needs to apologize for its actions during the war, I have found, thanks to a tip from a trusted correspondent, a survey conducted by Fuji TV'sHodo 2001" program in April that suggests that the Japanese people are far from defiant when it comes to making amends for Japan's wartime crimes.

If readers go to the Hodo 2001 site's public opinion survey archive and scroll down to the poll from 8 April, they will find an opinion poll that shows that the Japanese people are not exactly rallying behind The Facts brigade (and let's not forget the honorary representative from the English-language blogosphere).

The third question in the survey asked, "Regarding the comfort women issue, do you think that Japan has apologized sufficiently?" 43.8% answered no, 37.2% answered yes. (Beyond that, a majority answered "no" to the question asking whether Prime Minister Abe should pray at Yasukuni.)

At the same time, the survey found that 59% of respondents "cannot understand" the repeated criticism by Chinese and South Korean leaders of the various statements made by Japanese politicians about history problems, which goes to show, I think, that historical reconciliation begins at home; there is a limit to what efforts to improve acceptance of past crimes emanating from outside Japan can achieve, which is not to say that others should abstain from good-faith criticism of the revisionists, relativists, and deniers, but it must be done with the knowledge that ultimately the Japanese people have to do the job themselves.

Into the home stretch

The campaign is in its final days, the headlines continue to point to a disastrous loss for the LDP and suggest that even Komeito might lose a couple seats — and yet even if the DPJ wins, the outcome and consequences of the election are far from clear.

First, though, just some thoughts about how many seats the LDP might come away with: at a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan last night, Futatsuki Hirotaka suggested that the LDP could win as few as five of the twenty-nine single-seat district elections, which, if you'll recall, is half my worst-case scenario prediction of ten. Toshikawa Takao of Tokyo Insideline, meanwhile, suggested that it is a real possibility that the LDP could win fewer than forty seats. Mainichi reports today that forty may be the line beyond which Prime Minister Abe will find it impossible to hold power.

At the same time, there has been some discussion of the LDP's "voiding" the election results procedurally by combining its Upper House caucus with Komeito's to ensure that the governing coalition would remain the largest single "party" in the Upper House, giving them the right to choose the head of the Upper House and thus wield power over the agenda. (The prevailing arrangement is that the largest caucus chooses the head, the second largest the deputy.) That said, if Asahi's latest prediction that the LDP and Komeito will win only a combined forty-eight seats to the DPJ's fifty-eight is accurate, with the DPJ having a greater number of Upper House members not up for reelection this year, that procedural "coup" would be impossible, just barely.

At the same time, however, I cannot help but wonder what will happen if the LDP somehow manages forty-five seats — undoubtedly after weeks of bleak news, that result would be spun as a major victory for the prime minister (and it would make the above procedural move possible, if the LDP was willing to risk public opprobrium for undermining the results of Sunday's vote).

If, however, the worst-case scenario occurs and the LDP wins fewer than forty — or even thirty-five seats — Abe will be finished, with Mori Yoshiro, former prime minister and current LDP kuromaku, acting as the executioner. (Mori, according to Jiji, has just predicted a dissolution of the Lower House in the event of a DPJ victory, due to the government's inability to pass legislation.) The panelists at the FCCJ last night, talking about possible successors, suggested that the LDP would unite quickly behind a mild, low-profile candidate who would be able to avoid the verbal gaffes and missteps of the Abe Cabinet, in other words, the party is unlikely to turn to Foreign Minister Aso (Toshikawa suggested that it might be Fukuda Yasuo's turn).

And what of the DPJ? There was plenty of skeptical talk last night about the DPJ, which remains riven with divisions and, in the words of Temple University Japan's Jeff Kingston in this FT article on Ozawa, "The DPJ is a party just waiting to unravel." If a Lower House dissolution and election in the spring looks to be increasingly likely, will the DPJ jettison Ozawa and opt for another leader to serve as a potential prime minister? Will the LDP push legislation that plays upon the divisions within the DPJ in an attempt to entice the more conservative wing of the party into secession? I think we can be certain of the latter, especially with the Yanai panel's recommendations on collective self-defense set to be discussed in the fall.

The one thing to keep in mind is that this drama is going to take weeks, even months to play out, with Prime Minister Abe potentially lingering on into September, until after the APEC summit in Australia.

What is interesting is how the sureties of the Japanese political system have collapsed. The LDP is facing open rebellion in the countryside that could claim the careers of even the most senior LDP candidates up for reelection. What is happening, it seems, is that pent-up outrage at the consequences of Koizumi's structural reforms has coalesced thanks in part to the pensions scandal, which seems to be playing the role of the proverbial last straw on the overladen backs of Japan's rural voters. (Structural reform: too incomplete to satisfy urban voters, complete enough to harm rural Japan.)

As a result, Ozawa's strategy of taking advantage of rural discontent means less emphasis on the kinds of policies designed to appeal to urban floating voters usually drawn to vote for the opposition.

It is hard to believe, however, that the rural desertion of the LDP will be a permanent change; undoubtedly the party's leadership will get the message, some heads will roll, and the LDP will have drawn the farmers back to the fold in time for the next Lower House election. At the same time, however, if the LDP responds with an orgy of pork-barrel politics, it may seal its doom in the medium and long term, driving urban voters more firmly into the arms of the DPJ. Whatever the case may be, it seems that the status quo is highly unstable, and Sunday may likely prove to be the catalyst for a series of changes that redraws political boundaries and new partisan divisions.

Don't panic

Pollster Karlyn Bowman, writing at American.com, presents data on Japanese public opinion drawn from a variety of recent surveys (mostly old Pew Global Attitudes polls).

The overall picture — Japanese are generally pleased with relations with the US, displeased about the rise of China — is not altogether surprising, although some findings were unexpected.

First, in response to the question "Do you believe globalization, especially the increasing connection of our economy with others around the world, is...," 92% of respondents said it was "mostly good for Japan" and only 8% "mostly bad." In comparison, only 60% of Americans respondents said it was "mostly good" for the US, with 35% saying "mostly bad." I suspect that this discrepancy says more about the comparative intensity of globalization in the US and Japan than about what Japanese people actually think about globalization. After all, when it comes to things like, say, foreign direct investment in the form of foreign ownership of Japanese firms, the Japanese don't seem all that thrilled about the greater economic openness that globalization entails. Accordingly, if and when Japan actually globalizes, I would expect more Japanese to feel that it is "mostly bad."

Second, asked whether "Japan has apologized sufficiently for its military actions in the 1930s and 1940s," 44% of respondents said "has not," 40% said "has." Hey, Ampontan, look: even Japanese think that Japan has more apologizing to do. Perhaps Congress is not altogether out of line — and not just engaging in "vainglorious moral preening" — in asking for another Japanese apology.

Admittedly, these poll numbers aren't the freshest, and I have to imagine there would be some changes in light of recent events. Nevertheless, they show that basically, fundamentally, relations between the US and Japan are sound, whatever temporary vacillations come along.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

F-22 as a totem for China hawks

The F-22 issue continues to smolder, it seems, as Japan eyes the next-generation stealth fighter hungrily.

The US Congress, however, has just passed the 2008 defense budget, which retains the Obey Amendment's prohibition on the export of the F-22.

Will this be the end of Tokyo's lobbying to get the prohibition lifted in time for Japan to name the F-22 as Japan's next air superiority fighter by the budget request scheduled for the summer of 2008?

I would be surprised if the Japanese government used this occasion to start shopping around for an alternative. The problem is not just Japan's apparent obsession with having the very best fighter in the world, but a kind of unthinking attitude among American supporters of the US-Japan alliance, who see the alliance as explicitly designed to contain China to the exclusion of all other roles and bilateral issues. Anything that improves the alliance's ability to resist China is unquestionably good, and should be done.

One example of this view can be found at Commentary's Contentions blog, where Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, writes, "Not only do the Japanese need to buy them, we have a compelling need to sell them." For Chang, it's really that simple. There's no mention of Japan's questionable ability to defend military secrets, no mention of the thorny issues that have long dogged US-Japan cooperation on the development and procurement of arms, no mention of doubts about whether Japan can afford the F-22, and no mention of whether the delicate, high-tech F-22 is actually the best choice for Japan's needs. The F-22, Chang informs us, was designed "to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters." Guess who has Su-27s? Ergo, Japan should have the plane designed to combat them. To Chang, it really is that simple.

I'm not saying that there aren't any good arguments for selling Japan F-22s — the Congressional Research Service report mentioned in this post outlines the pros and cons of Japan's acquiring the F-22 — but the matter must be considered soundly, with careful consideration of whether Japan might not be better off buying more of a different, less expensive fighter that will be more durable. And we should be questioning hyperbolic claims like Chang's that "We should arm allies that will fight on our side in the event of a large-scale conflict in Asia, which is increasingly likely."

Increasingly likely? Really? I look at Asia and I see the diminishing potential for conflict (discussed here), in spite of the ongoing arms buildup across the region. The potential obviously hasn't vanished entirely, but there is a certain appreciation across the region — not least among US military authorities at Pacific Command in Hawaii — that the security environment requires calm, steady management by the region's great powers with concurrent measures for political and economic cooperation.

Accordingly, the US decision on the F-22 should be made in light of these conditions, not based on some apocalyptic fantasy of a "large-scale conflict" to come.

To my readers

I want to take this opportunity to inform you that as of the end of July and the Upper House elections I will become a former aide to a member of the Japanese Diet.

What will I be doing next, you ask?

From August on, I am going to try my hand at life as an independent researcher, analyst, and writer here in Tokyo.

My posting will be unaffected; if anything, you will be hearing from me more often.

In light of this, I want to inform you all that I will be looking for projects. If any of you are in need of someone to conduct research, analyze political developments in Japan, or translate documents, please contact me at observingjapan@gmail.com. I will be happy to answer your questions and provide further information.

For those of you in the US, I will be in Chicago and New York in early August in case you want to meet in person or speak over the phone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Abe after the election

With the government still defiantly rejecting suggestions that Prime Minister Abe should take responsibility for a major defeat in Sunday's election — a debate that is about as clear as a sign one can get of the LDP giving up and perhaps praying for rain (or a heat wave) — I cannot help but wonder what exactly the basis for Abe's government will be, beyond the super-majority inherited from Koizumi.

Let's review the facts. His personal approval rating and the approval rating of his cabinet has dipped under 30%, with negative ratings over 50%. The discontent can be found in nearly all demographic categories. While the cabinet shuffle that is almost guaranteed may alter those figures somewhat, especially if the new cabinet were to have a decidedly more Koizumian flavor, there is little reason to suspect that Abe will ever be able to recover the confidence of the Japanese people, especially if Sunday results in an overwhelming landslide for the opposition.

In fact, what I conclude from this opinion poll posted at What Japan Thinks is that the Japanese people, younger Japanese especially, not only have fond recollections of former Prime Minister Koizumi, but they are hungry for a politician genuinely capable of overcoming of reforging the political system — among the ten most highly rated politicians (given a free choice), nearly all of them are figures who have been outspoken mavericks or otherwise built or tried to build new political systems. (Koizumi was overwhelmingly the most popular, receiving 18%, with Aso Taro surprisingly coming in second with 5%.) Meanwhile, the poll finds that the quality most desired in a politician is "the ability to get things done." The pattern established by Prime Minister Abe since taking office does not fit this mold by any means, despite his frequently stated desire to leave the postwar regime behind. He evidently lacks the political judgment, the courage, and the "common touch" required to become a popularly acclaimed systems builder, preferring superficial reforms and symbolic gestures to the tough decisions about Japan's future that would actually constitute a break from the past.

But in addition to losing the confidence of the public, what kind of support within the LDP will Abe take from this election? Will the party barons — and the backbenchers — continue to support a loser, even one whose ideas they share? With Koizumi reemerging on the hustings, I have to wonder whether he might be the greatest beneficiary from the looming disaster. In recent days, it seems that kaikaku (reform) is once again being heard on the lips of Abe Shinzo. Reform — not revision, not ending the postwar regime. On a trip to Tohoku on Tuesday, Abe declared to voters, "The DPJ cannot reform at all. To execute reform, it's the LDP." If Koizumi's help actually manages to soften the blow suffered by the government, it seems reasonable to expect that Koizumi and his followers will emerge from the election strengthened within the LDP — which would no doubt raise the hackles of his enemies within the party, who would begin to wonder whether they can rely on Prime Minister Abe as a buffer from the return of "Koizumism" (or, as seems more plausible now than before, the return of the man himself).

In any case, it's hard to see the LDP not falling into disarray in the aftermath of this election, a new struggle for the soul of the party. If the worst-case scenario comes to pass and the LDP loses big even in once-reliable strongholds in western Japan, Koizumi's hand will undoubtedly be strengthened even more, as his argument on the need to modernize and urbanize the LDP will have new life ("We cannot even rely on the countryside anymore").

In the midst of all this, what will Abe do? Will he begin to tack to the Koizumi line, rediscover the value of structural reform and shift his agenda accordingly (whether rhetorically or substantively)? Or will he revert to the pre-campaign policy of distancing himself from Koizumi? It is difficult to see him lasting another year if he decides to maintain his distance. Does he recognize that, or perhaps more accurately, do the people whispering in his ear, the ubiquitous Abe shuhen, recognize that? And if Abe decides to make his cabinet into a de facto extension of the Koizumi Cabinet, will the bandied-about political realignment occur? Or, on the other hand, could the now slightly more realistic prospect of being forced into opposition for only the second time ever be enough to bring the party's leaders to see reason and prevent a civil war?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but they show that however much control Abe had over the LDP in the first ten months of his premiership, it will not survive past Sunday. If he survives as prime minister, it will be because of decisions made by others. He is bloodied, perhaps unbowed — but no longer the master of his fate.

Democracy is the issue

The DPJ appears to be advancing on all fronts, pushing hard even in "conservative kingdoms" like Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu, the surprisingly competitive election in Kagoshima being the subject of an article in today's Yomiuri (surprise! not online).

If the campaign continues this way until Sunday, even my worst-case scenario prediction will likely miss high.

Not surprisingly, Abe's cronies have taken to repeating the party line that since, in the words of Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki, "the Upper House election is not an election for choosing the cabinet," there should be no discussion of Prime Minister Abe's taking responsibility for a defeat by resigning.

Meanwhile, the signs of LDP desperation continue to mount. There are proliferating reports of Koizumi sightings in closely contested prefectures, most recently in Kagoshima on Monday, where he told the crowd that Abe should not take the blame for the pensions scandal, which is the fault of the bureaucrats at the Social Insurance Agency. Will Koizumi's presence be enough to make voters forget their rage at the present government, even as that government and its prime minister have failed to embrace the ideas that helped make Koizumi appealing in the first place? (Bill Emmott's column in Asahi this week addresses this idea, and suggests that it will be a positive step for Japanese democracy if the voters punish Abe for his disregard for their interests.)

And will Koizumi's presence help to retain the female vote for the LDP? David Pilling's latest article in the FT addresses Japan's female voters, who comprise a majority of the electorate. He suggests that women who were drawn to the LDP by Koizumi are ready to abandon it just as quickly, although it is unclear which party that will be abandoning it for, with the DPJ also unpopular among women.

Meanwhile, in recent days one has heard greater emphasis from the DPJ on the danger to Japanese democracy posed by the Abe Cabinet having both a Lower House super-majority and control of the Upper House. The idea of this election being about not only the pensions and other bread-and-butter issues, but the very nature of Japanese democracy is an important one, and the DPJ is right to stress it. If Japan is ever to become a proper liberal democracy, checks on the untrammeled power of executive, ruling party, and bureaucracy are essential — formal, legal checks backed with enforcement power, and not informal arrangements that give opposition some say over the drafting of legislation in the Diet but few other means to hold the government accountable for malfeasance, corruption, and policy failures. (As I've suggested before, Transparency International's report on Japan's national integrity system is an excellent place to start.) But divided government and the regular alternation of parties are only important first steps on the road to accountable, even liberal government.

To continue my thread on Japanese democracy and Mr. Abe's curious ideas about government, the danger of the Abe "color," to use the newspaper term, is that it has no particular respect for the importance of democracy as a process, a means to ensure that the concerns of the people are brought to the attention of the government, that the actions of the government are presented to and judged by the people, and that the government has the people's confidence in implementing policies that affect millions. Policy is all that matters, because Abe, the Nakagawas, and so forth are convinced that they have all the answers for Japan's future. If one has all the answers, why bother with elections and democratic processes? Democracy demands that a politician accept the possibility that he might be wrong, or at the very least accept the idea that other people might have a different but equally valid perspective. At no point while reading Prime Minister Abe's book or following the ten months of the Abe cabinet have I felt that the prime minister has made this fundamental democratic "concession."

The content of policy is, of course, important, but no policy, even policy essential for the future of Japan, is worth the price of the degradation of democracy.

And so the DPJ victory on Sunday may not have all that much impact on policy, but it will hinder the ability of the government to use its Lower House super-majority as a bludgeon, which will amount to a victory for democracy as a process — and that in itself is crucial.

Monday, July 23, 2007

More bad news for the LDP?

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has issued statistics regarding early voting for Sunday's Upper House elections.

The ministry's report found that early voting is up more than 50% from 2004, rising from approximately 260,000 votes to nearly 400,00 votes, with higher tallies recorded in every prefecture except Miyazaki and Kochi.

Mainichi concludes that the increase reflects heightened public interest in the Upper House elections.

It is tempting to conclude that this is a sign that turnout will be high this Sunday, signaling a desire among voters to show up and vote against the government. But there is a question mark in the title of this post because this could be a product of the decision to schedule the election in the midst of summer holidays — voters who would vote anyway on election day casting an early ballot before going on a vacation rather than an omen of a high participation rate on election day. It's entirely plausible that the big rise in early voting could mean relatively depressed figures on Sunday.

Nevertheless, with less than a week before the election, the DPJ is in good shape, with some polls showing that the LDP might finish at the lower end of the range of my own predictions. The LDP's stump speeches seem to be getting more desperate by the day, too.

Here's LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao in Tokushima: "Since we have had only ten months up to now, the speed of reform has proceeded faster than in Koizumi-san's time." From actively trying to distance the Abe government from its predecessor to arguing that Abe-san is even more keen on reform than Koizumi — just look at how fast he's going!

Nakagawa followed up that whopper with this brilliant pitch, delivered at the site of the first performance of Beethoven's Ode to Joy: "For Japan to become a country of joy, we by all means want to win!"

Goodbye utsukushii Nihon, hello kanki no Nihon.

Missing the point on Japan's normalization

Using the occasion of Japanese Air Self-Defense Force pilots participating in live-bombing exercises with the US in the Marianas, Norimitsu Onishi of the New York Times has a prominently featured article in today's edition (also on the front page, top of the fold of today's IHT) on Japan's shedding "military restraints."

The NYT website also features a short documentary called Rearming Japan.

In general, Onishi's article provides a fair summary of the contours of the debate, taking care to note, for example, that Japan, while ranking high on annual league tables of defense expenditures, has actually been letting its defense budget stagnate over the past decade.

And yet there are a few things that bear noting about this article.

First, Onishi premises the problematic nature of Japanese normalization on its "rattling nerves throughout northeast Asia." And yet the only example Onishi provides to support this is South Korea's recent launching of its first Aegis cruiser and President Roh's comments about an arms race in the region. It seems that if concerns about Japanese normalization are so prevalent, Onishi might have been able to muster a few more examples to show it. (Devin Stewart at Fairer Globalization notes that if Onishi had talked to Southeast Asians, he would have found them more supportive of a more active Japanese security policy.)

Second, and this is a far more substantial problem, Onishi's article and the companion video are lacking in context, both in terms of history and Japanese politics. Regarding the former, Japanese militarism was a product of political developments in Japan occurring at a given moment in history, when colonization and aggression were the hallmarks of great-power status. Just because Japan's ultra-nationalists make this argument does not make it untrue (but it also does not excuse what Japan did). The idea that Japan is going to invade China again, mentioned by one of the interview subjects in the film, is ludicrous and divorced from the facts. With its stagnant defense budget that increasingly emphasizes high-technology air and sea platforms over the GSDF, which according to recent planning documents is set to see its numbers fall, the JSDF may have a hard time helping at the Snow Festival in Hokkaido, let alone invading China.

In terms of the domestic political context, while Onishi gets the change within the LDP right, thanks to an assist from Richard Samuels, he misses the far more significant domestic political change: the ousting of the Socialists from their position as the leading opposition party, the destruction of the Japanese left more generally, and the rise of the Democratic Party of Japan. He quotes DPJ Secretary-General Hatoyama Yukio criticizing the government for violating the constitution in its activities in Iraq, but he misleadingly fails to mention that Hatoyama and his party are less concerned about Japan's playing a more active role than they are concerned about Japan's becoming to close to the US, which they feel has become dangerously aggressive. The DPJ's critique, in general, is not a pacifist one by any means, although former Socialists in its ranks still stand by that position. Rather, the DPJ rejects the argument made by former JDA chief Ishiba Shigeru in this article: "I think the Japan-U.S. security relationship should be as unified as possible, and our different roles need to be made clear."

The DPJ, perhaps because opposition affords it the luxury of taking positions that could be more difficult to adopt in government, has emphasized Japan's need for more independence from the US (I discussed one particularly articulate discussion of this here).

In other words, the debate is far more interesting than Onishi notes — it is by no means simply a matter of pacifists versus nationalists.

This raises the larger question, addressed by Samuels and J. Patrick Boyd in the monograph discussed in this post, of why Japan tied its own hands in security policy in the first place. As they argue convincingly, it was a matter of the political balance within the LDP, with the pragmatic mainstreamers, who favored the Yoshida line, receiving assistance from the political opposition and public opinion in their fight against the LDP's revisionists. But they sought limits not out of pacifism, but because it made good strategic sense. In other words, to adapt a Marxist concept, Japan's postwar pacifism may well have been the superstructure that served as a more presentable face for the substructure, Japan's assessment of its postwar interests as enshrined in the Yoshida doctrine.

With Japan's interests changing as the balance of power in East Asia shifts, it is to be expected that Japan would reconsider its interests in the new era and adjust its grand strategy and defense priorities accordingly. The rise of the nationalist revisionists is one aspect of that, but their rise has been accompanied by the collapse of the left and the emergence of a political opposition that is also interested in seeing Japan's grand strategy change. It may be useful to think of the situation once again as a matter of superstructure and substructure. Today, the superstructure of Japanese normalization is provided by Japan's ultra-nationalists, who never cease cranking out material that leads Japan's neighbors (and ally) to question normalization. The substructure, meanwhile, is once again shaped by a realistic assessments of Japan's interests, threats, and opportunities. Having talked with enough officials in MOFA and the Japanese Ministry of Defense, as well as members of the Diet from both the LDP and the DPJ, it is clear that there are enough important policy makers in Tokyo who don't buy the rhetoric of the ultra-nationalists even as they acknowledge that Japan needs a new doctrine that reflects contemporary realities and may require Japan's acting as a security provider.

In light of these considerations, one has to ask why the NYT thinks this article is so important as to merit page-one coverage.

Is Japan really poised to threaten its neighbors anytime soon, if ever? Is Japan truly ready to follow the US into combat in the "arc of instability" (and refueling in the Indian Ocean, as important a mission as its been, does not count)? Is Japan really even close to possessing even a conventional deterrent in its showdown with North Korea? These are the questions one must keep in mind while reading this article. As unnerving as Japan's ultra-nationalists are, for the moment they are still more of a menace, if that, to the Japanese polity than to Japan's neighbors (see earlier posts on Abe here and here, and Sakurai Yoshiko and the ultra-nationalists more generally here).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Brave old world

Robert Kagan has come out with a new essay that is decidedly less revolutionary than his earlier "Of Power and Paradise," which captured the mood of the 2003 transatlantic feud.

In this new essay in Policy Review, Kagan comes to a realization about the nature of American power and world order that others have been arguing for years: the US, for all its power, has limited power to transform anything, and that calling the international system "unipolar" obscures more than it reveals. The only reason that this is worth calling attention to is that Kagan, of course, is a leading neo-conservative (as is this blog's policy, I use this term descriptively, not pejoratively). He has been a prominent advocate of the use of American power to promote democratization, but in this essay it seems he recognizes that American power has limits after all — and so perhaps 9/11 did not change everything after all, revealing instead the limits on America's ability to transform the world, which had been casually assumed during the 1990s.

To describe the world has he sees it, Kagan borrows a concept from the Chinese: one superpower, many great powers. The US remains, and will remain for decades to come, the single strongest power in the world on the basis of its economic dynamism and military strength (which is unlikely to change given US defense spending, and R & D as a portion of US defense spending). But the global system in which the US appears predominant is more a patchwork of regional systems and balances, with the US alone having a stake in all or most of them, often as an external balancer and maintainer of stability. The Bush administration's policy in the Middle East explicitly departed from a balancing role in the region, disastrously, and seems determined to backtrack and restore some semblance of balance after deliberately overturning it. But the US role is broad but shallow: "Predominance is not the same thing as omnipotence. Just because the United States has more power than everyone else does not mean it can impose its will on everyone else."

For all this, I find it odd that the Japanese government has ramped up its emphasis on the idealistic side of its alliance with the US, at the same time that Washington has been playing down its emphasis on values, democratization, human rights and the like. While the latter will always be a part of US foreign policy, they will clearly be stressed less in the coming years. Rather it should be the "public goods" aspect of the alliance that should be emphasized, because that is what the US brings to the Asia-Pacific; the value of the alliance is based on whether and how it contributes to providing a public goods, foremost among them stability, to the region.

UPDATE: Readers should be aware that I'm not recommending this essay because it's particularly interesting or novel — far from it. In fact, if it had been written by anyone else I would not have bothered to look at it. But when a prominent proponent of the use of American power to promote American values reconsiders and suggests that there may, in fact, be limits to what the US can hope to achieve and that it will have the face the reality of a more competitive international system, I think it is worth noting. In fact, the questions that ought to be asked are why it took someone like Kagan so long to come around to this position, and whether any of his compatriots (and family members) share his epiphany.

A journey to the center of Mr. Abe

I mentioned earlier that I was in the process of reading Prime Minister Abe's Utsukushii Kuni e [Towards a beautiful country], the book he published in advance of last autumn's LDP presidential election and that was a popular seller after his inauguration as the Japanese people tried to figure out just who their new prime minister is.

Well, I've finished my slog through it, and I cannot deny that for all the interminably boring bits — and there were plenty — it was an incredibly useful book to read.

This books reads like the prime minister's stream-of-consciousness. He jumps from topic to topic, draws on memories at random, and refers to recent Hollywood movies (Terminal, Million Dollar Baby) and American and British politicians and political events (Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Arthur Greenwood, Ronald Reagan, the Iran hostage crisis, among others) to make his points. There are chapter and section headings, but they tend to be of a general nature, giving Mr. Abe's mind plenty of room to wander. One might argue that referencing Hollywood movies was an attempt by the prime minister to seem more a man of the people, but the references (and plot summaries) are labored and don't add anything to the text — they certainly struck me as strange. All of this makes for a bizarre book, certainly not the kind of book one would expect from a man on the brink of being chosen as the leader of a world power (the same probably goes for Foreign Minister Aso's new book).

Having said that, I want to make a couple more serious points about the content of the book, to add to those I've made on previous occasions.

First, Abe's view of the state is deeply unsettling. He references Hobbes's Leviathan to make the case for a strong state that is capable of securing the lives and property of its citizens. But aside from a offhand remark about Kant to dismiss his ideas, his view of the state stops with Hobbes. It's almost as if he was in a class on political theory, paid close attention at the start ("this Hobbes guy is great"), missed a couple weeks, poked his nose in for Kant, didn't like him, and decided to cut the rest of the semester. No Locke, nothing about the American founders except to praise them for building a strong state via the constitution and note the importance of the Declaration of Independence to Americans, no Rousseau, no French Revolution, no Mill — you get the idea.

It's one thing to not bother paying tribute to Western political theory, but to cherry pick from the Western political tradition, borrowing from a seventeenth century thinker whose society was actually in dire need of a leviathan around the time he was writing, is revealing. To Abe, the state's duty to protect its citizens is all-important. To him, the central dilemma of modern Western political philosophy — the search for a balance between liberty and security — does not exist. What matters is security. And so there is no compromising over North Korea's abductions of Japanese citizens. And there is little tolerance for dissenting opinions. Abe seems to have little tolerance or understanding for those who view the world differently than him (and his grandfather), castigating journalists and liberal academics at one point or another for their views. While he claims that to defend Japan is to defend "liberty and democracy," he does not spend all that much time talking about what those mean to him and to Japan.

In all honesty, Abe would probably fit right in at the Bush-Cheney White House.

Take this line, for example: "The state and the people should not have a conflictual relationship, they should have a complementary relationship." I find this line revealing not only concerning Abe's political views (he takes the idea of the emperor as the symbol of this relationship seriously), but also concerning the political development of Japan. This idea strikes my American ears as unusual, and I think it would find a mixed reception throughout the West, even in relatively more statist continental Europe. While the US probably goes too far in the direction of anti-statism, the basic idea of the state and its agents and representatives serving the people and being held accountable by the people (necessarily conflictual, no?) is fundamental to American (and liberal) political thought.

Abe rejects that, however. The divide is not a divide — not governed and government, but state and people living in dynamic unity. There is nothing about how democracy squares with this vision of the state, but I can imagine based on what Abe has said and done since becoming prime minister. Just yesterday LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao provided the perfect expression to illustrate Abe's political thought:
President Ozawa says, "We will bring about the reversal of government and opposition parties and a two-major-party system, and establish democracy in Japan." Whichever country, whatever era is he talking about? He probably bears a grudge to the LDP. The goal of politics is not the reversal of government and opposition parties and a two-major-party system. What kind of Japan to build is most important. Democracy is not established? Democracy is established in Japan.
I wrote back in January, after the prime minister's speech to open the new Diet session, that Prime Minister Abe fancies himself some kind of twenty-first century genro, a statesman rising above low, democratic politics and plotting the course of the ship of state for the next 50 to 100 years. There is nothing in his book to dispel that impression.

Meanwhile something he wrote about the LDP caught my eye, because it pertains to Japan's alliance with the US. He suggests that the two reasons for the union between the Liberal and Democratic parties to form the LDP, a union engineered by his grandfather, were to achieve high economic growth rates and to restore Japan's independence, with revising the occupation-era constitution and education law being key aims for the restoration of Japan's independence. To Prime Minister Abe, Japan is only de jure independent because it still is governed by a constitution drafted by foreign, by American hands. In other words, the occupation never ended.

He later gets around to dedicating a whole chapter to the "Composition of the US-Japan alliance," but spends a good chunk of it talking about the drafting of the constitution by SCAP, and then talking about how Japan should be able to act more assertively abroad — but not necessarily in cooperation with the US. Here's what the prime minister has to see about his country's relationship with the US:
While it goes without saying that the utmost self-help effort for the security of the homeland, the fight to "defend one's own country oneself," is essential, if one thinks about nuclear deterrence and the stability of the Far Eastern region, the alliance with the US is indispensable, and if one takes into account US influence in international society, its economic power, and its unsurpassed military power, the US-Japan alliance is the best choice.

Moreover, I must clarify the point that today, the US and Japan share the basic viewpoint of liberty and democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and freely competitive market economics. This is a common understanding among the world's liberal countries.
While that statement seems fairly innocuous as rhetoric about the US-Japan alliance goes, it needs to be unpacked, because what seems like a fairly confident statement of support of the alliance with the US is actually quite brittle. The key is the idea of the alliance as a "choice." Obviously in mundane legal terms, the alliance is the product of the 1960 treaty, approved by both countries' legislatures without coercion, whatever the controversy in Japan surrounding the treaty. But in practical terms, it is not often that one hears Japanese or American statesmen speak about the alliance as a "choice," subject to prevailing conditions — if those conditions change, a different choice could be made. One wonders what would happen if the US no longer appears to be the best choice, as it may already be becoming (see Nakanishi Terumasa in the July issue of Voice). What happens if the US can no longer be relied upon the provide nuclear deterrence and/or stability in the Far East (note that stability is a flexible term that could mean very different things to Washington and Tokyo)?

The second paragraph, meanwhile, contradicts the first in a way. If the alliance is a choice — the product of US predominance that makes alliance profitable for Japan — then why even bother talking about shared values? The first paragraph makes clear that the alliance is not, in fact, indispensable; it is indispensable only in prevailing conditions. Talking about shared values suggests something enduring, like, say, the US-UK relationship, which, whatever the vacillations from administration to administration and cabinet to cabinet, is about as enduring a feature of international relations as one can find. A British prime minister might discuss his government's priorities (Brussels vs. Washington), but to talk about the alliance with the US as a "choice" suited to the circumstances would sound ridiculous.

No, Abe's clarification about shared values of "liberty and democracy" — a phrase that Abe seems to use frequently in lists without ever bothering to define, as if the definitions of these concepts are crystal clear — seems to me more like window dressing than a new basis for the alliance, as the subsequent paragraph makes clear:
Then, what should we defend? It goes without saying, the independence of the state, namely the sovereignty of the state and the peace that we enjoy. Practically speaking, our lives and property, and our liberty and human rights. Of course, the culture, tradition, and history of we Japanese can be included among these things that should be protected...
At no point in this paragraph is it clear that he is talking about "we" as the US and Japan. The first "we" could be the alliance, the second just "we Japanese," — or else both could be applying to "we Japanese," with the second used for emphasis. Whatever the case, it strikes me as ambiguous, and this list of security interests does not necessarily seem dependent on the alliance, depending on who or what is threatening a given interest.

Now, mind you, I have no problem with Japan acting more independently to secure its interests, within the alliance if possible, without if absolutely necessary. What I reject is achieving more independence by subterfuge and deception. Instead of pretending to be the good ally while using closer alliance ties as a way to prep Japan for a more independent role, the Japanese government, if it in fact desires a new arrangement, ought to be more forthright about it.

Those are my most important responses to Mr. Abe's little book. If you have the time and the inclination, it's worth a read, even with his premiership on the ropes. (Indeed, the prime minister might not be in power by the time the English translation appears in the fall.)