Friday, August 31, 2007

Bush talks sense on China

This week is the 2007 APEC summit in Sydney, and in advance of the week-long summitry, President Bush has been talking Asia — and saying the right things.

In a round table discussion with foreign journalists (hat tip: The Swamp), Mr. Bush spoke of the "complex relationship" between the US and China, but also noted, "...I view China as a positive opportunity." He did not hesitate to mention the economic friction or US concerns about human rights, but the overall picture suggests that as the Bush administration wanes, it increasingly recognizes the importance of China as a partner in the Asia-Pacific region, the single most important bilateral relationship in the region, judging by the time spent talking about it in this press conference. The days of Ambassador Mansfield's bar-none ranch are long gone.

Compare the above interview with an interview Mr. Bush had with NHK's Okushi Kensuke. The NHK interview focused on a couple of bilateral issues — the anti-terror special measures law and the six-party talks — before turning to US policy in Iraq. Both of the above-mentioned issues are trust issues: Washington's (overblown) concerns about the reliability of Japan's commitment to participate in Afghanistan, Tokyo's concerns about being abandoned in the six-party talks (and regarding Afghanistan, fears that the US security guarantee will weaken if Japan doesn't demonstrate its loyalty by contributing to US-led campaigns). The Sino-US relationship, for all the friction and feuding, is a relationship whose concerns are regional and global in scale. The US-Japan relationship, for all its significance for both countries, often amounts to the US doing heavy lifting for Japan on various security issues and occasionally cajoling Japan on trade and monetary issues.

When Mr. Bush meets with Hu Jintao, the agreements reached and decisions made have the potential to be hugely significant for the region, but can one say the same about the outcomes of the meeting between President Bush meets Prime Minister Abe this week?

This isn't to say that the US-Japan relationship is irrelevant or that the US and China are prepared to run the region in a sort of bilateral concert, but it does suggest that the US is increasingly seeing Asia policy through the prism of China policy (as opposed to seeing it through the prism of Japan policy), and that the value of a bilateral relationship to the US will increasingly be the value it has in contributing to "stability" (read a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with China).

Abe's new role

Mr. Abe commented about constitution revision in an answer at a press conference at the Kantei on Thursday.

"For these three years, my thinking is unchanged that we must, together with the people, have a wide and deep debate about the new constitution."

This was reported in a minute article on pg. 4 of Yomiuri, together with a cartoon that portrayed a shell-shocked and disheveled Mr. Abe emerging from the wreck of building labeled "Upper House election" clutching a placard labeled "constitution revision" to his breast. The caption reads, "Only this is always carried?"

And that's how it feels. After the ideological excesses of the first Abe Cabinet — and the reaction that was the Upper House election — the old slogans just don't seem all that relevant. This seems to be the basis for a new division of labor in the post-reshuffle Abe government. Every once in a while Mr. Abe will be placed in front of a microphone to talk about creating a beautiful country and to admonish the country to consider constitution revision, while in the meantime his cabinet full of serious men will go about the business of governing the country.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tantrums in Washington will have consequences in Tokyo

The ongoing tantrum being thrown by the US government and Japan experts in Washington's think tanks in response to the DPJ's decision to oppose the extension of the anti-terror special measures law continues unabated.

Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, voiced the Pentagon's strong desire that Japan continue to contribute to the multinational coalition working to rebuild Afghanistan. Via The Australian, however, comes another bit from Mr. Morrell's remarks that was not picked up in the Japanese press.
Mr. Morrell appeared to express Pentagon frustration at being forced to deal with the third Japanese defence minister in two months on the matter. Fumi [sic] Kyuma resigned on July 3, Yuriko Koiko [sic] was left out of the new cabinet on Monday and Masahiko Komura replaced her.

"I do know that (Defence Secretary Robert Gates) recently met with the second minister of defence (Ms Koiko) [sic] but I think that was a couple of weeks ago ... I guess that's inoperative now."

Oh, boo hoo. Japan has changed its defense ministers too many times, and we can't keep up. What exactly is inoperative now that Ms. Koike has been replaced by Mr. Komura? Why does Mr. Morrell find it necessary to comment on the changes in personnel within Japan's government? This and other efforts by the US government — I'm talking about you, Ambassador Schieffer — to insert the American voice into the Japanese domestic political process are inexcusable. This is Japan's decision to make. The US cannot make it for Japan, against the wishes of the Japanese people, and the more the US government speaks, the harder it becomes for its LDP ally to do what Washington desires.

Into the debate comes Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation, who argues that Mr. Abe needs to work harder to do Washington's bidding: "Abe's ability to achieve a larger regional and international security role for Japan, favored by Washington, has also been called into question. Abe must show uncharacteristically bold and decisive leadership if he hopes to permanently reverse flagging public support." I wonder if he meant to say Washington's support instead of public support, because it seems to me that the surest way for Mr. Abe to reverse his flagging public support would be to reverse course and say no, loudly and persistently, to the US.

Washington's repeated interjections into Japan's domestic debate on security policy may have already had the unintended consequence of provoking more overt protestations among the Japanese people and their elected representatives that the US-Japan alliance increasingly means Japan's subordination to US desires — in short, that a closer US-Japan alliance means "shut up and do what you're told." Unease with the alliance lies not far beneath the surface of the Japanese public, and it takes remarkably little for those doubts to become public.

Indeed, if Washington continues to speak, it may undermine the more conciliatory approach to this issue announced by the new Abe Cabinet, encouraging conservatives to question the value of an ever closer US-Japan alliance more openly than they already are (following the North Korea about-face and the comfort women resolution).

In the meantime, the more the US talks, the easier it becomes for Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ to oppose the extension with the full knowledge that they have the public on their side, cheering them on for standing up to US bullying.

In Asia's future, flexibility first

In the week since Prime Minister Abe called for an organization of democracies that would implicitly encircle China, his proposal has been met with deafening silence from the capitals of the countries that would be involved, illustrating just how out of touch with new realities the prime minister's foreign policy thinking is.

As I've argued before, the future of Asia is flexibility: each power in the region will work to expand its options, constantly hedging (even with allies) and looking to secure interests by whatever means necessary. In the four countries that would Abe would like to include in his community — India, Australia, Japan, and the US — there are manifold signs that these governments are interested in expanding their options and thus are less than willing to be bound to an organization like that proposed by Mr. Abe.

In Australia, for example, a recent poll by the Lowy Institute recorded declining support for the ANZUS treaty, driven perhaps by fears of entrapment in the wake of the Iraq war. It is difficult to conceive of hostility between the US and Australia, but perhaps the ANZUS treaty should be included in any discussion of the end of alliances, as Australians begin to question whether the alliance with the US still serves their interests.

India, meanwhile, has long distrusted its neighbors and fears encirclement and international ostracism. While American commentators tend to view the pending US-India civilian nuclear agreement as the doorway to a strategic partnership in Asia, this editorial in the Times of India argues that the agreement could result in India's playing a more active role in the regional balance of power. That would facilitate greater cooperation between the US and India, as well as India and Japan, but it would be opportunistic cooperation, dependent on the vicissitudes of the regional balance — hardly the great alliance of democracies envisioned by Mr. Abe.

And the US? Washington has given no signs that it is on board with Mr. Abe's scheme, and the to do over Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte's criticism of the planned Taiwanese referendum on UN membership suggests that stability, as ever, remains Washington's primary interest in Asia.

Even the feared partnership between China and Russia is exaggerated, as argued by the Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer. While I disagree with Bremmer's conclusion that "China is well on its way to becoming a status-quo power" — unless "well on its way" means decades — his assessment that Russia's and China's strategic interests over the long term are at odds is spot on.

China, in particular, knows that its interests demand cooperation with the region's powers, which makes it, if not a status quo power, than at least a pragmatic power. Hence the Sino-Japanese defense summit, in which the Chinese and Japanese defense ministers concluded final agreements on exchanging port visits for warships and setting up a Sino-Japanese hot line.

Even if existing alliances persist, it is unlikely that new exclusionary organizations and partnerships will be established within the region. The US hub-and-spoke alliance system, established in the early years of the cold war, will not be transformed into the kind of organization envisioned by Mr. Abe.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Who's in charge here?

MTC asks an extremely pertinent question about which I have been wondering all week.

While pleasantly surprised by the new cabinet, MTC wonders who exactly was responsible for picking the new lineup. Mr. Abe no doubt has many people whispering in his ear — perhaps he would think more clearly if that wasn't the case — but it is necessary to ask whose guidance was decisive in shaping the new cabinet.

And now that the cabinet and the new party leadership are in place, it's equally important to ask who will be calling the shots; I remain unconvinced that the new cabinet is Mr. Abe's in anything but name only. Not his agenda, not his way of operating — and perhaps not even his people.

One major player will no doubt be new LDP secretary-general Aso Taro. Asahi writes today about Aso's consolidation of power through his control over the new personnel appointments, through which he sought to disarm critics and favor the factions (leading to new widely voiced fear that this cabinet marks a return to the old LDP). For example, Aso named Kosaka Kenji, organizer of an anti-Abe study group, as deputy of the party's Diet strategy committee. In the process, the influence of Mr. Koizumi within the party may be waning, as his followers in the Koizumi non-faction, anti-faction faction have found themselves blocked from power. Koizumi's followers, however, insist that it will benefit them in the long run: "This latest lineup is a reversion. With this, there will be a rise in new Diet members who think 'I will not join a faction.'"

I think such optimism might be misplaced, but at the same time, despair about the return of the old LDP is also misplaced. The old LDP has been destroyed, as promised by Mr. Koizumi. There is no going back to the old way of collusion between bureaucracy and LDP policy specialists and factions, at the expense of the cabinet.

What seems to be emerging instead is a tighter union between party and cabinet. The policy initiating powers of the Kantei have grown, but more at the expense of PARC than of the bureaucracy, which seems to have recovered, at least partially, from its mid-1990s nadir. (The vacuum created by Mr. Abe's poor leadership has undoubtedly helped this process along.) In the new cabinet, we may see a more cohesive LDP working with the bureaucracy as a whole to form policy, thanks to the presence of Mr. Yosano at the head of cabinet secretariat. An article in today's Asahi, not online of course, talks about the new chief cabinet secretary's "respect for the bureaucracy," suggesting that with his hand at the controls of government, the LDP will move further away from the anti-bureaucratic populism of Mr. Koizumi.

Recognizing the shifting balance is an important corrective, at least partially, to the argument made by Tomohito Shinoda in his recent book Koizumi Diplomacy, in which he outlines the emergence of the Kantei as a policy actor in its own right, especially in security policy. Shinoda is not wrong to point to various cases in the past two decades in which the Kantei has played a decisive role in decision making, but as the title implies, the key factor in his cases was often having the right personnel in place (whether Mr. Ozawa as an assistant CCS in the late 1980s or Mr. Koizumi as prime minister) than any permanent institutional change. If there's one constant in Japanese politics, it's that the formal institutions and rules often matter less than the informal arrangements grounded in custom, culture, and personality. The balance of power within the government can change greatly depending on who is sitting where.

Accordingly, the bureaucracy's comeback is due to continue under the second Abe cabinet, thanks both to accommodative, cautious leadership in the LDP and stalemate due to the DPJ's control of the Upper House.

Kicking the Gulf War syndrome

Germany's Prime Minister Angela Merkel, in Tokyo for talks with Prime Minister Abe, has called on the DPJ to consent to Japan's continuing its offshore participation in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

It's about time that a leader of one of the dozens of countries in Afghanistan other than the US bothered to ask Japan to continue its contribution. Germany's contingent, remember, is the third largest in the International Security Assistance Force, with personnel working in Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the north of Afghanistan and airplanes providing reconnaissance support. It has also suffered twenty-one deaths, eleven in combat (the Bundeswehr faces similiar restrictions to the JSDF when it comes to the use of force, but has used force to defend itself when attacked). And so bravo to Frau Merkel for providing a reminder that it's not just about the US — but it's probably too little, too late to avoid the impression that the MSDF contribution is simply a matter of the US-Japan alliance. NATO and other participating countries should have been making the argument from the beginning, instead of Ambassador Schieffer and experts back in Washington.

Meanwhile, the DPJ has announced that it is prepared to submit legislation in the forthcoming special session of the Diet that will provide for expanded civilian support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. I somehow doubt that the government will be satisfied with the DPJ's alternative proposal, but then I see little practical reason why this wouldn't be an adequate substitute, particularly if Japan put more people on the ground to work with PRTs in a civilian capacity. The idea is that Japan contribute and not shirk its international responsibilities; nowhere is it said that its contribution must come in martial form, especially considering the restrictions that come with a JSDF deployment.

Of course, this debate has little to do with the practical value of Japan's contribution to Afghanistan. It is about symbolism: it is about the Japanese government's being able to say to the world that Japan's one-country pacifism is dead and gone. It concerns, in short, Japan's "Gulf War syndrome" — the shame, referred to over and over again in the sixteen years since the Gulf War, of not being thanked by Kuwait because Japan only contributed money, and not personnel, and even then it was "too little, too late." But arguably Japan made the point that it had changed in 2001 by reacting quickly to dispatch MSDF vessels to the Indian Ocean. Now, six years later, it is not inappropriate to ask if perhaps there is another way to contribute.

The DPJ may eventually consent to continuing the MSDF's mission, but before consenting it is right to ask questions about the mission — and to call attention to the government's slavishness to the US. Japanese security policy should not be held hostage to the need to prove and reprove Japan's loyalty to the US, and the more the forthcoming debate calls attention to this problem, the better it will be for Japan over the long term.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The battle over the anti-terror law begins in earnest

Facing a difficult battle over the extension of the anti-terror special measures law, the new Abe-Yosano-Aso-Machimura cabinet has set to work on laying the groundwork for a compromise with the DPJ that will enable the JSDF to continue to participate in the multinational coalition in Afghanistan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosano has set to work by calling Mr. Ozawa a "really swell guy" (ok, not exactly a literal translation, but it's basically what he said) — this is, according to Mainichi, an "about-face from his predecessor Mr. Shiozaki Yasuhisa," who repeatedly criticized the DPJ head.

Whether Mr. Yosano's flattery will serve to soften DPJ opposition remains to be seen, but there are signs that the DPJ may be amenable to a compromise with a more pliant Abe cabinet, which very badly wants this bill passed and will do whatever it can to succeed (so said Foreign Minister Machimura in conversation with Secretary of State Rice yesterday). The DPJ will no doubt extract a high price for its assent, at which point the question is what the government is willing to give up to get a compromise. Quite a bit, argues Jun Okumura, who suggests that the government might even be willing to trade participation in Iraq for continuing participation in Afghanistan; he says that the DPJ will likely drive a hard bargain and then "declare victory and claim – with justification - that it has acted responsibly."

The prospect of a compromise has made retired diplomat and failed Upper House candidate (on a pacifist platform) Amaki Naoto apoplectic, who points to a recent opinion poll in Nikkei that showed 53% oppose extension and only 30% approve of it. Amaki suggests that opposition to extension of the law is a sign of public opposition not just to JSDF dispatches to serve in US-led campaigns, but to Japanese dependence on the US more generally, and hopes that the DPJ will stand firm on the side of the public. "The DPJ's unyielding stance will probably be encouraged by the results of this public opinion poll. The DPJ's company of pro-American conservatives represented by Maehara and others has been compelled to silence for a moment." But pointing to softer statements from Messrs. Kan and Hatoyama, Amaki thinks that there's something fishy about the DPJ's leadership, that its opposition to the extension is shallow. He wonders, "From the first, participation in the war on terror was a mistake, and moreover the cooperative Koizumi and Abe cabinets were mistakes, and therefore the DPJ cannot at all participate in Afghanistan or Iraq: can the DPJ make this statement to America?"

He fears that it can't, that the DPJ is simply trying to make political hay out of this issue, and will cave in the face of pressure from the LDP and the US.

I remain convinced that Japan's withdrawal from participation in the reconstruction of Afghanistan will be a step backwards for Japanese security policy, but I also believe that it's not simply or even primarily about the US-Japan alliance. I disagree with Michael Green and Kurt Campbell, who argue in Asahi, "If Japan pulls out suddenly from the coalition against the Taliban and al-Qaida, this will lead to inevitable and unfortunate questions for the next administration—whether Republican or Democrat—about Japan's reliability as an ally." Will withdrawal really harm the alliance that much? What about the ongoing process of deepening security cooperation between the two militaries closer to Japan? Will that really change because Japan brings its ships home? And what about the growing grumblings from the right about the unreliability of the US after the about-face on North Korea and the comfort women resolution? It seems like that kind of talk, which shows no sign of abating, is more threatening to the alliance over the long term than the rebalancing of the alliance that is the implicit goal of the DPJ's security policy ideas.

I'm with MTC: this is about the Japanese people and their representatives deciding security policy for themselves, without the intimidation of Washington, and thus while I think it would be a mistake for Japan to leave, I also recognize that it's Japan's mistake to make (and it's also important not to overstate the potential consequences of the withdrawal; somehow I think the coalition will manage without the MSDF).

Japan has to figure out what role it will play in the world — and the debate over extension of the anti-terror special measures law is but one step in the process of answering the question. A "normal" Japan, long desired by Washington, is also a Japan at liberty to say no.

No magic bullet

The first opinion polls for the new cabinet are out, and the second Abe Cabinet's unfavorable rating still top the favorable rating by a considerable margin.

In fact, both Mainichi and Asahi have recorded the same figures: 33% supportive, 53% opposed. Asking supporters why they valued the new cabinet, Mainichi records that 39% answered that they appreciated the entry of political heavyweights, and another 39% answered that they see the new cabinet as a sign of the desire to continue reform. Only 3% answered that the new cabinet demonstrates Abe's leadership abilities. The leading responses among the unfavorable were that the new cabinet signifies a return to faction rule (31%) and does not show a willingness to continue reform (26%).

Asahi, meanwhile, asked whether Abe should serve out his term as LDP president or leave early. 41% of respondents favored his staying in office, 47% opposed — and among those who favored his staying, a whopping 72% gave the "passive" reply that "there is no other appropriate person." Asahi also recorded for the LDP and the DPJ 25% and 32% support ratings respectively.

Yomiuri and Sankei have recorded higher support numbers, 44.2% and 40.5% respectively, but the responses to other questions show that the rise in support is not a measure of confidence in the premier. In Sankei, for example, more respondents (34.3%) said that they supported the new cabinet because there is no alternative than said they have confidence in Mr. Abe (25%). Whatever support the new cabinet enjoys is in spite of the prime minister, not because of him.

Sankei also recorded much higher support for the LDP compared to the DPJ: 38.8% to 25.6% in Sankei. (Yomiuri found support changed less than one percent since its last poll, with the LDP edging out the DPJ, 31.8% to 30.9%.)

In other words, it is not at all clear that the election has changed anything. The government still does not enjoy the confidence of the people, the prime minister is still governing on the basis of his party's being unable to agree on a successor, and the opposition still does not command an overwhelming amount of support. Whatever the individual strengths of the new cabinet ministers, the government is still burdened by the Abe albatross, as Richard Lloyd Parry of the Times convincingly argues.

Fasten your seat belts for months, or years, of stasis, indecision, and otherwise ineffectual governance.

What role will Masuzoe play?

"The leader's magnanimity, symbolized by the appointment of Mr. Masuzoe."

That is the headline on a Mainichi article discussing the appointment of Masuzoe Yoichi as the new minister of healthy and welfare. Mr. Masuzoe, you will recall, was one of the fiercest critics of Mr. Abe's staying in office, arguing that the prime minister's decision ignored the will of the people as expressed in the Upper House elections.

Abe said in a press conference late Monday that he appointed Masuzoe to the critical post because he is capable of explaining to the people due to his "deep knowledge of pensions." Masuzoe was equally nonchalant about his appointment, saying, "Criticism is criticism. Now we must make the LDP one."

On some level, the prime minister deserves credit for bringing a staunch opponent into his cabinet, but the real credit will be earned when we see the impact Masuzoe has on the Abe government. Is he being brought into the government to be silenced, or will his presence actually serve to make the government more responsible to the voters, more honest about its mistakes, and more amenable to compromise and moderation? In other words, will Masuzoe have more impact on the Abe cabinet than the Abe cabinet has on him?

Monday, August 27, 2007

The press — for the most part — holds its praise

As the Japanese political world digests the newly announced cabinet reshuffle, the major dailies have each editorialized on the new cabinet, sounding some similar notes. Reading Asahi, Sankei, and Yomiuri, each editorial seemed pleasantly surprised by the quality of the individuals tapped by the prime minister for his new cabinet and the LDP executive. None, however, thinks that the new cabinet drastically alters the political landscape, because the Abe government still has to find the best way to deal with the Upper House being in opposition hands.

Asahi acknowledges that the new cabinet signifies a real change — although less than meets the eye, due to the retention of certain members of the first cabinet (i.e., Mr. Ibuki) — from the first Abe Cabinet, but by turning to a cabinet of LDP heavyweights, "the fading of Mr. Abe's presence will not be avoided. Asahi, of course, is not prepared to give the new cabinet a honeymoon period, demanding to know what the second Abe Cabinet's policy goals are, and it expects that the DPJ will be equally unforgiving.

The conservative Sankei Shimbun praised the new lineup, but pointed to the daunting task facing the new lineup in implementing policy in light of the ascendant DPJ — although Sankei thinks that rather than yielding to the DPJ and seeking compromise, the new cabinet should insist that it will not cave on important policies.

Right-of-center Yomiuri, which has easily been the Abe government's most loyal supporter in the media, acknowledges that the "journey ahead is full of troubles," but then proceeds to praise the talents of the new LDP leadership team, suggesting that Mr. Aso will be up to the challenge of uniting the party, and that Messrs. Ishihara and Nikai will be adept at working with the DPJ, Ishihara from his experience as one of the "new breed" of young policy-wonk legislators who worked across party lines in the 1998 "Finance Diet," Nikai from his time spent in opposition alongside Mr. Ozawa. Indeed, on this subject of cooperation with the DPJ, Yomiuri not surprisingly called for the new cabinet to cooperate with the DPJ as much as possible, echoing its recent call for an LDP-DPJ grand coalition (in fact, the last portion of the editorial more or less repeats the previous editorial, suggesting that if the government runs into trouble, it should form a grand coalition).

Yomiuri was equally effusive in its praise for the new cabinet, and has high hopes for Mr. Yosano's elevation to chief cabinet secretary. In fact, despite opening the editorial acknowledging the difficult task facing the new Abe cabinet, Yomiuri actually spends remarkably little time talking about the nature of the challenges and proposing the best course of action to overcome them. In short, there are lots of policy problems, and the best way to deal with them is cooperation. It's not exactly a vote of confidence, though, that in its editorial on the new cabinet Yomiuri once again suggested that the best course of action might be a grand coalition.

In general, then, the mood sees to be "wait-and-see." There is a sense that the new cabinet is certainly capable, but whether it will be able to do anything more than buy the LDP some time with which to sort out its structural problems remains to be seen. There is also the sense that Prime Minister Abe, now surrounded by serious, senior party leaders, will be taking a back seat in the management of his government, particularly with the able Mr. Yosano as chief cabinet secretary.

Said Yomiuri about the new CCS: "It is heard that there is hope that he will act not just as the cabinet's spokesman, but that he will play a central role in policy coordination within the government and between the government and the ruling parties." Rather than falling into line behind the prime minister, it seems that the new cabinet will be issuing orders to Mr. Abe, formulating the government's policy message, setting its Diet strategy, and otherwise trying to avoid the mistakes that doomed the first Abe Cabinet.

Turning of the tide

Methinks that the momentum that the DPJ has enjoyed since the Upper House elections is about to dissipate.

The new LDP leadership's first pronouncement has been to emphasize the need to cooperate with the opposition. Mr. Aso said today, "The important task given to the LDP is restoring confidence and effectively dealing with the people's insecurity about the future." Mr. Ishihara, meanwhile, suggested that the party's utmost mission is cooperating with the opposition as much as possible. This, of course, is bowing to post-election reality, but it will make it more difficult for the DPJ to persist in its confrontational Diet strategy. The LDP and the DPJ may ultimately be unable to cooperate on legislation, but now, should the LDP have to use the Lower House to override an Upper House veto or inaction, it can credibly shift the blame to the DPJ.

This new dynamic is of most immediate importance for the extension of the anti-terror special measures law. Foreign Minister Machimura signaled that the government will exert "all its power" to get the DPJ's understanding on the law. That sounds a lot more credible coming from the new cabinet than it did from a cabinet that was shedding members weekly and headed by a prime minister who didn't have a clue as to how to stop digging, let alone escape from the hole. Expect the DPJ to begin searching for the terms of a compromise in the coming weeks; indeed, NHK reported today that Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi, shadow foreign minister in the DPJ's shadow cabinet will be visiting Washington in mid-September to exchange opinions with US legislators and possibly discuss a way for Japan to contribute other than the current MSDF mission. (Full disclosure: I provided advice on people Yamaguchi should meet while in Washington.)

The Abe cabinet will no doubt enjoy a boost in popularity in the coming weeks — I agree with MTC that the new lineup is a considerable improvement over the previous team, and I expect that Japanese voters will think the same. But over the long term, both the Abe government and the LDP are still in trouble, and must figure out the party's post-Koizumi identity.

The DPJ is still in an advantageous position, but now it has a competent opponent on the other side. If the DPJ is be in a position to win the next general election, it will have to earn it. The party cannot rely on the new Abe cabinet to make the same stupid mistakes that paved the way to victory in July.

The adults are back?

The new cabinet appointments have been dribbling out over the course of the afternoon — apologies for, literally, being out to lunch — and the first impression I get is that the collective experience of the new Abe cabinet is of experience and competence. And while Abe may have made it a point not to take the recommendations of the factions, it appears that appointments have been distributed among the factions.

Also of interest is the number of ministers who left in the 1993 Ozawa rebellion and then drifted back to the LDP, much like now former Defense Minister Koike.

I do not expect that this cabinet will be as prone to the amateur mistakes and gaffes of the first Abe Cabinet, but like Jun Okumura, I don't think this is a cabinet good for much more than muddling through. The only question is how long the muddle will last.

Here is the roster:

Chief Cabinet Secretary (aka, the prime minister's prime minister) — Yosano Kaoru (69, no faction), MITI minister under Obuchi, first elected in 1972

Foreign Affairs — Machimura Nobutaka (62, Machimura faction), former foreign minister and leader of the faction to which Abe belongs; not much surprise here

Finance — Nukaga Fukushiro (63, Tsushima faction), JDA chief under Obuchi and again under Koizumi (not exactly clear what finance experience Nukaga brings to the table)

Health and Welfare — Masuzoe Yoichi (58, UH, no faction), Todai professor, TV commentator, and outspoken critic of Abe in the aftermath of the election

Defense — Komura Masahiko (65, Komura faction), opponent of Koizumi, foreign minister under Obuchi who said "No rice support without resolution to the abductions issue"

Justice — Hatoyama Kunio (58, Tsushima faction), member of the Hatoyama clan (brother of Yukio, DPJ secretary-general), onetime LDP rebel who served in the Hata Cabinet and journeyed back to the LDP

Environment — Katashita Ichiro (58, Tsushima faction), former member of Ozawa's New Frontier party, joined the LDP in 1997

Internal Affairs — Masuda Hiroya (55, non-Diet member), former governor of Iwate

Agriculture — Endo Takehiko (68, Yamasaki faction), first elected in 1986 and unusually does not have a record of heading LDP agriculture policy committees and subcommittees

Public Safety — Izumi Shinya (70, UH, Nikai faction), elected in 1992 to the Upper House as an LDP candidate, he left for Hosokawa's JRP, and then Ozawa's NFP and Liberal Party before joining the Conservative Party and then returning to the LDP in 2003

Okinawa/Northern Territories — Kishida Fumio (50, Koga faction), youngest of the new appointees, serving in his first cabinet

Child policy — Kamikawa Yoko (54, Koga faction), serving in her first cabinet

MEXT Minister Ibuki, METI Minister Amari, Transport Minister Fuyushiba (Komeito), Administrative Reform Minister Watanabe, Special Cabinet Minister Ota (non-Diet) remain in their posts.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Who is missing from this group?

In Abe's Magical Democracy tour, there was lots of talk about cooperation between Japan, India, the US, and Australia — glorious Pacific-spanning cooperation among democracies.

But what about South Korea, which last time I checked was a vibrant democracy whose people struggled to achieve it after decades of authoritarian rule?

It seems that any organization of democracies in Asia would be incomplete without a democracy that also happens to be a significant economic power. Is South Korea's inclusion implied in any such organization? Or was Mr. Abe signaling that he expects that if given a choice, South Korea is bound to choose China (and its northern brother) over its fellow democracies, so why even bother extending a hand?

Now, granted, South Korea could do a better job trying to bridge the divide with its Japanese neighbor (like, for example, not arms racing with it). But to me this strikes me as just another sign that no one should take Mr. Abe's proposal all that seriously — as MTC wisely suggests in his "Magical Democracy Tour" post, the community of Asian democracies is more about Mr. Abe's personal and political needs than a serious effort to reorganize the regional security environment.

Reshuffle day — LDP leadership

NHK has just announced the new LDP leadership, and in general it looks to be a better team than that which served for the past year.

As expected, Aso Taro (Aso faction, 66) has been moved over to party headquarters to become LDP secretary-general; whether this will be a career cul-de-sac for Aso remains to be seen, but it does mean that the face of party has some popularity with the public, given that Aso is something of a henjin. (It also suggests that Abe will be sharing power — Sankei is already calling it the Abe-Aso system.)

The new general affairs chairman, meanwhile, will be outgoing Kokutai chairman Nikai Toshihiro (Nikai faction, 68). Given the state of unrest within the LDP, Nikai may also be an improvement, being a voice of reason and compromise in the midst of ideologues.

Most interesting is the appointment of Ishihara Nobuteru (no faction), son of Tokyo governor Shintaro, as Nakagawa Shoichi's successor as PARC chairman. Ishihara, who turned fifty earlier this year, held ministerial portfolios under Koizumi and is generally regarded as a future leader of the LDP. He is also a dedicated Koizumian, if the statement at his webpage on Japan in the twenty-first century is any indication.

Another Koizumi veteran, Oshima Tadamori (Tamura faction, 60), a MAFF minister under Koizumi, has been named the new Kokutai chairman. And Suga Yoshihide, who until recently was a candidate for a significant ministerial post, has been given the lowly post of election strategy chairman.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

All signs point to stasis

Asahi published the results of a survey conducted with Tokyo University that looks at the policy positions of victorious LDP and DPJ candidates in the House of Councillors election. (The detailed study will be published in the October issue of Ronza.)

Accompanied by one of those marvelously convoluted charts that Japanese newspapers seem to revel in printing, the survey suggests that after a period of relative dynamism in Japanese policy making perhaps going as far back as the Hashimoto Cabinet, the Japanese political system may be in for another period of what J.A.A. Stockwin has called "immobilism."

It's not just a function of institutional gridlock due to divided government, although that's certainly part of it. The survey, measuring the new members along two axes — foreign policy (dove v. hawk) on the x-axis, domestic/economic policy (retention of the Japanese-style system v. reform) on the y-axis — shows a shift away from the dynamic poles (hawkish, reformist) in favor of greater support for the status quo.

At the same time, differences between the parties are growing and the parties seem to be coalescing into distinct, coherent entities, showing the extent to which a two-party system is in the making. Of the DPJ's new Upper House members, only a small proportion of them fall on the hawkish end of the foreign policy axis, and an even smaller proportion are in the hawk/reform quadrant (this is where Prime Minister Abe falls, and it might be called the neo-conservative quadrant). This is a considerable change from the 2005 Lower House election. The largest portion of DPJ members falls in the dovish foreign policy/economic status quo quadrant, slightly outnumbering members in the dove/reform quadrant.

The LDP, meanwhile, is becoming less of a big tent as the onetime dovish mainstream continues to shrivel. In both the 2005 and 2007 elections, only a smattering of LDP members fell on the dovish side of the foreign policy axis. This survey also shows the troubled legacy of Mr. Koizumi within the LDP: in 2005, members were equally divided between support for the Japanese-style system and reform, but in 2007, defenders of the status quo enjoy a sizable majority among LDP members.

This seems to indicate that Mr. Ozawa may very well be making the DPJ into a new big-tent governing party that brings together a wide variety of views on economic and social policy — but at the same time, foreign policy may once again become the major cleavage between parties as it was during the cold war (which would explain why the DPJ leadership was so quick to emphasize its opposition to the extension of the anti-terror special measures law). It also suggests that the DPJ may be well placed to continue to compete strongly with the LDP in both urban and rural Japan, the key to political hegemony.

That said, until the details of the survey are published, it's perhaps premature to conclude too much from these findings.

The decider reflects (or not)

Mr. Abe has returned from his Asian tour (this is the term used in the Japanese press; apparently Japan hasn't quite returned to Asia), and is getting ready to announce his new cabinet on Monday.

There are few hints as to the comprehensive makeup of the new cabinet and LDP executive, but there are a few people who look certain to be offered positions. A number of sources suggest that Machimura Nobutaka, former foreign minister and head of the Machimura faction to which Mr. Abe belongs will be named chief cabinet secretary, Aso Taro will be named LDP secretary-general, and Yano Tetsuro, Upper House member and former vice minister of foreign affairs, will be given an unspecified position of power. Komeito's Fuyushiba Tetsuzou will likely stay on as transport minister. (Mainichi)

Yomiuri suggests that in light of allegations about funding improprieties, Mr. Suga may find himself out of a job, and indicates that ministerial portfolios will be given to Nakagawa Shoichi, Niwa Yuuya, and former foreign minister Komura Masahiko.

But beyond the roster of the new cabinet, the big question is whether Mr. Abe has actually learned anything after a month of "reflecting upon that which should be reflected." In the event that Mr. Abe has not yet completed his reflecting, Asahi's editorial today suggests five ways in which Mr. Abe should reflect on last month's loss, although Asahi reiterates its opinion that the surest way for the prime minister to reflect on the defeat would be to leave office entirely.

Asahi's five: (1) Know the importance of personnel, (2) be mindful of the ability to manage crises, (3) be responsible for your speech, (4) review basic policy, (5) abandon arrogance (i.e., not ramming legislation through the Diet).

It is revealing that Asahi's advice to the young prime minister have more to do with image management than with policy; this suggests, correctly I think, that the root of the LDP's defeat last month was poor political leadership, not bad policy. The message in this editorial is that being a political novice, having served in the Diet for a mere thirteen years before coming prime minister, Mr. Abe needs to skilled political operators around him to prevent him from making amateur mistakes. Asahi is quick to point out that it is not calling for a return to the rule of the factions, but simply a cabinet staffed with politicians chosen for their political skills, not for their loyalty to the prime minister.

Whether Mr. Abe will actually change his ways remains to be seen, but I remain skeptical. His makeup as a politician is rooted in abstract ideology — politics of the bird's eye view — not the messy busy of governing, which means being sensitive to the public and other actors in the political system. Accordingly, his rhetoric, rather than inspiring support and trust, just leaves listeners confused, asking questions like Asahi's: "What is a beautiful country?" "Does repudiating the postwar mean he wants to return to the prewar regime?" There was nothing inevitable about the LDP defeat in the Upper House elections. But Mr. Abe misused his bully pulpit from day one, preferring meaningless slogans to inspiring, transformational leadership, tolerating incompetence from his advisers, and otherwise preferring standing pat to using the Lower House super-majority to address the concerns of Japanese citizens. He wouldn't have had to do much. As Mr. Koizumi showed, the illusion of reform — saying the right words — can go a long way towards rallying support for an agenda.

In other words, the problem with the Abe Cabinet has been Mr. Abe himself, and the reshuffle will do nothing to change that. The new cabinet may allow Mr. Abe to muddle through indefinitely, but arguably Japan can do better.

For Abe, it's still February 2003

Gordan Chang, the anti-China polemicist writing at Commentary's Contentions blog, has a very different take than I on Mr. Abe's dangerously irresponsible community of Asian democracies.

Abe's proposal, Chang thinks, is simply grand: "Is Tokyo becoming the leading proponent of a free world? Since July of last year, Japan, among the democracies ringing the Pacific Ocean, has adopted the most resolute foreign policy positions on Asia. For instance, the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs were unsatisfactory, but they would have been weaker still if Tokyo had not persuaded Washington to adopt a stiffer attitude. Now, Abe is pushing a grand coalition that Washington should have proposed."

Abe is "the most interesting leader in the free world."

To Chang, the Bush administration has been cowardly, sucking up to China and Russia in an effort to, I don't know, keep the peace. Instead it seems that the US should be needling those enemies, ensuring that they have even less interest in maintaining some semblance of order in the region, and bravo to Shinzo for doing what Washington has lacked the courage to do.

For Chang — and his admirer Ampontan, it seems — it is still early 2003 and the US and allies can do anything they please when it comes to promoting the spread of democracy abroad. Remember what President Bush said at the American Enterprise Institute in February 2003:

Much is asked of America in this year 2003. The work ahead is demanding. It will be difficult to help freedom take hold in a country that has known three decades of dictatorship, secret police, internal divisions, and war. It will be difficult to cultivate liberty and peace in the Middle East, after so many generations of strife. Yet, the security of our nation and the hope of millions depend on us, and Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard. We have met great tests in other times, and we will meet the tests of our time.

We go forward with confidence, because we trust in the power of human freedom to change lives and nations. By the resolve and purpose of America, and of our friends and allies, we will make this an age of progress and liberty. Free people will set the course of history, and free people will keep the peace of the world.

Democracy promotion is a luxury from a more carefree age. After four years of learning just how limited American power is as a transformative force, returning to such rhetoric is dangerously naive. Mr. Bush may want to, but with the shift in the balance of power in his administration — at least as far as Asia policy is concerned — the US is less apt to rely on the heady rhetoric of liberty and democracy for all in East Asia. The US has more urgent interests at stake.

Mr. Abe, however, never got the memo about scaling back the democracy rhetoric, outlining how too much rhetoric coupled with too little action (or even worse, wholly counterproductive action) actually diminishes a country's influence and ultimately its security.

The (most interesting) leader of the free world? More like the most dangerously naive leader in the free world. At a time when the shifting international environment — especially in Asia — demands nimble foxes, Mr. Abe is a stubborn hedgehog, a relic from a time when the developed democracies thought they could do whatever they wanted without having to sully themselves in dealings with unsavory regimes.

This is getting ridiculous

Back in May, in wake of Mr. Matsuoka's suicide and the nomination of Mr. Akagi to be his replacement, back when it wasn't clear whether Mr. Abe would lead his party to its worst ever defeat at the polls, I noted, semi-facetiously, in a post on Mr. Akagi, "No cabinet-eligible LDP politician has clean hands."

Now we learn, thanks to MTC, that yet another member of the Abe Cabinet has been accused of misusing political funds: Suga Yoshihide, minister of internal affairs and communications. Perhaps given that up until this point Suga has been scandal-free, rumors suggested that he would be given an important post in the new cabinet (at one point I recall reading that he was being considered for chief cabinet secretary).

But with Nakagawa Hidenao, outgoing LDP secretary-general, suggesting that members joining the cabinet must have clean records, suddenly it looks like there may be another opening in the new cabinet.

Nakagawa's rule is laughable, in light of what seems to be a universal problem in the LDP (and maybe even in the DPJ, for all we know). Violating the political funds law appears to be a way of life for LDP members — and for what? As Tahara Soichiro wrote in an article mentioned in this post, the funds seem to be going to provide meal and entertainment expenses so that members can entertain constituents and supporters when they visit Tokyo. And for that the majority of the LDP seems to be disqualified from holding ministerial positions.

At some point, when a law is respected largely in the breach, it may be time to reconsider the provisions of the law.

In the meantime, however, this latest scandal should further demolish any expectations that the new Abe Cabinet will be more successful than the last. Perhaps Abe's remaining in office is the best of all situations. A few more months of Mr. Abe could guarantee a DPJ victory in the next general election, forcing the LDP to spend time in the political wilderness thinking about its future.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Koike to depart

It seems that Koike Yuriko, pegged by many to be one of the bright spots in the new cabinet, has said at a press conference in India that she wants to resign to take responsibility for the Aegis data leak, for which no one has taken responsibility.

She also said she wants to "pass the baton" to someone who can get the extension of the anti-terror law passed.

The former reason strikes me as bizarre, seeing as how she wasn't defense minister when details of the data leak emerged; presumably this resignation is driven more by her provoking the wrath of Mr. Moriya and bringing his allies down upon her head.

I have to imagine that she has lost the confidence of the ministry, making her position untenable. The MOD/JDA has struggled for years to develop its own base of talented personnel after decades of having its top officials seconded from MOFA and MOF, and I can't imagine that long-serving ministry officials are particularly fond of Minister Koike after her attempt to bring her own deputy in from outside the ministry — breaking standard operating procedure to do so.

Still, couldn't she have found something better than, "No one has taken responsibility for the Aegis leak, so I will?"

Yatsu points fingers, but can the LDP change?

A panel convened by the LDP under the management of party election strategist Yatsu Yoshio has issued its final report on why the party lost in July.

The report suggests that there was a "gap" between the priorities of the party and the people, which was expressed not just in the party's responses to the pensions scandal, political corruption, ministerial indiscretion, and the growing inequality between urban and rural Japan, but even in its slogan — the report compares the DPJ's "living is number one" slogan to Mr. Abe's pet phrases, "beautiful country" and "leaving the postwar regime behind."

This analysis is largely unexceptional, although I think any discussion of why the LDP lost has to look at the party's long-term prospects post-Koizumi and struggle to answer the question of what kind of party the LDP should become now. This discussion is even more imperative now that the voters have effectively rejected Mr. Abe's solution — a starkly ideological party run by a hard core of ideologues that will run the country in a top-down fashion, outlining a vision and expecting the people to follow behind. Mr. Tanabe, former LDP secretary-general, has criticized Prime Minister Abe on precisely these grounds, suggesting that he and his "cabinet of friends" has been completely out of control and unaccountable.

Whether the new cabinet will be any more accountable remains to be seen. The press continues to talk up Mr. Mori's favorites, Fukuda Yasuo and Tanigaki Sadakazu — this Sankei piece considers them both in a discussion of who will be the next cabinet's "key man" — but any discussion of their entrance into their cabinet seems to be entirely driven by Mr. Mori, and it's not exactly clear that the prime minister will be taking his predecessor's advice. How and to whom the new cabinet will be accountable to anyone other than Mr. Abe is anyone's guess, and it's exceedingly clear that being accountable to Mr. Abe is insufficient, given that he is only slightly less tolerant of failure on his watch than his buddy George.

So figuring out why the LDP lost the election is only a start: the next step is to figure out how to restructure the party to provide balance and accountability, and to ensure that in the course of policy making the interests and needs of the people are not subordinated to cloud-cuckoo-land ideals and slogans. Whether the party is capable of that is unclear, although it's not like the party rank-and-file isn't aware of the problem. Indeed, for me one of the most revealing moments of the campaign was when Tamura Kohei, the incumbent candidate in Kochi prefecture who ultimately lost, castigated the prime minister for his "beautiful country" rhetoric.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Does an "Asian NATO" serve US interests?

Prime Minister Abe has made his speech in New Delhi, visited the descendants of Subhas Chandra Bose and Radhabinod Pal (the judge who criticized the Tokyo tribunal from before it began, making him a favorite of Japan's right), and is now off to Malaysia on the last leg of his Asian tour.

But what of the consequences of his flighty rhetoric at the Indian Parliament, in which he spoke "on behalf of the citizens of another democracy that is equally representing Asia" and called for an Indo-Japan "Strategic Global Partnership" that will be embedded in "an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia. Open and transparent, this network will allow people, goods, capital, and knowledge to flow freely." The partnership will also, of course, "carry out the pursuit of freedom and prosperity in the region" and will serve as a basis for both to defend "vital interests in the security of sea lanes."

Both Asahi and Yomiuri editorialize on Mr. Abe's address today. Yomiuri, of course, is full of praise for the young prime minister and the multi-faceted agreements reached in discussions with Prime Minister Singh, encapsulated in the massive joint statement they released. Asahi, however, refuses to take the prime minister's rhetoric at face value, suggesting that for all the glories of the "confluence of the two seas" the partnership might not be nearly the confluence of national interests that the prime minister thinks.

Asahi also pauses to consider what impact the deepening ties between India, Japan, Australia, and the US — set to deepen further with a US-Japan-Australia security summit scheduled for September 8th in Sydney — will have on each country's relations with China. Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Aso have been enthusiastic supporters of deeper relations among the region's democracy, perhaps more enthusiastic than any of their counterparts. But Asahi has the prime minister's number: "From the first, Prime Minister Abe's values diplomacy has been tinged with the color of encirclement of China."

This is my concern.

It has become increasingly popular to look at East Asia as the equivalent of Europe in the decades leading up to World War I, characterized by increasingly prosperous, nationalistic states channeling more of their wealth into their militaries, with numerous potential conflict points. (Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating has essentially just made this argument to demand that next month's Australia APEC summit address the Northeast Asian arms race.) But the World War I analogy is too facile. Of course there are similarities, not least in the form of China, in which the PLA, like the Imperial German Army in Wilhelmine Germany, has an unknown but in all likelihood outsized and unconstrained role in national policy making. But that similarity should give pause to supporters of a community of Asian democracies that has a significant security component. As in prewar Europe, military cooperation that appears to encircle China will bolster the more hawkish elements of the PLA, potentially leading Chinese foreign policy down a dangerously confrontational path. The US, Australia, and Japan must do everything in their power to avoid giving the impression of forming a coalition to contain China.

The reality is that wise and prudent leadership in the region, not least by the US, can greatly diminish the potential for conflict in the region. For all the concerns raised by the ongoing Asian arms race — it's by no means just China and Japan — the region's flashpoints, most significantly the Taiwan Straits and the Korean Peninsula, are manageable, and may even resolve themselves over the long term. But all powers must recognize the role the US has played in the post-cold war era in dampening security tensions throughout the region, in spite of growing arms expenditures. With the end of the cold war the US transitioned relatively smoothly from focusing on containment to focusing on its role as a security provider for the whole region. While many have suspected that the US Military's post-cold war Asian presence was based on the idea of China has a replacement for the Soviet Union, the PLA is to this day a poor substitute for the Red Army — and China's heady embrace of capitalism and pronounced aspirations to become a responsible great power suggest that the (tacit or overt) containment of China would be a futile mission.

But now it seems that Mr. Abe would rather the US "choose sides" in Asia, converting the US military presence from the ultimate guarantor of peace and stability to the core of an Asian NATO that will fight for freedom and democracy in Asia. (Of course, he has sympathizers in Washington and Canberra.)

The US must above all be on the side of stability, and its alliances are useful only insofar as they stabilize the region.

Admittedly, part of the problem is that technological change has had political consequences. With the US Military's growing sophistication, even NATO allies have had a hard time fighting alongside the US. Imagine the US trying to achieve interoperability on the fly with ad-hoc allies (like India) in the event of the worst-case scenarios coming to pass in East Asia — for which the US would be irresponsible not to prepare. But it's a thin line between conducting exercises to enhance military-to-military cooperation and assembling what looks an awful lot like a coalition to contain China, as USPACOM is discovering in the run-up to its planned exercises with Indian Navy. I give Admiral Keating credit for trying to dispel the impression of a balancing coalition, but his efforts need more backing from Washington.

The US must step back and consider its Asian vocation. What role should the US play in the region over the coming decades? Is a militarized community of Asian democracies in the interests of the US? Or should the US be ramping up its efforts as a dispassionate offshore balancer that abjures from causes and crusades and makes the maintenance of a stable security environment its profession?

Japan rising watch

In Yokosuka on August 23rd, the Hyuga, the new JMSDF helicopter carrier, was named, and now it will undergo some finishing touches before entering service in 2009.

According to Nikkei, its displacement is 13,500 tons and its length 197 meters. The deck can service three helicopters simultaneously. By comparison, the USS George H.W. Bush, also due to enter service in 2008 or 2009, displaces between 101,000 and 104,000 tons, is 333 meters long, and will carry 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.

Why compare the Hyuga with an American supercarrier? Because before Norimitsu Onishi and others hyperventilate about this latest sign of "Japan rising," it's important to keep things in perspective. As the MSDF points out in the Nikkei article, "This warship does not have the ability to mount an attack. It can be used for transportation and other multiple purposes at the time of large-scale disasters."

Here's hoping that the Hyuga will see years of service enabling Japan to meet its commitments as a regional power.

The DPJ united, the LDP in shambles

In Yomiuri on Wednesday, there was an article — not online, of course — on the creation of a new DPJ security policy discussion group by Maehara Seiji. The article noted that the group will meet once a week to discuss the content of the anti-terror special measures law, conditions on the ground in Afghanistan and the activities of other coalition members there, the UNSC resolutions supporting the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and the outline of DPJ security policy.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday Maehara spoke at the FCCJ and backed down slightly from his stance on the renewal of the law, placing the onus on the government to speak more openly about the impact the mission in Afghanistan has had — and indicating that he will obey his party's decision — even as he reiterated his belief that it is important for Japan to contribute to the fight against terrorism.

It seems that Mr. Maehara will not be going anywhere, and may even succeed at forging a compromise that enables Japan to continue to contribute even as the DPJ rakes the government over the coals for its subservience to the US. In fact, Sankei has reported, in another article not online, that DPJ members are preparing trips to Europe and the US to exchange opinions with officials about how Japan can contribute in Afghanistan.

Mr. Ozawa must be given credit for holding the line on the anti-terror law (even if I don't agree with his stance). Indeed, we're a month out from the Upper House election and the contrast between the LDP and the DPJ is revealing: the LDP is confused, seeing no way out of the hole that Mr. Abe has dug for the party, while the DPJ is confident, united, and fully prepared to use its Upper House veto power in the coming months. This may not be a permanent situation; the public can be fickle, after all. But if Mr. Ozawa can somehow keep the party's big tent together, assuaging both the Maehara group and the former Socialists, we may actually be witnessing the creation of a new permanent majority party, which may have been Ozawa's goal all along (veteran Tokyo correspondent Sam Jameson has speculated about this).

Much will depend, of course, on how the DPJ follows through on its promises, not least to Japan's small farmers, as MTC notes. But it's difficult to see how the LDP is going to revive itself without the DPJ making serious tactical mistakes. In fact, I think we can gauge the LDP's desperation by the growing calls from LDP members for the creation of an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. The latest call is from Takebe Tsutomu, former LDP secretary-general, who argued that such a coalition would ensure that the government would be accountable to the people. Meanwhile, Nakatani Gen, who was at the FCCJ Wednesday with Maehara, also suggested that a grand coalition might be desirable. I guess they reason that if the public supports a grand coalition, the LDP stands to gain if its members call for one and the DPJ repeatedly nixes the idea.

I remain unimpressed by the idea, and I don't think that the DPJ's troika is going to fall for it. As Maehara said at the FCCJ, there is a 99.99% chance that the DPJ will turn down any offer of a grand coalition. But even if the highly improbable grand coalition were to happen, the LDP's salvation will not come in the embrace of the DPJ. The party has yet to figure out what the post-Koizumi LDP is to be, and until it does, it will flounder. For Japan's sake, I hope it doesn't take too long. Japan is in need of a proper two-party system, not a new permanent majority party (even one with a reformist tinge).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mr. Abe's half-baked scheme

As expected, Mr. Abe went to Indian Parliament on Wednesday and called for "a 'broader Asia' partnership of democracies that would include India, the United States and Australia but leave out the region's superpower, China." (Reuters)

At an earlier point in my intellectual development, I might have praised Japan's pushing for an organization of Asian democracies, with a significance leadership role for Japan. But at this point, this gesture is futile, and as a concept it might be shorter-lived than Mr. Abe’s government.

First, on a personal level, I have a problem with Mr. Abe's calling for an organization of democracies when it is clear from his book (and his actions over the past month) that he has only a passing acquaintance with the meaning of a democratic society. As seems to be his wont, Mr. Abe is once again trying to play Winston Churchill. (As much as I admire Mr. Churchill, I sort of hope someone will write a new, devastatingly revisionist account of Churchill that will diminish his reputation for a while so that the moral midgets governing democracies today will stop trying to appeal to his legacy.) It is more than a little pathetic for Mr. Abe, criticized at home even by his own party for failing to acknowledge the clear message sent by the people last month, to stand at the rostrum in New Delhi and hold forth about the virtues of democracy and the need for democracies to cooperate.

Second, as I wrote on Wednesday, I'm not exactly clear on how Japan or any other country would lead such an organization, because US leadership may not be forthcoming thanks to the black hole that is Iraq (more on this later).

Third, whether on a regional or a global scale, an organization of democracies suffers from the simple problem that it is wholly unclear to me what a "democratic" foreign policy is. No democracy conducts a purely democratic foreign policy; realpolitik in some form or another is unavoidable. Had Mr. Bush been more sensitive to this, he would not be talking of himself as a frustrated dissident. What exactly will an organization of Asian democracies be able to achieve that the member states won't be able to achieve within the other international organizations that dot the Asian landscape?

Fourth, what of China? Defenders of this idea might argue that it is a natural response to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Is the best response to China's cooperation with the countries in its continental periphery really an organization of (maritime) democracies with a vaguely defined purpose that could rather easily take on the form of an anti-China military bloc? Will this community be strictly economic? If so, how can it exclude China, with which each democracy in the region has substantial ties? Will it be a security organization? If so, how will it avoid giving China the impression that it is being encircled?

Fifth, what of the US? Is the US in a position to commit the time and energy to make such an organization work? Washington is having a hard enough time cooperating with preexisting Asian organizations; there is little reason to believe that it will suddenly be able to dedicate substantial support to an organization that is redundant and/or dangerously provocative. Also, given that the environment in Washington of late has favored the "responsible stakeholder" approach to China, it seems that the Bush administration would be disinclined to go along with this at a time when it is trying to work with China on financial issues and the bilateral economic relationship, and North Korea. Now if Mr. Abe called for an organization without the US, that would be one thing, but calling for the US to be involved — borrowing US leadership to paper over the significant differences between Asian democracies (between Japan and South Korea, for example) — risks turning it into an anti-China bloc by another name.

At most, his scheme will result in yet another talking shop in the region to join the myriad already extant. The reality is that the region's democracies have no alternative to working with China to manage the region, and no regional power should harbor illusions to the contrary. Is there a substantive issue in the region that can be solved without China's involvement? All effort should go to making preexisting arrangements more effective and binding upon China, not excluding it from regional leadership and forcing it to make its own regional organizations and thus play by its own rules. If the US, Japan, and others want China to play by the rules, they have to let China participate in the rule-making process.

We should not, of course, forget the role played by Mr. Abe's domestic circumstances in producing this proposal, because Mr. Abe undoubtedly believes that appearing statesmanlike on foreign stages makes him appear to be a better leader back home. Or it could simply be that Mr. Abe likes being treated as an honored guest by foreign legislatures, instead of facing the hostile legislature waiting back home.

Whatever the case may be, I do not expect that we will hear much more of Mr. Abe's "broader Asia" democratic partnership after he returns home for his ongoing lesson in democracy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What does Abe's trip mean for Japan and Asia?

Much is being made of Prime Minister Abe's trip to India, where he is scheduled to address India's parliament today.

The trip will likely feature lots of talk of the values shared by Japan and India, naturally to contrast both Asian powers with China.

I remain less than convinced that Japan and India will be able to build a "special relationship" that can function as a kind of pincer movement against China, not least because it is in the interests of neither country to court a Chinese reaction to a more formal partnership.

Economic ties? Sure. More military exercises? Fine. But joint Indo-Japanese leadership in Asian multilateral fora? What are their shared interests? A China that is a "responsible stakeholder" in the region? How exactly will an Indo-Japan partnership serve to make China more responsible?

There's nothing wrong with closer Indo-Japanese relations — and closer ASEAN-Japan relations— but it is important not to get carried away. It is not entirely clear what Japan's vision for the region is, and accordingly it is difficult to imagine Japan's playing anything but a supporting role as the region's map is redrawn over the coming decades. Japanese money will ensure that Tokyo always has a seat at the head table, but I don't think rhetoric about "democratization" and "good governance" constitute Japanese leadership in the region. That was the message Prime Minister Abe delivered to ASEAN in Jakarta, where he talked about the need for ASEAN to foster good governance among its member states and ensure that governments respect the will of the people (it would be nice if he tried that at home).

ASEAN will no doubt be thrilled to play Japan and China off one another, pocketing the investments of both, but I would hardly call that a leadership role for Japan. Indeed, the competition between Japan (and the US) and China over ASEAN suggests that regional leadership may in fact come more from ASEAN than from the great powers that are struggling to enhance their influence over the region, particularly if the US military presence in the region remains in place, providing an implicit security guarantee that keeps the peace, thereby creating the space in which ASEAN can push for a region-wide political and economic community.

So regardless of the rhetoric that the prime minister delivers in Delhi today, it is important to remember that Indo-Japanese cooperation will be but one facet of each country's approach to an increasingly complex Asia. The future of Asia will not rest in the hands of a concert of democratic powers.

While Abe's away...

Prime Minister Abe, on tour in South and Southeast Asia, has left behind a political situation in Tokyo in which the only certainty is Mr. Abe's continuing ability to say no to those who want him to step down.

But in Mr. Abe's absence, his opponents are, as expected, on the move.

Mr. Ozawa, speaking to assembled admirers at his annual "Ozawa Ichiro political cram school," has continued to lambaste the Abe administration, suggesting that there will no letting up in the DPJ's push for an early election, and joking about the government's "brain death."

Within the LDP, meanwhile, criticism of the prime minister continues. Kosaka Kenji's anti-Abe study group has announced that it is in the process of preparing a policy statement to be released in early September that will criticize the "Abe line" on economic policy and reform. It does not look as if the Kosaka group's membership has grown since the initial announcement, but it will be interesting to see if an anti-mainstream position rooted in concerns about the toll of "neo-liberal" policies on rural Japan can gain traction within the LDP. I would not underestimate the presence of sympathizers within the party — but the question is whether the Kosaka group can serve as an effective rallying point without a standard bearer. A platform is useless without an effective leader to stand upon it.

I expect that the composition of the new Abe cabinet will determine the future of the new "opposition forces." Should they be locked out of power, as looks increasingly likely, Abe's critics — whether those who criticize his policy priorities or his leadership (or lack thereof) — could rally under the Kosaka group's banner and serve as an intra-party force pressuring the prime minister to shift to the political center as a way of disarming the opposition and shoring up the LDP's support in rural Japan.

In a move that tacitly concedes that bankruptcy of Abe's ideological, symbolic politics and the need to change course, outgoing LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao has echoed the Yomiuri Shimbun, calling for an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. Keeping in mind that such a coalition is politically impossible for the foreseeable future, Nakagawa's embrace of it suggests that Abe critics and skeptics are desperately searching for a way to temper the prime minister and undermine the opposition at the same time. They better start looking for another approach, because a grand coalition just won't happen, as I discussed here.

I have returned

I am back in stifling Japan after spending most of August in the United States.

Posting will now return to a more normal schedule, especially now that Japanese political life will be returning to normal (although I'm not quite sure what's "normal" about the present circumstances).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Beautiful no more

Since election night, there has been a conspicuous absence from the pronouncements of the Abe government: we no longer hear Mr. Abe speaking of building a "beautiful country."

Mainichi suggests that the Abe camp has been reflecting on the meaning of the slogan, despite Abe's assertion that he doesn't think the election results repudiated his "course of reform." Seko Hiroshige, Abe's media advisor, is responsible for the "Building a beautiful country project," and he has suggested that the government think about how to build a beautiful country that pays mind to the concerns of Japanese citizens — a nod, as Mainichi notes, in the direction of the DPJ's "lifestyle is number one" campaign slogan.

At the time of the Abe Cabinet's inauguration, the "beautiful country" slogan was merely baffling and something of a joke; as the cabinet's popularity has tanked, the joke has become less and less funny and more a symbol of the extent to which the government was totally out of touch with the Japanese people and even members of the LDP. In short, with the electoral defeat and the coming cabinet reshuffle, the slogan should be heading to ignominious retirement. And yet it's not: the project is, according to Mainichi, considering some 3500 reform proposals that will be announced around the same time as the reshuffle.

Perhaps the new cabinet will be less tolerant of governing by vague slogans and will force the prime minister to reconfigure how he presents his agenda to the public. There are, however, few signs as of yet that Mr. Abe is going to defer to the judgment of the LDP elders. Yomiuri today speculates on some possibilities for the new cabinet, but there seems to be nothing definite. Some names mentioned by Yomiuri are former Foreign Minister Machimura Nobutaka, LDP policy chief (and Abe ally) Nakagawa Shoichi, Niwa/Koga faction chief Niwa Yuuya, and former Kokutai chairman Ooshima Tadamori (possibly to return to the same post), as well as Nikai Toshihiro.

There are fewer hints as to who will take which portfolio. There is a suggestion that Machimura will be the chief cabinet secretary — Shiozaki seems to have little chance of survival — because "the only true support for the prime minister is from people in the Machimura faction." Nakagawa, meanwhile, will likely take an economic portfolio (or the MAFF portfolio, which his late father held) in the hope of not weakening the impression that it is Mr. Abe's cabinet.

With a week remaining, no one should anticipate — in case anyone did — that the impending reshuffle will be the key to giving the Abe cabinet some traction, because it seems that Mr. Abe will continue to rely on those who support him unquestioningly and reject those LDP members who have criticized his government, especially since the election.

And as for those 3500 proposals under consideration? There is no reason to expect that Mr. Abe is prepared to abandon the "no reform without growth" formula that has characterized his government since day one.

Recommended book: The End of Alliances, Rajan Menon

If there is one affliction that is all too common in all places and times, it is "presentism." People latch on to reality as they know, and refuse to even conceive that another way of doing things might just be possible and even likely. Inertia governs humanity.

Rajan Menon's The End of Alliances (OUP, 2007) attempts to reimagine American foreign policy by suggesting that the postwar alliances between the US and Japan, Korea, and the countries of NATO will break down sooner or later — and that the end of alliances is a good thing.

He is quick to preempt two arguments that critics would fling in his direction immediately. First, the end of alliances does not mean the beginning of antagonistic relationships with former allies. He is talking about breaking down alliances in a strictly formal sense: the military ties, grounded in treaties and entailing forward-deployed US troops and joint commands. Moving beyond formal alliance cooperation does not preclude close and cordial relations, and in the case of Japan, it is not hard to see that the end of a formal military relationship could in fact make for healthier US-Japan relations.

Second, Menon takes care to note that parting ways with allies does not mean the US would necessarily become isolationist. Instead, he characterizes the change as being consistent with the record of paradigm shifts in the grand strategies of the great powers. Great powers respond to changing international conditions, or they cease to be great powers (or states altogether). The US, throughout its history, has had the luxury of a certain degree of insulation from international change and thus its grand-strategic paradigm has changed more infrequently than others, but when the international distribution of power shifts nothing is sacred, and the US has reconfigured its domestic institutions as well as its foreign policies (as it did from 1945 to 1950).

Japan, of course, is no stranger to paradigm shifts of its own: this is the essence of Kenneth Pyle's Japan Rising, which despite the title actually looks at how Japan has changed strategies in response to systemic change. Accordingly, I actually think the Japanese are better prepared to countenance life after the alliance. Even Japanese politicians and thinkers supportive of the alliance recognize that it is useful only as long as it serves Japanese national interests. That seems to be a common thread in each of the sections in Menon's book. Elites and publics in American allies are increasingly capable of seeing that an alliance with the US might in fact not serve their interests. The Bush administration in particular has sparked fears that being close to a US intent on transforming the Middle East could have serious consequences at home (the Spanish argument).

Meanwhile, there are limits to how far the allies are willing to transform their alliances with the US, despite the best efforts of governments since the end of the cold war. NATO's commitment in Afghanistan has been disappointing at best; Japan, for all the hyperbole lavished on its recent policy changes, still is a ways away from cooperating with the US at the same level as NATO; and the US-ROK alliance seems to be ahead of the others in approaching its demise, with US troops being withdrawn, command reverting to South Korea, and Seoul pursuing an independent course with Pyongyang. In some way, each US ally is going to hedge against US entrapment, whether by underspending on defense, pursuing close ties with third countries independent of the US, or publicly disagreeing with Washington. The question is how the US will respond, because in the past the US has given considerable latitude to its allies — the US-Japan alliance would not have lasted if that hadn't been the case. Menon argues that conditions are such that the US will no longer be so tolerant of dissension from its allies, regardless of which party is in power in Washington. With growing commitments around the world, the US will increasingly expect its allies to share the burden in some form.

The problem is that inertia remains a powerful force, and that even if alliances appear increasingly obsolete, policymakers will be unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to dissolve them. For all the facts and logic Menon musters to support his argument, he still must contend with the desire to leave things unchanged and muddle through, or to take the Lampedusan road and change so that things stay the same. Depending on the results of Korea's forthcoming election, Korea too may end up on the same path, allied to the US, but increasingly in name only. In other words, rather than the end of alliances, we may see the hollowing out of alliances — but as Menon shows, that need not be a cause for alarm.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"Contemporary reality is like an overlapping set of dire science-fictional scenarios"

When I was younger, I was a flat-out science-fiction nerd. I think I have this in common with a lot of other policy wonks: there's something about memorizing numerous details about imaginary worlds that translates well into memorizing details about the slightly less imaginary but no less bizarre worlds of Washington (and in my case, Tokyo).

Accordingly, with the news cycle in its August nadir, I couldn't resist a post on some recent sci-fi odds and ends.

First, William Gibson, the famed coiner of the term "cyberspace," has just published a new book — Spook Country — that like his novel Pattern Recognition is set in the post-9/11 present (early 2006 to be precise). There is some overlap between the novels, with the enigmmatic Belgian adman Hubertus Bigend serving as a facilitator for at least one plot line. I can't say that I enjoyed SC more than PR — I thought it dragged in some places, in fact — but I have nothing but praise for Gibson's writing style and for his sense of the present. His fictional world is populated with people, objects, and concepts stripped from our own, and it is hard not to look at our world differently after reading both of the aforementioned novels. As Gibson noted in an interview in this weekend's NYT Magazine, "Contemporary reality is like an overlapping set of dire science-fictional scenarios." (In SC, he tries, successfully I think, to bring the Le Carrean cold-war spy thriller into the twenty-first century, a shift that is appropriate because, as Jay Kinney observes in an essay posted at Boing Boing, we're in the midst of a "conspiracy boom.")

Second, I want to direct you to a review by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker of the Library of America's new volume of four Philip K. Dick novels from the 1960s (HT: Boing Boing). Philip K. Dick was one of my first great favorites as a reader of science-fiction. I was certainly a committed fan years before the explosion of interest in his writing that has followed in the wake of the latest round of films adapted from his novels and stories (most of which aren't particularly good, I should add). Gopnik's review is serviceable but I regret that he passed over what I think is Dick's best novel, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said on the way to discussing either his grand epiphany or his descent into madness, depending on your point of view.

The gist of Gopnik's review is that in Dick's novels the focus is not on wondrous new technologies but rather on how frail, immutable, mean humanity will suffer the same faults regardless of our technology: "Although 'Blade Runner,' with its rainy, ruined Los Angeles, got Dick’s antic tone wrong, making it too noirish and romantic, it got the central idea right: the future will be like the past, in the sense that, no matter how amazing or technologically advanced a society becomes, the basic human rhythm of petty malevolence, sordid moneygrubbing, and official violence, illuminated by occasional bursts of loyalty or desire or tenderness, will go on. Dick’s future worlds are rarely evil and oppressive, exactly; they are banal and a little sordid, run by a demoralized élite at the expense of a deluded population. No matter how mad life gets, it will first of all be life." (One of my problems of Blade Runner is that for all the grime, it left out a more interesting concept from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: kipple, "unwanted or useless junk that tends to reproduce itself.")

(Incidentally, for more background on Philip K. Dick, as a high school student I did a phone interview with Frank Bertrand, a sort of guardian of Dick's legacy, who posted the interview online.)

What does it say about our age that science-fiction writers, long dismissed as mere genre hacks by the mainstream literary establishment, often have more to say about the way we live now than that establishment? (Look at how Second Life has leaped straight out of the pages of Neil Stephenson, another favorite of mine.)

Anyway, apologies for the nerd moment. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.