Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The DPJ gets its groove back (for now)

The past six months in Japanese politics have seen some surprising and unexpected events and reversals of momentum — and it looks as if we're in the midst of the latest shift in momentum. The DPJ, after a shaky start to the current Diet session following the government's deft maneuvering on the MSDF refueling mission (and a last-minute ambush by the other opposition parties), now appears to have gotten its act together and is pushing hard on the government on multiple fronts. It's beginning to look a lot like August 2007.

The Atago incident is turning into a major boon for the DPJ. As Jun Okumura notes, intensifying the push for Ishiba Shigeru to resign as defense minister may stymie the government's efforts to pass the budget by Friday, thus ensuring that it will pass even if the HC rejects it: "The less time that there is, the more inclined the LDP will be to make concessions and the less willing the DPJ will be to oblige." Of course, it looked like Mr. Ishiba would be immune to DPJ pressure, thanks to a vote of confidence from the prime minister and his status as probably the one man in the LDP willing (and possibly able) to reform the woefully deficient defense establishment. Even as recently as Tuesday, when Mr. Ishiba faced questioning in the HR Security Committee, he seemed confident dismissing calls for his resignation over this incident. On Wednesday, however, more reports emerged pointing to failures in the gathering and sharing of information between the Defense Ministry and the Coast Guard, implicating Mr. Ishiba's leadership in response to the incident.

Mainichi reports that pressure is now coming from within the LDP, especially LDP leaders in the HC. The prime minister continues to stand by Mr. Ishiba, but it seems that my initial impression was correct: Mr. Ishiba will likely be forced out. Presumably his replacement will be someone less likely to rattle cages and therefore more acceptable to both the LDP and the defense establishment. In short, despite this scandal, it will be business as usual in Ichigaya, once Mr. Ishiba is out of the picture.

Meanwhile the compromise on the leadership succession at the Bank of Japan that everyone — including myself — expected to occur remains elusive. The government decided Tuesday to delay the official presentation of Muto Toshiro, the government's nominee, until next week. With just under three weeks until Mr. Fukui's term expires, there is still time for the LDP and the DPJ to come to an agreement and avoid having a vacancy at the BOJ, but the DPJ is clearly content to make the government wait, to make the point that unlike on other issues, the Fukuda government has no choice but to work with the DPJ. This appears to please Mr. Ozawa to no end. As I suspected, the DPJ may eventually cooperate — but it has no reason to follow the government's desired timetable. Mr. Fukuda, at least according to this Asahi article, sounds a bit exasperated. When asked about Mr. Ozawa's comments on Mr. Muto ("I also know a lot from his time at the Finance Ministry, but whether he is appropriate as BOJ president is a different matter"), Mr. Fukuda said, "He's not really saying anything. We have no choice but to wait."

Finally, on the budget, the DPJ, together with the SDP and the PNP, absented themselves Wednesday from HR Budget and Finance and Monetary subcommittees to protest the government's plan to pass the FY 2008 budget on Friday. Hatoyama Yukio described the government's plan as making "scrap paper" of the LDP-DPJ agreement negotiated by Messrs. Eda and Kono, and warned of consequences in the battle over the BOJ succession. This afternoon the opposition will return to the Budget Committee to debate the special road construction fund. On Wednesday the DPJ announced the basic principles for its own legislation the fund: (1) repealing the temporary gasoline tax; (2) folding the special fund into the general fund; and (3) abolishing the "burden charge" for local communities for state-mandated projects.

Thanks to Mr. Koizumi, the DPJ now has less reason to compromise on this issue than ever. Mainichi reports, "...There is also the hope that the LDP is being rocked internally by the appearance of remarks in favor of the 'general fundization' [of road construction funds] from former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and others. Kan Naoto, DPJ acting president, emphasized at a press conference on the 27th: 'Mr. Koizumi's opinion is close to the DPJ's opinion. If he wants to get us to do reforms that he could not do himself, we welcome that. We also want to urge the LDP's young members who aim for true reform to rise to action."

It looks like the DPJ is finally learning to use "reform" as a wedge issue to get the upper hand in parliamentary battles.

As we have seen, the momentum could easily shift again, but for the moment, the DPJ, which has nothing to lose at this point by taking the mantle of reform from Mr. Koizumi, has painted the government into a corner. On every issue the LDP is playing not to lose.

Ms. Rice "regrets"

Condoleeza Rice, US secretary of state, is currently in Tokyo as part of a Northeast Asian tour intended to reinvigorate the stalled six-party talks.

At a press conference on Wednesday Ms. Rice reportedly conveyed her and Ambassador Schieffer's regrets to the victim of the alleged rape and her family, and said, according to the Washington Post, "I would hope they know that the American government is concerned about them and the American people are concerned about them." In a meeting with Prime Minister Fukuda, she affirmed the US commitment to devise a system for ensuring the recurrence of criminal incidents in Okinawa. As Mainichi reports, there is some disagreement between the US (and the Japanese government) on one side and Okinawan authorities on the other as far as countermeasures are concerned. Tokyo has proposed joint US MP-Okinawan Police patrols, a proposal to which the Okinawan prefectural government has responded coolly.

Meanwhile, there is a problem with Ms. Rice's remarks. Of course for the sake of appearances she has to apologize — is this an apology? — on behalf of the American people as well as the US government. It is difficult to say, however, that the American people know or care about this problem. I'm sure if prompted many Americans would express their own regrets about the incident, but public opinion is more or less silent on this issue and the alliance in general. If asked, many Americans would probably wonder why US forces are needed in Japan in the first place (back to the difficulty of discerning just what the "average" voter thinks). The silence of US public opinion on this issue, especially when compared with the political sensitivity of the base issue in Japan, means that Washington has a much freer hand than Tokyo. Accordingly, the US must necessarily lead on transformation. If the sections of the 2006 agreement pertaining to Okinawa are to be fulfilled on schedule, Washington cannot wait for Japan to act: it must take the initiative itself.

Ms. Rice's words are fine — but action is what's needed.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fukuda falls, Masuzoe rises

Sankei has published an article breaking down the factors in the Fukuda cabinet's falling poll numbers — and notes an interesting finding.

Among the people who replied to the question asking them to evaluate Masuzoe Yoichi, minister of health and welfare, 72% replied favorably, making him the highest rated among eleven Diet members included in the poll. By comparison, Mr. Koizumi, now back in the public spotlight, received a 57% favorable rating, Aso Taro received a 52.9% favorable rating, Hatoyama Kunio received a 16.7% favorable rating (and a 68.8% unfavorable rating), Ishiba Shigeru received a 43.1% favorable rating (and a 40.8% unfavorable rating), and Ozawa Ichiro received a 26.5% favorable rating (and a 58.2% unfavorable rating).

In other words, Mr. Masuzoe may be the only member of the Fukuda cabinet to emerge from this government with his public standing enhanced.

I can't say that I'm surprised by this finding, but it does serve as an indictment of Mr. Fukuda. At the start of his cabinet, there were hopes that Mr. Fukuda's agenda would be consistent with Mr. Masuzoe's "humane reformism" — particularly concerning the Japanese bureaucracy. In the 100+ days since Mr. Fukuda took office, however, he has backpedaled, backing away from commitments to, well, just about any course of action.

The support for Mr. Masuzoe also suggests something about how the Japanese public thinks about reform. I suspect that Mr. Masuzoe's persistent criticism of the bureaucracy and its privileges wins him points. Beyond that, I think Mr. Masuzoe's kinder, gentler reformism, focused on improving the health care and welfare systems, is more appealing to the general public than Mr. Koizumi's strident reformism (just look at Mr. Koizumi's language: "destroy," "opposition forces," etc.) He offers a way forward for the LDP — a way forward that the LDP is incapable of embracing.

Into the fire

In the midst of a storm in the US-Japan relationship thanks to the crimes and misdemeanors of US Marines in Okinawa, Lieutenant General Bruce Wright (USAF) transferred command of US Forces Japan (USFJ) and the Fifth Air Force to Lieutenant General Edward Rice.

The Japan Times has published a piece by General Wright in which he outlines bilateral accomplishments related to the strengthening of ties between the JSDF and USFJ.

In the course of his piece, he makes a highly questionable assertion: "Over the past three years the most senior civilian leadership of our two governments has provided consistent, effective policy direction to undertake the most significant improvements in alliance military interoperability in the history of the alliance." Over the past three years? I'm not necessarily questioning the improvements in interoperability — but "consistent, effective policy direction" by the "most senior civilian leadership?"

Arguably over the past three years the civilian leaders of both countries have gradually disengaged from providing consistent and effective direction as far as the alliance is concerned. As a result, the efforts of Richard Lawless and others in concluding the 2006 realignment agreement have gone to waste, as implementation has stalled. In fact, US civilian officials have left the USFJ to work with its JSDF counterparts, in the meantime failing to work with Japanese leaders to provide political-strategic direction for the future of the US-Japan alliance. The alliance has been on autopilot, disrupted only by the DPJ's "impertinent" attempt to nix the JSDF refueling mission and the criminal activities of US servicemen.

So yes, the security dimension of the US-Japan relationship may, as General Wright suggests, be better than ever, but the political dimension — essential to determining the raison d'etre of the security relationship — has lagged behind; rediscovery of the alliance's political direction will probably take a change of command in Washington.

Nevertheless, good luck General Rice — you're going to need it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fukuda's falling popularity*

Speaking of what voters think, Sankei points to the latest public opinion poll delivering bad news to Prime Minister Fukuda. Following last week's Yomiuri poll that showed the cabinet's disapproval rising nine points to exceed 50% (just barely) for the first time Mr. Fukuda's inauguration, with the approval rating falling 6.9% to 38.7%, a public opinion poll by Fuji TV's Hodo 2001 program recorded a five point drop in the government's approval rating to 27.8%.

Interestingly, in contrast to the Yomiuri poll, the latest poll also recorded a widening gap between support for the DPJ and support for the LDP — in the DPJ's favor. Support for the DPJ increased by 5.4 points to 30%, while LDP support dropped 1.6 points to 20.6%. The Hodo 2001 numbers are nearly the exact opposite of the Yomiuri numbers.

Hodo 2001's poll, taken on 21 February, also posed three "policy" questions to respondents. First, "Do you think that the Fukuda cabinet is positively disposed to reform?" Only 16.2% answered yes, while 77.0% answered no. Second, "Do you think that bureaucrats, compared with civilians, are well-treated?" 85.2% said yes, 10.4% said no. Third, "Do you think there is a problem with the Defense Ministry's response to the collision between the JSDF Aegis ship and a fishing boat that occurred on the 19th?" 87.0% said yes, 5.8% said no.

Excluding the second question, which strikes me as too vague to be of much value, the first and third questions suggest that the public — or these respondents — see the Fukuda government as both paralyzed in the face of unexpected events and adrift when it comes to an agenda. I find it hard to disagree with that assessment.

But which poll to trust? Very little information is given about methodology. The Hodo 2001 poll says that a mere 500 adult men and women in the capital area were surveyed by telephone, which hardly seems to be a sturdy enough basis for reaching conclusions about where the Japanese public stands on the performance of the Fukuda government. What, for example, do rural voters think of the government's performance, especially in light of the battle over road construction? I think these figures would be more valuable in assessing the LDP's prospects for a general election than a poll limited to Tokyo and its surroundings.

Voters are a foreign country

At The Monkey Cage, a group blog authored by four political science professors at George Washington University, John Sides dissects surveys that attempt to illustrate just how much (or little) Americans know about politics.

He points to a study that shows that respondents who were given more time to respond and/or a financial reward for correct answers performed better than a control group of respondents who had only a minute to respond (and no reward).

The post is worth a look, but reading it brought to mind a bigger dilemma that I face a political analyst and political scientist-to-be.

I find it exceedingly difficult to understand the thinking of the "average" voter not just in Japan, but in my own country. As someone whose days are spent following the news and reading and writing commentary, I find it impossible to imagine what facts, ideas, and prejudices shape voter decisions, and as this study shows, the US news media — which often reports on surveys illustrating the ignorance of the American people and I suspect skews its political coverage accordingly — probably doesn't have any better idea about what voters think.

That said, as Professor Sides notes, "If the average respondent in every group answered about 5 or 6 out of 14 questions, is this 'sweeping generalization' really that inaccurate? Is most of the variance in knowledge really explained by, well, knowledge, rather than by a lack of effort or ability to recall the answers correctly?"

I don't doubt that the average voter, who maybe glances at the headlines of the daily newspaper a few times a week and watches a few minutes of evening news a week, has a limited knowledge of political trivia, but what does that mean for voting behavior? Do ignorant voters equal bad voters?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

More on Koizumi's address

Yamamoto Ichita, reformist LDP member of the House of Councillors from Gunma-ken, writes at his blog that journalists and other members of the Diet have contacted asking him to explain what Mr. Koizumi's intention was in his Friday remarks.

He says:
You might say that the average person cannot understand the thinking of a political genius. (Laughter.) But Yamamoto Ichita's hunch is that "The purpose of that Koizumi address is to support Prime Minister Fukuda."
I got the same impression from the press coverage of Mr. Koizumi's address. The overt purpose of Mr. Koizumi's remarks was clearly to encourage Mr. Fukuda to stand strong and compromise with the DPJ on ending the special fund for road construction, a Koizumi bugbear.

In the process, however, Mr. Koizumi signaled to friend and foe alike that his word still matters.

Whether his word will prove decisive on the road fund, however, remains to be seen. The LDP is purportedly shifting its tactics: over the weekend, Ibuki Bunmei, LDP secretary-general, and Koga Makoto, LDP election strategist and road tribesman, suggested that the government might be willing to compromise with the DPJ on the road fund and the temporary gasoline tax, provided the DPJ submits its own bill on the fund. In other words, if the DPJ provides the LDP with political cover — "They made us do it!" — the government might be willing to consider scaling back the road fund beyond the modest remaubder that will be directed into the general fund in the government's plan.

The DPJ has shown no sign that it will cave on this issue (yet). In the debate in the HR Transportation committee over the government's revision of the bill mandating funding for road maintenance, the DPJ has done its duty as an opposition party, criticizing the government's plan for moving some road construction money to the general fund as a fake plan that leaves most of the road construction fund untouched.

Koizumi or no Koizumi, the parties seem no closer to reaching a compromise that will enable the Fukuda government to move all of its budget-related legislation through the HC.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Koizumi comeback in the making?

On Thursday I wrote that the fight within the LDP over administrative reform may be an opportunity for marginalized Koizumians to regain influence within the party.

It appears that they may be getting some heavyweight support: from Koizumi Junichiro himself.

Sankei observes that in the new year, Mr. Koizumi has been more active on behalf of his supporters, and wonders whether Mr. Koizumi's recent activities are part of the general ferment in Japanese politics.

His most recent appearance was a speech Friday evening at a seminar organized by HR member Hagiuda Koichi. According to Mr. Koizumi's office, this appearance was his first address at a Diet member's meeting since the end of his time as prime minister.

His message was one of caution. While some in the LDP may be encouraged by his remarks suggesting that there is no rush to hold a general election, others may be less than pleased with his endorsement of Prime Minister Fukuda's cooperative stance. While he called on the opposition to submit its own bills, especially on the gasoline tax/road construction issue, he also said that the LDP must be prepared to negotiate on a revised bill. Asahi reports that he also cautioned the government against overusing the HR supermajority.

Is this the beginning of Mr. Koizumi's second coming?

Sankei seems breathless at the prospect: "If Mr. Koizumi, his popularity undiminished even now, raises his voice, the political situation will immediately become fluid and anything will be possible. This being the case, we should not divert our eyes from these activities."

Mr. Koizumi, of course, provided no hints as to his plans at this juncture, saying only "my present role is supporting young people."

If Mr. Koizumi is thinking of returning, will the LDP welcome him back, considering how far it has distanced itself from his ideas and his adherents in the seventeen months since his premiership ended? Or would Mr. Koizumi follow in the footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt and form a new "progressive" party to stand on an undiluted reformist platform? What would both the LDP and the DPJ do in the event of a Koizumian "Bull Moose" campaign that tapped into the frustrations and hopes symbolized by the nascent and growing Sentaku movement? Depending on the LDP's success in shoring up its support in rural Japan — still an open question as far as I can see — the DPJ would likely suffer the most in a general election, once again being forced to run against Mr. Koizumi's reformism in urban Japan. I suppose there's the possibility that the DPJ and a Koizumian party could split urban and suburban seats and then form a coalition government that would marginalize an LDP increasingly limited to rural areas. (And how long would that rural support last with the LDP in opposition and thus stripped of the ability to transfer money?)

For the time being, this scenario remains a fantasy, but it is certainly a more plausible scenario than the scenario of a "true" conservative party led by Hiranuma Takeo playing anything more than a marginal role in a post-realignment political environment.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ishiba will fight on, with Fukuda's help

Far from abandoning Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru to his critics, Prime Minister Fukuda made clear today that he stands with Mr. Ishiba in emphasizing the need for fundamental reform of the Defense Ministry. The Atago incident, instead of spelling the end of Mr. Ishiba's second tour of duty in Ichigaya, may end up bolstering it and clearing the way to make substantial progress on reforming the ministry.

Speaking Friday morning at an informal gathering of cabinet ministers, Mr. Fukuda said, "I think that it's also a systemic problem of the Defense Ministry. The organization must be reconsidered from the foundation."

In short, Mr. Fukuda has given Mr. Ishiba his blessing, in the process providing Mr. Ishiba with a powerful ally in the fight against his opponents within the ministry, the armed services, and the LDP.

Mr. Ishiba responded by announcing the creation of a team to promote reform of the ministry, a group comprised of six ministry bureaucrats and nine JSDF members.

I expect that Mr. Fukuda's move will halt the DPJ's talk of censuring Mr. Ishiba in a bid to force his resignation. In this case, the DPJ is going after the wrong person. There is no one within the LDP who will go about the much-needed reform of the Defense Ministry with greater gusto and sincerity than Mr. Ishiba — the LDP's "Mr. Defense." Considering that the alternative to Mr. Ishiba could be a defense minister in the Kyuma Fumio vein, this is one area in which the DPJ should reject "the worse the better" logic and embrace Mr. Ishiba as an ally in advancing necessary reforms in the face of opposition from members of his own party.

Day of reflection

Today is the USFJ's "Day of Reflection," during which US military personnel at bases throughout Japan will spend the day of reflecting on their behavior and hearing lectures about improving their discipline.

If anyone reading this is a member of the US Armed Forces stationed in Japan who participated in the Day of Reflection, I am keen to hear about the content of the lectures and other details. If you email a description to, I will gladly post it here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Back to Japan, again

I just want to let those of you in Japan know that I'll be over for a couple weeks from next Wednesday.

I have met a number of my readers over the past year, and have enjoyed every meeting. If you are interested, by all means email me at If I get enough responses I will be happy to arrange a get together.

Ishiba under fire from all sides

It looks like the Ministry of Defense's civilians and the JSDF may not have to fight Defense Minister Ishiba after all.

In the aftermath of the collision between the Atago, one of the MSDF's most sophisticated Aegis-equipped destroyers, and a fishing boat on Tuesday, questions have been raised about the vulnerabilities of MSDF ships to terrorist attacks like the one that crippled the USS Cole in 2000, and, more importantly, the gross inadequacies of the Japanese government's crisis response system. (See MTC's post showing just how inadequate that system remains, despite more than a decade of efforts to strengthen Japan's ability to respond to crises.) Prime Minister Fukuda himself highlighted the deficiencies of the government's crisis management capabilities in his weekly mail magazine.

The upshot is that now the DPJ is calling for Mr. Ishiba to resign his position, with Hatoyama Yukio suggesting that if Mr. Ishiba does not resign, this may be an occasion for the House of Councillors to pass a censure motion.

It is entirely possible that Mr. Ishiba will be thrown under the bus by Mr. Fukuda. If criticism grows over the government's handling of this incident — at the same time that the government's support continues to fall — the pressure to make Mr. Ishiba the scapegoat may prove irresistible, especially since his efforts to reform the Defense Ministry have made him enemies not just within the ministry and the JSDF, but also within the LDP.

Pity that Mr. Ishiba wants to streamline the ministry and improve coordination between the JSDF and the ministry's civilians, reforms that might actually strengthen the government's ability to respond to crises in the future.

UPDATE: It appears that for the moment Prime Minister Fukuda will not make a scapegoat of Mr. Ishiba; he suggested that it is improper to talk of such things when lives are at stake.

Administrative reform is a wedge issue after all

In this post earlier this month, I asked whether administrative reform, the subject of a private consultative commission at the Kantei, was the ideal wedge issue for the DPJ to wield against the LDP.

At the time, the DPJ had yet to elevate the issue to the top of its talking points. It appears, however, that the opportunity still exists for the DPJ to exploit the issue to its advantage.

Following the publication of the advisory group's report (discussed here), Watanabe Yoshimi, minister for administrative reform, has pushed hard for the implementation of the report's recommendation, including the creation of a central personnel agency. The cabinet held its first meeting on administrative reform Wednesday, at which it was clear that Mr. Watanabe is badly outnumbered within the cabinet. Mainichi reports that more than half the cabinet opposes the creation of the personnel agency — and quotes one member of the cabinet describing Mr. Watanabe's "performance" as "loathed by everyone." (As an act of protest, Mr. Watanabe covered his mouth with a mask and refused to talk to reporters after the meeting.)

It seems that administrative reform is exacerbating tensions within an already divided LDP. It appears that this issue might prompt a mini-revival of Koizumism: Mainichi reports that Kokka Senryaku Honbu [National Strategy Headquarters], an LDP research group dedicated to keeping the flame of the Koizumi revolution burning (which counts Mr. Watanabe as a member), is entering into battle on behalf of the administrative reform package. Mainichi describes the fight as being between pro-bureaucrat and anti-bureaucrat groups, but it seems to be that it is also about ins and outs. Mainichi points to the involvement of Shiozaki Yasuhisa, Mr. Abe's chief cabinet secretary, and Nakagawa Hidenao, former LDP secretary-general to suggest that this is a defense of the "Koizumi-Abe line," but I think there's one name too many in that phrase. Mr. Abe made very clear during his time as prime minister that Mr. Koizumi's battles were not his battles. It remains the Koizumi line. Period.

The Koizumians are without question the "outs": their ideas have been rejected by the party leadership since the moment Mr. Koizumi took his final (?) bow. Many of them — the Koizumi Kids — have been disregarded by the party leadership in its plans for the next general election, to the point that Takebe Tsutomu, LDP secretary-general under Mr. Koizumi, has been reduced to exhorting party leaders to "protect all of the Koizumi children." The fight over administrative reform may turn out to be a last-ditch effort by the marginalized Koizumians to force the LDP to take them and their reformist ideals seriously. Is it a fight they can win? And if they lose, is it a prelude to the formation of a free-market, pro-deregulation Koizumian party (probably following the next general election, although with Mr. Koizumi who knows).

Both Prime Minister Fukuda and Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura appear decidedly reluctant to give administrative reform their full-throated approval. Mr. Machimura in particular seems especially opposed to provisions restricting contact between bureaucrats and backbenchers. However, to reject the proposals pertaining to contact between politicians and bureaucrats would effectively gut the advisory group's plan.

This is all fertile ground for the DPJ to exploit, especially in combination with the Fukuda cabinet's pusillanimity in the face of the Road Tribe. The message is clear: the days of "structural reform without sanctuary" are long gone. The LDP under Mr. Fukuda will fight to preserve every last privilege for the bureaucracy, for its backbenchers, for its construction company supporters — everyone but the Japanese people. The DPJ should be drawing up its own legislation on this, borrowing from the government's own advisory group as needed and appealing to pro-reform members of the LDP to help the DPJ maneuver this plan through the Diet this spring. The DPJ should be forcing LDP members to choose between loyalty to their principles and loyalty to their party — just as Mr. Koizumi repeatedly foisted the same dilemma upon members of the DPJ during his tenure.

A national embarrassment

US Forces Japan (USFJ) has issued orders that from today personnel attached to bases in Okinawa and Iwakuni are, for the time being, forbidden from leaving their bases except for a small handful of activities. The restrictions apply to approximately 55,000 people, covering both 29,000 members of the Armed Forces and their dependents.

USFJ has also called for Friday, 22 February, to be a day of reflection for the approximately 37,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan.

What, I wonder, will these measures accomplish? Tempers may cool if US personnel are cooped up for a few days, but the underlying problem still exists. Is it worth keeping US forces in Okinawa if their actions are going to undermine the US-Japan relationship and jeopardize the maintenance of more essential US military assets elsewhere in Japan?

As an American, I am ashamed that members of the US Armed Forces have so abused the hospitality of the nation hosting them as to undermine US national interests. Their actions have ranged from the heinous to the absurd — but they all indicate that the current US presence on Okinawa is unsustainable.

Washington has already accepted in principle that the US presence has to change dramatically. It is now incumbent upon the Bush administration — and its successor — to expedite the process of relocating the III MEF from Okinawa by any means necessary.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Recommended Book: Democracy Without Competition in Japan, Ethan Scheiner

"First-rate economics, third-rate politics."

This phrase has long been shorthand for the LDP's half-century of nearly uninterrupted rule, despite corruption and high levels of unpopularity among the Japanese people (although of late there might be some convergence between economics and politics).

Japanese and non-Japanese scholars have concocted numerous explanations for the LDP's enduring hold on power. Some have suggested a cultural basis for Japan's "one-party democracy": the Japanese people are unwilling to vote for any party other than the familiar LDP. Others have pointed to the now-retired single, non-transferable vote/medium-sized district electoral system, although the LDP's endurance under the new system has surely weakened this hypothesis. Others have argued that the incompetence of opposition parties over the past fifty years is the most important explanation for LDP rule. Still others have dismissed the importance of politics altogether, viewing LDP politicians as little more than bagmen for the all-powerful bureaucracy.

In Democracy Without Competition in Japan: Opposition Failure in a One-Party Dominant State, Ethan Scheiner, a political science professor at the University of California, Davis, has developed a sophisticated argument on the failure of the political opposition to take power that demolishes these well-worn arguments.

The core of his argument is clientelism: the combination of clientelistic relationships between voters and politicians and Japan's fiscally centralized state that makes localities and prefectures clients of Tokyo has provided a solid foundation for LDP rule. For Professor Scheiner, opposition failure is not simply a matter of the failure of opposition parties to form national governments. Opposition failure begins at the local level. As a result of the clientelistic, fiscally centralized state, the quality most desired in local and prefectural elected officials has been connections to the national government that enable them to secure more subsidies from Tokyo for local projects. Not surprisingly, local LDP members with links to LDP Diet members have done particularly well in prefectural assembly elections, to the point that in the 2007 unified local elections, the LDP lost ninety-seven prefectural assembly seats nationwide and still held 1212 seats (to the DPJ's 375). Local opposition failure has contributed to national-level opposition failure by depriving opposition parties of "quality" candidates — meaning candidates who have been previously elected to public office and are therefore more trusted by voters — in HR races under both the old MMD and new SMD electoral systems.

Ah, you say, but what about wealthy, densely populated prefectures that are less dependent on Tokyo? Professor Scheiner grants that not all prefectures are equally prone to clientelism, and introduces the concept of parallel party systems. One party system, he argues, is quite competitive. In the approximately 200 urban and mixed SMDs and in PR voting in these areas, the DPJ has been fairly successful. Voters in these areas are response to anti-clientelistic appeals, explaining why the DPJ and Koizumite LDP candidates have had considerable success in urban Japan in recent years. The problem is in the rural SMDs that constitute approximately a third of the HR's 300 SMDs. Not surprisingly, support for clientelism remains high, and in these areas voters continue to elect LDP candidates at both the local and national levels. In fact, of 99 mostly rural SMDs, the LDP took 75 in 1996 and 77 in 2000 and 2003. One-party democracy exists in Japan, but not everywhere. However, on the back of its dominance of rural Japan, the LDP has been able to cling to power. As Professor Scheiner wrote, "Despite the fact that rural SMDs constitute only about 20 percent of all seats, rural SMD victories provide the LDP with nearly one third of all the seats it needs to win a majority. To win a majority, the LDP needs to take only around 40 percent of the remaining seats."

Professor Scheiner's thesis points at the way forward and illuminates some of the recent trends seen in Japanese politics. It explains why Mr. Koizumi's attacks on vehicles of clientelism were so vociferously opposed within the LDP, and why Mr. Koizumi may yet have succeeded in destroying the LDP as promised. It explains why the DPJ is attracted to decentralization (see this post by Jun Okumura), and why the LDP is becoming increasingly uneasy about the "nonpartisan" Sentaku movement that is pushing hard for decentralization. It also explains why Ozawa Ichiro has been spending his time touring the country, and why he has been so heavily involved in selecting candidates. Perhaps Mr. Ozawa learned from his experiences in the early 1990s, when he tried to take power by forming parties with inverted-pyramid structures: unseating the LDP will require political change at the local level in order to build up a stable of quality candidates for national elections.

I saw this dynamic at work in Kanagawa-4. The HC member for whom I worked is also the DPJ's presumptive HR candidate, making him a "quality" candidate according to Professor Scheiner's definition. His staff campaigned hard and successfully for DPJ candidates in local and prefectural candidates. Once elected, the newly elected officials began working more or less full time on behalf of my boss to bolster his support in the district.

Many expected that electoral reform, once implemented, would yield immediate regime change. Clearly that wasn't the case. But the combination of shrinking budgets, the Koizumi reforms, more effective campaigning on the part of the DPJ, and an LDP increasingly at war with itself over how to preserve the party's dominance of the rural third while remaining competitive in the other two-thirds of the country suggest that regime change is on the way. The DPJ's impressive showings in last year's local and HC elections may have been important portents of things to come.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Time for decisive action

Another week, a couple more Marines arrested in Okinawa, more anger from the local and national officials.

On Sunday, a Marine was arrested for drunk driving. Then, on Monday, Shawn Cody Jake , a twenty-one-year-old Marine corporal was arrested for breaking into a home in Nago, where he was found sleeping. Sankei, dropping any pretense of objectivity, asks in its headline on these incidents, "Where are the morals?"

These incidents have occurred, of course, while anger in Okinawa at Staff Sergeant Tyrone Hadnott's alleged rape of a fourteen-year-old girl continues to burn. In fact, on Monday, Okinawa's lieutenant governor met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura, appealing to the government to strengthen "preventive measures." Nishimiya Shinichi, head of MOFA's North American Bureau, also called for tighter preventive measures by appealing to Joseph Donovan, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy to Japan. Prime Minister Fukuda, meanwhile, stated his desire to get at the "root cause" of the incidents. Who exactly is in charge of preventing crime by US forces?

Mr. Machimura is acting as the point man on this issue. In a press conference Monday, he condemned the acts of Marines in the strongest possible terms. He insisted that the US government needs some serious soul-searching, and he will tell Secretary of State Rice himself if he has the chance to meet with her when she visits Japan later this month.

In the same press conference, however, Mr. Machimura expressed his hopes that the environmental impact study on the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) scheduled to begin during February will proceed as planned, thus revealing the difficulty involved.

How long before members of the Diet — members of the LDP, even — began asking questions about why Japan should be paying for US Marines to leave Guam, asking why the US doesn't pay itself seeing as how US forces have behaved? At what point will one crime be one crime too many? At what point will Okinawans resigned to the continuing presence of the US Military, probably a majority at this point, become overtly and angrily opposed? Is the answer to the problem stricter controls on the movement of US forces?

The US response to this string of incidents has been inadequate at best. Yes, responsible officials in Japan have apologized, repeatedly. But Washington has been silent. This is not a local issue; treating it as such does not make it so. The alliance may be coming to another crossroads, and Washington has been silent.

It is probably a mistake to expect the Bush administration, whose world view in its final year does not extend too far east of Suez, to take the lead in addressing the Okinawa problem, which means that this problem, like so many others, will have to wait another year before being addressed by Washington.

But it must be addressed, and if the history of the alliance is any guide, it will require the commitment from the new president, if only to set the tone and direction for talks. The next administration, regardless of who is elected president in November, should offer Tokyo a chance to renegotiate the 2006 roadmap on realignment and furthermore offer to free Japan of its commitment to pay $6.9 billion towards the construction of facilities and infrastructure in preparation for the arrival of the III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). Doing so is in the interests of both governments.

From the US perspective, eliminating the Japanese portion of the project removes a major series of obstacles from the process of transforming Guam. Japanese financial contribution is one of two prerequisites for the relocation to proceed, the other being the construction of the FRF. Arguably the latter prerequisite is front-loaded, and requires Tokyo to work with the Okinawan prefectural government — tricky, but ultimately susceptible to financial carrots. The former, however, is a potential minefield. Even before last fall's scandal regarding the fuel provided to the US Navy in the Indian Ocean, some Diet members were concerned about how Japan's money would be spent; after the scandal, and after these latest crimes by Marines, the Diet will likely be even more vigilant about how the Japanese contribution is spent in Guam. The upshot is that the risks related to Japan's financial contribution are back-loaded and could delay the project well past 2014 should Tokyo demand rigorous audits of construction projects. In light of the debate of the road construction fund, that admittedly sounds a bit hilarious, but it is a real concern for Washington, especially if the DPJ, which is especially skeptical of the 2006 agreement, takes power between now and 2014.

Not having to pay for construction on Guam would, of course, be a boon for Japan, given the Japanese government's enormous fiscal burden. Tokyo's growing fiscal responsibilities are concentrated mainly in public goods — social security, health care — but the government will probably have to pump in economic development funds to make up for the absence of US forces if and when they leave Okinawa. Would it not be a meaningful gesture if the US, recognizing Japan's fiscal conditions, freed Japan from having to spend $6.9 billion to build houses in Guam?

This will not happen without US leadership. The next president will have to acknowledge the problems with the current agreement and take positive steps to fix it. The US will not be acting for sentimental reasons, as regrettable as the crimes in Okinawa are. It must take decisive action because doing so is in the best interests of the US and the alliance. The US has admitted that the III MEF is better off in Guam, on US territory. Removing the Marines from Guam will lessen the risks of a criminal incident sparking a national backlash that could undermine the long-term prospects for US naval and air bases that play an important regional role. It will make the alliance less about defending Japan and more about stabilizing the region.

Both governments have accepted the principles behind the relocation. Is Washington prepared to do its part?

Peace in our time (well, not really)

The LDP and the DPJ have come to an agreement on the process for approving candidates for positions that require HR-HC consensus. The terms of the agreement, the result of negotiations between the two parties' Kokutai chairmen, calls for separate hearings for candidates in the HR Committee on Rules and Administration and the HC Committee on Rules and Administration. Nominations will first go to a joint committee of representatives from both houses, before being submitted to the two houses.

One point of contention was the timing of the release of the records from the hearings. The LDP wanted them sealed until the end of a nominee's term. The DPJ rejected this arrangement, and the final agreement calls for the records to be released after a nominee is confirmed.

However, Yamaoka Kenji, the DPJ's representative in the talks, cautioned that this agreement does not necessarily mean that the DPJ will agree to confirm Muto Toshiro, the government's candidate for the BOJ presidency. The LDP continues to hope that the DPJ will see reason on the BOJ succession. With the new rules in place and the DPJ leadership closing ranks behind Mr. Ozawa, the DPJ will likely sign off on Mr. Muto — although it will be curious to see the hearing transcripts when they're released, especially in the HR, where Sengoku Yoshito, Ozawa rival and opponent of Mr. Muto's appointment, sits on the Rules and Administration Committee.

This agreement should be applauded: the DPJ held its ground on taking an active role in joint confirmations, the BOJ executive will probably not be vacant at a critical period in the global economy, and the two parties showed that fears of gridlock are overblown.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Trouble in Ichigaya

Ishiba Shigeru, defense minister and self-described "defense otaku," is getting a lesson in bureaucratic politics.

The Minami commission, a public-private consultative body at the Kantei convened under the chairmanship of Minami Naoya, an adviser to Tokyo Electric, has been deliberating on reform of the Defense Ministry since December. The commission formed in response to the corruption scandals at the Defense Ministry that came to light last autumn, but the deliberations have widened to include information security and the organization of the ministry as a whole, in addition to corruption.

Mr. Ishiba has been particularly eager to reorganize the department, consolidating the ministry's five bureaus into three and mixing civilian and military personnel. What the latter means in practical terms is still unclear — as Mr. Ishiba suggested in this press conference and as revealed in the commission's documents — but both proposals are already drawing fire from the JSDF, the civilian members of the commission, and certain members of the LDP. Not surprisingly, there is also opposition from within the ministry. Reducing the number of bureaus, and therefore the number of administrative positions, will necessarily anger the ministry's bureaucrats.

The underlying problem is probably money. A departmental reorganization would be much easier to accept if the agency/ministry's budget had been rising instead of falling over the past decade. Each bureau — and JSDF service — is already in a defensive crouch, fighting to preserve its share of a shrinking budget. It is unlikely that they will accept reform proposals that attenuate their power within the defense establishment. At the same time, they will also fight for every platform possible, including platforms of questionable value.

If opposition is in fact coming from politicians, the uniformed services, and the defense bureaucracy, Mr. Ishiba's reform project is doomed before it even gets enshrined in an interim report. (The Minami Commission's mid-term report, originally due in February, has been postponed until June.) With no signs that the defense budget will grow anytime soon, the Defense Ministry's current organization is probably here to stay.

Collision ahead

Thanks to Mainichi, we have a calendar of this week's events related to the progress of the budget and budget-related legislation — the latter including the special measures bill on taxation — through the House of Representatives and its committees.

It'll be a busy week.

The budget will be discussed in the Budget Committee all this week. Budget-related legislation will be discussed in the whole House on Tuesday, after which it may or may not go to the Financial and Monetary Affairs Committee. The Budget Committee will debate the subject of road funding on Thursday, with the government's bill directing the balance of gasoline tax revenue to the general fund going before the whole House the same day, after which the bill may or may not go before the Land and Transportation Committee. (In the midst of all this, Kan Naoto — apparently a glutton for punishment — will be debating the temporary gasoline tax at another meeting of the National Governors Association in Tokyo on Tuesday.)

As Mainichi notes, with the DPJ's having shifted its focus from the tax to the special fund for road construction, the battle will be particularly fierce over the government's bill shifting the gasoline tax revenue left after "essential" road construction to the general fund. The DPJ, not surprisingly, considers the government's proposal watered down and ultimately meaningless.

The deal negotiated between Messrs. Kono and Eda is likely doomed, especially once legislation is passed from the HR to the House of Councillors. Koshiish Azuma, head of the DPJ caucus in the HC, promised a decisive battle in the HC over the gasoline tax, which would presumably force the government to extend the temporary tax for two months to give the HR time to pass it again. The government has indicated that it will not relent in the face of HC (and DPJ) intransigence, and will do whatever necessary to prevent the "chaos" that would result from the expiration of the temporary tax.

I hope that the DPJ does not cave on this issue. Even if the government ultimately gets its way on both the temporary tax and the partial redirection of gasoline tax revenue, I hope the DPJ continues to make the point that the LDP would rather fund the construction of "necessary" roads (enriching the companies that build them) than, for example, the failing hospitals that dot the landscape.

Even if the LDP and the Fukuda government win this legislative battle, the DPJ can make it a Pyrrhic victory by using it to illustrate that the LDP, for all the talk of reform, remains a party unable to make the hard decisions required to secure Japan's future.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Into the pig box with them

With the debate within the LDP over the human rights protection bill intensifying, Abe Shinzo, former prime minister, has followed Mr. Aso out of exile and is now openly reunited with his ideological comrades within the LDP. He announced Friday that he is joining Nakagawa Shoichi's "True Conservative Policy Research Group," making him the group's eightieth member.

Meanwhile on Saturday, Mr. Nakagawa continued his campaign against the mooted human rights bill in Osaka. According to Hokkaido Shimbun, at the Osaka LDP chapter's convention he said, "If the bill is passed, me, former Secretary-General Aso Taro, and former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo could quite possibly go to the 'pig box' [detention cell]." Politicians are, of course, prone to over-reliance on hyperbole, but Mr. Nakagawa could win an award for this whopper. With advisers like this around him, it's no wonder that Mr. Abe's government was so short-lived.

Even if it were true that the human rights bill could somehow lead to politicians being rounded up and imprisoned — based on the history of the prosecution of crimes by politicians, this is extremely unlikely — is this really the proper way to oppose a piece of legislation? How about an appeal to how it might affect the lives of Japanese citizens?

I still stand by the arguments made in this post. However, a few more comments by Mr. Nakagawa and his comrades might lead me to change my mind — but only if the government strengthens the provisions that supposedly targeting political activity, raising the chances of the nightmare scenario envisioned by Mr. Nakagawa will come to pass. In fact, talk of throwing politicians in jail in a country in which the political class has been loathed for decades is a good way of ensuring that the bill passes.

"Certain Victory" for Obama

...Now that the city of Obama has given him his very own hissho daruma, described by Asahi as an "indispensable item" for Japanese elections.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More trouble on the BOJ succession

In a meeting between Oshima Tadamori and Yamaoka Kenji, the Diet strategy chairmen of the LDP and DPJ respectively, the two parties came closer to an agreement on joint personnel decisions. They discussed a proposal that envisions an "expanded representatives committee" of twenty from both houses that will question government-nominated candidates about their policy positions in closed hearings, although the records of the hearing will be released once a successor candidate's term ends.

However, Mainichi reports that the question of the BOJ succession is becoming the subject of a growing struggle within the DPJ between pro-Ozawa and anti-Ozawa forces. At the same time that the DPJ leadership is struggling to reach an agreement with the LDP on how to vet nominees, Mr. Ozawa is fighting a rearguard battle within the DPJ. Edano Yukio, a former head of the party's policy bureau, and Sengoku Yoshito, the head of the party investigatory subcommittee handling joint appointments, are opposed to the nomination of Muto Toshiro due to fears for the independence of the BOJ from fiscal authorities. Mainichi suggests that this dispute is becoming the first major power struggle since Mr. Ozawa's aborted resignation last November.

Mr. Ozawa, not surprisingly, fired back, reminding Mr. Sengoku that his subcommittee's remit is limited to reporting to the party executive on the candidate under consideration. Slightly to my surprise, Kan Naoto and Hatoyama Yukio, Mr. Ozawa's fellow executives, closed ranks behind him, reminding the dissenters that the final decision is theirs.

Wrapped up in this issue is the question of the September leadership election. Mr. Ozawa is also facing pressure from Okada Katsuya, a potential successor to Mr. Ozawa, who has said that he feels "uncomfortable" with Mr. Muto's nomination for the same reasons as Messrs. Sengoku and Edano. Mainichi warns that should Mr. Okada link up with the other dissenters, "it could quite possibly influence the outcome of this September's party leadership election." For the moment, however, Mr. Okada hasn't completely nixed the Muto nomination, at least according to Fujii Hirohisa, a channel of communication between Mr. Okada and Mr. Ozawa. And Mr. Ozawa's reelection looks increasingly assured, as a series of party leaders have come out in support of Mr. Ozawa's remaining the head of the party.

With the party leadership united against letting Mr. Sengoku's subcommittee call the shots on the nomination, it is unlikely that the dissenters will get their way. The BOJ succession will proceed, but a bit less smoothly than the government and the markets would have hoped. I just wonder why Mr. Ozawa gave them an opening in the first place. And I wonder how Mr. Ozawa, not known for being charitable with those who dissent from his course of action, will deal with his rivals. (Or has control of the House of Councillors tied Mr. Ozawa's hands in dealing with intraparty rivals, as in the case of Ōe Yasuhiro and other dissenters on the special road construction fund?)

Aso returns from the wilderness

Aso Taro, faction leader, former foreign minister, former LDP secretary-general (briefly), and losing contender for the LDP presidency in 2001, 2006, and 2007, essentially went into self-exile after the LDP's faction chiefs united to deny him the premiership and make Fukuda Yasuo prime minister. He indicated that he would not accept a post in Mr. Fukuda's cabinet or party executive. While associated in the media with Nakagawa Shoichi's study group, he has been absent from the headlines. Since the fall of Abe Shinzo, Mr. Nakagawa has become the face of the LDP's ideologues.

After losing in September, Mr. Aso embarked on a national tour, bringing his optimistic "Awesome Japan" message to than eighty locations around the country.

Sankei, however, has published an article that suggests that Mr. Aso may once again become an active participant in the LDP's power struggles, positioning himself for another run for the party presidency.

To do so, however, Mr. Aso has to ingratiate himself with party elders who have long been cool to the idea of his running the party (and the country). Sankei notes that Mr. Aso met with Nakagawa Hidenao, his predecessor as secretary-general, in late January, Machimura Nobutaka, chief cabinet secretary and head of the largest faction, on 1 February, and he will travel to South Korea later this month with Mr. Nakagawa (H) and Mori Yoshiro. (He has also reached across the aisle to talk with Hatoyama Yukio and other DPJ members about his nonpartisan "Diet Members' League for the Promotion of IT in Regional Governments.")

After watching the party's leaders unite against him in September, Mr. Aso has little choice but to grovel before the LDP's powers that be. But he is also hedging. His followers still seem loyal; when a party election comes, it seems like he will once again represent the conservatives. They still think that he is the one man — echoes of his grandfather, "One Man" Yoshida — who can lead the LDP through troubled waters, thanks to his charisma. As Kyuma Fumio, described by Sankei as Aso's "brain," said, "If one looks around the party, only Mr. Aso can be found to have the 'showiness' indispensable for the party president. He has one more essential quality for a party president, 'flexibility.'" Although Nakagawa Shoichi has been the most visible of the HANA group (excluding Hiranuma Takeo, who as an independent seems free to say whatever he wants wherever he wants), he appears to be more of a lieutenant than a leader, first to Mr. Abe, now to Mr. Aso.

With the conservatives suddenly active in opposing the Fukuda government's agenda, over the human rights bill (discussed here), Mr. Aso's return comes at an auspicious time. I still do not anticipate an overt challenge to the government by the conservatives before a general election, but Mr. Aso's return to the limelight could signal a decisive rejection by the conservatives of the Hiranuma line — the call for the creation of an ideologically pure conservative party — and a clear move to focus their efforts on retaking the LDP from Mr. Fukuda and his "liberal" allies.

This is hinted at in an acronym suggested to Mr. Nakagawa (S) by Mr. Aso: NASA, for Nakagawa, Aso, Suga (Yoshihide, minister of internal affairs and communications under Mr. Abe), and Amari (Akira, METI minister under Mr. Abe, staying on with Mr. Fukuda). This formula, an alteration of the HANA acronym, drops Mr. Abe, who seems consigned to the ash heap of history, and Mr. Hiranuma, who is not a member of the LDP and whose activities with Mr. Nakagawa have led some party leaders, most notably Mr. Mori, to criticize Mr. Nakagawa for being disloyal.

For Mr. Aso, keen to be at the helm of party and nation, distancing himself from both Mr. Abe and Mr. Hiranuma is a wise move that can only strengthen his efforts to repair his relationship with party elders.

Whether Mr. Nakagawa is prepared to do the same, however, is unclear. He responded to Mr. Aso's suggestion by joking, "Are we also doing space flight?"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Intimations of change

The revised bill for the special measures law on taxation, which includes the government's ten-year extension of the temporary gasoline tax, has been scheduled for interpellation in the plenary session of the House of Representatives from Tuesday, 19 February. The bill on the road construction special fund will be under discussion from Thursday, 21 February. The tax bill will be submitted for questioning in the HR Financial and Monetary Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

In the midst of the slow progress towards the climax of the debate on the gasoline tax and road construction, Yamashita Yasuo (DPJ), chairman of HC State Basic Policy Committee, and Eto Seishiro, chairman of its HR counterpart (LDP), called upon Prime Minister Fukuda and DPJ President Ozawa to have a debate in the Diet. They have yet to do so this session, and did not debate last session until the final days of the session.

They're right: the party leaders should debate, regularly and publicly.

But even without regular clashes between Messrs. Fukuda and Ozawa, the current "Road Diet" (previously known as the Gasoline Diet) belies the popular notions that the Japanese political system is broken and that the DPJ is little more than a pale imitation of the LDP. The clash between the LDP and the DPJ over road construction is a policy debate with real consequences for the future of Japan — and shows that there are genuine and deep differences between the two parties. The DPJ, in taking a stand on the special fund for road construction, has placed itself firmly on the side of ending the privileged and corrupt system that has long characterized LDP rule; the LDP has shown, in the blatant attempt by road tribesmen to preserve the special fund, that vestiges of Tanaka Kakuei's LDP remain, even if their days are numbered. The line between the parties is clear; it is not just a matter of a twenty-five yen surcharge on gasoline.

Political change is happening before our eyes.

It's not about numbers

Edward Chmura at Japundit points to a Mainichi article that lists incidents since 1955 involving US forces in Okinawa that have resulted in fatalities.

He concludes, "While admitting that even one such act is horrible, and taking into account the fact that some such acts may not have been reported during the early years of The Occupation, this is still not such a bad record, everything considered."

This issue — and the outrage of Japanese citizens in Okinawa and elsewhere — is not about the number or even the intensity of the incidents. Looking at the numbers suggests that citizens are approaching the issue rationally. They're not. Nor, it could be argued, should they.

The occupation ended with the signing of the San Francisco treaty in 1951 and Okinawa reverted to Japanese control in 1972, but the enduring presence of US forces in Japan have served as a constant reminder of the psychic whiplash inflicted by the rapid shift from total war to atomic bombing to occupation to alliance. They are a constant reminder of the shame of losing the war and being occupied.

US forces in Japan are the symbol of Japan's compromised independence, a belief that unites Japanese across the political spectrum. After all, when the LDP formed in 1955, four years after the treaty that restored Japan's independence, the party still insisted that one of its main purposes was the restoration of Japan's full independence. To this day, conservatives chafe at the vestige of occupation that is the USFJ, even at the same time that they recognize the value of the alliance and demand measures to strengthen it and prolong the US forward presence.

Rapes, plane crashes and other incidents simply exacerbate tension that exists even at the best of times.

How much longer can this schizophrenia endure?

During the cold war, the alliance's existence depended on the stationing of US forces in Japan to bolster the US commitment to defend Japan. In the twenty-first century, the alliance's existence may depend on the removal of US forces, enabling Japan to take responsibility for its own defense.

Violating liberties to protect human rights

Aside from the party's defense of the privileges of the road tribe and their allies in rural Japan, unity within the LDP has been elusive.

The latest issue to divide the party's ranks is the Protection of Human Rights bill. The bill, originally submitted to the Diet in 2002 before being rejected in 2003, was equally divisive then — and the current debate seems to be occurring along the same lines.

The earlier bill called for a system for investigating cases of human rights violations, especially cases of discrimination, and punishing perpetrators, embodied in a Human Rights Commission, which would be an external bureau under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry. The Human Rights Commission would oversee a network of Human Rights Protection Commissions at the city, town, and village level. The commission, upon receiving complaints, would investigate and recommend appropriate measures, legal or otherwise. Controversially, Articles 42 and 43 of the bill contained "special relief procedures" that included provisions restricting what the press could publish about an individual's private life, leading the media to oppose the bill, seeing it as a potential threat to the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.

The bill now under consideration is a resurrected version of the earlier rejected bill, although Hatoyama Kunio, the justice minister, claims that the government "wants to begin again from a blank paper."

Many of the critics of the bill — the so-called "cautious" faction — are conservative ideologues. According to the Hokkaido Shimbun, Nakagawa Shoichi, with the backing of Hiranuma Takeo (who was one of the leading "cautionaries" in the original battle), is at the vanguard of the opposition in the LDP's investigatory committee on human rights problems. Their objections are (mostly) reasonable: (1) The definition of "human rights violation" is vague; (2) the commission itself could lead to the misuse of government power, as it can issues summons and conduct investigations without court-issued warrants; (3) there is no provision banning foreigners from participating in the local Human Rights Protection Commissions.

The Mainichi Shimbun has also voiced its opposition in an editorial, pointing once again to potential restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of the press. The editorial concludes:
Why is it important for this bill to be passed? From now on we wish for the debate to return to this starting point. Above all else, it is essential that maximum priority be given to the question of how to relieve human rights violations by public authorities.

According to the Justice Ministry, in a 2006 investigation by regional legal affairs bureaus of human rights violations, among 21,000 cases, only nine were related to the press, while 2,289 cases were related to civil servants, indicating just how many human rights violations were committed by public authorities. However, excluding the pursuit of a quite small number of criminal cases, concerned people should recognize that in the status quo, no relief whatsoever is provided.
The concerns voiced by both LDP backbenchers and Mainichi are valid. This bill strikes me as a blatant attempt to curry favor with the public, to show the people that the government is doing something, even if that something is done shoddily. Citizens do need protection from human rights abuses by ostensibly "public" servants. They do need recourse to the law. But is it worth it to trample on civil liberties to protect "human rights"? The vagueness of the bill and the wide-reaching powers the commission would wield are worth questioning.

The dispute within the LDP appears to be between pragmatists — the party elders, concerned with holding power — and the idealists. I don't know how sincere Mr. Nakagawa and his comrades in their opposition to this bill. Frankly, their concerns about "foreigners" (i.e., North Koreans) serving on local commissions strike me as overblown. There is also apparently an abductions angle to this dispute, as Sakurai Yoshiko, Nishio Kanji, and other conservatives have opposed this measure because it will somehow obstruct resolution of the abductions issue.

Whatever their reasons, they're not alone in opposing this measure, which is also opposed by the media and the Japanese left (or what's left of it). The DPJ also submitted its own version of a human rights bill that sought to emphasize the independence of the commissions from the Justice Ministry and correct the perceived threat to the freedom of the press.

This is one instance in which I cannot agree with the LDP's pragmatists. The unintended consequences of this bill are fairly clear. No matter how good the intentions of this bill's proponents, they must reconsider their approach to this issue.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The protests (and apologies) continue

The situation in Okinawa continues to worsen. Staff Sergeant Tyrone Hadnott, the Marine accused of raping a 14-year-old Okinawan girl, is now in Japanese custody. Japanese officials at all levels of government have expressed their outrage at the US.

On Wednesday morning, Onodera Itsunori, parliamentary vice foreign minister, arrived in Okinawa to meet with US military and local government officials. The latter demanded resolute action in response to the incident, with Tomon Mitsuko, mayor of Okinawa City (and a former Socialist HR member), suggesting that a reduction in the USMC presence in Okinawa is the only response. The assemblies of both Okinawa City and Chatan-cho have passed resolutions that criticize the US government and the US military's preventive measures to prevent the recurrence of these incidents, and call on the Japanese government to take responsibility for the situation. Nakaima Hirokazu, governor of Okinawa, also expressed his anger in a special session of the Okinawa assembly. These legislative actions follow a day of protests in Okinawa at the gates of US military facilities.

Prime Minister Fukuda has also taken up the cudgel, declaring his intention to raise the issue in talks with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice at the end of February.

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, conveyed his regrets to Kato Ryozo, Japan's ambassador to Washington, on Tuesday (local time), following apologies by Kevin Maher, US consul-general in Okinawa, and Lieutenant General Richard C. Zilmer (III MEF), both of whom met with Governor Nakaima and discussed how the US can strengthen safeguards to prevent these incidents.

Will it make any difference in the long term? Talk of the Iwakuni election's strengthening the realignment process has undoubtedly been drowned out by the public outcry in Okinawa. US officials and military officers will be apologizing at every occasion for months to come, just as their Japanese counterparts will be using those occasions to highlight the need for safeguards. That doesn't sound like a recipe for progress to me.

The US has already conceded in the 2006 US-Japan realignment roadmap that the USMC does not have a long-term future in Okinawa, seeing as how the roadmap envisions the relocation of most of the III Marine Expeditionary Force to Guam, totaling approximately 8,000 Marines (and 9,000 dependents). The question is whether the US can afford to wait until the conditions for the relocation — progress on the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) at Camp Schwab and Japanese financial contributions to construction work on Guam — are satisfied. The continuing presence of the USMC jeopardizes US air and sea assets, assets that bolster US deterrent strength and enable the US Navy to play a stabilizing role in the region.

The next US administration should strongly consider renegotiating the May 2006 agreement, perhaps giving ground on demands for Japanese contributions to Guam construction in exchange for progress on the FRF — and shortening the time line for the departure of USMC personnel from Okinawa.

The latter measure will require a crash building program, because Guam, lacking housing, infrastructure, and training facilities, is not even remotely ready to handle the massive influx of USMC personnel. This will require the exertion of political will on the part of the next president. While former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was eager to transform the US global military deployments and thus pushed hard for a realignment agreement with Japan, both the US and Japanese governments have failed to follow through on the May 2006 plan. Washington has been distracted; Tokyo has been slow (and heavy-handed) in efforts to overcome local resistance to the roadmap.

If the US is sincere in its desire to reduce and consolidate its presence in Okinawa, it needs to consider steps to hasten the process, starting with measures to ready Guam to serve as the US Military's hub in the Western Pacific sooner than expected.

The DPJ continues playing hard to get

As I wrote on Monday, the DPJ may ultimately come around to Muto Toshiro, the government's candidate for the presidency of the Bank of Japan, but it will not give in to pressure — and it will make its decision on the nomination on its own terms and at its own pace.

It increasingly looks like the DPJ's pace will keep the government and the markets guessing into March.

On Tuesday, Ozawa Ichiro backed away from previous remarks suggesting that he will defer to the judgment of the DPJ's investigatory subcommittee on joint personnel decisions. Instead, a committee of DPJ executives and Diet strategists will decide on personnel. The publicly stated reason for the DPJ's foot-dragging remains Mr. Muto's service in the Finance Ministry. Building on that, the DPJ's Financial and Monetary section announced a standard of evaluation for candidates for the BOJ presidency, including (1) independent from the government and the Diet, (2) knowledgeable about the domestic and international financial environments, (3) crisis management skills, and (4) skills for communicating with the market.

Again, I doubt that the DPJ will ultimately veto the Muto nomination, but that doesn't mean the party won't make Mr. Muto and the LDP jump through hoops to get him confirmed.

The end is near

If you haven't read it yet, go read MTC's account of the last days of "Tanakaism."

Monday, February 11, 2008

The US forward presence must change

In the span of a weekend, two events have cast doubts on the durability of US deployments in Japan.

The first, obviously, is the alleged rape of a middle-school student by a thirty-eight-year-old Marine committed in Okinawa. The incident has prompted protests to the US consul-general and Marine commander in Okinawa, and promises on the part of US authorities to cooperate with local officials on the investigation and to work to ensure that this won't happen again. The Foreign Ministry has also made demands to Joseph Donovan, US deputy chief of mission, to strengthen safeguards in Okinawa. Kishida Fumio, the minister responsible for Okinawa affairs, responded angrily, and called for stricter countermeasures.

The second was Iwakuni's mayoral election. On the face of it, the election was good news for the US-Japan alliance and the Fukuda government, perhaps giving new life to the troubled 2006 realignment agreement that called for the relocation of US aircraft carrier aircraft from Atsugi in Kanagawa to Iwakuni. Fukuda Yoshihiko, the government-backed, pro-agreement candidate, defeated Ihara Katsusuke, the anti-base candidate, prompting government officials to celebrate Mr. Fukuda's victory as a victory for the alliance. Ishiba Shigeru, defense minister, told reporters that he hopes to talk with the new mayor as soon as possible. "The US realignment," he said, "must by all means be realized to maintain deterrent power and relieve the burden on communities." Yomiuri, in its editorial on the election, echoed both lines of this argument, paying particular attention to the dangers of basing US aircraft at Atsugi in the Kanto plain.

The victory in Iwakuni, however, may be more illusory than the government's celebratory response would suggest. Mr. Fukuda's — or Messrs. Fukuda's — victory was not quite a reversal of the 2006 referendum on realignment in which the citizens of Iwakuni rejected the plan to move the carrier aircraft (triggering the showdown with Tokyo over subsidies). In a Mainichi/TV Yamaguchi exit poll, a plurality (41%) said that they oppose the plan, and another 20% said that they oppose the plan, but believe that "it can't be helped." Only 2% approved the plan unconditionally, while 33% approve with conditions attached.

The campaign came down to economics — a plurality (31%) said that restoration of the city's finances was the most important issue. A factor in the city's finances, of course, is the government's withholding funds to Iwakuni in response to its opposition to the relocation plan (the "stick" side of the government's "carrot and stick" strategy).

Both events illustrate the corrosive impact the US presence has had on Japanese politics — and ultimately suggest that the alliance rests on a fragile political foundation. In order to see the agreement to its conclusion, Tokyo has subverted the will of local communities, a successful strategy thanks to fiscal centralization. The communities, not without reason, fear the consequences of hosting US forces, whether due to crimes committed by US personnel, the risk of plane crashes, and constant noise pollution. Is it appropriate for Tokyo to browbeat those communities into submission?

The Marine presence in Okinawa is particularly disruptive, given the greater impact of ground forces in local communities compared to naval and air enclaves.

The US and Japan need to rethink the feasibility of the basing arrangement. What manner of US presence is sustainable? What composition of forces in Japan will best enable the US to perform its East Asian missions?

As Richard Halloran argues in Air Force Magazine, the US will increasingly reorient its Pacific military assets to Guam, Hawaii, the West Coast of the US, with smaller facilities in Japan, Singapore, and elsewhere. Halloran quotes Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of US Pacific Command, as saying that the US will have fewer boots on the ground in the region by 2017. That makes the US naval base at Yokosuka, soon to be home to the nuclear-powered USS George Washington, the most important US military facility in Japan.

Every rape or assault by a Marine in Okinawa potentially undermines the US presence elsewhere in Japan — and the US should therefore consider unilaterally hastening the process whereby USMC personnel will be relocated to Guam. (This would entail an acceleration of the building process on Guam that has barely begun — but is that an impossible task?) As for the housing of US Navy carrier aircraft, if the planes are to be relocated to Iwakuni, the US Navy has to sell the move itself, much as the homeporting of the USS George Washington was sold to the people of Yokosuka. The US Navy must be a good neighbor, and must be receptive to local concerns, even if Tokyo isn't.

Ultimately, though, the US footprint in Japan must and will shrink for the good of the alliance. Although Japanese hawks argue that US power depends on bases in Japan, US deterrent strength in the Western Pacific will be more durable once it's located back on US territory, immune to the vicissitudes of Japanese public opinion.

The limits of Japan's bipartisan moment

With diminishing prospects for a general election before July and no signs of another attempt to form an LDP-DPJ grand coalition, Japanese politics appear to have entered a bipartisan phase.

The most prominent symbol of this moment is the Sentaku movement, which, according to Yomiuri, may ultimately include between fifty and sixty members of the HR and HC, in addition to prefectural and local officials. Another sign is the bipartisan Diet reform group mentioned in this post.

Will Japan's new bipartisanship (or tri-partisanship, with the participation of Komeito) produce any tangible results, or is it the product of frustrations with the nejire kokkai that will fizzle out once a general election nears and both the LDP and the DPJ return to full-time campaigning?

This moment is a natural response to the divided Diet: cooperation short of a coalition government, as policy entrepreneurs in both parties search for allies in an attempt to move their issues (Diet reform, decentralization) to the forefront of political discussion.

I'm skeptical that a small cadre of Diet members and their allies in prefectural governments will be able to halt the emergence of a two-party system. The movement might be able to shift the agenda somewhat, not least because it is unclear exactly what agenda the Fukuda government will pursue in the second half of the current Diet session. Beyond that, however, they will run firmly into the twin walls that are the DPJ's imperative to oppose the government and differentiate itself from the LDP, and the LDP's imperative to shore up its support in rural Japan in advance of a general election.

On that point, I have a hard time seeing how the LDP could give its full support to Sentaku's decentralization proposals. Fiscal centralization has been a pillar of LDP rule — it has helped elect LDP officials in local and prefectural elections, as they would have better access to the LDP-controlled trough in Tokyo. Radical decentralization would likely be the final blow against LDP rule, breaking the pipeline between the parliamentary and prefectural LDPs and introducing more political competition into local politics. In that event, the DPJ's small breakthrough in last April's local elections would be the beginning of a major shift in local governance, which would in turn strengthen its position in national politics.

Accordingly, the impact of the new bipartisanship will be marginal at best.

If the Sentaku movement is the germ of a new party, its significance might be greater, but in becoming a new party, it faces an entirely different set of obstacles. As Ito Atsuo, a veteran of the political upheaval of the 1990s, writes in the March issue of Chuo Koron, new parties face considerable barriers, starting with the collection of members and money. However, one advantage that Sentaku would have as a party is that unlike many of the new parties that formed during the 1990s, it would be comprised of more than just Diet member defectors from other parties — it would be able to draw on support at the prefectural and local levels, giving it a more formidable presence. That said, as is the case with Hiranuma Takeo's mooted "true" conservative party, I don't expect a new partisan realignment until after a general election, if then.

And besides, should a desire to find a "nonpartisan" agenda on the part of some LDP and DPJ Diet members be interpreted as a sign of their willingness to defect?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Is security policy back on the agenda?

On the same day that Foreign Minister Komura addressed the Munich Conference on Security Policy and promised that Japan, as a "peace cooperation state," would take up greater international responsibilities by participating in peacekeeping operations, Yamasaki Taku — LDP faction leader and troubleshooter — told reporters that the governing parties will form a project team "within the month" to investigate a permanent law on JSDF overseas dispatch. He added, "We want to have informal discussions with the DPJ beforehand."

A possible bipartisan agreement on a permanent law was supposedly a product of the meetings between Messrs. Fukuda and Ozawa last autumn, but the issue appeared to have been removed from the top of the agenda after the messy aftermath of the Fukuda-Ozawa meetings and the government's overriding the HC veto on the anti-terror law. The DPJ certainly seemed in no hurry to revive it, given the fight within the DPJ and between the DPJ and other opposition parties over the refueling mission, and both parties seemed content to fight once again over matters closer to home.

Why, I wonder, is the Fukuda government moving on this issue now? Whatever possibility there was of an LDP-DPJ agreement on a permanent law last year, I suspect a bipartisan agreement will prove elusive now. After the debacle in January, when the other opposition parties forced the DPJ to accept an HC vote on the refueling mission, I don't think Mr. Ozawa would like to revisit the thorny question of JSDF dispatch. In response to Mr. Yamasaki's request for discussions on a permanent law, the DPJ may make the bar for dispatch so high, in accordance with the party's UN-centered line, that the government will be forced to draft a law on its own or else abandon the project. And if the government goes it alone, will it be willing to use the supermajority again to pass a permanent law?

In the meantime, the DPJ will undoubtedly criticize the government for its inattentiveness to domestic problems, of which there is no shortage.

Whatever the merits of a permanent law authorizing JSDF participation in PKO, the political wisdom of the government's pushing for one now is questionable. Mr. Fukuda arguably hasn't made enough progress on other issues, not least the pensions question, to have the assent of the Japanese people in placing a foreign policy matter at the forefront of public discussion.

Your help wanted

I decided to put off this announcement until I knew for sure, but now, having received my first acceptance to a Ph.D. program, I'm ready to ask for your help in retooling Observing Japan.

I know that come this autumn I simply won't have the time to devote to this blog that I have now. I would like, however, to keep it up and running, even if I act more as a moderator.

That's where you, my readers, come in: I know that you have expertise and experience greater than my own, and hope that some of you will consider becoming contributors over the course of this year.

If you're interested, please contact me at, preferably with a sample contribution.

I will continue writing as usual between now and the autumn.