Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Peering into the void that is Japanese foreign policy

Uesugi Takashi, a Japanese freelance journalist, has an article at Diamond Online (Shukan Daiyamondo's web site) reporting live from the press room at TICAD IV in Yokohama.

As usual, the title says it all: "It's incompetent to do only aid / Japanese foreign policy's fruitless effort at the Africa development summit."

Uesugi paints a portrait of the foreign ministry's ineffectual efforts to tie aid to Africa to African votes for Japan in international organizations: among others the International Customs Organization, the International Criminal Court, and, of course, the UN Security Council. Uesugi suggests that not only are these efforts wasteful, they're also counterproductive. His most prominent example is the 2005 vote on Japan's accession to the Security Council, when fifty-three African countries followed China's lead in opposing it despite MOFA's efforts to gain their support, despite Japan's being the biggest giver of aid to Africa.

Uesugi spoke at length to Suzuki Muneo, the onetime LDP HR member famous (infamous?) for hiring African hissho and known for his substantial control over the foreign ministry as a gaimu zoku. (He left the LDP in 2002 shortly before he was arrested and later convicted on bribery charges. He now sits in the Diet as a representative of his "New Party Great Earth," a Hokkaido-based microparty.) Muneo emphasized the need for MOFA to use Japanese taxpayer money wisely, an unusual criticism coming from a legendary abuser of taxpayer money. Muneo's point, however, is that MOFA's courtship of Africa has been vulgar, based on the explicit pursuit of commitments from African governments to support Japanese membership of the UNSC.

It remains exceedingly unlikely that Japan will buy African support, given China's overwhelming advantage in the amount of money pumped into Africa. Uesugi notes that China enjoys a 40-1 advantage in FDI in Africa, $4 billion compared to $100 million for Japan. The value of China's trade with Africa is twice that of Japan, the number of Chinese companies operating in Africa is ten times the number of Japanese companies, and the number of Chinese nationals on the ground is 100 times the number of Japanese nationals. China's sizable presence may make it more vulnerable to backlash from host nations, but there is no comparison. If this is a race, Japan is still tying its shoes and getting ready to compete.

Prime Minister Fukuda has made clear at UNCTAD IV that Japan intends to compete, not least by creating a $2.5 billion investment fund to assist Japanese companies in increasing FDI in Africa and doubling ODA.

It's worth asking what Japan hopes to achieve in Africa. Is it acting out of altruism? Is it looking to enhance its image abroad? Is it still trying to assemble a coalition that will push Japan into leadership positions in international organizations, including the ultimate prize of the UNSC? Is it hoping to secure new energy suppliers? Is it just trying to be a good global citizen? I suspect the answer is the latter, but I'm not quite sure if MOFA has tried to answer the question. In its pursuit of foreign policy, Japan often appears to pursue the symbolic in the hope that it will provide the answer to the question of what role Japan should play globally. I think this explains the Japanese government's endless pursuit of a permanent UNSC seat. I don't think Tokyo really knows why it wants a seat. It only knows that the Security Council is perhaps the world's most exclusive club, and it wants in. The same goes for Japanese enthusiasm for the G8; Japan is probably the most enthusiastic member of the club, again probably because it's an exclusive club. But the G8 has gradually lost its value as its agenda has moved beyond financial issues and as its membership has become less representative of the global distribution of power. And yet despite the diminishing importance of the G8, the Japanese government is making strenuous efforts in the hope of making its presidency of the G8 a success (whatever that means).

That's not to say that Japan shouldn't try to get the most out of its G8 presidency or undertake other initiatives to expand Japanese influence abroad. My point is that Japan lacks a clearly articulated foreign policy that would give Tokyo an overriding reason for wanting to hold leadership positions in important international organizations (and, for that matter, have a more substantial presence in Africa). The pursuit of these tokens is not in and of itself a foreign policy. Instead of wasting its effort, money, and time, the Japanese government and the Japanese people (whose money is spent on these initiatives) need to step back and ask basic questions about Japan's foreign policy, then rank its foreign policy priorities, and then distribute its finite resources accordingly.

To bring the discussion back to TICAD, the point is not that Japan shouldn't be looking to deepen its engagement in Africa. Rather, the Japanese government has an obligation to the Japanese people to explain why Japan has an interest in committing Japanese taxpayer money to Africa and to explain how Japanese engagement in Africa serves Japanese national interests.

The elderly are important to the LDP

In this, the LDP's latest commercial, Hamada Koichi, a former LDP Diet member-turned TV personality known as the "hooligan of the political world," stands with elderly voters to declare that the LDP is one with Japan's seniors and that the party will ease their insecurities.

Something tells me that Hamako's bellowing will do little to fix the LDP's problems with one of its traditional voting blocs.

"Unsustainable Inequities"

After nearly six months of work, during which it has passed from the hands of one leading US foreign policy periodical to another, an article questioning the fundamentals of the US-Japan alliance that I have co-authored with Douglas Turner has finally seen the light of day.

It is available online here at Policy Innovations, a publication of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

Strange days

Perhaps showing just how serious China is about not mentioning the war and acknowledging Japan's "consistent pursuit of the path of a peaceful country," not to mention illustrating just how dire the situation in Szechuan is, the Chinese government has reportedly asked the Japanese government to dispatch planes to China in order to deliver tents, blankets, and other relief supplies.

It apparently doesn't matter whether those planes are civilian or JSDF.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura, answering questions about the request in his daily press conference, could confirm only that Beijing made the request, that the Fukuda government is considering its response, and that the request appears to be for planes to deliver the supplies to Chinese airports instead of directly to affected areas.

What a dilemma for the Japanese right — a new opportunity for the JSDF to show its aiding "the grotesque superpower, China." (The Social Democratic Party of Japan, as if to rub this dilemma in the right's face, has quickly stated its opposition to using the JSDF to deliver supplies, declaring that "the JSDF is not a disaster relief organization.")

In short, this request is another blow to those in Japan and the US who see a belligerent, dangerous China that must be contained — and want Washington and Tokyo to take steps that will guarantee a belligerent, dangerous China.

Here's hoping that the Fukuda government swiftly agrees to provide China with the requested supplies, borne on the wings of JSDF transport planes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Administrative reform in sight

Its fate uncertain after being introduced in the Diet, the government's administrative reform bill now looks set to pass both houses after the DPJ concluded an agreement with the LDP and Komeito on a compromise bill.

The bill, according to Asahi, will pass the HR's cabinet committee on Wednesday and the whole HR on Thursday.

The government made several important concessions to the DPJ. The bill will create a cabinet personnel bureau that will be responsible for personnel decisions (as opposed to the government's plan that permitted ministries and agencies to retain prime responsibility for personnel decisions). All contact between politicians and bureaucrats other than the those in the new class of officials responsible for relations between legislators and ministries will be recorded and made public — the DPJ was adamant on this point, and the government agreed. The DPJ failed to secure desired restrictions to prevent amakudari, as well as expanded labor rights for clerical officials, a clause desired by DPJ ally RENGO, Japan's largest trade union confederation.

There is little reason for the DPJ to be disappointed. While it did not get everything it wanted, it got more than enough concessions from the government to claim that progress is being made along lines desired by the DPJ. In a stroke it has illustrated that it is capable of playing a constructive role in the policy process and push for greater transparency and accountability in Japanese governance. The Fukuda government, meanwhile, sounds happy just to have agreed to something and to have a signature bill progressing to passage without having to use Article 59. Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura declared, "The content has become considerably different from the original government bill, but we welcome the bill's passage."

Sankei has hailed this as a victory for Mr. Fukuda's "silent reformism," the prime minister's understated approach to changing Japanese governance. While this may be a way for the prime minister to improve his public image, his position is no less tenuous. The DPJ, by agreeing to cooperate on administrative reform, has successfully used this issue as a wedge issue, separating the prime minister and the LDP's reformists from the party's zoku giin and other friends of the bureaucracy, who are already up in arms over the prime minister's road construction reform plan. In agreeing to substantial concessions to the DPJ in order to secure a legislative victory to boost the government's public standing, Mr. Fukuda may have further weakened his standing within the LDP.

But this is, as LDP HR member Yamauchi Koichi argues, a step forward. A step forward for who, well, that's open to discussion.

All or nothing at all

June is approaching, and that means we're one month closer to the expiration of the anti-terror special measures law passed in January via Article 59.

Both parties are stepping up their preparations for the fight over a new bill that will likely occur in the autumn special session.

When the Fukuda government agreed to Komeito's demand to limit the bill to one year, I assumed that by doing so the government was implicitly declaring that the refueling mission would last for one year and no longer, that the government would not be inclined to fight the same battle all over again the following year. That may still be the case, but for now it appears that not only is the government willing to fight to extend the refueling mission again, but it wants to up the ante by passing a permanent law on JSDF dispatch that will obviate the need for a new anti-terror bill.

To that end, the LDP-Komeito project team responsible for drawing up the dispatch law held its first meeting last week. The PT offered three principles: (1) it will respect the limits of the constitution and not ask for a new constitutional interpretation that permits collective self-defense; (2) it will respect civilian control and Diet approval; and (3) the government — as opposed to an individual member — will submit the bill. The LDP would like to submit a bill at the beginning of the special session, presumably in order to leave the government time to use Article 59 to override HC rejection in the event of DPJ intransigence, but it appears that Komeito wants to go slowly on this issue.

The DPJ, meanwhile, will have none of it. Hatoyama Yukio, DPJ secretary-general, announced last week that the DPJ will not change its position on the refueling mission: the party's answer is still no. As for a permanent JSDF dispatch law, Mr. Hatoyama was circumspect, not surprisingly given that the DPJ suggested previously that it might be willing to support such a law. He stated simply, "It is impossible for a cabinet with low approval ratings to accomplish this."

The DPJ's position is obviously open to revision, thanks in part to Ozawa Ichiro's mercurial tendencies. But the pressure is on the government to determine the best course of action. That decision will obviously depend on whether Mr. Fukuda survives long enough to make it. I suspect that if Mr. Fukuda is still in office at the start of the next Diet session, and if his numbers haven't improved, he will be disinclined to commit to a fight on either a permanent dispatch or a new refueling bill. The agenda will be crowded enough as the prime minister seeks to pass his plan to end the road construction fund into law, and Mr. Fukuda will be poorly positioned to fight a separate battle on foreign policy. In place of the refueling mission, he might entertain a discussion with the DPJ on aid to Afghanistan in another form.

As such, while Mr. Fukuda mentioned the refueling mission in a line in his address last week and said "we must continue" the mission, I suspect we will hear less about it as the summer progresses. (It's also worth noting that the prime minister mentioned the refueling mission not in the context of the US-Japan alliance but in the context of Japan's acting as "peace cooperation state.")

It will likely be all or nothing at all: permanent dispatch law, or the ships come home again.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Forging a Fukuda consensus

Following his first salvo in the creation of a new Fukuda Doctrine, Sankei reports that Prime Minister Fukuda is preparing to launch the next salvo, which will be aimed at remaking Japan's foreign and defense policymaking process, namely by intensifying the Kantei's leadership in foreign policy.

Mr. Fukuda's approach is markedly different from Abe Shinzo's, the former prime minister who wanted to create a US-style National Security Council, an independent national security staff at the Kantei that would presumably be independent from the ministries of foreign affairs and defense. Undoubtedly Mr. Abe and other conservatives saw this as a way to bring their hawkish allies into government and further diminish the power of the hated Foreign Ministry.

Prime Minister Fukuda, however, appears to want to bolster existing arrangements and enhance coordination within and between ministries. He intends to preserve the existing Security Council of Japan that brings together the prime minister, chief cabinet secretary, the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, finance, transport, economy and industry, internal affairs, and the chairman of the national public safety commission. Under the security council, the prime minister intends to create a committee — headed by the assistant chief cabinet secretary responsible for national security and crisis management — on the maintenance of defense capabilities that will facilitate cooperation between the JSDF ground, air, and maritime staff, especially on medium- and long-term planning. The prime minister also envisions a new committee at the cabinet secretariat, chaired by the prime minister's aide responsible for foreign and defense policy and composed of the director of cabinet intelligence, the directors of MOFA's foreign policy bureau and MOD's defense policy bureau, and the aforementioned assistant chief cabinet secretary. This committee would be responsible for synthesizing foreign and defense policies.

Conservatives in both the US and Japan love to hate their countries' foreign ministries (and foreign policy establishments more broadly) as being effete and inclined to "sell out" the country to the enemies of the nation. But this loathing is not without consequences — look at how the OSD policy shop, led by Douglas Feith, effectively diminished the role played by both the State Department and the CIA in planning for the Iraq war and its aftermath. (The sad fate of the State Department's Future of Iraq project is telling, although it bears mentioning that, as noted by Charles Patterson, a participant in the project, "More planning was needed than the Future of Iraq Project, even had the plans been heeded.")

As such, rather than creating new organizations to do end runs around ministries responsible for foreign policy, Japan will be better served by better coordination among existing agencies. But more important than institutional arrangements, what Japan needs is a vision for its foreign and defense policy that has been lacking since the end of the cold war. If MOFA and MOD have been working at cross purposes, it has not simply been a matter of broken institutional arrangements: the responsibility lies with the prime minister (and the ruling LDP) for failing to articulate a coherent foreign policy for Japan. As I noted yesterday, Mr. Fukuda's new doctrine has considerable value, but if it is not institutionalized — whether in the form of international agreements or government planning documents — and instilled in the minds of Japanese citizens, then it can easily be ignored by future governments.

In short, Mr. Fukuda needs to find a way to make his doctrine the successor for the crumbling Yoshida Doctrine, a Fukuda consensus to guide Japan in the early decades of the twenty-first century. As the endurance of the Yoshida consensus illustrates, institutions are secondary to the ideas of a foreign policy consensus.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The new Fukuda doctrine

On Thursday of last week, Prime Minister Fukuda gave a keynote foreign policy address at the fourteenth annual International Conference on the Future of Asia, hosted by Nikkei in Tokyo.

Not for the first time Mr. Fukuda gave me reason to lament his political troubles at home, as he gave a speech that was stunning in the breadth of his vision, his clear assessment of the challenges and opportunities facing Japan today, and his recognition that Japan needs to make serious changes if it is to retain power and influence in Asia.

After expressing his sadness over lives lost in the Szechuan earthquake and the Burmese cyclone, the prime minister opened by citing his father's "Fukuda Doctrine," articulated in 1977, and pointing to the changes that have occurred in Asia in the three decades since, pointing in particular to the prosperity and development achieved by ASEAN members and other Asian countries. (In a plug for this week's TICAD in Yokohama, Mr. Fukuda suggested that Africa can learn from Asia's experience and achieve a similar economic miracle.)

In a rare citation of Fernand Braudel by a head of government, Mr. Fukuda appealed to the attendees to work over the next thirty years to make the Pacific Ocean an "inland sea" that is the center of global order, the same role played by the Mediterranean — as documented by Braudel in his work on the Mediterranean world — in pre-modern and early modern European history. He emphasized liberalization and diversity in the Asia-Pacific, which will enable all involved to pursue "unlimited possibilities."

This regional vision is a bit too flighty for me, although interestingly, Mr. Fukuda does not mention APEC once in this speech, surprising considering that APEC includes countries from all sides of the Asia-Pacific (but excludes India, an increasingly important player in the East Asian balance) and is the primary institution dedicated to liberalization in the Asia-Pacific. As an APEC skeptic, I'm not disappointed, but this concept of "Pacific as inland sea" seems more poetic than practical.

The interesting portion of the speech is the section after Mr. Fukuda's discourse on Braudel. In this section — which includes five promises for concrete action necessary to create an Asia-Pacific network community — Mr. Fukuda casts Japanese foreign policy, including the US-Japan relationship, in a new light and suggests how Japan will be able to preserve its influence despite domestic limitations.

The key for Mr. Fukuda is reassessing Japan's relationships. He spoke at some length about forging a new relationship with a Russia looking to develop the Russian Far East and East Siberia and play a greater role in East Asia. Mr. Fukuda expressed his hopes for a Russo-Japanese peace treaty and his belief that Russia can make a contribution to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific. He called attention to Japan's contributions to development in South Asia, especially in India, contributions that will undoubtedly intensify in coming decades.

Moving on to his five promises, Mr. Fukuda first spoke at length about the importance of ASEAN, promising to deepen cooperation with the organization by promoting a special ambassador to ASEAN and creating a full diplomatic mission in the near future. He emphasized the importance of the Japan-ASEAN comprehensive economic partnership agreement currently under negotiation and pledged that Japan will work with ASEAN to combat economic inequality and cooperate to promote food and energy security.

His second promise concerned the United States. Compared to the eight paragraphs he spent discussing ASEAN, Mr. Fukuda talked about Japan's relationship with the US in a mere two.
Point number two, Japan promises to reinforce public goods in the Asia-Pacific in its alliance with the US.

It goes without saying that the US is the single most important member of the Asia-Pacific region. I always say that 'If the US-Japan alliance is strengthened, it will resonate in Asia diplomacy.' In Asia unstable, uncertain factors like the North Korea problem still remain. The resolution of the Korean peninsula question is indispensable for the stable development of all of Northeast Asia. Today, the US-Japan alliance, more than being a device for the security of Japan, has taken on the role of a mechanism for the stability of the Asia-Pacific. Accordingly, the future outlook for Asia is of a peaceful place — in other words, a low-risk, secure place, a place in which trade and cultural exchanges can continue to expand. And so I think that this is a cornerstone of a prosperous Asia.
This is consistent with the vision of the alliance outlined by Mr. Fukuda during his visit to Washington in November 2007, a vision with which I am deeply sympathetic. The US will remain an important player in Asia, but its role will be less transformative and more about providing public goods, as the prime minister said. The US has long done this, but it will increasingly become the crux of the US role in Asia and the raison d'etre of the US-Japan alliance. Not merely an alliance for the defense of Japan, not a global alliance that is a mile wide but an inch deep, not an alliance dedicated to promoting democracy or dragon-slaying, but an alliance that recognizes the importance of stability in East Asia and in which Washington and Tokyo use all the tools at their disposal — and work with all potential partners — to pursue regional stability. Whether Washington embraces this vision will depend on the next president.

Relatedly, Mr. Fukuda reiterated his promise to make Japan a "peace cooperation state." "Peace cooperation" includes a role for Japan's self-defense forces, as the prime minister emphasized the need to work together to patrol the straits of Malacca, clearing them of pirates and terrorists. (Presumably the Japanese coast guard would also be involved.) It also includes peacekeeping and state-building activities in countries like Cambodia and East Timor and disaster prevention and relief, both of which will entail more cooperation with ASEAN. To this end, Mr. Fukuda wants to create an "Asian disaster and disease prevention network."

His fourth promise involves the promotion of more intellectual and cultural exchanges in the region, especially among youth. His fifth concerns combating climate change, consistent with Mr. Fukuda's goals for the G8 summit and domestic plans to promote a low-carbon emissions society.

He concluded his speech by acknowledging that this vision may seem optimistic in light of the gloomy mood abroad in the world, but suggests that the only way forward is together. He further acknowledges that Japan must make changes at home even as it works with its Asian neighbors to solve collective problems. His short list of challenges for Japan — which he has previously discussed — include promote greater equality between men and women, opening up Japan specifically to foreign investment and to foreign influences more broadly, and overcoming the problems of a shrinking, low-birth rate society.

As before, I am deeply impressed by Mr. Fukuda's vision for Japan and its place in the world in the twenty-first century. It is worth noting that in his vision for Japanese foreign policy, there is no need for constitution revision or reinterpretation. If anything, he argues implicitly that Japan needs to be less concerned about its military capabilities and more concerned about its diplomatic assets, namely its relationships with other countries in the region. The US-Japan alliance (and, mutatis mutandis, armed force), while important, cannot be Japan's only tool for solving problems in the region. Moreover, he recognizes that if Japan is going to play an important role in the region, it cannot afford to neglect its relationships with its neighbors and other regional powers. (And, presumably, it cannot afford to allow those relationships to be dragged down by bits of barren rock.)

How unfortunate that Mr. Fukuda was elected in September 2007 instead of September 2006, when he would have had enough support with which to make substantial progress in reconfiguring Japan's foreign policy and tackling the domestic problems that threaten to limit its influence. As of now, it is unclear whether this new Fukuda doctrine will survive its progenitor's government.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Looking to 2014

The future of the US-Japan alliance increasingly rests on Guam, a 209 square-mile island 1500 miles from Tokyo. The intricately arranged realignment process that envisions the relocation of roughly 8,000 Marines (and their dependents) from Okinawa to Guam by 2014 depends on both governments funding and executing major construction projects in Okinawa and Guam in a timely manner.

However, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on 1 May (available for download here), Brian Lepore, director for defense capabilities and management at the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised serious questions about whether Guam will be ready for the 2014 target.

The problem, Mr. Lepore noted, is that the Defense Department and the US military have not moved past the initial planning stages.

"DOD has established a framework for the military buildup on Guam; yet, many key decisions must still be made, such as the final size of the military population, which units will be stationed there, and what military facilities will be required...the exact size and makeup of the forces to move to Guam and the housing, operational, quality of life, and service support infrastructure required are not yet fully known."

Despite these unanswered questions, DOD is preparing a budget request for FY2010 that will provide for the first phase of construction on Guam. And the government of Guam and its representatives in Washington are still crying out for federal assistance for expanding Guam's infrastructure to handle the influx of US military personnel and their dependents. To this end, Madeleine Bardallo, the territory's congresswoman, introduced the Joint Guam Projects Oversight Act in April, calling for the creation of a "Guam Defense Policy Review Initiative Account" at the Treasury that will fund off-base construction and including a clause calling for a memorandum of understanding between the DOD and the government of Guam on federal assistance. (Also see Congresswoman Bardallo's remarks on 7 May introducing the bill.)

Mr. Lepore goes on to outline the realignment process, explaining the various actors involved in the process, the division of labor among them, potential obstacles. He notes that a particular concern is the environmental impact assessment for Guam, not due until 2010, which could significantly impact the shape of the US presence in Guam (and thus the realignment process as a whole). He further notes that the Marine Corps has yet to determine the best mix of forces to base on Guam. Beyond these unanswered questions, the GAO noted potential funding shortfalls (DOD's estimates leave out significant elements of the process) and operational shortcomings on Guam (including the inadequacy of training facilities).

In short, it is reasonable to ask whether Guam will be ready to host the USMC's Okinawa refugees in 2014 (plus a year or two) — and if not, what's plan B?

It is imperative that the US consolidate and shrink its military presence in Japan, without which Japan will continue to underperform as an alliance partner, threatening the survival of the alliance. With US forces in Guam, they will be five days by sea to Korea instead of the 1.5 days from Okinawa; they will be five hours by air to Korea instead of two. Japan will have to assess and improve its capabilities to respond to regional contingencies, something that the US has heretofore done on Tokyo's behalf; for my part, I don't doubt that the Japanese government is capable of adjusting to the post-realignment environment. But unless the realignment proceeds as planned, the Ministry of Finance and other opponents (for one reason or another) of more robust Japanese defense capabilities will undermine efforts to plan for the Guam gap.

Arguably what's needed is executive initiative, if not from the president, then from the secretary of defense. Neither will be forthcoming before January 2009. But the next administration will inherit this mess. And it should make a point of cutting through the intra- and inter-governmental disputes, guarantee funding for expanding Guam's infrastructure, moving the planning process up the ladder to the secretary of defense, and, as I've argued before, removing the Japanese government from the Guam side of the process entirely. The construction on Guam is messy enough without introducing Japanese money (and Japanese oversight) into the process.

2014 may seem like it's far away, but without immediate and sustained involvement by the highest levels of the US government, 2014 may pass with the 8,000 Marines of the III MEF still sitting on Okinawa.

Alliance cooperation

The HMCS Toronto, in New York for Fleet Week 2008, seen from my window this morning:

The LDP and DPJ cooperate on space

The House of Councillors has, as expected, passed a new space basic law on the back of cooperation between the LDP, Komeito, and the DPJ.

As noted previously, the law ends the 1969 ban on the use of space for military purposes, permitting the government to deploy high-resolution spy satellites. The law also calls for the creation of a cabinet-level space agency.

This effort was backed by an alliance of LDP boei zoku, industrial concerns, and defense ministry bureaucrats interested in promoting a "space vision for the national defense."

I wonder what the US government makes of Japan's pursuit of higher quality spy satellites and a more active space posture, in light of Ambassador Schieffer's remarks this week. Does this program meet the ambassador's approval? As this Mainichi article notes, there are fears among Japan's defense establishment that in the event of a crisis it would take too long to get information on missile launches from the US. It seems reasonable to me that Japan would want more autonomous intelligence-gathering capabilities. I suspect that this aspect of the basic law helped bring the DPJ on board, considering that the DPJ's hawks tend to emphasize more independence from the US than their LDP counterparts.

While the law's advocates stressed the importance of military satellites to aide the JSDF's expeditionary capabilities, this is basic law is about defending the Japanese homeland. This is a prime example of Japan's pursuit of a "hedgehog" defense policy. As Machimura Nobutaka said at a press conference Wednesday, the idea of Japan using this law for aggressive ends is absurd.

As Ross pointed out here, the US must recognize that "a more capable Japan is a more independent Japan."

Summer in Japan

I will be in Japan again as of next week, this time for longer. I'll be staying the summer, writing (possibly working on a book) and perhaps giving talks in the Tokyo area.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Schieffer bemoans Japan's (lack of) defense spending

On Tuesday, J. Thomas Schieffer, US ambassador to Japan, spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, where he called on Japan to spend more on defense.

Judging from the coverage in the foreign and domestic press, it appears that the ambassador spoke bluntly, declaring, "I think the Japanese are getting a bargain in the (US-Japan) alliance on what we bring on the table." The Japanese press seems to have emphasized his remarks on the Asian arms race; both Yomiuri and Sankei note little on the remarks other than that the ambassador called attention to rising defense expenditures in China, Russia, and South Korea at the same time that Japan's have continued to drop. (AP and Bloomberg also focus mostly on the regional dimensions of his remarks.)

The problem is not the message but the messenger. The US government has been urging Japan to spend more on its defense for decades (a half-century of remorse for giving Japan Article 9). What will these remarks achieve that decades of prodding haven't? Does the US have a solution to Japan's fiscal crisis that will give Japan the budget room to spend more on defense? What good is accomplished by telling the Japanese government to spend more on defense at the same time that it's trying to pay down the national debt and overhaul the welfare state?

How about some creative solutions for getting more out of what Japan is already spending on defense? Laudably, Ambassador Schieffer called attention to Japan's woefully corrupt defense procurement process. But what he didn't do is look at the US role in encouraging Japan to free or cheap ride on US defense expenditures. It is hard for the US government to complain about Japanese cheap-riding with some 40,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan. Japan has had no incentive to change its behavior thanks to the US security guarantee. As such, I would be more impressed if the ambassador spoke on what the US can do to change the incentives. For example, the US government could offer to renegotiate the 2006 realignment agreement and free Japan from paying for the relocation, which would both free up money for the Japanese government and hasten the realignment process (which should in turn force the Japanese government to reassess its defense policy in light of the III MEF moving 1500 miles eastward).

Ambassador Schieffer's remarks are probably harmless — it's easy enough for Tokyo to ignore them. But is this any way to run the alliance? Given that the budgetary (and legal) constraints on Japanese foreign and defense policy are unlikely to change in the short and medium terms, it would be better for the US and Japan to discuss how to make the most of existing capabilities and determine why exactly the alliance exists in the twenty-first century, a discussion that's been delayed (at least at senior levels) for too long.

The post-Fukuda landscape remains open — for now

Aso Taro, who has presumably been vying for the LDP presidency since losing it to Fukuda Yasuo in September 2007, was asked about his intentions at a speech on Monday. Like his potential rival, Yosano Kaoru, Mr. Aso demurred, declining to declare what has been openly acknowledged for months.

I suppose it would be inappropriate for Mr. Aso to start measuring Mr. Fukuda's coffin overtly, especially when he can let the media (and other members of the LDP) do it for him. But no one should take his humility at face value.

As noted previously, Mr. Aso's assumed candidacy has already upset the resurrection of the Kochikai, the onetime mainstream faction that was most notably home to dovish, liberal internationalist prime ministers Ikeda Hayato and Miyazawa Kiichi. An article in AERA, a weekly magazine, illustrates why the rebirth of the Kochikai does not mean the resurrection of the liberal internationalists as a major force within the LDP. The party, the article, notes has moved rightward in the years since the faction split in the aftermath of Kato Koichi's abortive rebellion against then-prime minister Mori Yoshiro in 2000. Not surprisingly, the resurrected faction is a diminished version of the faction that existed in 2000. The difference? The Aso faction, which in 2000 was the Kono (Yohei) group, did not reunite with the Koga and Tanigaki factions, largely because Mr. Aso's policy perspective is vastly different from the policy positions of leaders of the Kochikai.

Mr. Aso's candidacy poses a threat to factional discipline in all LDP factions, the Kochikai included, thanks to Mr. Aso's popularity among younger, reformist LDP members who are distributed throughout the party. Thanks to his "insurgents," Mr. Aso's showing in September 2007 was surprisingly strong considering that he was opposed by all factions but his own. It seems that Mr. Aso has learned his lesson, however: rather than tempt his supporters to buck their faction leaders, he appears to be using the fact of his cross-factional support to make appeals directly to faction chiefs. Two days after the Kochikai's first party, Mr. Aso met with Koga Makoto in an effort to heal a longstanding personal rift — presumably in the hope that Mr. Koga will swing the faction behind Mr. Aso's candidacy (which, as noted previously, would risk alienating his partner, Tanigaki Sadakazu).

Meanwhile the Machimura faction's failure to back a post-Fukuda candidate thus far is now an established fact. Mainichi, reporting on the occasion of the faction's party Monday night (which was attended by approximately 5000 guests), notes that the faction's chiefs are divided on whether to support a candidate from within the faction who if elected would be the fifth consecutive LDP president from the faction. Nakagawa Hidenao spoke of a "hero or heroine," presumably suggesting that he is continuing to back Koike Yuriko, despite Mori Yoshiro's openly dismissing her prospects. Mainichi rules out both Mr. Nakagawa and Machimura Nobutaka, the chief cabinet secretary and titular faction head. No word on Mr. Mori's thinking. Mainichi suggests that the faction leadership wants to nominate someone from within the faction for fear of forfeiting the faction's position, but there is no obvious contender — and the worst outcome of all (for the faction) would be for the faction to nominate one of its own over the opposition of a significant minority, prompting that minority to vote for another candidate.

Division within the Machimura faction is probably good news for both Mr. Aso and Mr. Yosano, as it raises the possibility that either might receive the support of the largest LDP faction should it prove unable to resolve its deadlock.

Indeed, it seems conceivable to me that Mr. Aso might offer a "Tanakasone" arrangement to Mr. Mori and the other leaders of the Machimura faction, agreeing to pack his cabinet with members of the Machimura faction in exchange for its support in the party election.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Nakagawa sees an end to the Fukuda slide

Break out the champagne! The prime minister's slide has stopped!

So declares Nakagawa Hidenao, in response to a Hodo 2001 poll that showed Mr. Fukuda's approval rating rise four points to 24.2% and his disapproval rating fall two points to 70%.

A net six-point shift in a single poll (which is limited to 500 people in the Tokyo area) and Mr. Nakagawa sees an end to the "headwind"? When you do the math, a shift from 72.2% to 70% is a shift of eleven people; a shift from 20.2% to 24.2% is a shift of twenty people. So the prime minister's fortunes now rest on the opinions of some thirty citizens in the Tokyo area?

Perhaps it's a function of having recently read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Fooled by Randomness, but a poll like this seems to be fairly insignificant. Mr. Nakagawa provides a number of explanations for this minuscule shift — discontent with the DPJ's calls to revert to the old over-75 health care system, confidence that Mr. Fukuda will be a reformer thanks to his securing a cabinet decision on his road construction reform plan — but this strikes me as excessive for a shift that may in fact just be random, the product of having found by chance a slighter larger handful of citizens in the Tokyo area who support the prime minister than in previous weeks.

Admittedly my knowledge of statistics is wanting (something that graduate school will correct sooner rather than later), but this strikes me as a thin basis for arguing that the prime minister is poised to reverse his fortunes.

Come back to me when the newspapers release their latest polls — or, better yet, when a media outlet conducts a poll that's actually representative of the public at large. The opinion polls conducted by the newspapers and other media outlets seem useful only in providing a big-picture look at public sentiment, a sense of the trends and the general public mood (supportive, opposed, skeptical, resigned, etc.); the precise numbers don't seem particularly important, given the dubious (or unknown) methodology of these polls.

UPDATE: Asahi's latest poll recorded a one-point fall in Mr. Fukuda's approval rating to 19% and a six-point increase in his disapproval rating to 65%.

UPDATE TWO: In Yomiuri's latest poll, Mr. Fukuda's approval rating reached its lowest point yet (26.1%) in the polls conducted by Yomiuri. His disapproval rating also rose 6.3 points to 64.7%.

So hold off on the champagne.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The balkanization scenario

Sasayama Tatsuo, onetime HR member from Akita who followed Ozawa Ichiro out of the LDP in 1993 and remained with him through the New Frontier and Liberal party eras before losing his seat in 2000, has an idea for the future of the LDP that has the virtue of at least being different.

Mr. Sasayama has a post at his blog entitled, "The time has come for the LDP to think about the road to survival by means of dividing the party."

The title says it all, doesn't it?

Mr. Sasayama's idea is that the LDP should divide into "holonic, small LDP-style, franchise-like parties" that will support LDP governments. (Unclear on the meaning of "holonic?" I had to look it up.) Mr. Sasayama does not indicate how this should come about: how should the LDP break up? how many franchises? should they be ideational franchises? demographic franchises? regional franchises? These questions are left unanswered.

However, this idea is still intriguing, not because the LDP leadership will decide to take this suicidal step — Mr. Sasayama admits that the party leadership might find this troubling — but because it's a plausible scenario for the political realignment that many (myself included) assume is coming before or after the next general election, despite the wishes of the LDP executive.

The formation of the People's New Party in the wake of the postal reform battle, the formation of the "True Conservative Policy Research Group" from the wreckage of the Abe cabinet, and Hiranuma Takeo's persistent threat to form his own conservative party suggest that it's not inconceivable for the LDP to splinter without the micro-parties merging into a new large party. Maybe a two-party system is not a guaranteed outcome of the 1994 electoral reform after all. Perhaps Japan's political future will look like India's present, with national parties forced to rely on smaller regional and ideological parties to form governments (making the current twisted Diet look like a paragon of efficiency).

There is, of course, some precedent for a balkanized Japanese political system. Japan's first postwar decade was characterized by smaller parties on both the left and the right. The merger of the Democratic and Liberal parties (the former being the product of a merger orchestrated by Kishi Nobusuke) in 1955 to form the LDP ended the balkanization on the right by submerging ideological and personality clashes within the party; the balkanization on the left persisted throughout the cold war due to divisions between the JCP and JSP, as well as divisions among the socialists, who but for a few years in the late 1950s were divided into the JSP and the DSP.

Would the split be the prelude to a new set of mergers into two new big parties or would it become a semi-permanent arrangement? And would the DPJ be able to stay intact while the LDP crumbled?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bowling against democracy

When not bowling together, former prime ministers Koizumi Junichiro and Mori Yoshiro apparently spend their time scheming against Japanese democracy.

Both have signed on as advisers — along with Abe Shinzo, another former prime minister from the Machimura faction — to a new LDP study group called the "Diet members league to integrate both houses of the Diet and establish a new unicameral 'People's Diet.'"

I have to concur with Yamauchi Koichi, an LDP HR member representing Kanagawa-9: this is an extremely radical group.

The league, founded by Eto Seishiro, Ota Seiichi, and other LDP Diet members, argues that if Japan were to implement a unicameral system, it would be in line with the majority of the world's countries, nearly three quarters of which have unicameral legislatures. Mr. Yamauchi retorts by noting that no member of the G7 has a unicameral system.

Mr. Yamauchi goes on to describe this proposal as "possibly giving an unfair impression" since it is being introduced after the opposition took control of the House of Councillors. I would say that "unfair" is a woeful understatement. How about anti-democratic? This desire to undermine the DPJ's control of the upper house appears to be all too common in the LDP (and Komeito), especially among senior members of both parties. Faced with its first institutional check on its power, the LDP's response has been to complain about how "useless" the HC is, how irresponsible the DPJ is, and how important it is for the LDP to be able to do whatever it feels necessary to save Japan, despite the voters having decided last year that they're not particularly pleased with the job the LDP has done to this point. Some LDP members, including the current prime minister, have taken the opposition of the public to heart and talk of the need to listen to the people; others, however, including the members of this new league, have decided that it is not the LDP but the system that's broken.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: before any specific economic or social reforms, what Japan needs is transparency and accountability in its political system, mechanisms for checking the power of the government and monitoring its policy execution. DPJ control of the upper house is a great experiment in checks and balances.

The league's proposal is not a particularly realistic one, as it would require a constitutional amendment, which would require approval of the upper house, which would in all likelihood not vote itself out of existence. (The head of the LDP's HC caucus has already voiced his opposition to this idea.)

The significance of this league is in what it says about attitudes within the LDP towards increased political competition. Some LDP members claim to want a "two big-party system" but I cannot help but wonder whether what they really want is just another one-and-a-half party system in which the opposition provides democratic window-dressing for an LDP that does whatever it wants — all in the name of "the people," of course.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The post-Fukuda era looms

Asahi conducted a poll of LDP and DPJ prefectural chapters asking about support for the current party leaders.

In the DPJ, Ozawa Ichiro's relationship with the prefectural chapters is secure: forty-four of forty-seven want him to remain as party head to lead the DPJ into the next general election.

The news for Fukuda Yasuo, however, is bleak. Twelve chapters want Mr. Fukuda to lead the LDP into the next general election; twenty-two want a new leader (no indication what the other thirteen said). Interestingly, there is little correlation between how a prefecture voted in the September 2007 leadership election and its support for Mr. Fukuda today. The reasons given for discontent with Mr. Fukuda are typical: low public support numbers, poor leadership skills, an inability to make progress on the many pressing policy issues facing the Fukuda government. Asked how they think is an appropriate replacement for Mr. Fukuda, only seven chapters answered with a name (as opposed to qualities desired in a leader), and all seven provided the same name: Aso Taro.

The news from the prefectures contributes to a growing sense in Tokyo that Mr. Fukuda is running out of time, a sense that has grown in the weeks since the LDP's defeat in the Yamaguchi-2 by-election as the party has studied its defeat. There is growing talk in the media of the post-Fukuda era, as the media probes the two leading post-Fukuda candidates, Mr. Aso and Yosano Kaoru, the leading anyone-but-Aso candidate for the LDP presidency. (A Google News search finds ninety-eight uses of the term "post-Fukuda" over the past week.) As expected, Mr. Yosano's failure to say yes or no to questions about his ambitions has only fed media speculation about his designs on Mr. Fukuda's job, and now Mr. Aso and Mr. Yosano are spoken of in the same breath as having barely concealed intentions to hasten the arrival of the post-Fukuda era. Indeed, both men have articles in the June issue of Bungei Shunju discussing their plans for saving Japan.

Mr. Aso is at the point where he can no longer deny his intentions. At a press conference Friday, Mr. Yosano was asked whether he intends to aim for the premiership. His response skirted the question: "I am a person who takes pride in his work, and if I have a task, I perform it with all my might. I have no awareness of my individual ambition — I want to do good work." Not quite "I'm in. And I'm in to win." But it is consistent with his overall media approach in recent months: Mr. Yosano has emphasized his desire to do what needs to be done to save Japan (raising the consumption tax rate, for example), regardless of what the polls say.

It is still unclear who has the edge in the post-Fukuda horse race. By dint of his having the support of the LDP's conservative ideologues concentrated in the True Conservative Policy Research Group, his following among prefectural chapters and the public at large, and his tireless efforts to proclaim his understanding of the insecurities of the Japanese people, Mr. Aso probably remains the front runner.

He may also be poised to claim the support of the newly reunited Kochikai, which officially reemerged on Tuesday and with sixty-one members is the third largest faction in the LDP. At its launch the new old faction is already troubled; the phrase that has been used in the press is "setting to sea in the same bed with different dreams." The reason for tension is that there are hints that some faction members are open to supporting Mr. Aso's bid for the party presidency, despite Tanigaki Sadakazu, perennial candidate for the leadership (and likely candidate in the next leadership election), being the faction's number two. Mr. Tanigaki assumed that the new faction would be a major platform for his next bid for the leadership and has reportedly threatened to leave the faction if it fails to support him.

That said, the all-important Machimura faction (i.e., Mori Yoshiro) has yet to signal which way it is leaning, despite Mr. Aso's active courting of Mr. Mori and other Machimura faction chiefs. The post-Fukuda non-campaign campaign is in full swing, the candidates are emerging, and the LDP barons are starting to choose sides — with Mr. Fukuda helpless in the midst of the open campaigning for his job.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The DPJ will use administrative reform as a wedge issue

With the government's having finally dispensed with the gasoline tax and road construction issues — for now — attention is now turning to other portions of the Fukuda agenda, such as it exists.

Item number one is the government's — or perhaps more accurately, Administrative Reform Minister Watanabe Yoshimi's — administrative reform plan (previously discussed here). When I last addressed the administrative reform bill at the beginning of May, the bill had yet to come under discussion in the Diet, with bureaucrats and LDP sympathizers unhappy with the bill.

Now, as of 9 May, the bill is under discussion in the House of Representatives. (The initial proceedings can be read at the National Diet Library site here.) The Fukuda government has decided to prioritize the bill. Prime Minister Fukuda, after a meeting Thursday with the Diet strategy chairmen of the LDP and Komeito, declared that he wants to "exert as much effort as possible" to see the bill passed during the remaining weeks of the current Diet session. It is not clear what "exert as much effort as possible" entails. Does he mean that the government will extend the Diet session to leave the government time to overrule the HC again in the event of DPJ opposition? I ruled out the possibility before, and it seems clear that the Fukuda government will not keep the Diet in session past mid-June. Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Fukuda seems to recognize that freeing up Diet members to campaign in their districts is more important than keeping them in Tokyo to pass token (and watered down) pieces of legislation.

There may actually be some hope for the passage of the government's administrative reform bill, as the DPJ is considering cooperating with the government to pass a revised version of the bill. According to Mainichi, the main points that the DPJ wants to strengthen are provisions related to transparency in politician-bureaucrat contacts and centralized management of the civil service. On the former point in particular, the DPJ wants every case of contact between politicians and bureaucrats reported to the appropriate cabinet minister.

The government, especially Mr. Watanabe, is receptive to the DPJ's position. Nakagawa Hidenao, not in the government but certainly close to Mr. Fukuda, has also spoken favorably about LDP-DPJ cooperation on the administrative reform bill. In a post authored earlier this week titled "More than LDP v. DPJ, the important axis of confrontation is Kasumigaseki leadership v. political leadership," Mr. Nakagawa argued that the government is fully committed to the plan, that it hasn't been watered down from the initial conception of an advisory group to the prime minister, and that the LDP and DPJ must work together to contain the power of the bureaucracy, Mr. Fukuda's "quiet reform."

I still have my doubts about the strength of this bill, not least because as a basic law, it leaves too much detail about implementation unstated. And the DPJ is right to suggest that it doesn't go far enough in curtailing contacts between politicians and bureaucrats. But there is some merit to the bill, not least because it will cause turmoil within the LDP.

The problem is that some (LDP) politicians cannot conceive of a system in which they don't go to the bureaucrats whenever they need information. (Ed. — Or a favor...?)

Okashita Nobuko, an LDP member from Osaka, questioned Mr. Fukuda and Mr. Watanabe about the plan, stating her fear that "if Diet members cannot get essential information from bureaucrats, our activities as Diet members will be obstructed."

Ms. Okashita seems to miss the point of administrative reform (or she gets it too well): it is not aimed solely at bureaucrats, but also at backbenchers who have abused the current system of lax regulation of contact between politicians and bureaucrats to distort policy. (See the case of the late Matsuoka Toshikatsu for a more blatant example.) Presumably restrictions on contact between politicians and bureaucrats will change how the LDP makes policy. The current system, under which the bureaucracy supplies LDP members with information at every stage of the policymaking process thanks to the shadow bureaucracy that is the LDP's policy research system, presumably violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the current administrative reform bill. PARC therefore would have to become more like the British Conservative Party's Research Department, and the party executive — and the prime minister's office — would play an even greater role in establishing policy priorities.

Naturally there are more than a few LDP backbenchers who might be unhappy about this. The DPJ, lacking the dense contacts with the bureaucracy to begin with, has little reason to oppose greater restrictions.

By offering to cooperate, the DPJ is finally using administrative reform as a wedge issue, as the closer the bill gets to passage, the greater the pressure LDP backbenchers will put on the government to back away from the reform (or to make sotto voce promises to water it down in the implementation stage). Administrative reform has the potential to worsen the already strained relations between the Fukuda government and LDP members dependent on pork-barrel politics. In the process, the DPJ can claim that it is acting responsibly on an issue that concerns the public.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Shuffling districts?

At a press conference Wednesday at DPJ headquarters, Ozawa Ichiro hinted at the possibility that he, along with several other prominent figures from the DPJ and other opposition parties, will change districts in the next general election to campaign against governing coalition heavyweights holding seats in Tokyo.

Asahi suggests that if Mr. Ozawa makes the jump from his home district of Iwate-4, he would run in Tokyo-12 against Komeito's Ota Akihiro, who has only ran in Tokyo-12 twice, first in 2003 by a 3,600-vote margin and again in 2005, by a 36,000-vote margin. With Komeito vulnerable, especially after the party's disastrous showing in the 2007 HC election, in which only nine of twenty-four Komeito candidates won, the party's lowest "batting average" in an HC election since 1974, a victory by Mr. Ozawa over the party's leader could be the symbol of Komeito's demise.

The opposition might also have Tanaka Yasuo, former maverick Nagano governor and current HC member from Nagano as a representative of his own New Party Japan (NPJ) run in Tokyo's eighth district against the LDP's Ishihara Nobuteru, former cabinet minister and potential contender for the premiership in the future. Hatoyama Yukio and Okada Katsuya have also been mentioned as possible DPJ "assassins."

There are some who doubt the wisdom of Mr. Ozawa's scheme, however; Asahi notes that some DPJ members are concerned that if Mr. Ozawa has to focus on campaigning in a new district and defeating a prominent foe, he will not be able to travel the country on behalf of DPJ candidates.

I wonder whether this proposal isn't indicative of (over)confidence on Mr. Ozawa's part, so sure is he that not only will the DPJ be able to sweep the LDP out of Tokyo by parachuting heavyweights into Tokyo districts but that second-tier DPJ candidates will be able to retain seats vacated by said heavyweights. Maybe his overconfidence is merited, particularly in regard to his home district in Iwate (AKA Ozawa's kingdom). Maybe the DPJ stands on the brink of a major victory in the next general election. There are certainly signs that suggest that a tipping point has been reached in the public's tolerance for the LDP's policy failures; maybe the Japanese people are finally ready to punish the LDP in a general election and vote for any candidate with "DPJ" next to his or her name. But if that's not the case, this strategy could backfire by forcing formerly secure, heavyweight incumbents to campaign hard for seats while throwing their formerly safe seats open to competition.

In an election that could result in a hung parliament, all 300 single-member districts matter. The DPJ must think hard about whether Mr. Ozawa's suggestion maximizes the party's ability to fight across the country. Will the party be better off leaving Mr. Ozawa and other leaders in safe districts, enabling them to campaign harder for weaker candidates?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bait and switch

The HR passed the road construction bill a second time on Tuesday afternoon, as scheduled. Despite rumors to the contrary, there was no rebellion. Kono Taro and his comrades voted with the government, in the process illustrating why the much-anticipated political realignment has yet to occur: for all the discontent voiced by backbenchers about the leadership of both the LDP and the DPJ, they remain reluctant to bear the risks associated with bucking the party leadership and possibly leaving the party.

Mr. Kono and other reformists are still threatening to fight for the party to adopt the prime minister's plan to phase out the road construction fund from 2009, but after caving on the road construction plan Tuesday, will their concerns be taken seriously in the coming months? As Mainichi reports, despite remaining silent in the face of the cabinet decision supporting Mr. Fukuda's plan, the road tribe remains ready to fight to preserve its privileges. The road tribesmen will instead focus their efforts on the year-end budget proposal, a sound strategy considering that Mr. Fukuda will likely be gone by then, leaving the reformists to fight on alone.

Even with Mr. Fukuda as premier the tribesmen have important allies within the party for their campaign to derail the reform: local and prefectural politicians, who will undoubtedly remind their patrons in Tokyo that their communities need the road fund and suggest that if Mr. Fukuda's plan goes forward, they cannot guarantee that the LDP will get favorable returns in the next general election. Whether such a threat is credible is not the issue — if the LDP leadership becomes convinced that ending the special fund truly alienates the party from its supposed base, that will be enough to ensure that the reform plan gets watered down to the point of irrelevance. The head of the national mayors association has already criticized the plan, no doubt the first of many such comments to come from local politicians.

In short, the LDP, already concerned that its rural base could desert the party in a general election, will not follow through on Mr. Fukuda's proposal, a classic bait and switch.

And so the LDP's death throes will continue, as the LDP can no longer rely on the two methods that had extended its life in the past: opportunistic policy shifts (like this, for example) and "divide-and-rule." (These arguments are made by Ito Atsuo in a Chuo Koron article to which I linked above.) Regarding the former, not only has the LDP calcified ideologically, but its reformist members, who want to change the party's policies, find it nearly impossible to overcome the opposition of older members who desperately cling to their remaining privileges. What do the latter have to lose in resisting reform tooth-and-nail? The party is in no position to punish them, Mr. Koizumi's 2005 purge notwithstanding. Mr. Koizumi's purge of postal rebels — so objectionable to many LDP members, judging by the return of most of the rebels to the LDP — was clearly an aberration.

As for the latter, the LDP's bid to divide and co-opt the opposition by offering a grand coalition to the DPJ clearly failed and if anything united the DPJ in its opposition to the government. This scheme may have temporarily created turmoil within the DPJ by intensifying dissatisfaction with Ozawa Ichiro's leadership, but Mr. Ozawa appears to have quelled most of the resistance to his leadership. The LDP continues to hope that Mr. Ozawa will face a serious challenge in the September party leadership election but the threat to Mr. Ozawa may be overstated. A reformist like Maehara Seiji or Okada Katsuya, both former party leaders, may ultimately stand against Mr. Ozawa, but it is unlikely that the bulk of the party will abandon Mr. Ozawa for either man.

Meanwhile, the depth of the LDP's desperation is revealed in its hope for an incapacitated DPJ.

Realignment scenarios

After months of talking about forming a new party, Hiranuma Takeo, a leading LDP postal rebel who spurned LDP efforts to bring him back into the party during the Abe era, may finally be taking steps to create a new conservative party that may yet be a fly in the LDP's ointment.

Mr. Hiranuma has reportedly been in talks with other former LDP members — "independent conservatives" — to form a new study group. Partners in this endeavor include Watanuki Tamisuke, leader of the PNP; Kamei Shizuka, the PNP's secretary-general; Suzuki Muneo, the disgraced (and indicted) former LDP member, partner-in-corruption of the late Matsuoka Toshikatsu, and representative of his own Hokkaido-based New Party Big Earth; and Nakamura Kishiro, construction minister in the Miyazawa cabinet who was subsequently left the LDP, was arrested and charged with influence peddling in 1994, continued to win elections and serve as an independent HR member until 2003, when the Supreme Court rejected his final appeal and promptly stripped him of his seat and sent him to prison until 2004 when he was paroled (he won his seat back in the 2005 election).

These LDP castaways agreed to take a confrontational stance towards the "Fukuda cabinet's policy line," suggesting that this PNP+ grouping could be the beginning of Mr. Hiranuma's new party, throwing a wrinkle into a political realignment.

Or will it? While Mr. Hiranuma clearly has links to Nakagawa Shoichi and other conservative ideologues in the LDP, it is not at all clear that Mr. Hiranuma will be able to entice them to join his party, considering the ragtag group he has assembled around him. That won't stop the DPJ from looking to bolster Mr. Hiranuma's party in the hope that it will break the LDP. On Monday, Hatoyama Yukio, the DPJ's secretary-general, greeted the news of Mr. Hiranuma's group by calling for cooperation. I hope cooperation goes no further. For all Mr. Hiranuma's anti-LDP posturing, I suspect that his tune would change were Aso Taro elected as leader, suggesting that this gambit may be less an effort to create a third pole in the political system than to improve the terms for Mr. Hiranuma's eventual reunion with the LDP. Ibuki Bunmei, LDP secretary-general, has already come calling.

Mr. Hiranuma cannot possibly think that his party could become a significant third force in Japanese politics. Considering that it would be little different from the PNP, which has elected a grand total of eight representatives (four HR, four HC), why should anyone expect the Hiranuma new party to be anything but a guppy? Obviously that would change if the LDP's conservative wing were to leave the party en masse and join with Mr. Hiranuma, but at that point it would no longer be the Hiranuma new party but the Hiranuma-Abe-Nakagawa-Aso true conservative party, with the "H" increasingly pushed to the side.

The Japanese political system might have room for a third, swing party between two big parties, but I doubt that the swing party will have the ideological coloration of the Hiranuma new party.

The prospect of a Koizumi new party remains, to me, the more intriguing possibility. An article in the June issue of Bungei Shunjyu suggests (in part one) that Mr. Koizumi views the present crisis — a natural outgrowth of his ransacking of the LDP — as an opportunity to build a new political system, with Koike Yuriko acting as his stalking horse.

Another scenario discussed in the latter portion of the article is a bid by Ozawa Ichiro to pry the LDP's liberals away, similar to his failed attempt in 1994 to pry Watanabe Michio and his followers away from the LDP by promising Mr. Watanabe the premiership. The target for Mr. Ozawa's efforts supposedly is Kato Koichi, the once-promising liberal, although it is unlikely that the has-been Mr. Kato could bring significant numbers of LDP members with him.

Nevertheless, if the conservatives retake control of the LDP under Mr. Aso and reunite with Mr. Hiranuma, that alliance could prove fatal for the LDP, as the readmission of Mr. Hiranuma and the other postal rebels could lead Mr. Koizumi and his followers out of the party, perhaps prompting liberals unconnected to Mr. Koizumi to leave too and drift towards the DPJ.

But I still suspect that nothing will happen until after the next general election. Until an election is held, no group knows just how valuable its hand is. The size of the LDP's majority — if it retains a majority — will make all the difference when it comes to potential separatists considering whether to split (the same logic applies to Komeito's partnership with the LDP). The larger the majority, the stronger the LDP will be respective to potential splinter groups. Should the DPJ have a strong showing that puts it within striking distance of a majority, however, there will be a brutal war for the loyalty of possible defectors and Komeito (the latter especially in the event that the governing coalition retains a majority, but not the LDP independently).

Monday, May 12, 2008

The second override

The House of Councillors voted yesterday to reject the ten-year road construction plan passed by the House of Representatives in March. The bill was defeated 108 to 126, with DPJ (proportional representation) members Oe Yasuhiro and Watanabe Hideo rebelling against the party leadership to support the bill, and Kimata Yoshitake (Aichi) and Hironaka Wakako (Chiba) abstaining from the vote. The PNP's four members, who caucus with the DPJ, also abstained from the vote.

The Fukuda government plans to bring the bill to a second vote in the HR Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday morning the government plans to secure a cabinet decision on Mr. Fukuda's plan to phase out the special road construction fund, a precondition for forestalling a rebellion by Kono Taro and his band of reformists. The path to a cabinet decision has been tortuous, as reported by Mainichi. Until the LDP's defeat in the Yamaguchi-2 by-election, the government's policy was to wait until after passing the road construction plan a second time before securing a cabinet decision on the Fukuda plan. Taking the threat of rebellion seriously, the government has changed tacked, and, consistent with the Fukuda government's poor sense of timing, has put off securing a cabinet decision until Tuesday.

Presumably that will ensure that Mr. Kono and his comrades will vote with the government in the afternoon. Yamamoto Ichita anticipates that not even one will defect. He argues, however, that the real battle is yet to come. A cabinet decision is not enough; the reformists will have to fight within the LDP to ensure that the party embraces the prime minister's plan.

Assuming that the road construction plan passes Tuesday afternoon, an extra ten years of road construction funded by the special road construction fund will be law — and Mr. Fukuda's plan still just words.


A reader informs me that the pictures mentioned in this post are most likely not pictures of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, but are instead pictures of the aftermath of the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923.

No less moving, in light of today's news.

Fear and loathing in the wake of Hu's visit

As Jun Okumura notes, a poll by Fuji TV's Hodo 2001 program found that Fukuda Yasuo gained nothing from Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Japan last week.

The poll recorded that nearly sixty percent of respondents disapprove of Mr. Fukuda's China policy.

Beyond public doubts, Mr. Fukuda's action (or inaction) during Mr. Hu's visit have driven conservative commentators into paroxysms of rage over Mr. Fukuda's supposed pusillanimity in the face of Chinese outrages, especially poisoned gyoza and human rights violations in Tibet.

In Shukan Shincho, Sakurai Yoshiko vented her spleen about the visit, arguing that Mr. Fukuda failed to defend Japan's national interests in his meetings with Mr. Hu.

She claims that Fukuda pere et fils have worked on behalf of China to the detriment of Japan, Takeo for consenting to a friendship treaty that "ignored national interests" and contributing to the expansion of the Chinese military by providing ODA, Yasuo for his failure to address the East China Sea dispute and for offering technological assistance on environmental grounds. To Ms. Sakurai, the Fukudas are traitors, "injuring Japan's national interests and betraying the people."

She also criticized Prime Minister Fukuda for calling the Tibet problem an internal problem, even as other world leaders have criticized China and threatened to stay away from the Beijing Olympics. (Of course, when foreign governments criticize Japan for one reason or another — take the comfort women issue, for example — that is a grave offense against Japan for commentators like Ms. Sakurai.) She also attacks Mr. Fukuda for opposing independence for Taiwan.

Komori Yoshihisa, Ms. Sakurai's ideological compatriot, also condemned Mr. Fukuda in the strongest possible terms at his blog. Examining the joint statement, he observes that the statement fails to include the words "democracy," "human rights," and "liberty," while using words like "cooperation," "peace," "mutual," and "friendship" numerous times. Mr. Komori attacks the Fukuda-Hu meetings on the basis of Mr. Fukuda's failure to defend the aforementioned universal values.

I have a particular problem with Ms. Sakurai's casual invocation of the phrase "national interest." She uses the phrase as if its meaning is commonly understood, self-evident to one and all. In no country is that the case. Ms. Sakurai has one vision of the national interest, one that views cordial relations with Japan's rapidly growing neighbor and largest trading partner as not in Japan's interest, and Mr. Fukuda has another, one that recognizes that Japan cannot afford to neglect China, even if pursuing a constructive relationship entails muting criticism of China's human rights record, among other things, and prioritizing process over substance. If there is a problem with Mr. Fukuda's approach is that he has failed to make the case for why Japan needs a constructive relationship and why it cannot adopt the conservative approach to China that entails little more than criticizing China for its failings. As I've noted before, the conservative vision of China policy is not a strategy. They offer no constructive, long-term ideas of how Japan can co-exist with a growing China. Their China policy is nothing but rage, rage that has become especially potent since their ideas get little reception at the center of power.

But because there are so few voices in the Japanese media capable of countering the arguments made by conservatives, their rage resonates, stoking public fears about a menacing China.

What choice does Japan have? Antagonizing China is a dead end for a depopulating, stagnant Japan whose regional and global influence is dwindling. The opposite of antagonism isn't surrender. It is prudent policy for Japan to construct a framework for Sino-Japanese relations within which the two countries can make steady progress on solving bilateral issues and ratchet down the hatreds and fears of the Japanese and Chinese peoples. Japan (and other developed countries) shouldn't totally ignore human rights issues, but, as William Schultz argues, they should be realistic about what pressuring China on human rights can actually achieve. In focusing on cooperative mechanisms and not mentioning the history issue — which, as Mainichi notes, did not go unnoticed by the Chinese people — Mr. Hu indicated that he acknowledges the value in a stable relationship. Mr. Fukuda clearly shares his vision. But can he convince the Japanese public of the wisdom in his approach?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Boldly going where Japan has never gone before

Thanks to an agreement between the LDP, the DPJ, and Komeito, on Friday the HR's Cabinet committee passed a bill that revises Japanese space policy, lifting the 1969 ban on the military use of space. The bill, expected to pass the HR on Tuesday, will create a NASA-style agency attached to the cabinet as a modification of JAXA. As Asahi reports, the bill will also permit Japan to deploy higher resolution spy satellites (Japan is currently limited to commercial-grade satellites).

After passing the HR this coming week, the bill will pass to the HC, where it is expected to pass, although it is worth noting that on this issue, as on other defense issues, there are dissenting opinions within the DPJ, including (I would suspect) members from the party's left-wing-heavy HC caucus.

There are a few relevant questions about this bill.

First, why is the DPJ signing on to this initiative? I suspect that the DPJ is inclined to support this because it gives Japan military capability independent of the US. With higher resolution satellites, Japan would be that much less reliant on the US for information in the event of a crisis (say, a missile launch from North Korea). With the DPJ interested in more autonomy, it is little surprise that the party supports the development of more advanced Japanese space assets.

Second, why now? Is this just another step in Japan's "Sputnik moment," the prolonged reaction to North Korea's 1998 Taepodong launch?

May contribution to FEER Forum

You can find my latest contribution to FEER Forum here, discussing the impending demise of the Fukuda government.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mr. Hu's relentlessly upbeat visit

Chinese President Hu Jintao will leave Japan Saturday after a five-day visit, a visit that the Chinese Communist Party's external relations bureau has described as a "great success."

(Photo from the Office of the Prime Minister)

It is hard to dispute that, as far as symbolism goes, the visit was indeed a success. Mr. Hu and Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo showed that the relationship is on an even keel, and Mr. Hu, by staying longer in Japan than in any other country (a meaningful statement considering his relentless globe trotting), showed Japan that China still finds value in a close relationship with its wealthier (for now) neighbor. The two leaders reaffirmed the "strategic, reciprocal relationship" approach to Sino-Japanese relations developed during Abe Shinzo's premiership.

In a joint statement, the two leaders agreed to a five-point program to enhance peaceful cooperation between Japan and China: (1) political confidence-building measures, including annual summits between heads of state and government, exchanges between parties and legislatures, and high-level visits and talks in the security realm; (2) cultural and personal exchanges; (3) reciprocal cooperation in the areas of energy and the environment, trade, finance, investment, and other economic sectors, continuation of the high-level economic dialog, and making the East China Sea a sea of "peace, cooperation, and friendship;" (4) cooperation in East Asia, including a commitment to the six-party process, with China welcoming normalization of Japanese-North Korea relations following resolution of "various problems," and the realization of an East Asian region grounded in openness, transparency, and inclusiveness; and (5) cooperation to resolve global problems and combat global warming, energy shortages, and infectious diseases (for China this latter effort starts at home).

As one might expect, there is little of substance in the joint agreement. MOFA has provided a list of concrete steps that will be taken in the coming months, but for the most part these are limited to scheduled summit meetings, visits, and exchanges. I'm certainly not complaining about that — the more interaction between the two governments and peoples, the better — but this week's summitry was more about "agreeing to pursue agreement" and establishing a new framework for Sino-Japanese relations than reaching substantive agreement on the real issues that haunt the bilateral agenda.

Reading the transcript of the joint press conference with Mr. Hu and Mr. Fukuda held on Wednesday, it is clear that both governments worked hard to keep the tone positive. The only reference to bilateral history was Mr. Hu's noting that "there are more than 2,000 years of history of friendly interaction between the peoples of Japan and China." The prevailing, tacit agreement in Sino-Japanese — and now, under President Lee Myung-bak, Japanese-South Korean — relations seems to be that all governments concerned will follow the Basil Fawlty line: "Don't mention the war." Unpleasantness over Tibet and poisoned gyoza was dispatched with ease in questioning; indeed, Mr. Hu, questioned about discussions with the Dalai Lama's representatives before the summit, drew a hard line, stating that it is now the responsibility of the Dalai Lama's "side" to forswear violence, separatist activities, and efforts to wreck the Olympics. The two leaders remained focused largely on enhanced political and economic times.

It is worth noting the difference in Japanese and Chinese visions. Mr. Fukuda spoke largely of the bilateral relationship; Mr. Hu spoke of the bilateral relationship, but embedded it in a regional and global context. In his remarks at the press conference, Mr. Hu spoke frequently of mechanisms for bilateral and regional cooperations. Wannabe dragon slayers may think that talk by Chinese officials about multilateral cooperation is a ploy to disarm potential enemies, but I think that may be overly cynical. China clearly recognizes the value of regional institutions, even with Japanese involvement (that might dilute China's power within said institutions). Judging by this summit, there is an appreciation in Beijing that it is better to placate Japan and have it play a constructive role in the region than to have an embittered Japan drawn to fantasies of containing China. The China on display at the joint press conference was a confident regional leader dedicated to creating a new East Asian order — hence there was no mention of the US (or Taiwan) by either leader.

There is nothing the US can or should do about this: Japan needs stable, cordial relations with both the US and China. Indeed, perhaps the more Japan undertakes initiatives outside the US-Japan alliance, the healthier the alliance will become, as Japan will feel less obligated to do Washington's bidding for lack of other options.

The question now is whether this approach is sustainable within Japan. For months now, the LDP's ideological conservatives and their allies in the media have been hammering Mr. Fukuda for being soft on China, especially in regard to Tibet and the poisoned gyoza issue. The "True Conservative Policy Research Group," the seat of the conservative ideologues within the LDP, has been particularly relentless in its criticism of Mr. Fukuda.

In a Mainichi article reviewing the group's opposition to Mr. Fukuda's China policy, one member is quoted as saying, "China policy will be one important theme in the next party president election. If Mr. Aso enters the presidential election, most of the members will shift their support to him." This last line is not particularly surprising — I've assumed from the beginning that Nakagawa Shoichi's study group is at least in part a committee to elect Aso Taro — but this article as a whole shows that the conservative approach to China remains bankrupt. The conservatives still have nothing constructive to offer. They would still rather harangue China for its failings than outline a way forward.

While Mr. Abe's overtures to China suggest that a conservative prime minister can still pursue a positive relationship with China, I fear that an Aso government — particularly an Aso government accompanied by a McCain administration calling for a League of Nations Democracies — would be considerably less forward-looking in its China policy. Mr. Aso might not necessarily return Sino-Japanese relations to the Koizumi-era deep freeze, although a glance at this speech he gave in 2006 on Yasukuni, in which he fails to mention the enshrined Class-A war criminals, suggests that Mr. Aso might have a devastating impact on the latest Sino-Japanese rapprochement; Mr. Aso and his comrades will most likely not embrace the Fawlty line. With Mr. Fukuda enfeebled and Mr. Aso positioning himself to take the premiership, there may yet be bumps ahead, sooner rather than later.

That said, I suspect that over the long term, the ability of China hawks in both Japan and the US to freeze or rollback cooperative ventures with China will be limited, provided that Beijing continues to talk about cooperative mechanisms and regional order. The challenge is making it to the long term with the least amount of backsliding due to agitation by conservatives.

UPDATE: Perhaps as part of the ongoing process of reinventing himself, Mr. Aso praised the talks as being effective on the tainted gyoza problem.