Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yamasaki's lonely fight

What a difference fifteen years make.

In his memoir, Abe Shinzo wrote of his lonely fight — alongside Nakagawa Shoichi and a handful of other LDP conservatives — to oppose normalization with North Korea and place the abductions issue at the center of Japan's North Korea policy. They battled against the LDP, the media, academia, and the foreign ministry to force them to consider the plight of the abductees before providing North Korea with aid and clearing the way to diplomatic recognition.

Here we are in 2008 and Mr. Abe got his wish. Resolving the abductees issue has become a primary goal of Japan's North Korea policy, a goal that enjoys substantial support in the public, the media, and the LDP. The US is pilloried for giving (symbolic) ground to North Korea without resolution of the issue — and the Fukuda government is pilloried for letting the US shift happen. Mr. Abe, Hiranuma Takeo, and other conservatives set the tone on North Korea.

And Yamasaki Taku, an advocate of normalization with North Korea, is left to fight a lonely battle against a public largely opposed to his proposal.

His fight has become a personal one, as Mr. Abe has decided to make a mission of demolishing Mr. Yamasaki's argument.

Mr. Yamasaki appears happy to reciprocate. Appearing on a Western Japan TV program Saturday, he called Mr. Abe "the howling dog" of North Korea policy, whose baying has accomplished nothing. He further insisted that it was a mistake for Japan's North Korea policy to depend largely on US pressure; Japan, he said, had to take more proactive action itself in negotiations with North Korea.

Mainichi provides a longer quote from this appearance, that makes his argument even clearer: "America's greatest national interest is stopping North Korea's nuclear development, and compromise on the nuclear issue is possible. The Japanese abductee problem is a problem in Japan-North Korea relations, and it is not an appropriate attitude to depend on another country for the solution."

What a sensible — and rare — argument for a Japanese politician to make in the midst of the moaning about the "shocking" US shift. How ironic that conservatives, interested in an independent, assertive foreign policy, cannot tolerate the US government's taking a different position. Does Japan really need the US in order to solve the abductions issue, as implied by conservative dismay over last week's announcement (Japan has lost its "America card," Mr. Hiranuma said)?

Unfortunately there are few signs that Mr. Yamasaki's view will win out. The government is proceeding gingerly, emphasizing that nothing has changed yet and declaring that the Fukuda government will continue to make a priority of the abductions issue. (See statements by Machimura Nobutaka on Fuji TV's Hodo 2001 program.) But according to Mainichi, ambiguity surrounding the details of the recent agreement with North Korea to re-investigate the abductions has made the prime minister a target of public dissatisfaction.

Of course, the Fukuda government isn't alone in taking the blame. Plenty of blame is being directed towards the US. Over the weekend, Mr. Abe called on President Bush to honor his promise to the abductees. Ibuki Bunmei, the LDP's secretary-general, added his opinion, suggesting that the US has been "deceived" by North Korea. He suggested that the Bush administration may betray Japan further by repeating the Clinton administration's decision to send a senior official to Pyongyang.

Is there no other significant LDP official willing to support the Yamasaki line?

Another illustration of how the LDP has changed since the cold war ended. The party belongs to the revisionists now. Pragmatists like Mr. Yamasaki are tolerated but marginalized.

Friday, June 27, 2008

An Ozawa indiscretion?

Ozawa Ichiro's comments on the US decision to proceed with removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism — mentioned here in passing — have apparently caused a tempest in Washington, as US Asia watchers have taken issue with his claim that the US "never" takes Japan's wishes into account when making decisions.

Wrote Chris Nelson, eponymous author of the Nelson Report, the indispensable newsletter on US Asia policy:
Japan's political leadership has never successfully restored adult supervision in balancing the DPRK's nuclear weapons and offensive missile threat vs the heartbreaking humanitarian issue of the "abductees."

As a consequence, Japan has played itself out of a central role in dealing with its most obvious strategic threat, and has compounded the failure by blaming it all on the US.

Opposition leader Ozawa today distinguished himself by saying that Bush's decision to start the de-listing process, in order to proceed with the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, shows that "...Japanese people now realize that the United States never takes into consideration Japan's wishes when making a decision."

I have a hard time taking issue with this interpretation of the split on North Korea; I made the same argument earlier this week in this post.

I will attempt, however, to defend Mr. Ozawa from detractors in Washington who have jumped on this latest remark as more evidence of a pronounced anti-American streak in Mr. Ozawa's thinking that will taint the foreign policy of an Ozawa-led DPJ government.

What is Mr. Ozawa's purpose in making this statement?

In all likelihood, Mr. Ozawa made this statement with domestic considerations in mind. Indeed, everything that Mr. Ozawa says and does should be considered in light of its consequences for the DPJ's position in the next general election. Will the position outlined help or hurt the DPJ in its campaign to unseat the LDP? Mr. Ozawa today is the consummate political animal. That may not have been the case at one time, when he was the great hope for reformers domestically and alliance managers in Washington who thought that under his leadership Japan might become a normal nation.

As Shiota Ushio wrote of the DPJ's embrace of Mr. Ozawa in Minshuto no kenkyu:
Ozawa has been called an 'ideas and policy politician.' More than this, the hidden side of the 'political situation and political game politician' is Ozawa's true self.

On the other hand, the 'ideas and policy DPJ' has structural flaws as a party, being conspicuously weak and fragile in its ability to respond to the political situation, its governance and management abilities, its election strategy, and its organization. Does 'political situation and political game Ozawa' plan to remake the DPJ's longstanding image as a 'ideas and policy party,' and with that, does he aim to fix the DPJ's structural flaws and strengthen the party?" (269-270)
Mr. Ozawa's behavior in the two years since taking control of the DPJ — and Mr. Shiota's own analysis — suggest that the answer to both questions is yes. For Mr. Ozawa, political calculations take priority over policy considerations, a trait that has frustrated certain DPJ members and American Japan hands to no end.

Accordingly, his statement on the US government's never taking into account the wishes of the Japanese people is less a criticism of the US government than of the LDP for its handling of the US-Japan alliance. A report at the DPJ website of the press conference where Mr. Ozawa made this statement provides context for the remark, context that is lacking from the Mainichi article from which Mr. Nelson quoted.

At the press conference — which, it is important to note, was held in Okinawa — Mr. Ozawa spoke on the alliance at length, not just on the Korean question. He addressed problems with the realignment of US forces in Japan, and in Okinawa in particular. His speaking in Okinawa should immediately set off a red flag. As noted previously, the DPJ has struggled in Okinawa in the past (Okinawa's lower house delegation currently has no DPJ members) and has tailored its policies on the realignment of US forces in Okinawa accordingly. Therefore, it is no surprise that in his remarks he embedded his criticism of the US shift on North Korea in a discussion of the problems with US bases in Okinawa and the status of forces agreement.

"To have a true alliance relationship, it is absolutely necessary that it be equal," he said. He then proceeded to criticize the LDP for failing to create a more equal alliance: "Under the current LDP administration, the US-Japan alliance cannot be called an alliance. This SOFA makes that perfectly clear."

It is this thread — that the LDP has failed in its management of the alliance — that runs throughout Mr. Ozawa's remarks in this press conference. Mr. Ozawa was primarily concerned with criticizing the LDP and making the case for a DPJ government to an Okinawan audience; he was not necessarily criticizing the US, at least not on North Korea.

Indeed, Mr. Ozawa recognizes that the US will make policy decisions based on its own assessment of its interests. He reserves his criticism instead for the LDP and its allies in the bureaucracy, both of whom he claims failed to recognize how the US makes its decisions.

"The decision by our largest ally America to lift [the terror sponsor designation] is a decision based on its own national interests and global strategy," he said.

"It is a tragedy for the Japanese people and a tragedy of LDP-Komeito politics that the government, that the bureaucracy has no recognition of this."

In short, Mr. Ozawa was making an election pitch to the people of Okinawa in this press conference. He was arguing that LDP governments over the past seven years have failed to stand up for Japan and have failed to articulate and defend Japan's national interests, preferring instead to hope that the US will defend Japan's national interests. Again, his position is less critical of the US for "abandoning" Japan than critical of LDP-led governments for leaving Japan in a position to feel abandoned in the first place.

In light of my own argument about the inequities in the US-Japan alliance, I am extremely sympathetic to Mr. Ozawa's argument here. The alliance is unequal. LDP governments have been overly solicitious of the US. The alliance will be stronger if Japan learns to say no when it disagrees with the US. Japan should not expect the alliance to function like a Japanese interpersonal relationship, a complex set of obligations accumulated over time that will enmesh the two countries indefinitely. What Japan's policymakers may come to realize from the North Korea shift is that past support for the US (in Iraq, for example) is no guarantee of reciprocal support for Japan in areas deemed vital to Japanese national interests (the abductions issue, for example). Future Japanese governments — LDP or DPJ — will likely take this lesson to heart and will likely be less forthcoming with support for the US unless (1) Japanese interests are clearly at stake or (2) there is an explicit quid-pro-quo.

Moreover, I should mention that Mr. Ozawa's position is likely a popular one. Insofar as the Japanese people are interested in foreign policy — and that's not particularly far — they are dismayed with the government's failure to stand up for Japan in its relations with other countries, whether China, North Korea, South Korea, or the United States. "Standing up for Japan" is a matter of style, not policy; Japanese citizens seem to desire a government that speaks out in defense of its interests and forcefully challenges insults to Japan's honor.

So would foreign policy be much different under a Prime Minister Ozawa? Probably not. In his remarks, Mr. Ozawa promised to listen to the people of Okinawa and solve the problem of US bases in Okinawa. He offers no hint of what this would entail (apparently not the 2006 realignment agreement?). He calls for an equal alliance with the US, but offers little hint for how to get there. Presumably in the event of a US-led war, Japanese involvement would depend on a UN security council resolution, as Mr. Ozawa has said on a number of occasions. An Ozawa government would undoubtedly look for closer ties with other regional powers, not least China.

But like the Fukuda government, a DPJ-led government would be overwhelmingly focused on "livelihood" issues — to borrow from the DPJ's 2007 election campaign, a DPJ government would be a seikatsu daiichi government. Foreign policy issues would take a back seat to fixing the welfare and healthcare systems and reforming the political system through redistricting to enhance the DPJ's long-term electoral prospects. An Ozawa government would not expend significant amounts of political capital on foreign policy, meaning that for better or worse the core of the US-Japan alliance would remain unchanged. It would probably be less global in its activities, but otherwise the US would remain Japan's leading ally in the region, and vice versa.

Would it be preferable for Mr. Ozawa to avoid hyperbolic remarks? Yes, of course, but observers must be aware of the reasoning behind his remarks and not rush to conclusions about the policy implications.

A problem-oriented or a partner-oriented US Asia policy

The Asahi Shimbun has published an op-ed by Richard Danzig and Joseph Nye, who as foreign policy advisers to Senator Barack Obama outline how an Obama administration will approach relations with Japan.

Superificially, there are not too many points of divergence with the Yomiuri op-ed penned by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman last month.

Both Danzig-Nye and McCain-Lieberman argue that the alliance rests on both shared interests and shared values. Both see the alliance as central to US policy in Asia. (Danzig-Nye end their piece by saying, "Close cooperation with Japan is the starting point for US policy and interests in Asia.") Both acknowledge the need for a broader bilateral agenda, although the Danzig-Nye piece is more explicit about what that agenda might contain.

Beyond the repetition of the standard mantras about the alliance, however, there are significant differences in the role they envision for the alliance in the region. The difference can be summarized thusly. Mr. Obama's Asia policy would be problem oriented: he sees problems in the region that must be solved, and is not especially discriminatory as to how they're solved. Mr. McCain's Asia policy would be values oriented, or, more precisely, partner oriented: who the US works with matters more than what it works on. Accordingly, Mr. Obama recognizes the value of the US-Japan alliance and other standing alliances in the region, but it seems that he would proceed from problem to partner; Mr. McCain would start by consulting closely with partners, and then, in cooperation with democratic allies in the region, would proceed to address regional problems and work with other countries in the region (i.e. China).

The difference in these perspectives can be seen in how the candidates responded to the latest development in the six-party talks. Mr. Obama hailed the "progress" but suggested that the degree to which sanctions are lifted should depend on the degree to which North Korea cooperates (i.e., his concerns are problem oriented); Mr. McCain cited the fears of Japan and South Korea to question whether the time is right to lift sanctions (i.e., prioritizing relations with US allies over the problem-solving process).

One can also see this difference in the respective op-eds.

First, the "Obama" op-ed makes no mention of China as a issue area for the alliance. The McCain-Lieberman op-ed, however, argues that a stronger alliance is critical to working with a stronger China, noting, "It is precisely by strengthening our alliance and deepening our cooperation that Japan and the United States can lay the necessary groundwork for more durable, stable, and successful relations with China." Note that in regard to China, a McCain administration would work with Japan first, and then proceed to build a new framework for relations with China.

Second, a McCain administration would revive the now-dormant effort to enhance cooperation among "the great Pacific democracies," citing Japan, Australia, and India specifically (interesting how India, a country that is nowhere near the Pacific, is mentioned but South Korea, a burgeoning democracy actually on Asia's Pacific littoral, is presumably included among "others"). A bulk of the McCain-Lieberman op-ed addresses the importance of democracy (and its promotion) in East Asia, meaning that "shared values" would inform a McCain administration's Asia policy. For Mr. Obama, it seems, shared values serve as a basis for the US-Japan relationship but not necessarily as the center of the bilateral agenda.

Indeed, echoing Prime Minister Fukuda's recent argument about the alliance's role in the region, Mr. Obama sees the value of the alliance in terms of whether it promotes stability in the region, and seeks to embed the alliance in a broader regional organization that will help restore regional confidence in the US.

As Messrs. Danzig and Nye write, "It is essential that both countries cooperate closely to develop a new regional framework that will protect our essential interests and values. Mr. Obama, in a debate last autumn regarding the construction of an international framework for Asia, said, 'America ought to be regarded as a partner with a high degree of credibility.' Without reducing the US-Japan alliance's central role as the 'foundation for regional stability,' it is possible to create new frameworks and dialogues."

(Also absent from the Danzig-Nye piece is any of the protectionist rhetoric that Mr. Obama recently directed toward South Korea and Japan, an indication that it is awfully difficult to be both protectionist and a regional leader, a lesson that Japan ought to understand well.)

In short, there are differences in how an Obama administration and a McCain administration would approach Japan and Asia.

A McCain administration would have a number of points of continuity from the Bush administration in its Japan policy. While abjuring from explicit containment of China, it would emphasize shared values and seek to deepen ties among the region's democracies. It seems, however, that Mr. McCain has at least learned that the alliance is weakened if the US leads and Japan follows: "If we are to ask more of each other, we must also pay greater attention to each other's concerns and goals." He cites greater cooperation on climate change as one way in which his government would listen more to Japan.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, seems to share the outlook of Mr. Fukuda and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, among others. Disinclined to divide the region into democracies and autocracies (or non-democracies), Mr. Obama would seek to work with any and all appropriate partners, not just formal allies, in addressing regional challenges — necessarily meaning more cooperation with China, because as the Bush administration has learned, few of the region's most intractable problems can be solved without China's involvement.

In practice, the difference between a problem-oriented and a partner-oriented Asia policy may not be all that great, provided that Mr. McCain does not go overboard in pursuing an Asian alliance of democracies and provided that Mr. Obama doesn't take up Japan passing like the last Democratic president and remembers that formal allies are important tools too.

The challenge for Japan, meanwhile, is the same regardless of which candidate wins in November. It needs to articulate its goals and interests in Asia and learn to say no to the US when it disagrees with US policy.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No surprises

When is a shock not a shock?

Sankei Shimbun's front cover this morning proclaimed, in large print, "Shock to the Japanese nation."

The headline, of course, referred to President Bush's announcement Thursday that, in keeping with the principle of "action for action," the Bush administration will (1) lift "the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act with respect to North Korea" and (2) inform Congress of its intent "to rescind North Korea's designation as a state sponsor of terror in 45 days."

Is there a set of criteria to determine when an event counts as a shock to the Japanese people?

This has been a shock more than a year in the making. As early as May of last year, there were rumors that the US government was prepared to link the "terror sponsor" designation to the nuclear issue, instead of the abductions issue (i.e., a "terrorism" issue). While the rumors last May were subsequently denied, the possibility had been broached that the US would reward North Korea for progress in nuclear negotiations with removal from the list. Japan has had a year to either dissuade the US from doing so — as recently as February, conservatives were prepared to do a victory dance over the carcass of the six-party talks — or to shift its position accordingly in preparation for a move by the US.

Is a crisis still a crisis if it is wholly predictable well in advance?

The response of each of the actors was equally predictable. The abductee families responded with anger and disbelief. Prime Minister Fukuda emphasized that US-Japan cooperation on the abductions issue and North Korea policy more generally will be unaffected by the announcement. The response in the Japanese political system was equally predictable. Yamasaki Taku's study group for normalization with North Korea welcomed the step; Hiranuma Takeo's abductee problem study group warned about cracks in the alliance; Ozawa Ichiro said the US was ignoring Japan; and unspecified young LDP Diet members warned that if the delisting proceeds without North Korea taking appropriate actions, Mr. Fukuda's popularity will suffer yet another blow.

As I argued previously, this is unquestionably a positive step, even if the report filed by North Korea left out information related to missile production, nuclear testing sites, the uranium refinement program, or possible proliferation activities. It was unreasonable to expect that the process would wrap up in one fell swoop, with North Korea handing over information about all of its dubious activities and the US responding by rushing to full diplomatic recognition. This is a complicated dance, now moving forward, now back, now standing still. Secretary Hill and the State Department more generally deserve credit for their perseverance, not just in the face of North Korean intransigence, but also sniping from Japan (the "Kim Jong Hill" moniker, for example) and from within the Bush administration.

This process is not about full disarmament, but buying time, finding a way to reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula, freeze North Korea's nuclear programs as much as possible (and prevent proliferation), and possibly get North Korea to open its door to the world ever so slightly. Yes, there is also the possibility — based on North Korea's behavior in the past — that North Korea will not keep its end of the bargain. But lacking good alternatives (sanctions are useless as long as China opts out, war is extremely unlikely both because of the US position in Iraq and because of the immorality of America's launching a war in which South Korea would bear the brunt of the costs) negotiation is the last bad option. North Korea doesn't follow through? Fine, then it doesn't receive any of the benefits of negotiating with the US. North Korea delivers something concrete? Okay, the US responds by lifting one of its many sanctions on North Korea.

As President Bush said Thursday, "North Korea will remain one of the most heavily sanctioned nations in the world. The sanctions that North Korea faces for its human rights violations, its nuclear test in 2006, and its weapons proliferation will all stay in effect. And all United Nations Security Council sanctions will stay in effect as well."

In short, North Korea is only slight less of a pariah today than it was yesterday. But the process will move forward.

So I second Steve Clemons's congratulations to Christopher Hill, John Negroponte, Condoleezza Rice, the former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns and his successor William Burns. They have made the best of a bad situation, even if their opponents in Japan and the US will not pay them the slightest compliment for their deft work.

UPDATE: In this post, Sam Roggeveen at The Interpreter asks a question I meant to ask.
"...What I'm not seeing from the critics is a plausible alternative plan. Nobody is suggesting military action to disarm North Korea, because given the geography, Pyongyang effectively holds the city of Seoul hostage. Isolating the regime also seems to have done very little good.

"And what harm can be done by this approach? Yes, North Korea gains economic aid and a sense of legitimacy from being brought out of its pariah status, but those are favours that can easily be stopped or revoked.

"To paint these negotiations as if the US is being held over a barrel by the crafty Stalinists in Pyongyang is at best a partial reading. The US and its negotiating partners have a lot of what North Korea wants — wealth. That remains an important point of leverage."

UPDATE TWO: It seems that Machimura Nobutaka, in a phone conversation with Stephen Hadley, US national security adviser, informed Mr. Hadley that the Japanese people were "shocked" by the US decision.

Again, assuming that it's true that the Japanese people are shocked — and having seen no evidence showing how they're shocked, I'm not accepting this claim at face value — why didn't the Japanese government do more to prepare them for the US decision, given that the US has advertised its willingness to remove North Korea from the list for nearly a year now? The Fukuda government will try to shift as much blame to the US as possible, but will anyone buy it? The conservatives certainly won't: they'll be happy to blame both the US and the Fukuda government.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Web developments

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest daily by circulation, is finally entering the twenty-first century.

Earlier this month it revamped its website, introducing an RSS feed and other web tools. It also created a clipping service, for which users must register.

Meanwhile Japan's other political parties have followed the LDP and created YouTube channels of their own (DPJ; JCP; NKP; PNP; SDPJ; NPJ — links also available at YouTube's Japanese politics portal). Koike Yuriko has her own channel too.

Like the LDP channel — which at the moment features an odd video of Abe Shinzo promoting a Diet tour led by Mr. Abe himself — none of these channels is particularly interesting: lots of videos of people sitting in front of microphones. Nevertheless they should provide the occasional laugh.

Speaking of laughs, allow me to close with this video, featuring silly pictures of everyone's favorites, the "dangerous" ANA (Abe-Nakagawa-Aso) politicians.

The DPJ debates its election

The DPJ is scheduled to hold a leadership election in September.

There is some debate about the election. Should the party even bother with an election (see this article in Liberal Time), or should it just reaffirm Ozawa Ichiro as party president to minimize the risk of election-related instability? Should it wait until September, when the extraordinary session of the Diet is likely to have already begun, or should it hold an election in August, just before or at the very beginning of the session?

On the former, there should be no debate. While the LDP hopes that the DPJ will hold an election and that it will be fierce, pitting Mr. Maehara and his followers against Mr. Ozawa, that is no reason not to hold one. On the other hand, if the DPJ doesn't hold a vote, the LDP will complain about the DPJ's being antidemocratic. So the DPJ should ignore the LDP, ignore the media, and hold an election. If Mr. Ozawa's position in the party is so strong that he can be reaffirmed without a vote, then he should have no problem winning a vote. Yes, having a proper leadship campaign will give Mr. Maehara or a surrogate an opportunity to air their grievances against Mr. Ozawa's leadership (something that Mr. Maehara is obviously already doing). The party is better off letting him challenge Mr. Ozawa in a formal setting than continue to undermine the party in the media and to add "dictatorial control" to his list of grievances about Mr. Ozawa's leadership of the party. A formal election could be cathartic, and as a result strengthen Mr. Ozawa's legitimacy and power at the head of the party.

As for the latter question, there is little reason to wait until September to hold the election. Tahara Soichiro argues in Liberal Time that "until the DPJ leadership election, nothing will improve in Nagata-cho." I think Tahara overstates internal opposition to Mr. Ozawa — large sections of the party may be uncomfortable with Mr. Ozawa, but I don't think a majority of the party "always opposes" him — but his general point is right. As long as Mr. Ozawa is distracted by sniping from his internal opponents, he will be less able to pressure the government. An election won't end internal opposition to his leadership by any means, but it will delegitimize it somewhat, as he will have a new mandate to lead.

There is no consensus on the timing of the election, however. Hatoyama Yukio, the secretary-general, has nixed proposals to move it forward; Koshiishi Azuma, the head of the DPJ caucus in the upper house and an advocate of reelecting Mr. Ozawa without a vote, would prefer to hold an election before the new Diet session, as soon as the party finishes its survey of party members and supporters eligible to vote in a leadership election (now scheduled for completion in early August). No word on where Mr. Ozawa himself stands on the issue.

He should push for an early election, giving his critics their moment in the spotlight , disposing of them, and getting back to the business of unseating the LDP before the Diet reopens in late August.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The consequences of the US-Japan rift on North Korea

With North Korea expected to deliver its account of its nuclear program Thursday — excluding its existing nuclear weapons, which Chris Hill has said will be addressed in the next round — the US is prepared to move forward in removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The long-awaited blow to the US-Japan alliance has been landed, even as the Fukuda government has agreed to go along with the US move.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Fukuda said that he hoped this would contribute to progress on the nuclear front, even as he said that he looks forward to further cooperation with the US in resolving the abductions issue. At the same time, Machimura Nobutaka, in a press conference Tuesday morning, cautioned the US to examine the North Korean report carefully before proceeding, a lame statement of the sheer helplessness of the Fukuda government's position.

The US will go forward, and the Japanese government will follow along meekly behind — ignoring the wishes of the conservatives (and a bulk of the Japanese public) that North Korea should stay on the list until it follows through on the latest agreement on the abductees. They want North Korea's position on the terrorism list to remain linked to acts of terrorism (however long ago they occurred); the US, perhaps acknowledging that North Korea is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism (at least against other countries), is prepared to link removal to another, arguably more important issue. As argued in an article in this week's AERA, this latest move may trigger a spasm of protest from the public. It will be the latest and perhaps greatest charge in the conservative case against Mr. Fukuda: giving in to both the US and North Korea and abandoning the abductees, while getting nothing but an oral promise from the US that it will continue to pressure North Korea on the abductees. This probably destroys whatever chance Mr. Fukuda had of staying in power long enough to lead the LDP into the next general election.

That said, it is worth asking how Abe Shinzo would have handled this had it happened under his watch as prime minister.

His admirers seem to think that he would have been able to say no to the US. The bloggers at Pride of Japan ended a post on this issue with the statement, "I think that the time demands the appearance of a politician with backbone, like former Prime Minister Abe."

But would Mr. Abe have stood up to the US in this case and said no, his government will not support removing North Korea from the list? What would he do instead? What could he do instead? Would he respond by tightening Japanese sanctions even more? A US move to lift sanctions on North Korea makes Japan's sanctions, no matter how astringent, that much less effective. What would rejecting the US position at this point do but isolate Japan further and make it even less likely that North Korea would cooperate in resolving the abductions issue? Mr. Abe might have spoken in harsh terms, he might have appealed directly to President Bush for a promise that the US will continue to help on the abductions, but ultimately I suspect that Mr. Abe too would fall into line.

I am fine with the turn that the six-party talks are taking. I think that the gain of neutralizing North Korea's nuclear program is a worthy goal, and that it should take priority to issues like the abductions issue. If lifting sanctions bit by bit — effectively a series of small bribes — moderates North Korea's behavior and buys the region's powers some time to plan for the tsunami of instability that will likely follow Kim Jong-il's death by keeping the Korean Peninsula stable, then the talks will have been successful. The US has had little choice but to talk (and to talk with China's assistance) because it had no other option short of doing nothing. Mr. Hill has made the most of a poor situation. All of which is why I opposed the Abe government's pulling Japan out of this process. Japan, like the US, had no real way to compel North Korea to change its behavior. As the country that may be most threatened by a nuclear North Korea, it should have been in the lead, alongside the US and China, in finding a way to defuse the situation, if not disarm North Korea. Instead it opted out of the process, on the grounds of North Korea intransgience on the abductees.

I have little sympathy with the argument that the abductees are a primary "national interest," on the grounds that the Japanese government must secure the lives of every Japanese citizen. (Mr. Abe makes a variation of this argument at length in Utsukushi kuni e.) Does it rank somewhere on the list of Japanese national interests? Probably. Is it a top interest that should take priority over other interests like, say, stability on the Korean Peninsula, good relations with Japan's neighbors, and a diminished threat from North Korea? I would argue no. The deal may yet fall apart due to another shift by North Korea or domestic opposition in the US (Steve Clemons has the details on the situation in Washington) — but given the lack of other options, it has been a useful effort, one in which Japan should have played more than a begrudging role.

The failure of the US to explain its reasoning more fully — and the failure of Japan to be more flexible in its defense of its national interests — have resulted in a blow to the alliance, in that both Japanese elites and the Japanese public have lost confidence in the US as an ally. That blow may have been unavoidable: I suspect that part of the reason for the loss of confidence, especially among elites, is that after Japan gave its full-throated support to the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would receive equally full-throated support in dealing with North Korea. The US wasted opportunities to disabuse Japan of that idea and left Mr. Hill to bear the brunt of Japanese anger; the president should have made it explicitly clear why the US shifted on North Korea. But even then it is likely that there would still be a feeling of betrayal among Japanese.

Where will the US-Japan relationship go from here? The alliance will survive, but I expect that future Japanese governments will be less trusting of the US. I would not go so far as journalist Aoki Naoto (author of a book entitled A State That Could Become An Enemy: USA), who argues that this is the beginning of an antagonistic relationship between the US and Japan and the start of a US-China security relationship. In fact, the US shift on North Korea might prove to be a good thing for the alliance. As a result of having been "abandoned" in the six-party talks, Japan may finally learn to say no to the US, which could result in a stronger, more effective partnership in which Japan feels less obligated to do whatever the US asks. Much like Japan's 1990 failure in responding to the Gulf crisis led to a decade of soul-searching for Japan's foreign policy establishment, so too might this incident prompt soul-searching that leads to a Japan better able to articulate its interests to the US, even if it means disagreement between Washington and Tokyo.

As in the aftermath of the Gulf crisis, Ozawa Ichiro may show the way. Asked to comment on the developments in the six-party talks, Mr. Ozawa stated that Japan has little ability to influence US strategy, and added on the abductees, "The US has until now said good things to the abductee families, but it did not take our national strategy and our interests into account at all." I expect that should the DPJ form a government in the near future, it will be much less inclined to follow the US in the way that LDP governments have (especially LDP governments under Messrs. Koizumi and Abe).

As a result of the six-party talks, future LDP governments may share Mr. Ozawa's assessment.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The world's top public intellectuals...

Foreign Policy and Prospect have released the results of their joint poll asking who are the world's top public intellectuals.

Of the top ten, all ten are Muslims and write about Islamic issues.

The twenty-first century will be profoundly shaped by developments in the Islamic world, but I think this result overeggs the pudding, as the British would say. A product of ballot-box stuffing perhaps?

Foreign Policy
admitted as much in its summary of the results:
...A number of intellectuals—including Aitzaz Ahsan, Noam Chomsky, Michael Ignatieff, and Amr Khaled—mounted voting drives by promoting the list on their Web sites. Others issued press releases or gave interviews to local newspapers. Press coverage profiling these intellectuals appeared around the world, with stories running in Canada, India, Indonesia, Qatar, Spain, and elsewhere.

No one spread the word as effectively as the man who tops the list. In early May, the Top 100 list was mentioned on the front page of Zaman, a Turkish daily newspaper closely aligned with Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Within hours, votes in his favor began to pour in. His supporters—typically educated, upwardly mobile Muslims—were eager to cast ballots not only for their champion but for other Muslims in the Top 100. Thanks to this groundswell, the top 10 public intellectuals in this year’s reader poll are all Muslim.
In any case, this confirms my readers' suspicions that this vote was a pointless exercise. I'm inclined to agree, and not just because of the absence of a single Japanese from the list of nominees (although Foreign Policy's Minxin Pei insisted that Funabashi Yoichi should have made the list). It's interesting that despite the much-vaunted rise of (East) Asia, the only East Asian in the top twenty is from India (Amartya Sen), whose credentials as an East Asian country some might question despite its membership in the East Asia Summit.

What does this list tell us aside from which intellectuals are best at mobilizing their supporters? (There's something about the combination of "intellectuals" and "mobilizing their supporters" that doesn't sit right with me.)

DPJ ranks swell

Nikkei reports that the DPJ now has more "party members/party supporters" than ever before.

The total number at the end of May was 270,000 members/supporters nationwide, compared with 244,000 in September 2006 (when Ozawa Ichiro's current term as party leader began) and 201,000 in 2007 (the month isn't specified).

What matters is where these new members are located. If they are concentrated in the rural districts targeted by Mr. Ozawa, they could be a sign that Mr. Ozawa's efforts in rural Japan are bearing fruit, a sign that rural Japan's "allergy" to the DPJ is vanishing and that the party is set to make major inroads in the next general election. The surge is less significant if it is comprised mostly of urban and suburban floating voters who have been pushed from the "leaning DPJ" category into the "firmly DPJ" category.

Unfortunately the party isn't sharing the geographical distribution of this influx of members and supporters.

Nevertheless, it is a sign that the DPJ is doing something right. Regardless of its internal squabbles, the party will profit from deepening discontent with the LDP-Komeito coalition's management of the government.

Meanwhile, for those wondering about the difference between party members and party supporters, the rules are spelled out in section two of the party's rulebook. Both members and supporters make contributions to the party in their applications for membership. Party members are attached to a campaign office — one per single-member election district — while party supporters apply to local campaign offices and prefectural chapters. Both members and supporters have a vote in party leadership elections. The biggest difference is that members "take a part in planning party administration, activities, and policies" (and are expected to agree with the party's principles and policies), while supporters "can [emphasis added] take part in planning party events and activities" insofar as they are inclined (but don't necessarily have to agree to principles and policies).

The money involved is negligible: members pay 6,000 yen annually, supporters pay 2,000 yen annually.

More important than money, the members and supporters provide bodies, ensuring that DPJ candidates will have volunteers to distribute fliers, stuff envelopes, and make phone calls. Again, if enough of these new members and supporters are in districts in which the DPJ has never won before, they could make the difference between victory and defeat for the DPJ.

On the national interest

In the 20 June edition of his column in Yukan Fuji, an evening newspaper, Nakagawa Shoichi tackled recent developments in Japan's relations with its neighbors.

Not surprisingly, he wrote that the government should be taking a harder line in negotiations with North Korea over the abductee problem, China over East China Sea gas rights, and Taiwan over possession of the Senkakus.

What is of interest is how he advanced these positions. In discussing the negotiations with China over the East China Sea gas fields, Mr. Nakagawa emphasized the importance of defending the national interest. "When I was METI minister, I gave prospecting rights in the East China Sea to Japan's private oil companies," he said. "The government, in order to defend the national interest, should support this prospecting work." (国益, こくえき, national interest.)

The "national interest" is a popular term not just among Japan's conservatives, but among Japanese intellectuals at large. As Japan struggles to find its place in a changing world, this phrase is used to justify any number of foreign policies. But it is rare that the people using the phrase define exactly what it means. It is often used as a bludgeon; when the speaker or writer uses the phrase to describe a policy he or she is advocating, the implication is usually that anyone who disagrees with said policy is acting against the national interest and thus betraying Japan. After all, who could be against the national interest?

The national interest, however, is not a given. As Ishizuka Masahiko argued in Nikkei Weekly in April, it is not exactly clear what the "national interest" means. Mr. Ishizuka was addressing comments by Komori Shigetaka, chairman of NHK's board of governors, in which Mr. Komori suggested that NHK programs "targeted at audiences outside the country should be more assertive about 'Japan's national interest' on issues where the Japanese point of view differs from that of other nations." In response, Mr. Ishizuka wrote, "The source of the controversy arising from Komori's remark seems to be that what exactly dictates "national interest" as he calls it is not clear at all, and it tends to be identified with the establishment to which he obviously is considered to belong. Making the issue more complicated is that national interest and its perception can change from issue to issue." He goes on to argue that Japan will be best served by emphasizing the multiplicity of voices within Japan — in short, that there is no single national interest for NHK to beam abroad.

The phrase "national interest" is (or should be) the beginning of a discussion, not the end of one. An example of the former usage is US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's essay in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, entitled "Rethinking the National Interest." The first sentence of Ms. Rice's essay poses the question, "What is the national interest?" She spends the rest of the essay trying to answer it. Not only does she try to posit a definition of the national interest, she also considers whether the US has the means to defend its national interests. I have yet to see a Japanese policymaker or commentator make a similar argument for Japan, clearly articulating not only what Japan's national interests are, but, more importantly, listing them in descending order of priority and explaining what means Japan needs to secure them (or what it needs to do domestically to ensure it has to wherewithal to secure designated national interests).

I am in full agreement that Japan needs to give more thought to its national interests, but simply repeating the phrase does not equal giving the matter more thought. The way it is used now stifles rather than encourages a debate to define Japan's national interests.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Waiting for Obama

A new LDP club has formed that some have described as "capable of inciting the overthrow of the government." The group, known as the "Association for the implementation of a new presidential election [for the LDP]," was instigated by Yamamoto Ichita and is a response to the freefall in the LDP's public approval. They will compile three proposals to present in October: (1) a plan for greater transparency in the LDP; (2) a method of cultivating new leaders; and (3) a primary system for LDP presidential elections, to ensure more "dramatic" elections. (A glance at their prospectus — read below — shows not surprisingly that this is in part a response to the US Democratic Party primaries and the interest they attracted worldwide. They must realize, of course, that the candidates make the primaries interesting and not vice versa.)

The group, according to Mr. Yamamoto, has thirty-five members. Mr. Yamamoto also provides the group's prospectus, which is instructive in considering where the prime minister and the LDP stand at the end of the extraordinary Diet session:
The Liberal Democratic Party is on the verge of its greatest crisis since the formation of the party. Not only has an image been established of a "party clinging to established rights and interests," but opposition to the new eldercare system, anger at the vanishing pensions problem, and the recurrence of wasted tax revenue scandals have caused the public's "loss of confidence in the LDP" to raise to levels never seen before. In particular, in last year's House of Councillors election the governing parties lost their majority because "let's give the DPJ a chance" syndrome [I love this phrase] was not just in the cities, but spread to rural areas. Unless we find "ways to bring the party back from the dead," there is a strong possibility that in the next general election we will fall into opposition.
The prospectus then goes on to offer proposals for making "dramatic LDP presidential elections," starting with a proposal to lift the requirement that candidates must have twenty endorsements (which, they argue correctly, makes for faction-centered elections). The prospectus explicitly points to the example of South Korea's 2002 presidential election and the "Obama boom" in the 2008 Democratic primaries as ways in which parties revived their public fortunes through dramatic campaigns. The rest of the prospectus contemplates way to run a primary campaign process that will maximize public interest and revive the LDP.

Call it the Obama plan. The whole group seems organized for the purpose of finding the LDP's Barack Obama (or the LDP's Kimura Takuya in the TV drama "Change" — the prospectus cites both examples), a young, charismatic star who will somehow transform the party. (Speaking of Kimu Taku, in the July issue of Voice, Tahara Soichiro and Takenaka Heizo discuss a dream cabinet for executing reform. Their prime minister? Kimu Taku. Funny, but sad, so very sad.)

If Japan has a Barack Obama, chances are he's not already in the LDP, serving time on PARC and Diet committees. Chances are he's stayed away from politics altogether. And even if the LDP has a young, charismatic reformist waiting to take the reigns, it is unlikely that he (or she) could fix the party. The faction chiefs and zoku giin would swallow the new leader alive, either through constant warnings about the danger of taking one risk or another, or through outright opposition with the help of the bureaucracy. A pretty face and a silver tongue will not save Japan, and will not save the LDP.

Nevertheless, however unlikely the idea that reform of the system for electing LDP presidents will rescue the party, this could be the beginning of a move to push out Prime Minister Fukuda. If enough LDP members go home for the summer and hear from their constituents about the need to replace Mr. Fukuda before the next election, they might be drawn to Mr. Yamamoto's scheme — or if not his specific scheme, then the underlying idea that the party can rejuvenate itself through a leadership election.

The curtain comes down on the ordinary Diet session — and Fukuda and the LDP?

The 169th ordinary session of the Diet comes to an end Saturday, with the comprehensive economic partnership agreement with ASEAN passing naturally. The session ends with the prime minister's having been censured by the upper house and three opposition parties' boycotting proceedings (with a handful of exceptions). Mainichi reports that of eighty bills submitted by the government, only sixty-three passed for a success rate of 78.8%. Not only that, the eighty bills submitted was lower than the usual 100-120 bills per session.

It's not clear to me why this should be surprising. The government doesn't control the upper house. The opposition can and has held up legislation it opposes. If anything, it's remarkable that the government was able to achieve a 78.8% success rate — and that it was able to do so having only used its lower house supermajority on a handful of occasions.

There will be much wailing and rending of garments about the gridlock of the nejire kokkai, but I am not convinced that divided government has been an unmitigated disaster for Japan. The DPJ has managed to balance, however unsteadily, its roles as leading opposition party and master of the upper house.

The biggest problem, the leading obstacle standing in the way of the major changes Japan needs is not the divided Diet but the divided LDP. The toughest policy battles the prime minister has had to wage have not been across party lines but within the LDP (with the exception of the anti-terror law). Mr. Fukuda's battles against his own party will only intensify in the autumn as he attempts to force the party to follow him in phasing out the road construction fund and raising the consumption tax rate. The LDP remains the leading opponent of reform, regardless of what its leaders say.

As a result of tension within the LDP (and the DPJ), talk of a political realignment, most likely after the next general election, remains common. While his popularity has improved slightly in the final weeks of the session, Mr. Fukuda may still end up presiding over the destruction of his party — unless someone forces him out first.

It is possible that after playing host to his fellow G8 leaders in two weeks, Mr. Fukuda will opt to reshuffle his cabinet. Yomiuri reports that he is "groping towards" a post-summit reshuffle that will revitalize the government in advance of what will be a busy extraordinary session — and a long extraordinary session, as it will likely begin at the end of August to leave the government enough time to pass the refueling mission extension by Article 59 if necessary. A reshuffle, however, will not save his government. It might in fact hasten his demise, should the reshuffle free senior LDP politicians now serving in the cabinet to speak against the government. As Mainichi reports, a reshuffle could just as easily lead to disorder within the party. (And there's still the question of whether the prime minister would bring Mr. Aso and/or Mr. Yosano, the leading contenders to replace him, into a new cabinet.)

Some LDP members are looking for a savior — see this post — but no one person can save the LDP. Something appears to have snapped in the Japanese people. Or more accurately, something appears to have snapped in rural voters, who have continued to vote for the LDP in large numbers even as their city cousins abandoned the LDP to become DPJ voters (or floating voters). The number one task for Mr. Fukuda was and is healing the rift between the LDP and its rural supporters that opened under Mr. Abe and played an important role in the party's defeat in the upper house election last July. There is no indication that Mr. Fukuda has made any progress in repairing the LDP's prospects in rural areas. Indeed, after the over-75 eldercare system rollout, the situation is even worse.

This is the reality facing the LDP. There seems to be little Mr. Fukuda can do to change it. The question now is whether the LDP will give someone else a chance to try to save the LDP before the next general election.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Japan is number five

In the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's (SIPRI) 2008 yearbook, released earlier this month, Japan ranked fifth in military expenditures (valued at $43.6 billion in market exchange rate terms and amounting to 4% of total world military expenditures), behind the USA, the UK, China, and France.

But it turns out that Japan also ranked fifth in Vision of Humanity's Global Peace Index, behind Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and New Zealand. Looking at the top five, it seems obvious that homogeneity helps. (Wikipedia has more on the index here.)

A look at the index's methodology shows that Vision of Humanity is measuring not just international peacefulness, but "societal safety and security."

Japan's gross military expenditures didn't hurt its rank because the index considered military expenditures as a percentage of GDP, not total spending. Incidentally, according to Vision of Humanity, Japan's defense spending is 1.295% of GDP, not less than 1%, reflecting the fact that Japan hides some military expenditures in other ministries and agencies. (VoH uses the following definition for military expenditures as a percentage of GDP: "Cash outlays of central or federal government to meet the costs of national armed forces - including strategic, land, naval, air, command, administration and support forces as well as paramilitary forces, customs forces and border guards if these are trained and equipped as a military force.")

Meanwhile, the Economist, which played a role in organizing the index, has acknowledged that the index is distorted somewhat because many countries may score well on the index because they are protected by the US, enabling them to lower their military expenditures. This certainly must be kept in mind — were the US-Japan alliance to loosen or dissolve, Japan's rank would probably rise over time. Nevertheless, given the range of variables used to determine the ranking, the alliance with the US doesn't explain all or most of the result. As I argued in this post, Japan has built an extraordinary society in the sixty years since the war ended, an island of peace, stability, and prosperity in a region and world that is often anything but.

It seems that the Japanese people should be proud of this achievement, and their leaders should not be so quick to discard it.

(Hat tip to The Strategist for the survey.)

Republic of Bloggers

It's two months after the fact, but readers can listen to my comments on political blogging in Japan delivered at the Korea Society of New York's "Republic of Bloggers" event in April.

Click here to listen. (I'm the fourth speaker.)

Fukuda, a glutton for punishment

On Tuesday, at the same press conference where he complained about the stress of the job, Prime Minister Fukuda made a statement guaranteed to ensure that his stress will increase inexorably.

"Since [the consumption tax rate] is only 5%, we are burdened with a budget deficit. We must decide — this is an extremely important period. If we think about the aging society, the road is narrowing." He compared Japan's consumption tax rate unfavorably with European consumption tax rates, but admitted that he didn't know how the public would respond to a consumption tax hike. [This story was front page news in Asahi.] The idea is that the LDP and the Diet will debate comprehensive tax reform in the fall.

Yamamoto Ichita seems to have a better idea of how the public will respond — and finds it intolerable that some LDP members are willing to proceed with the tax hike even if it means an LDP defeat.

"In my thirteen years in politics, I have never met a politician 'resolved to discard his Diet member's badge at any time."

The prime minister has now opened the flood gates on a debate between tax-hikers (many of whom happen to be zoku giin) and budget-cutters, the latter of which want to government to trim as much waste as possible from the budget before raising taxes. (Nakagawa Hidenao is probably the leading advocate of this school of thought, as in this post in response to the prime minister's remarks.) Naturally the zoku giin don't want to see "wasteful spending" trimmed — because it's not wasteful to them.

In short, the prime minister will be attempting a tricky maneuver in the autumn, dealing a blow to the road tribesmen by getting his road construction plan written into law and then wheeling about to use a victory on the road construction (read: budget trimming) front to get a consumption tax hike. He will do all of this while dealing with a party full of backbenchers terrified that they will lose their seats in the next election. In order to execute this pirouette successfully, Mr. Fukuda has quickly assembled a project team on eliminating waste, headed by Sonoda Hiroyuki, to " review [spending] thoroughly with an eye to reducing waste to zero." According to Shukan Bunjun, the project team is staffed with abrasive reformist Diet members like Kono Taro who are bound to use the project team to antagonize bureaucrats and zoku giin alike as they review spending in four areas (public works, social security, energy and agriculture, and culture and technology) in search of savings. (An additional working group will focus on spending in another twelve ministries and agencies, including the ministries of foreign affairs and defense.) I wish Mr. Kono and company success in their endeavor, but I cannot help but wonder whether this project team is too little, too late.

It sounds like a recipe for catastrophic defeat, especially when discontent over North Korea is thrown into the mix. It is becoming less and less likely that Mr. Fukuda will survive the year. Moreover, by introducing the consumption tax question, Mr. Fukuda is poisoning the well for the post-Fukuda era, making it difficult for tax-hiker Yosano Kaoru to win election as his replacement.

Mr. Fukuda has not only triggered a fierce debate within the LDP; he has also given encouragement to the DPJ, which is desperately in need of LDP mistakes (just as the LDP is in desperate need of DPJ mistakes — I leave it to you to determine which needs the other's mistakes more). Ozawa Ichiro jumped on the prime minister's remarks, arguing along lines similar to Mr. Nakagawa's that wasteful spending must be eliminated first before having a debate about tax reform.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Abe charges in

Less than a week after the Fukuda government announced a new approach to the North Korea problem, Abe Shinzo, self-appointed defender of the abductees, has charged into the fray to criticize Yamasaki Taku, head of a Diet members' group advocating a normalized relations with North Korea. Mr. Abe claimed that Mr. Yamasaki's comments have diluted the government's bargaining power in the midst of negotiations.

Responding to Mr. Yamasaki's dismissing his thinking as "infantile," Mr. Abe admonished Mr. Yamasaki to "think and act in the national interest."

Not surprisingly, Mr. Abe also admonished the government (and the US) not to act unless North Korea moves substantially first.

Mr. Abe and his conservative colleagues are undoubtedly displeased with a foreign ministry announcement Wednesday. The foreign ministry declared that the Japanese government would view the launch of a reinvestigation into the abductions issue by North Korea as "progress," a far lower bar for lifting sanctions than the conservatives want. I will be curious to see who stands up to question Machimura Nobutaka and Saiki Akataka (head of MOFA's Asia-Pacific bureau) in the lower house's ad hoc committee on the abductions problem at a hearing being held today. Will LDP conservatives rake the government over the coals?

It will also be curious to see what Christopher Hill, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, will say when he arrives in Japan today for talks — especially in light of Secretary of State Rice's statement Wednesday that she expects North Korea to declare its nuclear weapons program "soon."

By lowering the bar on what constitutes progress, is MOFA clearing the way to assist the US on the nuclear question? And will Prime Minister Fukuda survive the storm of criticism that will greet such a move?

Progress in the East China Sea

The big story of the day is that the Japanese and Chinese governments released the details of their agreement on contested gas fields in the East China Sea, over which the two governments have feuded for more than five years.

Under the terms of the deal — which the Chinese government has publicly accepted — Japanese companies will invest in the development of two of the four contested gas fields. The agreement does not settle the question of where China's EEZ stops and where Japan's begins, which is probably for the best.

The current deal, according to Yomiuri, applies only to the Shirakaba and Asunaro fields; the two governments will continue to negotiate over the status of the two remaining fields.

It's important to note that as Okumura Jun wrote Tuesday, "it’s the legal framework for the joint development activities including jurisdiction that matters, not the economics of the deal" — the amount of energy and money involved is relatively miniscule. Okumura-san's earlier post on the negotiations is also essential reading. (And they keep coming: this post on the aftermath of the agreement is also excellent.)

Meanwhile, as MTC argued today, Japan has little choice but to develop the fields jointly with the Chinese because "it is impossible to send even one cubic meter of the natural gas under the East China Sea to Japan (there is a trough in the way) without sending the gas first to the coast of China via a seabed pipeline."

I don't have much to add to MTC's and Okumura-san's analysis of the agreement.

The agreement is undoubtedly positive, but its impact should not be overstated. There will be significant sectors of the population in both China and Japan that will be unhappy with the agreement. Japanese conservatives will undoubtedly be displeased by the decision to shelve the sovereignty question and focus on how to best to divide the energy supplies. Chinese nationalists will be displeased that the Chinese government gave in to Japan.

Ultimately Prime Minister Fukuda probably needed an agreement more than Beijing did. The Chinese government has the luxury of ignoring the public's desires — to a certain extent, anyway. Mr. Fukuda, however, has to make the case for why Japan should pursue deeper cooperation with China. To do that, he needs China's help. He needs to be able to show the Japanese people that his efforts to build a constructive relationship are yielding tangible, positive results. Judging by the tone of Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Japan last month, it is clear that the Chinese government recognizes that Mr. Fukuda cannot sell the new relationship without Beijing's help. And so this agreement should at least help the prime minister make a public case for his China policy.

Now if only he had more help from the Japanese media and academia...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More stress headed Fukuda's way

Prime Minister Fukuda held a press conference Tuesday with journalists from foreign wire services at which he said in response to a question about whether it is fun being prime minister, "It's not fun! It's like a painful lump." To deal with stress, he told the reporters that he sleeps and drinks wine.

Little wonder that Mr. Fukuda is feeling stressed.

In the days since Machimura Nobutaka announced the tentative agreement reached with North Korea, Mr. Fukuda has faced the predictable uproar from the right.

On Tuesday, Hiranuma Takeo, chairman of a Diet members' league on the abductions problem and member (controversially) of Nakagawa Shoichi's conservative study group, visited the Kantei to appeal to Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura on lifting sanctions. There should be no relief to North Korea without the recognition of concrete progress, he said.

The government will likely bend to their demands. Mr. Fukuda acknowledged Monday that the success of the agreement will depend on North Korea's follow through. That said, the conservatives haven't won yet. The meaning of "concrete action" is disputed. It is unclear what North Korea can do to please the conservatives (who may in fact prefer that the issue drags on); "realists" like Yamasaki Taku, head of a Diet members' league for the promotion of normalization of Japan-North Korea relations, seem willing to lower the bar. Mr. Yamasaki wants the abductions issue to be resolved within the year. In between Mr. Hiranuma and Mr. Yamasaki is the group for the promotion of a prudent North Korea policy, which supports a carrots-and-sticks approach to North Korea. Yamamoto Ichita, a member of the group, reports that it delivered a list of demands to Mr. Fukuda on Tuesday. Like Mr. Hiranuma, they do not want Japan to lift any sanctions until North Korea has made clear progress on its reinvestigation (again, clear progress is left undefined). They want the government to make clear to Washington that the Japanese government does not want the US to remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list yet. They continue to oppose normalization until progress is made on all fronts: abductions, missiles, and nukes.

In addition to pressure from within his own party, Mr. Fukuda also faces pressure from the public, which is circumspect about the new agreement. A Mainichi poll found that 34% of respondents "value" the government's agreement, while 55% do not value it. Considering that 88% of respondents in the government's latest foreign policy survey were concerned about the abductions issue (more than any other area of contention with North Korea), that's actually not terrible. If North Korea actually follows through — at least enough to allow the government to argue that there's been progress — the agreement might eventually enjoy a plurality of support, if not an outright majority.

Time to send some more wine over to the Kantei.

Mr. Maehara's rebellion

On Monday, Suga Yoshihide, the deputy head of the LDP's election strategy committee, praised Maehara Seiji, deputy head of the DPJ for his comments about the DPJ's ability to govern and incoherent policy agenda in a speech in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. Mr. Suga said: "He spoke courageously. If someone like Maehara-san becomes leader, it will become a party that can be trusted and Japan will have a true two large-party system."

What better way to foment further turmoil by praising Mr. Maehara for his courage? I've noted previously that with the LDP in turmoil and the prime minister's popularity abysmal (but recovering slightly), the government and the LDP have pinned their hopes for a surprisingly strong showing in the next election on a divided DPJ that can be portrayed as incapable of governing.

If Mr. Maehara has any political sense, he would stop his rebellion now, unless, of course, he wants to give comfort to the LDP and deepen the impression that the DPJ is incapable of wielding power. The DPJ, it seems, is powerless to stop the wayward Mr. Maehara. The senior leadership appears willing to tolerate Mr. Maehara's public trashing of the party even as he serves as one of seven DPJ vice presidents. Indeed, it appears that there is little the party can do to discipline any dissenter, whether Mr. Maehara or the upper house members who voted against the party on road construction earlier this session. If Mr. Maehara is to be restrained, he will have to do it himself — or his peers, the DPJ's other wakate members, will have to lean on him.

Perhaps they can call attention to the behavior of his fellow young turk/former party leader, Okada Katsuya. Mr. Okada, who took the blow for the party in the 2005 election, is said to want to return to the leadership, but in contrast to Mr. Maehara, he has refrained from public criticism of Mr. Ozawa's leadership. A telling sign is the title of Mr. Okada's new (and first) book, Seiken Kotai (Regime Change). While he offers a "reform menu" for a DPJ government, including proposals for administrative reform, social security reform, fiscal reform, and regional decentralization, the title indicates that whatever his policy disagreements with the DPJ's current leadership, he remains committed to the party's goal of "regime change." He still believes that a DPJ-led government, whatever its flaws, would be better than a continuation of LDP rule (which, as we've learned this Diet session, means the continuation of zoku rule). It remains to be seen whether Mr. Maehara believes the same.

Indeed, Mainchi, in reporting on Mr. Okada's new book, contrasts Mr. Okada and Mr. Maehara, noting that Mr. Maehara desperately wants a complete debate on the party's policies and has indicated that he will stand in the September election if no one else does, while Mr. Okada remains committed to regime change first and has said nothing about running in September. I don't disagree with Mr. Maehara's belief that Mr. Ozawa should be reelected uncontested, but there are ways to do that without completely undermining the party.

Incidentally, continuing the discussion in this post, it bears mentioning that the clash between idealism and realism is not just within the party — it is within Mr. Ozawa himself, as I argued here. Mr. Ozawa's DPJ is politically schizophrenic in part because Mr. Ozawa is politically schizophrenic.

Recommended Book: Asia, America, and The Transformation of Geopolitics, William Overholt

With the prime ministers of Japan and Australia, the US secretary of defense (and other defense ministers in the region), and the Republican presidential candidate issuing statements on the future of Asia over the past month, it has been a fascinating time to ponder the shape of the region over the coming years, especially as the US transitions into the post-Bush era.

William Overholt, director of the RAND Corporation's Center for Asia Pacific Policy, has produced an indispensable contribution to that discussion in Asia, America, and The Transformation of Geopolitics.

In this book, Mr. Overholt examines the transition from the post-cold war to the post-post-cold war period in Asia. He has a clear purpose in doing so: Mr. Overholt thinks that the US did an extraordinary job winning the cold war in Asia by contributing to the development of Japan, South Korea, and countries in Southeast Asia (putting development before democracy), and using its alliance with Japan to stifle Sino-Japanese antagonism (defending Japan from China, while restraining Japan to ease Chinese fears). He fears that the US insufficiently appreciates the scale of its achievement in Asia — the creation of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Asia — and risks blundering down the road that leads to war and ruin for the region because of misguided fears of China. The result is a thoroughly researched polemic, one that may not sit well with American policymakers (or Japanese policymakers, for that matter).

I am deeply sympathetic with Mr. Overholt's purpose in this book. Like him, I think the task for US Asia policy is to continue to guarantee stability in the region, and must abjure from policies that undermine stability (i.e., values-based diplomacy, a league of democracies comprised of members conveniently located on all sides of China, etc.). Accordingly, the US-Japan alliance's purpose must reflect the overall US mission in Asia — the alliance must also abjure from destabilizing actions.

Mr. Overholt fears that the Bush administration's Japan policy — and Asia policy more broadly — has deviated from the goal of ensuring stability and prosperity throughout Asia. He is concerned that the US-Japan alliance has become an alliance with the Japanese right, and increasingly serves their goals, many of which are prejudicial to stability in the region. He does not make the mistake that some do in equating the ideas of Japanese conservatives with those of the Japanese public at large. He argues instead that the Japanese conservatives have gained prominence because they're operating in a vacuum: "The Japanese public generally does not have strong views or even strong awareness of foreign-policy and national-security issues. In this situation, Prime Minister Koizumi's appointment of hawkish nationalists to key positions, U.S. pressures for a stronger military and a more explicitly anti-China military posture, and China's nationalist excesses have permitted the nationalists to gain a disproportionate influence over Japan's national-security policies" (81). He is fearful that the alliance between US and Japanese conservatives that has deepened since 2001 risks explicitly directing the alliance against China, and consequently setting the region down a more confrontational path.

He is also concerned about Japan's continuing regional and international diplomatic, economic, and intellectual isolation, which the conservatives have done little to reverse in their pursuit of a "beautiful country."

The final two paragraphs of his section on Japan bear quoting:
If they wished to, Japan's leaders could inspire their people and the world with a vision of social maturity; of increasingly wise employment of women and older people and of competition and globalization to achieve grwoth in an economy with a graying and declining population; of peace through integration with and understanding of their neighbors; and of sustainable environmental practices in which Japan is poised to lead the world. Elements of all these are in place. But so far, instead of inspiring their people with a grand vision of the future, the new era's leaders have preferred to prettify a difficult past.

As the 21st century began, the United States decided to bet its entire position in Asia on the alliance with Japan. In effect, it has bet not just on the Japanese nation but in particular on a newly assertive national-security elite that represents a rather narrow and unrepresentative slice of Japanese society. In all of American history, the United States has never before made such a bet anywhere in the world, with the arguable exception of the bet on Britain in World War II. The current bet is not on the Japan of 1945 or 1975 or 1989 (the year before the bubble burst) or 2000, but on a rearming Japan with an economy, a polity, a foreign policy, and a military evolving faster and more unpredictably than those of any other advanced country, under a new and increasingly right-wing leadership that wants to rebuild national morale by reengineering a failed vision of the first half of the 20th century rather than through an inspiring new vision of the future. Rarely in world history has such a power made such a consequential bet.
(I made a similar argument in this post, although probably less effectively than Mr. Overholt does here.)

The picture is of a Japanese leadership that has squandered opportunities, and in doing so not only put the region at risk but failed to provide a secure future for the Japanese people.

Turning to China, Mr. Overholt is optimistic, seeing a regime that is cautiously exploring political reforms to follow its economic reforms. He views China as better placed to serve as a regional leader, precisely because of its openness, economic and otherwise. He does not reject the possibility that China's foreign policy could move in a belligerent direction, but he is confident that barring major disruptions China will moderate politically and become a responsible leader in the region. While not excusing China's overblown responses to Japanese revisionism (overblown in light of China's own historical revisionism), Mr. Overholt suggests that the "militarization" of the US-Japan alliance may be more destabilizing than the rise of China. In short, the US needs to achieve a better balance in its relationships with Japan and China.

In subsequent chapters he looks at conditions on the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan strait, in Southeast Asia, India, Russia, and Washington, D.C. (i.e., US foreign policy). The thrust is the same throughout: for a hopeful Asian future in which war becomes unthinkable, the US needs to focus on how it was able to stabilize Asia during the cold war, and adjust its Asia policies accordingly. It needs to demilitarize its foreign policy, embedding its defense policy in a broader context instead of letting defense policy determine the whole of foreign policy. Doing so will enable the US to marshal its influence in the region and solidify its position as "resident power" for decades to come.

The Sazanami sets sail

In the latest blow to the Japanese right's ambitions to scold and isolate China, the Sazanami, a Takanami class destroyer, departed today for China, where it will visit Zhanjiang, a port in China's Guangzhou province from June 24-28. The visit will reciprocate last year's visit to Japan by the Chinese destroyer Shenzen.

The visit will of course by the first visit to China by a Japanese warship since the end of World War II.

The Chinese media is now reporting (according to Sankei) that not only will the Sazanami's crew be participating in Sino-Japanese friendship events in Zhanjiang, but the Sazanami will be delivering relief supplies for Sichuan.

The visit in and of itself is not particularly significant, other than its being the first since the war. But the more these exchanges become routine (the less news agencies feel the need to report on them), the better it will be for the relationship and for the region. And the harder it will be for the Japanese right to paint China simply as Japan's enemy in an emerging cold war. Bilateral problems will persist, but at least Tokyo and Beijing are learning to deal with them constructively, and learning that even if there are policy disagreements, cooperation, communication, and exchange is necessary.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Asia's future is in the hands of its middle powers

Hugh White, a professor at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, has been waging a determined fight against Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Asian regional vision in a series of articles and blog posts.

The crux of his critique can be found in the title of a speech he gave in Tokyo earlier this month: "War in Asia remains thinkable." He points to the existence of two, overlapping contemporary Asian realities. One is the Asia in which cooperation and integration are proceeding apace as the region's economies continue to develop. The other is the Asia of arms race, nationalist feuds, border disputes, security dilemmas, and possibly war. Professor White then focused on what the region's powers can do to ensure that the latter reality is Asia's future, positing that the options for a new regional order are (1) EU-style Asian integration, (2) enduring American primacy, (3) a balance of power, or (4) a concert of powers to run the region, with the US, China, and Japan at the center. He advocates the last, suggesting that the first is too optimistic, the second possibly unsustainable (especially because — and this is a key point — "The fear is that for many Americans primacy has become, not (as it was) a means to the end of peace and stability, but an end in itself. That raises the real risk that Americans will find themselves undermining stability in Asia in order to preserve their primacy"), and the third too dangerous.

But a concert will be difficult to achieve, because the US, China, and Japan would have to concede much to make it workable. The US would have to accept China as an equal, China would have to concede important roles to the US and Japan, and Japan would have to drop its antagonism towards China.

I would argue that Japan has the most to gain from such an arrangement: it would take a seat at Asia's head table, would still have the US engaged in the region, and it would have the option of cooperating with China to restrict the US when the latter is out of line. In fact, I think Professor White vastly overstates Japan's hostility to China. In a column in The Australian last week, he suggested that Prime Minister Rudd "flubbed" his Japan trip because he failed "to tell Japan that Australia wants a vibrant, strategic relationship with a strong and active Japan, but we also want the same kind of relationship with China." I think his vision of Japan's China policy is a bit dated (i.e., it's a better description of the revisionist conservative approach to China than the Fukuda approach to China). Japan's conservatives may ultimately win the fight over China policy, but for now Japan's approach to China is no less contested than Australia's (or India's or America's). Not all Japanese are as afraid of distance from the US as Professor White seems to think (in this post for example) — and thanks to the US shift on North Korea, even conservatives in the LDP who might have been reluctant to consider a looser alliance may now be willing to think otherwise.

Meanwhile, I think he's too quick to dismiss a balance of power for Asia. We can already see how the Asian international system will develop in the behavior of ASEAN, which has maneuvered among China, Japan, and the US and made itself the hub for a variety of regional mechanisms. ASEAN and the region's other middle powers (including the bigger middles, Australia, Japan, and India) will ultimately be responsible for keeping the peace in Asia, hedging against China by maintaining active security ties with the US to ensure that the US remains present in the region, hedging against a US attempt to stifle China by conceding a greater regional leadership role to China in the economic realm (and exploring new security ties with the PLA). In the meantime, regional integration would continue. Professor White says little about Asia's middle powers in his Tokyo address, but I think that it will be the middles who determine Asia's future because it is they who are stuck between the US, the longtime security guarantor, and China, their most significant economic partner. It is they who have the greatest need for stability and a sustainable balance between the US and China, moderating the extremes of each country's behavior.

Japan, despite the size of its economy, fits the profile of an Asian middle power (in part because it is not open enough, and thus lacks the influence that comes with economic openness); despite the vitriol of the conservatives, Japan is not in a position to choose between the US and China.

There is still hope for peace in Asia, but it will depend on the middle powers to restrain the great powers and keep them from opting for policies that will drag the whole region into a conflagration.