Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reshuffle questions

It appears that the new cabinet won't be announced until Friday evening, after my departure from Narita, so it looks like readers will have to wait until tomorrow for my thoughts on the prime minister's choices.

But my thinking on the fundamental unsoundness of Fukuda Yasuo's decision to reshuffle remains unchanged. (Readers can find my thread on the reshuffle here.)

As for the morning press coverage, the big dailies appear to be in consensus about two posts: the LDP secretary-general and the chief cabinet secretary. According to Asahi, Sankei, Mainichi, and Yomiuri, Machimura Nobutaka will likely stay in place as chief cabinet secretary for the sake of continuity, meaning that yesterday's rumors about Koike Yuriko's becoming the chief cabinet secretary were fanciful. As for the LDP secretary-general, the papers seem to agree that Mr. Fukuda will ask Aso Taro to serve once again as secretary-general, just as he did in the short-lived second Abe cabinet. The reasoning, according to Asahi, is that Mr. Aso, being the man of the people that he is, is more fit to lead the LDP into a general election than Ibuki Bunmei. Even if Mr. Aso rejects the offer, Mr. Ibuki will be gone: Asahi suggests that current Finance Minister Nukaga Fukushiro will be offered the post if Mr. Aso turns it down.

But if Mr. Aso becomes Mr. Fukuda's deputy at the helm of the LDP, how would the second Fukuda cabinet/LDP leadership being any more Fukuda-colored than the first Fukuda cabinet? How does bringing in Mr. Aso — even to a political role like secretary-general — and retaining Mr. Machimura clarify the prime minister's policy approach?

That meaningless phrase "Fukuda color" will be repeated ad nauseaum in the coming days, but readers would do well to ignore it. This new cabinet will be no less uniform than the current Fukuda cabinet; the Fukuda color is compromise and political expediency.

The question is what Mr. Fukuda and his confidantes will find political expedient at this juncture. There is speculation about giving Komeito more prominence to ease its concerns. As noted yesterday, even if Ms. Koike will not be tapped as chief cabinet secretary, the prime minister may still opt to bring some glamor to his cabinet in the form of one or more of the LDP's prominent female politicians. Will he opt for youth more generally, making for a more telegenic cabinet? Or will he merely shuffle party elders?

But whatever he chooses, Mr. Fukuda still has a mountain to climb. The reshuffle may improve his chances of staying at the helm of the LDP long enough to lead it into the next general election, as Jun Okumura argues, but it will do little to improve his and his party's electoral prospects.

So let the meaningless reshuffle begin!

On Japanese nationalisms

Robert Dujarric of Temple University Japan had an op-ed in the Japan Times Wednesday in which he argued, "Japanese society may have problems but nationalism is not one of them."

He argues:
Regardless of the metric used, Japan scores very low on nationalism. Its investment in its armed forces as a percentage of national income is small, especially for a country living in close range of two potential war zones (the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan).

Moreover, in the past two decades the offensive capabilities of North Korea against Japan, namely its ballistic missiles and nuclear program, have grown significantly.

China, another potential adversary for Japan, clearly has a much stronger military than 20 years ago. But Japan continues to keep its military investment at around 1 percent of national income (perhaps a little more if other expenses are included).

The phenomenal waste in Japanese procurement programs also shows that the military budget is as much a funding mechanism for Japanese businesses as a tool to build up a strong military.

Moreover, when it comes to dealing with the outside world, Japanese diplomats are as unlikely as those of the Holy See to resort to threats of force. There are no John Boltons in the Japanese Foreign Ministry. This peaceful, low profile reflects a basic fact often ignored by outsiders: Japanese voters favor candidates who care about bread and butter issues over those whose concern is Japan's greatness and military might.
He attributes this lack of nationalism to an absence of a sense of victimization — as in South Korea and China — and a lack of universal values, a "messianic urge" that lends itself to a desire to seek regional or global domination. It also lacks the need to use nationalism to distract citizens from domestic problems or to promote unity in the presence of social cleavages.

Granted, Japan lacks these factors. But are these the only causes of nationalism? And are the only manifestations of nationalism more expansive defense budgets and a more robust foreign policy? With that phrase "regardless of the metric used," M. Dujarric manages to duck this question of just what is nationalism.

I would argue that the Japanese people on the whole are quite nationalistic. I think that the Japanese people on the whole are proud of Japan and of being Japanese, if not to the same extent as their neighbors or Americans.

As Yomiuri found in an opinion poll in January of this year, a record number of respondents (1650 out of 1780, 92.7%) said that they felt some or a lot of pride, with a record portion (55%) saying that they felt a lot of pride. That pride, however, did not translate into support for a policy of remilitarization or normalization. Asked what they think about contemporary Japan — i.e., the country of which they are proud — 59.7% saw it as a "peace-loving nation," followed by 35.9% who saw it as an economic great power, 27.2% who saw it as a country with a high level of culture, and 25.2% who saw it as a democratic nation. Only 2% saw it as a military great power, fewer than those who saw it as an "insular nation." (Respondents were free to choose as many answers as they desired from a list that also included "nation with a high level of welfare protection," "nation that is trusted by other countries," and "independent nation." Obviously this does not necessarily suggest that this is how the respondents want to be, but it is reasonable to infer that the 1780 respondents to this poll are actually quite proud of Japan's achievements culturally and economically — and they are proud of Japan's postwar record of abjuring from the use of force to resolve disputes.

In other words, a Japanese citizen can be nationalistic without sounding like Abe Shinzo. A Japanese can be proud — should be proud — of the Japan that exists, not the beautiful Japan that exists if only the constitution were revised.

Accordingly, it is inappropriate to discuss Japanese nationalism only in terms dictated by nineteenth-century nationalism, the kind of nationalism that helps the state unite the people behind common goals (often involving besting foreign rivals), the kind of nationalism that can be measured by M. Dujarric's metrics. (Interestingly, both South Korea and China used conscription, that great tool of nineteenth-century nationalism, as a means to tap national power.) Japan obviously has nationalists of the nineteenth-century variety, but they are far from the most numerous variety. They may, however, be the most influential, given their concentration among Japan's political and media elites. Thanks to the media, they certainly have influence far greater than their numbers.

M. Dujarric suggests that Japanese voters care about bread-and-butter issues, meaning that there is little support for the agenda pushed by hyper-nationalist conservatives, whose nationalism may well be driven by the same sense of victimhood and manifest destiny cited by M. Dujarric as factors in Chinese and South Korean nationalism. But that doesn't mean that the Japanese people are actively opposed to the hyper-nationalist agenda. They are opposed to governments that neglect bread-and-butter domestic issues — and as Mr. Abe learned, they are willing to punish said governments — but if a government satisfies those needs, the public is willing to give some leeway to the government on foreign and defense policy, leaving a strong nationalist prime minister the freedom with which to pursue the kind of nationalist agenda M. Dujarric claims isn't an issue in Japan.

Furthermore, as I argue in the current issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, even Japanese citizens who do not support remilitarization or a cold war with China want their government to be more assertive in dealing with Beijing, especially in the case of China's transnational pollution and tainted products, which have consequences for Japanese households.

The picture is considerably more complicated than that provided by M. Dujarric. Yes, the Japanese public exhibits little of the nineteenth-century nationalism of conservative elites and Japan's neighbors, but that is quite different from saying that "nationalism isn't an issue" or relevant when considering how Japanese think about their country's place in the world.

The reshuffle is tomorrow

The prime minister has announced that he will be reshuffling his cabinet and the LDP leadership on Friday afternoon, 1 Aug, after meeting with Komeito's Ota Akihiro in the morning.

Of course Mr. Fukuda had to pick the afternoon of my departure from Japan to reshuffle his cabinet.

If the reshuffle is done expeditiously, I will try to give my thoughts from Narita before departure; otherwise you'll have to wait until I'm on the ground in the US.

Here comes Koike and friends

With Fukuda Yasuo set to finalize a schedule for a cabinet reshuffle after consultations with Komeito — according to Machimura Nobutaka, the prime minister is waiting for reports on the latest failed Doha Round negotiations before proceeding — the cabinet reshuffle is a go, possibly as early as 4 Aug (Monday).

The media has immediately shifted from hounding the prime minister to reshuffle to speculating about who will be included in the new cabinet.

This is the sort of thing at which the Japanese political press excels. In the coming days, readers and viewers will be treated to an endless parade of bios of possible ministers, figures showing the impact of past cabinet reshuffles on public approval ratings, speculation about the post-Fukuda horse race, and other facts, figures, and hypotheses about the political game. Much if not most of it will be rubbish; it will be difficult to find anyone asking the obvious questions about the reshuffle.

Will it make any difference whatsoever?

Will the new ministers serve for long enough to impact their ministries?

What exactly is the Fukuda iro (color)?

Is the prime minister actually in control of his government and the LDP?

The early speculation about the reshuffle suggests that Mr. Fukuda will do like Mr. Abe and attempt to harness the glamour of the LDP's leading ladies to boost his popularity. Recall how Koike Yuriko was ushered into the defense ministry last July to replace the hapless (and it turns out, horribly corrupt) Kyuma Fumio just in time for the official campaign for the upper house election.

Mr. Fukuda may repeat the trick, if Yukan Fuji is to be believed. The cover of the Friday edition shows Ms. Koike and Nakagawa Hidenao, her leading backer, watching boxing together, and proclaims, "Koike as Chief Cabinet Secretary rises to the surface — figuring in the post-Fukuda outlook." The hope, according to an unnamed LDP member, is that having Ms. Koike as the government's spokeswoman will make the difference in the government's public support.

"Prime Minister Fukuda does not like her performance. But if she can use her competitive instinct and her ability to steal the limelight — as when she published her tell-all book after her resignation — as cabinet spokesman, then the approval rating will likely increase. It will also satisfy former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro's hope of wanting someone from his Machimura faction taking either LDP secretary-general or chief cabinet secretary."

Presumably Mr. Mori would prefer someone other than the woman whose prospects he has derided as his faction's representative in these senior positions, but the sentiment remains relevant. If the sentiments expressed in this article and on the morning talk shows today are accurate, the prime minister and/or his advisers think that adding a glamorous sheen in the form of Ms. Koike as well as some combination of Noda Seiko, Obuchi Yuko, and one or two other female LDP politicians will distract the public from the Fukuda government's inability to govern and raise the chances that Mr. Fukuda will last long enough to lead the LDP into the next general election.

Judging from her time in Ichigaya, it is probably inappropriate for Mr. Fukuda to expect too much help from Ms. Koike, not necessarily through any deficiency of her own — although the Yukan Fuji article suggests that like Mr. Machimura, the incumbent chief cabinet secretary, her nemawashi skills are in question — but because she has too many enemies with the LDP, whether because of her sex or because of her reputation as a "wandering bird" (previously discussed here).

The immediate surfacing of a women-heavy cabinet suggests how transparently bogus one of the major reasons for the reshuffle — the need to define a Fukuda color that is distinct from Mr. Abe's — is. How would appointing Ms. Koike, who was first Abe Shinzo's national security adviser and then his minister of defense, distance Mr. Fukuda from Mr. Abe? How does that clarify the Fukuda color, unless by Fukuda color people mean the literal color of the cabinet, in which case Ms. Koike and the other women under consideration might add some much needed brightness to the sea of dark suits?

Not surprisingly, this reshuffle will be nothing more than an exercise in image management. Any talk of the policy implications of the reshuffle is mostly hot air, considering that it seems that Masuzoe Yoichi — who holds the most critical portfolio in light of the health and welfare-heavy agenda — will stay put as minister for health, labor, and welfare.

Will the Japanese people fall for it?

I doubt it. I don't think the public will fall for the media hype that would surround a cabinet with Ms. Koike as chief cabinet secretary. I think the Japanese people are waiting for results, and barring results, will hold the LDP accountable at election time, reshuffle or no reshuffle.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fukuda will take the plunge

I apparently overestimated Fukuda Yasuo's strength and independence in the face of pressure from within the LDP.

Yomiuri is reporting — corroborated by Asahi and NHK — that the prime minister has settled on a cabinet reshuffle in early August. Interestingly, Yomiuri's source is Komeito chief Ota Akihiro, whose party is pushing hard for an election at the start of next year (and is more generally flexing its muscles).

I am no more convinced of the rightness of this decision than before. Much will depend on who stays, who goes, and who joins the ranks. Suffice to say, if this man stays, the exercise will have been futile.

But it is difficult to see what Mr. Fukuda will gain from this move. He has shown that if hounded enough by the media, he will cave. Like Abe Shinzo before him, he has shown that the prime minister's supposed power to control personnel is illusory in the face of concerted pressure from within the LDP. This will do nothing to stem the rising tide of speculation about Mr. Fukuda's departure and the campaign to replace him.

A reshuffle will not make the government any more popular (over anything longer than the short term), any less paralyzed or any more capable of tackling the daunting agenda facing Mr. Fukuda. It will, however, reinforce the impression of Japan's being poorly managed and beset by political chaos.

Kimutaku goes to Nagata-cho

Adam Richards of Mutantfrog Travelogue fame goes after Kimura Takuya's "political" teledrama CHANGE in a piece at Néojaponisme.

His point:
On-air attempts at teaching viewers about the political system are facile to the point of incoherence. When explaining the ruling party committees, Keita’s staff assistant compares them to the various committees involved in planning the sports festivals at Japanese schools, an analogy that instantly clicks with Keita (and presumably viewers) but, in fact, teaches nothing.

These observations are just general impressions, but that is precisely the point — it is clear that the show really could not care less about Japanese politics. In fact, I cannot discuss this program without emphasizing that for all of CHANGE’s political trappings, the show has almost as little to do with political analysis as Kimutaku’s other efforts. While the show may be nominally about Japanese political institutions, CHANGE is essentially the same as other dramas starring Kimutaku — the lessons focus on “working hard” (gambaru), valuing friendship, standing your ground when you know what’s best, and sacrificing for the good of others. These are all fairly common territory for most Japanese dramas.
Read the whole thing here.

One year later

The Abedämmerung, the LDP's historic defeat at the hands of the DPJ in the 2007 upper house election that set in motion a chain of events leading to the surprise resignation of Abe Shinzo, was one year ago today.

For a look back at that most memorable night, my live blogging of the returns can be viewed here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fukuda passes, for now

It appears increasingly unlikely that Fukuda Yasuo will decide to reshuffle his cabinet before the autumn Diet session.

NHK is reporting that at the very least there will be no decision on a reshuffle before the end of the month, as two members of the cabinet are delayed in returning from WTO talks abroad.

Mr. Fukuda told reporters — rather sternly — that "not once have I said something about [a cabinet reshuffle]."

This gets to the heart of the matter. The persistence of the cabinet reshuffle story on the basis of complete silence from the prime minister shows both how the media can be the cat's paw of certain ruling party politicians and how a herd mentality among the major media organizations can transform the political discussion. For weeks political discussion has focused on the prospects of a reshuffle, thanks to persistent leaks "from within the ruling party" on the likelihood and timing of a reshuffle.

It was about time that the prime minister stood up to the media's groundless speculation. Unfortunately there may be little Mr. Fukuda can do about the manipulators of the media within his own party, who may now use the media to fuel speculation about the need to replace Mr. Fukuda with someone else quickly. As Nikkei reports today, "there is a possiblity that the 'post-Fukuda era' will appear rapidly."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Nakagawa's fantasy world

For once I'm not talking about Nakagawa Shoichi.

Nakagawa Hidenao, onetime LDP secretary-general under Prime Minister Abe and now the putative leader of the LDP's Koizumians, has written a series of posts at his blog over the past week, starting with one on 19 July in which he criticized the DPJ for its "former Socialist Party ideology" in its support for collusion among government and labor, its anti-US, anti-US-Japan security treaty, UN-centered foreign policy — for its policies that are, in his words, "at the same time unrealistic and lacking in persuasive power for the popular will."

He followed it up with a post on 20 July in which he discussed the DPJ's ties to Jichiro, the All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union, which the LDP holds responsible for the pensions scandal thanks to the union's illegal practice of having workers paid for full-time work despite not being present full time. He claimed, "In order to destroy the Abe cabinet, which fought boldly against the practice of illegal pay received for illegal full-time work, wasn't the suicide bombing of leaking the case of the 50 million missing pensions records launched?"

On 22 July he discussed an Asahi editorial and declared that the LDP stands for "eradicating amakudari," while the DPJ, as a result of its ties to public-sector unions, is not really opposed to ending amakudari even though ending the practice is at the center of the party's approach to administrative reform. (Recall that the DPJ wanted tougher provisions against amakudari in the administrative reform bill it compromised with the Fukuda government to pass in the spring Diet session.) He asserted that because of Ozawa Ichiro's ties with Rengo, a DPJ administration would be "heaven for the illegal practice of receiving full-time pay without performing full-time work."

He repeated his criticism of the DPJ's silence on this practice on 24 July, and extended the criticism in a post today, in which he questioned the wisdom of giving the DPJ — which he says moves left or right depending on the political winds — carte blanche.

I would have more respect for Mr. Nakagawa's argument if his criticisms of the DPJ didn't also apply to the LDP — the contemporary LDP.

Mr. Nakagawa writes about the LDP as if we were living in a parallel universe in which the Koizumi revolution succeeded: Mr. Koizumi was able to break the back of the reactionaries, used his final year in office to push a series of wide-reaching reforms, and handed power over to Mr. Abe, who decided that he would continue the reforms and oppose the readmission of ousted reactionaries to the party instead of devoting his energy to the ideological obsessions of the right. He acts as if Mr. Fukuda is controlling the party with a firm hand, that he has faced no opposition from the road tribe to his plan to phase out the road construction fund, that he won't face more opposition this autumn as he attempts to write his road plan into law. In short, Mr. Nakagawa acts if the war for the identity of the LDP was already won by his reformists.

The reality is shockingly different. Mr. Nakagawa's emergence as the leading voice for reform may have given the beleagurered Koizumians some heft, but many of the first- and second-term Koizumi kids may be out of the Diet after the next election.

Yamauchi Koichi, one of those kids, illustrates just how silly this theme coming from the mouths of LDP members in a post at his blog called "The LDP-ization of Ozawa's DPJ." Mr. Yamauchi suggests that the push for reelecting Mr. Ozawa as DPJ leader without a vote is a sign of the traditional LDP tactics learned by Mr. Ozawa from his days as LDP secretary-general. At no point does Mr. Yamauchi say "old LDP;" he says LDP, as in the party of which he is currently a member. Mr. Yamauchi is not so foolish to deny that the LDP is not the bizarro world LDP in which Mr. Koizumi succeeded at transforming the LDP; Yomiuri reported this week that Mr. Yamauchi is finding that he will have to run against the LDP in Kanagawa's ninth district in order to win reelection.

Does the LDP really want to take this approach in attacking the DPJ? Does it really want to describe the DPJ as being like the LDP, an LDP that contrary to Mr. Nakagawa's wishes is still alive and kicking? Mind you, I'm uncomfortable with Mr. Ozawa's ties with labor unions, which are no less reactionary than businesses and farmers long coddled by the LDP, but given that the DPJ has no track record in power, I'm willing to give the DPJ the benefit of the doubt — and I suspect that many Japanese voters might be willing to do so too when given the chance. The LDP is betting that voters will prefer the devil they know (all too well) to the devil they don't; I'd be willing to bet others, and it may turn out that the DPJ isn't the devil that the LDP wants voters to think it is.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fukuda the pressured

Watching the news this morning, I saw Fukuda Yasuo's remarks yesterday on whether he intends to reshuffle his cabinet in advance of the autumn extraordinary session of the Diet.

As before, he stated that he has not made his decision yet, that he is considering the "whole situation" in regard to conditions within the LDP and the policy agenda for the forthcoming session. He repeated that he will make his decision on a reshuffle by 29 July, incidentally the first anniversary of the LDP's historic defeat in the 2007 upper house election.

Ibuki Bunmei, speaking in Osaka, confirmed that the prime minister has yet to decide on a course of action.

The look on Mr. Fukuda's face was grim, almost pained, and his speech was strained.

In short, it looked and sounded to me like he had made up his mind on a reshuffle: he doesn't want to do it.

However, it seems that he is being forced to make a show of considering it and may even be pressured into going through with a reshuffle, thanks to pressure from within the LDP (channeled through a pliant political press). That seems to be all there is to the idea of a reshuffle: leaks to the media from certain members of the party and government who desire a reshuffle in the hope of hounding the prime minister into deciding in their favor.

As noted previously, it's not even clear what a Fukuda-colored cabinet will look like. Yamamoto Ichita provided one answer to this question: "Blue."

Asked to explain what the Fukuda "color" following a luncheon meeting of the Machimura faction by a reporter, Mr. Yamamoto answered that it is difficult to say just what Mr. Fukuda stands for, what qualities a Fukuda-colored cabinet would possess.

Masuzoe Yoichi, minister for health, labor, and welfare, made the case on TV Thursday for his staying in his post (i.e., that he is appropriately Fukuda-colored), describing his leaving the ministry after less than a year as "idiotic."

Mr. Masuzoe's comment gets to the heart of the matter. If Mr. Fukuda is forced to reshuffle his cabinet, the third cabinet within the past year, it will be yet another sign of the LDP's reverting into the hands of its risk-averse elders — and yet another sign of the LDP's unsuitability as the vehicle for fixing the mess that it has created.

It's time that Mr. Fukuda followed Koizumi Junichiro's advice and made a decision, preferably a decision not to reshuffle, thereby reasserting his authority (for the time being anyway).

For the defense of Japan

After eight months of deliberations, the prime minister's defense ministry reform council, hastily convened after a series of scandals rocked the defense ministry in 2007, has released its final report on reforming the ministry.

The report is available for download here.

In the report, the council sought to address two issues. First, it investigated various institutional failures in the defense ministry and the Self-Defense Forces and recommended fixes. Second, it studied the organization of the ministry and the SDF and offered recommendations for enhancing the ability of both to defend Japan.

The former is ostensibly the reason for this council's existence, as demonstrated by the list of cases it investigated: the scandal surrounding MSDF refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, in which the JSDF and the defense ministry paid less than close attention to how the US was using fuel provided by Japan; information leaks by JSDF members, especially the Aegis leak; the Atago incident, in which a Japanese warship collided with a fishing vessel; and the biggest scandal of all, corrupt dealings by Moriya Takemasa, the disgraced former vice defense minister.

To address these failings, the council offered three broad principles for reform: (1) total adherence to rules; (2) the establishment of professionalism; and (3) changing the bureaucratic culture to emphasize the execution of duties.

Under the first heading, the report admonishes senior officials to set an example for their subordinates by following the rules. It then proposes increasing workplace education so that staff will spontaneously follow the rules. It also proposes strengthening laws governing the protection of classified information. In regard to procurement, it proposes introducing greater transparency and competition into the procurement process and more direct contracts with foreign arms makers (presumably side-stepping the trading companies that currently serve as middle men for the defense ministry).

Interestingly, buried in this section is a discussion of the ministry's inspector general (IG) office, which was created with little fanfare in September 2007. As of yet, however, the IG's purpose in the ministry appears unclear.

Having spent a summer in the inspector general's office of the US Department of Defense, I have an appreciation of the role played by inspectors general in inspecting, uncovering, and punishing cases of "fraud, waste, and abuse." The DoD IG serves under the secretary of defense but plays an independent role in policing the department and often works with members of Congress interested and concerned about how the defense establishment uses (or misuses) taxpayer dollars. The US government's IGs, including cabinet department IGs and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), play an important role in creating transparent government in the US, making it easier for the public and elected representatives to hold the government accountable for its misdeeds.

The report calls for the strengthening of the newly created IG office by giving it the power to conduct surprise inspections. That's a start, but it's not nearly enough. The IG needs to be independent and needs to be free to communicate with legislators. Whistleblowers need to be protected so that they can report to the IG without fear of reprisal. Strengthening the IG should be at the center of this reform package. A strong, competent IG would do more to stop corruption in the ministry than centuries worth of workplace education about obeying the ministry's regulations, because an IG is founded on the idea that wrongdoing will occur and standing agencies should be in place to ferret out and punish perpetrators quickly.

It's fine to call for more professionalization in the defense establishment. Considering the sordid tales of JSDF members compromising classified information by using work computers to trade pornography, it is clear that Japan's defense establishment is woefully lacking in professionalism. But moral injunctions and more education will not fix the ministry's problems.

Nor, for that matter, will Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru's pet proposal of mixing JSDF members and civilian bureaucrats in the ministry's bureaus, which constitutes the second section of recommendations.

The second section addresses national strategymaking in addition to deficiencies in the defense ministry. The report's central proposal is that the role of the Kantei in strategymaking must be strengthened in order to better cope with the changing regional and global environment. The council made a number of recommendations to this end: drafting a national strategy, instituting regular meetings among the foreign minister, the defense minister, and the chief cabinet secretary to discuss national security, reviewing the defense procurement process, enhancing the system of prime ministerial advisers, and strengthening the chief cabinet secretary's foreign and defense policy staff. This section also includes proposals for strengthening the defense ministry's defense council, such as the inclusion of the chiefs of the joint staff office and the three services in the council's deliberations. It calls for the expansion of the ministry's policy bureau and enabling JSDF officers to serve in civilian bureaus in positions below vice-director. In expanding the policy bureau, it calls for enhancing intelligence and analysis skills.

It is unclear if and when these proposals will be implemented, but one thing is certain: this report punted on the issue that prompted the reform council in the first place, ministerial corruption, of which Mr. Moriya is but the most prominent example. While the report mentions the need to review the defense procurement process, the trading companies that are a major source for waste and corruption are not mentioned whatsoever. The details of procurement reform are left for another time, suggesting that they won't be addressed at all. It is encouraging that the government recognizes that it simply wasn't enough to call the former defense agency a ministry, that making it a proper ministry means instituting major changes in the ministry's mindset and ministerial culture. But more is needed, starting with, as the report suggests, a strategic review (perhaps something akin to France's recent white paper on defense). What are Japan's primary national security goals, and what capabilities does the defense establishment need to meet them? A discussion must proceed from these fundamental questions, starting from scratch and looking at the region and the world in specific terms, instead of relying on vague terms like "uncertainty."

Given that the defense budget will continue to fall, it is imperative that both the Japanese government think seriously about how it spends its increasingly limited defense appropriations. Funds are too limited and the defense of Japan too important to tolerate plans that line the pockets of the trading companies while doing little to enhance mational security.

In this regard, I must issue a mea culpa to US Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer, who I criticized in this post for telling Japan it should spend more on defense. Thanks to a link from Shisaku, I was able to read the whole speech, which is less about how much Japan spends than the process by which Japan decides what to spend. The ambassador called for Japan to be smarter about procurement, to cooperate more with the US on developing weapons systems. In short, he calls for a bilateral version of the process I called for above: "...We must regularly engage in strategic dialogue to define our mutual goals. From there we must analyze our respective strengths and maximize productivity and savings. No one benefits when we take separate paths to reach the same point. Creativity and innovation are the byproducts of collaboration and teamwork." Press reports that focused on the sum of expenditures missed the point of the speech. I wholeheartedly support the ambassador's call for better defense procurement processes in both countries.

From this reform council's report, however, it seems that Ambassador Schieffer's call fell on deaf ears. The Japanese government has a long way to go before it can be said that the government is making procurement decisions on the basis of national defense instead of the enrichment of private interests.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The feeling is mutual

MTC reports on comments by Koga Makoto and Suga Yoshihide, the LDP's chief and deputy election strategists regarding the possibility of a general election around the new year.

MTC notes that Nikkei believes that this scheme is connected with the desire of New Komeito's leadership not to have to vote on the latest enabling law for the MSDF refueling mission. MTC concludes that the LDP is unlikely to act out of charity to its junior partner, and will instead use Komeito's campaign machine and then break the partnership following the election.

If Shukan Shincho is to be believed, Komeito is no more eager to retain its partnership after the election than the LDP.

An article headlined "The LDP has finally been abandoned by Soka Gakkai's Ikeda Daisaku" in the July 24 issue of Shukan Shincho chronicles a series of recent remarks by current and former Komeito and Soka Gakkai officials expressing their dissatisfaction with the coalition and their willingness to consider a partnership with the DPJ.

Given the number of reasons for Komeito to be dissatisfied with the LDP — including not just their differing foreign policy views but the LDP's perceived indifference to the plight of Japan's elderly — I would question the political sense of Komeito's leaders if they weren't dissatisfied with their party's partnership with the LDP and searching for a way out.

Accordingly, the next general election campaign, says the article, will be the coalition's last. Komeito will adhere to the coalition to the last, but will look to jump from the LDP's side, especially if its support could make the difference in the DPJ's coming to power.

In light of both parties' dissatisfaction with their coalition, it is worth asking whether either party will be campaigning particularly hard for the other's candidates in a general election campaign. Will Komeito voters buck the party and vote for DPJ candidates over LDP candidates, or not vote at all?

Fukuda, the LDP, and Japan: all hamstrung

Fukuda Yasuo has returned from his vacation at the Prince Park Tower hotel near Shiba Park in Tokyo.

His agenda is no less crowded than it was last week.

In the final week of the month, Mr. Fukuda, his government, and his party will be considering the new budgetary guidelines, deliberating on when to start the autumn extraordinary session of the Diet, and considering whether to reshuffle his cabinet before the autumn session.

Mr. Fukuda has provided few hints as to his thinking on the latter, and day by day the pressure from his party — using the media to pour on the pressure — grows for the prime minister to decide on a reshuffle.

On the question of timing, there is no hint as to when the Diet will convene again, but obviously if the government waits too long, the extraordinary session could turn into another marathon session stretching into next year as the government is forced to use Article 59 to pass priority legislation (like another enabling law for the MSDF's refuelling mission). Ibuki Bunmei, LDP secretary-general, said as much at a press conference Tuesday, and expressed his desire for the new session to begin by the end of August. Asked about it at his press conference later Tuesday, Machimura Nobutaka, chief cabinet secretary, said no agreement had been reached and provided no insight to the government's thinking.

The timing of the new session is intertwined with the question of a reshuffle. The argument — at least as made by Asahi — is that a reshuffle now will strengthen the prime minister's efforts to pass legislation on health care, social security, and eldercare, and countermeasures to address high energy costs. By giving the cabinet a "Fukuda color," the government will apparently have an easier time moving its agenda.

I'm unimpressed by this logic. I don't know what a Fukuda-colored cabinet would look like, but I'm not certain that it would be an improvement. And I don't see how it would strengthen the government's ability to move legislation. Instead I see it as freeing people who disagree with the prime minister to intensify their activities to undermine the prime minister. Meanwhile, is Masuzoe Yoichi, the minister for health, labor, and welfare (HLW) and the point man on the aforementioned issues (and a major critic of Abe Shinzo's despite being a holdover from the second Abe cabinet, thereby exposing the folly in the logic that the second Abe cabinet inherited by Mr. Fukuda is out of place today) somehow an obstacle to the government's plans?

The arguments being made on behalf of a reshuffle are flimsy, and yet the media is repeating them unquestioningly.

In the end, talk of a reshuffle is a distraction from the realities of policy: the Fukuda government and the LDP are unable to rescue Japan from its ongoing crisis. As Ken Worsley noted, the Cabinet Office admitted that the budget won't be balanced by 2011 as desired by Koizumi Junichiro. The economic outlook is worsening. The latest HLW white paper on the Japanese labor market recorded the inexorable growth in the use of un-regular staff, indicating the crumbling of Japanese labor system.

In the midst of this, government and ruling party are dithering over whether a new cabinet will improve the prime minister's public approval ratings.

The LDP's empire is crumbling.

It is not yet known what will rise in its place — and if it's a new DPJ regime, whether it will be more of the same — but we are without question witnessing the death throes of the ancien regime. Problems are mounting faster than the hamstrung government can tackle them. The LDP has, according to Yamasaki Taku, abandoned Koizumism, but it has adopted nothing in its place, not even the old way of conducting politics. It is merely treading water, and poorly.

How will a prime minister who can't decide whether to change his cabinet push through sweeping changes to how Japan cares for its sick and aged, provides opportunities for young workers, and enables firms to innovate and grow?

The DPJ may find itself similarly hamstrung, but the DPJ's qualities should not (and are not, I would argue) the most important matter facing the Japanese people. The question is whether the party that failed to anticipate and act responsibly in the face of a gathering crisis should be trusted with the power to attempt to fix the mess it created.

Back to blogging, for now

I have returned from my trip to western Japan (Ehime and Hiroshima prefectures).

Like m'colleague at Shisaku, I climbed a mountain — Ishizuchi, which at 1982m is not nearly as impressive as MTC's hike up Kitadake. (Apparently bloggers on holiday flee to mountains.)

In any case, returning to the blog after a week away is as good an opportunity as any to provide an update on the future of Observing Japan.

As some of you know, my life as a full-time freelance writer and blogger is coming to an end. From September, I will be reinstitutionalized into higher education, beginning my Ph.D. in political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The life of a graduate student will not allow the kind of blogging I have done to this point. I am resigned to the fact that from September I will be unable to write as often or as much as I have to date. In the nearly two years that I have worked on this blog, I have found blogging to be an incredibly useful activity for gathering my thoughts, and, more recently, exploring ideas in a rough form before turning them into more polished articles. In short, I am reluctant to abandon it completely. I am entertaining ideas for making it into a group blog or moving my writing to a new site, but for now, I will keep Observing Japan, albeit with lower volume. The frequency of posts will likely drop to one or two a week at best.

I will continue blogging regularly during the remainder of my time in Japan (now just over a week) and throughout August, although I may find it hard to write as often as I move to Cambridge.

Thanks for your readership, your comments, your emails, and for bearing with me during this transition.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mr. Fukuda on holiday

Fukuda Yasuo, his (un)popularity barely affected by his hosting of the G8 summit last week, celebrated his seventy-second birthday Wednesday by starting a six-day vacation.

Asahi notes that this is early for a prime minister to take his summer holiday, and speculates that since the prime minister does not have plans to travel far, there might be some truth to speculation within the LDP that Mr. Fukuda is getting ready to reshuffle his cabinet.

Maybe so, but there is little information in the body of the article to merit inclusion of the phrase "Preparation for a cabinet reshuffle?" in the headline.

Mainichi includes a similar phrase in its headline — "mixed with speculation about a cabinet reshuffle" — but at least provides some reason for why the prime minister would be taking his vacation now as opposed to later in the summer. At the end of July and beginning of August, Mr. Fukuda will be working on budgetary requests, after which he will be in Hiroshima for the anniversary of the atomic bombing and then Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Instead of being a scheme to plan a reshuffle, Mr. Fukuda, no spring chicken at seventy-two, could simply need a few days rest at home with family.

The point is that while it's possible that the prime minister could be planning a reshuffle, neither Asahi nor Mainichi provides any evidence of this apparently headline-worthy claim. This is unfortunately typical for Japanese political journalism.

If they have information suggesting that there's truth to this, they should report it. If they have no evidence, they should write a short article about the prime minister's vacation and leave it at that. No speculation, no wishful thinking, just the facts.

As for a reshuffle, I remain convinced that it won't happen, that the prime minister doesn't want to break in a new cabinet before the next Diet session. He will return from his holiday next week and plunge back into the work of preparing for the autumn session.

UPDATE: Sankei outdoes everyone in its coverage of Mr. Fukuda's vacation and the prospect of a reshuffle. SankeiSankei and no other media outlet — claims that on Tuesday, Mr. Fukuda decided (their word) to reshuffle his cabinet on July 28. There is no source for this report. I may be wrong: it may be true that a reshuffle is coming. But this article reinforces my argument about the poor quality of Japanese political reporting. If they know this to be a fact, Sankei should do us the favor of stating just how it came by this knowledge. All they tell us are "government sources," government sources who leaked only to Sankei.

SPEAKING of holidays, I will be taking one myself from Thursday evening. This will be my first non-blogging (and non-email) holiday since I started writing this blog. I may or may not write a post Thursday, so this may be my last post until next week.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Recommended book: Race for The Exits, Leonard Schoppa

Japan's pensions and health care systems may be the rocks against which the LDP smashes to pieces.

Last year, Abe Shinzo's failure to respond quickly and decisively to reports of missing pensions records doomed his faltering government. Now, under Fukuda Yasuo, the government is still struggling to account for missing pensions records and is reeling from public criticism of its new health care system for citizens over 75 years old. The LDP, meanwhile, stands at the brink of a brutal, potentially irreconcilable debate over whether to raise consumption taxes to finance the pensions system.

As a result of this struggle to decide how Japan will provide for its burgeoning elderly population as the population shrinks as it ages, Japan will find its regional and global influence limited as governments are forced to focus on "livelihood" issues and devote the government's scarce resources to fixing the health and pensions systems.

How did it come to this?

Leonard Schoppa, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, provides a useful explanation in Race for The Exits: The Unraveling of Japan's System of Social Protection (Cornell University Press, 2006).

Professor Schoppa's thesis starts from Albert Hirschman's concepts of exit and voice. Hirschman argued that members of a social organization, if dissatisfied with the organization, have two choices in responding to their dissatisfaction: exit, whereby they leave the organization entirely, or voice, whereby they make their grievances known and work within the organization to fix the problem. Exit, however, can play an important role in bringing about change by signaling to decisionmakers that they have a serious problem on their hands. In looking at Japan's contemporary economic problems, Schoppa suggests that Japan's problem is that citizens and businesses have a moderate amount of exit options, enough to encourage some who are frustrated to exit but not enough (until recently) to signal to Japan's leaders that there is a problem. Moderate exit options also diminish the power of voice, by shrinking the number of dissatisifed members of society who might otherwise have exercised voice and mobilized for change.

Schoppa looks in particular at the decisions made by two actors in Japanese society: women and companies. He argues that the postwar "convoy capitalism" system's welfare provisions rested on sacrifices made by these actors. Firms agreed to protect their core workers and offer them generous benefits upon retirement. Women left the workforce to marry, raise children, and eventually care for aging parents and in-laws. Both sacrifices enabled Japan to emerge as a "welfare superpower" without busting the government's budget.

As Schoppa wrote:
The role of the state in providing social protection was kept deliberately small, with a primary focus on providing pensions and health care insurance for the elderly. Government aid to the unemployed, single mothers, and children remained minimal in comparison with social provision in European welfare states, leaving the task of providing for these groups primarily in the hands of firms and women. Employers were not alone, however, in their efforts to live up to the lifetime employment commitments that were at the heart of the Japanese social contract. Banks and elaborate "relational networks" gave firms the economic security they needed to provide security for their employees, and the state stood ready to back up these networks by guaranteeing banks against failure and other regulatory interventions. Likewise, women were channeled into their prescribed roles through policies that tolerated gender discrimination in the workplace and through tax and benefit policies that discouraged full-time work and subsidized full-time housewives. (65)

(This section is from the conclusion of chapter 3, "Productive and Protective Elements of Convoy Capitalism." For an introduction to the Japanese welfare state, read the whole chapter.)
The system worked so long as Japan was kept in its postwar homeostasis, its economy relatively closed to the world, its firms restricted in their exit options and women pushed into and confined to household roles. It could not survive the transition to a globalized economy in which success depended more on openness. Accordingly, the task facing Japan's leaders is less the refurbishment of existing welfare institutions than the wholesale construction of news ones in which the Japanese state plays a much larger role than before, because firms and women are less willing to bear the bulk of the responsibility for welfare.

The problem, however, is that neither firms nor women have so many exit options that they can make a statement by leaving. The "hollowing out" problem is now well acknowledged, but the relocation of manufacturing facilities may or may not have been a response to high costs in Japan, as some FDI (such as to the US) may have been a hedge against protectionism; it is difficult to know precisely the basis for firms' location decisions. And it was years before outflows of FDI came to be seen as a problem by Japanese leaders. In the meantime, Japanese firms have not mobilized on behalf of deregulation to lower labor costs

In the case of women, the shrinking population problem, considered a consequence of decisions by Japanese women to not get married and to not have children, was similarly difficult to detect, and the government's response was similarly handicapped by limited exit options. What's needed are new measures that enable women to both remain in the workforce and have children. Working mothers, however, have exit options in the form of giving up work to become full time mothers or giving up motherhood to work fulltime. The result, argues Schoppa, is an insufficient number of working mothers to exercise voice and demand more support from the government.

To fortify his argument, Schoppa points to two cases in which the government was quick to reform, cases in which there were either plentiful or no exit options: the LDP's decision in the early 1990s to create a new eldercare system and the big bang financial reforms introduced in the 1980s and 1990s. In the former case, Schoppa argues that women in particular mobilized in support of more eldercare provisions because "with elderly relatives...women have no way out." Accordingly, they appealed to the government for help with providing for the elderly. On financial reform, firms became able to raise cheaper capital in other financial centers, diminishing the power of banks and the Ministry of Finance. The extent to which Japanese firms opted to exit made clear to both the banks and MOF that the firms were fleeing to escape the high cost of capital domestically, and both shifted accordingly in response.

But how long can this situation of moderate exit options persist? How much longer are Japanese firms willing to tolerate the high domestic costs that come with preserving the remnants of convoy capitalism? Is there a limit to their forbearance? Are Japanese firms silently abandoning the Japanese system by embracing ever increasing numbers of non-regular employees (part-time, temporary, or dispatched workers)? There is no doubt that this shift is underway. The report on the composition of the Japanese workforce by type of employment compiled by the statistics bureau of the ministry of internal affairs and communication — available here (Excel file) — shows the inexorable rise of the non-regular Japanese worker. In February 1988, regular employees constituted more than 80% of the labor force. Temporary workers provided by haken gaisha didn't exist. The number dipped downward during the 1990s, falling just below 75% in 1999. From the 1999, the decline hastened, falling below 70% by the end of 2002. The average figure for January-March 2008 is 66% regular staff, 34% non-regular staff. There are now reportedly 1.45 million dispatch workers and more than 10 million part-time workers (the number has fluctuated above 10 million since 1999). With this shift well underway, it is little wonder that Japanese politicians and citizens alike are concerned about the growth in inequality.

So why aren't these new permanently temporary workers using voice to demand the government's help, given that they have few or no exit options? This points to a deficiency in Schoppa's book, namely, voice is comparatively underexplored. Is the weakness of voice simply the result of some choosing to exit, thereby limiting the political clout of those who remain? Or do actors find voice options less attractive than exit options for other reasons? Do actors opt for exit because they convince themselves that you can't fight city hall (or Nagata-cho, or Kasumigaseki)? Is it a matter of lack of organizational skills or resources on the part of those who want the system changed, as opposed to those who want to protect their privileges under the existing system? Alternatively, could actors have opted for the wrong voice options, choosing for example to work with the LDP instead of exercising voice by working to see the LDP defeated by an opposition party more sensitive to their needs?

Schoppa suggests that politics is not to blame. "For the first time in the country's history," he writes, "individuals and firms have the wealth and freedom necessary to pursue private solutions to their economic problems — solutions that make perfect sense from an individual or corporate perspective but actually aggravate economic problems at the national level...the passion and energy that women and firms might have devoted to political campaigns to transform the system of convoy capitalism have evaporated." (204)

I find this unsatisfying and suspect that the problem may not just be the strength of reactionary elements — cited by Schoppa as an argument made by some political scientists — but a sense of resignation and powerlessness, even among corporate elites.

Accordingly, Schoppa's account is an important contribution to the discussion of why the Japanese government has struggled with reform over the past two decades, but it leaves a number of unanswered questions.

Nevertheless, I share Schoppa's bleak assessment for Japan's future if it fails to act now. The danger, he suggests, is that if these negative trends are not addressed now, they will lead to a downward spiral – a "race for the exits crisis" — that will result in "a steeper fall in fertility rates, high levels of emigration, a collapse of confidence in government bond markets, and capital flight." (206) At the center of Japan's problems is the central government's massive debt; the longer it persists, the greater the likelihood that the government will be handicapped in its efforts to provide a system of social protection desired by Japanese citizens. In order to save Japan from this crisis, he looks to its political leaders — and finds them wanting. He spoke of the promise of Koizumi Junichiro, but ultimately writes his government off as disappointing, having failed to provide a compelling vision of a new system.

"What Japan needs," he says, "is a political entrepreneur who can sell the public on the attractions of an alternative system that can provide social protection as well as growth, one that is clearly superior to a system of convoy capitalism that is headed toward collapse."

Surveying the contemporary political landscape, it is still difficult to see how this political entrepreneur might be.

Monday, July 14, 2008

General Rice criticizes the Japanese media (implicitly)

Your humble blogger was invited to attend a media roundtable with Lieutenant General Edward Rice, United States Air Force, the commander of US Forces Japan (previously discussed here), the sole "new media" representative sitting around a table with wire service correspondents and reporters from the major Japanese newspapers and TV networks.

The meeting wasn't General Rice's first with the press: he emphasized his desire to maintain an open channel of communication, especially with the vernacular media.

In his brief opening statement, the general expressed his belief in the strength of the US-Japan alliance, reiterated remarks by President Bush on the alliance's being the cornerstone of US foreign and security policy in Northeast Asia, and thanked Japan's coast guard and National Police Agency for the help they provided in guarding US bases before and during the G8 summit. He then shifted gears and provided an update on USFJ's efforts to combat crime by US service personnel stationed in Japan. He emphasized that USFJ takes crimes by US personnel extremely seriously, and is continuously looking to strengthen measures to prevent serious crimes and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. But he also made a point similar to an argument made previously by Jun Okumura. US personnel in Japan, General Rice said, have half the crime rate of the crime rate for the Japanese general public. He stressed that there is no way to prevent crime entirely, but noted that US safeguards have been tremendously successful. He noted that the US has prosecuted service personnel for crimes in instances when Japanese courts would not have prosecuted. US service men and women are here to serve the alliance, he said, and the vast majority of them adhere to the high standards of the US military.

It is hard to read this as anything but a message to Japanese media to tone down sensationalist coverage of crimes by US military personnel and put said crimes in perspective, perspective both in the sense of the overall crime levels in Japan and in the sense of the benefits to Japan from having US forces forward deployed in Japan (namely the savings to Japan in terms of not having to spend as much on defense as it would have to otherwise). This impression was reinforced in General Rice's answers to questions about crime.

Will they get the message?

Meanwhile, I asked the general about the progress on realignment and his thoughts on the DPJ's latest "Okinawa Vision" paper. The DPJ released its latest statement on Okinawa policy last week, in which the DPJ provided a far more detailed and comprehensive statement on Okinawa than its previous vision paper (discussed here). The position on the realignment of US forces in Okinawa — and by extension US forces in Japan — can be found starting from p. 3, in the section covering the DPJ's policies in four areas. Realignment is the first area.

The DPJ once again emphasizes the need to reduce the US presence in Okinawa as much as entirely possible. Once again the DPJ wants to remove US forces first from Okinawa, and then from Japan, although it adds a proviso stipulating that this process will "be based on changes in the strategic environment." But the document proceeds to explain DPJ policies in eight areas related to the alliance that would mark a significant break from the LDP approach. Tellingly, the document does not mention the 2006 roadmap on realignment, suggesting that a DPJ-led government would look to start from scratch and cut the US presence in Okinawa even more drastically than under the terms of the 2006 agreement.

First, the DPJ wants to revise the Status of Forces agreement with the US, and together with the SDPJ and the PNP submitted a proposal to the government earlier this year (which the government dismissed). This plan would have the US military submit a plan on base usage every eight years, hold the US responsible for providing restitution for environment damage caused by US military activities, prohibit low-altitude flights, have only the lowest necessary level of air-traffic control at US bases, have service personnel living off-base register as resident aliens, and give Japanese authorities primary jurisdiction for off-base crimes and use Japanese facilities to intern suspects, and make the US 100% responsible for providing restitution for crimes committed by US service personnel, US military employees, or their families.

Second, the plan calls for the return of more US facilities in Okinawa — especially logistics and communications facilities in urban areas and unusued land — to Japan. The DPJ wants to hasten the suspension of flights from Futenma in the interest of reducing the danger to citizens of surrounding communities.

Third, the DPJ reiterated the concerns about how Japan's host-nation support (HNS) is used by the US military, concerns that led the DPJ to allow HNS to lapse for one month at the start of the current fiscal year. It calls for a more accountability and transparency in how Japanese money is used.

Other demands include provisions related to the redevelopment of Okinawa following the reversion of bases, greater participation by prefectural and local authorities in talks on the bases, the elimination of US military noise pollution, and the use of Okinawa as a headquarters for peace and stability operations by international organizations.

Missing from these proposals is any indication of how a DPJ government would convince the US to accept these demands. Despite the use of the word "vision," there is little vision in this document, at least in terms of how realignment will (and should) impact the US-Japan alliance. Few if any of these changes can be implemented unilaterally. It will depend on negotiation with US military and diplomatic officials. Is the DPJ prepared for that? Do they have an idea of how they would get what they want in negotiations? Much of this report has to be classified as electioneering by the DPJ — making a less than reliable guide to how a DPJ government might act once in power — but it is still the best indication we have of what the DPJ will do with the 2006 agreement.

General Rice gave no sign that USFJ is reaching out to the DPJ and looking to open a channel of communication in the hope of forestalling an antagonistic relationship if and when the DPJ forms a government. He said, "We will work with the Government of Japan as it exists today. It is not helpful to speculate." He was optimistic about the implementation of the 2006 roadmap, stating that he expected it to be implemented on schedule, with the Marines in Okinawa leaving for Guamn in 2013 as planned.

I hope that USFJ will reconsider its attitude towards the DPJ. Obviously it shouldn't shift policy now in anticipation of a DPJ victory that might never come, but it is important that the military deepen its ties with the DPJ in the hopes of preventing the DPJ from running against the US military. By the same measure, if the DPJ is serious about governing Japan, it should be looking to develop its own ties with USFJ. US forces are part of the political environment in Japan, like it or not, and the DPJ must be prepared to negotiate in good faith should it have the opportunity to form a government.

I'm not convinced that the latest Okinawa vision is a demonstration of the DPJ's good faith.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Don't expect Japanese troops in Afghanistan

With five or six weeks until the start of the autumn extraordinary session of the Diet, one of Fukuda Yasuo's responsibilities during the recess is determining his government's approach to the Japanese contributions to operations in and around Afghanistan. The enabling law for the current Maritime Self-Defense Forces refueling mission will expire in January, meaning that if the government wants to extend the mission it will have to do it during the upcoming session.

As noted last month, the government was investigating whether to ramp up Japan's commitment to Afghanistan to include the deployment of Ground Self-Defense Forces personnel to Afghanistan.

Komeito, the LDP's partner in government, may have killed the idea of a ground component. Ota Akihiro, Komeito secretary-general, said Saturday that there are few within the government and the LDP — and, by implication, the bulk of his party — who are enthusiastic about sending ground troops to Afghanistan. Komeito's opposition is probably enough to ensure that the government will do nothing more than push for an extension of the refueling mission, which the DPJ will oppose, prompting the government to use Article 59 to pass the bill for the second straight year. Recall that the LDP has previously conceded to Komeito on this issue: the very fact that the government has to renew the mission again this year is the result of a concession to Komeito last year, shortly after Mr. Fukuda took the reins.

Given that Komeito's thirty-one lower house members give the government its two-thirds majority, it's safe to assume that the lowest common denominator will win the day on this issue, meaning a repeat of last year's spectacle.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fukuda the prevaricator

Fukuda Yasuo, done playing the (overly) generous host in Toyako, is back in Tokyo to face his ever growing pile of problems.

First on the agenda is, of course, the question of whether he should reshuffle his cabinet before going into the autumn extraordinary session.

After meeting with Ibuki Bunmei, LDP secretary-general, at the Kantei on Thursday, Mr. Fukuda's perspective on a cabinet shuffle was unchanged from before the G8 summit: "a completely blank paper." He is giving no sign that he is leaning one way or another, although the very act of delaying and remaining noncommital could be a sign of his intention to keep his cabinet unchanged. Given the intra-LDP wrangling that will necessarily accompany a reshuffle, he will have to make a decision to proceed soon if he is going to have a new lineup ready by early August.

A possible sign that there will be no reshuffle can be found in an interview Mori Yoshiro gave to Mainichi. Asked about the reshuffle, Mr. Mori said that his previous argument was a "general argument." He was making no hints about Mr. Fukuda's intentions. He explained that his thinking on a reshuffle rests largely in concerns that the cabinet is Mr. Abe's, not Mr. Fukuda's, a situation that should be corrected. And he acknowledged that there is a "linkage problem" between a reshuffle and a possible lower house dissolution.

That, ladies and gentlemen, may be the sound of the bursting of the reshuffle bubble.

The prime minister is better off spending his time figuring out how to outmaneuver or neutralize LDP opponents to his initiatives and craft an agenda for the autumn session that will put the DPJ on the defensive. He should put an end to reshuffle speculation now and stop speaking about his "blank paper."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Maehara backs down?

The DPJ is increasingly focused on its forthcoming leadership election, the date of which has been set for 21 September, with the campaign's official start set for two weeks prior.

The DPJ's anti-Ozawa groups have still not agreed upon a candidate to stand against Ozawa Ichiro, while Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto have both expressed their support for Mr. Ozawa. Mr. Ozawa, reports Asahi, will likely go into the campaign with a majority of the parliamentary party behind him. The groups (factions) of Messrs. Hatoyama and Kan, as well as the left-wing Yokomichi group have pledged their support for Mr. Ozawa. The Isshin-kai, an Ozawa-sponsored group for DPJ members who have been elected fewer than three times, is also expected to support Mr. Ozawa, as are a number of the party's endorsed candidates for the next general election (who get a vote in the leadership election). Mr. Ozawa's support among the party's prefectural chapters is also overwhelming.

In the midst of this gathering Ozawa landslide, Maehara Seiji has softened his critique of the party's policies. Speaking Wednesday at a symposium with Yosano Kaoru, a possibile post-Fukuda LDP president, Mr. Maehara stated, "I don't reject the party's thinking, but the manifesto must be made better." He suggested that the points of contention in the party leadership election should be (1) the form and manner of decentralization, (2) the place of the UN in the party's security policy thinking, and (3) the question of how to fund the party's manifesto proposals.

I'm not surprised by Mr. Maehara's retreat from Liebermanian territory in relations with the DPJ — and I'm not surprised that it looks as if Mr. Maehara will leave it to Sengoku Yoshito to fall on his sword in the September election.

And, I should add, I'm not particularly impressed with Mr. Maehara's attempt to spur a discussion about the DPJ's "failure" to demonstrate precisely how it will govern if and when it takes power.

Yahoo's Minna no seiji has published both Mr. Maehara's article in Voice and the conversation with Tahara Soichiro and Mr. Yosano in Chuo Koron that have prompted criticism of Mr. Maehara from within the DPJ (and given the LDP hope that the DPJ might fragment).

In the first part of his article in Voice, Mr. Maehara chides his party for its role in creating the nejire kokkai by prioritizing opposition to the government over solving national problems. (He also criticizes the LDP and Komeito for dismissing opposition proposals out of hand, unlike, he says, in Germany, where since "various opinions are presented from within the government and the opposition parties, seventy or eighty percent of legislation is revised.") In short, he argues that both the LDP and the DPJ should stop politicking and start working for the good of Japan, logic that sounds awfully similarly to the logic behind last year's push for an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. He then proceeds to criticize DPJ positions on the temporary gasoline tax, the new eldercare system, before explaining his ideas on the aforementioned points of contention in the leadership election.

The interesting section is when he discusses the Koizumi-Takenaka reforms, because this section reveals much about Mr. Maehara. He says, "The direction and sense of the Koizumi/Takenaka reforms is completely correct." But — there had to be a but — the reforms as implemented were sham reforms because the bureaucracy interfered with them. And perhaps, he suggests, Mr. Koizumi could have been a little more attentive to growing inequality and the need for more spending on health care.

In the second part, he provides fodder to those who see Mr. Maehara as being at the center of any political realignment by discussing the existence of "reformists" and "conservatives" in both the LDP and the DPJ. He then talks at length about his cross-partisan activities, especially on national security and foreign policy, and notes how there are many politicians in the LDP who understand Japan's problems.

Finally, he closes with advice to the DPJ. First, he has the gall to note that "only the LDP will profit" from cracks in the party that will be the result of internal squabbling. Second, he calls on the DPJ to resist the temptation to populism, to telling the people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

The conversation with Mr. Yosano hinges more on specific policy questions, but Mr. Maehara's criticisms of the party and Mr. Ozawa are the same. (Part one; part two.)

I don't necessarily have a problem with Mr. Maehara's policy ideas; like most politicians, he has some good ideas and some not-so-good ideas (in the latter category I would put his statement, "If I were at the helm, I would make 'world leader in per-capita GDP' a national goal"). My problem is with his naivety. He genuinely believes that if reformists in both the LDP and DPJ just work together to craft good policy, Japan will be saved.

But to paraphrase Horace, you may drive politics out with a pitchfork, she will nevertheless come back. There is no escaping the "political situation," reputedly an obsession of Mr. Ozawa above all others. Working with the LDP simply means giving the LDP the means to cling to power. There may be reasonable, intelligent LDP members, but the LDP remains the LDP, collectively frightened of any change beyond that necessary to stay in power, allied with the bureaucracy, and bereft of any vision beyond survival.

This is the unspoken meaning of what Mr. Yosano says in his discussion with Mr. Maehara: "The LDP is a rather flexible political party. If we receive various requests, we change that which can be changed."

For all of Mr. Maehara's ideas, he lacks wisdom (or political sense). He fails to see that any compromise behind tactical, issue-by-issue compromise abets the LDP. He fails to see that in many ways the continuance of the LDP in power — no matter how well-intentioned and sensible some members of the party are — is the single biggest obstacle to remaking Japan into the kind of society that Mr. Maehara purports to want. His fixation on balancing the budget in the DPJ's electoral manifesto simply misses the bigger picture that regime change will provide a new government, free of the pathologies of fifty years of one-party rule, with the opportunity to chart a new direction for Japan, a goal that Mr. Ozawa shares. Unlike Mr. Maehara, however, it seems that Mr. Ozawa has actually given some thought to how to topple the LDP in an election first. And his way of thinking would not only give the LDP policy victories, but it would also make it increasingly difficult to tell the two parties apart, a development that would make it easier for the LDP to fend off a DPJ challenge to its rule.

For all his unhappiness with how the DPJ is run — and all of his efforts to cultivate partnerships with LDP members — I expect that Mr. Maehara will ultimately fall into line. The election end in a landslide reelection for Mr. Ozawa, Mr. Maehara and a buoyant Mr. Ozawa will reconcile on Mr. Ozawa's terms, and the party will unite in pursuit of regime change.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Banning hereditary politicians

Koga Makoto, the LDP's chief election strategist, spoke in Fukuoka on Monday, where he suggested that the government might not wait until September 2009 to call an election after all. He noted that the prime minister might instead decide to call an election in early 2009, before the start of the ordinary Diet session, or in March or April following the passage of next year's budget.

But the more interesting portion of his remarks pertained to the role of hereditary Diet members. A recent column by Shiota Ushio in Toyo Keizai notes that there are 180 hereditary members between the upper and lower houses, amounting to a quarter of the total membership of the two houses of the Diet. Of the past ten prime ministers, all but Murayama Tomiichi and Mori Yoshiro have been second- or third-generation members of the Diet. 40% of LDP members of the Diet are, according to Shiota, hereditary Diet members.

Mr. Koga, not a hereditary politician himself, sees this as a problem. Indeed, he sees the prevalence of hereditary members within the LDP as a source of the party's fragility.

"Hereditary Diet members are not well acquainted with hardship — born in Tokyo, raised in Tokyo. Even if theirs is a rural electoral district, they don't really understand the area. This has led to the LDP's weakness."

Undoubtedly a certain portion of the party sees the matter differently.

Has the LDP been mortally wounded by its hereditary members? Would the LDP have governed differently, especially over the past twenty years, had its ranks been filled with more members who hadn't been born into politics? The LDP is weak not because its members are weak (or weak-headed), but because the system it engineered and used to stay in power is crumbling. One could even argue that hereditary politicians make better politicians, having learned the art of politics from a young age. (I don't actually believe this, but one could logically make the argument. Why don't I believe it? Exhibit one: Abe Shinzo. Exhibit two: the Hatoyama boys.) Non-hereditary members are little better. "Understanding the area," in Mr. Koga's terms, has often meant knowing the right people to deal with when it comes to rounding up votes and passing out favors (AKA public funds). No group of politicians is inherently better or worse than the other.

It is with this in mind that I read a recent Mainichi editorial on a proposal being mooted by the DPJ. A subcommittee of the party's headquarters of political reform headed by Noda Yoshihiko, charged by reviewing the Public Office Election law, wants to submit a bill to the autumn extraordinary session that will make it illegal for children to run in seats once held by their parents. (I suppose the bill would apply only to parents and children. No word on whether this would apply to other relatives [grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.].) Mr. Noda hopes to secure LDP agreement on this issue. Mainichi applaudes this idea, and suggests that even if the bill doesn't become law, the DPJ should go ahead and write this provision into the DPJ's party laws, noting that this is a good way for the DPJ to distinguish itself from the LDP. Given the aforementioned ratio of hereditary to non-hereditary Diet members in the LDP — not to mention that presence of hereditary members in important positions in the DPJ — this bill is unlikely to be introduced to or passed in the Diet. And it won't make it into the party rules.

Is this such a bad thing? The Mainichi editorial suggests that the rise of the hereditary member is indicative of a drying up of the political talent pool. But is the prevalence of hereditary members a cause or an effect of the lack of talented candidates for public office? Does the party turn to hereditary members because it can't find anyone else, or do good people stay away from politics because of corruption, the inheritance of Diet seats included?

But as I argued before, hereditary members are not inherently better or worse than non-hereditary members, and I'm not certain that Mr. Koga's claim that hereditary members are more out of touch from their districts than non-hereditary members is true. I suppose that the reason why people — and Mainichi — have a problem with hereditary members is not that they dilute the talent of the political class or anything like that, but that they are an offense to democratic sensibilities. And they are! If hereditary members are not inherently superior to non-hereditary members, why not give non-hereditary candidates a chance to screw up rob the people blind represent the people. Some readers may recall that I had a certain grudging respect for the late, unlamented Matsuoka Toshikatsu, who clawed his way into politics and who was sacrificed in order to save the government of Mr. Abe, that exemplar of hereditary politicians.

But it seems to me that a bill along the lines suggested by Mr. Noda and encouraged by Mainichi would be unconstitutional. The first part of article 14 of the constitution reads, "All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin." Banning second- or third-generation politicians from running in certain districts looks to me like discrimination in political relations based on family origin.

The Japanese people will have to continue to tolerate the presence of hereditary politicians in their midst. After all, it is the people who are responsible for the existence of hereditary Diet members. Mainichi neglects to mention this, instead pointing to the advantages enjoyed by hereditary members in terms of money, name recognition, and preexisting campaign organizations. But the people still ultimately have a choice whether to elect a hereditary politician.

Instead of banning hereditary members, perhaps Mr. Noda and the DPJ should consider more substantial revisions to Japan's election laws that make it easier for challengers to contend with hereditary politicians. Why not lift restrictions that make it difficult for candidates to interact with voters one-on-one? Why not loosen restrictions on when, where, and how a candidate can compete for public office — Japan's incumbency protection laws? Arguably the job security enjoyed by incumbent Diet members is a greater threat to Japanese governance than hereditary Diet members.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fixing Fukuda's "good enough" cabinet

After Koizumi Junichiro called upon Prime Minister Fukuda to decide whether to shuffle his cabinet in the coming months, Mori Yoshiro — Mr. Fukuda's so-called "guardian" and an advocate of a reshuffle — and Kato Koichi suggested that the prime minister should form a new cabinet before the start of the extraordinary Diet session in the autumn.

In a speech Friday, Mr. Mori suggested that the prime minister should announce the new cabinet in the second half of July or the first half of August, before the O-bon festival.

Mr. Kato, meanwhile, said that a reshuffle would enable the prime minister to promulgate a Fukuda agenda that would serve to distance the LDP from the Koizumi agenda. He suggested that new cabinet should exclude members of the CEFP under Prime Ministers Koizumi and Abe. [I would dispute the idea that Mr. Abe didn't mark a break from the Koizumi line; it appeared to me that Mr. Abe was keen to distance himself from his predecessor.]

For his part, Mr. Fukuda remains noncommital, insisting that he remains a "blank sheet" on the question of a cabinet shuffle.

Yamamoto Ichita, LDP upper house member from Gunma prefecture and supporter of a shuffle, argues that if Mr. Fukuda taps powerful, popular officials and times the new cabinet's appearance just right, Mr. Fukuda might reverse his decline and undercut the DPJ. He offers three reasons.

First, a new cabinet would distance Mr. Fukuda from the taint of the Abe cabinet. Mr. Yamamoto argues that Mr. Fukuda's cabinet is still the second Abe cabinet (with a few changes). A change, he suggests, would enable the prime minister to wield more control over the government and make some progress in tackling policy problems.

Second, Mr. Yamamoto cites Mr. Koizumi to argue that a shuffle is one of two tools (the other being the power to dissolve the Diet and call an election) that the prime minister has to impose his will on party and parliament.

Third, Mr. Yamamoto suggests that if Mr. Fukuda lets the new Diet session begin without forming a new cabinet (after which a shuffle is unlikely), it will signal to the LDP that Mr. Fukuda is doomed and presumably trigger more intense campaigning to succeed him.

(He also argues, in an unnumbered point, that a shuffle will enable the prime minister to bring young LDP leaders to the fore and boost the party's appeal.)

The aforementioned arguments sound logical enough, but they rest on the unfounded assumption that the Japanese public will be satisfied with a statement of good intentions, as opposed to concrete, resolute action to address their insecurities. Will a new cabinet be any more effective or dynamic than the current cabinet? Does Mr. Fukuda actually want to form a "Fukuda-colored" cabinet that will take a definitive policy position (pro-reform or anti-reform / pro-consumption tax hike or pro-growth / pro-Koizumi or anti-Koizumi, etc.), an approach that risks making enemies of the LDP members on the short end of a cabinet shuffle? Do the Japanese people actually see the current cabinet as a "Koizumi-Abe line" cabinet and reject it as a result? Or do they reject it because it has failed to deliver significant results?

A new cabinet may enjoy a small bump, but any bump is guaranteed to be short lived. The new cabinet will face the same obstacles faced by the current cabinet (hostile public, recalcitrant DPJ, divided LDP), with the possibility that opting for a policy-oriented cabinet over a "unity" cabinet will actually exacerbate the LDP's divisions. Ironically, a more ideologically cohesive cabinet could be less effective than a heterogenous cabinet that is more capable of exploiting opportunities and co-opting potential rivals. Advocates of a reshuffled cabinet must at least consider the possibility that the new cabinet could be worse than the current, adequately mediocre Fukuda cabinet.

Does Mr. Fukuda actually think that the source of his troubles are his cabinet? Why fix something that isn't broken?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Kato steps up

Kato Koichi has been chosen as the head of the Japan-China Friendship Association, an influential and venerable organization advocating closer relations between Japan and China. (A history of the organization can be read here.)

Mr. Kato has seen his influence vanish since his failed rebellion against Mori Yoshiro in 2000, which was followed soon thereafter by the arrest of his secretary and his (temporary) resignation from the Diet. He subsequently became LDP's leading liberal, criticizing both his onetime comrade Koizumi Junichiro and Abe Shinzo for their revisionism before declaring his support for Fukuda Yasuo. A retired diplomat who was in MOFA's China School, Mr. Kato has been a relentless critic of historical revisionism and a tireless advocate of cooperation in Asia. Indeed, as seen as in this 2004 speech at Johns Hopkins University, Mr. Kato, like Mr. Fukuda, has a vision for a peaceful, integrated Asia.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Kato is not particularly popular with the Japanese right — and his home was the target of arson on the auspicious date of August 15, 2006.

But now with a perch at the top of an influential organization that spans party lines, perhaps Mr. Kato may yet have an important role to play in Japanese policy making. The prime minister needs all the help he can get in making a case for a constructive relationship with China and a more cooperative approach to Asia more broadly. Few prominent, popular figures seem to be willing to make the case publicly and persistently for a more cooperative Asia-centered foreign policy, meaning that the conservatives have effectively won the propaganda war. Mr. Kato, however, still commands respect when he speaks, even as an outcast within the LDP.

Mr. Kato may now be prepared to reconnect with Yamasaki Taku, the other member of the YKK, to fight back on North Korea policy and Japan's Asia policy more broadly.

On Friday morning, Mr. Kato appeared on a TV program to join Mr. Yamasaki in his feud with Abe Shinzo, emphasizing the failure of the Koizumi-Abe line on North Korea. Arguing that Japan may be finally having a debate on North Korea, three years late, he said about Mr. Abe, "If Mr. Abe was a person who understood a little more about the international situation, the Six-Party talks on the North Korean nuclear problem would have been held in Tokyo." In other words, if Japan had remained engaged in finding a solution to the problem instead of going down the abductions rabbit hole, Japan would be enjoying greater influence in the region today, instead of wondering how Japan became so isolated, estranged even from the United States. (He also urged Mr. Fukuda to reshuffle his cabinet and distance himself from the Koizumi line, advice that runs contrary to Mr. Koizumi's, and is unlikely to be embraced by the prime minister, who, I think, is less concerned about embracing a "line" than balancing the various elements of the LDP and keeping his opponents off balance.)

Perhaps this is the beginning of pushback by the liberals against conservative-revisionist control of the LDP. It is unlikely that the pushback will get very far, resting as it does on Messrs. Kato and Yamasaki, politicians on the downhill side of their careers, unless they manage to encourage their compatriots to speak up (one of Mr. Kato's greatest strengths seems to be courage and fearlessness in the face of great opposition) and challenge the conservatives. However, it matters less what they do within the LDP than what they do in the public at large. If Mr. Kato can combat public skepticism towards China and challenge an abductions-centered North Korea policy in public, he will have accomplished something great — and something necessary for the future of a peaceful Asia.