Thursday, July 30, 2009

The DPJ will bring the ships home — and open Japan's economy to the US?

After weeks of signs that the DPJ might wholly embrace the foreign policy status quo, Hatoyama Yukio announced on Wednesday that, when the current special measures law for the deployment of Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF) refueling ships in the Indian Ocean in support of coalition activities in Afghanistan expires in January, a DPJ-led government would not extend the mission or draft a new law. Hatoyama's statement met with the approval of the Social Democratic Party, the DPJ's likely coalition partner — not surprisingly, because it is perhaps the first indication of how the SDPJ could be able to manipulate the DPJ if they enter into government together. The SDPJ claims that it is untroubled by the DPJ's new realism and that it is highly likely that the party will join a DPJ-led coalition should the DPJ win next month, but we've just gotten a glimpse at the dynamics of such a coalition, at least on foreign policy.

This is not particularly surprising, nor, I would argue, is it particularly troublesome. As I've argued previously, the DPJ's extensive agenda requires its lasting long enough in power to implement it, which means compromising with the SDPJ long enough to score some legislative victories to bring into the 2010 upper house election campaign. Taking the refueling mission off the agenda is an easy concession to make, and barring an international crisis, ensures that the DPJ can focus on matters of greater concern to the Japanese public in the months leading up to the election.

As for the refueling mission itself, I expect that the Obama administration would not make much of a fuss in response to a DPJ government's decision to bring the ships home, provided that the DPJ replaced the symbolic MSDF mission with something more substantive in support of coalition activities in Afghanistan. As Richard Holbrooke suggested on a visit to Tokyo in April, "something more substantive" does not have to be boots on the ground. Indeed, the Obama administration would prefer real economic and political assistance to the Afghanistan and Pakistan governments over the token contributions that satisfied the Bush administration as far as Japan was concerned. If the DPJ wins, it better have an idea of what it will offer instead by January.

It appears that the Obama administration may be both a blessing and curse for the DPJ. In the Obama administration the DPJ faces a US administration that has more often than not showed itself to be not particularly alarmed by the possibility of a DPJ victory and interested in a more "hands-off" approach to Japan than the Bush administration's. At the same time, however, the DPJ has had to abandon the rhetoric on the alliance it used when George Bush was still president. With Bush the DPJ could have run a campaign like Gerhard Schröder's in 2002 and done quite well. Not so with Obama. If the DPJ wins, I am convinced that the mere existence of the Obama administration will pressure the DPJ to be more constructive in the US-Japan relationship. Treating the Japanese government with respect and dignity — as the equal partner that the DPJ wants Japan to be, whatever the reality of the underlying power dynamics — seems to take gaiatsu in a whole new direction.

It is in this context that I find the DPJ's call for negotiations of a US-Japan FTA of considerable interest (discussed here). If the DPJ is serious about this proposal — serious to the point of actually making it a priority and expending political capital on it — it would give some substance to the DPJ's desire to focus on the non-security aspects of the relationship while contributing to the structural transformation of the Japanese economy and weakening the power of the bureaucracy. Naturally the fight over a US-Japan FTA would be brutal, especially in agricultural policy. In that sense, this proposal must be viewed in tandem with the party's proposal for direct income support for farmers. As Ozawa Ichiro has argued, trade liberalization and direct income support should go hand in hand, supporting farmers as Japan liberalizes its markets. For the same reason the agriculture lobby responded vociferously to the DPJ's manifesto (documented by Nakagawa Hidenao here). But not just the agriculture lobby: the LDP went on the offensive against the idea of a US-Japan FTA, issuing a statement that detailed the dire consequences of agriculture trade liberalization with the US.

In the event that the DPJ concludes an FTA with the US that liberalizes agriculture, it is estimated that the importation of prodigious amounts of agricultural products from the US will snatch away the domestic agricultural market with an impact on the scale of trillions of yen...This would inevitably be a lethal blow, which would be equal to selling out Japanese agriculture.

The DPJ, the LDP argues, stands for the destruction of Japanese agriculture and is a "dangerous political party."

The LDP's nōrin zoku are convinced that the DPJ has handed them a gift with which to save their seats, if not the LDP. But is this a glimpse of the LDP's future? What future is there for the LDP if the election hits reformists in urban and suburban areas disproportionately harder than LDP members in the rural areas attached to the traditional agriculture machine? I suppose that would be one way for the LDP to clarify its internal contradictions. But if the LDP shrinks to a rural base, it loses in the long term. Indeed, Koizumi's vision for the party was arguably intended to prevent this outcome, because an LDP that can depend on votes in aging, depopulating rural districts is an LDP with a bleak future.

But regardless, I'm not sure that this plan is an election loser for the DPJ in rural areas. At this point, an FTA with the US is single proposal that would take years of negotiations and might not even include serious concessions on agriculture — Kan Naoto responded to the LDP's complaints by suggesting that the DPJ would demand that rice and other major crops be treated as an exception. The DPJ's direct income support plan, however, is a major piece of the manifesto and has been one of the party's most prominent proposals for years. The LDP, meanwhile, has been shedding support from farmers for much of this decade and is still trying to shed the party's association with Koizumi Junichiro, who is widely blamed for Painting the DPJ as plotting to destroy Japanese agriculture might help, but it assumes that farmers have very short memories.

Perhaps this issue provides an answer to the pressing question of what to do with Ozawa should the DPJ win next month. The problem with Ozawa is that if he is allowed to remain outside the cabinet, he will undermine the party's plan to include major party politicians in the cabinet and will be in a position to freelance in ways that could hurt the government. If he is in the cabinet in an executive position — deputy prime minister, for example — Hatoyama would be vulnerable to the criticism that he is Ozawa's puppet. If he were given an ordinary ministerial post, it would be a waste of his considerable political talents. If he were given a minister-without-portfolio position, it would give him too much freedom. Accordingly, perhaps a special post should be created for Ozawa: minister with the special mission of negotiating a US-Japan FTA. This job would be inter-ministerial, involving cooperation at minimum with the foreign minister, the agriculture minister, and the economy, trade, and industry minister; it would have both domestic political and foreign policy components, enabling Ozawa to both negotiate directly with the US and to make the case directly to the Japanese public of the importance of the FTA. Accordingly, it would be a specific mission, to keep Ozawa occupied (and therefore not devising schemes independent of the government) while still using his considerable political talents. Given the political sensitivity of an FTA with the US, it may take someone of Ozawa's stature to manage it. And if the DPJ is serious about this proposal, appointing Ozawa would send a costly signal of the party's intentions about negotiating an FTA (and ensure that Japan had a tough pol representing it in talks).

To return to the question of the alliance, Washington should be aware of the LDP's response to the DPJ proposal. From one side of its mouth the LDP criticizes the DPJ as a danger to the US-Japan alliance for wanting to bring Japanese forces home and reopen the realignment of US forces in Japan; from the other it warns that the DPJ will kill Japanese agriculture by allowing in cheap US agricultural goods. In other words, token, symbolic contributions that involve the JSDF? The alliance has never been closer. Negotiations for a US-Japan FTA that would have dramatic consequences for the bilateral relationship and probably the global trading system? Traitors!

The LDP's reaction has me convinced that the DPJ may be on the right track with this proposal. I am no less dubious about the possibility of concluding such an agreement — especially given the obstacles in Washington — but it might be worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The blog's motto

After yesterday's exegesis on the DPJ's manifesto (parts one and two), I am taking today off from serious blogging.

But I do want to call your attention to the blog's "new" motto, which is not altogether new. I have heard the occasional question about the Latin phrase in the banner — which I had originally put there without giving much thought to how it would appear to readers — and so I have decided to replace the Latin with an English translation.

The quote is from seventeenth century Swedish statesman Axel Oxenstierna, who, when his son was heading to Westphalia to represent Sweden in peace negotiations in 1648, sought to calm his son's nerves with the advice, "Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" I have been struck by this quote since I first encountered it, and I found it appropriate for an ongoing discussion of Japanese politics, which every day seems to provide more evidence in support of Oxenstierna. Indeed, Aso Taro seems to reaffirm the value of this motto with each passing day.

Oxenstierna's warning provides a useful reminder to all of us that national leaders are not nearly as in control of events as often appears, that far from being omnipotent and omniscient, our leaders — especially our democratic leaders — are just trying to keep their heads above water.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The DPJ unveils its manifesto (part two)

This post continues the analysis of the DPJ's 2009 general election manifesto, which I began in this post.

Child care and education: The centerpiece of the DPJ's child care program is obviously its child allowance plan, amounting to 26,000 yen per month per child until the end of middle school. The party plans to provide half this amount during the 2010 fiscal year, and the total amount in subsequent fiscal years. It will further make public high schools free, subsidize attendance at private high schools, and make more scholarships available for students wanting to attend university.

It is hard to object to this portion of the DPJ's spending program, in that it could provide a welcome boost for younger parents and, who knows, might even have some salutary effect on the national birth rate. The question, of course, is, as with much of the DPJ agenda, whether the party will be able to cut enough elsewhere to pay for this program.

Pensions and health care: this portion of the party's manifesto is relatively unchanged from 2007. As before, the party wants to digitize pensions records, drastically shorten the period for pensions payments to be fully restored, and issue "pensions passbooks" that will enable pensioners to keep track of their own records. As for the structure of the pensions system, it wants to prevent the diversion of pensions funds (in other words, a "lock-box" for social security funds), and, more significantly, proposes to write a unified pensions system into law by 2013, based on an "earnings-related" pensions payment combined with a minimum pension drawn from consumption tax revenue that adjusts depending on the income-based pension.

On health care, the other major concern of many Japanese voters, the DPJ's central plank is aimed at the eldercare system introduced by the Fukuda government in 2008. As before, the DPJ wants to revert to the old system; as MTC summarized during last year's debate, the DPJ position is "all Japanese are equal, ergo, all Japanese should all have the same health insurance system." In this instance, the DPJ offers some promise of reform, but it is vague and lacks a specific shape and schedule: the party promises to move "gradually" towards a system that unifies employee health insurance and national insurance, which it hopes will eventually be concentrated in some sort of regional insurance system. The reality is that having been implemented, it may be impossible to undo the eldercare system without considerable disruption. The party also laments the state of medical care in parts of rural Japan, especially the shortage of doctors, and pledges to review the provision of "emergency care, obstetrics, infant care, surgery, and the like" in Japan's regions. In short, on health care the party doesn't offer much more than stopgap measures and a promise that one day that health care system will be overhauled.

Regionalization: Regionalization has been strongly emphasized by Hatoyama since he became party leader earlier this year and plans for decentralization are threaded throughout the party's manifesto. It is, after all, closely intertwined with the party's administrative reform plans. As the party notes in proposal no. 27, "Dismantling and reorganizing Kasumigaseki [metonym for the Japanese bureaucracy], and establishing regional sovereignty." The goal, the party writes, is to reverse the centralization that has prevailed since the Meiji Restoration, effectively undoing the work of Okubo Toshimichi, Aso Taro's great-great-grandfather and one of Ozawa Ichiro's heroes. Services should be provided by local governments and the relationship between the central government and local governments should be "equal and cooperative."

Central to the party's plan to decentralize the government is to change the system whereby money is dispensed from Tokyo to the prefectures. The DPJ will convene an "administrative renovation council" that will transfer power and funding for administrative works and projects to localities. More significantly, it proposes to end the conditional ("himotsuki") subsidy system that leads localities to request funds for public works projects that serve little purpose. (This system is the "H" in DPJ reformist Nagatsuma Akira's HAT-KZ acronym of the problems with the LDP system.) Instead the DPJ proposes to distribute funds to localities to use as they see fit, a plan which conceivably benefits the DPJ politically seeing as how it is vastly outnumbered by the LDP in local governments nationwide. Why not leave it to local governments to decide how to spend the money, instead of handing the money over to some local LDP baron to spend on project that benefits one of his backers and no one else? At the same time, however, the DPJ also promises to review the petitions from local governments to determine whether the locality requires the desired funds — although funds for education and social security will be preserved.

The DPJ also promises to abolish the central government's local offices around the country in the name of what the European Union calls subsidiarity — the principle that the "central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level" — but it appears that the DPJ's rhetoric about regional sovereignty is not matched by the substance of its proposals. There is considerable wisdom in those proposals, but not by any stretch of the imagination will a DPJ-led government transfer substantial power from the center to the periphery. The central government will still be providing considerable financial support to localities, even if the localities will have a bit more discretion over how funds are spent. But there is no talk of aggregating prefectures into states or other radical proposals floating around the political system for radical decentralization, this despite a request from Kanagawa Governor Matsuzawa Shigefumi, a former DPJ Diet member, to include a plan for a state system in the manifesto.

Accordingly, the remainder of the section on regionalization is rounded out with proposals to revitalize regional economies that hinge on decisions made at the national level. This section includes the DPJ's plan to scrap the gasoline tax surcharge (and eventually turn automotive taxes into a climate change tax), its plan to make national expressways free of charge, and the party's plan for 1.4 trillion yen in direct income supports for farmers to encourage, the manifesto notes, "scale, quality, environmental protection, and switching crops from the staple crop rice." As Jun Okumura has previously argued, this plan has perhaps been unfairly criticized — and it might be the most politically palatable plan to manage the transition from small-scale farming to corporate farming as small farmers retire and pass on. Finally, this section includes a proposal on the postal system, the "opaque management" of which the party argues has had a deleterious effect on regional economies. Accordingly, the DPJ proposes to "review" — that word again — the privatization process to ensure equality of service across Japan. It also promises to pass a bill freezing the sale of shares in the postal successor companies as soon as possible.

It is not quite clear how far the DPJ intends to go in reversing the Koizumi government's postal privatization plan. It seems to me that postal reform is another area in which a full-out retreat would be worse for the country and more time consuming for a DPJ government than a cursory review that examines how to ensure more service in rural areas without reverting to the pre-reform status quo. On the other hand, if the People's New Party is a member of a coalition government, the DPJ would undoubtedly be pressured to give more than a cursory review.

Employment and the economy: This section lacks the unifying theme that the DPJ attempted to introduce in other sections. Instead there is a grab bag of proposals, some of which are clearly intended to poach traditional LDP supporters (i.e., small- and medium-sized enterprises). There is a corporate tax for SMEs, from 18% to 11% and "SME charter" that will include provisions related to "the development of the next generation's human resources," the "maintenance of a fair market environment," and "the harmonization of SME financing." The DPJ promises support to SMEs to enable the smooth implementation of the DPJ's mooted minimum wage hike. It will pass a law to prevent the "bullying" of SMEs by large companies. It will revive the special credit guarantee program for SMEs. And so on and so forth. This portion on SMEs may be one of the most dismaying in the manifesto if only because it is so nakedly populist and opportunistic, little more than pandering to SMEs for their votes without suggesting how a DPJ government might create an environment in which SMEs can survive without a raft of measures from the government.

After dealing with the SMEs, the manifesto then proposes raising the minimum wage to a national minimum of 800 yen/hour, with an eye to raising the national average to 1000 yen/hour.

The last portion of this section concerns the environment and energy. As reported elsewhere, the DPJ has pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25% by 2025 — and to do so will introduce a cap and trade system, and possibly a "climate change tax" on top of it. Beyond these proposals, there are the usual plans to promote the development and use of green energy for the sake of both energy independence and emissions reductions.

Without question this section is the most disappointing in the manifesto. Nothing about structural reform whatsoever. Nothing about opening the Japanese economy to more foreign investment, more foreign visitors, and yes, perhaps more foreign workers. And no indication that the DPJ will be taking power in the midst of a recession if it wins next month. Based on the manifesto, it appears that the DPJ is unaware that one of the major tasks facing the Japanese government is to manage the transition from life as a manufacturing-centered economy exporting goods to American consumers to an economy that will have to take more from the world and become increasingly centered on providing services of one form or another. In other words, at least on this front, the DPJ seems to be hoping that the economy will simply sort itself out one way or another. This won't do. (I know from conversations with DPJ Diet members that they are aware that this is the party's blindspot — but they have done little to fix it.)

Consumer rights and human rights: This section is, along with the foreign policy section (see below) the shortest in the manifesto and it offers exactly what the section header suggests. The DPJ will strengthen consumer protection services and provide greater transparency regarding products, strengthen the disaster relief system (the theme of this section seems to be safety rather than rights per se), and create an external bureau of the cabinet office to deal with human rights violations (no, no more specification than that).

Foreign policy: Despite being the focus of considerable discussion in the weeks leading up to the release of the manifesto, the foreign policy section is remarkable mostly for its innocuousness. In part this is simply because the agenda has changed. In the DPJ's 2007 upper house election manifesto, for example, foreign policy proposal number one called for the withdrawal of the JSDF from Iraq, which has since been effected. The result is a vague proposal for "building a close, equal US-Japan alliance relationship," in which Japan plays a positive role. Interestingly, it includes a call for an FTA with the US that includes both trade and investment liberalization, although it may simply be the case that, given the obstacles in both countries facing a US-Japan FTA, including this promise costs the DPJ nothing and wins the party some esteem in the US. As noted in the press, the DPJ has also softened the language regarding the Status of Forces Agreement and the realignment of US Forces in Japan. In other words, these are boxes that can be checked simply be holding meetings with the US without necessarily delivering radical change. Given that the 2007 manifesto basically lambasted the LDP for ignoring the public in its bilateral realignment plans, this minimal pledge is a major change.

The manifesto's position on Asia policy, while not a departure from previous DPJ documents, suggests that the recent trend in Japan's Asia policy will continue: more EPAs and FTAs in the region, more cooperation with South Korea and China, and more regional multilateralism across the board, with very little in terms of specifics (APEC versus EAS, security multilateralism?, US in or on the sidelines, etc.). The rhetoric that has characterized earlier DPJ discussions of East Asia has been pared back; cooperation in East Asia is treated matter-of-factly than before. Its position on North Korea is indistinguishable from the mainstream LDP position: the DPJ condemns recent North Korean actions and will refuse to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power, will cooperate with the five parties to check North Korea's missile and WMD programs, will support maritime cargo inspections, and believes that it's imperative to bring the abductees home. (No word on how it intends to achieve the latter.) Regarding international roles for the JSDF, the DPJ says it will contribute to peacekeeping operations in a manner consistent with democratic rule, and it will "execute appropriate measures" for dealing with piracy, appropriate presumably meaning whatever compromise the DPJ can wrest from its likely coalition partners. Finally, it wants to take a lead in the process of reviewing the NPT and aspires to de-nuclearize Northeast Asia, proposals that should presumably be looked upon somewhat favorably by the Obama administration.

Constitution revision: Constitution revision does not get a section of its own, but is appended after the list of fifty-five policy proposals. Perhaps this is appropriate, because not surprisingly the DPJ does not actually have a proposal for constitution revision. Instead, it calls for a public discussion of what form the constitution should take and suggests that the DPJ's major principles are "popular sovereignty," "respect for fundamental human rights," and "pacifism" — whatever those mean. The DPJ is sending a clear statement by barring off constitution revision in its manifesto: the DPJ will have nothing to do with it so long as it is busy with more important matters.

And so concludes my review of the DPJ's 2009 general election manifesto. I think I've made clear that I certainly don't agree with all of it, that there are portions of it that are overly vague, crassly populist, inappropriately backwards looking, and so on. However, I do think that the DPJ plan is a step in the right direction, especially given the attention the party pays to administrative reform. That, not the various spending programs, is the heart and soul of this manifesto. Perhaps it is best to think of the spending programs as sweeteners to keep the public supportive while the party sets about the hard task of changing how Japan is governed. That's not to say that the DPJ isn't sincere in its support for its various programs, but rather that programs like its farm subsidies or child allowances have little to do with transforming Japanese governance and much to do with ensuring that the DPJ gets enough time to building a more Westminster-like system.

And I certainly think that Curzon at Coming Anarchy has it exactly wrong — or, if not wrong, then he misses the point. Yes, the DPJ will not be delivering drastic change on foreign policy, but then again, neither will the LDP if it wins. Regardless of who governs Japan, Japan's domestic circumstances and the shifting balance of power in the region mean that Japan is becoming a regional middle power whether by design or by default. The DPJ's humble proposals are not too great a departure from the position of Fukuda Yasuo, which I rather admired. But if we step back from the proposals in the section entitled "foreign policy" and look at the manifesto holistically, one could argue that this manifesto is entirely about Japan's position in the world, in that a confident, active Japanese foreign policy is simply unsustainable until the government makes significant progress at tackling the problems at home that plague the Japanese people, problems that grew ever worse while the LDP was busy "redefining" the alliance and building a beautiful country. If the DPJ lacks a clearly articulated foreign policy, blame the LDP for leaving it with such a burdensome domestic agenda that it has little choice but to preserve the status quo.

Perhaps I'm a DPJ apologist. But I would prefer to think of it as hoping for the best, without ignoring the party's shortcomings. Simply put, Japan needs change. Just look at how the LDP is campaigning. It still has no manifesto of its own. Its leaders' attacks revolve entirely around questioning whether the DPJ can deliver on its supposedly pie-in-the-sky promises. Its case for reelection is entirely negative — "Those guys will make Japan worse" — because it seems that even the LDP's leaders know that they don't have a positive case to make for their party. One party is offering a mostly articulated agenda and shows that it clearly appreciates how Japan has been misgoverned up until this point. The other party is offering...? It's entirely possible that the DPJ will fail. The obstacles are surely great enough. But I would rather identify how the DPJ might be able to succeed instead of throwing my hands in the air and declaring that Japan is doomed to bad government forever.

If that makes me an apologist, so be it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The DPJ unveils its manifesto (part one)

At an event at the Hotel New Otani in Tokyo Monday evening the DPJ released its 2009 general election manifesto to the public.

Running to twenty-four pages, the manifesto is centered around five major areas: (1) cutting waste (essentially political and administrative reform); (2) child care and education; (3) pensions and health care; (4) regionalization; and (5) employment and the economy. After providing general outlines of the party's plans in each of these areas, it provides details about fifty-five specific proposals in these five areas, as well as in the areas of consumer and human rights, and foreign policy. While not all of these policy descriptions go into great detail — many are quite vague — the DPJ has provided a concrete plan for how it will go about governing should it win next month's general election. Its priorities are clear and reflect the public's priorities (at least the public's priorities as repeatedly expressed in public opinion polls). There are shortcomings: foreign policy, for example, is a particular weakness, despite the realism of recent remarks by the party's leaders.

Cutting waste: I am glad that the DPJ gave this section pride of place in the manifesto, because it is the most radical portion of their agenda. As far as I'm concerned, the various spending programs that have received much of the attention from the press and the LDP are bread and circuses compared with the party's plans for administrative reform. The title of "cutting waste" isn't mistaken, because the goal of changing how Japan is governed to shift responsibility for the nation's finances from unelected bureaucrats to elected officials serving in the cabinet (as written in Article 73 of the Japanese Constitution). Accordingly, as the heading in the "cutting waste" section proclaims, "Completely rearranging the country's 207 trillion yen general budget."

To do that, the DPJ proposes to ban the practice of amakudari completely, simultaneously reforming public and semi-public corporations and the special accounts that support them; cutting personnel costs by twenty percent (which will be done in part by moving some public services to local governments); making the government contracting process transparent; and reviewing how politicians and bureaucrats interact, which includes the party's proposal to appoint more than 100 ruling party members to cabinet and sub-cabinet posts and provisions for greater transparency in how politicians and bureaucrats interact (this proposal is a bit too vague for me). Also included in this section are proposals for political reform, including a plan to cut the number of proportional seats by 80, which would reduce the number of PR seats to 100 and the total number of lower house seats to 400. This plan would presumably be fiercely resisted by smaller parties in coalition with the DPJ. The DPJ also proposes to ban corporate contributions and fundraising party ticket purchases from companies with contracts with the national government and local governments over 100 million yen.

Finally, and most importantly, the DPJ alludes to making the budgeting process transparent. The manifesto does not include the proposal — included in the party's 300-day transition plan and discussed by Kan Naoto in his Chuo Koron essay (discussed here) — to move budgeting authority to the cabinet entirely, giving elected officials responsibility for collating requests and compiling a national budget. Without a shift of this sort, the DPJ will be hard-pressed to rearrange the general budget completely as it promises.

Complementing this plan for government is the party's plan for internal governance, which is not included in the manifesto but without which the DPJ will not be able to make much headway in wresting power from the bureaucracy. Briefly, having studied LDP rule, it is essential for a DPJ government to control the activities of its members and to disable the party's internal organs. DPJ backbenchers must not be able to undermine the cabinet's plans as outlined in this manifesto. Their responsibility, if not serving in an administrative position, will be to show up for votes and vote in the manner ordered by the government. Under Ozawa Ichiro's leadership the DPJ was criticized for being a "dictatorship:" given the anarchy that has characterized the internal politics of the LDP in recent years, a dose of intra-party dictatorship might not be such a bad thing, especially if the DPJ is going to have to manage complex coalition partnerships. The party has already taken steps in this direction, starting with the decision made a decade ago to replace the party general council with a shadow cabinet. A DPJ-led cabinet would also be strengthened by the weakness of the party's policy research council, which, thanks to the relative lack of information flowing from the bureaucracy until fairly recently, has been under-institutionalized and dependent on outside expertise.

The party's policymaking role would be further diminished by the party's plans for a "national strategy office" under the direct control of the prime minister. While it was not directly referenced in the manifesto, should the DPJ take power this office will be an important actor in coordinating the DPJ's plans for the transition from bureaucratic to political rule. The office will be responsible for compiling the budget and drafting foreign policy documents. Its staff will include as many civilians as bureaucrats and its head will have ministerial rank (and will likely be occupied by the head of the policy research council). Hatoyama Yukio has further stressed that the creation of the national strategy office would contribute to undermining the power of the administrative vice ministers' council, which Hatoyama wants to abolish outright. Hatoyama should probably listen to Kan — one of the few DPJ leaders with ministerial experience — who, while noting the pernicious influence of the council, acknowledged that it may be beyond the power of the government to abolish it, as it could very easily reemerge under a different name. In Chuo Koron, Kan suggested that it might be better to include it in the policy process by introducing political appointees into the meetings. Ultimately the DPJ may be better off developing the power of cabinet institutions instead of combating the administrative vice ministers directly. If a DPJ government could credibly establish a top-down policymaking process the administrative vice ministers' council may simply wither away.

I am not under the illusion that the DPJ will be able to write all of its administrative reform proposals into law. I have doubts about various proposals included in this section of the manifesto (will the DPJ really be able to send more than 100 political appointees into the ministries? what does the DPJ plan to do with the retiring bureaucrats cast into a labor market still unaccustomed to hiring workers mid-career?). But I do think that the DPJ is aware of the challenge it faces in implementing this portion of its agenda — and knows that building a Westminster system, in which politicians in the cabinet wield administrative power in full view of the public, is critical to making progress in tackling the other policy areas in the party's agenda.

(Part two here.)

Aso's strenuous life

In the last analysis a healthy state can exist only when the men and women who make it up lead clean, vigorous, healthy lives; when the children are so trained that they shall endeavor, not to shirk difficulties, but to overcome them; not to seek ease, but to know how to wrest triumph from toil and risk. The man must be glad to do a man's work, to dare and endure and to labor; to keep himself, and to keep those dependent upon him. The woman must be the housewife, the helpmeet of the homemaker, the wise and fearless mother of many healthy children. — Theodore Roosevelt, "The Strenuous Life," 10 April 1899
As Japan debates another indiscreet remark by Prime Minister Aso Taro — the chief cabinet secretary has already dismissed it as evidence of the prime minister's "inadequate linguistic ability" — it is worth considering precisely what the prime minister intended to say, and what it reveals about his way of thinking. After all, as Michael Kinsley said, "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth."

Speaking on Saturday at meeting in Yokohama of the Junior Chamber, an organization Aso headed in 1978, the prime minister remarked on the role of citizens over 65 years old in Japanese society. "How should we use very energetic old people?" he asked. "These people are all different, but please consider that they only have the talent to work." The prime minister couldn't quite understand why he was being criticized for his remarks. At a speech in Sendai Saturday evening he stressed that his intention was to note that since Japan has many vital senior citizens, they ought to be given opportunities "to participate in society."

It is unclear to me why Aso's remarks are being treated as a gaffe. He has made no secret of his belief that — perhaps projecting from his own experience as a "vital" senior citizen — that the elderly should work if they're able. He said it in his speech opening this year's ordinary Diet session. He discussed it in his 2007 book Totetsumonai Nihon (as mentioned here). And some may recall that in November of last year he voiced his annoyance at having his tax payments go to support the infirm elderly. Aso's phrasing this time around may have been indelicate, although I would argue his remarks about senior citizens who do nothing but eat and drink was substantially worse. The point is that there is a consistent worldview and should therefore not be treated as simply another gaffe by the "linguistically challenged" prime minister.

Which brings us to the Theodore Roosevelt quote with which I opened this post. Theodore Roosevelt's speech "The Strenuous Life" might be the most complete statement of Roosevelt's worldview, an ode to the vigorous life, which Roosevelt argued was both a metaphor for the nation in international politics and also the literal bedrock for national greatness. The speech, considering that it was given following the US victory over Spain in 1898, not surprisingly ends with a rousing call for the United States to not "sit huddled within our own borders," to develop the army and the navy and take up the "White Man's Burden," as Kipling advised the US the same year Roosevelt delivered his speech in Chicago.

Having read enough of Aso's worldview, and the worldview of other Japanese conservatives, I could not help but think of Roosevelt when I read that Aso had virtually called upon Japan's elderly to live the strenuous life. I do not think the similarity is accidental. Not that Aso and his colleagues have drawn directly from Roosevelt's writings, but rather that their thinking is ultimately drawn from the same late nineteenth century Romanticism tinged with Social Darwinism that underlay Roosevelt's thinking. It is not an accident that Roosevelt admired Meiji Japan's achievements — alluded to here — right up until he came to see Japan as a threat to America's own pursuit of national greatness. Roosevelt's stress on work, toil, and strife at home and the pursuit of greatness abroad have clear echoes in contemporary Japanese conservative rhetoric (and, I should add, among certain American conservatives, at least at one point in time).

The idea of a Japanese work ethic, that Japan can overcome any of its problems if its people simply work harder, has been in a common theme in Aso's remarks as prime minister — especially in his initial comments when the global financial crisis had clearly reached Japanese shores and Aso was convinced Japan would be the first developed country to escape the recession. It animates his idea of Japan's "latent power." And it certainly is behind his idea that elderly Japanese, if they're able, should not be easing into a comfortable retirement but should instead continue working past sixty-five.

What does this intellectual lineage mean precisely? Well, not much, unless you find Roosevelt's bellicose vision of the "strenuous life" woefully out of place in twenty-first century Japan. It seems to me that the Japanese public is perfectly content with what Roosevelt disparaged as "a life of slothful ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things." Having spent the twentieth century striving, many Japanese seem perfectly content to leave the striving to others and enjoy a life of peace and prosperity.

How do you solve a problem like the freeters?

One policy area that could see cooperation between a DPJ-led government and the JCP (and the SDPJ) is the treatment of non-regular workers (mentioned here).

The JCP's position on dispatch workers and other non-regular workers is clear: the party wants to ban the employment of temporary workers in manufacturing work, making an exception only for "specialized work." The DPJ's position is a bit more vague, as the party has called for a fundamental revision of the Temporary Staffing Services Law, more support for jobseekers, and a higher minimum wage, but it is unclear how far the party will go in limiting a practice that Kan Naoto argued has contributed to a decline in Japan's international competitiveness.

I'm not sure either party has the answer to the problem of non-regular employees. It is a problem — the latest economic and fiscal white paper not surprisingly concluded that gap between regular and non-regular employees is growing — but banning or heavily restricting the use of non-regular workers is no more than a temporary fix, a foolish attempt to restore Japanese capitalism to the way things once were, with companies bearing the burden of providing for the welfare of their workers. But arguably there is no going back to how things once were. The JCP seems to think that since Japanese companies are sitting on hordes of cash, the power of law can do what market incentives have failed to do. As Ikeda Nobuo suggests, if the government were to ban the employment of non-regular workers, companies would simply lay them off, raising Japan's unemployment rate to twenty-five percent or so. Ikeda criticizes the DPJ for its opportunism and crass populism, more befitting of a "perpetual opposition party" than an incipient government party.

I cannot disagree with his conclusion. The emergence of a underclass consigned to non-regular employment over the past decade was perhaps unavoidable: the problem is that all too little has been done by the LDP-Komeito coalition to not only provide a national safety net, extending full social protection to non-regular employees, but also reforming the education system and labor markets to ensure that failing to secure regular employment upon finishing school does not consign a young person to a lifetime of non-regular employment. Abe Shinzo spoke of a society in which people could "challenge again and again," but of course his heart wasn't really in reform — there were more important pieces of his Beautiful Japan than ensuring equality of opportunity.

But transforming the Japanese labor market will take more than legislation — decisions made by private actors, companies and universities especially, will play a critical role in shaping the future of the Japanese workforce. The government can help in providing adequate social protection so that young people take risk, but ultimately businesses will have to change how they hire and train young workers, universities and other educational institutions will have to provide a "portable" education to students, and ultimately young Japanese themselves will have to demand more freedom and flexibility in how they transition into the workforce. The DPJ ought to be more sensitive to the complex nature of the problem and resist the urge to declare that the problem can be fixed simply through legislation.

The non-regular worker problem is illustrative of the broader challenge facing a possible DPJ government. Many of the problems plaguing Japanese society are often multiple problems in one, requiring complex solutions that involve public and private sector actors and are often affected by the government's fiscal situation and broader macroeconomic conditions. The question is often phrased as whether the DPJ is up to the challenge of governing, but perhaps the more appropriate question is whether any political actor — politicians or bureaucrats — is capable of unwinding the Gordian knot of problems vexing Japanese society. And it seems to me one could pose the same question about most advanced industrial democracies. None of this is to say that a DPJ victory will be meaningless, but simply that it will be significant for reasons other than the DPJ's ability to unwind the knot. But that said, the DPJ will have to do better than using the blunt tool of a legislative ban.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The DPJ navigates between left and right

Not surprisingly, the LDP has greeted the DPJ's "realism" with severe criticism.

Prime Minister Aso Taro suggested that the DPJ has become "blurred" by softening or reversing the positions it had taken on LDP foreign policy initiatives in recent years. Amari Akira, Aso's minister responsible for adminstrative reform, also used the word "blurred" and suggested that "one cannot help but feel suspicious" about the DPJ. Ishiba Shigeru, the agriculture minister, said that the DPJ was making a mockery of elections by changing its positions in advance of the general election.

That LDP heavyweights have responded to the DPJ shift in these terms suggests that the DPJ may have made the right move. The LDP is effectively complaining that the DPJ has unfairly become a moving target, making it more difficult for the LDP to score easy points against the DPJ for being "naive" on foreign policy and putting Japan at risk for daring to question the wisdom of an ever closer US-Japan alliance. The LDP could naturally respond to the DPJ with a new Internet ad sarcastically welcoming the DPJ back into the LDP fold now that the party has seen the virtues of LDP foreign policies. But I remain convinced that the LDP has lost the foreign policy debate as a result of the DPJ's tactical retreat: the LDP is hurt more by being less able to call the DPJ dangerous for its foreign policy positions than it is helped by the DPJ's flip-flopping to "endorse" the LDP's foreign policy plans.

But even as the DPJ moves to the center on foreign policy, it has to keep an eye on its potential coalition partners, which are emphatically not following the DPJ's lead. The Social Democrats, for example, are calling for writing the customary three non-nuclear principles into law. Moreover, they have suggested that their conditions for a coalition government include at minimum preserving the three principles, abjuring from dispatching the JSDF abroad, and scrapping discussion in the Diet of constitution revision. In other words, there is the possibility of a serious (although not unexpected) rift with a party whose five votes help give the opposition parties control of the upper house. A DPJ-led government will need control of the upper house. If the DPJ cannot be assured of getting its laws through the upper chamber, it will be no less handicapped than the LDP has been since 2007. It is for this same reason that, should the DPJ win next month, the party ought to gear its plans towards winning enough seats in the 2010 upper house election to guarantee control of both houses. In the meantime, the DPJ cannot brush off the SDPJ so easily. The SDPJ will be able to drive a hard bargain simply because it has nothing to lose. With five members in the upper house and seven in the lower, it probably has more to lose from compromising its principles than from bending to the DPJ's wishes. (Ladies and gentlemen, the single-member-districts-plus-proportional-representation electoral system!)

All of which leads me to wonder how far the DPJ can go with its pragmatic new foreign policy approach. Losing control of the upper house may be more harmful to a DPJ government than a spat with the Obama administration. At the same time, however, the SDPJ's conditions may be easy for the DPJ to meet, at least in the first year. Japan has lasted this long with an ambiguous nuclear policy as far as the alliance is concerned — it can surely wait at least another year. I don't think the DPJ will have any trouble pushing constitution revision off the Diet's agenda completely. It may have a harder time assuaging the Social Democrats on the overseas dispatch of the JSDF, although perhaps a timeline for ending Japan's maritime deployments — conveniently scheduled for after the 2010 elections — could buy off their support.

There is another challenge to the DPJ's left, namely the challenge of what to do about the Communists. The JCP is using this election year to make some long overdue changes to its political strategy. For example, it will be running candidates in only 152 single-member districts instead of all 300. More recently, it declared that it will be a "constructive" opposition party, which in practice apparently means cooperating with a DPJ-led government on issues it supports and opposing it when its conscience demands opposition. In practice, the JCP's new "realism" may make little difference for a DPJ-led government: on the issues that the JCP is likely to vote with a DPJ government, the SDPJ is likely to do so too. On foreign policy, however, the JCP is not altogether different from the SDPJ, and will likely provide encouragement to the Social Democrats should the DPJ try to buck them on foreign policy questions. The JCP may be ever so slightly softening its own opposition to the US — Party Chairman Shii Kazuo attended the US Embassy's Independence Day reception earlier this month, for example, although this may not be too significant as it was the first time the JCP chairman was invited — but it is far from supporting the policies suggested by the DPJ in recent weeks.

It is too early to tell precisely what the JCP's new realism will mean. The DPJ has to win first, after all. The JCP's transformation, however, is certainly something to watch, as the DPJ, should it win, may need every vote it can find.

One more for Watanabe?

Watanabe Yoshimi, the onetime cabinet minister who left the LDP earlier this year to form a reformist "third force" with independent Eda Kenji, is still preparing to launch a new party before next month's general election. But while the prospects for his incipient (and still nameless) party looked bright as the reformist rebellion against Prime Minister Aso Taro grew, the squelching of the rebellion have raised questions about whether the political system can accommodate a third major party. (Don't even get me started on onetime postal rebel Hiranuma Takeo's own plans for a third major party, a "true" conservative party. Hiranuma now has fifteen candidates in his group, and he is aiming to be in a position to determine who controls the lower house should neither party secure a majority.)

Watanabe may be in a position to pick up individual LDP members fleeing the party like Yamauchi Koichi, but whatever chance that Watanabe would be in a position to provide a political home to a large-scale exodus from the LDP appears to have vanished. Watanabe is in talks with Yamauchi — it's hard to see why Yamauchi wouldn't link up with Watanabe — but Watanabe has been forced to stress his prospective party's focus on "quality over quantity." Nice motto, except that it is difficult to see how his party can make the least bit of difference without an adequate number of members. Indeed, if the LDP's reformists have had a failing over the past several years, it has been their abiding focus on the purity of their principles over building up their numerical strength by compromising with other portions of the party that might share some if not all of their goals.

Watanabe, however, might be able to grab a member from the DPJ. Asao Keiichiro, who has recently gained publicity as the shadow defense minister in the DPJ's "next cabinet," has announced that he will leave the DPJ and campaign as an independent in Kanagawa's fourth district. (Full disclosure: I worked for Asao — especially in his campaign organization in Kanagawa-4 — 2006-2007.) It is ambiguous from press reports precisely what Asao's plan is. There is, after all, a difference between campaigning as an independent and leaving the party. If Asao loses next month, will he remain in the upper house as an independent, or will he return to the DPJ fold? The incumbent in Kanagawa-4 is Hayashi Jun, ostensibly a Koizumi child (he was first elected in 2005), although it appears that Hayashi has solved the reformist's dilemma by not being one: he appears to have positioned himself among the Abe Shinzo-Nakagawa Shoichi conservatives instead of the reformists around Nakagawa Hidenao. Indeed, here he is pictured with General Tamogami Toshio (ret.) at one of Tamogami's speaking engagements. (Incidentally, this reinforces the image of the Abe cabinet as a tenuous coalition of conservatives and reformists, with the conservatives uniting with the bulk of the LDP after Abe's collapse and reformists like Nakagawa Hidenao and Shiozaki Yasuhisa becoming "anti-mainstream.")

It's possible that Asao is confident that his support group is strong enough to draw in the bulk of the DPJ vote in the district, but naturally there is a risk of a split that will enable Hayashi to return to the Diet.

To return to Watanabe, it is possible that Asao could link up with Watanabe. Before Asao decided to leave, Ozawa Ichiro reportedly offered the candidacy in Kanagawa's eighth district, running against Watanabe's partner Eda. The press is interpreting Asao's decision to stay in the fourth district instead of running against Eda as a sign of Asao's willingness to join forces with Watanabe. Perhaps. But he may simply be using the old LDP trick of running as an independent and then rejoining the party should he win the seat — or lose it, as the party would presumably still welcome him back in the upper house seeing as how it needs the seat. Indeed, it was the desire to not lose the seat in the upper house that reportedly led Ozawa to withhold the nomination from Asao.

What Asao's decision does not appear to represent is a fissure within the DPJ. Unlike LDP defectors, Asao appears to be leaving as a matter of personal ambition, not irreconcilable policy differences with the party. As such, I wonder whether he may well make his way back to the DPJ after all. Analysts anticipating a political realignment that consumes both parties should keep looking.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

REMINDER: Politics blogger party Saturday

Just a reminder that at 7pm on Saturday evening various political bloggers will be meeting at the Pink Cow in Shibuya.

Information available here.

More realism from the DPJ

The emerging realism in the DPJ observed last week has grown in recent days, especially on foreign policy.

The party's manifesto for next month's election, due to be released to the public any day now, considerably softens the language on a number of foreign policy issues on which the DPJ had previously taken controversial positions.

"Soften" is the operative word. The DPJ isn't necessarily outlining new foreign policy initiatives — it's simply coming to terms with the foreign policy status quo. The DPJ won't be taking Japanese foreign policy in a new direction, certainly not in its first year or two. (Although, that said, it is encouraging that the manifesto includes a plank calling for flexibility in negotiations with Russia over the Kirile Islands.) Asahi notes that the manifesto still includes language calling for "an equal US-Japan alliance," but, if anything, the more the DPJ pursues a more pragmatic course, the more it will rely on rhetoric to distinguish itself from the LDP. Sankei adds that the DPJ has indicated its support for a cargo inspection law aimed at North Korea based on a recent UNSC resolution despite having blocked debate on the government's bill during the recently concluded Diet session.

Whatever the policy implications of the DPJ's shift, it makes good political sense for the DPJ to stress continuity in foreign policy. The LDP, naturally, will try to use foreign policy as a way to discredit the DPJ, to paint it as dangerously radical and untrustworthy. (Aso Taro took precisely this line of attack on foreign policy yesterday.) The less daylight between the parties on foreign policy, the less traction the LDP gets from talking about it. The public cares about issues that are at the center of the DPJ's policy program, health, welfare, and social security. The LDP has performed notoriously poorly in the past four years on these issues. Shifting to the center on foreign policy means it becomes a non-issue. Which is just as well for the DPJ, because it is highly unlikely that the party will do more than what's promised in the manifesto should it take power next month.

Preserving the status quo on foreign policy, however, should free the party to devote its energy to critical matters like administrative reform. In other words, the shift to the status quo not only disarms the LDP during the campaign, but should the DPJ the LDP will have little choice but to attack from the right if it wants to make an issue of foreign policy, which will do little to draw support away from a DPJ government.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the radio

I will be discussing the Japanese political situation on Newstalk K57 in Guam at 7:30am JST.

It appears that you can listen live here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fleeing a sinking ship?

A week after Nagasaki Kotaro — and his 3600 supporters in Yamanashi's second district — left the LDP, another Koizumi child has bolted the party.

Yamauchi Koichi, a first termer representing Kanagawa's ninth district, had, as discussed in this post, come to recognize the unpleasant situation for reformists in the post-Koizumi LDP. As he said in this post announcing his departure from the LDP, "The current LDP is like a different party from the 'Koizumi LDP' of the general election in 2005." He rejects the backsliding since 2005, and would rather campaign on his own than violate his principles. (Yamamoto Ichita describes Yamauchi, a member of his reform study group, as having a "pure heart.")

In short, Yamauchi may simply have uncommon courage for an LDP politician. He will face a particularly tough reelection fight: the DPJ candidate is Ryu Hirofumi, the incumbent who lost to Yamauchi in 2005 86,673 votes to 82,878 and was resurrected through proportional representation. And that's without considering the possibility that the LDP might send an "assassin" against Yamauchi.

As expected, there appears to be no plan in the works for a large-scale exodus of reformists from the LDP. Instead, it seems that following Tuesday's self-criticism session, the reformists have made a temporary peace with Aso Taro, perhaps following Nakagawa Hidenao's message that the DPJ must be stopped.

In other words, Yamauchi may not be the last reformist to leave the LDP before the general election, but he will most likely not have much company in exile. For many reformists, it seems that likely defeat with the help of LDP resources is preferable to near-certain defeat alone.

Aso gets his election

As planned, Prime Minister Aso Taro dissolved Japan's House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon.

Despite criticism from members of the cabinet last week, all signed the cabinet decision for dissolution. Before dissolving, Aso attended a meeting with LDP Diet members, humbly accepted their criticism, and then proceeded to dissolve the lower house.

The campaign will officially begin in twenty-seven days, on 18 August, but in the meantime the tasks for the LDP and the DPJ are clear.

Above all, the LDP has to unify: after a brutal and ultimately futile feud between Aso and his supporters, and the party's reformist camp, the LDP has to unite behind a single manifesto and behind Aso's leadership. The LDP's infighting has made it remarkably easy for the DPJ to argue that the LDP is incapable of governing Japan. The more the LDP fights with itself, the harder it is for the party to claim that the DPJ cannot be trusted with power. This will, of course, be the party's central message in the campaign (see this discussion at Mutantfrog of a new LDP Internet ad).

The DPJ, while it goes into the campaign season with a sizable lead in public opinion polls, cannot rest on its laurels. Needing to pick up an extraordinarily difficult 129 seats to secure a majority in its own right, the DPJ must not assume that the general election is already won. The LDP is still a potent adversary, especially if Tuesday marks the beginning of a genuine truce in the LDP's ranks. Accordingly, the DPJ's leadership recognizes that the party must not be overly optimistic as its candidates go out on the hustings.

As has long been clear, the contest over the next month is simple. Which narrative will win? Will the DPJ be able to make the general election a referendum not just on the past year of Aso rule, not just the past four years of LDP rule but on the LDP system of government more generally? Or will the LDP succeed in making this election about the dangers of abandoning the LDP for the DPJ's cloud cuckoo land?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nakagawa Hidenao fights to the bitter end

In response to the LDP's decision to convene a closed-door gathering Tuesday that will enable LDP members to "exchange opinions" with Prime Minister Aso Taro, Nakagawa Hidenao demanded that the party open the event to the media.

The LDP executive dismissed his request, frankly arguing that airing the party's dirty laundry — more than it has already been aired — will have a negative impact on the party's performance in the general election.

Yamamoto Ichita defends his party's decision here, suggesting that there is little reason for the LDP to publicize what will likely be a brutal last-minute struggle between defenders and critics of the prime minister, pleasing no one but the media.

Normally I would oppose a decision to limit the transparency of the governing party, but at this point media coverage of the event would only be piling on, giving the media an opportunity for a feeding frenzy but doing nothing to inform the public. The LDP's divisions are no secret; the damage has already been done. To make Tuesday's discussion meeting public would serve only to provide the media with images of Aso's being lambasted by party members. The LDP has no obligation to make such an event public and its political logic is certainly sound.

Meanwhile, Nakagawa's push to make the event public is just one more act of desperation by a once-prominent LDP member who appears to have run out of options. With the discussion's occurring behind closed doors, Nakagawa's campaign to overthrow Aso will have reached its conclusion — having the public witness Aso's self-criticism session is Nakagawa's only chance to keep the flame of resistance burning.

But Nakagawa continues to insist that he will not leave the LDP, that he would rather work to reform the LDP than leave to form his own party or, given his recent tirades against the DPJ, join the DPJ. (The latest one is here.) Whether the party is interested in his efforts to reform it is another question. Kawamura Takeo, the chief cabinet secretary, said on TV Saturday that if Nakagawa and Takebe Tsutomu want to make their own manifesto, they ought to leave the LDP. Other LDP members have taken to the airwaves to reminder the public that Nakagawa was the party secretary-general who was "responsible" for the 2007 upper house election. Mori Yoshiro — apparently with no modesty himself despite having come close to setting the mark for the LDP's least popular leader ever — suggested that given his "prior conviction," Nakagawa should be more modest in his speech. Oshima Tadamori similarly reminded listeners at a speech in Iwate prefecture of Nakagawa's history. This reasoning is clearly specious: Nakagawa may have resigned to take responsibility, but the idea that Nakagawa is somehow truly responsible for the party's defeat is absurd.

But I understand the criticism being directed at Nakagawa. At this point Nakagawa looks more like a saboteur than a sincere reformer. Having lost his battle to unseat the prime minister and losing the battle to influence the party's manifesto, Nakagawa would fall into line if he were sincere about staying in the party. The damage has already been done. Nakagawa has managed to demolish the illusion — such as it existed — that the LDP is capable of governing itself or Japan. "The LDP," said Kan Naoto, "is completely losing its ability to govern." The DPJ will undoubtedly be repeating this message ad nauseam until the election, making the LDP's decision to shield Tuesday's meeting from the press politically obvious: why furnish the opposition with photographic and video evidence of the party's disunity?

Meanwhile, the anti-Aso opposition is in total disarray. Noda Seiko and Koike Yuriko, leading reformists, are now fighting not just over whether to form a new party but whether Noda called upon Koike to join her in forming a new party.

However, the reformists, for all their disarray over the past three years, may have completed Koizumi Junichiro's mission of "destroying the LDP." Aso is battered (in Mainichi's latest poll Hatoyama Yukio enjoys 28% support as the most appropriate choice for prime minister, compared with only 11% for Aso), the party's reputation is in tatters (Mainichi has the DPJ as the party of choice for 56% of respondents, double the LDP's proportion), and Yomiuri is finding that even prominent and long-serving of LDP members are having to campaign hard in their districts (a three-part series, here, here, and here). The race may tighten up a bit as the LDP puts the Nakagawa rebellion behind it, but barring some extraordinary political financing scandal that directly implicates Hatoyama, the DPJ is likely cruising to victory. The interesting question now is just how big a victory.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ozawa will run in Iwate

After strong indications last week that he would switch districts, Ozawa Ichiro has announced that he will be running in Iwate's fourth district instead of switching to Tokyo's twelfth district, where he would run against Komeito president Ota Akihiro. I can only imagine the communication between the DPJ and Komeito in advance of Ozawa's decision.

The DPJ will presumably still field a candidate in the twelfth — or support a candidate from another opposition party — but not running Ozawa against Ota will at least leave open the possibility of a DPJ-Komeito rapprochement in the wake of a DPJ victory.

One way or another, a DPJ-Komeito partnership will take time to forge, but at least it won't be poisoned by Ozawa's having run against (and unseated) Komeito's president.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Aso will fight on

The anti-Asō rebellion was over before it even began.

Instead of a meeting of LDP Diet members that would meet today and debate whether to hold a party presidential election before a general election — thereby undoing the prime minister's plan for a 21 July dissolution — the LDP executive agreed to an informal, closed gathering of Diet members that will meet for two hours before the House of Representatives is dissolved on Tuesday. The party leaders claimed that Nakagawa Hidenao's petition fell short of the necessary 128 signatures to force a general meeting. Asō Tarō will attend, to "listen" to the opinions of LDP members. Presumably he will be apologetic for the party's electoral defeats and promise to try harder in the coming weeks, giving the meeting the air of a self-criticism session. (Hence its being held behind closed doors, as suggested by Yamamoto Ichita.) Then he will walk from LDP headquarters down the street to the Kokkai — a victory strut of sorts? — and dissolve the lower house as planned.

The opposition has not folded entirely, but it has been deflated considerably. After urging the prime minister to resign, Yosano Kaoru, the finance minister, declared that he is satisfied with the decision to convene an informal meeting. Ishiba Shigeru, the agriculture minister, similarly voiced his support for the prime minister, and like Yosano argued that the meeting will be an important first step for the party to unite under Asō.

The leaders of the movement now have to decide what to do next. Do they leave the party? Form a new party? Genuflect before Asō and the party leadership and promise to campaign hard for the LDP? Develop a separate manifesto while remaining under the LDP banner? Hatoyama Kunio, after having been unceremoniously dumped from the cabinet by the prime minister he had long stood by, now rivals Nakagawa as the prime minister's fiercest critic. At a press conference Friday, he spoke of forming an independent "group" within the LDP and said he would gladly form a new party if ordered to leave. (In other words: "You can't throw me out, I quit!")

Meanwhile, Nakagawa tried to resubmit the petition Friday but was rejected — and then disparaged the party's "compromise" as the worst possible outcome. He has given no hint to his plans. Kato Koichi, who in recent weeks emerged as a key Nakagawa ally, appears to have let Nakagawa do the talking, but I suspect that Kato is not long for the party anyway.

Takebe Tsutomu, no less outspoken in his opposition to the government, was explicitly told to leave the party by Oshima Tadamori.

Watanabe Yoshimi is eagerly waiting to welcome LDP exiles to his yet-to-be-named party, which is set to be born after the Diet is dissolved. Watanabe has reportedly been in discussions with Hatoyama Kunio and Hiranuma Takeo, the latter of whom is in the process of creating his long-discussed conservative party. An alliance is not necessarily in the works, although were the two to link up, it would basically result in an Abe-ist party. After watching the opposition to Asō fold over recent days, however, it is hard to see how many LDP members will leave to join either Watanabe or Hiranuma. Some might — Takebe, for example — but few seem to have the fortitude showed by Nagasaki Kotaro, who upped and left at the start of this week. It seems that candidates concerned about running under Asō's leadership will simply do the best they can to distance themselves from the prime minister without leaving the party.

As for Nakagawa, it is appropriate that onetime rebel Kato ("the ghost of rebellions past") became Nakagawa's ally in his fight against Asō, because Kato's present may be Nakagawa's future. Nakagawa has spent so much energy on trying to change the LDP and seems incapable of leaving the party. It's possible that he will remain in the party, isolated, another man who could have been king (or at least could have taken down the king).

And in the meantime, the LDP marches to what looks like certain defeat under its battered leader.

The emerging realism of the DPJ

As the general election approaches, there are signs that a new realism is afoot in the DPJ.

Mainichi reports today that the DPJ is prepared to remove the party's opposition to the MSDF's participation in the Indian Ocean refueling mission in support of coalition activities in Afghanistan, at least until the expiration of the current law. The manifesto, due to be released at month's end, will also include a call for cooperation with the US on reconstruction assistance in Afghanistan. This change accompanies a broader shift on the alliance, as the DPJ plans to soften the language in the manifesto concerning the realignment of US forces in Japan. The DPJ has not completely abandoned its concerns about the current plan for the realignment of US forces, especially Japan's financial contributions to the move to Guam — it is concerned with how Japan's money will be spent, if not with the Japanese contribution in general — but the party is clearly shifting its position on foreign policy.

There are other signs. Earlier this week Party President Hatoyama Yukio suggested that, in response to the confirmation of the existence of a secret treaty between the US and Japan permitting the "introduction" of US nuclear weapons, a DPJ government would be open to negotiating with the US to revise the three non-nuclear principles.

I have previously written of the party's shift on administrative reform, with Kan Naoto's stressing that the DPJ recognizes the talents and usefulness of the bureaucracy and will do more than just attack the administrative service. The party is beginning to make pieces of its 300-day plan public, including a plan to create a national strategy office to bolster the power of the cabinet. A similar realism has been at work in the more visible part of the DPJ program, the various spending programs included in the party's manifesto. After considerable debate about how the party will pay for the promises in the manifesto — including a 26,000 yen/month child allowance, ending fees for public high schools, its 1 trillion yen for direct subsidies to farmers — the party trimmed 4 trillion yen in new spending, from a total of 20 trillion yen, and clarified how the party proposes to pay for its new programs. In the course of clarifying how it will pay for its new programs, it has clarified the timing for their implementation. The debate over the manifesto included a debate between Hatoyama and Okada Katsuya, the secretary-general, over whether to include a promise to eliminate the gasoline tax surcharge from 2010, which Okada opposed due to what he sees as the illogic of eliminating the tax during a recession. But it is encouraging that the DPJ had this debate in the first place: these are appropriate debates for a presumptive government party to be having, and to have them without tearing the party to pieces.

The party is not without its problems on the policy front. For example, Sato Atushi, the president of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, aired concerns Thursday about DPJ plans for stricter financial regulation. Yamasaki Hajime, writing in Shukan Diamond, is concerned about DPJ-SDPJ plans for raising the minimum wage to 1000 yen and restricting the use of non-regular employees. On foreign policy it is not entirely clear the extent to which Hatoyama and Okada are bringing the rest of the party along on the shift on the alliance and the three non-nuclear principles. I suspect that the former is less controversial than the latter. The problem may be less the DPJ, however, than the Social Democrats, the presumptive DPJ coalition partner, which quickly criticized Hatoyama for daring to undermine the three non-nuclear principles. Indeed, this episode reveals the problem with the DPJ's new realism: the more the DPJ softens its more controversial positions, the greater the distance between the DPJ and the SDPJ. The SDPJ has released its memo, and the differences are obvious. While the DPJ has softened its stance on the US-Japan status of forces agreement and the realignment roadmap, the SDPJ wants complete revision of both and is absolutely opposed to a permanent dispatch law or any changes to the "brakes" on Japanese security policy.

A coalition with the SDPJ will be a problem for a more realistic DPJ, but just how much of a problem will depend on whether the DPJ wins an outright majority in the general election or whether it will require Socialist votes in both houses. Regardless of the outcome, however, the 2010 upper house election will be important as the means for the DPJ to free itself of the Socialists. As a result, a DPJ government would most likely focus little attention on foreign policy issues during the year leading up to the upper house election. Foreign policy "triumphs" would do little to help the DPJ win in 2010 and could undermine coalition cooperation when it is needed to pass other legislation more useful for winning elections. The SDPJ may have a price at which it would drop its opposition to some measure or another, but that price may be more than the DPJ would be willing to pay on a foreign policy issue. Incidentally, it also bears noting that — nuclear policy aside — the DPJ's shifts on the alliance are shifts that free the DPJ from having to act instead of committing the DPJ to certain policy approaches. It will be in a better position to do nothing (or nothing more than rhetorical actions, requesting negotiations with the US on Guam, for example) and claim that it is living up to its manifesto. Hardly sounds like a tsunami to me.

One area, however, in which the DPJ may be making a disastrous mistake is in having Ozawa Ichiro and Tanaka Yasuo, former Nagano governor, upper house member and leader of DPJ partner New Party Japan, run against Ota Akihiro, Komeitō president, and Fuyushiba Tetsuzo, a prominent Komeitō official and former cabinet minister. Hatoyama indicated that the DPJ is close to concluding a plan that would have Ozawa run in Tokyo's 12th district against Ota and Tanaka run in Hyogo's 8th district against Fuyushiba. That the DPJ is approving this plan is presumably a sign of the party's confidence regarding the election, because clearly the party feels that Ozawa can safely run for a new district while simultaneously campaigning around the country on behalf of DPJ candidates. But whether or not Ozawa and Tanaka win their seats, this decision will likely make it more difficult for the DPJ and Komeitō to conclude a post-election rapprochement. Given the widening gap with the SDPJ, the DPJ may find Komeitō a useful partner, if not as a formal coalition partner than at least as a silent coalition partner. The gap between the consensus DPJ position on foreign policy and the Komeitō position isn't all that great. But sending Ozawa — whose star-crossed history with Komeitō has poisoned the DPJ's relationship with the party — into battle against Komeitō's president could be disastrous for post-election efforts to build a working relationship. I don't expect a rapprochement to happen quickly in any event, but this decision is one more obstacle that could stand in the way of a relationship that could be an important one for a governing Japan.

Nevertheless, the point is that as the general election approaches and as the DPJ looks increasingly certain to take power, the party is moderating a number of policies that have been sources for criticism in the past. The DPJ is not a radical party — it is interesting in governing well, not in implementing a radical ideological program. Hence its emphasis on creating a Westminster system: its administrative reforms would be a radical departure from LDP rule, but in the name of creating orderly and functioning government.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Is the Nakagawa rebellion fizzling out already?

After loudly proclaiming that he had received enough signatures to force a meeting of LDP Diet members within in the next week, it turns out that Nakagawa Hidenao's campaign to unseat Asō Tarō is falling victim to the pusillanimity of his "supporters."

Some of the 133 signatories have claimed that they did not sign in the hope of unseating the prime minister but merely in the hope that it would force Asō to reflect on the party's defeats in local elections and resolve to work harder in advance of the general election. It seems that members of the Tsushima and Koga factions in particular are looking to remove their signatures from the petition. (Yamamoto Ichita has more on this here.)

What a sorry excuse for a rebellion, and a testament to Nakagawa's deficiencies as leader of the LDP's reformist anti-mainstream.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The LDP in ruins

On Wednesday, Nakagawa Hidenao announced that the movement to move up the LDP presidential election from September — in effect a campaign for a recall election aimed at Prime Minister Asō Tarō — reached its goal of signatures from more than one-third of LDP members in the upper and lower houses (one-third is 128 members). Among the 133 signatures received are those of two members of the Asō cabinet, Yosano Kaoru, the finance minister, and Ishiba Shigeru, the agriculture minister.

The rebels are urging the LDP executive to convene a general meeting of LDP members from both houses — and with Asō determined to dissolve the Diet Tuesday, they are running out of time.

Having one-third of the Diet caucus is sufficient to force a general meeting, but whether they will be able to secure a majority of Diet members plus the heads of the forty-seven prefectural chapters remains to be seen. But that said, this group includes more than just the Koizumi children, although they are certainly in the mix. There are enough signatories with cabinet experience and longevity that Asō and his allies cannot simply ignore them. (The complete list is available here.) There is certainly a reformist "color" to the list, but it is not necessarily a group of Nakagawa's compatriots. I would imagine a number of the signatories are there because they simply fear for the future of the party, not because they accept Nakagawa's ideological program. In other words, this group is not the beginning of a new reformist party.

This group, and Nakagawa in particular, is convinced that the LDP can be saved by throwing Asō overboard, indeed that the prime minister is the only thing standing in the way of LDP victory. As I argued here, I think Nakagawa's position assigns far too much blame to Asō for what is essentially a structural problem in the LDP. After going through three prime ministers in three years, it is hard to believe that the problem is simply having the wrong people at the head of the party. After watching the LDP's members war with one another simply to remove Asō, will the public be convinced that the LDP is a whole new party? If the party manages to unseat the prime minister and elevate, for example, Masuzoe Yoichi in his place, will the party instantly become more manageable? (Motegi Toshimitsu, a former administrative reform minister, and Sugawara Isshu, the LDP's deputy secretary general, met with Masuzoe Wednesday evening to urge him to run in the event that Asō falls from power.) Masuzoe's position would be particularly difficult given that he would be the first postwar prime minister from the upper house and has always prided himself on being independent from party (great as a crusading minister, bad in a party leader). He might be able to save the LDP in a general election, but when it came to governing he would presumably get ensnared by the same problems that have undermined previous LDP prime ministers.

At this juncture, however, Yosano has emerged as a key figure in determining not only whether Asō will survive, but also whether the prime minister will be able to go forward with a dissolution and general election as planned. Yomiuri reports that the finance minister met with the prime minister for forty minutes on Wednesday and urged him to resign voluntarily. Yosano also hinted that he might not sign the declaration dissolving the House of Representatives and stressed that the party leaders must listen to dissenting voices in determining how to proceed. Despite his long-running battle with Nakagawa — the war of Nakagawa's "rising tide" school versus Yosano's "fiscal reconstructionists" — Yosano is now a critical ally for Nakagawa inside the cabinet, seeing as how the reformists do not have one of their own in the government. But even Yosano cannot stop the dissolution, as the prime minister can dismiss him and assume his position if Yosano refuses to sign the order.

The battle is building to a climax. There will presumably be a meeting of LDP Diet members, if only to vote down the proposal. That would probably be the best outcome for Asō, given that he probably has the votes. Mori Yoshiro spoke of making a decision about a "recall" election on the basis of the opinion of all members, a reminder that two-thirds of the party's members did not sign the petition. And Asō has the upper hand, in that he only has to hold out until Tuesday and then he can dissolve the Diet, even if he has to dismiss members of his cabinet to do so.

On Thursday, Takebe Tsutomu likened the current situation to the bakumatsu, the end of the Tokugawa shogunate in the 1850s and 1860s. He may be right, but he should remember that it takes more than one group to produce political chaos. The Asō cabinet may be tottering and feeble, but the reaction it has engendered from within the LDP has mortally wounded the government, worsening the conditions that inspired the reaction in the first place. If the rebels fail — and it looks like they will, because Asō is nothing if not stubborn — they will have guaranteed the outcome they sought to avoid: the disastrous defeat of the LDP and the formation of a DPJ government.

The coming DPJ tsunami?

Daniel Twining, writing at Shadow Government, Foreign Policy's blog for Republicans in exile from government in Washington, argues that the advent of a DPJ government could represent a "tsunami" for the US and Japan.

Twining offers the standard Washington perspective on the DPJ: Japan has lots of problems, but who knows whether the DPJ can actually fix them.

Indeed, there is very little in this post that hasn't been said before — and which I argued against in this post.

But I want to respond to Twining's argument about how the DPJ "will pull its foreign and security policy further to the left — and further away from the broad consensus that has defined the U.S.-Japan alliance for three generations."

What is this consensus, you ask? Twining notes "the deference with which generations of LDP leaders treated Washington and the alliance framework that has made possible Japan's postwar prosperity and security." The use of the word deference is revealing. In short, the alliance has been unequal and should continue to be so: "expanding Japan's alliance roles and responsibilities to make that country a global security leader" but always remaining subordinate to the US, host to US forces, cooperating in US-led operations abroad, and altering its forces to conform to US wishes.

There are several problems with Twining's argument. First, before even looking at the merits of the DPJ position, it is worth mentioning that despite the fears of Twining and others in Washington, the most likely outcome of a DPJ government for the foreseeable future is the maintenance of the status quo. The DPJ has said that it wants to renegotiate the 2006 roadmap on the realignment of US forces and the status of US forces in Japan more generally. True, but will these be high priorities for a DPJ government? Any democratic government has only so much political capital to spend, and it is unlikely that a DPJ-led government will devote serious attention to Okinawa in the early years of its government. Okinawa is a low priority for voters outside of Okinawa prefecture, and will take a back seat to administrative reform, pensions, health care, and the economy. Beyond these specific issues, it is a mistake to anticipate radical chance on the alliance for precisely the same reason. Of course there are socialists in the DPJ, and the SDPJ will likely be included in a DPJ-led coalition. But as Twining himself notes, there are those "who support a more hawkish Japanese security policy."

The result will be equilibrium in favor of the status quo. Neither the left nor the right will be able to achieve radical changes in Japanese security policy. Any changes to Japan's foreign and security policy will be the result of top-down incremental changes — and the DPJ's leaders tend to fall somewhere between the two extremes. After flirting with "petite" nationalism earlier in his career, Hatoyama Yukio's foreign policy views are fairly pedestrian. Ozawa Ichiro is perhaps more controversial, but at the same time few Japanese politicians have been more misunderstood than Ozawa. (See my explanation of his "Seventh Fleet" comments here, here, and here, and discussions of Ozawa's thinking on foreign policy here, here, and here.) Okada Katsuya is also pedestrian in his security policy views, and recently echoed the Obama administration's rhetoric when he stressed the importance of US-Japan cooperation in areas other than security (discussed here). Incidentally, the advent of the Obama administration has arguably forced the DPJ to soften its rhetoric on the US: it was a lot easier to criticize Washington under the Bush administration. With the Obama's administration's having made a point of not treating Japan with a heavy hand in its first months (what I've called benign neglect), the DPJ has changed its tone on the alliance, and will undoubtedly continue to do so should it win next month.

The DPJ's leaders are hardly radicals. At the very least, the US-Japan alliance will remain an indispensable pillar for the indefinite future, especially because a DPJ government will be no more inclined than an LDP government to spend more on defense. The presence of hawks within the DPJ will probably ensure that defense spending does not fall further than it already has under the LDP, but a DPJ-led Japan will not be gearing up for the development of serious autonomous capabilities. But beyond that, it does seem to be contradictory for Twining to question the DPJ's ability to address "structural conundrums" but then blithely assert that the DPJ will single-handedly threaten the institution that has been the centerpiece of Japanese security policy for nearly sixty years.

Where does this conclusion leave us? Will the DPJ ask questions of the US that the "deferential" LDP (I think Twining and Ozawa would agree on this point) has not asked of Japan's ally? Of course. Will it be less inclined to support the US in wars far from Japan's shores, especially without UN approval? Surely. Will it look to deepen its cooperation with other Asian countries independent of the US? Absolutely. But these positions hardly constitute radical change, and it is hard to see why the Obama administration should anticipate an impending "tsunami" for these reasons.

Incidentally, what Twining fails to realize is that creating some distance between the US and Japan (or "making the alliance equal") is perhaps the lowest common denominator in the DPJ. Even the DPJ's conservatives don't want Japan to be too locked in to the alliance framework.

Which leads to the bigger question: is the DPJ's position actually bad for the US? It may be bad for the US-Japan establishment, which depends on the idea that the alliance is "intrinsically important." But what would the US lose if a DPJ government says no from time to time, or if it seeks an international role in regional or international fora that might involve staking out positions at odds with the US? Twining says that the Bush administration sought a Japan that would be a "global security leader," but in reality it seems that Twining wants a militarily capable Japan subservient to Japan, a vassal not an ally. It seems that it is impossible for the US to have a Japanese ally that is both a "global security leader" and deferential to the United States. If Japan is going to be a more capable global leader, it will from time to time disagree with the US.

As noted previously, the harder edges of the DPJ's position on the alliance have softened since Barack Obama came into office — and they will likely soften further once the DPJ is faced with governing. The result will be a Japan still allied with the US and still a "pillar" of US policy in East Asia, but reluctant to support security cooperation far from Japanese shores and largely uninterested in values promotion or a crypto-containment policy for China. Japan has already moved in this direction in the years since the fall of Abe Shinzo. Notice, for example, how little the prime minister has discussed his "arc of freedom and prosperity." Japan has not moved any closer to "remilitarization" under Fukuda or Asō. It has been slow to move on the 2006 road map. It continued to support the token refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, but offered nothing more in either Iraq or Afghanistan. It did send ships to Somalia, but only after China did, and even then its commitment was presented as being in Japan's national interest.

Twining, of course, believes otherwise: he tells us that Koizumi's successors "have been good men, and several, including Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso, have possessed a clear vision for Japan in the world." Why he says several when the only prime minister not included on that list is Fukuda is beyond me. (And this is particularly insulting, because I think of the three, Fukuda had the most realistic assessment of the problems facing Japan and had the most clearly articulated vision for overcoming said challenges. See here and here.)

The era of Japan's becoming a deputy to the US sheriff in East Asia has passed, and the sooner that both Republicans and Democrats come to recognize this, the better it will be for the alliance.