Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This Hatoyama's for turning?

As the campaign has progressed, the DPJ has shown that it is willing to be flexible as far as its manifesto is concerned. While it has taken the work of building a manifesto that is the result of a consensus within the party — and which a DPJ government will give due consideration when formulating policy — the DPJ has adjusted its program in response to criticism.

Perhaps it has been a bit too willing to adjust.

On Tuesday, the party issued several amendments to its manifesto, which DPJ policy chief Naoshima Masayuki said were not policy changes, but "clarifications." The amendments — available here — largely conform with Naoshima's explanation. The party did not fill the vacuum in the manifesto as far as future of the Japanese economy is concerned, but now stresses that its various spending programs (child allowances, free high school, free highways, lifting the "temporary" gasoline surcharge) are intended to stimulate domestic consumption and so begin the long-term transformation of the Japanese economy. (Okada Katsuya stressed the importance of domestic consumption for growth in a meeting with Keidanren last week.) While I don't think these measures go far enough, they're at least a start, and the party has the right idea in mind.

What bothers me is the party's decision to soften its stance on an FTA with the US. Okada tried to spin the change as cosmetic; it changed the language from "conclude" to "begin" negotiations in recognition of the fact that negotiations depend on one's partner. The DPJ isn't in a position to promise the conclusion of an FTA. But if the edit didn't "change anything fundamental," why bother with editing the proposal? The reality is that by revising the proposal the DPJ gutted it, because it added a clause suggesting that an FTA won't happen unless domestic agricultural production can be safeguarded, with an eye towards increasing Japan's rate of self-sufficiency and the security and safety of the food supply. As Ozawa Ichiro argued in opposition to the revision, the change is solely about the power of Japan Agriculture (JA), the association of agricultural cooperatives. In other words, JA raised a fuss, and the DPJ altered its position accordingly. If there is one benefit to the DPJ's taking power, it should be a degree of independence from the interest groups that have traditionally sustained LDP rule. Ozawa further stressed that there is nothing contradictory between the party's proposal for income support for farmers and its proposal for an FTA with the US. He resisted the idea that free trade with the US will destroy Japanese agriculture, arguing that consumers care about more than price — meaning that an FTA with the US would mean more options for Japanese consumers, but not necessarily doom for Japanese farmers, who in any case would be supported by the DPJ's system that would kick in should the market price fall below production costs.

I can understand why the DPJ, afraid of the LDP's exploiting the FTA proposal to sow doubts among rural voters, would soften this position, but as Ozawa has shown, the original position is not indefensible. And public opinion polls suggest — see MTC's analysis here — that there is something more at work in rural Japan than approval or disapproval of party policies. Voters may be interested in "policy," but that can mean a lot of things, and by panicking the DPJ made its manifesto that much worse. The bottom seems to have fallen out of the LDP's traditional support, of which JA was a critical part. It may be the case that the DPJ is attributing power to the JA that it no longer has. By adding the line about not concluding a deal prejudicial to Japanese agriculture (or is that Japanese Agriculture), the DPJ will make it that much harder to begin negotiations in the first place. It should have limited its edits to "beginning negotiations" with the US, or changed nothing at all.

(As an aside, Ozawa's criticism of the change is another reminder of the Ozawa problem. The problem isn't that he disagrees with the changes — it is unreasonable to expect unanimity in any party — but that should Ozawa not join a DPJ-led cabinet and instead remain as a party leader, his comments about the cabinet's policy decisions will have the effect of widening the gap between cabinet and ruling party, undermining the DPJ's aim of creating transparent and accountable government. There will inevitably be points of disagreement: Ozawa simply has too many ideas about how things should be for there not to be. The point is that his disagreements should be aired as part of the policy process within the cabinet, not in the course of negotiations between cabinet and ruling party that play out in part in back rooms in Nagata-cho, in part on the pages of the nation's newspapers.)

But the agriculture dispute is a comparatively minor problem. I am more bothered by Hatoyama's changing position on the three non-nuclear principles. In a comparatively short period of time, Hatoyama has gone from publicly considering a revision of the non-nuclear principles to proposing that they be written into law. Speaking in Nagasaki to a group of atomic bomb survivors, Hatoyama suggested that in consideration of Japan's status as the only country attacked with nuclear weapons the non-nuclear principles should be written into law. Of course, five days earlier Hatoyama said precisely the opposite: that if the principles were written into law, there is a danger the law could be changed. Hatoyama muddied his position further Tuesday at a press conference for foreign journalists: "To the extent that a DPJ government continues, Japan will forever not possess nuclear weapons. We will stick to the three non-nuclear principles. I think that the three non-nuclear principles are national policy stronger than law." But will the party make the principles into law? "We want to investigate..."

In other words, Hatoyama has completely side-stepped the issue of what to do about the non-nuclear principles now that the "secret" treaty between the US and Japan allowing the introduction of US nukes into Japan is no longer secret.

This may be less a DPJ problem that a Hatoyama problem. Hatoyama is clearly prone to "foot in mouth" disease, and, being a weak leader, is susceptible from pressure from others, in this case the Social Democrats.

So what will the DPJ actually do about the non-nuclear principles? Well, before next year's upper house election, nothing. Like the incumbent government, it will continue to pretend that the three non-nuclear principles are completely sacrosanct, that the Japanese government has no knowledge of the introduction of US nuclear weapons into Japan. It can hardly do otherwise. It will not waste political capital on an issue that is important for the Social Democrats but risks dividing the DPJ. It will not request that the US remove nuclear weapons from its ships before entering Japanese harbors.

This episode highlights my two greatest concerns about a DPJ government: Hatoyama as prime minister and the Social Democrats as a coalition partner. Hopefully the DPJ can find ways to manage both.

I suppose it's too late to bring back Ozawa. Perhaps a Hatoyama-Ozawa cabinet wouldn't be so bad after all.

3 comments:

Janne Morén said...

Sidestepping the campaign side of it all, the security aspect of food production is not at all indefensible either. After all, US can apparently stop foreign ownership of airlines and port facilities (but in neither case any aspect of actual customs or security arrangements) with this argument; food production is no less critical and arguably rather more so.

Tobias Harris said...

Janne,

I don't disagree with you there. My problem is that by inserting this revision the DPJ basically implies that it was initially prepared to sign on to a bad deal that destroyed farmers' livelihoods, introduced tainted food into Japan's food supply, etc. The DPJ should have answered that of course it would not agree to a bad deal with the US. Of course it would not accept a deal that was on balance bad for Japanese producers and consumers.

I'm working on a paper now that includes recommendations for the DPJ's economic policy: rather than railing about market fundamentalism, the DPJ should be offering what my co-author and I call "sustainable globalization."

Martin J Frid said...

I hope you will make that paper available online!

A small point about the DPJ Manifesto that we are interested in over at Consumers Union of Japan is the clause about better food labelling, such as country-of-origin labels and traceability. Such rules are already in place in the European Union, and if DPJ can get this done, it would help consumers immensely.

Not sure if it could help Japan conclude a FTA with EU, but at least it would be a step in the right direction for getting Japan's food safety laws on the same level.