April 7, 2006; Volume 02, Number 14

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

DPJ Presidential Race All Week
Relations with North Korea
Web Audio Tour of the ITV Japan website
Concluding Comments

Good morning from the beautiful campus of the University of South Carolina. Today is Friday, April 7 th, 2006. And you are listening to Volume 01, Number 14 of the Japan Considered Podcast.


I’m Robert Angel, creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project, and producer of this podcast. Thanks for tuning in again for some commentary and analysis of events in the news this week concerning Japan’s domestic politics and international relations. And please continue to send your comments and suggestions to me at JapanConsidered@gmail.com. The advice on raising the quality of the audio and on topics to cover have been most helpful. So keep ‘em coming. I don’t need to tell you I’m a rank amateur at this sort of thing, and can use all the help available!

We’ve had another busy week. “Notes for Podcast” all over the desk here, from last Saturday right up until today. We can cover only three or four subjects in the time allotted. So, let’s get right to it. This week we’ll consider the significance of the DPJ’s decision to replace Seiji Maehara with Ichiro Ozawa as Party President. Then we’ll move on to recent developments in the management of relations with North Korea. And finally, we’ll do a brief web sound tour of another interesting web site. This time ITV-Japan. [Return to topics]

DPJ Presidential Race All Week

Ichiro Ozawa was selected today to serve the remainder of Seiji Maehara’s term as president of the Democratic Party of Japan. That’s Japan’s leading Opposition Party. Progress toward DPJ presidential succession has dominated Japan’s political news all week. 191 of the DPJ’s 192 incumbent members of the Lower and Upper Houses of the Diet met Friday afternoon in a Tokyo hotel to hold final discussions and cast their votes for a successor to Maehara. Ozawa won 119 of the 191 votes cast. Naoto Kan, who earlier in the week also agreed to put his name forward, was the choice of 72 DPJ parliamentarians. One member did not attend the vote.

In the strict sense of the term, this was an "election." But it wasn't the sort of election that would categorize the winner as a "populist" rather than a "factionist" in the analytical framework I’ve presented in these podcasts. The electors were the 192 DPJ members of the Lower and Upper Houses of the Diet. Prefectural DPJ members were not directly represented. Heads of the prefectural chapters undoubtedly were consulted by their Diet representatives. But no campaign of the sort waged by Koizumi and Makiko Tanaka to win prefectural votes was conducted.

With only Diet Members voting, there’s little or no difference between this selection process and the traditional faction-dominated selection process for the LDP in the “Good Old Days.” Mobilization of an electorate made up of 191 Parliamentary Incumbents is a process far different than mobilization of an electorate composed of thousands of Party members distributed throughout the country. And that’s the critical difference.

These two selection processes, and the campaigns they require, all else constant, will advantage very different sorts of candidates, and produce very different sorts of Party leaders. It’s rare that a candidate skilled in the back-room maneuvering necessary to whip a majority out of 191 parliamentary incumbents will be able to appeal indirectly to a broader constituency through the communications media. Not impossible, but rare. This was true for the LDP. And it’s even more true for the DPJ. This Party has a Parliamentary delegation even more diverse than that of the LDP in its heyday.

Ichiro Ozawa was the hands-down bet to succeed Seiji Maehara as DPJ president, even before the Nagata e-mail fiasco. The problem for the Party was how to make the change. DPJ leaders feared negative fall-out should it appear to Japan’s public that Ozawa had been selected through the sort of traditional back-room deal-making that I call "factionist." The very sort of maneuvering for which he has shown such talent since soon after his first election to the Diet in 1969. Colorful DPJ leader, Kozo Watanabe, himself a skilled veteran of the LDP factional wars, put it simply last week when he compared a party leaders consultation selection process to “bid-rigging.” So, an election had to be held . But an election that would avoid further division within the Party.

Late last week former Party president, Naoto Kan, was persuaded to toss his hat into the ring. The presence of two candidates would provide the news media with a race to cover. Something they could describe as an “election.” And given the mainstream media’s disapproval of Maehara’s positions on sensitive foreign policy issues, and their hope a successor would have more acceptable views on China relations, constitutional revision, and military cooperation with the United States, they would likely accept the Party vote as an “election” and move on to other matters. Both Ozawa and Kan promised to cooperate for the good of the Party regardless of the outcome.

So the Democratic Party of Japan has, as of this afternoon, a new leader. One pledged to regaining public trust in the Party and winning the Parliamentary majority from the LDP. The DPJ also has a new leader with a reputation as the consummate political strategist and ruthless factional infighter. Ozawa promised in his speech to the gathered DPJ members to change himself as well as to best the LDP. Both considerable challenges. It’s hard to predict which will be more difficult.

“So what?”, as we often ask on this program. Does Ozawa’s selection – sorry, “election” – have the potential to make a real difference on Japan’s domestic political stage? I think it has. Last week we noted that LDP Chief Cabinet Secretary Tsutomu Takebe and his Komeito counterpart cancelled their appointments in Washington D.C. upon hearing of Maehara’s resignation. That suggests that at least those two consider the change significant.

Ozawa will be a very different force to reckon with as the Diet debates the Koizumi Cabinet’s reform bills. Koizumi, with good reason, described Ozawa as “formidable” upon hearing of his selection. But Ozawa opponents in the past have been able to turn that formidability, judo-like, against him. Making him appear crafty, mean-spirited, and devious, rather than trustworthy but tough. Truth be told, in a world in which “populist” politics seems to be gaining an edge on “factionist” politics, Ichiro Ozawa would make a far better Number Two than Number One. A far better behind-the-scenes strategist and enforcer than popular representative. Maybe the “formidability” Koizumi has identified will allow Ozawa to adapt his persona to requirements for his new position. Stranger things have happened. Stay tuned. [Return to topics]

Relations with North Korea

We haven’t considered Japan’s relations with North Korea for some time. Since mid-
February and the disappointing bilateral talks held in Beijing, if memory serves. Nothing earth-shaking has transpired since in this delicate bilateral relationship. But there have been a few incremental developments that taken together are worthy of notice. A quick look at how Japan has been managing problems with their unpredictable neighbor to the northwest should give us some insight into how changes in Japan’s domestic political environment are affecting its conduct of foreign affairs.

Relations with North Korea have been complicated since the end of the War in the Pacific by the presence of quite a large ethnic Korean population within Japan. The exact size of that population is hard to pin down. I’ve seen estimates ranging from 550,000 to 725,000. A significant number, anyway. Many have lived in Japan for several generations, but maintain Korean citizenship and identity. Some associate with South Korean-affiliated organizations; others belong to the North Korean-affiliated Chongryon. Japan’s treatment of this Korean minority is another of those sensitive issue remaining from Japan’s colonial past. With the potential of becoming a political hot potato.

Since Japan and North Korea have yet to re-establish formal diplomatic relations, branches of Chongryon, the “Association of Korean Residents in Japan” around the country have served as virtual diplomatic missions. As such, until very recently, they have enjoyed the immunity from search and seizure commonly associated with embassies and consulates. Their facilities also have been granted property tax exemptions by their Prefectural Governments. Senior members of the Association have long been suspected of involvement in activities such as illicit money transfers to North Korea, and even espionage. But little has been done to shut them down. That situation seems to have changed recently.

Concerned members of the Liberal Democratic Party, and some conservative public commentators, have been demanding imposition of economic sanctions on North Korea as a means of encouraging greater cooperation on issues worrying Japan. On March 17 th, several LDP committees responsible for oversight of relations with North Korea held a joint meeting. They endorsed a bill drawn up by Upper House Member Ichita Yamamoto that would require Japan to impose economic sanctions if Pyongyang continues to stall on human rights issues such as the abduction of Japanese citizens by the North Korean Government.

The Koizumi Cabinet has been more circumspect in its approach, stopping well short of imposing economic sanctions. They’ve decided to manage the politically ticklish overall North Korea relations issue through a Kantei team established to deal with the Abduction Issue. Not the Korean nuclear development program issue. Not the intercontinental missile issue. Not the narcotics smuggling, or even the espionage, issue. But the abduction issue!

This is the matter that’s caught the public’s attention since Kim Jong Ill’s surprise admission of North Korean government involvement during Koizumi’s Pyongyang visit. These bizarre abductions perhaps best demonstrate the sort of government Tokyo is trying to negotiate with. Even the solidly anti-Koizumi Asahi Shimbun has run article after article about the abductions, and commentary demanding government action to discover the truth. So has every other Japanese newspaper and weekly magazine I’m able to read. Families of abductees these days are receiving more attention in Japan’s media than they have for years.

This seems to me a brilliant move by the Koizumi Cabinet. The abduction team is headed by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Suzuki. Under it are a number of sub-teams charged with collection of information, and exploration of how Japan can more strictly apply existing laws to restrict any North Korean-sponsored smuggling, drug-running, or illegal transport of persons back and forth from North Korea.

All of these measures, then, can be justified as government efforts to get to the bottom of the abduction issue. The issue that so justifiably concerns the Japanese public. Through this network of coordinating committees the Kantei has endorsed, or permitted, at least, a number of actions they describe as countermeasures falling short of imposition of economic sanctions. All intended to encourage North Korea to negotiate in good faith. This strategy is virtually political attack-proof. Increasing pressure on North Korea to encourage them to pay more attention to human rights!

One recent countermeasure increases pressure on North Korea through investigation of Chongryon activities. In February, I mentioned the Fukuoka High Court ruling that rejected property tax breaks for Chongryon facilities in Japan. According to a late March Kyodo report, the Internal Affairs Ministry has instructed prefectural governments throughout the country to review any tax exemptions given Chongryon properties. This in light of the Court ruling. Some prefectural governments have resisted. But it is clear that the Ministry has the support of the Kantei on this issue. So prefectural governments are likely to comply.

A bit more dramatically, on March 23 rd, the Public Security Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department coordinated a raid on six offices of a Chongryon subsidiary organization headquartered in Osaka. In a well-attended press conference right after the raid, the Police Department announced the operation was conducted to search for evidence related to North Korean kidnapping of Japanese citizen, Takaaki Hara.

Hara was reported missing in June of 1980. Since then North Korean involvement has been suspected in his disappearance. The Metropolitan Police briefer told the press that the head of the organization at that time is suspected of cooperating in the kidnap operation. He owned a large Chinese restaurant in Osaka. And Hara was employed there.

Hmmm. It’s been over a quarter-century since the crime was committed. It’s possible that new evidence just came to light, that we’re witnessing an incredibly convenient coincidence. It’s also possible that the Government of Japan now believes the political environment is such that a crack-down can be made without fear of negative political repercussions. It may be that Kantei officials believe the Kim regime in North Korea is especially dependent upon the flow of hard currency from Japan to them and their immediate supporters. And that significant reduction in that flow of hard currency would make it difficult for them to maintain control of the country. So, threats to reduce that flow, through crack-downs on Chongryon, illegal money transfers, and other activities, may bring the North to the table without imposing formal economic sanctions.

Whatever the motivation, it’s hard not to conclude that Japan again has responded to remarkably blatant international provocation in a cool, deliberate, calibrated fashion. This has to be encouraging for Japan’s allies and neighbors in East Asia. [Return to topics]

Web Audio Tour of the ITV Japan website

ITV-Japan describes itself as “Japan’s first internet television network for business executives.” It is a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based streaming media company, KI-Asia. You can find the site by pointing your browser at www.itvjapan.com. Or look on the show notes for a direct link.

The ITV-Japan website interest s me for two reasons. First, it demonstrates what can be done these days with streaming video over the web. Those of us interested in web-based dissemination of information can see what can be accomplished when adequate resources are dedicated to the task. Very impressive. Keep in mind, though, that this is a commercial site. So, not-for-profit organizations and universities may have to develop a different model to achieve similar results.

ITV Japan’s main function, according to the site description, is to provide business executives with news, interviews, and analysis that features Japanese business experts and opinion leaders. That it does. But it also includes videotaped interviews that should be of interest to Japan Considered Podcast listeners.

Useful material is sprinkled throughout the whole site. But an area you shouldn’t miss can be found well down the left-hand side navigation bar. Under “Business TV Programs” click on “Politics and Economics.”

You’ll be greeted by Dr. David Satterwhite, the executive director of the Fulbright Program in Japan. He’s a long-time Japan-resident political scientist who knows his way around Japan’s political world. As well as around Japan’s business community. Academic training and business consulting have combined to produce a keen analyst, and an interesting series of videotaped interviews with well-known individuals from political, business, and academic worlds. Around 15 interviews are available for the downloading on the “politics and economics” page. Before you leave the ITV-Japan site, you might look through other “business TV programs” they’ve made available. Interesting people; useful information. And a remarkable application of streaming video to the dissemination of information about econo-political Japan. ITV-Japan. [Return to topics]

Concluding Comments

Well, that’s all we have time for this week. Thanks again for tuning in. And remember to click on over to the Japan Considered Project website for a look around. www.japanconsidered.org. Over 500 readers a week visit the site now. The podcast transcripts and the interviews with other Japan specialists seem to be the most popular destinations. Send your comments and suggestions for the podcast, and for the website, to me at JapanConsidered@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Let’s head toward the weekend today with another snippet of bluegrass ringing in our ears and minds. Here’s John Starling and the late John Duffy of the Seldom Scene, the 20 th anniversary album they did for Sugar Hill Records. Listen to these voices. [Return to topics]


Goodbye all. Until next week.