free web stats Transcript of the Japan Considered Podcast for April 6, 2007


April 6, 2007; Volume 03, Number 13

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Listener Comments on Administrative Reform, and Further Developments
Upcoming Prefectural and Local Elections
Relations with Mainland China
Concluding Comments

Good Morning from Beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, April 06th, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 13, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


Thanks for dropping by again today, to you regular listeners. And a hearty South Carolina welcome to those of you who’re joining us for the first time. We’ve had an encouraging increase in the number of listeners who subscribe to the Podcast. Many of them through the free iTunes system. And an even greater increase in those of you downloading the sound files, and/or the transcripts, from the Japan Considered Website.

Just point your browser at to reach the new website. Then click on either of the Podcast entries. There you’ll find links to the sound file and the transcript. As well as instructions up at the top on how to subscribe to receive the program automatically each week. If you’re interested in that convenience. It’s also free of charge.  

Oh, I’m Robert Angel, creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project. And creator and host of this Podcast. Each Friday I bring you twenty minutes or so of commentary and analysis, based on events in the news about Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations. Our emphasis here is on the longer-term significance of events. Rather than on presentation of the news. Lots of other places to find that.

Please continue to send your comments and suggestions to me at They’re interesting to read, and very helpful when I prepare future programs.

Listener e-mail this past week was especially heavy. First, many of you mentioned the deterioration in sound quality for last week’s program. Sorry about that. It would be nice to blame it on the lack of equipment when recording out in Sesquicentennial State Park. But that’s only partly true. After receiving a couple of your e-mails, I listened to the whole program again. And heard that grating “chipmunk-chattering-through-a-tin-can” effect in the middle of the sound file. Well, that resulted more from the dreaded “OE,” or Operator Error, than defective or limited equipment. I just goofed in the production cycle. Ah, live and learn. If we’re lucky! I’ll try to do better hereafter when producing the program out in the Wilds, in our Little Tin House.

Listener Comments on Administrative Reform, and Further Developments

A number of listeners also expressed skepticism about the longer-term significance of “administrative reform.” Noting that prime ministers for decades have been affirming their dedication to “administrative reform.” As well as “political reform.” Right up there with promises to abolish LDP factions! And never to violate campaign finance laws. Nice to think about. But not much has been done.  

Well, that’s all true. But I’m still convinced that political conditions in Japan have changed. Changes we’ve spent a lot of time discussing on this program since we began in November of 2005. And I still believe those changes will facilitate genuinely significant administrative reform this time around. IF, the Abe Kantei is determined to push it. Before being pushed out of office themselves. Which is likely to happen if they don’t push it! Japan’s attentive – and voting – public now is willing to support genuine reformers. And, I think, they’re less willing than in the past to put up with traditional poseur reformers.

We’ll just have to wait to see how the Abe Kantei’s administrative reform initiative fares. Both in the media and in Japan’s complex world of parliamentary politics. The English language news from Japan continues to give administrative reform only modest attention. But this week there was evidence in the Japanese language press, at least, that anti-reform interests have begun their campaign of opposition. Sharp criticism of administrative reform minister, Yoshimi Watanabe, for example, in one of the influential weekly tabloids. Reports that senior LDP Diet members are worried about the prohibition of ministries finding their retiring OBs post retirement jobs. Fear that such prohibition will demoralize Japan’s crack career bureaucrats.

Japan’s main opposition party, the DPJ, has also decided to oppose the Abe/Watanabe administrative reform plan. And has promised to present an alternative plan of their own. Hmmm. Bold move on the DPJ’s part!

It’s hard for DPJ spokesmen, or anybody else, for that matter, to directly oppose “administrative reform.” Or to defend “amakudari” as an essential element of Japan’s political culture, or whatever. Rather, opponents to date have focused on the “Shin Jinzai Banku” or “new manpower banks,” element of the Abe/Watanabe proposal. No better than having the ministries themselves involved, the plan’s critics say. But its blatantly unrealistic just to forbid the ministries from seeking employment for their retiring senior colleagues. When those colleagues have to retire at an average age of 55 or so. Some realistic alternative to the current system must be found.

All of this criticism is predictable. Indeed, we did predict it. The important point – that’s not at all predictable – is how the Abe Kantei will respond to the criticism. The traditional response would be to listen attentively. Especially to opposition from within the LDP itself. And then to fashion a compromise acceptable to both the proposal’s critics, and to those who inspired the proposal in the first place. Usually, something that would allow the Kantei to implement a minor element of their proposed reform, and to scrap the rest during “consultations.” Maintaining just enough of an element to save face. No real change. And the Kantei would have demonstrated its sincerity by trying! That outcome, for me, would represent reversion to the traditional model.

The non-traditional reaction would see the Abe Kantei responding head-on in the media to critics of its reform proposal. Continuing to insist upon implementation of the whole plan. While leveraging public criticism against their critics! Describing them as tools of special interests, and so on. Political hardball of the sort that Koizumi played during his years in the Kantei. Trusting Japan’s attentive public to see through the smoke, and support their reform. At least with rising Cabinet public approval ratings.

Of course, Koizumi eventually ended up calling a “snap” election at the end of 2005. That would be extremely difficult for Shinzo Abe to do now. Not impossible. But extremely difficult. For one thing, Shotoku Taishi resurrected would have difficulty improving on the LDP’s current 300-seat Lower House total! While anything less would be described as defeat. Though such a move certainly would solve the problem of getting cabinet ministers to stop chattering and stand up when the prime minister entered the room!

Here’s a quick example of what such a campaign might sound like.

[audio clip of Yoshimi Watanabe]

That was Yoshimi Watanabe on the campaign stump explaining Prime Minister Abe’s determination to see his administrative reform proposal through. Hmmm. We’re seeing a bit more of Watanabe these days. Since he presented his “muscular” administrative reform proposal to the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy on March 27th. And, again according to the tabloid weeklies, Prime Minister Abe himself has become more assertive when defending his reform plans to the political press corps. Evidence of a change in Abe Kantei strategy? Too early to tell. But I’ll keep my eye on the situation. And let you know how things are turning out.  

Upcoming Prefectural and Local Elections

I’d hoped this week to provide a comprehensive look at the prefectural and local elections scheduled for Sunday, day after tomorrow, and on April 22nd. Well, campaigning is on-going. But there’s been surprisingly little media coverage of the races. Even in the Japanese language political press. Just a few local color pieces on individual candidates and races. And repetition of the complex list of elections scheduled. Very little mention of campaign strategies, and so on. Well – that may be an exaggeration. But nothing certainly that is unexpected. Must be the races simply are not all that exciting. Too bad!

And I’m surprised. I expected much more coverage. And information! To share with you here on the program! Shintaro Ishihara is expected to win re-election in Tokyo. The LDP and the DPJ are each expected to win one of the Upper House by-elections. In Fukushima and Okinawa. But that’s far from certain.

I guess we’ll just have to wait until next week’s program. When we have the actual results of the elections. And some more informed analysis of those results. So tune in next Friday.

Relations with Mainland China

Japan’s political journalists may have been slack in their coverage of the potentially interesting prefectural and local elections. Or, more likely, their editors have spiked the copy they’ve submitted. Devoting their scarce column inches to news about more popular topics. One such topic seems to be recent developments in Japan’s relationship with Mainland China. Political, economic, even cultural. Much of this is explained by the visit to Tokyo next week of Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao. As we discussed last week, Wen is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on the 11th. That’s next Wednesday. To stay for three days.

This visit is shaping up as significant for a number of reasons. Some obvious. Others not quite so obvious. Most obvious, Wen’s visit will be the first for a senior Chinese leader to Japan in nearly 7 years. Since China decided bilateral summit meetings were impossible unless Japan’s prime minister promised not to visit Yasukuni Shrine again. Then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi astounded observers in both Japan and China by declining to comply with the Chinese demand. Unfortunate for Japan, and for the Koizumi Administration. But really disastrous for Beijing. Their miscalculation left them with no way to continue summit meetings with their most important Asian counterpart. Without a serious loss of face. The change in premiership to Shinzo Abe, therefore was a great blessing for Beijing. One they appear eager to use to full advantage. This is good too for the Japanese side.  

Now, summit meetings themselves rarely result in surprise breakthroughs. Breakthroughs that result from direct negotiations between the leaders meeting. They do, however, have enormous symbolic significance. Photos and television coverage of national leaders, shaking hands and saying nice things to each other. Even more important. Their scheduling creates deadlines for ongoing bureaucratic negotiations. Negotiations that would go on forever were there not an announced deadline like a summit meeting. Very effective pressure indeed.

Wen’s visit to Tokyo is no exception. Negotiators on both sides have been meeting frantically to iron out points of bilateral agreement. Agreements that can be announced during their leaders’ meetings. Cultural exchanges. Economic cooperation. At least some progress on the long-standing dispute between the two countries on exploitation of natural gas reserves in the East China Sea. And plans for future summit meeting visits.

Prime Minister Abe has enjoyed at least one cream-puff interview on state-sponsored Chinese television. Even Mrs. Abe has been interviewed. And presented in the most favorable light imaginable. Business spokesmen from both sides have made optimistic announcements to the press. Anticipating better economic relations as a result of the summit talks.

Though I am unable to read or understand Chinese, judging from English and Japanese language reports from Beijing, China’s leaders have minimized mention of war memory issues when discussing Wen’s upcoming visit. Commenting on Yasukuni Shrine visits and Japan’s treatment of the Comfort Women only when asked. And then, responding unemotionally, in conciliatory tones. No anti-Japan public demonstrations in the streets of China’s cities. No damage to Japanese diplomatic property by irate crowds. All quite orderly. And all to the good.

Though it’s clear that bilateral issues of real importance remain between the two countries. Most notably at the moment, the highly visible East China Sea gas exploitation issue. Bilateral talks between technical experts were held today in Beijing, with the hope of reaching some agreement that might be announced at the Abe-Wen meetings. No such luck, however. Immediately following the talks, the head of Japan’s delegation told the press that China had provided no new data during the meeting. And that the two sides had only agreed that they should meet again. At a time and place to be determined. Quite a straightforward statement!

All of this quite predictable. Or at least not at all surprising. What hasn’t been quite so predictable, I think, has been Japan’s behavior. On the March 16th program, I noted the comments from LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa about Wen’s visit. Comments he made while visiting Beijing to meet with President Hu Jintao. Nakagawa said that Japan fully expected substantive progress on the East China Sea gas exploitation issue before Premier Wen visited.

This, to me, represents a significant change in the dynamics of Japan’s relations with Mainland China. At least, in that part visible to the public. In the past, Japan appeared almost over-eager to avoid giving offense to Beijing. For fear Beijing would publicly criticize the incumbent prime minister’s handling of relations with China. Giving his challengers in the LDP an excellent issue with which to oust him. Beijing, of course, recognized this, and made the most of it. This one-sided dynamic was reflected in the public behavior and agendas of bilateral meetings. Just how much was Tokyo willing to offer to maintain Beijing’s good will? To avoid public criticism? That was the question.

This appears to me to have changed during Koizumi’s premiership. He not only recognized the disadvantages of such a relationship. His reliance on the approval of Japan’s attentive public rather than on the agreement of LDP faction leaders to allow him to continue to serve as prime minister, enabled him to do something about. All to the good. Such an artificially unbalanced international relationship could, over time, only breed resentment and distrust. Unhealthy. Both countries undoubtedly are better off with the current pattern of interaction. Indeed, we may see results of this new pattern before long in the thorny territorial bilateral dispute over gas in the East China Sea. With a proposal from Tokyo that agreement on joint gas exploitation projects be separated from definition of the line of demarcation between the two countries. At this point, just a rumor. But both countries have an interest in making progress on this issue. Making for more sincere negotiations. I’ll keep you posted.

Concluding Comments

Lots more news on Premier Wen’s upcoming visit to Japan. But, as with the prefectural and local unified elections, it’s probably better to wait until next week to assess the results of the visit.

As always, continue to send your comments and suggestions to me at I read them all, and consider each one when preparing future programs. I’m also glad to hear your suggestions for websites that provide English language information about Japan’s domestic politics or international relations. Especially new ones that appear they will last for a while. I’ll do my best to include mention of them on the program.

Let’s go out this week with something quite different in the way of music than we’ve had in the past. Sit down, now! Here’s the ending of Patsy Cline’s incomparable “Crazy.” If you don’t already own a copy of this, you can get your own from Amazon with a click here. Along with eleven other of her incredible performances. Written, as you probably know, by Willie Nelson, and first recorded by Patsy Cline in 1961, this is a genuine classic. Now, here’s how it’s done.

[Patsy Cline]

Goodbye All. Until next week.