June 1, 2007; Volume 03, Number 20

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Dr. James Auer on Japan’s Collective Security Debate
Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka’s Suicide
Significance of the Matsuoka Suicide for Understanding Japan’s Domestic Politics
Concluding Comments

Good Morning! From beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. It’s Friday again, June 1st, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 20, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


I’m Robert Angel, creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project, and creator and host of this Podcast. Each week at this time we take twenty minutes or so to consider recent events in Japan’s news with longer-term significance for Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations. And sometimes both!

Thanks for dropping in today. I hope the program meets your expectations. If you haven’t already visited, drop by the Japan Considered Project website at www.JapanConsidered.com. And have a look around. I’m still migrating material from the University-hosted site to the new commercial site. It’s taking longer than expected, of course. Everything seems to, when it comes to computers. But you can access both sites easily from the new one. Just click the appropriate links on the home page.

And continue to send your comments and suggestions to me at RobertCAngel@gmail.com. I read them all. Answer directly as many as possible. And take them all into consideration when planning future programs. So, keep ‘em coming!

Speaking of the value of e-mailed suggestions, a number of you wrote to comment on the “collective security” issue I discussed week before last. All sorts of assessments and opinions. But common to most of the comments was interest in more information about this important, but complicated, topic.

In response, this week we have a Skype-phone interview with Dr. James Auer, Director of the Center for U.S.-Japan Studies and Cooperation at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee. Few Americans are more qualified than Jim to discuss Japan’s collective security issue. So, we’ll begin with his comments.

After talking with Jim, we’ll consider the larger significance of the unfortunate death this week of Japan’s Minister of Agriculture, Toshikatsu Matsuoka. Reviewing the circumstances, their effect on Japan’s national political scene, and their longer-term significance.

At the end of the program, I’ll be sure to add the clip of excellent bluegrass music that I forgot to bring along in the mobile studio.

Dr. James Auer on Japan’s Collective Security Debate

So, let’s go right to the interview with Jim Auer.

RCA: Good morning, Jim. Bob Angel

JA: Good morning, Bob.

RCA: Thanks for joining us this morning, Jim, on the Japan Considered Podcast. Week before last I made a few amateurish comments about the collective security debate in Japan. Those comments elicited quite a few e-mails from various listeners. I was hoping you could come on and provide us with a little more expert analysis. Especially on the significance of the issue.

JA: Well, I’ve just been running through my mind a six-step process that began in 1945. When General MacArthur, as one of the very first orders of the General Headquarters, ordered that Japan be disarmed. In 1947, General MacArthur again provided … Well, in 1946, going into effect in 1947…. Presented Japan with a constitution that was understood to prohibit any kind of Japanese armament in the future. And I emphasize “understood.” Because later the wording of the constitution was said to allow armament for self defense.

The third step would be in 1950. When Japan was still under occupation. Still under MacArthur. And essentially, the very same MacArthur ordered the rearmament of Japan in the form of a National Police Reserve, the Keisatsu Yobitai, which was the forerunner of today’s Ground Self Defense Force.

With the end of the occupation in 1952, Japan accepted MacArthur’s second, or 1950 formulation, that Japan was allowed to have military forces for the purpose of self defense.

The fifth step was in 1955, when Japan joined the United Nations. One of the principle missions of the United Nations is to allow its members to join together voluntarily for collective self defense. And the Charter gives every member nation that right of collective self defense.

Then the final step was in 1972, when, not the Japanese courts interpreting the constitution. But the Cabinet Legislative Bureau, an arm of the executive branch of the government. Made a statement that Japan had the right of collective self defense as a sovereign nation. However it could not exercise that right, owing to the constitution.

People such as former ambassador Hisahiko Okazaki argue that was a legal political decision. That, in fact, it was a political decision of the Sato government of that time. Rather than an interpretation of the constitution.

RCA: Why was that political decision made at that time? Do you have any thoughts on that?

JA: Well, according again to Okazaki, at those times, up through the 1980s, the LDP had absolute majorities in both Houses of the Diet. The Opposition had very little leverage. Therefore, the one tactic they could sometimes use to pressure the government was to walk out before the passage of the annual budget. In March of each year. That happened in that year of 1972. The LDP could have passed the budget without the participation of the opposition. But rather than being accused of exercising what the Japanese press sometimes called the “tyranny of the majority,” the LDP would sometimes bribe, virtually, the Opposition to come back. And some people feel this statement by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau was, in fact, a bribe to get the Opposition to come back and vote against the budget. So the budget could be passed by the LDP majority.

RCA: I don’t hear too much about that these days.

JA: Well, most people think it goes back to the original constitution. But it does not. Another thing to keep in mind is that in 1972 it really didn’t make any difference. The Self Defense forces had little capability. Considered today, however, what if North Korea launches a missile? Theoretically, if that decision of 1972 is to be followed, Japan cannot shoot down that missile until it is sure that the missile is coming to Japan. And therefore it is individual self defense. Rather than going to the United States or some other foreign country. But by the time it becomes clear the missile is coming to Japan, it’s several seconds over Tokyo. So, even though it would be against Japan’s national interest, theoretically, if Japan does say that it cannot intercept a missile until it knows the missile’s final destination, despite having the technological capability to intercept it earlier, Japan cannot act in its own self interest. And those kinds of scenarios are why Mr. Abe and others consider that the 1972 policy decision simply needs to be changed.

RCA: That makes sense. And by the way, that six-step analysis is an excellent summary. I haven’t heard it put that way before. But some of the people in the LDP…. Granted, they tend to be from the anti-mainstream factions now. But they argue that the whole thing should be handled through revision of the constitution rather than reinterpretation. What do you think of that?

JA: It’s true, you could revise the constitution to make it specifically clear that the Self Defense Forces, for example, are legal, that collective self defense is authorized. However, again, the critical decision, it seems to me, is whether that decision made in 1972 was, in fact, a political decision? Or was it a legal interpretation of the constitution? The constitution has been made by its American authors extraordinarily difficult to revise. And the LDP back in the sixties, and the LDP today, didn’t have enough of a majority to change the constitution. But, again, it was an LDP government that made this political decision to say that, in fact, Japan cannot exercise collective self defense.

If, in fact, Okazaki is correct that that was a political decision rather than a legal interpretation, then the current government, or any future government of Japan, is free to make a different political decision. Now, the Japanese courts, the ones that should be allowed to decide what the true legal meaning of the constitution is, first of all, have been very reluctant to speak on Article Nine of the constitution at all. But when they have, they’ve said self defense is authorized. And the same Japanese courts have said that the amount of self defense for Japan to have is a political decision of the government.

RCA: What about other countries, Jim? Is it customary for other countries to have these restrictions on the exercise ….

JA: Well, I don’t know of any other country that does not allow itself to defend itself. The closest thing to the Japanese constitution that I know of was the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, or Pact of Paris. If you read the Pact of Paris, it says that all war is illegal. And no country … Every major nation of the world signed and ratified the Pact of Paris. Nobody has ever withdrawn from it. But we’ve had plenty of wars.

Why? Because when the Kellogg-Briand Pact went through the United States Senate, a senator from Idaho, Senator Borah, questioned Secretary Kellogg, asking “What if we are attacked by another country?” And Secretary Kellogg was forced to say, “Well, then we would be allowed to defend ourselves.”

That still didn’t satisfy Senator Borah. He said, “What if the other nation says that the U.S. attacked them?” And Secretary Kellogg finally had to say that each nation would decide for itself what constitutes self defense. That, in the words of Ruhl Bartlett at Fletcher, my old professor of diplomatic history, changed the Kellogg-Briand pact from outlawing all wars to outlawing self-declared wars of aggression. Of which in history there have been virtually none.

The original MacArthur formulation seemed to put Japan in a kind of isolation cell. The Kellogg-Briand pact without the Borah loophole. However, when the wording of Article Nine was changed in the Diet deliberations, Hitoshi Ashida, a member of the committee that reviewed Article Nine, made the change. He said, to make it clearer. Years later Ashida admitted that he did it to allow Japan to have self defense. MacArthur himself was advised in 1947 that if the Ashida wording would be allowed to stand, Japan could some day justify military forces for self defense. MacArthur did allow it to go forward. And, of course, MacArthur himself in 1950 in ordering Japan to form the National Police Reserve, was …. And MacArthur at that time did change his expression, saying that the Japanese constitution does not outlaw defensive force, only offensive force. And nothing in any of that time, or in the constitution, ever mentioned anything about a differentiation between individual or collective self defense.

RCA: Again, useful background information. You’ve been at this a long time, about as long as I have. Back and forth to Japan. And you’re one of the very few people who know both the Japanese side and the American side very well in these issues. I want to ask you a couple of final question. One on each side.

First, do you think that Japan’s attentive public has sort of a collective defense allergy? That the public will be opposed to a change?

JA: I think that anyone who has thought seriously about this issue will not oppose the change. And, in fact, many young people who don’t know any of this background, cannot understand at all why Japan has a prohibition. If Japan has self defense forces, why Japan is prohibited from using them in Japan’s national interest.

RCA: So, it’s a question of explaining the issue …

JA: Those people who still maintain…. Those few remaining pure elements of Japan’s Socialist Party, still do, in fact, hold that the Self Defense Forces are illegal. I’m not sure I would put Taku Yamasaki quite in that camp. But by saying we ought to do this by constitutional revision, Mr. Yamasaki is saying, in effect, that we ought not to do it.

Because constitutional revision I think will come, Bob, at least in our children’s lifetimes. I’m not sure in yours and mine. It’s not a simple thing to do.

RCA: Yes, it will take a while. And that brings up the second question. Some of my contacts in Japan who oppose this. And all of them are opposed to the Abe Administration. They argue the only reason the Abe Administration is pushing this is because Washington demands it. How is the United States side viewing this collective security debate?

JA: Of course, the term “demand” is a very pejorative one. General MacArthur in 1950 when he changed his mind, could have changed the Constitution. He chose not to do so. Whether the United States suggests, recommends, demands, whatever. The United States cannot change Japan’s policy. Only Japan can change its policy.

Now, is Mr. Abe doing this because he was so delighted to go to Camp David? I don’t believe so. Mr. Abe is doing it because he thinks it’s in Japan’s national interest. If it’s not in Japan’s national interest, Japan ought not to do it, regardless what the United States thinks. But if it does makes sense for Japan. If Japan will be adversely affected if this policy is rigidly continued in the future, then, obviously it’s in Japan’s interest to change it if Japan does have the power to change it. And I think Abe believes it is under the government’s authority to go ahead and make a different political decision.

RCA: Are there any other points you think should be made about this that I’ve failed to ask you about?

JA: Again, I don’t think anyone .… If, in fact, you’re going to spend billions of dollars…. Japan is not a military superpower. But Japan’s defense budget, or let’s call it a military budget today, is one of the larger ones in the world. There’s no reason for Japan to have that if, in fact, it cannot be used in the country’s national interest in an efficient and effective manner. Otherwise they’re just wasting the taxpayers’ money.

RCA: Jim, I certainly appreciate you time this morning. I know you’re busy there. You’ve got an organization to run. And, as usual, you provide sunlight in this discussion. Thanks very much for coming on the program today.

JA: My pleasure, Bob. And thanks so much for this invaluable resource, your podcast, that you’re providing all of us.

And thanks for the kind words. That was Dr. James Auer, Director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for U.S.-Japan Studies and Cooperation. Providing us with more detail and another perspective on Japan’s collective security debate. You can learn more about Jim and his remarkable career on the Japan Considered Website Interview page. Click here for a look.

Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka’s Suicide

And now to an even more difficult topic. Last Monday, May 28th, incumbent Agriculture Minister, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, was found hanged. By his secretary and a police guard. The discovery was made not long before noon at Matsuoka’s apartment in the Akasaka residence maintained for Diet Members. Matsuoka was taken immediately to Keio University Hospital for resuscitation. But was pronounced dead around 2:00 PM the same day. He was sixty-two years old.

Matsuoka had been a member of the Lower House since 1990. Elected a total of six times by his Kumamoto Prefecture constituency. The third district. He was raised in the beautiful farming community of Aso, Kumamoto. And his whole career was related, in one way or another, to agriculture. He graduated from Tottori University with an undergraduate degree in agriculture. And worked as a career official of the Agriculture Ministry from his graduation in 1969 until his resignation to enter politics in 1988.

Since his 1990 election, Matsuoka served as chairman of the Party’s Standing Committee on Agriculture, as parliamentary vice minister, senior state secretary, and senior vice minister of Agriculture. All before being appointed Minister of Agriculture by Prime Minister Abe in September 2006. Matsuoka was best known, perhaps, for his uncompromising opposition to the liberalization of rice imports. A staunch Agriculture Zoku Member in the Lower House. Though he also played an important role more recently in the removal of the ban on U.S. beef imports. After agreeing to join the LDP inspection delegation that toured U.S. beef processing facilities.

Clearly, few members of parliament were more knowledgeable or experienced in agricultural issues than Toshikatsu Matsuoka. According to political pundits sympathetic to the Abe Cabinet, Matsuoka earned his cabinet position through this knowledge and experience. With Abe believing Matsuoka had what it would take to implement the reforms Abe had in mind.

Abe’s critics disagreed, suggesting Matsuoka’s appointment represented a blatant example of the “friends of Abe” appointment pattern. We’ve talked about this before on the program. Plus the desire to placate Japan’s powerful agriculture lobby. These critics note that Matsuoka’s “problems” were well-known to everyone, including Prime Minister Abe, long before the appointment was made. Especially the suspicions of campaign finance impropriety that appears to have proved his undoing.

See the Communist Party’s “Japan Press Weekly” for some of the best information and analysis of this topic. I’ll put a link in the show notes to this excellent source. Also, in late November 2006, “Area,” a weekly magazine published by Asahi Shimbun, carried similar reports. And Shimbun Akahata itself, around this same time, even included charges that Matsuoka had received large contributions from private companies under investigation for violations of the Antimonopoly Act. Mentioning the Japan Green Resources Agency. This is the “J-Green” organization we’ve heard so much about recently.

So, it was no surprise when less than two months after Matsuoka’s appointment as Minister of Agriculture, press reports began to appear suggesting he maintained improper relationships with private sector agricultural groups. Relationships of convenience, the reports charged. Through which Matsuoka reaped political contributions in return for political support of the agricultural groups’ lob bying objectives. There were additional rumors of “personal” difficulties involving a trip to a hot spring with a woman who was not Matsuoka’s wife. All of this within the context of the overall, largely negative, media reaction to the Abe Cabinet.

Articles charging such improper relationships continued to appear in Japan’s mainstream press throughout his appointment as Agriculture Minister. Most recently, Matsuoka was identified as one of the many members of parliament who listed large rent payments in their periodic political fund reports. When, in fact, the offices were provided rent-free to the lawmakers.

Significance of the Matsuoka Suicide for Understanding Japan’s Domestic Politics

Is this just another titillating scandal to be used by Abe Cabinet opponents in the competition to gain control of Japan’s national government? Another “Gotcha Politics” weapon to be used, and then forgotten after the election? Or, can it help us to understand recent changes in Japan’s national political environment? I believe, of course, that it has larger significance. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother mentioning it! But significant how?

Abe Cabinet critics see the suicide as further evidence of the hard-ball corruption of the incumbent Abe Cabinet. Matsuoka, they believe, was forced, as one of my informants put it, to “keep his mouth shut,” and forbidden to resign. Presumably by Prime Minister Abe. Or, with his knowledge, at least. Though none of my direct informants have made that specific charge against Abe himself.

That is, the critics continue, far from pursuing political reform, the Abe Cabinet tolerates traditional factionist/zoku/koenkai-type corruption. Accepts it, and is willing to take advantage of its benefits to maintain power. All the while waving the banner of “political reform.” Much like a pirate ship flying a false flag when approaching a targeted vessel. Matsuoka’s suicide just brought such practice more into the open.

I’ve been critical of the Abe Administration since its inception for a number of reasons. But I do believe that Prime Minister Abe and his supporters recognize the changes in Japan’s national political environment. Changes we’ve discussed frequently on this program. And that they really are trying to reform customary LDP practices to adapt to that new environment. I find them neither more nor less “moral” than their counterparts. Just more perceptive, or longer-sighted, than their more traditional factionist/zoku/koenkai Party colleagues in their pursuit of political power. They simply believe the LDP must reform to maintain its political clout!

The more blatant violations of campaign finance laws are no longer tolerated under this new national political environment. Even Japan’s political journalists are no longer quite as willing to look the other way when they learn of such goings-on. More important, police and prosecutor office investigators have become more aggressive. Both in their pursuit of the collusive business practices that require political protection to survive. And in their pursuit of politicians’ election campaign finance violations.

As significant, these more energetic investigators are being allowed to continue their investigations – if not actually being encouraged to do so – by their political masters. One recent example of this has received little press attention. But I still think it’s important. In mid-May this year, the Abe Kantei decided to reappoint Kazuhiko Takeshima to another five-year term as chairman of Japan’s Fair Trade Commission. This Commission under Takeshima’s leadership has played a leading role in pursuing charges of corporate bid-rigging and other violations of the Antimonopoly Law. In years past, prior to Takeshima’s appointment, the FTC was considered something of a paper tiger. Nothing much to worry about.

Takeshima’s reappointment faced strong opposition from within the LDP. Especially from some senior members.  And the Abe Kantei felt the heat. Some LDP leaders may have found the FTC’s aggressive behavior since Takeshima’s appointment by Prime Minister Koizumi in 2002 a considerable inconvenience. An inconvenience that made traditional fundraising all the more difficult. Japan’s businessmen don’t like to go to jail! Just one illustration of the Abe Cabinet’s commitment to political reform. But a significant one.

Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, I believe, found himself caught between two worlds. Nobody questioned his credentials as an agriculture policy expert. He knew what he was talking about. And he was recognized within the agricultural community and the government as the real thing. It was that expertise that earned him his position in the Cabinet.

But once there, required to use his expertise and connections to implement reform of the agricultural sector, Matsuoka found it impossible to escape his past. He had begun and pursued his political career since the late 1980s as a traditional LDP Zoku Giin. With close ties to the mighty Zennoh, and other agricultural organizations and corporations. Did he really try to escape? If so, how hard? It seems unlikely we will find answers to those questions.

But we can be sure that he didn’t succeed. Matsuoka’s untimely death provides even more evidence that Japan’s national political environment is changing. That traditional methods of electioneering, with the huge sums of cash required to keep them going, are no longer sustainable. Alternative campaign strategies must be devised and implemented. Political reform, that is, is no longer just a desirable objective. It’s essential to political survival!

Prime Minister Abe has selected Norihiko Akagi as Matsuoka’s replacement. That was Akagi commenting at his first press conference after appointment. As you may note by the sound of his voice, Akagi is much younger than Matsuoka. And has far less the political clout in agricultural affairs. Nonetheless he’s recognized as an agriculture policy expert. He too was a career official in the Ministry of Agriculture. Joining in 1983. He too was first elected to the Lower House in 1990. When he was only 30 years old. His grandfather, Munenori Akagi, was a legendary post-World War Two Minister of Agriculture. Appointed several times to that position. So, Akagi arrives at his Ministry with some clout. Most important for our considerations here, in contrast to his predecessor, the youthful Akagi has what even Abe Cabinet critics admit is a “clean” image. Which means, I presume, he relies less on traditional methods to raise funds, and his expenditure reports have less of the fairy tale cachet about them. Nonetheless, Akagi is a strong conservative, and if only for that reason, he’s likely to inspire criticism once in office. It will be interesting to see just how far Akagi is able – and willing – to go to carry out his reform responsibilities. I’ll keep you posted.

Concluding Comments

Well, we’re way over time, and with only two topics discussed this week. In compensation for keeping you so long, here’s that remarkable bluegrass clip from John Duffey. “Girl in the Night. From Sugar Hill’s “Always in Style.” The one I’d hoped to give you last week, but forgot to take in the mobile studio. “Always in Style” was released, I believe, in 2000. A 21-song tribute to The Man. Offering some of his best work. And that’s saying a lot. Go on over to Country Sales and pick up a copy. You’re sure not to be disappointed. I’ll put a link in the show notes to the site. [bluegrass]

Goodbye all. Until next week.