June 8, 2007; Volume 03, Number 21

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Japan and Australia Hold their First Annual 2+2 Meetings
Japan at the G-8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From Beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, June 8th, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 21, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


Thanks for tuning in today. I’m Robert Angel. Creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project. And creator and host of this Podcast. Each week at this time, since mid-November 2005, we’ve considered recent events in the news from Japan that appear to have longer-term significance for Japan’s domestic politics or conduct of international relations.

We’re not a comprehensive news program. Plenty of those around already. Rather, here you’ll find analysis and interpretation of the items you’ve read or heard in the regular news. Hopefully, somewhat different analysis and interpretation than you’ll get elsewhere.

Also, for those of you new to the program, be sure to click on over to the Japan Considered Project website. At JapanConsidered.com. All one word: “Japan Considered.” I’ve had a bit more time this week to work on the migration project. It seems like an endless task. Migrating pages from the University site to their new home on the commercial site.

The interviews on the Japan Considered site continue to attract a lot of attention. Second only to these podcasts. And I hope to have another interesting interview up and running in a week or so. With more to come in the near future. So click on over. Japan Considered dot com, and have a look around.

Lots of very positive comments on last week’s program from listeners. Thanks for taking the time to write. Jim Auer proved once again to be a popular guess commentator. And, mention of his Japan Considered Project interview brought quite a large number of readers there as well.

Response to my analysis of the longer-term significance of the unfortunate Matsuoka suicide was more mixed. Some commentators appreciated it. Others suggested that I over-estimate the degree of change in Japan’s domestic political environment. On this, and on other issues.

A reasonable point. But we’ll just have to wait to see. I remain persuaded that Japan’s domestic political environment over the past couple of decades has changed in ways that make it impossible for Japan’s political candidates and parties to return to the electoral practices that worked so well for them during the “1955 System” era. And I think perception of that change will affect the behavior of Japan’s national political actors. And that, in turn, will affect the selection of Japan’s central political executive. And the behavior of that central political executive, once selected.

Please continue to send in your e-mailed comments to me at RobertCAngel@gmail.com. You don’t have to agree with my interpretations to have them read and taken seriously. I read each one, and answer directly as many as time permits. And take all of them into consideration when planning new programs and themes. So, every one is welcome.

There’s been no let-up in the domestic political and international news coming from Japan this week. International news has been especially heavy. Japan and Australia held their first 2+2 meetings in Tokyo on Wednesday. We’ll begin with a brief summary of how those meetings went, and their significance.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the G-8 Summit Meeting in Germany this week. In fact, he’s still there, due to leave tomorrow. We’ll review Japan’s participation in that global event. And compare the experience for Japan’s prime minister with earlier global summit meetings. Big change. 

In the midst of all this, North Korea decided to pop off a few more of their short-range missiles. An event noted, but almost ignored, in Japan. And a family of North Korea defectors arrived in Japan with details of how miserable life there is for the population. The first of a wave of refugees from North Korea? Oh my.

Also, there was a flurry of mixed signals on the Northern Territories issue from Moscow. Just before Prime Minister Abe was scheduled to meet Russian President Putin on the sidelines of the G-8 meeting.

Finally, if time permits, I’ll try to respond to a fairly large number of e-mail inquiries about the Upper House electoral system. So everyone can understand just what’s going on in domestic politics these days in Japan. It’s been like Americans watching cricket here for a while! Without knowing the rules of competition it’s hard to evaluate the efforts of the players. Hard to know when to cheer, and when to boo! Well, booing is hardly cricket, as they say. But, anyway, I’ll try to give a simplified version of the Upper House election rules.

Japan and Australia Hold their First Annual 2+2 Meetings

Let’s begin, then, with the meetings Japan and Australia held day before yesterday, Wednesday, June 6th, in Tokyo. Between their Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers. The “2+2” meetings we considered a while back on this program.

The official name for these meetings is the “Japan-Australia Joint Foreign and Defense Ministerial Consultations.” But 2+2 will do here. They were agreed upon during a meeting between Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and John Howard in March of this year.

This 2+2 meeting takes its nickname from the 2+2 meetings held with the United States for some time now. The “two” being ministers of foreign affairs and defense from each side.

This Wednesday’s 2+2 with Australia was significant, I think, for a number of reasons. Perhaps most important, symbolically. Because it’s the first such institutionalized diplo-military bilateral arrangement Japan has made with any country other than the United States since World War Two.

Japan’s diplomacy since the early 1950s – and especially Japan’s international military activities – has relied heavily on the intermediating role of the United States. It’s been the United States who’s urged Japan to expand the capabilities and role of its military resources since the Korean War. It was the United States who in the mid-1950s persuaded other important U.N. members to swallow their bitter World War Two memories and accept Japan as a U.N. member. It was the United States who sponsored Japan’s early membership in the international economic organizations that were so important to Japan’s post-WWII economic recovery.

Further, successive Japanese cabinets, under the 1955 System, repeatedly justified expansions of defense or military capabilities and exercises with the explanation that irresistible pressure from Washington – GaiAtsu – forced them to do it. That was the same game played over and over with unavoidable economic liberalization measures. Liberalization measures that at the time were opposed by important LDP constituencies. Successive Japanese cabinets avoided political retribution at home by blaming their actions on Washington! So, since the 1950s, Japan’s international diplo-military presence on the world stage – especially the military part – has been closely tied to the United States.

A careless or superficial observer could conclude that Tokyo’s new arrangement with Australia, the first of its kind, and all, might indicate a weakening of the U.S.-Japan defense relationship. Long a major policy aspiration of Japan’s Left.

The relationship between Tokyo and Washington remains close and healthy, however. If anything, closer today than in the past. Because contributions from each side are now becoming more balanced.

In fact, the 2+2 representatives from both sides were careful to avoid that misunderstanding in the wording of their formal joint statement and in their respective comments to the press.

The language employed was unambiguous, and worth quoting here:

“Ministers noted that the bilateral relationship was underpinned by shared democratic values, common interests in peace and stability in the region, and respective alliance relationships with the United States.”

It would be hard to get more definite than that! Note too inclusion of the “shared democratic values” phrase that appears to resonate with Foreign Minister Taro Aso’s recent values-based diplomacy theme.

Beyond the symbolic, the four diplo-military representatives agreed to some more concrete points during their first Tokyo meeting. Specifically, and prominent in the list, was their mutual concern over the North Korean nuclear and missile threat. And the abduction issue, so dear to the Abe Kantei.

They also agreed on measures intended to add substance to their evolving “quasi-alliance,” as it was described. These included more effective sharing of information with strategic significance. Cooperation in mutual disaster relief measures. Visits by military aircraft and ships from each country to the other. Beefed-up exchanges of defense or military personnel. And agreement that Japan would participate as an observer later this month in the U.S.-Australia Talisman Sabre military exercise.

The two sides also acknowledged the importance of past Japanese-Australian cooperation in U.N. peacekeeping and peace-building exercises. And agreed to cooperate in countering terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

Significantly, as was done back in March this year when Prime Ministers Abe and Howard signed their initial agreement, both sides went out of their way during press briefings and subsequent commentary to assure everyone that this is in no way intended as an anti-China alliance. It would be nice to have China more engaged constructively in global affairs. And it would be nice to have greater transparency in China’s military plans and expenditures. But everyone hoped to cooperate rather than to confront. I’m sure Beijing was greatly relieved by this assurance.

So, the whole exercise on Wednesday ended with production of a pretty normal joint statement. Nothing surprising here. So why bother to mention it? Well, “normal,” it seems to me, is the key. This new 2+2 arrangement is further evidence that Japan is becoming a more “normal” actor in international affairs. One willing to both cooperate – and to compete – in pursuit of clearly stated national objectives. Making, if true, Japan somewhat different as an international negotiating partner than it was in the past. This is further evidence that old strategies, such as blatant Gai-Atsu, and War Apology Diplomacy, are no longer as effective as they once were when dealing with Tokyo.

Japan at the G-8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany

The Japan-Australia 2+2 meetings on Wednesday were overshadowed by preparations for Prime Minister Abe’s participation in the G-8 Summit Meeting. Held this year in Heiligendamm, Germany. Abe arrived in Germany on Tuesday, the 5th. And is scheduled to leave for home on Saturday, tomorrow.

This series of international summit meetings has been held for some time now. The University of Toronto hosts an excellent website where they’ve collected web-accessible documents related to the meetings. It’s maintained by the “G-8 Research Group” of Trinity College. I’ll put a link in the transcript to their website. You should go over and have a look. Well worth adding to your bookmarks.

It’s interesting to note that the G-8 website still has a “G-7” address on the Web. That tells us something about the evolution of this international institution. Since its first meeting in November 1975 at Rambouillet, France. Only six nations were represented in the beginning. The United States, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and Japan. The intention, as I recall, was to create a smaller, more intimate gathering of the leaders of the key nations. Where they could discuss directly among themselves the global problems they all faced, and propose solutions. The G-8 website includes comprehensive historical material. So I’ll just encourage those of you interested to drop over there and have a look.

Abe’s schedule in Germany has been chuck full of meetings. The G-8 meetings themselves, of course. And a number of bilateral meetings on the sidelines. One-on-one meetings that may well be more important than the main event! He met on Tuesday with Chancellor Merkel. On Wednesday with President Bush, and with France’s newly elected President, Nicholas Sarkozy. And yesterday he met with President Putin of Russia. Today’s one-on-one schedule includes U.N. Secretary General Ban and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Some schedule! Glad I don’t have to follow it.

So far, reports from the press corps accompanying Abe in Germany have been positive. The potential for friction during the Putin and Hu meetings appears not to have materialized. A good sign. Though it’s early to tell what actually went on.

This year’s meeting has focused on countermeasures against global warming. What the major nations of the world can do to limit the damage done to the world’s environment by greenhouse gas emissions. Prime Minister Abe has been interested in this problem for some time now. We considered his efforts week before last on this program. Focusing on his “Utsukushii Hoshi 50” proposal that would cut C02 emissions by 50 percent by the year 2050.

Japan’s Summit Sherpas – and certainly Prime Minister Abe himself – must have been pleased to see this proposal become a major focus of the meeting. Even U.S. President Bush responded encouragingly to the idea. And, German Chancellor Merkel, host of gathering this year, was supportive as well.

Yesterday, the 7th, all members of the group agreed to give the halving of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 proposal serious consideration. Serious consideration, of course, is a long way from implementation. Or even agreement! But it’s a start. And it’s clear that Japan this time played a role in bringing the Europeans and Americans somewhat closer together on this key issue. It seems likely that if nothing else, the attention given the “2050” “50” proposal will become a focus for future international discussions, as the current Kyoto Protocol fades into the distance.

Abe’s critics, of course, are bound to minimize his accomplishments at the G-8 meeting. That’s what democratic politics is all about. Competition among individuals and parties for the right to oversee the work of the governmental machinery. Abe’s supporters within the LDP and Komeito are likely to applaud, even exaggerate, his accomplishments. His opponents within the LDP and the Opposition parties will do the opposite.

And, as in the United States, Japan’s academics and journalists are increasingly blatant in their support for – or opposition to – one side or the other in these political debates. All but abandoning the credibility and legitimacy of presumed impartial judgment. For the excitement of participation in the contest itself. If only as cheerleaders. It certainly makes for more interesting political reading. Though one must read broadly these days to avoid collecting only information that suits our own political predispositions.

It’s still early. And we should have more news and analysis of the outcome of the G-8 Summit by next week. I’ll try to include as broad a perspective as possible. This isn’t a baseball game we’re watching, after all.

Again, however the substance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s performance at the G-8 Summit is evaluated at home, it’s quite a change from performances of his predecessors during the late 1970s and 1980s. Japan has become a far more active, more significant member of the group. No longer thought of as simply the U.S. president’s assistant. Or worse, just a transistor salesman. Or, the only person in the room unable to communicate in English or even French.

These days, the other leaders are glad to hear what Japan’s prime minister has to say, even if it has to be said through an interpreter. This, to me, is further evidence that Japan is becoming a different sort of international actor. Perhaps, again borrowing Ichiro Ozawa’s often misunderstood term, a more “normal” actor. One that participates more comfortably in the inevitable give-and-take of international negotiations.

We’ll talk more about this on future programs. But to anticipate the argument, I believe the changing role of Japan’s central political executive has played an important role in Japan’s performance on the international stage. But more on that later.

Concluding Comments

Well, explanation of the complexities of the Upper House electoral system will have to wait until next week. Maybe that’s best, because we’ll also discuss the causes and significance of the decline in public support for the Abe Cabinet, and how the LDP is preparing for the late July Upper House election.

Now, here in closing is something just a little different. Not quite bluegrass. But nonetheless, traditional music produced through high artistry, given a little technological boost. This, is the Oak Ridge Boys, now. With a short clip from their 1977 “Y’all Come Back Saloon.” It’s from their “Definitive Collection” album. That’s available from their own website, or nearly everywhere music is sold. I’ll put a link in the transcript for those of you who don’t yet own your own copy. Listen too the blending of these unusual voices.


Goodbye all. Until next week.