August 17, 2007; Volume 03, Number 29

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Introduction
Japan Considered Project Interview with Gregg Rubinstein
Defense Minister Yuriko Koike At the Center of Public Controversy
The Events as They’ve Been Reported
Shiozaki’s Reaction at the Kantei
Prime Minister Abe Meets Individually with both Koike and Moriya
The Wednesday, 8/15 Cabinet Meeting and Aftermath
Significance of the Koike Personnel Controversy
The Core of the Current Conflict
Origins of the Shiozaki – Koike Rivalry
Likely Consequences of the Current Koike Tempest
The Relationship between Japan’s Politicians and Bureaucrats
The Role of the Kantei in Japan’s National Government
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, August 17th, 2007. and you are listening to Volume 03, Number 29, of the Japan Considered Podcast.

Introduction

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Robert Angel, creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project. And creator and host of this Podcast. Each week at this time, or most weeks, anyway, we consider the longer-term significance of events in the Japanese and English language news from Japan. Not every event or issue. Or even most of them. Rather, only those that seem to me to have the greatest potential for showing us how domestic politics in Japan actually works. And is likely to work in the future. And, the direction of Japan’s conduct of its international relations. Lots of change to consider here. Both domestic and international. It’s no longer safe to lean back, temple our fingers, and predict that things in Japan will return to “normal.” If we only wait a while.

Now, this isn’t the place to come for short-term predictions of events we can simply wait a few days or weeks to see happen. No crystal ball gazing here. I’m just not that smart! Used to be …. Well, used to think I was, anyway …. But that’s passed. After forty-some years of this ….

This week I’d hoped to continue our postmortem of the important July 29th Upper House election. In which the LDP lost its status as the largest Party in that House of the Diet. Lots more of significance to consider. And, judging from the commentary, both in Japanese and in English, plenty of opportunities to provide alternative explanations.

But as happens so often on this program, events we can’t afford to ignore have intervened. This week it’s eruption of the long-simmering conflict between Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihisa Shiozaki and Defense Minister Yuriko Koike. This astounding – if predictable – fracas may well have profound consequences for the Abe Administration. And even for Japan’s politics overall. Longer-term. So we have to consider it this week.  And defer continuation of our election post mortem for another week.

Japan Considered Project Interview with Gregg Rubinstein

First, though, you may want to take a look at some new material on the Japan Considered Project Website. At long last, I’ve found time to complete production of the SkypePhone interview with Mr. Gregg Rubinstein, principle of GAR Associates in Washington, D.C. Gregg’s been kind enough to come on the program as a guest commentator from time to time. This interview provides more information about him, and about his remarkable career. Interesting stuff! I’ll put a link in the program transcript to the interview. Or, just click on over to the “interviews” section of the Japan Considered website, at www.JapanConsidered.com.

I’ve also made a little more progress on migrating the remainder of the site from the University servers to the new Japan Considered Project commercial server. That never-ending task began early this year. Like most things related to computers, it’s taken far longer than I expected.

Defense Minister Yuriko Koike At the Center of Public Controversy

So, on to the controversy that erupted into the open this week. This is the political tempest swirling around recently appointed Defense Minister, Yuriko Koike. This issue has dominated Japan’s political news all week. Both print and electronic.

Some analysts have characterized it as nothing more than a personalistic, vindictive, spat. Maybe titillating fodder for the tabloids. But with little longer-term significance. That’s understandable, given the way the details have been presented in the press.

I’m inclined to disagree with this assessment, however. I believe we can learn a lot about Japan’s domestic politics by making the effort necessary to uncover the more fundamental determinants of this conflict. Just because it’s been treated sensationally by much of Japan’s political press doesn’t mean it’s not important. None of this is simple. Or straightforward. It’s politics, after all. And very high-stakes politics, at that. But it will take some digging to understand.

The Events as They’ve Been Reported

First, what’s happened? Koike was appointed Defense Minister early last month. Before long, fairly reliable rumors about her plans for Ministry of Defense personnel began to appear in Japan’s political press. Especially the suggestion that Koike intended to request the resignation of long-serving Administrative Vice Minister, Takemasa Moriya.

Last week, those rumors spread to the pages of Japan’s more reliable newspapers and television news. With the additional details that Defense Minister Koike had met with Prime Minister Abe on Monday, August 6th. And informed him that she intended to replace Moriya with Tetsuya Nishikawa.

It appears now that the meeting was, in fact, held. And that Abe and Koike departed with two significantly different interpretations of what transpired. Koike believed she had Abe’s agreement to appoint Nishikawa. Abe, judging from his subsequent behavior, appears not to recall agreeing.

Koike’s candidate to succeed Moriya, Tetsuya Nishikawa, its important to note, began his career in the National Police Agency. He’s one of many senior Defense Agency/Ministry officials who have parachuted from other ministries into the upper management positions of the Defense Agency. A practice naturally resented by the Defense Ministry “proper” bureaucrats. Those who began their careers in the Defense Agency. And whose promotions have been adversely affected by the practice. Now the Defense Agency is a proper Ministry. So, its officials hope this practice will end. That Defense “proper” officials only will be appointed. As is the rule in other ministries. And therefore, Koike’s selection of Nishikawa created resentment within the MOD ranks.

Koike justified selection of Nishikawa on the grounds that his police background ideally suited him to lead the effort to cope with problems now facing the Ministry, including investigation of classified information leaks and continuing problems with equipment procurement contracts. Suspicions of official corruption, and so on.

Shiozaki’s Reaction at the Kantei

Back at the Kantei, Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihisa Shiozaki, naturally opposed news of Koike’s meeting with Prime Minister Abe. For some time, senior ministry and agency personnel decisions have had to be run through the Kantei before announcement. Where they were vetted by a committee composed of the chief cabinet secretary and three deputy cabinet secretaries. In preparation for final approval by the Cabinet. Over the weekend, news of Shiozaki’s displeasure with Koike’s “end-run” erupted in the press. Koike hadn’t followed procedures! Had just gone off on her own!

This brought Koike back to the Kantei. And a stormy meeting with Shiozaki on Monday, the 13th. The press naturally was not invited to attend that meeting. But all reports I have seen indicate that Koike insisted that she was Minister of Defense. That political management of the bureaucracy requires that each Minister should be responsible for personnel decisions in his or her own Ministry. And that Shiozaki must arrange to have the Cabinet approve her decision at the regular Wednesday, August 15th, meeting.

There was more. Several reliable sources have reported that during her meeting with Shiozaki, Koike even threatened to resign from the Cabinet should Shiozaki and Abe refuse to support her decision.

Well … Shiozaki declined to support Koike’s decision.

Prime Minister Abe Meets Individually with both Koike and Moriya

Bear with me, now. All of this is important!

The next act in this complex drama saw Koike returning to the Kantei for another meeting. This time with Prime Minister Abe. Followed by Administrative Vice Minister Moriya. Each presented their case to the prime minister. Koike reminded Abe of what she thought was his agreement to her plan. Moriya complained that he was being treated shabbily. That Koike had failed to follow proper personnel procedures. That she had even failed to discuss her plans with him. That he had learned of her decision only after reading it in the newspaper!

Moriya further cautioned Abe that selection of non-Defense Ministry Proper Nishikawa as his successor would destroy morale within the Ministry at a sensitive time. That it would complicate efforts to pass extension of the anti-terrorism bill, and other important defense-related matters.

Following their Kantei meetings, both Minister Koike and Administrative Vice Minister Moriya made on-the-record statements to the press reiterating their positions. During which they leveled blatant personal criticism at each other. Now, that’s unusual. I was able to watch video tape of each performance via the Net. Quite a show!

Moriya repeated that he had to learn of his dismissal by reading the newspapers. And complained that Koike hadn’t followed established procedures. Koike said Moriya hadn’t returned her evening calls to his cell phone until the next day. Making her worry about his role in Defense Ministry crisis management. And so on. What a treat for Japan’s political journalists. And they made the most of it!

The Wednesday, 8/15 Cabinet Meeting and Aftermath

On Wednesday morning, the 15th, after nearly two days of conflicting reports and speculation, the Cabinet met as usual. The outcome, however, was far from conclusive. Prime Minister Abe told the press following the meeting that a decision on the Defense vice ministership succession would be delayed until after the August 27th cabinet reshuffle! Abe didn’t openly criticize Moriya. But neither did he support Koike’s position. He just repeated his admonition that the two should try to get along until the end of the month! Hmmm.

Following the Cabinet meeting, other Cabinet members made statements to the press expressing support for the principle of political control of bureaucracies. And, for adherence to established administrative procedures. I watched the video tapes of several of them. And concluded that most of the Cabinet members willing to address the issue in front of the press were firmly committed to waiting to see what would happen before they took a firm position publicly!

Prime Minister Abe’s reaction, of course, settled nothing. And served only to make him appear even more indecisive. Finally, recognizing the damage this delay was causing, Abe finally ordered Koike and Moriya to reach an immediate compromise. One that could be announced by today. Which it was.

According to press reports of today’s events in Tokyo, Moriya has agreed to resign peacefully. Further, he has agreed to be replaced not by Koike’s choice of Nishikawa. But by the head of the Defense Ministry’s personnel bureau, Kohei Masuda. Masuda is a Defense Ministry “proper” official, who joined JDA in 1975. With a reputation for competence well above that of some of his seniors in the Ministry who were in line for the job. That decision was announced today, temporarily taking the issue off the front pages of Japan’s papers.

Significance of the Koike Personnel Controversy

You may be thinking by now, “Why …. The papers were right. This is just a typical personalistic “inside baseball” spat. Between Koike and Moriya. Why do we need to know all of this? It’s not important enough to be on the final exam!”

Well, given the lurid details, one could be excused from reaching such a conclusion. And, judging from the coverage the incident has received in most of Japan’s political press, that’s more or less the conventional wisdom. However, as I said a moment ago, there’s more to it. A lot more.

This controversy has broader significance for at least three aspects of Japan’s domestic politics. First and most immediate, prime ministerial succession. Second, the relationship between elected government officials and the appointed bureaucrats they are supposed to supervise. An enduring theme in the study of Japan’s domestic politics. And third, the relationship between Japan’s central political executive, or the Kantei, and the various government ministries and agencies whose leaders sit in the Cabinet.

The Core of the Current Conflict

So, most of Japan’s political press has presented the current controversy swirling around Defense Minister Yuriko Koike as a dispute between Minister Koike and her long-serving Administrative Vice Minister, Takemasa Moriya. Visuals in the electronic media have featured grim-faced photos of the two, arranged to make it appear they are staring daggers at each other. And so on. The more breathy news/entertainment type shows – those with the annoying thumping musical backgrounds in their audio – have really played this up.

And, of course, there is tension between the two. But focus there results in pretty superficial analysis! Were this controversy simply a disagreement between Defense Minister Koike and Vice Minister Moriya over Moriya’s replacement, there would be little controversy at all!

Even the most jaded elderly members of the LDP’s Defense Zoku crowd would find it necessary to defend the principle of political control of government ministries and agencies. All of Japan’s press would have to agree. Whether they were intent upon ousting the current Abe Administration or not. Japan’s uniformed military forces must subordinate themselves to their civilian masters. And, equally, Japan’s civilian military bureaucrats must accept the leadership of their political masters. Japan, after all, had unfortunate experience during the last century when those principles were abandoned!

Yes, Vice Minister Moriya might have resented the way he was treated. He might have complained stealthily to the press. But were that all there was to it, Moriya is smart enough to realize that overt opposition to his Minister’s decision would only bring public criticism down on his Ministry. No. There had to be a larger issue here that emboldened Moriya to air his complaint so publicly.

Origins of the Shiozaki – Koike Rivalry

That is the long-standing tense relationship between Defense Minister Yuriko Koike and Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihisa Shiozaki. Inter-personal tension between the two has been evident – and reported in Japan’s political press – since the very beginning of the Abe Administration last year.

Yoshihisa Shiozaki clearly sees himself as a likely candidate to succeed Shinzo Abe as prime minister. Abe himself, after all, stepped from chief cabinet secretaryship into the Big Chair. As we’ve discussed on this program for nearly two years now, the chief cabinet secretary’s position as official government spokesman, and overall Kantei coordinator, provides its incumbents with great visibility. Visibility that can either enhance or tarnish their political reputations.

Shiozaki’s experience there has been decidedly mixed. The pampered Kantei press corps hasn’t taken kindly to the highly intelligent, self-confident, and well-educated, Shiozaki. By mid-December he was even being criticized publicly for excessive use of English language words in his statements to the press! And, as one Japanese journalistic observer in Tokyo remarked to me during a late 2006 phone conversation, “He’s supposed to be a politician. But he has the heart of a bureaucrat!” Sharp criticism indeed, given Shiozaki’s Tokyo University and Bank of Japan background. Not to mention, Harvard Graduate School.

However, this open – sometimes brutal – press criticism hasn’t appeared to dampen Shiozaki’s ambition. He’s maintained tight control over Kantei personnel. Including, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s five special advisers. And even – to the extent he could – members of the Cabinet. Especially over their contact with the communications media.

But Shiozaki wasn’t the only ambitious and effective politician that Shinzo Abe brought into his Administration. He also appointed former Environment Minister, Yuriko Koike, as one of his five special advisers. With responsibility for national security affairs. Reportedly upon the recommendation of Junichiro Koizumi. At the time of her appointment, Abe charged Koike with creation of a national security council for Japan. Similar to the system used by the U.S. White House. There was lots of talk about that plan during the first few months.

In fact, Japan’s political press reported that during a telephone with Stephen Hadley, President Bush’s National Security Adviser, Abe described Koike as Hadley’s “counterpart.” And informed him that Koike would visit Washington in early October to observe the workings of the White House NSC.

I’ve been unable to confirm solidly Shiozaki’s response to this news. But Japan’s political press reported that he was upset. That he called Hadley to inform him that he – Shiozaki, and not Koike – was Hadley’s counterpart. Whether true or not, little since has come of Koike’s effort to create a National Security Council system for Japan. A point often mentioned in the Japanese press as evidence of the current Kantei’s weakness.

Indeed, little was seen of Koike in the media after her Kantei appointment. Almost as if she’d entered a black hole! And Shiozaki continued to describe himself as the “control tower” for Japan’s international affairs.

Given this unfortunate interpersonal history, it’s easy to understand why newly appointed Defense Minister, Yuriko Koike, would be reluctant to discuss her plans for personnel changes at the Defense Ministry with Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki. Why she might try to short-circuit Kantei administrative procedure by getting the prime minister’s approval directly.

It’s equally easy to understand why Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki would be offended by her effort. And even be willing to openly criticize Koike’s violation of long-established bureaucratic procedure.

All resulting in an open conflict that emboldened Defense Ministry Administrative Vice Minister Moriya to appeal publicly for intervention from the Kantei to prevent his new Minister from implementing her personnel plans.

This is exactly what has happened. With predictable results. It was possible during her months of service within the Kantei as a special adviser to the prime minister for Shiozaki to limit Koike’s public exposure. But it was difficult – even politically impossible – for him to criticize her openly.

We’ve discussed all this before. But Koike, like Shiozaki, is a very hard-working, ambitious, young, reform-minded LDP Lower House Member. In contrast to Shiozaki, however, Koike knows how to present herself effectively in the media. Especially through television. She served successfully as a television  n news person before entering politics. She doesn’t let her ego get in the way of a good television presentation. Therefore, prudent opponents should think carefully before committing themselves to a battle with Yuriko Koike that will be held in the communications media!

Yoshihisa Shiozaki is hardly Yuriko Koike’s only adversary. Political or otherwise. She has consistently followed a very conservative political line. Both domestically and internationally. Probably more solidly conservative than Prime Minister Abe himself. Earning her the enmity of Japan’s Left-leaning politicians and media. But most have prudently avoided direct public conflict with her. Perhaps respecting her media skills.

Likely Consequences of the Current Koike Tempest

It’s far too early to tell how this current tempest will end. Who will benefit; who will lose. We can say, however, that it reflects badly on the Abe Kantei. On Prime Minister Abe’s “leadership” abilities. Illustrating his inclination to avoid conflict, above all. When politics sometimes requires it!

I have the sense that we’ve yet to hear all of the shoes drop. That this drama is far from over. Certainly, Abe was able to avoid the most immediately damaging outcome. By somehow persuading Koike not to resign from his Cabinet. That would have been a real disaster for him.

But, what was required to persuade her to stay? Hard to say. Maybe nothing. Just her sense of loyalty. Well … that’s possible!

It’s also possible that she received assurances from Abe of appointment in the next Cabinet. Though, how much that would be worth to an ambitious politician depends greatly on their assessment of how long that second cabinet is likely to last.

Or, perhaps, Koike simply hopes to weather this current attack without making a serious mistake. With the hope her conduct will position her favorably for the post-Abe era. Whenever that comes.

Under current conditions, she can benefit as much as be damaged by overt criticism. Especially by appearing to endure unfair personal attacks. Above all if there’s any indication that her critics are uncomfortable with a woman holding such an important cabinet position.

One example of this is former Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori’s, performance today during a TBS television interview. Mori usually can be counted on to “speak his mind.” As we all recall during his stormy period as prime minister. During today’s program he accused Koike of not behaving like a “true Samurai.” Because she demanded Moriya’s resignation. When it was clear that Moriya already intended to resign.

Moriya’s resignation, of course, wasn’t the focus of the dispute. Rather it was the choice of his successor. And most observers would know that. So Mori’s charge that Koike wasn’t behaving like a good “samurai,” probably did her more good than harm. There will be more of this in the weeks to come, I’m sure.  

The Relationship between Japan’s Politicians and Bureaucrats

Also, what does this incident tell us about the relationship between Japan’s politicians and bureaucrats? Does it demonstrate that Japan’s appointed government officials remain in charge? That their nominal political masters are mere democratic politics window dressing? As some critics charge. That the political reforms of the past two decades have been only superficial?

The casual observer could be forgiven for concluding exactly that. Here we’ve seen an administrative vice minister overturn the stated personnel intentions of his political minister through direct complaints to the prime minister. And by airing his complaints in the media. Talk about Gekokujou!

But before we come to this conclusion, I think we should consider carefully the conditions under which Vice Minister Moriya was able to prevent appointment of Nishikawa, the outsider. As I’ve explained, his success depended upon conflict between two ambitious politicians. Conflict in which he essentially became a convenient pawn. That, and a prime minister whose policy seems to be to avoid, or defer, direct interpersonal conflict whenever possible.

Critics of Koike’s conservative policy orientation, especially in the media, may now only reluctantly attack her opponents. Fearing that such action would only strengthen Koike’s position as a conservative star in the LDP’s leadership line-up. But such criticism is bound to come. Koike may have violated bureaucratic procedures by going directly to Prime Minister Abe with her personnel plans for her Ministry. But, given her relationship with Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki, her actions were understandable. Sincere concern here should focus on the larger issue of whether elected politicians or appointed senior bureaucrats exercise ultimate control over Japan’s government ministries and agencies. And I suspect it will. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Role of the Kantei in Japan’s National Government

Finally, what does this flap tell us about the evolution of the role of the central political executive in Japan’s national policy formulation and implementation processes? The role of the Kantei, in other words. Well …. It’s probably too early even to speculate. But we may be safe in concluding that the Kantei’s influence depends more than at least I thought on the presence of a decisive prime minister.

Junichiro Koizumi seemed to recognize that. And didn’t shrink from actions that provoked squeals of protest from within his own Party. He was even able to turn those protests to his own advantage! It seems Shinzo Abe finds it more difficult to accept the inevitability of opposition. That he goes to great lengths to avoid opposition to his actions. Especially opposition from within the LDP.

But that’s highly tentative. Speculative. A subject I hope to pursue in more detail on next week’s program.

Concluding Comments

Well, we’re way over time again. So, that’s all for now. As always, continue to send your comments and suggestions for the program to me directly at RobertCAngel@gmail.com. I read them all, and take each one into consideration when preparing new programs. And, while you’re at it. Click on over to the website, at www.JapanConsidered.com, and have a look around. Things are beginning to take shape. Though there’s still a lot left to do. And don’t forget the new interview with Gregg Rubinstein.

Let’s go out today with another clip from “Tone Poems,” with Tony Rice on guitar and David Grisman on mandolin. Both vintage instruments. Here’s something from Sam-Bino. I’ll put a link in the program transcript to the Album.

[bluegrass]

Goodbye all. Until next week.