August 24, 2007; Volume 03, Number 30

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Introduction
The “Oops Corner.”
Prime Minister Abe’s Asian Tour
The Abe Cabinet Reshuffle
The Koike Storm Continues
E-Mail Comment re Prime Minister Abe’s Decision to Delay His Cabinet Reorganization
Cabinet Reshuffle Announcement Delay a Two-Edged Sword
Sources of Prime Ministerial Support: Inter-LDP and Public
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as Conflict-Adverse
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, August 24th, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 30, of the Japan Considered Podcast.

Introduction

Good to have you aboard again. For another program. I’ll try to make the trip worth your time. Looking back, this is our 83rd program. The first broadcast on November 18th, 2005. that’s a lot of talking! Though there’s much more that needs to be said. Weather here in South Carolina’s Midlands remains hot and humid. Yes! I’ll admit it. Not ideal weather here during the peak summer months. Especially this year. Oh well, it will pass.

Classes at the University started yesterday. Or, at least, those taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I have two classes this semester. One on Japan’s domestic politics. The students certainly picked an interesting time to study Japan’s domestic politics! They sure won’t have to endure re-reads of yellowed notes prepared originally for classes a decade ago. Indeed, so much has changed in Japan’s domestic political environment that it’s hard to find readings appropriate to assign. That complicates the instructor’s life. But makes class more interesting for the students. Let’s hope those who decide to stay in the class are serious. And up to the challenge. Those who aren’t will surely be disappointed, come December.   

This week again there’s been an enormous volume of interesting news from Japan. At least, interesting for this program. Mostly in Japanese. Not so much in English. Don’t know why that is. But the emphasis does seem to change from one language to the other. As a result, it’s taken me much longer to go through than normal. But it may be worth it.

The “Oops Corner.”

First off, though, one sharp-eared listener, or perhaps sharp-eyed reader, wrote in to remind me that the October 29th election I referenced during the last program actually was held on July 29th. Quite true. Thanks for the correction, and sorry for the confusion. I hope nobody took it as a prediction!

Prime Minister Abe’s Asian Tour

Before we jump into the murky waters of domestic politics, we should consider for at least a moment Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tour to South and Southeast Asia. First the specifics of the trip. And then some thoughts on its longer-term significance.

Prime Minister Abe and his entourage left Tokyo on Sunday, the 19th, to visit Indonesia, India, and Malaysia. As has become customary during these cabinet-level missions, Abe was joined by a large business delegation. Huge business delegation, in fact. Headed by Nippon Keidanren chairman, Fujio Mitarai. Presumably to demonstrate Tokyo’s interest in improved economic ties between those countries and Japan. Abe’s visit has been warmly anticipated in all three countries for the past month.

During the Indonesian leg of the trip, Abe signed a free trade agreement with Indonesia. The eighth such agreement Japan has negotiated. And expressed hope that Japan will be able to make a similar agreement with ASEAN, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in the near future. Accompanying Japanese business executives expressed support for the agreement. Though some Indonesian commentators said they thought it benefited Japan more than Indonesia.

Japan’s main concern, obviously, is security of its energy supplies. Indonesia is Japan’s largest provider of liquid natural gas, or LNG. Japanese companies have long-term contracts with Indonesia to supply LNG. But they will expire in 2010. Further, Indonesian LNG exports have been cut back recently. Due to concern over declining reserves.

Abe and President Yudhoyono also agreed to cooperate in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, in the creation of a UN framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol that’s set to expire in 2012. Specifics here were a bit vague. But Abe continued to press his view that developing as well as developed countries must cooperate if greenhouse gas reduction treaties are to work.

From Indonesia, Abe and his band of international-minded industrialists headed for India. Much of Japan’s political news coverage of the Abe trip focused on Abe’s decision to meet Proshanto Pal, the son of Radhabinod Pal, the only judge on the Tokyo Military Tribunal panel who didn’t vote to convict the Japanese leaders on trial. I’m not sure why Abe decided to include the visit to Pal during his three-day visit. Unless it was to tweak the noses of the War Apology crowd back in Japan. But visit he did. With predictable results in Japan’s communications media.

More significant during his India tour were Abe’s efforts to encourage India to join the effort to halve green house gas emissions by 2050. And Indian Prime Minister Singh’s response that environmental protection efforts had to be balanced off against efforts by poor countries, like India, to stimulate economic growth. Not a rejection of Abe’s proposal. But hardly a total affirmation either!

India hoped to hear Prime Minister Abe fully endorse their recently announced nuclear agreement with the United States. In spite of the adverse effect the agreement may have on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime. But Abe during his public statements, at least, only agreed to “fully examine and carefully consider” the agreement.

Perhaps most important of all, Abe further explained his concept of a “broader Asia,” that included, among other countries, India, Australia, Japan, and even the United States. Part of the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” concept we’ve discussed a number of times on this program. An arc composed of countries that share values and interests.

Abe left India yesterday, Thursday, for Malaysia, the third country on his itinerary. Where Abe agreed with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah’s assessment that Malaysia’s “Look East” policy had improved relations between Japan and Malaysia in recent years. Hmmm. By all accounts, Japan’s eagerness to expand economic relations with Malaysia was well received there.

Soooo, what’s the significance of all this international travel? Was it just an excuse for Abe to leave the sweltering temperatures of Tokyo for more temperate climes? That’s “political” temperature, not environmental. Certainly other national chief executives have been known to emphasize international relations – a policy area in which central political executives have more room to maneuver – when confronted with difficult domestic political environments.  

I don’t think so. The trip was long in the planning. Well before the disastrous July 29th Upper House election results were known. In fact, it seems unlikely that Abe will benefit politically from media reports of the trip. Those in Japan who support his policy agenda will be pleased. And those who oppose it will remain opposed. Or so I expect. He won’t be back in Japan until tomorrow.

It will take a while for the press to catch up. Indeed, one might well argue that Abe sacrificed important opportunities to maneuver in Tokyo as he assembled his new cabinet by deciding not to cancel the trip. We’ll just have to wait and see.

We can be sure, however, that the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” concept represents more than sophisticated bureaucratic phrase-making. Abe clearly believes Japan’s foreign relations should be guided by the principles expressed in that concept.

Of course, it’s required here to note that neither Abe’s Southeast and South Asian tour, nor the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity, are in any way directed toward Mainland China. China is a Great Friend. I haven’t heard the phrase “same blood; same characters” recently. But wouldn’t be surprised if I did. China’s remarkable economic expansion in the region is welcomed by all. Benefits all. And so on. All reminiscent of efforts to assure Moscow that expansion of NATO to include countries nearby is in no way intended to threaten or encircle Russia! Certainly not. Hard to imagine how anyone could think such a thing. And so with Japan’s growing interest in Southeast and South Asia. Nothing here to concern Beijing. Or, more important, Beijing’s friends in Japan.

Will all of this effort matter? Looking back in five years, or so? Hard to say. But we can confidently conclude that Japan is determined to develop more independent relationships with its Asian neighbors. Both economic and diplo-military. An inevitable development, to be sure. But one that shouldn’t be ignored by Washington and other national capitals with an interest in the region.

The Abe Cabinet Reshuffle

Well, it won’t be long before Prime Minister Abe announces the line-up of his new Cabinet. Early next week. Monday or Tuesday, I guess.

Japan’s political press has speculated about the makeup of that cabinet since the night of the July 29th Upper House election. Even before. Who will be held over? Who will be removed? Who will be brought in to replace those removed?

It’s clear that most, if not all, of the information available in the press is what might charitably described as “informed speculation.” That is, the sort of article based upon an anonymous tip from a well-placed political source known too provide only self-serving information. This or that minister will be retained. This or that politician expects to be brought in.

Not all of these articles are worthless, however. At least, I hope not. Having spent dozens of hours reading them over the past month! Some of the more interesting ones speculate not only on the names of the individuals. But on effect their appointment would have on the cabinet overall. Especially useful are those that distinguish between “fresh faces,” or a similar term, and “experienced political operators.” And that distinction makes sense to me.

Prime Minister Abe seems to be faced with two models as he considers the makeup of his second cabinet. The first is the traditional “factional balance” model. In which cabinet positions are allocated to the various LDP factions, in proportion to their numerical strength within the Party. The object here, obviously, is to reward the most important factions within the Party, in the hope they will stop criticizing the incumbent prime minister and cabinet.

The second model we might describe as the Kantei-led model. Whereby cabinet members are selected without regard for the recommendations of the LDP’s faction leaders. But, rather, on the basis of the suitability of the individual to oversee the work of the ministry or agency he or she will head. And, presumably, on the basis of the individual’s ability to contribute to the overall cabinet’s exercise of its responsibility in government.

It’s certain that Prime Minister Abe’s next cabinet will not be a pure example of either of these ideal types. But, its equally certain that it will favor one or the other model. Either a preponderance of Factionist picks. Or a preponderance of Kantei-led picks.

In addition to the speculation on the make-up of the new cabinet, Japan’s political press has been generous in its advice to Prime Minister Abe on the types of individuals he should select.

Some of Abe’s journalistic advisers appear to hope for a return to the “good old days,” when cabinet positions could be predicted with some certainty. Based on the number of elections won and faction membership. As could the premiership, for that matter. They recommend that he reach for political experience. Given the dire situation the LDP faces in the Upper House. Experienced individuals who won’t make mistakes. Selections best made through consultation with the LDP’s most experienced members, doncha know.

These observers often criticize the current cabinet as “friends of Abe.” Implying that it is undesirable to rely on friends to form a cabinet. That criticism always seemed a little odd to me. What should he do? Appoint known enemies?

But to be fair, Abe has included some real doozies in his current lineup. The issue really isn’t whether or not they are friends. That should be assumed! Rather, it’s their competence. Those suggesting the prime minister shouldn’t appoint his supporters really mean, I suspect, that he should rely on the advice of the LDP faction leaders. The good old fashioned way.  

No sense to speculate here on the outcome. We’ll know soon enough.

The Koike Storm Continues

 But one additional point is worth mentioning. That is the future of Defense Minister Yuriko Koike. We considered this on last week’s program. But the saga continues!

Yesterday morning, around 7AM, not long before class, I checked in to the NHK video news site on the internet. And was astounded to see Administrative Vice Minister of Defense, Takemasa Moriya, telling the assembled press how disappointed he has been in the behavior of his minister. How he accepted her decision. But that he and his bureaucratic colleagues had been treated badly.

For heaven’s sake! Moriya already had made his disdain for the military chain of command clear in his previous public announcements. What was there to be gained by another round of complaint?

I expected to see this second act of public defiance immediately criticized by Japan’s political press. Since yesterday morning I’ve looked in vain for a good example of such criticism to mention on the program. I’m really surprised. Given Japan’s 20th century history. Given the Japanese media’s long-standing concern over reassertion of civilian control over the military. How has this public act of defiance been virtually ignored? The principle of civilian control of the military doesn’t mean “bureaucratic” control! It means a military establishment obedient to the orders of Japan’s elected political leaders.

The whole thing seems incredible to me. First, why Japan’s mainstream press is willing virtually to ignore it. And second, what motivated Vice Minister Moriya to address the issue again. We may learn more about this second issue within a few weeks or months. But in the meantime …. It’s surely odd.

The second Koike-related incident occurred today. In New Delhi. During a press conference with reporters covering the Defense Minister’s visit to Pakistan and India. In response to a question, Koike told the assembled reporters that she did not intend to continue on as Defense Minister in Abe’s second cabinet. That she would leave to “assume responsibility” for leaks of sensitive information related to the Aegis missile system. That she hoped her departure would “rejuvenate” the ministry and facilitate passage of critical legislation.

Well! Had she previously informed Prime Minister Abe of her decision? We don’t know, of course. And never will. But this surely is a surprise. Those who speculated last week that Koike was persuaded not to resign her portfolio last week. During her battle with Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki. By guaranteeing her a cabinet position. Must be wondering now what actually happened.

Koike’s public statement certainly isn’t good news for Prime Minister Abe. Perhaps other high-profile candidates will be reluctant to join his second cabinet. Not a good situation. Hmmm. Since Koike’s surprise announcement, some observers have attributed her actions to an impulsive nature. To flightiness. Making comparisons with Makiko Tanaka’s ill-fated term as foreign minister in the first Koizumi cabinet. I doubt that. Watching the video tape of the press conference, I had the distinct impression that Minister Koike knew exactly what she was doing. That she had prepared the statement beforehand. Koike may be a lot of things. But she isn’t “flighty”! Such an assessment would lead to misleading conclusions. Again, as I said last week, I suspect that we have not heard the last of this. I’ll try to keep you posted.

E-Mail Comment re Prime Minister Abe’s Decision to Delay His Cabinet Reorganization

Now, let’s consider an interesting point from an e-mailed response to a comment I made on an earlier program. This one about Prime Minister Abe’s decision to delay announcement of his new cabinet members until August 27th.

I concluded that the one-month delay between the Upper House election disaster and the reorganization of the Cabinet would limit the political benefits Abe would reap from the move. And wondered aloud why he was taking so long.

An astute observer from Tokyo wrote to say that Abe’s motivation is obvious! That Abe hopes to dampen calls from within the LDP for him to resign by delaying the announcement! If senior LDP members believe they may have a chance to be selected for service in the next cabinet they’re far less likely to call for Abe’s resignation during television interviews!

Absolutely true. I should have mentioned it. Almost certainly, an important motive for the delay. Were Abe to have announced his new cabinet a day or so after the election, those senior LDP members not included in the new line-up – or given a Party post – would be certain to continue their demands for Abe’s resignation. And there are far more senior LDP members who believe they deserve a cabinet or Party post than there are cabinet or Party posts to go around. So …. Defuse immediate criticism from within the LDP by delaying the decision.

Cabinet Reshuffle Announcement Delay a Two-Edged Sword

A good explanation for the delay. And, one that provides us with an opportunity to consider once again how Japan’s premiership has changed during the past decade or so. A topic we’ve often considered on this program.

It’s likely that Prime Minister Abe’s decision to delay announcement of his new cabinet lineup for a month has muzzled some of his more vociferous critics within the LDP.

BUT, it’s just as certain that by his decision to delay the announcement he’s lost an important opportunity to improve his standing with Japan’s attentive public! There may be something of a trade-off here. Indeed, the delay may even make Abe appear less decisive in the eyes of the attentive public. Intensifying public criticism of his “leadership” ability. The factor that’s done the most damage to his public approval ratings since he assumed office ten months ago.

Why, the public may wonder, should it take a month to announce decisions that should have been made well in advance of the July 29th election? Shouldn’t he field his new team as soon as possible? Given the problems the government faces? Is the delay just another manifestation of the old “politics-as-usual” way of doing things?

Sources of Prime Ministerial Support: Inter-LDP and Public

This issue, I think, nicely illustrates the tension any Japanese prime minister now must feel, given changes during the past decade or so in Japan’s civic environment. Public approval ratings have become considerably more important for prime ministers – and prime ministerial candidates – than they were in the past. Everyone recognizes that now. This was perhaps best illustrated by Junichiro Koizumi’s assumption of the office. And his attention to public opinion once in. His critics called it “theater politics.” The public responded positively!

But also recall that Shinzo Abe was selected as LDP president and prime minister not because he belonged to the largest LDP faction. Or that he was able to distribute the largest amount of money to other faction leaders. But because of his public popularity! And the assumption that public approval would endure! The LDP these days recognizes that it needs a party president that has the approval and support of Japan’s public!

Indeed, it’s no longer enough for an aspiring LDP president and prime minister to rely on the support of the major factions within the LDP to be selected. And to remain in office, once selected. The LDP’s personalistic factions, and their leaders, still matter. But nowhere near as much as they once did. LDP faction leaders find it increasingly difficult to attract new members. And once attracted, to control the behavior of those new members.

I suspect they find it harder these days to collect the funds they need to maintain their factions. What with prosecutors’ investigators lurking behind every lamp post. Company “general affairs” managers less reluctant to fork over the ready. And those Abominable Reforms everybody talks about making it more and more difficult to facilitate anything these days. Let alone, anything worth a good financial contribution! Whether above or below the table!

Electoral politics too has changed in Japan. In response to changes in the Diet’s electoral systems. In response to the more aggressive investigation and prosecution of political finance crimes we’ve discussed before. And changes in public expectations of their elected political representatives. It’s no longer enough to promise a “seminar” at a popular hot spring, or wedding and funeral contributions, to assure votes. Those enormously expensive personalistic “koenkai” have become more and more difficult to maintain. If only because it’s so hard to collect – and then to disguise through “sloppy bookkeeping” – the money required to keep them going!

It also seems that votes from the koenkai “membership” are less dependable than they once were. Even when the organization is maintained! This varies, of course, according to the candidate and the constituency. But increasingly, candidates for Diet seats are appealing directly to the public through issue-based organization. And appearances on television programs, and television news. Discussing specific proposals designed to cope with specific issues of concern to the public. This makes for tough electoral competition. Especially in the new single-member districts. Politics for the traditional LDP Factionist/Zokuist just isn’t as much fun as it used to be!

And, LDP Diet members who have relied more in their campaigns on projection of issue positions and personality through the media – this new breed of what I’ve described as “popular” or “populist” LDP Diet members – are especially sensitive to the importance of high public approval of their Party president.

Prime Minister Abe’s decision to delay announcement of his new cabinet lineup for a month suggests to me that he’s more concerned about his critics within the LDP than he is about support of the attentive public. If true, Japan’s attentive public is bound to recognize it for just what it is, and Abe’s public approval rating will continue to decline.

Sooo …. Which is worse? Attacks from within the LDP? Or continued decline in public approval?

Hard to say. But it’s most unlikely that the traditional Factionist/Zokuist leaders of the LDP could force him from office. Indeed, they tried! And failed! We talked about that last week. The LDP isn’t about to instigate a vote of no confidence against their president under current political conditions. And it’s clear that Abe maintains support among the reform-minded members of the LDP that the LDP’s faction leaders would ignore at their peril. Therefore, criticism of Abe from within the LDP appears to me inevitable. But hardly fatal.

Continued decline in public approval is another matter again. That is likely to prove Abe’s eventual undoing. As we’ve discussed innumerable times on this program, Abe seems to believe that if he works very, very hard, Japan’s attentive public eventually will recognize his accomplishments, and reward him with support. That may be true – in the longer term. But in politics, defeat in the short-term means there is no longer term!

If given half a chance, Japan’s attentive public will support a prime minister they believe is genuinely committed to “reform.” Political and Administrative. And they will abandon a prime minister they believe is willing to compromise reform principles for the sake of political expedience. Revert to the “bad old days,” in other words.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as Conflict-Adverse

Given the type of support he initially attracted, Abe appears to be a genuine “Reformer.” In the general sense of that term. But his behavior over the past ten months suggests that he’s also a “Man of Peace.” Or, put less charitably, that he’s Conflict-Adverse. That direct confrontation upset him. And that he avoids it to the extent he can.

Abe may believe that he can eliminate – or, at least, drastically reduce – opposition to his premiership within the LDP by compromise and conciliation. As the child and grand-child of prominent LDP political leaders, he’s known many of these people for most of his life, after all. And therefore he may be reluctant to take direct, decisive action that would close the door to such conciliation.

A noble sentiment, if true. But one that would be easily misunderstood by Japan’s attentive public. Interpreted rather as willingness to compromise the principles of political reform that got him elected in the first place! We’ll have definitive evidence one way or the other, when Abe announces his new cabinet and Party leadership lineup. A traditional Faction-Balanced Cabinet would soothe LDP concerns over excessive Reformist zeal. But it would inevitably set badly with the public. And with the anti-Abe political media contingent.

This aversion to conflict may also explain the Kantei’s tepid response to the DPJ’s attacks after the election. I mentioned this briefly last week. It surprises me that the Kantei and LDP haven’t countered Ozawa’s post-election attacks with attacks of their own. Direct and equally harsh. Ozawa’s electoral strategy certainly leaves the DPJ vulnerable. If only for adopting most of Rengo’s political agenda. And the dramatic increase in government spending implementation of the DPJ “election manifesto” would entail. Yet … we’ve seen only minor counter-attacks. Presumably, to encourage cooperation in the newly-constituted Upper House. Hmmm.

All of this is puzzling. The current situation must be a huge disappointment to former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi. And to those who still support Koizumi. Perhaps, as some of the Japanese tabloids have been suggesting, that disappointment will reach the point that Koizumi will return to the field. Perhaps not as Emperor this time, but as Shogun. Which raises the question of who would be selected to sit in the big chair! Stranger things have happened ….

Concluding Comments

Well, we’re way over time again this week. Sorry about that. I’ll try to do better next week. Though we’ll have the new cabinet to deal with. At the very least. Maybe more dramatic events. Please continue to send your comments and suggestions to me at RobertCAngel@Gmail.com. And thanks for your comments on the new web site. It’s coming along. Some of you will see your suggestions implemented already.

We just don’t have time for our traditional bluegrass clip this week. I’ll look around for something truly inspiring for the next program. Soooo.

Goodbye All. Until next week.