October 5, 2007; Volume 03, Number 35

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Comments on Last Week’s Program
Developments on the Korean Peninsula of Interest to Japan
Six-Party Talks Produce “Second-Step” Agreement
South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun Drives to Pyongyang
Japan’s Response to This Week’s Korean Peninsula Developments
Role of the United States
Japan Has a New Prime Minister
The LDP Presidential Selection Process
Prefectural Branch Election Processes
Final Voting on Sunday, September 23rd
“As Expected” … But not Quite
The Diet Members’ Votes
The Prefectural Branch Votes
Sooo, has Takeo Fukuda Become Japan’s First Traditional Factionist Prime Minister Since Yoshiro Mori?
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. Once again, from the peaceful shores of Lake Thurmond. It’s Friday, October 4th, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 35, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


Thanks for tuning in again, to you long-term listeners. And a hearty South Carolina welcome to those of you who have joined us for this first time this week. Good to be back at the microphone after an unplanned absence.

No program last week. Sorry about that. Had a slight health setback. Nothing serious. But I couldn’t talk loud enough to make a recording! Even if I’d been able to prepare one. Still, I’ve been able to keep track of the political news from Japan throughout the period. So, we’ll have something to consider here this week.

Listenership, and readership, for the program continues to expand. There were some ups-and-downs during the summer months. But the trend remained throughout solidly in the right direction. That’s nice to see. Also, special thanks to those of you who take the time to send along e-mailed comments and suggestions for the program. Those e-mails too have increased considerably. I’m still able to read every one, though. And respond directly to as many as possible. Again, you don’t have to agree with my interpretations, or selections of topics for consideration, to have your e-mails read and taken seriously. So keep ‘em coming! To RobertCAngel@gmail.com.

Comments on Last Week’s Program

Speaking of listener comments, the last program inspired quite a few more than usual. Some listeners suggested that my commentary is too easy on the conservative elements in Japan’s domestic political system. And too hard on the more progressive elements.

Well, that may be true. At least, I hope so. The overwhelming majority of the informed English language commentary on political and international Japan is done by specialists with exactly the opposite inclination. Especially that done by those of us whose careers have been exclusively, or primarily, within the academic community. Hopefully, my efforts will provide a little balance to the overall English language commentary. Or, at least, provide you with a little different perspective. Diversity of perspective is an important objective of academic life. Or it used to be, anyway. No sense in all of us singing from the same hymn book.

Another set of e-mails addressed the question of the LDP’s factions today. And how they are different from the LDP factions of the past. Certainly true! To survive, organisms must adapt to changes in their environments. Japan’s political environments – domestic and international – have changed considerably during the past few decades. So the LDP factions have had to make big changes to survive. Survive they do, however. And continue to compete to influence LDP activity from the very top of the power pyramid.

It appears now that they played a more important role in the selection of the current prime minister than they did in the selection of Prime Ministers Koizumi and Abe. It’ll be interesting to see if this changes public evaluation of the role of the LDP’s factions. Less attention, for example, given to political corruption and core elite domination of the LDP’s leadership recruitment processes. More positive evaluation of how LDP factions have provided “experience.” How they’ve facilitated coordination. And provided greater political stability. That may well be the dominant pattern of commentary we’ll see now from the Punditocracy and Tenurate. For a while, at least. But my guess is that it won’t last for long.

We’ll talk more about all that in a moment. But first, let’s turn to some important international developments.

Developments on the Korean Peninsula of Interest to Japan

As several of you have noted in your e-mail, we’ve been neglecting international relations for some time now. At a time when important things are happening!

Yes, it’s true. Lots going on in the international arena. And we claim to keep track of those things on this program. At least, the political aspects of those events. It’s not lack of interest on my part. Just lack of time. Our last program ran to an embarrassing length. Even without the excuse of a recorded interview or two to justify the over-run.

So, before getting into the arrival of Prime Minister Fukuda, we really should mention a couple of important events this week concerning Japan’s prickly neighbor, North Korea.

Six-Party Talks Produce “Second-Step” Agreement

Since we last considered Japan’s North Korea problem, another formal round of the Six-Party Talks has been held. This time to hammer out what’s called the second stage of agreements on North Korea’s denuclearization. The negotiators finished a draft of the agreement on Sunday. But the text wasn’t officially released until Wednesday, day before yesterday. Allowing the participants to return home with the text for two days to get the approval of their governments. Well, that’s the reason given by the spokesmen, anyway. Hmmm.

Under this “second-step” agreement, North Korea has agreed to permanently dismantle three of its nuclear facilities. All located at Yongbyon. One a reactor. Another a plant to manufacture nuclear fuel. And a third designed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Pyongyang has agreed to dismantle these plants by the end of this calendar year, and to allow international inspections.

In addition, Pyongyang has agreed to provide a complete list of all nuclear facilities in the country. And to provide that definitive list by the end of the year as well. If they make good on that commitment, the list would include even facilities devoted to uranium enrichment.

The United States has agreed to begin the process of de-listing North Korea as a sponsor of state terrorism. “… in parallel with North Korea’s actions,” as the document puts it. With no date announced for completion of that effort.

South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun Drives to Pyongyang

Beijing finally released the official text of the Six-Party Agreement on Wednesday. To considerable media attention. Especially in Japan. But by then, the announcement had to compete with media reports on the second summit meeting between the leaders of South and North Korea.

On Tuesday, South Korean president Roh Moo Hyun finally achieved his long-cherished goal of visiting Pyongyang. To hold a North-South Korean Summit Meeting. Following in the footsteps of then-president, Kim Dae Jung, who made the trip seven years ago.

President Roh made the most of the symbolic significance of this event for the Korean population. He decided to travel by land rather than by air from Seoul to Pyongyang. Leading a caravan of over 300 people. He began the trip with a walk across the border into North Korea that had cameras flashing and video recorders rolling. Arriving in Pyongyang on Tuesday, the 2nd of October.

President Roh has only a few months left in his term. He hopes, of course, with this trip to revive his Administration’s sagging public approval ratings. To put a bit more shine in his pursuit of the “Sunshine Policy,” you might say. And possibly, to make commitments to the North that his successor will find difficult to reverse. Since it now seems unlikely that South Korea’s next president will follow such a conciliatory line toward the North.

We don’t know, of course, what went on at the actual meetings between Roh and Kim. Though General Secretary Kim did make a surprise appearance in Pyongyang when Roh arrived. And he invited Roh, again unexpectedly, to extend his stay in Pyongyang for another day. Roh had to decline, citing commitments at home.

Roh and Kim signed an eight-point agreement summarizing the meeting’s accomplishments. According to this agreement, both sides recognize the outcome of the just-concluded Six-Party Talks. And will encourage implementation. Both sides agreed to make greater efforts to facilitate Korean economic development. And to do so in a spirit of mutual respect. That means, the South will provide more economic aid, I guess. And be polite about it when they do. And, both sides agreed the current “armistice” situation is undesirable. So they’ll work together to promote conclusion of a formal peace treaty.

South Korean President Kim Dae Jung held the first North-South Summit seven years ago. That visit led to widespread media speculation on the enormous amount of money Kim agreed to remit to the North to assure a smooth summit meeting. No news on how much Roh Moo Hyun had to pay this time for the same tour. But it must have been considerable. All part of promoting economic cooperation, doncha know. We’ll undoubtedly hear more about it in the months to come. Especially after the change in the South Korean presidency early next year.

Japan’s Response to This Week’s Korean Peninsula Developments

Japan, officially, like everyone else, has welcomed news of the “progress” in the Six-Party Talks. And of President Roh’s visit to Pyongyang. Unofficially, however, Japan has been less than pleased with the whole business. Fearing that arrangements made at both the Six Party Talks and the North-South Summit will work to the disadvantage of Japan. Japanese observers have expressed concern that the funds transferred from the South to facilitate a smooth summit meeting this time will further strengthen the Kim regime. Working against the efforts of Japan and others to limit Kim’s access to hard currency. Even the editorials in Japan’s national media have been universally cautious in their assessments. Across the political spectrum. Why?

First, because Pyongyang’s crafty diplomatic maneuvering over the decades has left North Korea with virtually no credibility in Japan. Given its limited resources, Pyongyang has had to project an image of unpredictability and recklessness in order to pursue their foreign policy objectives. The “unexplainable” in North Korea’s diplomatic behavior can only be explained this way. Why else would Pyongyang decide to lob missiles into the sea in the direction of Japan? Even over-flying Japanese territory at times. To help legitimate Japan’s Self Defense Forces? Why embark upon an incredibly expensive nuclear missile development program? Certain to attract the attention and intense opposition of the global community. Why make international agreements with no intention of maintaining them, once made?

One could go on and on. But the main point here is that North Korea has relied on this image of unpredictability and recklessness to leverage their meager assets when negotiating with more powerful states. Including Japan. While this strategy certainly has been successful in the short- and medium-term. In the longer-term, it has completely destroyed Pyongyang’s credibility in Japan. North Korean diplomatic commitments, these days, sell at a huge discount on the Tokyo market. Pyongyang simply isn’t expected to follow through with the agreements it makes. This greatly complicates the diplomatic negotiating process. For everyone involved.

Second, there’s the problem of geography. Japan lives in the neighborhood, so to speak. And while the danger of a direct military attack on Japan from North Korea is remote, the North has done its best since the 1990s to demonstrate to Japan that it’s not impossible.

Third, there’s the shocking issue of North Korean state-sponsored kidnappings of innocent Japanese citizens. Those events were routinely denied by North Korean sympathizers in Japan for decades. Denied, that is, until North Korea’s General Secretary Kim himself publicly admitted that the operations had taken place! During an official visit by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi! Flabbergasting everyone at he meeting but Kim himself. Making this shocking information public, once and for all. Hardly the sort of thing calculated to strengthen bilateral trust and confidence.

Japan’s reaction to the North Korean state-sponsored kidnapping of Japanese citizens is hard to assess. Given the domestic political sensitivity of the issue. As prime minister, Shinzo Abe refused to compromise Japan’s demands for more information on the fate of the abductees. And for return of any of them who might have survived their ordeal as prisoners in the North. Abe’s critics repeatedly charged that his refusal to compromise on the abduction issue was preventing progress in Japan’s relationship with North Korea. With suggestions that he insisted on pursuing the abduction issue only to maintain his popularity with Japan’s public.

We have no way of assessing Abe’s personal motives. But it does appear that a significant portion of Japan’s public shared Abe’s concern over the fate of the abductees and their families. And that Pyongyang’s failure to be more forthcoming on this issue has seriously corroded North Korea’s image as a reliable negotiating partner in Japan. Further complicating the jobs of Japanese diplomats assigned to handle this issue.    

Role of the United States

A further complication for Japan when assessing the recently concluded Six Party Talks Agreement and the North-South Korean summit is the position of the United States. Japan’s attentive public recognizes that Japan’s national security relies ultimately on the willingness of the United States to honor its commitments under the bilateral security treaty. Therefore, Washington’s role in efforts to cope with North Korea is of special importance to Japan.

This explains the continuous flow of articles from Japan’s communications media speculating on the possibility that Washington may decide to abandon Japan’s objectives and make their own deal with North Korea. Just to get the North Korean issue off Washington’s heavily loaded diplomatic plate. Repeated assurances from Washington that nothing of the sort is planned have failed to quiet Japan’s concerns.

“Japan may face diplomatic isolation,” is the way such concerns have been expressed. When Abe was prime minister, the assumption seemed to be that Abe only had to agree to compromise on the abduction issue to prevent that from happening. Now, with Yasuo Fukuda in the big chair, the issue has become more complex. Though it hasn’t disappeared.

Will the Lame Duck Bush Administration be willing now to settle for just the appearance of a solution to the North Korea problem? A face-saving gesture from North Korea? Simply declare an official victory while retreating? Leaving North Korea to continue to develop its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in secret? Articles suggesting this in Japan’s national media appear regularly. One of North Korea’s most important diplomatic objectives has been to persuade Washington to remove its name from the list of states who sponsor terrorism. Washington has agreed as part of the Six Party Talks second agreement to begin the review process leading to North Korea’s removal. Hmmm. Not a move Tokyo would be likely to applaud.

Sooo, Japan has had a decidedly mixed reaction to this week’s news from Korea. We’ll have to wait a while to see just how Prime Minister Fukuda responds. And if his response is fundamentally different from that of Shinzo Abe. I’ll try to keep you posted.

Japan Has a New Prime Minister

Now, on to Japan’s new prime minister.

 Our last program was recorded on Friday, September 21st. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had announced his resignation. Soon thereafter he entered Keio University Hospital. The LDP was frantically searching for an appropriate replacement. Someone capable of cleaning up the mess, as one close-in observer explained it to me.

Two candidates had emerged by then: LDP Secretary-General, Taro Aso. Who until recently had served as Foreign Minister in Shinzo Abe’s cabinet. Apparently Abe’s preferred successor. The second candidate was Yasuo Fukuda. A long-serving chief cabinet secretary. Son of the late Takeo Fukuda. Whose name was mentioned as an alternative to Shinzo Abe during last year’s LDP presidential race. A person familiar to most everyone in Japan. Though he’d managed pretty much to stay off the front pages since resigning the highly visible chief cabinet secretary-ship. A few other names had been suggested early in the race. Either by their supporters, or by themselves. Maybe in the hope of getting lucky while competition for the job was so limited.

So, today, playing catch-up, let’s begin with a preliminary look at the process through which Yasuo Fukuda was selected to be the LDP’s next president. And thereby, Japan’s next prime minister. Then we’ll take a brief look at this interesting political figure himself. And finally, we’ll try to make some sense of the longer-term significance of these events for Japan’s domestic politics. And national political leadership.

The LDP Presidential Selection Process

The LDP held its presidential election the Sunday after our last program. On September 23rd. Results were pretty much as expected. At least, Fukuda’s victory was expected. Though there were some aspects of that victory that we probably should consider here. If only briefly. In order to understand the longer-term significance of Fukuda’s selection.

Prefectural Branch Election Processes

Each LDP prefectural branch decides how to allocate their three votes among the candidates standing. Again this time around, I have only limited information from the prefectural branch level. But, according to media reports at the time, thirty-five of the prefectural branches decided to allow all Party members in good standing to vote in a primary-like election. Other branches restricted the selection process to the representatives of the Branch. Ten of the 35 branches holding primary-type elections decided to give all three of their prefecture’s votes to the candidate getting the most votes. The other branches decided to apportion the three votes according to the percentage of the vote received by each candidate.

Even with some prefectural branches holding primary-type elections open to all Party members, the situation was quite different from that when Junichiro Koizumi and Makiko Tanaka were able to stampede a reluctant LDP Diet caucus into supporting Koizumi. However, this indicates to me that LDP Prefectural Branch officials are sensitive to the growing demand for broader participation in the selection process. It’s a lot easier for three or four senior officials to get together and decide how to cast the Branch’s votes than it is to go to all the trouble and expense of conducting a primary-like election. So, their decision to do it that way had to be more than a nicety.

Final Voting on Sunday, September 23rd

Sunday, September 23rd was the big day. All eyes were on LDP headquarters to see how the vote would turn out. Around 1:00 p.m., Tokyo Time, the LDP members from both the Lower and Upper Houses of the Diet assembled for the event. They were joined in the big hall by representatives of the prefectural branches, and voting began. The result was announced around 3:00 p.m.

As expected, Yasuo Fukuda was the winner. He received a total of 330 votes. 254 of those 330 votes came from the LDP Diet delegation, and 76 came from the prefectural branch representatives. Taro Aso, on the other hand, received a total of 197 votes. 65 from the prefectural branches and 132 from the LDP Diet delegation. One vote was spoiled. With that announcement, the LDP had a new president.

“As Expected” … But not Quite

So, Yasuo Fukuda won. As expected. But, really, not quite “as expected.” Fukuda, in fact, was expected to win considerably more of the vote than he did. Fukuda’s supporters had expected a real landslide. Especially from the LDP’s parliamentary delegation. Given the near-universal support he’d been promised by the faction leaders. More optimistic estimates from the Fukuda came went as high as 280 votes. Even higher. And with good reason!

Fukuda’s supporters also expected him to be more popular in the prefectural voting. Winning at least 80 or 85 of their 141 votes. This would total around 360 votes or more. Resulting in a real “landslide.” Well, that just didn’t happen.

Sooo, what did happen? How was Taro Aso able to attract nearly 200 votes? With 132 of them coming from the LDP Diet delegation! Even he was surprised with the outcome. Hard to say with any degree of certainty. Since the LDP held a secret ballot. Members could vote for the candidate of their choice without risking retribution.

The final outcome was even more puzzling when we consider that the Machimura Faction managers of Fukuda’s campaign had required members of other factions to sign letters of agreement when they came around to offer their support to Fukuda. According to one source, as many as 280 members of the LDP’s Lower and Upper House delegations did so! Justifying the Fukuda camp’s pre-election optimism. Everyone loves a winner, it seems.

Well, Fukuda, had only 254 votes from his Diet colleagues when the actual ballots were counted. Meaning that at least 26 of the Members officially pledged to Fukuda before the election actually voted for Aso! No news on who they were yet. And I don’t expect we’ll hear anytime soon.

The results of the prefectural chapter voting may be even more significant. In the longer-term. Aso was considerably more popular than expected, especially in metropolitan areas where “primary-like” balloting was held. In fact, one Japanese newspaper reported that Aso actually received more rank-and-file ballots overall than did Fukuda!

So, if we’re going to understand the real significance of this LDP presidential election, we need to go well beyond the final vote tally.

The Diet Members’ Votes

Considering first the LDP Diet Members’ votes, it’s clear that Fukuda must tread carefully during his first few months in office. Or face the possibility of significant intra-Party opposition. Why did 132 of his Diet colleagues give their support to Taro Aso?

Japan’s political press has been full of explanations, of course. Some observers suggest that Aso’s more conservative policy orientation attracted the votes of a goodly number of the LDP’s members. Or, amoun ting to the same thing, that Fukuda’s more liberal, or conciliatory, image worked against him with more LDP members than expected.

Other observers have concluded that Aso’s unexpectedly high vote total had little to do with Aso’s policy orientation. Or Fukuda’s policy orientation, for that matter. And more to do with resentment of the process through which the election was conducted. That is, reversion to the traditional Factionist-dominated leadership selection process of years gone by. So, they voted against the candidate supported by the traditional Faction leaders.

Other well-informed observers have suggested a less idealistic interpretation. They say members of other factions resented the way the Machimura Faction members ran the campaign. Especially their insistence on signed letters of support. And that the final vote tally represents that resentment.  

So, who knows? There likely are as many explanations as there were votes cast. But it’s   something Fukuda and his supporters are bound to be thinking about today. Just how much support will they really have within their own Party? Once the relief over finally getting rid of Shinzo Abe has worn off. And, how can the Fukuda Administration win at least some of that opposition over to their own side? Good old fashioned mutual back-scratching? Handing out benefits in a balanced fashion? Doing other favors? Or, would pursuit of those traditional methods do more harm than good? In the current political environment. And, what does this result say about the current state of factions within the LDP?

The Prefectural Branch Votes

The prefectural branch balloting may have even greater longer-term significance for the new Fukuda Administration. Since sooner or later the LDP will have to face the voters in a general election. And the Party relies more heavily on its prefectural and local branches during general elections than at any other time.

As I mentioned a moment ago, my information on politics at the prefectural and local levels is quite limited. Sooo, the temptation to make broad generalizations is irresistible. It’s really easy, I’ve discovered, to generalize about matters we know little about! But I do think it’s fair to say that prefectural and local branch offices have become more important to the Party since revision of the Lower House electoral system during the 1990s. LDP candidates, that is, rely more heavily on them than they did in the past. If so, that helps explain concern over the results of the Prefectural voting.

While the 135 votes he received from Diet member colleagues was a pleasant surprise for Taro Aso, his performance in the prefectural balloting was even more impressive. 65 of the 121 total is nothing to sneeze at. Especially when the other candidate had the announced support of the “main office,” so to speak. And appeared to be a shoo-in winner. This has to concern LDP Lower House members who will be facing the electorate in those same districts!

One point I haven’t seen mentioned in Japan’s political press is the significance of Aso occupying the Party’s secretary generalship at the time of the election. We all know that the LDP’s secretaries general wield considerable power within the Party. And that they play pivotal roles in general elections. Could that have helped Aso during this most recent contest?

Another point to consider about the prefectural component of the LDP presidential election is the geographic distribution of prefectural support for Aso. Several usually reliable political news sources in Japan have written that Aso did better in the large metropolitan areas than he did in the more rural prefectures. Hmmm. With Japan’s population continuing to concentrate in its major metropolitan areas, this might be significant. Also, that he did considerably better among younger voters than older voters.

Sooo, it’s likely that the new Fukuda Administration will be spending time improving its relationships with the prefectural branches. In anticipation of the next general election.

Sooo, has Takeo Fukuda Become Japan’s First Traditional Factionist Prime Minister Since Yoshiro Mori?

I’m way over time again this week. So I can only raise this important question. It’s probably too early to address it responsibly, anyway. Since we have little information upon which to base conclusions.

But, that said, since the announcement of near-universal faction leader support for the candidacy of Yasuo Fukuda, critics have charged that the LDP has reverted to the “bad old days.” Even I may have uttered the term “Paleo-LDP,” or something like that, while assessing Fukuda’s candidacy. Taro Aso and his supporters within the LDP Diet delegation have described Fukuda as the choice of the Faction Leaders. While warning that Japan’s attentive public will look with suspicion on a new LDP president who has been selected in the now discredited murky backroom dealings mode. A step back for the Party.

Leaders of the DPJ, of course, could not resist making the same charge. Nor should they. With even more vigor. Fukuda, they charged, was the product of blatant factionist dealings. So he inevitably would be beholden to those faction leaders during his premiership.

Well, it’s impossible to deny that Fukuda owes his September 23rd victory to the support of the Faction leaders. Without that, it seems unlikely that he would even have become a candidate for the office. So, in that sense he must be described as a Factionist LDP president and prime minister. I don’t deny it! Indeed, I consider it a very important part of the overall picture.

But we may need a more nuanced definition, or understanding, of “Factionist” support, to use the concept effectively when applying it to Fukuda. That is, we may find that the relationship between the LDP’s faction leaders and their Party president is more complex than a simple bargaining model would suggest.

We’ll just have to wait until next week to consider this important point. I hope to have more for you then. But maybe the difference lies in which party initiated the support relationship. Did the aspiring candidate go, hat in hand, to the Faction Leaders and ask for their support? Promising, in return, certain benefits once he assumed office? Or, did the Faction Leaders, frantic to find an appropriate successor, go to the person who ultimately became the candidate to urge – even beg – him to run? Proffering their support should he agree to do so? That would lead to quite a different sort of bargaining process, it seems to me. But more on all this next week.

Concluding Comments

Once again, we’re way over time. The program’s run far too long to take time for the usual clip of bluegrass at the end. Next time, for sure, though! Until then,

Goodbye All. Until next week.