October 19, 2007; Volume 03, Number 37

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Some Significant Domestic and International Developments
Current State of U.S.-Japan Relations: Mr. Gregg Rubinstein Joins Us
The Interview
The Cyclical Nature of US-Japan Relations
"Patron-Client" Relations
The Effect of U.S. Presidential Elections on US-Japan Relations Commentary
Concluding Comments

Good Morning! From beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, October 19th, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 37, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


I’m Robert Angel, creator and host of this podcast. Thanks for tuning in. It’s a beautiful day for podcasting here in South Carolina’s midlands. Overcast, and quite foggy this morning. Probably from the rain last night. Which we badly needed. But it’s warm here, and just the hint of a breeze. Couldn’t be better!

Thanks to those of you who took the time to send in e-mails about last week’s program. I even had one complaint that the program wasn’t long enough! Now, that’s a First! Usually, the complaints are about programs running on and on. And on. Actually, twenty minutes is the objective. Much more than that tries the patience of most listeners, it seems. But thanks for that one vote of confidence, anyway. It’s encouraging.

A few of you wrote in to notice that at the beginning of last week’s program I said we’d discuss “Fukuda the Man.” And then didn’t deliver. Yes, quite true. And this week I fully intended to begin the program with a brief personal and political profile of Japan’s new prime minister. However, events once again intervened. Best laid plans …. And so on.

In this case it was the interview on U.S.-Japan relations I planned for the last few minutes of the program. That interview ran longer than expected. And contained so much useful information, that I decided to run the whole thing. You’ll see. It’s worth it. We’ll have the profile of Yasuo Fukuda next week, for sure. Well …. Nothing’s “sure.” But I’ll try.

Some Significant Domestic and International Developments

First, though, let’s take a moment to note a couple of significant developments. Related to topics we’ve been considering on this program in recent weeks.

Yesterday, Thursday the 18th, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura commented to the Kantei press corps on negotiations with China over the East China Sea gas exploitation dispute. Machimura said again that a political decision was required to solve the problem. And this time, he clearly said that Japan expects China to put forward a more acceptable proposal.

Not unexpected. But further evidence that the new Fukuda Cabinet isn’t willing to make significant concessions during conduct of international relations that emphasizes “dialogue,” just to achieve an agreement. Machimura’s statement, of course, would come as no surprise to those who have followed his career. And previous statements on the conduct of relations with China. But it’s also highly unlikely that he made the statement without the approval of his prime minister. We should keep an eye on this.

The second development we should keep an eye on concerns investigation of untoward relationships with government contractors in the Ministry of Defense. This issue has been bubbling along for some time now. Just below the surface, in the Japanese political tabloid press. But I was quite surprised this morning to see it appear on NHK’s news video website. And in some detail. NHK coverage of politically sensitive news can best be described as “prudent.” And in the past, an NHK decision to cover a sensitive political story like this has encouraged the rest of Japan’s “respectable” press to do the same.

The issue involves accusations that former Ministry of Defense Vice Minister, Takemasa Moriya, has been playing golf regularly with representatives of a defense contractor. Moriya’s name, the company’s name, and details of their frequent golf outings, all were mentioned. NHK also noted that MOD officials are strictly prohibited from accepting golf outings from representatives of defense contractors.

It will be interesting to see how the Fukuda Cabinet responds to this issue. Given its sensitivity. Not only for Moriya and other officials of the Defense Ministry. But for a number of senior LDP members who in the past have been associated with the Defense Zoku. Will the prosecutors’ investigators be allowed to pursue their investigations? This too is worth watching.

One final note before we go to the interview. Earlier this week I ran across a useful article for those interested in English language news from Japan. It’s on “Japan Media Review.” A site we’ve featured on this program in the past. The article is entitled “Japanese Online Media.” Written by Dean Shallard. And published last year around this time. The information is still useful, though. Especially the links in the on-line article to the various Japanese news sites. Have a look. I’ll put a link to the article in the show notes and in the program transcript.

Current State of U.S.-Japan Relations: Mr. Gregg Rubinstein Joins Us

Now, let’s listen to what Mr. Gregg Rubinstein has to say about the current state of U.S.-Japan relations. Gregg has been a frequent contributor to the podcast. He’s one more the more reasonable voices concerning U.S.-Japan relations in Washington today. Moreover, he’s one of the very few commentators who’s actually had experience in the military/defense policy area.

Gregg recently contributed a paper to the Japan Considered Project Occasional Papers series. He originally presented the paper last month in Sweden. Where it’s been published by The Center for Pacific Asia Studies (CPAS) at Stockholm University. It’s title: “US-Japan Missile Defense Cooperation: Current Status, Future Prospects.” An informed view of a topic we don’t get to read a lot about. I’ll let you know when it’s up and running. But now, let’s listen to what Gregg had to say this morning about current U.S.-Japan relations:

The Interview

RCA: Today we’re joined by Mr. Gregg Rubinstein, principal of GAR Associates in Washington, DC, and a frequent commentator on this podcast.

GAR: Good morning, Bob. Good to hear from you.

RCA: Gregg is one of the few people who, over the decades, has had actual experience working in the defense and military relationship between the United States and Japan. He’s watched it for a long time. Maybe longer than he’d like to admit. But, at any rate ….

GAR: As long as we’ve known each other.

RCA: Well, that’s true ….

GAR: Do you want to admit to that?

RCA: Others have watched it too. But I think you’re in a unique position to make comparisons over the decades about how things actually have been done. You’ve been in the loop a long time.

GAR: It does seem that way.

RCA: What, Gregg, today, are some of the most significant issues that are faced by the negotiators on the both sides of the bilateral relationship?

GAR: I would look at it this way, Bob. As with the U.S.-Japan relationship, and U.S. relations with any major partner, we have zigs, and we have zags. More progress at some points. Periods of consolidation, and perhaps even friction, at others. I would say, in the case of Japan for the last couple of years, we’ve been very much in a zig mode. A lot of issues on redefining the security relationship. Much talk about transformation of the security relationship to an alliance. A more active alliance.

You can see the evidence of this in the series of four security consultative committee statements – so-called Two-Plus-Two Meeting statements that have been issued over the past thirty month.

In recent months, I think we’ve now gone into something of a zag mode. It’s one thing to have meetings to write policy papers, to issue statements, etc. It’s another thing to do all of the hard work of actually implementing all of these agreements. On some very major issues. Developing roles, missions, and capabilities dialogue. What each side of the Alliance should do. What they need to do it with, etc. Certainly on realignment of U.S. bases in Japan. Including consolidation of U.S. facilities, particularly in Okinawa. A major U.S. move of facilities and troops from Okinawa to Guam.

All of these involve a lot of local constituencies, local politics, as well as substantive military matters, operational considerations. A great many players across a wide spectrum. And some of these issues, as you know, have been hung up for years. And are still posing some real problems.

Now, it’s easy to get very worked up about how the security relationship, or U.S.-Japan relations now, are not as great as they appeared to be a year or two ago. To bemoan the departure of key officials, worry about the month-by-month developments in the political situation.

All I can say, as you would agree, I think, with thirty-some years of watching these cycles come and go, the situation, just as it was not as rosy as it might have seemed a year or two ago, neither is it quite as bad as it seems now.

The Cyclical Nature of US-Japan Relations

RCA: What determines the nature of that cyclical process? And is it the same on both sides of the relationship?

GAR: There is a certain amount of evolution and push, followed by consolidation. I think you do see that process on both sides. The U.S., not surprisingly, is more the active party. And Japan more the passive party in this. There’s a great deal of evolution, not only in institutions and in the thinking behind it that goes into transformation of the security relationship into an alliance.

You’ve had, in the case of Japan, many years of what I would call arrested development in terms of how Japan even looks at the security dimension of its position in the world. How it views its relationship with the U.S. How it views engagements with other countries. A lot of very frozen ideas, politically volatile positions that require change, but are very difficult to implement. Both because of resistance from political parties and the media. And, just as I said, frozen and rather apathetic mindsets.

"Patron-Client" Relations

RCA: In other conversations we’ve had, I’ve heard you use the phrase “patron-client relationship” to describe some of this. Is that a phrase you’re still using? Or have you abandoned it?

GAR: Well, I would like very much to abandon it. And I look forward to the day when I can do so. But, no. It’s still there. We have lot of talk about equal partners and alliance partnerships, and so on. And I think there has definitely been evolution in that direction. But if you go underneath the rhetoric, especially once the heat is on in any particular issues, both sides, unfortunately, still tend to fall into the patron-client mode pretty quickly.

RCA: How does that play out? Is it possible to talk about how that might play out on a particular issue? Like, let’s say, the North Korean nuclear threat, or things like that?

GAR: All right. Let me start with the North Korea issue. Because that is a very good example. We have, in a broader sense, a huge issue of perhaps now being able to defuse the North Korean nuclear problem. Dismantle the facilities. Perhaps reach agreements that will contain proliferation of both weapons and technologies. And maybe even an overall settlement on the Korean Peninsula. Leading to a final resolution of the Korean War status. More active engagement of North and South Korea. Something in which all of the regional actors, all six of the parties to the current multilateral dialogue obviously have a great interest.

You have Japan’s particular angle in this too. Which is the abductee issue with North Korea. Obviously something very sensitive for the Japanese public. A great deal of political posturing over it. You have a Japanese expectation of wanting to be an engaged and equal partner in this dialogue. But on the other hand, wanting to make very sure that the U.S. bears in mind its particular considerations on the abductee issue. And will support its efforts to link further settlement of the abductee issue to any overall settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue.

Well, it’s understandable. It’s gotten a lot of public attention. Political situations will often go out so far on a limb to where they have consequences for international dealings that may far exceed the original intent, and even understanding. Look at what we’re doing right now in the Congress on the Armenian Genocide issue.

But, still, there is a basic point. Which is, that as sensitive as the abductee issue is in Japan, it is, relative to the overall settlement of the North Korean issue, a rather secondary concern. And this somehow has been lost in a lot of commentary.

There is an expectation the U.S. will understand its needs, and take particular care of them, and continue to nurture them through the multilateral process. And not diplomatically abandon or isolate Japan. And you see this coming not only from the media, and from some politicians, which you would expect. But even from seasoned officials in the Japanese government who, frankly, should know better. So there is, in this sense, an expectation of continued indulgence on the part of the client from its patron. That would be one example.

RCA: Another issue, quite different from North Korea, that you and I have talked about before, and you’ve had interesting comments on, was this question of military procurement. Something that you know more about than anybody else, I guess, in the business.

But I’m reading from time to time things in the political media about the F-22 procurement issue, and how that’s come out. Just day before yesterday, one of Japan’s senior political officials talked about the strong possibility that Japan might abandon its hopes of getting the F-22, and go to some European airplane. Is this another example of this? Or a very different process?

GAR: Well, this actually is another good example of the patron-client relationship at work. The pressure on the F-22 – Japan’s desire for it. There is a genuine issue. Which is the need to reinvigorate the Air Self Defense Force. To modernize its outdated equipment. Most of its current aircraft are outdated, or problematic, in one way or another.

But planners within the Air Self Defense Force and Ministry of Defense, and other areas of the Japanese government, have focused on procuring the F-22. Which, as you know, is the top level U.S. fighter, just being introduced in U.S. service. And not exported to any other country. Indeed, right now there’s legislation banning the export of the system. There’s been considerable pressure brought on the U.S. to have us reconsider this position.

But the whole approach is one that falls, in my opinion, in the classic patron-client mode. Somehow, as a reward for being a good ally, Japan should have access to the F-22. The F-22 has been called a symbol of the U.S.-Japan alliance. As if somehow the U.S. has to prove that it still has proper regard for the security relationship and alliance considerations by releasing this particular aircraft.

It’s interesting to note that this goes on while the real issue – is there truly an operational requirement for the F-22? Is there a justification in overall force structure terms for releasing this particular aircraft? Does it really address the problems? This remains largely un-discussed. There is starting to be a bilateral capabilities assessment group process now that the two sides have implemented. Long overdue in my opinion. But the dialogue is very slow.

Instead, the U.S. still is getting pressure from the client to favor it with release of this aircraft. And the U.S. meanwhile has not explained itself with proper operational considerations. But still assumes that in the process of this consultation that Japan will go along with the U.S. decision. Acting like the good client that it is. Opportunity here for a lot of miscommunication. And a lot of frustrated expectations and suspicions, as a result.

The Effect of U.S. Presidential Elections on US-Japan Relations Commentary

RCA: That’s interesting. I know you’re running. Preparing for a trip to Japan, and so on. But just one more thought. That you may not want to answer. But you’re one of the very few people in this business that I know who doesn’t go into “musth,” like a bull elephant, every time a U.S. presidential election approaches. And you’ve been able to …. Really, I’ve known you for a few years. Not saying how many. But I don’t know if you’re a Republican or Democrat. And I seriously doubt if I asked you, you’d tell me. So …

GAR: More accurately, it doesn’t matter.

RCA: Yeah, that’s the interesting thing. But it’s very rare. It’s very rare. And so many of our friends. And I think I myself kind of go into this frenzied mode when elections are coming up that we care about, you know. Very much like bull elephants go into a frenzy when they’re just thinking about one particular thing. And it affects their behavior. But how do you think – if at all – that the presidential election cycle in the U.S. affects this bilateral relationship? Does it matter? Or am I just ….

GAR: Well, of course it does. In that there is a cycle that each administration has of introducing new policies, pushing for issues. And then trying to clean up matters at the end. Or get things done as its perceived end draws near. And you get into lame duck mode, and so on. So it matters in that respect.

It also matters very much given Japanese expectations from the two parties. On security issues, the Japanese have always felt that the Republicans have been more friendly to Japan. They still associate the Democrats more with trade bashing, and not taking Japan seriously as an ally and partner. A lot of baggage left over from an earlier generation on that. I think, as we’ve talked about before, those attitudes are very stereotyped now. And I’m not sure they’re really as applicable as they used to be. But you still see them kick in. And again, you see the patron-client mentality here.

You know, I’ve dumped on Japan quite a bit with the two examples you’ve mentioned. But the U.S. deserves more than its share of blame too. For keeping the patron-client mentality alive. Just as the Japanese somehow want equal status, but expect to be indulged in their particular interests. So we Democrats and Republican Administrations alike, we want Japan to do more. But we also assume that Japan doing more means Japan doing what we want them to do as well.

It’s interesting. Regardless of the administration you’re talking about, the officials seldom tend to see a disconnect between those two thoughts. Doing more, and doing what we want. But it’s obviously there. One consequence of Japan evolving as it is now towards taking a more normal nation security stance is there is going to be more stand-alone thinking. And there will be actions on issues that may move in parallel with us. And generally in our direction. But not exactly as we would like. To go back to that old hackneyed phrase, we say we know how to deal with the Japan that can say no. But I often wonder if we really do. Sorry. Long-winded answer.

RCA: Not at all. That’s  very interesting. Once again, I’ve taken more of your time than we agreed that I’d be given. But it’s your own fault for providing such interesting comments.

RCA: I mentioned before we started the interview to the audience that we have a paper that you’ve written that you’ve kindly agreed that we can publish in the Occasional Papers series. That will be up very soon. As soon as I can get it done. speaking of time.

So, thanks, Gregg. I appreciate your time.

GAR: My pleasure, Bob. Any time.

Concluding Comments

Well, there you have it. Thanks again, Gregg. I hope you have a good trip to Asia. We’re over time again. But in closing, here’s a bluegrass clip that I just can’t resist adding. It’s from that 1985 Seldom Scene album, “Blue Ridge,” with Jonathan Edwards. I’ll put a link in the transcript to the album on-line. If listening to this doesn’t mist a country boy’s eyes, I don’t know what would.

[bluegrass clip]

Goodbye all. Until next week.