November 9, 2007; Volume 03, Number 40

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Introduction
Yet Another Bilateral Meeting of the East China Sea Gas Field Negotiators
Japan’s Prosecutors Intensify Their Ministry of Defense Investigation
Political Scandals in Japan: The Traditional Pattern
Will It Really Matter?
The Second Fukuda-Ozawa Closed-Door Meeting
Ozawa Pitches a Fit and Submits His Resignation
… And Then Retracts It!
Longer-Term Significance of All This
Concluding Comments

Good Morning from Beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, November 11th, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 40, of the Japan Considered Podcast.

Introduction

I’m Robert Angel. Creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project. And creator and host of this Podcast. Good to have you aboard on this beautiful South Carolina November day. The sun is shining. That Carolina blue sky shows through the pine trees outside the home studio window. And the temperature is a balmy 60 degrees, or so. Well, almost. Were conditions any better, we’d have to raise taxes!

Today, once again, we’re going to have to focus on unusual developments in Japan’s domestic politics. Indeed, pretty much following the themes we covered last week: the investigation of corruption at the Ministry of Defense; surprising developments in parliamentary politics; and the second segment of the preliminary profile of Yasuo Fukuda, the man.

Yet Another Bilateral Meeting of the East China Sea Gas Field Negotiators

First, though, some international developments we need to consider. Concerning recent developments in Japan’s negotiations with Mainland China over exploitation of gas fields in the East China Sea. This is a topic we’ve watched closely on this program. Both for it’s actual importance. And for what it shows us about Japan’s overall conduct of international relations.

Earlier today, Japan time, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura announced that Japan and China have scheduled the eleventh meeting of their senior working-level negotiating group. It’ll be held next Wednesday, the 14th, in Tokyo. Once again, Foreign Minister Komura urged Beijing to come up with a “political decision.” One that would lead toward settlement of this difficult issue. And he committed Japan to respond positively to a meaningful Chinese initiative.

There were two other points of interest in today’s announcement. First, Komura admitted that it appears difficult to achieve a final solution to the East China Sea problem by this fall. As Japanese and Chinese leaders have repeatedly instructed their negotiators to accomplish for the past year or so. Instead, it’s likely the negotiators will produce only an “interim report” of progress made thus far.

Second, reporters asked Komura if failure to reach a final settlement of the East China Sea dispute would affect Prime Minister Fukuda’s plans to visit China. In December or January. Komura replied that it wouldn’t necessarily affect the trip. Indicating that Fukuda has no intention of making such a settlement a condition for his visit.

All of this suggests that Prime Minister Fukuda’s government is maintaining a flexible position on this important territorial dispute with Mainland China. That they’ve decided not to draw a line in the sand, so to speak. That they’re willing to continue negotiations for as long as it takes. And, perhaps most important, that Fukuda is no more willing than his last two predecessors to make dramatic concessions to Beijing just to achieve an agreement. Even if such a concession would assure him a warmer welcome in Beijing when he visits. We’ll have keep an eye out for reports of developments during and after the meeting next week.

Of course, the East China Sea gas exploitation dispute is only one issue in Japan’s increasingly complex relationship with Mainland China. And, from Beijing’s perspective, certainly not the most significant. Economic issues also loom large. One example. Largely unnoticed in the English language media, 2007 is the last fiscal year that Japan will provide China with preferential yen loans.

These yen loans began in 1979, if memory serves. And now constitute the most important part of Japan’s foreign aid to China. Many observers in Japan believe China now has developed economically to the point that concessionary loans from Japan are no longer appropriate. Especially when expansion – or even maintenance! – of Japan’s foreign aid budget is such a tough sell during national budget preparations. Also, outbursts of the sometimes violent “spontaneous” anti-Japan public demonstrations in China during the Koizumi era didn’t help either. China, of course, would prefer to have the loans continue. No surprise there! But I doubt that we’ll hear much “outrage” from Beijing about the cuts. The bilateral relationship has changed, and now even Beijing seems to realize it. That’s something folks in Washington too might benefit from studying carefully as they prepare for Prime Minister Fukuda’s visit.   

Japan under the Fukuda Administration also continues to watch China’s efforts to develop its military capabilities. Including recent significant developments in space technology. Some pretty significant. With special attention to those accomplishments that have military potential. So, there’s plenty to keep Japan’s China School diplomats busy for years to come. Even if they do achieve a sudden break-through in the East China Sea dispute.

Japan’s Prosecutors Intensify Their Ministry of Defense Investigation

Now let’s turn to the corruption investigations surrounding the Ministry of Defense. We spent some time last week discussing this. With focus on former administrative vice minister of Defense, Takemasa Moriya’s, sworn testimony before the Lower House special committee.

Moriya, we noted, appeared to survive his two and a half-hour grilling by the Committee quite comfortably. He skillfully provided committee members with a few additional pieces of information. Including the suggestion that certain Diet members may have joined in the Yasuda Corporation-funded Moriya-Miyazaki festivities from time to time. But that was hardly a surprise. Maybe just a gentle warning for over-zealous committee members.

I admitted on the last program that I was skeptical of the DPJ threat week before last to call Moriya before the Upper House as a sworn witness. If the Lower House didn’t do a good enough job of interrogating him. If only because senior DPJ members too seem to have shared the Yamada Corporation’s favors over the years.

But my skepticism appears to have been unwarranted. Day before yesterday, the 9th, the LDP and DPJ Upper House Diet Committee chairmen announced agreement to summon both Moriya and his golfing friend, Motonobu Miyazaki, to testify. Moriya again as a sworn witness. Miyazaki as an unsworn witness. The event, they said, is scheduled for Thursday of next week. The Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is chaired by DPJ member, Toshimi Kitazawa. And ten of the 21 committee’s seats are held by DPJ members. Giving the DPJ plenty of opportunity to question Moriya and Miyazaki about their relationship. Or, perhaps better put, no excuse not to!

Yesterday, one day after the Upper House decision to call Miyazaki to testify, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor arrested Miyazaki. On suspicion, the press reported, that Miyazaki embezzled a large amount of funds from Yamada Corporation’s U.S. affiliate. Money that eventually was used to entertain Moriya and other MOD officials. Following the arrest of Miyazaki and other Yamada-related executives, the Prosecutor’s investigators raided Miyazaki’s home and the Tokyo office of Nihon Mirise, a company Miyazaki established upon leaving Yamada. And the one involved in the law suit we discussed last week.

This is a significant development. Suggesting that the prosecutors are being allowed to pursue their investigation without political interference. Seizure of dozens of boxes of corporate records may well provide the prosecutors’ investigators with additional information they can use in their investigation. At least, they can be used to convince reluctant suspects that the prosecutors have more evidence to use against them. No news yet on how the arrest will affect Miyazaki’s summons to testify before the Upper House.

Political Scandals in Japan: The Traditional Pattern

All of this is complicated. Requiring charts and diagrams to keep track of all the players. But if complicated, it also follows a well-understood script. Time and again Japan’s national political world has been rocked by similar financial scandals. Most of you will recall the Recruit Scandal. And many of you may have been around during the astounding Lockheed Scandal, and its political aftermath. Only a few, probably, will recall the complex details of the 1960s Black Mist Scandal. Which, really, was a whole series of political scandals. Not just one.

The pattern of “discovery,” prosecution, and subsequent political response, has been similar throughout the course of each of these scandals. Evidence of corrupt political relationships between prominent elected and/or appointed government officials and private interests dependent upon government favor erupts from an unintended leak. Japan’s political journalists express shock and amazement over such “unimaginable” goings-on. Indignant editorials are penned! Righteous passions blossom in every field! In spite of the fact that such “unimaginable goings-on” have all along been close to general knowledge in Japan’s political world. For decades!

Additional details of the particular corrupt practices under investigation then leak into the media. From a variety of sources. Sometimes even including the prosecutors’ offices, it’s said. At some point, “shakai-bu,” or “metro news,” reporters, as well as political reporters, are unleashed to pursue the story. Reporters who don’t have long-term close personal relationships with the senior politicians and bureaucrats under investigation.

Then arrests are made; confessions given, or coerced; waves of “responsibility-taking” resignations are gravely reported. And finally some convictions, and even jail time, for a few key participants.

After that, everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief and goes back to work. In the past, elected officials convicted of corruption might even return to public life after describing themselves as being “cleansed” by re-election. Not so much of that any more. But I guess it’s not impossible. We’re likely to see the current Yamada-Mirise-MOD scandal follow this very pattern in the weeks and months to come. 

Will It Really Matter?

But, if this is a known pattern, will it really matter? Or is it just more Political Kabuki? Actors going through the motions before Japan’s attentive public? With little enduring political significance?

Hard to say. But it may well matter. At least, more than past performances of the same play have mattered. We’ve talked about this before. I believe Japan’s civic environment has undergone important changes since around the late 1980s, or early 1990s. Changes that make it more difficult for the very top level of Japan’s national political and bureaucratic elite to operate largely isolated from public attitudes. The changes have been gradual, not abrupt, or revolutionary. Reform of Japan’s Lower House electoral system in 1994 amplified the significance of these changes. More on that electoral system in a moment.

Some of Japan’s elected government officials appear to have recognized the significance of this change. And efforts to reform the operation of the LDP, I think, have been motivated largely by such recognition. Not just Junichiro Koizumi. And the 2005 newly elected “Koizumi Children,” as they’re called. But considerably more of the total LDP membership.

The traditional Faction-Zoku-Koenkai system of electing LDP members is no longer as effective as it was in the past. As important, it’s no longer required by the old medium-sized, multi-member, single-vote Lower House electoral system. That resulted in members of the same party running against each other in the medium-sized districts. It’s also become far more difficult in this new civic environment to raise and spend the enormous amounts of under-the-table money required to keep it going. Japan’s attentive public – especially its increasingly urbanized attentive public – is no longer as willing to turn a blind eye to the blatantly corrupt practices required to fund the old system.

Sooo, it seems to me likely that yet another widely publicized political corruption scandal , over time, will strengthen the position of those within the LDP – and other parties, for that matter – who preach the Political Reform gospel. That it will disadvantage those who openly propose, or quietly work toward, a return to the traditional system of tight elite control of national politics. And, if that’s so, it will matter! This is far from inevitable, of course. But it makes the investigation of this issue worthy of our attention. Well beyond idle, prurient curiosity. As always, I’ll try to keep you posted.

The Second Fukuda-Ozawa Closed-Door Meeting

Now, let’s take a look at the second Fukuda-Ozawa closed door meeting last Friday, and the political fallout from their talks.

Last Friday I produced the program in the Mobile Studio. But due to the remote location, was unable to access any political news from Japan after early Thursday morning. Noting that, I said: "Hopefully nothing too dramatic has happened in the interim."

Well! As fate would have it, Prime Minister Fukuda and DPJ President, Ichiro Ozawa did hold their second meeting last Friday. Resulting in a tremendous speculative balloon of Japanese political media coverage. That spilled out into the foreign press as well, of course.

The resulting flow of information was “confusing,” to put it politely. Here’s what we know for certain, though, about what happened on Friday. Beginning around 3:00 p.m., Fukuda and Ozawa began what turned into roughly two hours of talks. Broken into two meetings, with a two-hour intermission. Their second meeting ended around 7:30 p.m.

Again, as on Tuesday, most of that time taken up with Fukuda and Ozawa meeting alone, with no others present. Following the meeting, Prime Minister Fukuda met briefly with the press. Fukuda said he had told Ozawa a “new framework” was needed to allow the two parties to cope with the Diet deadlock situation. He was reluctant, of course, to divulge specific details of his closed-door meeting with Ozawa. The meeting was – well, closed – after all. Ozawa too during subsequent meetings with the press took pains to maintain their agreed-upon secrecy.

This, as usual, left plenty of room for journalistic speculation on what actually went on. Reporters covering such meetings have to file something! And political editors usually aren’t long satisfied with “we really don’t know” as a substitute for meaty copy. This makes even the most responsible of journalists more vulnerable to efforts by those who try to influence their coverage in pursuit of their own political agendas. Seems as though there was an abundance of such media “spin” efforts immediately following the Fukuda-Ozawa meetings.

Soon after meeting with Fukuda, Ozawa returned to DPJ headquarters where he huddled with senior DPJ executives. Following that meeting, Ozawa telephoned Fukuda to tell him that the his Party opposed entering into any sort of policy discussions with the LDP.

However, almost from the beginning, Japan’s political press reported as fact that Prime Minister Fukuda had asked Ozawa and his DPJ to join the LDP in a “Grand Coalition.” The early Kyodo reports cited a “senior LDP member” as the source of that information. But before long, nearly all Japanese media, Japanese and English, were reporting as established fact – that is, without source – that Fukuda had proposed a “Grand Coalition.” And that senior DPJ executives opposed Ozawa’s suggestion that they accept the proposal.

Now, it’s quite a stretch from suggesting the need for a “new framework,” as Fukuda certainly said during his post-meeting comments to the press, and a proposal to form a “Grand Coalition.”  A “new framework” wouldn’t necessarily have to be a formal “Grand Coalition,” as the term generally is understood. It could be any number of approaches to avoiding legislative deadlock in the Diet. Most likely, some form of inter-party policy consultation.

Soooo, how do we account for the almost immediate eruption of the notion that Prime Minister Fukuda had proposed a “Grand Coalition”? Well, it’s impossible to know for certain. Especially from this distance. But it seems likely to me the “Grand Coalition Proposal” news came from briefings given the press immediately after the closed-door consultations between Fukuda and Ozawa. Briefings given by individuals who supported and encouraged the idea of a “Grand Coalition” in the first place. Those would have been off-the-record briefings. And they would have to have been made by very senior figures, to gain the confidence of the press.

We know that former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and his close friend, Tsuneo Watanabe of Yomiuri Shimbun, had been publicly promoting the notion of a “Grand Coalition” since immediately after the LDP’s surprising July 29th Upper House election loss. We subsequently learned that most – though not all – of the LDP’s faction leaders thought highly of the idea.

By Saturday, however, Yomiuri Shimbun was reporting that the proposal for a “Grand Coalition” came from Ozawa, rather than from Fukuda. But that Ozawa hoped to have it appear that Fukuda was the one who proposed the coalition. Beginning around mid-Saturday, the day after the meetings, Japanese press reports of the meeting, including who had proposed what during their closed-door meetings, became more cautious. As Japan’s experienced political journalists appeared to realize they’d been hustled immediately after the Fukuda-Ozawa meetings. By promoters of the Grand Coalition idea. Who were either hoping to keep the idea alive. Or, to protect themselves from blame for the outcome of the talks they themselves had helped to arrange.

Ozawa Pitches a Fit and Submits His Resignation

All of this, however, was overshadowed early Sunday afternoon, Tokyo time, by the news that DPJ president, Ichiro Ozawa, had submitted his resignation as party president to the Party’s secretary general. Initial reports only noted Ozawa’s submission of his resignation. And that other senior DPJ leaders hoped to persuade him to withdraw his resignation. Soon thereafter, Ozawa announced he would hold a press conference at DPJ headquarters at 4:00 or 4:30 p.m., Tokyo time.

Ozawa’s bitter performance at his 4:30 p.m. press conference was a stunner. He told the assembled journalists he considered the DPJ executives’ rejection of his proposal to cooperate with the LDP on policy issues as a “vote of no-confidence” in his leadership. Ozawa also denied that he had proposed the idea of a “Grand Coalition” to Prime Minister Fukuda. And sharply criticized the journalists who reported it.

Ozawa then said he supported the idea of policy cooperation with the LDP because he feared the DPJ would be blamed during the next election for creating parliamentary deadlock if something wasn’t done to solve it. He went on to criticize the DPJ for its lack of ability. And predicted that it would be difficult for the DPJ to win a majority in the next Lower House election. A shocking choice of words for a Party leader. Even a Party leader who has submitted his resignation. But who promised to remain a member of the Party. Oh well. Ozawa never has been known as an especially good team player.

Ozawa’s Sunday press conference performance generated two, apparently contradictory responses from the DPJ. The first was announcement by Party leaders Yoshio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan that they intended to work to persuade Ozawa to retract his resignation. The second was eruption of expressions of resentment over Ozawa’s behavior. Most of them anonymous. This included continued opposition to his proposal that the DPJ should cooperate with the LDP to break legislative deadlock in the Diet. Rather than just standing up to fight in preparation for the next election. And, added to that, strong resentment over Ozawa’s criticism of the Party’s abilities. And his prediction the Party would have a difficult time winning the next Lower House election.

But were these two reactions necessarily contradictory? Perhaps not. Why, after all he had done and said, would other DPJ leaders wish to persuade Ozawa to remain as DPJ president? And DPJ rank-and-file Diet Members be willing to accept their effort. Perhaps to retain Ozawa’s demonstrated expertise at elections. Or, perhaps, to continue to benefit from his long experience as a senior party leader, who knew the LDP as well as he did his own Party.

Another, equally plausible explanation, has been repeatedly suggested in Japan’s political press. Almost as soon as Hatoyama and Kan expressed their intention to persuade Ozawa to stay. That was DPJ fear that should Ozawa resign the presidency, he would leave the Party. And take with him a number of other DPJ members. Much as he had done to the LDP in years past. Keeping in mind that should seventeen Upper House DPJ members to join him, the DPJ would lose its majority in the Upper House.

Some of the tabloid press commentary even reported that Ozawa had threatened to do just that during Saturday and Sunday discussions with senior DPJ leaders. Though, of course, I’ve been unable to confirm that. Still, the fear that Ozawa might bolt the Party seems reasonable. Especially given his past record as the creator and destroyer of a number of political parties. What we know for certain is that Hatoyama and Kan led an effort to persuade other DPJ members to urge Ozawa withdraw his resignation as Party President.

… And Then Retracts It!

And, after two days of anguished pleading, Hatoyama’s and Kan’s efforts proved successful. Late Tuesday afternoon, the 6th, DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama told the expectant DPJ press club that Ozawa had finally decided to withdraw his resignation. And that Ozawa himself would explain the situation to them in his own press conference the following day. Right after he addressed a meeting of all DPJ Lower and Upper House members.

Ozawa’s press conference following that meeting was carried live by NHK and other national television stations, from around 5:15 p.m., Tokyo time. Ozawa appeared in his “Introspective, Even Apologetic Ozawa” mode. Explaining that his inability to express himself clearly had created misunderstanding. We country boys often face that problem, doncha know.  

Ozawa went on to respond quite politely to journalists’ questions. With the important exception of his reaction to a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter. When the reporter asked Ozawa to retract his attack on certain members of Japan’s media for spreading groundless reports that defamed him. This led Ozawa to present an elaborate explanation of his meetings with Fukuda on Friday. That an “intermediary” had set up the meetings. Someone Ozawa could not name. And so on.

The details of Ozawa’s explanation are less important than the observation that he did his best to avoid being identified with a proposal for a “Grand Coalition” with the LDP. Hmmm. Seems as though everybody is doing their best to avoid the blame for this one. And understandably so. This “Grand Coalition” idea is unpopular with Japan’s general public, according to a variety of opinion polls on the subject. It’s supported by some of the most traditional LDP faction leaders and Zokuists. As we discussed last week. But it’s unpopular with incumbent politicians who support genuine political reform.

Longer-Term Significance of All This

So, all of this is surprising. Even entertaining. But does it really matter? Will any of it have longer-term consequences for the conduct of domestic politics in Japan?

Well, I think it will. Ozawa’s petulant response to DPJ Party members questioning his judgment. His submission of a letter of resignation as Party president. Followed two days later by withdrawal of that resignation. All this has done enormous damage to the only political party presenting a credible parliamentary threat to the LDP.

Ozawa has never been the sort of leader who inspires blind trust in his followers. It seems fair to say that he’s been more tolerated than adored as DPJ president. Even after the LDP’s astounding loss in the July 29th Upper House election. A leader whose legitimacy and authority relies more on a continuing string of successes than on confidence and trust. If that makes sense.

His behavior during the past few days certainly has raised suspicions among the DPJ membership about his longer-term intentions. Even among those members closest to Ozawa himself. Those suspicions inevitably will take their toll on the Party’s solidarity. When DPJ solidarity already was a commodity in very short supply. The suspicion that Ozawa may suddenly bolt the Party with like-minded members is bound to remain for some time. This has to weaken his ability to lead the Party.

Further, all of this theater at the top of the Party is bound reduce the public credibility of the DPJ as a genuine alternative to the LDP as Japan’s ruling party. Not a good thing for a party likely to face a general election within a few months.

So, yes, all of this does have longer-term significance for Japan’s domestic politics. And even conduct of international relations. It’s likely that once the dust settles in Nagatacho, Japan’s political media will return to assigning responsibility for proposing the “grand coalition” idea to Prime Minister Fukuda. Though I doubt that he was the originator. Or even that he supports the concept of a genuine “Grand Coalition,” as the term is commonly understood.

Indeed, I doubt that the idea came from Ozawa either. Rather, Fukuda and Ozawa agreed to meet to discuss how the LDP and DPJ could cooperate to alleviate legislative deadlock in the Diet. In a series of closed-door meetings. This gave politicians, former politicians, and media executives who hoped to promote the idea of a “Grand Coalition” the opportunity to persuade Japan’s political media that Fukuda and Ozawa had discussed creation of a “Grand Coalition.”

Concluding Comments

Well,  again today we’re way over time. No time left to complete my notes on “Fukuda the Man.” Which will have to wait until next week. When we’ll also consider recent discussion of the possibility that Prime Minister Fukuda may take advantage of the DPJ’s current weakness to call a snap general election. I don’t believe it even a remote possibility. But we can learn a lot about Japan’s domestic politics these days by considering the sources and motivations of those who have raised the issue.

So, let’s go out with the promised clip of cleansing bluegrass music. This from Jonathan Edwards and the Seldom Scene’s “Blue Ridge” album, “Back to Where I don’t belong.” I’ll put a link in the show notes to a source on the net where you can buy this album.

[bluegrass]

Goodbye all. Until next week.