November 16, 2007; Volume 03, Number 41

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Eleventh Japan-China East China Sea Gas Exploitation Talks Stalemate
Prime Minister Fukuda’s Visit to Washington
Significance of the Visit
Media Reports of the Significance of the Bilateral Summit
The Ministry of Defense Equipment Procurement Scandal Investigation Continues
Concluding Comments

Good Afternoon. From beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, November 16th, 2007 And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 41, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


Thanks for dropping by. I’m Robert Angel, creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project. And creator and host of this Podcast. Speaking of which. I just glanced at the program calendar. This is the second anniversary of the Japan Considered Podcast! I recorded and published the first program on November 18th, 2005. It wasn’t much. Just an introduction. With terrible sound. But if you’re curious, you can still listen by going to the podcast archives for 2005. It’s there, with the other six 2005 programs. And every subsequent podcast for 2006 and 2007.

Two years is an eternity in the podcast world, they tell me. Especially for a weekly show. And it is a lot of material. Since the first show in January 2006, I’ve added a transcript for each program. These have accumulated to nearly a thousand single-spaced pages of text now. A lot of talking! About Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations.

None of this would have been possible without the advice and support of more people in the United States and Japan than can be listed here. Indeed, many of them prefer not to have their identities revealed! Especially those still serving in government. Probably a sensible decision! Since the topics we cover here inevitably become controversial.

I’ve mentioned this before. But I’m still often asked about the nature of external support for the Japan Considered Project. And for this Podcast. This external support consists entirely of information, encouragement, and appearances from time to time on the program. I pay all of the costs for computer equipment, software, web hosting, and occasional travel out of our family budget. So, no other organizations or individuals are responsible for what’s said here. Or, are in a position to influence the content through financial leverage. I have to take full blame!

Finally, thanks to all of you who take the time each week to tune in to this program. Either by listening to the audio file, on your iPod or computer. Or by reading the transcript, on the Japan Considered website. Without listeners, the whole exercise would be pretty pointless. Hardly worth one hour a week, let alone the 35 or 40 it actually requires to produce the program! Listenership – and readership – has grown steadily since mid-November 2005, when this program began. In the United States. In Japan. And around the world. I’m grateful too for this essential form of support, and hope to continue producing programs that deserve, and maintain, your attention.

Speaking of which, we’d better get back to exactly that. This week again we have a full plate. Just so many things happening in Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations that deserve attention. It’s hard to pick. But, as several of you reminded me via e-mail during the week, I’ve slipped back into my old ways of extending the length of the program well beyond that appropriate for the normal listener. So, this week I’ll try again to keep the program within the advertised twenty-to-twenty-five minute length.

First, we have to mention Prime Minister Fukuda’s flying visit to Washington today. Which is why this program is being produced in the afternoon rather than in the morning. After considering the real significance of that brief meeting, we’ll look quickly at the Upper House Committee Hearings related to the ballooning Ministry of Defense corruption investigations. And then we’ll consider a couple of baffling developments from Japan’s domestic political world. Ending, as usual, with a cleansing glimpse of wonderful bluegrass music to brighten up your week.

Eleventh Japan-China East China Sea Gas Exploitation Talks Stalemate

First, though, a quick follow-up report on the eleventh round of bilateral negotiations seeking compromise on the exploitation of natural gas reserves in the East China Sea. The meetings were held in Tokyo, on Wednesday, as scheduled. And, as expected, the expert representatives failed to make any more progress toward agreement. Nothing new here. Move along, I guess.

Though there was some discussion in Japan’s press following announcement that the talks were “useful.” And that the Kantei may send Foreign Minister Komura to Beijing to see if he can accomplish anything. That, effectively, would elevate representation on both sides to the ministerial level. Which in democratic Japan, at least, means the “political” level. Japan long has maintained that only a political decision will solve the problem. So, we’ll have to see if Foreign Minister Komura goes to Beijing or not. And what happens, if he does.

As one listener a few weeks ago commented in an e-mail. This East China Sea gas issue is far more significant than gas exploitation alone. It involves definition of national borders. Always a sensitive topic. Quite true. And any compromises reached here have the potential for establishing precedents.

The maps that usually accompany news coverage of this topic in Japan’s press usually show the demarcation line proposed by Japan through the disputed area. What the Japanese side calls the “median line.” And the site of China’s active gas pumping operations, just to the west of that line. China, as we’ve noted, refuses to recognize Japan’s proposed median line. Claiming that their exclusive economic zone extends well beyond it, well toward Japan.

But, after studying these maps, the outside observer may well ask why Japan doesn’t simply begin their own gas pumping operation on their side of the “median line.” Given the progress China already has made on the other side. Indeed, one Japanese source reported today that Japan’s representatives made precisely that proposal during Wednesday’s talks. Adding that the new drilling project could even be a joint operation with China. But that the Chinese side responded that such operations by Japan would immediately bring Chinese military ships to the area! Ouch! I’ve been unable to confirm this. But if true, it illustrates the real sensitivity of this issue for both China and Japan. A difficult situation for everyone involved. Fortunately, neither government is manipulating the issue for domestic political purposes. At least not now. I’ll try to keep you posted.

Prime Minister Fukuda’s Visit to Washington

Now, let’s turn to Prime Minister Fukuda’s brief visit to Washington, D.C. today. Let’s consider what actually happened. Then, what the media has been saying. And finally, the longer-term significance of the visit.

First, the confirmed specifics of the visit. Prime Minister Fukuda left Tokyo’s downtown, Haneda, Airport for Washington last night, Tokyo Time, on a special plane. At least he didn’t have to fly coach on a commercial flight. And leave from Narita. Which isn’t quite as far from downtown Tokyo as Juneau, Alaska. But well on the way. To make matters worse, he’s been suffering for some days from a cold that has affected his voice and energy level. He has my sympathy!

Time zone changes allowed him to arrive in Washington last night. Hopefully, for a full night’s sleep before meetings at the White House began this morning. Meetings with President Bush that continued through a lunch on Friday of Maine lobster and Kobe beef. With a break for a tightly scripted statement to the Press. That began around 11:40 a.m. After meeting with a group of “intellectuals,” Fukuda is scheduled to leave Washington tonight for a return flight to Tokyo. Arriving on Saturday. Only to leave home again Monday night for Singapore and the ASEAN Plus Three summit there. What a schedule!  

The White House webmaster has already posted video of the tightly scripted statement to the press on the White House website. I’ll try to remember to put a link in the Podcast transcript to the video. Two statements. The first from President Bush. Then one from Prime Minister Fukuda. Carefully written. Carefully read. No knee-slapping, no horsing around. And certainly no air guitar. Not even questions from the attending press corps. One could almost wonder why they bothered. This was really a press statement. Not a press conference. The whole thing could have been done on the Web. Which would have saved at least a half-hour in the twenty-six-hour visit schedule for other things! But, of course, we all know why it was done the way it was. We all recognize the symbolic importance of summit meetings and the joint statement to the press.

Significance of the Visit

Which brings us to the larger significance of this whole exercise. Which, I believe, was almost purely symbolic. Some aspects of this current bilateral Summit were painfully reminiscent of Summits past. Pre-meeting discussions in the press of what the U.S. should demand from Japan’s visiting prime minister in the way of gifts to be announced during the visit. Gifts the Japanese side would agree to, doncha know, out of gratitude for Washington making time in busy schedules for the meeting. Or, perhaps would agree to in order to avoid the horror of public criticism from U.S. government officials during the visit!

Most of those articles, though, seem to have been filed by the more elderly journalists. Presumably inspired by conversations they had with their long-retired sources in either the U.S. or Japanese governments. Things just don’t work that way any longer. Tokyo has changed. And most folks still working in Washington, fortunately, seem to have recognized that change.

The Japan Communist Party’s Shimbun Akahata, just before the Summit, ran a puckish cartoon entitled “The Gift.” It featured Fukuda trudging toward the United States with an enormous bundle on his back. The bundle labeled, “The New Terror Countermeasures Bill.” But that, like so much of Japan’s political media coverage of the Fukuda visit to the U.S., was motivated more by domestic political objectives than straightforward journalism. More on that point in a moment.

When all is said and done, the real significance of this most recent U.S.-Japan bilateral Summit can be summarized by mention of two unusual features. Most important, the timing. Prime Minister Fukuda made time in his incredibly busy schedule to make this flying – literally – visit to Washington before he visited Mainland China or any other Asian country. His first visit abroad. Great symbolic importance. Think of what Japan’s political press would have said had he decided to visit Beijing instead! Symbolizing, obviously, Fukuda’s recognition of the importance of the alliance with the United States.

The second point of genuine significance relates to timing as well. The whole schedule gave Fukuda only 26 or 27 hours in Washington. Just enough time for a morning White House meeting with President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, and White House Chief of Staff Bolton. Then a quick statement to the press. Followed by a White House lunch with President Bush, Secretary of Defense Gates, and U.S. Trade Representative, Susan Schwab. And a post-lunch meeting with what one source described as “intellectuals.” That I’ve yet to find information about. Sounds interesting, though.

A few commentators in Japan have suggested that this unusually short visit further demonstrates Washington’s lack of interest in Japan. Their expression of concern, of course, is misdirected. Misdirected because it was the Japanese side that determined the brevity of the visit this time. Not the U.S. side! In other words, Prime Minister Fukuda and his advisers appear to have concluded that this quick trip to Washington was adequate to make the symbolic point they intended to make. Quite a change from the planning for past prime ministerial visits to Washington. Those I recall, anyway.

Media Reports of the Significance of the Bilateral Summit

Now let’s turn to evaluation of the significance of this bilateral summit. Japan’s political media has been reporting and commenting on this meeting since the itinerary was released to the press. Several themes in this coverage and commentary stand out.

First, the notion that the success or failure of the summit would be determined by whether or not Prime Minister Fukuda would be able to persuade President Bush to agree to Japan’s position on the North Korean “abductee” issue. I find it difficult to believe that any informed observer of the situation surrounding the North Korean nuclear problem believed that Fukuda would even make the effort! Raise the issue? Likely. Demand that Bush make an unequivocal statement? Hardly seems likely. There’s far too much at stake for Japan when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities to do that.

Rather, it’s painfully obvious that this “journalism,” like so much of the other reporting on the issue, has been intended to set the scene for their post-Summit evaluation of the visit. That is, make it possible to describe Fukuda’s first Summit with the U.S. as a “failure,” should he “fail” to persuade Bush to make a specific statement. A specific statement that he will not allow the U.S. Department of State to remove North Korea from the list of nations sponsoring terrorism. Unless progress has been made on the abductee issue. Out of deference to Japan’s wishes. Sounds pretty silly when you think about it. But most folks won’t think about it, I suspect.

Second, since announcement of Fukuda’s travel plans – even before! – the Japanese political media has been full of discussion of the erosion of Japan’s relationship with the United States. Article after article about how the bilateral relationship has deteriorated. And how unfortunate it all is.

As I mentioned a week or so ago, it’s encouraging to see media outlets that traditionally have complained about Japan’s reliance on alliance with the United States now expressing such concerns. Perhaps they’ve recently come to accept the value of this relationship for Japan. Or, could it be that this new perspective is simply another example of media efforts to influence Japan’s political processes? In this case, to criticize the incumbent Fukuda Administration for failure to maintain the integrity of the alliance?

We’re likely to hear more of this next week. About the brevity of the summit meeting illustrating how little Washington cares for Japan these days. About how Prime Minister Fukuda failed to persuade President Bush to sign a pledge that the U.S. wouldn’t remove North Korea from State’s sponsors-of-terrorism list until Tokyo gave the okay. About the decline in “mutual understanding” illustrated by the departure of real Japan specialists from government in Washington. And how Japan’s only recourse is to give more money to American “intellectuals” if they agree to study Japan. And so on.

Forgive me if I sound too cynical. But I’ve been through this sort of thing too many times to take such “analysis” at face value. For me, nearly all of this can be explained by efforts to influence Japan’s domestic politics. Japan’s parliamentary politics these days is charitably described as “volatile.” It appears that genuinely important changes are in the wind. So it’s only natural that Japan’s political media hopes to push those changes in the direction they consider most appropriate. It does, though, affect the quality and reliability of their reporting and analysis. Something we all should keep in mind as we consume their output.

The Ministry of Defense Equipment Procurement Scandal Investigation Continues

Let’s turn now to Japan’s rapidly metastasizing military equipment procurement scandal investigation.

As scheduled, the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, summoned former administrative vice minister of defense, Motonobu Moriya, to testify as a sworn witness yesterday afternoon. And yesterday morning, the Committee questioned Yamada Corporation president, Yoshihiko Yonezu. Who appeared as an unsworn witness. The Committee turned to Moriya in the afternoon. Again, full video of the hearings, morning and afternoon, are available on the Upper House video website. I’ll try to remember to put a link to the site in the transcript. For those of you who might be interested in viewing it.

As anticipated, the DPJ-controlled Upper House committee was somewhat more rigorous in its questioning of the sworn and unsworn witnesses. The questions asked were more detailed, and more leading, than those asked of Moriya in the Lower House Committee. With Upper House questioners holding up large white-board illustrations of the relationships they hoped their questions would illustrate. Moriya too appeared more cautious in his responses. Though who could blame him!

Both Yonezu and Moriya provided additional information certain to accelerate the intensity of the investigation. For example, Yonezu reported that Moriya’s celebrated golfing outings with Miyazaki cost Yamada Corporation more than 15 million yen over an eight-year period ending in 2006. And that the company had no record of receiving even the 10,000 yen Moriya claimed to have paid at each outing.

Yonezu also provided additional details of the support Yamada Corporation officials offered Moriya’s daughter when she applied for admission to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s graduate program. A school to which the Yamada Corporation has contributed substantial sums in the past.

It was Moriya’s appearance before the Upper House Committee, however, that attracted the greatest media attention. During the course of his two hours before the Committee, Moriya finally was pressured into naming two Diet members who had joined him and former Yamada Corporation official, Motonobu Miyazaki, for dinner. He named incumbent Minister of Finance, Fukushiro Nukaga, and former Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma. Both Nukaga and Kyuma immediately denied any recollection of being so entertained.

These two particular names came as no surprise. Moriya during his Lower House testimony described them as former JDA directors general. Not such a long list of names, as one of his questioners pointed out. Both individuals are well known members of the group of Diet Members with strong interest in defense-related affairs. And, sharing a single dinner, or evening’s entertainment, is no surprise either. Rather, it’s what confirmation of this information represents. Its symbolic significance, in other words. Apparent evidence of intimate personal relationships between Diet members, senior government bureaucrats, and corporate representatives. The potential for good old fashioned corruption, in other words! More is bound to come. Each day Japan’s press reports additional revelations, and additional investigations by the prosecutor’s office. In the pattern I described last week. I’ll try to keep you posted.

Concluding Comments

Well, we’re bumping up against time limitations again. So discussion of those baffling domestic political developments I mentioned at the beginning of the program will have to wait until next week. All of this talk of a snap general election. And continuing discussion of plans to join the LDP and DPJ in a Grand Coalition. Perhaps we’ll have more information by next week about one or both of these topics that will help explain the puzzle. I hope so. Since I’m completely flummoxed by what I read.

This week our outro bluegrass clip comes from the Seldom Scene’s 1975 album, “Live at the Cellar Door.” “Dark Hollow” features the matchless voice of John Starling. I’ll put a link in the transcript to a net source for the album. Have a listen.


Goodbye all. Until next week.