December 21, 2007; Volume 03, Number 44

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

International Developments of Significance
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to Visit China
Missile Shoot-Down
Questions over Preparation for UFOs
An Interesting Site: The LDP’s New YouTube “LDP Channel”
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From Beautiful Hunting Island State Park. Right on the South Carolina shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Today is Friday, December 21st, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 44, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


I’m Robert Angel. Creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project. And creator and host of this podcast. Each week on this program we consider developments in Japan that seem to have longer-term significance for Japan’s domestic politics, and conduct of international relations. We’re not a comprehensive news program, now. Nothing that grand. Rather, here we emphasize detail and analysis that I hope will help you better understand what’s actually going on in Japan. Or, at least, give you another perspective.

Normally, these podcasts are done each Friday. But end-of-semester day-job complications have scrambled the schedule of late. And, this program is being done on the road. From the Mobile Studio. With all the advantages of incredibly beautiful surroundings. But “limited” – to put the best face on it – access to the Internet. The information lifeline – or the most important part of it, anyway – for this program.

WiFi internet access is spreading rapidly throughout the United States. Thankfully. But there are still places where it’s pretty hard to find. Somehow, it seems as if those WiFi-deprived areas are the nicest places to visit with the Mobile Studio! A trade-off that convenient WiFi access loses every time. There are satellite-based, o  r cell phone-based solutions to this problem. But both are well beyond the fragile financial base of the Japan Considered Project. We’ll just have to make do with what we have.

I was able to access the news from Japan yesterday. Thursday the 20th. From a site in Beaufort. But that will be the last for a while. I’ll try to put a couple of photos in the transcript. Just to show those of you who’ve yet to visit what you’re missing!

Lots to consider again concerning Japan’s domestic politics and international relations. This week our focus is on the international side. A few topics that require consideration for what they tell us about how Japan’s handling of relations with other countries is changing. Next week our focus will be domestic. How Prime Minister Fukuda and his Cabinet are handling – or failing to handle – their current round of political challenges. And possible consequences. Maybe dramatic.

International Developments of Significance

First, some follow-up on the Joint Communiqué flap with Mainland China. You may recall from the last program that this disagreement erupted after the bilateral cabinet-level economic meetings in Beijing. The first such meeting in many years. Like most important meetings of this sort, this one ended with tough bilateral negotiations on the wording of a “joint communiqué.” A statement that described what went on. What was decided. What wasn’t decided. In language both sides could accept. At least, that’s what the Japanese side thought they were doing at the end of the negotiations! And they released the Japanese language version to Japan’s expectant press corps on December 1.

Imagine their surprise, just a few days later. When they discovered the Chinese side had released a significantly different Chinese language version of the “document” to the Chinese press corps. And that they’d posted the different version on a Chinese government website. As I mentioned on the last program, Japan this time protested indignantly. And publicly! And demanded a change.

Beijing responded that they didn’t consider the joint communiqué to be a “Joint Communiqué.” It was – well …. It was a “document.” So they felt no obligation to publish an exact Chinese language version of Japan’s “document.” And didn’t. In addition to that, an official government spokesmen said he though it downright un-neighborly of Japan to bring the whole thing up in public!

I examined possible motivations on the last program. For both Beijing and Tokyo. That you can find in the Podcast archives, on the Japan Considered website. So no need to repeat all of that here.

Significantly, after a day or so of public protests from Tokyo, media coverage of the issue went quiet. And I suspect little more was made of it by either side. Both Tokyo and Beijing had made their points.

However, last week, on the 14th, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a low-key release to the media on the subject. Assuring Gaimusho Press Corps journalists that the Joint Communiqué Flap would have no effect on Japan’s planning for Prime Minister Fukuda’s trip to Beijing. They also said, though, that Japan still contends the Japanese version of the “document” is the correct one. Accurately reflecting the discussions held.

So, a “non-event” after all? Well, not quite. But, not a disaster either! This incident provides useful insights into Japan’s handling of the Japan-China relationship these days, I think. Events of much less significance have set back progress in relations between Tokyo and Beijing in the past. Looks as though this one won’t. And that’s a good sign!

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to Visit China

Speaking of relations with China, Japan’s political press reports that Prime Minister Fukuda’s schedule to visit Mainland China finally has been set. He’ll leave for Beijing on the 27th. That’s next Thursday. And return to Tokyo on the 30th. While in Beijing he’ll meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. As well as Wu Bangguo, who chairs the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. Quite a line-up! Fukuda also is scheduled to give a public address on the second day of his visit. At Peking University, I think. And tour a couple of China’s cultural and economic development sites, for good measure.  

Japan’s prime minister could hardly ask for a more accommodating schedule during this visit. Both substantively and symbolically. 2008 marks 30 years since Japan and China finally signed their Peace and Friendship Treaty. And both sides appear determined to make the most of the timing. Another good sign. Since the stability of the East Asian region depends greatly on good relations between these two giants.

This doesn’t mean, however, that all important outstanding bilateral issues have been resolved. Or, as significant, that Tokyo and Beijing even have to pretend they’ve all been resolved. In order for Japan’s prime minister to make a successful visit to Beijing. That too, I think, is significant progress. Overcoming some of the symbolic silliness we’re seen in that bilateral relationship. Even in recent years. This suggests, at least to me, that Beijing sees important advantages to having goo d relations with Japan at the moment. Mostly economic. But more on that later.

The two cabinet ministers most immediately involved, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and METI Minister Akira Amari, both commented during the past week on the ticklish issue of exploitation of gas reserves in the East China Sea. Both noted that no progress has been made. In spite of repeated top-level commitments to “resolve” the issue by the time Fukuda visits Beijing. Amari added that he didn’t expect a settlement prior to or during Fukuda’s visit. Though Japan is determined to continue negotiations.

Economic issues are not the only outstanding problems between Japan and China these days. As indicated by reports concerning a meeting Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba had with China’s recently appointed ambassador to Japan, Cui Tiankai. During the meeting Ishiba stressed the importance Japan places on better “mutual understanding” of security policies between China and Japan. That’s diplo-speak meaning China needs greater transparency in its rapidly expanding military capabilities. A long-standing concern in Tokyo.

It seems significant to me that Japan’s media carried reports of such concerns from a cabinet-level official just prior to Prime Minister Fukuda’s Beijing visit.

Missile Shoot-Down

And Speaking of China’s military capabilities, they’ve announced some remarkable advances in military technology during the past few years. But not all high-tech military news these days is coming from China. Japan, on Monday, the 17th, Japan time, used an SM-3 missile to intercept a target missile that had been launched into space for this test.

Granted, the SM-3 missile itself was made in the United States. But this particular test was conducted near Hawaii from Japan’s Aegis-capable Kongou destroyer by Japanese military personnel. It was the first time this had been done by any country other than the United States. The U.S. has conducted twelve such tests since early 2002. Ten of them have been successful.

The SM-3 is an important component of Japan’s effort to shield itself from missile attacks. An objective made more urgent for Japan by North Korea’s recent missile posturing. The technical specifics of all this are well beyond my capabilities. But as I understand it, this SM-3 missile is intended to intercept any incoming missiles while they’re still in space. Outside the earth’s atmosphere, in other words. Incoming missiles that escape the SM-3, then, will be intercepted by land-based PAC-3 missiles. These PAC-3 missile sites are now being deployed throughout Japan.

We discussed the North Korean missile test on this program last year when it was conducted. And noted it would likely encourage Japan to strengthen its indigenous anti-missile capabilities. Well, it has. Indeed, Japan’s whole anti-missile program, and the companies that make the hardware, have benefited from North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile tests. The first, if memory serves, in 1998.

Japanese government spokesmen, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura, naturally praised the successful test. An important development that would make Japan more secure. But not all reaction from Japan was positive. There were two general complaints. The first was the suggestion that Japan’s new anti-missile technology would encourage other countries in the region, especially North Korea and China, to enhance their own offensive capabilities. A predictable response, likely to appeal to those in Japan’s media and punditocracy who object to expansion of Japan’s military. A position certain to gather support during the next few months from both Beijing and Pyongyang.

The second source of negative commentary on Monday’s successful test was less predictable, though. It came from both pro- and anti-military types. Who expressed concern that this test represents closer military cooperation between Japan and the United States. With anti-military types fearing Japan might be forced into exercising collective self defense by the United States. And pro-military types insisting that Japan should build its own military capabilities. Independent of the United States.

We’re bound to hear more about this in the future. The test was an important international event. Had it failed, it would have brought intense political pressure on Japan’s military establishment, and military budget. At a sensitive time for both. I’ll try to keep you posted on future developments.

Questions over Preparation for UFOs

It seems Japan government didn’t have enough to worry about at home and abroad. So late last week a member of parliament asked questions about the government’s preparation to respond appropriately to the arrival of aliens in UFOs. In the Diet, no less. Now, I’m not making this up. Couldn’t! Who could imagine it!!

DPJ Upper House Member, Ryuji Yamane, submitted a an official question in the Diet. Asking if the government was prepared for the arrival of UFOs and aliens from outer space. Since Yamane had made a formal inquiry, the government was bound to respond. Formally. And it did.

On Tuesday, the 18th, the Cabinet endorsed an official statement prepared by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. The government said that in spite of numerous reports of sightings, it had not confirmed the existence of UFOs. Nor had it created programs to collect information about them. Or even to study them.

As if this was not enough to amuse Japan’s attentive public, during his regular meeting with the Kantei press corps following the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura added his own views. He told the assembled journalists that in spite of the government’s official position, he personally believes in the existence of UFOs.

Hang on! It gets better. Yesterday, Japan’s Minister of Defense, Shigeru Ishiba, commented that he didn’t know exactly how the military forces under his command should respond. Should a UFO arrive in Japan. But certainly they could be used for disaster relief in the wake of a visit by Godzilla. Or even Mothra. [That’s another comic-book outer-space monster, well-known in Japan.] I didn’t see videotape of Minister Ishiba’s Godzilla/Mothra comments. But I assume he was joking with the press. I sincerely hope so, anyway.

Eventually, though, the DPJ leadership, at least, recognized the absurdity of the whole situation. DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama urged Japan’s government officials to drop the whole issue and focus on more pressing matters. And Yamane himself – the originator of the whole fracas – urged the same thing on his internet blog. He wrote that he intended hereafter to devote his considerable energies to promotion of social welfare issues. Hmmm. Sounds like a plan to me.

I can almost hear your reaction. Yes, I agree. The whole thing’s silly. Hardly worthy of our attention. Given all of the genuinely serious issues clouding Japan’s international horizons. But even though the issue’s silly. I think we can learn something about the incumbent government by considering how they’ve responded.

True, an official government response was required. Because an official question had been submitted to the Diet. And that’s what happened. Education Ministry officials dutifully burned the midnight oil to type out a response for their Minister to read in the Diet. No problem so far.

What seems odd to me, however, is what happened after that. How Prime Minister Fukuda and his most responsible cabinet members handled the issue once it arose.

First, how did otherwise responsible political leaders of one of the world’s most powerful nations allow themselves to become entangled in public discussion of such an issue? Didn’t Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura expect members of the Kantei Press Corps to make his off-the-cuff comments into something that reflected badly on him personally? And, on the whole Fukuda Cabinet? He should have expected it by now. And have been prepared to tread cautiously around such a silly topic when it came up. Then there was Defense Minister Ishiba. Same situation. Even worse. What journalist could resist reporting such a thing?

By now, senior members of the Fukuda Cabinet – Indeed, all members! – should realize that the mainstream press in Japan is not very friendly to them. To put it mildly. That they’re unlikely to get a “pass” for their misstatements. Or anything that might make them appear foolish. It’s simply part of their job to recognize this. And to work around it. Just as it’s part of the job of the journalists covering them to report what they say and do.

Second, and even more surprising for me is what didn’t happen. The question of the resources Japan’s central government was devoting to arrival of hostile UFOs was raised by a member of the LDP’s major opposition party. Why, after observing the formalities, didn’t Prime Minister Fukuda, or one of his designated hitters, take the opportunity to ridicule the DPJ for allowing that to happen? For wasting the government’s time – the People’s time – when so many other issues required attention?

It would have been easy enough to do. It would have been effective. It could have been done in a way that would penetrate the hostile media’s curtain. To resonate with Japan’s attentive public. It wouldn’t have had to be mean-spirited, or nasty, to be effective.

True, that’s not the way that a well-trained, diligent, professional administrator would respond. But, Japan’s elected representatives aren’t bureaucrats! They’re politicians! With a good understanding of the people they represent. Or, they’re supposed to be, anyway. Whole thing makes me wonder. UFOs, Godzilla, Murtha. For heaven’s sake! No wonder the Cabinet’s public approval rating is in the cellar.

An Interesting Site: The LDP’s New YouTube “LDP Channel”

Before closing, just one more item. This related to next week’s discussion of domestic politics. The LDP has created an official “LDP Channel” on the popular YouTube website. I’ll put a link in the program transcript to their site. It’s all in Japanese, of course. But even if you have difficulty with the language, it’s worth clicking on over for a look.

I clicked on the link and went through the site. [Kono sound clip] That’s the beginning of a message from Taro Kono introducing the information available. I wasn’t surprised to see Kono’s face and to hear his voice introducing this new website. He’s Yohei Kono’s son, of course. Currently Speaker of the Lower House. And grandson of Ichiro Kono, the legendary LDP Party operative so important during the 1950s and 1960s. Taro’s father, Yohei, now a most respectable elder statesman, in an earlier incarnation founded the Shin Jiyu Club. The LDP splinter group that generated so much excitement upon its creation in the 1970s. But more on all of that next week.

I’m really not that familiar with YouTube. But it’s said to be popular among Japan’s young people. Who frequently upload and view their own short video clips there. According to Taro Kono in his introduction, the LDP is the first of Japan’s political parties to make use of this new communications technology. That’s a surprise. Given the stodgy image the LDP projects most of the time. Maybe there’s more here than meets the eye.

In addition to the introductory page, there are three sub-sections in the site. One “Official.” One “Entertainment.” And the third, “Archives.” The official page offers video statements from various LDP officers and members. The entertainment page is devoted to the hobbies and pastimes of LDP members. Not much there yet, unfortunately. And the archives section has a few professionally produced videos on the history of the LDP and the first 20 LDP presidents. Most interesting, Kono and his colleagues have included full videotapes of press conferences held following significant Party events.

All of this, it seems to me, has great potential. An innovative way for the Party and its members to communicate with Japan’s attentive public. The emphasis here so far is on “young” voters. But there’s no reason in the world why older voters as well can’t participate. As long as they know where on the Web to look. And how. And letting them know is as simple as the link you can find in this Podcast transcript.

Maybe it’s all a gimmick. The result of Kono, or some other innovative LDP politician, hearing the phrase “YouTube.” Then ordering a subordinate to “have a look.” But it may be more than that. As we’ve discussed so often on this program. The environments within which the LDP operates are changing rapidly. Both the international environment. And politically more important, the Party’s domestic civic environment. To survive and prosper, the Party and its members are going to have to harness the power of the Internet to communicate with their potential supporters. Through technologies like YouTube. If they don’t, somebody else surely will.

Cost too is negligible. At least when compared to the crushing cost of maintaining a Koenkai with a hundred thousand or more members. The potential for effective communication of a persuasive message is limitless. These factors alone should appeal to the more innovative members of the LDP. And Japan’s other political parties. Especially to those politicians who hope to avoid the hugely expensive traditional methods of collecting votes in general elections. And the visits from Japan’s increasingly active prosecutors who are investigating how all that money was raised. And I suspect it will. I’ll try to keep you posted. In fact, more on all this next week.

Concluding Comments

Well, we’re just a shade beyond our time this week. But it’s been a long time since we’ve had a cleansing clip of Bluegrass to send us on our way. Those protest e-mails keep piling up! So, we’ve just got to have one. Here’s the ending bars from the Bluegrass Album Band’s “Down the Road.” Recorded for Rounder in 1983. This album features Tony Rice’s unforgettable guitar and voice, Jerry Douglas’s dobro, J. D. Crowe’s banjo, Doyle Lawson, Bobby Hicks, and Todd Phillips on bass. What a crew! I’ll put a link in the transcript to a site where you can buy a copy if you don’t already have one. Volume 3, California Connection. Enjoy!

[Bluegrass Clip]

Goodbye all. Until next week.