May 9, 2008; Volume 04, Number 16

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Japan’s Use of Space for Military Purposes
A Summit of Good Intentions: Chinese President Hu Jintao Visits Japan
Yesterday’s Summit Meeting and Press Conference
Significance of the Fukuda-Hu Summit: So Far
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, May 9th, 2008. And you are listening to Volume 04, Number 16, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


Well, finally! Back on our Friday schedule. Thanks for your patience during the past few weeks. The day job’s end-of-semester scurrying around, and some travel, got in the way of producing our weekly programs. The semester’s over now. Even final exams. Doesn’t seem possible, so soon. But it is. So, no more excuses! Though we’ll still miss a few weeks here and there.

Thanks to all of you who’ve written in with comments about the past few programs. I was surprised that there’ve been so many. All most welcome. Yes, as several of you have noted, there are many more LDP cross-factional associations. In addition to those we’ve  covered on this program. Some of them potentially quite important. As time permits, I’ll try to profile a few more of them. As they come into play. Either in the LDP’s efforts to adapt to changes in its domestic political environment. Or, in efforts to restructure Japan’s national political party system.

Just this morning a long-time listener sent in an excellent suggestion. He too believes Yasuo Fukuda can’t survive much longer as LDP president and prime minister. And therefore suggested I devote one whole program to profiles of the most promising candidates to replace Fukuda. That would be quite a project. But it might be worth considering. No handicapping of the contestants, now. Only personal and political backgrounds for each. Together with their strengths and weaknesses as candidates. And, perhaps, their strengths and weaknesses as central political executives. Two quite different things, unfortunately, in many cases. But, “Only”?? That’s a tall order. I’ll give it some thought.

This week, however, we have to focus on Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Japan. He’s still there. Scheduled to leave tomorrow. But we have plenty of information to consider about his visit. Then, if time permits, we’ll consider the Lower House’s passage by two-thirds over-ride of the gas tax bill. And related tax code bills. What happened? And what didn’t happen? Both are important, I think.

Japan’s Use of Space for Military Purposes

First, though, we should at least mention a development that’s been little noticed in the foreign press. One that may have real significance in the years to come. Both for Japan itself, and for Japan’s neighbors and allies.

Today, Tokyo time, Japan’s Lower House Cabinet Committee approved an important bill. And sent it to the full Lower House for vote. A bill that removes the 1969 prohibition against Japan using outer space for military, or defense, purposes.

Among other things, passage of this bill will allow Japan’s Ministry of Defense to deploy its own higher-resolution intelligence-gathering satellites. No more need to rely on lower-resolution satellites provided by civilian contractors. Indeed, the very language of the bill encourages greater use of space-related technology to promote Japan’s national security.

It also provides for creation of a unit within the Cabinet office to exercise more effective coordination of Japan’s space-related activities. Centralizing authority now parceled out among the central government’s various ministries and agencies. This, it’s hoped, will encourage better sharing of the signal intelligence collected. And, reduce wasteful functional over-lap. By reducing budget competition for scarce government resources.

Japan’s application of space technology to military or defense purposes has been constrained by a Diet Resolution passed in 1969. That resolution limited all Japanese space development to “peaceful purposes.” There’s an interesting story behind passage of that resolution in 1969. That we may consider during future programs. But the issue has been a political minefield since.

Changes in Japan’s international environment during the past few decades have driven changes in Japanese attitudes toward this important issue. Most dramatic, of course, was the support North Korea’s Kim Jong Il provided for expansion of Japan’s military defense establishment. With his decision in the 1990s to fire a few missiles over Japanese territory. And subsequent instances of North Korean “missile diplomacy.”

Also significant has been development of information collection satellite technology by other countries since passage of the 1969 Diet Resolution. Especially in Asia. Japan, as usual, has no desire to be “left behind.” So public support for revision of the 1969 Diet Resolution has been widespread for some time now. And the current bill is sponsored by the ruling coalition and the DPJ. It’s almost certain to pass the Lower and Upper House and become law with little difficulty.

Some observers consider this new bill little more than a nicety. A recognition of changes that have already taken place. Since Japan’s defense establishment already is making good use of intelligence collected from satellites.

That’s true, of course. But I still think the new legislation is worthy of our attention. If only because it will allow Japan’s Ministry of Defense to deploy and operate higher-resolution satellites on their own. Giving Japan’s Defense establishment greater discretion over targeting and collection.

We’ll just have to wait to see if the efforts to coordinate space technology within the Kantei bear fruit or not. The effort, though, fits in with a trend I’ve observed and described since the 1990s.   

Another point of significance. Certainly the journey of the bill through Japan’s parliament will be watched closely in Beijing, Seoul, Pyongyang. And, hopefully, Washington. And affect their own efforts. It’s also bound to affect Japanese domestic production of space related hardware and software. And related Japanese R&D. So, it’s an important development we should keep track of, I think. The specifics are well beyond the bounds of my expertise. In the next week or so I’ll try to persuade one of our more knowledgeable commentators to fill us in.

Timing of the Committee’s approval of this bill was interesting too. Right during President Hu Jintao’s visit to Japan. Hmmm. Was that just a coincidence? Intended to make a point to China? Or, timed while most of Japan’s news media would be focused on the Hu trip. Sort of providing “political cover” for some of the bill’s supporters? Hard to tell.

A Summit of Good Intentions: Chinese President Hu Jintao Visits Japan

Now let’s turn to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Japan. To participate in what has to be described as a Summit of Good Intentions.

We’re certainly observing an important event. The first visit of a Chinese supreme leader to Japan in nearly ten years. And, given the toxic atmosphere surrounding Jiang Zemin’s 1998 visit, the present visit is even more meaningful.

Jiang spent much of his time in Japan waving the bloody shirt, as we’d say in South Carolina. Reminding Japan of its militaristic behavior during the 1930s and 1940s. And of China’s bitter memories of those times. Jiang’s commentary struck a cord with some of Japan’s political media and punditocracy. But Japan’s attentive public and political leadership responded more with resentment than mortification. Bilateral relations cooled quickly after that visit.

Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived at Tokyo’s downtown Haneda Airport on Wednesday, the 6th, aboard a chartered Air China jet. Deplaning, he made the traditional general statement of greeting to the breathless press corps awaiting his arrival at Haneda. Journalists eager to catch a sense of just how Hu would handle his historic five-day visit.

Hu then was driven downtown to meet with a group of surviving family members of Japanese political leaders. Leaders remembered by China for contributing to Japan-China friendship. An interesting agenda item, I think. A nice gesture to the surviving family members, to be sure. But it also made the point that China’s leaders have long memories. They keep track! Of both their friends, and their adversaries.

That evening, Wednesday night, Prime Minister Fukuda hosted an “informal” dinner for Hu. At a restaurant well known as a favorite of Chinese revolutionary hero, Sun Yat Sen, during Sun’s time in Tokyo. Fukuda invited several guests responsible for arranging the meeting. Almost all Foreign Ministry types, it was reported. But I’ve yet to see an official guest list. 

Hu’s visit to Japan puts Japan’s political media in a difficult position. Blood must be deep on print and electronic editorial room floors throughout Tokyo these days. Most of Japan’s political journalists and editorialists are eager to report a successful summit meeting. At long last. And “progress” in Japan’s relations with its powerful Asian neighbor. At the same time, they’re equally reluctant to report anything likely to enhance Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s public approval rating. This calls for delicate balancing! To say the least!

Fukuda at present teeters on the brink of history. With public approval ratings, according to some reports, now below 20 percent. It seems unlikely that he can hang on for much longer as LDP president and prime minister. True, those predictions popular earlier this year – and even late last year – that Fukuda would be forced to call a general election early this year, have proved misguided. But Fukuda still might be forced to resign his position. Due to his failure to remedy his tumbling public approval ratings. Allowing the LDP to select a new Party president. Or possibly even triggering the beginnings of a general realignment of Japan’s national political party system.

Now, that will be News when it happens! So, much of Japan’s political media naturally are determined not to allow Fukuda and his cabinet to manipulate this historical visit of Hu Jintao to their own political advantage. As they would put it. But still, accomplishments must be reported! Ah, the agony of crusading political journalists. Who see themselves as both the agents and the scribes of current political events.  

Yesterday’s Summit Meeting and Press Conference

Prime Minister Fukuda and President Hu met yesterday, Thursday the 7th, for the most important official part of Hu’s visit. That is, the formal “summit meeting” at which the sixteen bilateral agreements were confirmed and signed. Followed by the most important press conference of the visit. I was able to watch videotape of nearly all of the press conference. Including the opening official statements and the highly stylized question-and-response session following. It was time well spent, I think.

As customary, Prime Minister Fukuda, as host, opened the press conference with his summary statement. Followed by that of President Hu Jintao. Again, no real surprises. But emphasis, tone, what was included and what wasn’t, all help us to understand what actually went on during the negotiations leading up to this important event.

Fukuda began his remarks with Japan’s good wishes for the success of the 2008 Olympics. One would hardly expect him to say he hoped they turned into a disaster. But it seems significant to me that Fukuda and his advisers decided to lead with this point. Indicating the political capital the Chinese political leadership has invested in a successful conclusion of the Olympic Games. And Japan’s willingness to support that effort.

This is more than superficial diplomatic game-playing, as some cynical observers have suggested. The Chinese side has to be pleased with the degree to which Tokyo has expressed its support. And restrained itself from politicizing the Olympics as leverage to achieve other negotiating goals. Even at risk of inviting criticism from the governments of other industrial powers who have.

Next came mention of key agreements reached during the Summit. First on Fukuda’s list was effort to “deepen mutual understanding.” A phrase required for every summit meeting since the beginning of time. Specifically, Fukuda mentioned agreements to expand youth exchanges. More on that in a moment.

But here Fukuda inserted an interesting phrase, one that’s received no attention in either the Japanese or international political media that I’ve seen. Right after mention of youth exchanges Fukuda said he and Hu had agreed to “…increase transparency in security and other policies.” Hmmm. Am I the only observer who thinks that’s significant? The lack of “transparency” in the enormous expansion of China’s military spending over the past couple of decades has been an important Japanese complaint. Does this indicate that this sensitive topic was addressed successfully. We’ll have to wait to see, I guess.

The next item on Fukuda’s list was achievement of bilateral agreement on government responsibility for climate change. Including a “sector-by-sector” approach with targets of 2013. This, Japan’s press corps did pick up on. Presenting it as a significant Chinese concession. More on that too in a moment.

After thanking President Hu for offering to lend – or as Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara complained, to “rent” – Japan a couple of pandas to replace the deceased Ling Ling, Fukuda listed a set of issues upon which he and President Hu had agreed to cooperate. These included the East China Sea gas exploitation, North Korea, Japan’s status in the United Nations Security Council, gyoza poisoning, and resolution of the Tibet problem.

President Hu’s statement was much more general than Fukuda’s. In it he expressed satisfaction that he and Prime Minister Fukuda had been able to agree that good relations between China and Japan were in the interest of both countries. That China and Japan have begun a period of “strategic and mutually beneficial relations.” The catch phrase selected for this Summit.

That such strategic and mutually beneficial relations require better communications between the two countries at all levels. From the top down. This may have been nothing more than a predictable summit meeting platitude. But it also could mean President Hu has decided that it’s not in China’s interest to repeat his predecessor’s experiment in iceberg diplomacy. Refusals to meet, and so on. Icebergs that require melting. A good sign if it’s true.

Hu also mentioned the importance of bilateral economic relations. Again, indicating that China now recognizes the benefits for China of a good economic relationship with Japan. And perhaps, the economic costs associated with bilateral relations that aren’t so good. Hu then noted the importance of bilateral cooperation in maintaining the “peace and stability” of Northeast Asia. Undoubtedly a reference to North Korea. Which has become as much of a headache for China as it has for Japan. Maybe more! He then added a point about the importance of Japan and China cooperating on issues such as energy security, environmental protection, and global economic inequality.

Hu closed with mention of the panda swap and signature of the fourth in a series of bilateral fundamental agreements intended to define the relationship. More on those in a moment too.

All pretty tame, general stuff. But more significant when you consider that the press conference was being broadcast live in parts of China as well as in Japan. Hu was telling his Chinese audience that he had decided to put away the Bloody Shirt. Perhaps not wash it. Or throw it out. But to put it away for the time being. Concluding that the positive economic and diplomatic benefits of friendly relations with Japan now outweigh any domestic political advantage that might be gained from demonizing Japan with his attentive Chinese audience. That’s significant, I think. And a decision not lightly taken.

The two joint statements were followed by a half-hour or so of the carefully scripted questions and answers that characterize press conferences of this sort in Japan. A couple of the Japanese reporters did ask for clarification on specific issues such as gyoza poisoning, the East China Sea issue, and Tibet. But neither Prime Minister Fukuda nor President Hu provided any additional information in their answers. That I heard, anyway. A smooth ending for an important press conference. That must have greatly pleased the press corps managers.

Significance of the Fukuda-Hu Summit: So Far

Well, what can we conclude today about the real significance of President Hu’s visit to Japan. Keep in mind, he hasn’t gone home yet. The visit isn’t over. Some significant “breakthrough” might be announced today or tomorrow, Japan time. So, maybe it’s premature to speculate here. I’ll give it a try though, and then next week elaborate, or disavow, as events merit.

First, as I mentioned a moment ago, the very fact the summit meeting occurred is significant. And occurred in an atmosphere that allowed both leaders to sign documents of agreement this time. Many of the sixteen memoranda signed on Wednesday were pretty general. Expressions of general commitment to do the “right thing.” Rather than promises of specific action. But overall, I think they still are significant.

I’ve long argued on this program that the temperature of bilateral Japan-China relations is regulated in Beijing. That the Chinese side, in other words, decides whether bilateral relations are warm or cold. Depending mainly on domestic Chinese power politics. Japan may be able to influence the relationship marginally. Usually by accepting or rejecting one or more demands from the Chinese side. Such as we saw during the Koizumi premiership. But, only marginally. So, in my view, it would be a mistake to interpret Chinese behavior toward Japan as primarily determined by events or behavior on the Japanese side. Past or present! Other analysts disagree. Some with quite reasonable arguments. But for me, the bilateral relationship thermostat is on the Chinese side of the house. And Beijing determines whether it’s warm or cold.

If I’m correct, then President Hu’s behavior during his visit to Japan has considerable significance. It suggests that the dominant faction, or factions, in China’s national leadership now believe China has more to gain than to lose from friendly relations with Japan. And that now is the time to correct strategic errors of the recent past. While Japan’s government is led by prime minister and cabinet willing to accept general statements of intention. And not demand concessions from Beijing that would embarrass the Chinese government at home.

Even if that is true, there’s no guarantee that the complex configuration of forces within China will remain the same for any length of time. It’s entirely possible that the incumbents of Beijing’s Forbidden City may feel their positions threatened. And once again decide to sacrifice short- and medium-term economic and diplomatic gain for longer-term security. By presenting themselves as capable of defending China from a potentially hostile Japan. A Japan that in recent memory demonstrated its desire to dominate Asia.

So far, it appears that the Japanese side got very little from this bilateral summit. Beyond President Hu’s agreement not to criticize their imperialistic behavior during the 1930s and 1940s. No firm agreement on the East China Sea issue. In spite of optimistic Japanese press reports today. No progress on the poisoned gyoza issue. And no agreement from China to support Japan’s bid for permanent membership on the Security Council of the United Nations.

But, all told, historians are likely to judge Prime Minister Fukuda and his advisers as correct. In their decision to accept Chinese expressions of good intentions this time around. Rather than to demand specifics. I’ll try to get one of our expert commentators to give us a better informed assessment in the weeks to come. One who actually knows something about domestic Chinese politics.

Concluding Comments

Well, that’s about all we have time for today. The old clock on the screen has begun to blink its warning. Continue to send your comments and suggestions for the program to me at I read them all, and appreciate every one. So,

Goodbye all. Until next week.