May 23, 2008; Volume 04, Number 17

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Space Bill Becomes Law
Space Bill: Will It Matter?
Chinese President Hu Jintao Completes His Official Visit to Japan
The Sichuan Earthquake and Japan’s Response
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From a campsite on the shore of beautiful Lake Wateree. In the Piedmont region of South Carolina. Today is Friday, May 23rd, 2008. And you are listening to Volume 04, Number 17, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


Yes, on the road again. With the Mobile Studio. Combining the pleasures of producing this weekly – or near weekly, anyway – program, with enjoyment of South Carolina’s incredible natural beauty. At the Lake Wateree State Recreation Area. I’ll try to include a few photos in the program transcript. So just click on over on the Japan Considered Project website if you’re interested. At

Speaking of transcripts, I’m pleased to see a growing number of program listeners taking advantage of the podcast transcript archives. And the search engine I’ve included at the bottom of the home page. Transcripts of all of the programs since the beginning of January 2006 are available there. And sound files for the 2005 programs. Quite a bit of material now! All searchable with key words and phrases. The search engine, provided by FreeFind, is fairly rudimentary. But it has the great advantage, as its name suggests, of being free. Which helps keep costs down here. Anyway, click over and have a look.

No time for a program last week. So we have a good bit to cover on this program. Years ago, Tokyo, like Washington, quieted down as the weather warmed up, toward the summer months. But no longer! Exciting things. Important things. Continue to happen in Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations that we just have to consider. Blame it on air conditioning. As they used to say in Washington. Still, the major international English language newspapers tend to rely heavily on local color and social commentary pieces during these months. Japan’s vernacular political press, though, continues to publish interesting stuff.

This week we’ll return to the overall assessment of the significance of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Japan. Now that he’s safely back home. What happened? What didn’t happen? Does it really matter? And so on. Then we’ll consider Japan’s response to the horror that faced President Hu just two days after his arrival in Beijing. That magnitude 8.0 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The foreign English language press has quite detailed particulars of the earthquake itself. And China’s response. No need to duplicate that here. Our focus will be the significance of the earthquake for Japan’s relations with China. An enormous – and controversial – topic on its own.

Space Bill Becomes Law

Before we get to relations with China, though, we should check in again with the progress of that Space Bill I mentioned on the last program. Thanks for all the comments and questions about that bill and its significance. Yes, there’s been little mention of it in the international press. The English language international press, anyway. Beyond a few speculative comments on how the bill will affect the international competitiveness of Japanese space-related companies. That’s important, of course. But there’s a good bit more to it than that.

As we anticipated on the last program, Japan’s Upper House passed the jointly sponsored bill day before yesterday, Wednesday, May 21st. With little discussion or debate. This new legislation appears to end Japan’s long-standing reluctance to use space-related technology for national defense. As expressed in the 1969 Diet resolution that limited Japan’s space technology to “peaceful purposes.” With “peaceful purposes” here meaning no military-related applications. Even defensive ones!

Japan’s attentive public – generally – was comfortable with that interpretation during the late 1960s. And for some time thereafter. Japan’s space-related projects were limited to non-military projects. Weather satellites, global positioning systems, space exploration, and the like. In 1985, Japan’s government again confirmed that Japan’s Self Defense Forces were prohibited from developing defense-related space technology on their own. And were allowed only to use commercially available products and technologies in their efforts.

That ended during the 1990s. As international conditions changed for Japan. In two important respects. First, it became widely recognized that other signatory nations of the 1967 UN Space Treaty were far ahead of Japan in the development and application of space-related technologies. Giving them significant commercial advantages in this increasingly important field. As well as security benefits. Japan had a long ways to go, just to catch up. Now, “catching up” with the rest of the world has long been a powerful motivator for Japan! We’ll have to talk more about the appeal of “catching up” for Japan one of these days.

Even more dramatic than commercial considerations, was North Korea’s decision in 1998 to fire a long-range missile over Japanese territory. What a fuss that created! A fuss that by 2003 led Japan’s government to launch a satellite that was widely described as a “spy satellite.” Intended to keep track of North Korean goings-on in the offensive missile area. And North Korea wasn’t the only country in Asia with missiles that could threaten Japan.

Japan’s press reported the launch of that “spy satellite” in great detail. Including the fact that restrictions placed on Japan’s space program by the 1969 Diet Resolution I mentioned a moment ago limited its resolution and effectiveness. Spy satellites deployed by other countries were several times more sensitive, in other words. Japan clearly was behind!

Yes, Japan could ask other countries, especially the United States, to keep a lookout with their more sophisticated satellites. But that strategy was far from satisfactory. Delays inevitable in the long international communications chain that it required. Delays that Japan could ill-afford when every minute – even every second – of advance notice of a missile launch mattered. And even rumors of the reluctance of some other countries to share certain kinds of signal intelligence. And so on.

So, in March of 2006 the LDP under Prime Minister Koizumi began drafting legislation to correct what by then had come to be recognized as a serious problem. Japan had to “catch up” with the rest of the advanced industrialized world in the development and application of space technology. And more effectively provide for its own national security. Defensively, of course. Ideally, without upsetting any of its sensitive Asian neighbors. Or its allies, for that matter! The bill passed on Wednesday is the result of that effort.

Space Bill: Will It Matter?

Will it matter? Yes, certainly! Both in terms of Japan’s national security arrangements and its commercial potential. Japan’s Ministry of Defense before long will be able to incorporate more detailed satellite-collected intelligence in its planning and operations. And exercise greater control over targeting and timing. Passage of the bill also is bound to benefit Japan’s participation in commercial space-related activities. Providing greater incentives for R&D in this critical field. Even during this era of tight national budgets.

Further, it’s bound to affect Japan’s relations with other Asian countries. Especially China and North Korea. Once the dust has settled. We’re likely to hear much more about this bill from Beijing, Pyongyang, and even Seoul, than we are from Tokyo.

Add to this inevitable concern over the Space bill, publicity this week concerning Japan’s recent acquisition of military in-flight refueling capabilities. For decades, acquisition of in-flight refueling capabilities for Japan’s Air Self Defense Force aircraft was considered taboo. Out of fear such capability would be described as “offensive,” rather than “defensive.” By Japan’s domestic military critics and Japan’s Asian neighbors.

However, in February of 1993, then Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa appointed a prime ministerial advisory panel to review Japan’s long-term defense policies. The panel of nine members presented their recommendations to Hosokawa’s successor, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, in mid-August 1994. Their report included the recommendation that Japan’s Air Force acquire in-air refueling capabilities. If only to support Japan’s participation in international peacekeeping and relief operations.

Subsequent defense budget cuts delayed acquisition of the highly specialized huge tankers required for in-air refueling. But in December 2000, 25 trillion yen was allocated in the defense five-year plan for acquisition of in-flight refueling capabilities. And Air Self Defense fighter aircraft began mid-air refueling practice with U.S. tankers providing the fuel, year before last. Two KC-767s were at last delivered to Japan in late February and mid-March. With two more on the way. They’re now undergoing test flights.

There’s been little mention this year in Japan’s national media of the arrival of the first two Boeing-based KC-767 tanker aircraft.  Or even about Japan’s need for in-flight refueling capability. Until this week! Of all weeks! That’s not to say it was kept a secret. Specialized non-classified military periodicals carried articles on the huge tankers. And even photos. But the mainstream political press there didn’t pick up on it. At least, that I saw.

However, this Wednesday Japan’s wire services carried reports of an accident that occurred back in March with one of the first two KC-767 refueling tankers that had been delivered to Japan. During testing at Komaki Air Base in Aichi Prefecture. Details were limited. Something about wing flaps falling. But the damage didn’t sound especially serious. Probably a wiring problem. Or somebody throwing the wrong switch. But there the article was!

I’m certainly not the only person to notice that article. I’m sure. And it seemed odd. Why was disclosure of a relatively minor accident that occurred two months ago delayed until this Wednesday?  Why bother? “Old news”! Certainly an oxymoron. And not even very interesting news. But it certainly will draw attention – including international attention – to Japan’s new military capabilities. Together with the Space bill. Hmmm. Something to keep an eye on.

Chinese President Hu Jintao Completes His Official Visit to Japan

Let’s return now to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s historic Japan visit. Our last program was produced on Friday, the 9th. One day before Hu was scheduled to leave Japan. There were no surprise announcements during that last day of his visit. No announcements of negotiating breakthroughs on critical issues. No East China Sea demarcation compromise. Not even anything on poisoned gyoza. Though rumors of some dramatic announcement continued right up to the hour of his departure. Well, as we discussed last time, we really didn’t expect any breakthroughs. There was a possibility. But it wasn’t likely. Resolution of specific bilateral disputes wasn’t the main objective of this visit. So, the lack of progress on any specific issue – or, on all of them – doesn’t mean the visit was a failure.

Perhaps the only surprise of the whole visit came during Hu’s visit to Waseda University. Where he gave a nice speech. And played ping pong against Japanese Olympic contender, Ai Fukuhara. And won! An accomplishment we might compare to 72-year-old Mao Zedong’s record-breaking nine-and-a-half-mile swim in the Yangtze River in 1966. Complete with photos!

Hu devoted Friday and Saturday, the 9th and 10th, to a visit to Osaka and Nara in Western Japan. In Osaka he met senior business leaders and politicians, assuring them that China was eager for closer economic ties with Japan. In Nara he was welcomed at Horyuji, and then at Toshodaiji. Both temples associated with the spread of Buddhism from China to Japan in the 8th century. After a final factory tour, Hu left Japan from Osaka Airport on Saturday afternoon.

Hu arrived in Beijing all smiles. And no wonder. He had skillfully accomplished all he set out to do during his five-day visit to Japan. No easy thing. Hu’s certainly more than just a slogging Party Apparatchik. Well, nearly everything he’d hoped to accomplish, anyway. Prime Minister Fukuda didn’t commit to attending the opening ceremony for the Olympic games in Beijing.

Beyond that, though, things went well for Hu in Japan. Hostile protestors of various sorts lined the streets at each of his public stops. But they were kept as far away as Japanese public opinion would allow. “Free Tibet” could be seen and heard. Though only from a distance. It took a force of over 3,000 police to accomplish that in Osaka alone! But it was accomplished. No embarrassing moments. Hu himself, once back in Beijing, described the visit as an unqualified success.

And so it was, I think. Both for China and for Japan. True, little of substance was achieved on specific issues rankling Japan’s negotiators. Neither on gyoza, nor on East China Sea demarcation. Nor, the less-discussed issue of Japan’s permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council. However, something more important was accomplished. Now there’s no need to describe Japan-China relations as hostile, distant – or even sensitive – following Hu’s mid-May visit to Japan. And that’s worth a great deal. For both countries. For all of us, in fact. That can – and probably will – change, of course. But for now, it’s a good thing.

The Sichuan Earthquake and Japan’s Response

President Hu Jintao couldn’t enjoy his diplomatic success for long, however. The Monday following his arrival, May 12th, at around 2:30 p.m., local time, an enormous earthquake shook Sichuan Province to its core. First reported as a 7.8 quake, it later would be revised to a full 8.0. Aftershocks were felt as far away as Shanghai, Tibet, and Beijing. Though for Beijing, it was the political aftershocks that were most serious.

As so often happens, accurate details of the actual devastation were slow to emerge. Communications were disrupted; roads impassable; and so on. So it was a day or so before the actual magnitude of the problem was known. President Hu that evening convened a meeting of the Political Bureau Standing Committee of the CPC’s Central Committee to coordinate nationwide relief efforts. Premier Wen Jiabao was assigned the unenviable task of coordinating the rescue effort. And left Beijing immediately for the site. With a huge press corps in tow. At least 20,000 members of the People’s Liberation Army and the Armed Police Forces were ordered to immediately occupy the most seriously damaged quake-hit areas. By walking in, if necessary.

The earliest reports from the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, just hours after the quake struck, reported the deaths of children. In school buildings that had collapsed during the quake and its aftershocks. Many additional incidents of collapsed school buildings and crushed children have been reported since. Both by Chinese and international news outlets. This may well become a problem in the future for Beijing.

Japan immediately did the right thing. Right after news of the quake reached Tokyo, Prime Minister Fukuda ordered the Japanese embassy in Beijing to tell President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao that Japan was standing by, ready to provide any sort of relief aid China wanted. The following day, Tuesday the 13th, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told the Kantei press corps that Japan was continuing preparations to provide earthquake aid to China. But that Japan had to wait for China to approve the aid before it could be sent. He also said, at that May 13th press conference, in response to a question, that SDF forces might join the relief effort. More on this point later.

By Wednesday, the 14th – two days after the quake – Japan was still waiting to begin its relief effort. Though Japan’s International Maritime Satellite Organization did provide the Chinese government with the first satellite photos of the area affected by the earthquake. A gift reported by Xinhua on Wednesday. And one Russian plane with relief supplies landed in Sichuan. The first allowed in. However, rescue and medical teams with sniffer dogs from Japan and Australia were denied access to the area, two days after the event. Those days, of course are critical. Since survival of victims buried in the rubble beyond three days is unusual.

By Thursday, the 15th, three days after the event, China’s government had agreed to allow Japanese rescue teams into the area. Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura told the Kantei press corps that afternoon that the first contingent of the rescue team would leave for Sichuan Province that night. With the rest following the next day. The Japanese press was especially pleased to note that Japanese teams would be the first China allowed in.

The Japanese rescue team’s initial efforts were frustrating. They were sent to Sichuan’s Guangzhuang. A town where buildings were completely covered up by landslides. To the point the Japanese team couldn’t make much use of their sophisticated equipment. Sensors and sniffer dogs are useful only when it’s possible to reach those sensed! Japan’s team was then moved to a site a few miles away where they began work. By this time, however, so much time had passed that the team found only about 20 bodies. And no surviving victims. Quite a disappointment for them. China’s President Hu Jintao and other government officials continued to emphasize the importance of focusing relief efforts on discovering live victims. But it was simply too late.

On Monday, the 19th, a full week after the quake, Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura told the Kantei Press Corps that Japan’s government was thinking about withdrawing their first disaster relief team. Since its expertise and equipment were directed toward rescuing live survivors. And in their place, send medical teams to help treat the tens of thousands of injured survivors. The switch was made the following day, the 20th, with a team of doctors and nurses flown from Narita to Sichuan’s Chengdu. Returning with the 60 members of the earlier dispatched rescue team.

We’re running out of time today, according to the Old Clock on the Screen. So, we’ll have to summarize the longer-term significance of Japan’s response to China’s misfortune on the next program. To anticipate those conclusions, Japan’s relief efforts were at least a political success. China’s official media reported their hard work, and expressed appreciation directly. Everyone agreed the initial rescue team would have had better chances of rescue success had they been dispatched immediately. But Tokyo can hardly be blamed for the delay. More on all this next time.

Concluding Comments

Time to close this program down. But wait just a minute. Some of you long-time listeners may recall me playing a while back bluegrass clips from a band called the “Infamous Stringdusters.” At the time they didn’t have even one album, and were just getting started. Well! Their careers have exploded. They will put out their second album on the 8th of next month. And they’re doing a European Tour. Good to see European folks are learning to appreciate good music …. Here’s a clip from their new album. “Black Rock.” It shows just how well these lads play their instruments. Incredible stuff. I’ll put a link to the website in the program transcript. Enjoy.

[bluegrass clip]

Goodbye all. Until next time.