July 14, 2008; Volume 04, Number 23

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Introduction
Japan’s participation in the G-8 Summit
Beijing Hosts Group of Six Meeting on North Korea’s Nuclear Programs
Former Governor Daijiro Hashimoto May Form a New Party
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From Beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Monday, July 14th, 2008. And you are listening to Volume 04, Number 23, of the Japan Considered Podcast.

Introduction

Yes, Monday. That’s right. The Podcast schedule has been disrupted by my travel plans. I’ll be on the road for the next three weeks or so. From later on this morning. Making the Japan Considered Podcast schedule until mid-August spotty, at best.

Great to travel. But there’s an inverse relationship between beauty of natural surroundings and WiFi access, it seems. Satellite and air card solutions would be nice. But they’re well beyond even the outer reaches of the Japan Considered Project budget.

Soooo, until mid-August, I’ll produce the programs when I’m able to access political and international news from Japan. And when I can find an internet connection robust enough to support the sound file uploads. That’s not dial-up! Sorry about the inconvenience.

The thing is …. Interesting – even important – news continues to flow from Japan in a torrent. Much of which is ignored – or only superficially covered – in the normal English language news here in the U.S. Even in the summer now! What’s a person to do! Well, do the possible. As well as possible. And not fret over the rest. That’s the formula, anyway.

But thanks for stopping by again. On this cloudy, but hot, mid-summer day. We’ve had rain here in the late afternoons. Thunder showers, really. The rain’s most welcome. But the mornings and afternoons have been hot. No sense to complain. I hope you have more temperate weather in your part of the world.

Back in the regular studio today again. The last time for a while. Maybe you can hear the difference. No dogs barking in the background. Or celebratory shotgun blasts. That was quite a show last week. I hope they load their own. Otherwise it must have been pretty expensive.

This week I don’t have time to produce a regular program. So I’ll just briefly mention two or three topics that simply can’t be ignored. And hope to go into more detail on each during the next few programs.

Japan’s participation in the G-8 Summit

First off, the long-awaited Toyako G-8 Summit is over. With Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda playing the role of host. News coverage of the event in Japan has been mixed. As I mentioned last week, Japan’s political – or should I say, politicized – press has had a tough time reporting events at Toyako. And an even tougher time interpreting their significance.

They appear reluctant to publish anything – news, analysis, or commentary – that might raise Prime Minister Fukuda’s public approval ratings. Yet, they don’t want Japan to be criticized for failing to host a successful summit. The effect of this tension has affected the quality of the reporting. Or so it seems to me.

Well, what happened? It was a typical G-8 meeting. As far as I could tell. Lots of talk. Lots of smiling. Lots of photos. Lots of general statements on the order of “Firm Commitments to Support the Good” and to “Absolutely Oppose Evil in All Its Forms.” Lots of peripheral speculation about what really went on. If anything. This year pressure has increased to expand the G-8’s membership. By one or two important countries, in some cases. To less realistic efforts to emulate the U.N.’s G-77.

Host, Prime Minister Fukuda, seemed to have done an excellent job of behind-the-scenes persuasion and coordination. Something he’s really good at. At least, avoiding any embarrassing overt expressions of sharp disagreement. Or – Heaven Forbid! – international criticism.

Sooo, how are we to evaluate the overall effect of this G-8 meeting on Japan? I’ll have more to say on future programs. But in short, it wasn’t the disaster that some of Prime Minister Fukuda’s political opponents had hoped for. And it wasn’t an outstanding success in terms of concrete results. Its effect on Japanese domestic political situation seems marginal. But we’ll have to wait to see if more information appears. I’ll keep you posted.

Beijing Hosts Group of Six Meeting on North Korea’s Nuclear Programs

Last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, representatives from North Korea, and from the five nations trying to find a peaceful means of coping with North Korea’s nuclear provocations, met in Beijing. It’s been a while since the group was gathered. And that alone, I guess, should be considered progress.

Specifically, Beijing called the meeting to discuss how to respond to the “declaration” North Korea presented in late June. The description of their various nuclear projects that had been expected since late 2007. Coverage of this issue in Japan’s news media has been a bit more informative. And helpful. And again, we’ll go into greater detail during subsequent programs. Just don’t have the time now.

For Japan, at least, the key issue was the degree to which the other representatives would pressure Japan to begin providing aid to North Korea. In response to North Korea’s late June “nuclear declaration.” Prime Minister Fukuda and other senior Japanese government officials have insisted that Japan will not participate in the aid package until Pyongyang is more forthcoming on the abduction issue. So, the point of real interest during this meeting – at least for me – was the degree to which other Group of Six members would berate Japan for not being “more forthcoming.” And the degree to which that criticism would be picked up by Japan’s political press. Presented as the fear that Japan would be “isolated” in the international community.

Well, as expected, North Korea, South Korea, and China demanded that Japan “get with the program.” Participate in the aid package, in other words. And their efforts have been reported prominently in Japan’s national media.

However, if the various polls are to be relied upon, Japan’s attentive public shares the Fukuda Cabinet’s reluctance to provide aid without more progress on the abduction issue. And on other nuclear weapons-related issues as well. So, those in Japan arguing that Japan should make greater concessions to avoid “international isolation” are going to have a tough time making their point. Indeed, it’s even possible that the Fukuda Administration could raise its public approval numbers by “standing up to international pressure” in this case. Washington’s reluctance to exercise overt pressure on Tokyo to “get with the program,” and share the North Korea aid burden, makes good sense.

In spite of the flow of news from Beijing over the weekend, and the subsequent efforts to analyze its significance, we’ll just have to wait to see what happens on this important issue as well. In the meantime Japan has managed to get itself involved in a bilateral flap with the new South Korea government over the naming of the disputed Takeshima or Dokdo islands. Why in the world bring that up now? I mean! The mind boggles. We’ll probably have to spend more time on this issue too in future programs. I’ll try to keep you posted.

Former Governor Daijiro Hashimoto May Form a New Party

Finally, just quick mention of a domestic politics-related development. One that may have significance during the next general election. At the beginning of the month, former Kochi Prefecture Governor, Daijiro Hashimoto, announced plans to create a new national political party. And to do so before, not after, the next general election.

Hashimoto’s the younger brother of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The two look quite a bit alike. Though Daijiro appears to spend less on his haircuts than did his elder brother. But the two could hardly be more dissimilar as politicians. Ryutaro Hashimoto was a very conventional LDP traditionalist politician. Daijiro Hashimoto, on the other hand, is a typical Reformist politician of the sort I’ve been discussing on this program for some time. He had a successful career as a television journalist. With widespread national exposure covering the final illness and death of the Showa Emperor. Hashimoto then rejected national politics and in the early 1990s ran as a non-LDP candidate for the governorship of Kochi prefecture. Serving for sixteen years, and even winning a special extra election in 2004. Managing to maintain high public approval ratings, through thick and thin. And it got pretty thin for him back in 2004!

We’ll undoubtedly consider Hashimoto’s effort in more detail on subsequent programs. It may actually matter. How will his new party fit into the plans of other “Reformist” national politicians? Will he cooperate or compete? What sort of relationship does he have with Reformist elements within the LDP? And so on. All well worth watching. And I expect to see more about this in Japan’s national press in the weeks and months to come.

Concluding Comments

Well, that’s all I have time for this week. The old clock on the screen is blinking a different sort of warning now. Time to get on the road. Please continue to send your comments and suggestions to me at RobertCAngel@gmail.com. The Gmail server kindly stores them all. And I look forward to reading them on the road. Can’t yet tell the exact date of the next program. But until then …

Goodbye all. Until next time.