Perspective on Japan from a Japanese Expert on the US

After an enforced holiday up in the Far North of New Zealand – a wonderful part of the world as I now know – and in the process of catching up on various events I want to point towards the second truly useful and insightful contribution (first being Professor Curtis’) from Shelia Smith’s overall excellent “Is Japan in Decline?”  series of articles at the CFR, this time from Toshihiro Nakayama. Again, in addition to reading the whole thing, two particular paragraphs are worthy of emphasis from this honest, and refreshingly neither reflexively defensive nor absurdly critical evaluation of what is happening in Japan at the moment in terms of the political discourse.

After describing the general sense of malaise in Japan of arguably the last twenty years (or if you like, the last 6 years and, frankly, the last 6 weeks respectively), Nakayama straightforwardly notes:

So, this is where we are in Japan at the moment. But is this sort of confusion a bad thing? Of course it is, if it continues forever. But democracy is also a system of managed confusion. We at least know we are confused. We may not have—or find—a single tidy answer, but if we can boil it down to several potential answers to the question of Japan’s identity as a nation, we may actually have a substantial debate. People are talking. The Twitterverse is filled with tweets on the issue. I believe that the implicit ban on nationalist discourse has disappeared, and that this is healthy. We are now free to choose who we as a nation want to be.

And then puts in straightforward terms what perhaps should already be obvious, but seldom is in the policy and academic echo chamber:

So my reply to my friends in America is, get used to our debate over who we are, and don’t overreact to it. Don’t pick up only one part of the noise in our debates and amplify it. This conversation will continue for some time. We know we don’t have much time to make our choices. We can come out strong from this state of confusion with a sense of purpose or not, but the choice is ours to make.



The New PRC Documents on the Senkaku Islands

As noted in my fuller exposition of the developments over at Japan Security Watch, Jiji Press went big yesterday (日) with apparently revelations that the Chinese, according to the PRC’s own official documents, actually considered the Senkaku Islands to be part of Okinawa prefecture for some period of time, in contradiction of its position that it had always considered the islands to be part of Taiwan “Province”, even before the 1968 discovery of oil.

In short, the article notes that in a document produced in preparation for negotiations regarding the San Fransisco Peace Treaty, (which the PRC did not ultimately participate in due to not being invited, and its outcome rejected anyway due to its position on Taiwan), the PRC did not once use the current Chinese name for the islands (Diaoyu-tai), used the Japanese moniker on one occasion, and did not explicitly state that they should have been part of PRC China while also expressing doubts about whether the islands were part of Taiwan province rather than the Ryukyus. This could have not only implications for the consistency of the PRC position since 1949, but raises the possibility that Chinese “awareness” that the islands were effectively ceded along with Taiwan during the Treaty of Shimonoseki, or stolen by conquest, was not as robust, apparent or widespread as has been previously argued. That said, the documents are not likely to change anything in the short-term, although may embolden the Japanese to take a more proactive position on promoting the idea of ICJ resolution.

Japanese Elections: “Least-hated” rather than Popularity Contests

A lot of Japanese opinion polls tend to be of limited analytical value – either the questions are too general, too focused on “political” rather than policy issues, or are simply obscure and give no indication about priorities. However, the Asahi Shimbun has released (日) a poll a few days after the election that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Sunday’s election and what the public was thinking.

It is certain that LDP President Abe Shinzo will become the prime minister. Do you have expectations of Abe?

    Have 51%

 Don’t have 42%

This is actually quite low. It probably relates to Abe having already been PM. It is probably going to get lower if he appoints former PM Aso to the foreign minister position as is being rumoured- Aso’s perceived incompetence is one that only rivals Hatoyama, and in any respect such an appointment will raise the spectre of “Tomodachi Naikaku 2.0″ as Aso served as Abe’s FM first time around.

Together the LDP and Komeito have a super-majority of 325. Is this a good thing?

 Good thing 35%

 Not good 43%

Well…that is unfortunate isn’t it people…

In the last election we have returned to an LDP-centred government. Is this a good thing?

    Good 57%

 Not good 16%

So people wanted to get rid of the DPJ, but only vaguely wanted the LDP in, and certainly didn’t want them to have too much power…

Do you think the reason that the LDP was able to do so well was because the public supported its policies or because of disappointment realting to DPJ’s time in government?

 LDP policies 7%

 DPJ disappointment 81%

Wow. We already knew this, but this is about as decisive a result as you will see from the Japanese electorate on any issue. So very, very damning for both the LDP and the DPJ.

In the election the DPJ lost many seats and fell back into opposition. Do you want the DPJ to rejuvenate as a rival party to the LDP?

 Yes 53%

 No 38%

This is more than I would have expected. Maybe the two party system shouldn’t be written off just yet?

The JRP increased its parliamentary presence from 11 seats to 54 seats. Do you think this was a good outcome?

Good 56%

Not good 22%

This really suggests that the JRP is leaving a lot of “points on the field” so to speak. Consistently about half of the public before the election wanted to see the JRP have more influence. But relatively few could bring themselves to vote for them. Clearly Ishihara is part of that, but Hashimoto himself really needs to focus on the key issues that make him fleetingly popular.

The election resulted in the lowest postwar voting turnout. Why do you think this is so?

 No issues of interest to me 6%

 No party or candidates I wanted to vote for 29%

 Even if I vote nothing is going to change 51%

    The timing was inconvenient 8%

My interpretation: 80% alienation, and only 14% laziness.

What policy issues were of the most concern to you in the election?

 Economy and employment 35%

 Consumption tax and social security 30%

 Constitutional revision, diplomacy and security 12%

 Nuclear and energy issues 17%

S0 82% concerned with domestic issues – only 12% at most were interested in the “rightward” agenda of the LDP and JRP. No wonder the public was disappointed. We got a bit of talk on the economy, but most of the debate was taken up by foreign policy issues [not an issue for me personally of course] and pointless bickering regarding whose uninspiring energy/nuclear plan was more or less realistic.

In recent elections there has been a trend of parties gaining and losing significant amounts of seats. Do you think such large reversals are a good thing?

 Yes 27%

 No 57%

Interestingly, LDP SecGen Ishiba Shigeru has come out and suggested that the government look at this very issue in the context of electoral reform. But then again, Ishiba is known to speak sense from time to time.

Pendulum Districts 2012

From Asahi Shimbun

From Asahi Shimbun

According to the Asahi Shimbun (日), 145 SMDs went for the LDP/Komeito in 2005, DPJ in 2009, and then again for the LDP/Komeito in 2012 (what the Asahi terms the “pendulum phenomenon”). 71 one of them were in the urban metropolis of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama area. This is a very interesting bit of information that could prove useful for the next lower house general election if it is held under a similar system to the current one. If the LDP-Komeito relationship survives the Abe tenure, however long that may be, then in the next election there will be significant incentives for the JRP, a new centrist DPJ, and perhaps the YP to form alliances in these districts, particularly if the LDP disappoints in some way.

And Just How Bad Was it for the DPJ?

Bad. Actually, very, very bad. While the DPJ managed to just pip the Japan Restoration Party for second place with 57 seats (down from 308), the “third pole” parties still did overall quite well with the JRP getting 54 and Your Party getting 18, for a total of 72.

Thus we have the governing parties of the LDP (294) and Komeito (31) with 325 seats, the “centrist” DPJ with 57 seats, the “third pole” with 72 seats, and the “left,” collectively made up of the Japan Future Party (9), the Social Democratic Party (2), the Communist Party (8), and New Party Daichi (1) with 20 seats. Perhaps most telling is the number of current  (7) and former members of DPJ cabinets (10) that lost not only their SMD seats but did not even make it back into the Diet on the PR list (17 in total!). That said, whether it be Okada, Hosono, Edano or Maehara who takes over, many of these people will not be missed by them as they rebuild the party, if that is even possible.

 Current ministers in the Noda cabinet:

Mitsui Wakio, Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare

Kodaira Tadamasa, Consumer Affairs

Jojima Koriki, Finance

Nakatsuka Ikko, Financial Services

Tanaka Makiko, Education

Fujimura Osamu, Chief Cabinet Secretary

Tarutoko Shinji, Internal Affairs

It cannot be often that both the sitting finance minister and chief cabinet secretary, considered to be two of the top four jobs in the cabinet, lose their jobs outright.

Previous Ministers:

Hachiro Yoshio, METI (Mr “I’ll give you radiation”)

Kano Michihiko, Agriculture (anti-TPP ringleader and thorn in both Kan and Noda’s side)

Hosokawa Ritsuo, Health, Labour and Welfare

Tanaka Keishuu, Justice (Quit after connections to the Yakuza were revealed)

Komiyama Yoko, HLW

Kawabata Tatsuo, Internal Affairs

Hirano Hirofumi, Chief Cabinet Secretary (Hatoyama cabinet – widely considered to be incompetent)

Hiraoka Hideo, Justice (appointed someone with a criminal record to be his secretary)

Sengoku Yoshito, Chief Cabinet Secretary (Accused of sexual harassment, responsible for the Senkaku debacle by pressuring prosecutors to release the captain, etc)

Matsumoto Ryu, Environment (Abused two Tohoku governors after the tsunami, threatened a journalist, then blamed it on his Kyushu background and his blood type)

Not too many of the people from the second list will be missed.

Notable DPJ members who were “revived” on the PR list after losing their SMD seats include former PM Naoto Kan and Noda’s DPJ leadership run-off rival Kaieda Banri.

Just How Convincing was the LDP’s Victory?

Very – but actually, not at all.

Some basic numbers.

Bear in mind that the DPJ received 308 seats in 2009, and received 42% support in the proportional representation component of the vote. In 2009 the LDP overall received 26. 7% of the PR vote and received 119 seats. The nation-wide PR vote average for the LDP this year is likely to be around 28% (update: confirmed at 27.6%), and the LDP will receive 294 seats in total.

It gets worse. As can be seen in the numbers for the 5 largest PR districts below (those that are significantly disadvantaged by the vote-value disparity in the SMD component of the vote), the LDP did only slightly better in this election than it did in the previous election. While there are certainly more parties competing for the party PR vote this time around, this nevertheless paints a bleak picture of the fairness of the current system when a party can claim an electoral mandate on the basis of little more than a quarter of the voting public seeing the party as their number one choice. The other thing to factor into this equation is that this election had one of the poorest post-war turnouts on record. Only 59% of the voting public turned out for this election, a significant 10 percent drop from 2009 (and 10 million people). In reality, the LDP received less actual PR votes, and in many districts did not do that much better in terms of actual SMD votes received compared to 2009’s decisive rejection of the LDP.

Tokyo PR 

LDP 2012: 24.9%

LDP 2009: 25.5%

DPJ 2009: 41.0%

Northern Kanto PR

LDP 2012: 28.1%

LDP 2009: 25.8%

DPJ 2009: 42.1%

Southern Kanto PR

LDP 2012: 26.4%

LDP 2009: 26.0%

DPJ 2009: 43.0%

Kinki PR

LDP 2012: 23.9%

LDP 2009: 23.2%

DPJ 2009: 42.4%

Kyushu PR

LDP 2012: 29.9%

LDP 2009: 28.1%

DPJ 2009: 38.1%

Michael Cucek states in a recent East Asia Forum article titled “Japan’s Nothing Election”:

“The Japanese electorate has been confronted with a nothing election: an election called for no reason, lacking attractive candidates or even fundamental legitimacy.”

It’s hard to disagree – but as seen above, it is even worse than that.

Just How Angry is Xi Jinping Right Now?

MTC has a provocative post up that will almost certainly get him into trouble with a few people in the East Asia studies circuit, but still certainly worth a read. He very validly points out that the DPRK’s most recent launch of a missile-rocket indeed puts US military interests within range of the DPRK’s IRBM (長距離ミサイル for those keeping score), which may in turn change some of the alliance calculus over the next few years. The South Koreans have always been willing to put up with far too much from the DPRK for Japan’s liking, but now with the US being in range at some point then this may alter the balance of concern. Furthermore, it dilutes one of the bargaining chips the US has held over Japan, and has used to get Japan to do things it may have otherwise not been particularly keen on doing (Iraq, withdrawing from the Azadegan oil field in Iran). In theory, over time the North Korean “ballistic missile threat” will be less likely to be utilized as some kind of of quid pro quo in alliance negotiations and should become more of a mutual interest. Cucek also correctly notes that the Chinese will be furious and will once again see their power and influence as not having brought the respect they believe it deserves.

This will hurt the Chinese in other ways than simply pride, however.

First, it gives Japan and the US a useful issue to bash the PRC over the head with in the UNSC, especially if the PRC goes ahead and vetoes any further sanctions. China’s image will deteriorate in Japan further as perceptions have already shifted from it being perceived as a “responsible power” when it first proposed the Six-Party Talks, to it now being perceived as more of an “enabler” of the DPRK and its various military machinations.

Second, given the second stage debris of the missile-rocket landed not a few hundred KMs from the Philippines, then the PRC’s song and dance about the new X-Band Radar proposed for southern Japan and/or the Philippines is going to look all the more hollow. Japan, Taiwan, Australia and the Philippines will be officially less than amused, but may also be very pleased as any further installation of BMD architecture such as the X-Band Radar in southern Japan or the Philippines will in practice, even if not officially, bring greater protection against the PRC’s own MRBMs. Further X-Band Radar installation will also help in enabling the US and Japan naval forces to stand their ground better against the DF-21D “Carrier Killer” within the key strategic triangle of Guam-Tokyo-Taipei. If the Chinese are unwilling to cut the DPRK adrift, or unable to bring them under control, then they have little valid leverage to push back against such plans.

Third, the PRC a few months into the DPRK’s succession had many of the state-associated think tank scholars spread the word regarding the DPRK having turned over a new page, confident that the DPRK would follow the PRC’s lead and pursue Deng Xiaoping-era style reforms.  Apparently the PRC communicated to the other powers in the region that they were not to do anything that would “interfere” with the transition of power to Kim Jong-eun. Essentially this was a warning to respect China’s sphere of influence and to not attempt to put pressure on the DPRK which would destabilize it.  This had led to fears of China potentially “colonizing” North Korea economically, but yesterday’s launch may well represent a rejection of such “guidance” from the PRC, or at the very least an attempt to extract more out of the Chinese in terms of assistance before the almost inevitable threat to detonate a nuclear device rises early next year. It may also reflect a recalibration of internal politics back towards the military, although I have no particular information that would confirm this. Giving in to the DPRK’s demands however, likely in defiance or ignorance of proposed sanctions by the ROK, Japan and the US, will however hurt China’s own regional credibility as well as its own security interests, as per point two above.