House of Represenatives Election in One Month (or less)

As noted in the edits on the previous post the situation appears to be that Noda is asking, in return for dissolving the HoR, for:

* The LDP and Komeito to not only pass the deficit financing bills (on track) but also to pass a bill to correct the individual vote-value disparity that has been ruled unconstitutional

* For the LDP and Komeito to also promise to discuss the reduction of the number of seats in the HoR in the next Diet session

* And also to go forward on a 20 percent reduction in Diet member expenses

The Yomiuri suggests (日) that although the constitutional correction may be passed before the Diet is dissolved on Friday (if it is), the election will be held under the current demarcation of electoral districts. It is less than clear whether this process will satisfy the Supreme Court. Abe and Komeito leader Yamaguchi appear to be open to the idea of passing the correction now and promising to deal with the other aspects of Diet reform later according to post-debate announcements. So it seems likely that we will have an election on December 9th or December 16th (日), unless a constitutional crisis is precipitated.

If Noda goes down the TPP road then next year’s government might have a few tricky issues to manage.


The DPJ Submits the Electoral Reform Bill (and Noda Adds a Twist)

The DPJ submitted (日) the electoral reform bill to the House of Representatives today. It is apparently the same as the bill that was rejected in the last Diet session. This is the one where the single member district seats are reduced from 300 to 295, with the reductions coming in the least populated prefectures. The PR seats are to be reduced from 180 to 140, with 35 of those seats being apportioned in a way favourable to the smaller parties.

However, Noda has stirred things up by saying (日) in Diet question time that a 2012 election (or as the reports mentioned, a dissolution of the Diet on the 16th – meaning Friday!) is a distinct possibility if the LDP and Komeito pass the electoral reform bill (edit/correction: and promises (日) to cooperate on passing a bill reducing the number of HoR seats and cuts Diet member expenses by 20 percent in the next Diet session).

This puts the pressure on Abe for the time being and maybe buys Noda a little more time on the TPP- does Abe want the PM’s job so much that he will give the DPJ a minor victory just before the election? A victory that could allow them to go into an election arguing that they passed a new tax but also cut the salaries of bureaucrats, and extracted a promise that will result in the reduction of discretionary spending of Diet members, and also cuts the number of HoR members in (symbolic) recognition of the burden placed on citizens.* Along with a commitment to the TPP this would appear to be the narrative Noda would want to promote.

He may succeed not only because of the LDP’s and Komeito’s eagerness to get back into government but also because they may all be collectively mindful of the impact “third-pole” parties, currently amassing their troops, may have if the election is put off too much longer. Indeed it would seem that the three main parties are anticipating some kind of post-election collaboration as the DPJ, LDP and Komeito have come to an agreement on the rules for passing the issuance of deficit covering bonds until 2015, for the ostensible purpose of avoiding subsequent governments being held “hostage” to the issue of government finances. This has essentially been an issue since 2007 when the ‘twisted Diet’ became a regular feature of Japanese politics.

Nevertheless, the next move would seem to be Abe’s on the electoral bill** – there are signs that the LDP may be open (日) – then followed perhaps by a decision on the TPP by Noda going in to the Cambodia East Asia Summit meeting.


Edit: It seems that while Jiji reported that the DPJ submitted an electoral reform bill with both the constitutional correction and PR reduction elements, it seems the focus is on whether the LDP and Komeito will “promise” to have discussions (and eventually pass a bill) over reducing the PR and overall number of seats in the House of Representatives during next year’s Diet session (as well as reducing by 20 percent Diet member expenses)- after an election. (ie deal with the constitutional issue now but allow Noda to say he extracted promises regarding reducing the financial burden of Japan’s HoR)

Further Edit: The Yomiuri suggests (日) that although the constitutional correction may be passed the election will be held under the current demarcation. It is less than clear whether this will satisfy the Supreme Court. Abe and Komeito leader Yamaguchi appear to be open to the idea of passing the correction now and promising to deal with the other aspects of electoral reform later according to post-debate announcements. So it seems likely that we will have an election on December 9th or December 16th.

The DPJ’s Third TPP Attempt? (Edited)

President Putin was unable (日) to juggle his schedule and his aides had become concerned about his “condition.” A December meeting between Putin and Noda was suddenly put off until January at the earliest. Noda was apparently also concerned about how the Russia meeting was going to affect plans to deal with the domestic political situation.

Probably. It is also likely a sign that negotiations are not progressing as well as had been hoped.

Either way, an important date was cleared from Noda’s December schedule, begging some questions regarding his strategy around calling an election.

Wasting no time, it was also revealed that Noda was now considering calling an election after all. Of course this is after having cowed the opposition into doing what they were always going to do anyway – agree to pass the budget financing bills – and got the bleating about the need to call an election stopped for one day (日). It seems that Noda has decided that the time is right to consider (after caving (日) in on the bill that would superficially fix the lower house vote disparity) dissolving the lower house in late November/December (election then likely to actually take place in January).

There has been talk in the last week of the DPJ actually already engaging in preparation/constructing an “environment” friendly for calling an election. The DPJ is going around the country over the next week to talk (日) to the public about what they have actually achieved in the last three years. Articles appeared in newspapers calling for “fresh ideas” as an implicit form of apology for the DPJ not having lived up to the manifesto and reform expectations. The party has identified that it needs to run in the election as the centrist party option and sole remaining bulwark against the “conservative” forces of Abe’s LDP, Ishihara and Hashimoto. And Noda has now dangled (日) in front of the media the idea that the nation will officially enter TPP negotiations, seemingly more plausible now that Obama has been reelected (meaning he can discuss sensitive issues regarding Japan and the TPP without worrying about the impact on key battleground states like Ohio, Michigan, etc).

The strategy, according to media reports (日), is for Noda to commit Japan to enter the TPP, and then soon after that call an election.

Let’s be sure of a couple of things.

First, Japan announcing that it will enter negotiations may not result in much progress actually being made. Whether Obama can realistically hold back US auto industry demands for “prior concessions,” which makes it close to impossible for Japan to enter the TPP, is less than clear and will require leadership/bravery on his part. In fact one source (日) suggests that the US has no intention on going back on the requirement for “prior concessions” due to the importance the Obama administration has placed on saving the auto industry in his policies and then in his campaign rhetoric against Romney. Japan will also still need to get the agreement of all of the other nations involved before actually entering negotiations. Also, now with Canada involved, which has its own protectionist interests in the agricultural sector, gaining this permission to enter negotiations is going to get somewhat harder. Obama will also have to think carefully about how discussions about Japan joining the TPP will affect any attempt to gain “fast-track” authorization for the TPP negotiations from Congress, which is a subject than cannot be put off for too long – although the slow progress, and apparently deadlocked negotiations, may provide some breathing room in terms of urgency.

Second, it may ultimately not save Noda. The LDP will likely still gain the highest number of seats in the next election. But such a strategy could have an interesting impact upon the way an election, and its immediate aftermath, unfolds, that could benefit some in the DPJ.

First, depending on the order of events, it may well enhance Noda’s ability to construct a truly “centrist” party in terms of both narrative and personnel management. Either the remaining anti-TPP advocates (日) in the DPJ will have to leave before an election will be held, or vote along with the LDP on a no-confidence motion regarding the TPP (if announced before the end of the current Diet session on November 30), which will result in the same outcome.  One less problem (日) for Noda, and he can reward those reformist, pro-TPP loyalists, with a more likely chance of being reelected.  It could even be a “less is more” outcome as a DPJ unencumbered by worrying about alienating certain interests may perversely be more electable.

If these anti-TPP DPJ members (along with – or initiated by – Ozawa’s separatists) specifically sponsor a no-confidence motion for the purposes of assailing Noda on the TPP, then the LDP will have to be careful to manage the atmospherics around this. The LDP will have to condemn Noda for making such an important, but “illegitimate” decision without consultation just before an election he had already promised to call “soon.” But the LDP will also have to articulate their own view on the TPP for electoral consumption. If Noda calls an election without even waiting for the no-confidence motion (or calls it after November 30), thereby turning the election into one about the TPP, which Abe himself is against, this to be sure will not gain the DPJ anything close to a majority, and will probably not save Noda…but it could still play well enough in public to give the DPJ a chance to gain more than they would likely right at this moment, based on this new, more coherent and “centrist” branding. With the consumption tax and the entering of TPP negotiations under his belt Noda may well be able to pick up a few votes due to an emphasis on “decisive politics” ( or “politics that can decide” if you like), no matter how unpopular the policies may be (also if Noda holds strong and calls the election “when he wants to”, this will only enhance this narrative).

As noted it will force Abe et al to make a decisive statement themselves. If they also come out in favor of the TPP then they jeopardize their ability to retake the rural seats that the DPJ managed to divert  from the LDP in 2009 and will almost certainly lose as they did in the 2010 House of Councillors election. Abe will also be mindful of under-performing in an election given that he was not even his party’s no.1 choice in the first place.  I would put my money on an anti-TPP line prevailing especially given Abe’s preexisting proclivities. If they do come out against the TPP  they will have to make a decision on just what they will do with Noda’s TPP “present” if they get back into government.

Perhaps along with the nuclear power issue, this may be the DPJ’s equivalent of the Futenma ‘leadership opportunity’ which the LDP lovingly left the DPJ to deal with along with their conflicted coalition partners in 2009. If Abe and the LDP still gain the largest number of seats in a TPP-centered election (with the LDP on one side and the DPJ on the other), and has to forge a working relationship with the likes of Hashimoto, Watanabe, and Ishihara (who all have various opinions on the TPP), then this could be a ticking time bomb that could destroy an Abe administration. Even if somehow Abe manages to avoid this and his minority government manages to preserve a likely anti-TPP line, then (as Noda has already committed Japan to negotiations) this will require Abe, one of the DC establishment’s favorite sons, to burn a few bridges. Either the Abe administration will have to drag its feet on the TPP with the long-term intention of failing, or it will have to decisively pull out of negotiations. Either option will likely greatly complicate Abe’s management of its relationship with the US, and will also likely hurt him greatly at home where there is an even split in regards to whether Japan should join TPP negotiations or not. Abe may just as quickly lose the Keidanren’s endorsement that was picked up after his election to LDP presidency. * And voters may quickly remember why they turfed out the LDP in the first place.

While the situation will have become more complex for “PM Abe” et al,** the DPJ will potentially for the first time become a coherent opposition, possibly behind a new, likely younger, leader. In theory. If this all transpires before next year’s House of Councillors election then the DPJ may well manage a mini-comeback.***

This could all be another trial balloon/political diversion for the LDP and Noda’s opponents, which could force themselves in compromising themselves. One hopes not – this is a strategy that is becoming more obvious and less effective over time and is actually now hurting the DPJ more than anyone else. To be sure the TPP “nuclear” option is also still only being “investigated” as an approach to resolving the current political deadlock – many in the DPJ still want to hang around and play a part in drafting the next budget.

But it could also be a good sign that Noda has realized there is very little to gain by loitering and being timid at this point in time, and is grasping the situation by the horns. It will also be very obvious to Noda that the “third pole parties” are precisely at this point unclear about how to deal with each other (日) and forge the common front essential for any reasonable electoral success and after election influence. Waiting too much longer may give them the time they need (and seemingly, want (日)) to iron out the differences.

We may know more about this on Wednesday, November 14, when Abe and Noda go head to head (日) in parliament. Noda, now having the LDP’s explicit support in passing the budget related bills, and implicit support on the other requirements (日)  for a lower house dissolution he had previously articulated (the fixing of the constitutional vote disparity and the establishment of a national commission on social security), will struggle to avoid being more specific on the issue of when a lower house election will be held.

* The Keidanren has essentially said (日) that this month’s East Asia Summit in Cambodia may well be a “last chance” for a meaningful TPP announcement for Japan.

** Remembering the LDP will be almost more certainly anti-TPP after the election than it will be even before it irrespective of Abe’s own views.

*** There is always the (very hopeful) possibility that the LDP will be so compromised and mismanage the situation so badly that an effective double election will be held anyway in late 2013 and that the “new” DPJ and some collection of third pole forces will be in a position to align themselves on issues of reform and have control of the lower house.


What Will Noda Be Up to in Moscow?

I’ve been having minor disagreements with MTC of late (by clogging up his comments section) regarding the coherence of the Noda administration’s approach to the current political situation and what they hope to get out of it. Long story short – MTC sees Noda as still having a few cards to play, while I am more inclined to agree with LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru (日) that whatever game he is playing, it is futile and will probably lead the DPJ to even worse results than it currently faces. Minister of Education Tanaka Makiko’s somewhat abrupt, misdirected crusade against ‘poor quality universities’ by picking on three due for accreditation next year, will likely consolidate Noda’s fate unless Ms Tanaka has become less stubborn since her last stint as a minister and retracts her comments, preferably by yesterday. (See Jun Okumura here for reflections with which I concur). It certainly will give LDP leader Abe Shinzo a lot of timely ammunition (日) given that he himself would have seen Tanaka’s “interesting” behaviour up close while he was Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary during the first Koizumi cabinet.

I have however held in the back of my mind one potential exception that could actually genuinely help Noda raise his image – that exception being a “December surprise” in regards to Noda’s visit to Russia. In the middle of this year’s APEC meeting near Vladivostok, against the backdrop of Russia’s pronouncement that it wanted to conduct a pivot of its own to the Asia-Pacific, President Putin invited Noda to visit again later in the year suggesting something ‘substantial’ could be discussed. Over the last few months there has also been more diplomatic activity than normal around Russo-Japanese relations, and I have noticed a little more interest in Russia among Japanese observers of Japan’s foreign policy.  Japan reacted with atypical calm to Russia sending a warship to the Kuriles during the height of tensions with China over the Senkakus in 2012, especially given former PM Kan’s 2010 outburst regarding Medvedev’s visit to the Kuriles (to be sure likely an overcorrection given the 2010 Senkaku dispute had taken place not long beforehand exposing Kan’s lack of foreign policy nouse, and for that matter, interest). Now that Putin is safely entrenched for another 8 years now would indeed be a good time to start to work on a long-term foreign policy agenda. Assuming a degree of Japanese diplomatic flexibility that, without China’s recent indiscretions, would probably normally not be forthcoming, it would seem the stage is being set for an interesting December meeting.

Is this what Noda could be holding out for? Is this why (or one of the reasons) the LDP is so urgent to have an election this year (or have Noda commit to one before he gets on a plane to Russia)? Will there be significant announcements regarding political commitments to resolve the Kurile Islands dispute and strategic alignment on energy policy?

So I have wondered anyhow.

This comprehensive piece by a former Indian diplomat to the Soviet Union would suggest there might be something to this line of thought.

Ultimately, Japan may be of great assistance for Russia’s desire to soft balance against China and its influence in the Far East by inserting itself into Asia. Japan certainly has assisted India’s being drawn into the East Asian diplomatic fold over the last 5 to 10 years after its “Look East” policy started to take effect. Like for India, access to Japanese finance and technology could also help drive a degree of economic upscaling and development.

Whether any big announcement, if it comes to fruition, will really have any impact on Noda’s fortunes is unclear. As it is, foreign policy usually has only a fleeting command over any public’s imagination and mostly it is something that only subtracts from popularity, not enhances it, as Hatoyama and Kan have already learned. To be sure a big announcement may well have had an impact earlier in Noda’s tenure. However it would seem with Noda now having dipped to 17 percent support, after having already risen and fallen a few times, the public will be indifferent to anything but the most startling positive developments.

I don’t believe the Russians are going to be quite that accommodating.

Update: Former PM Mori is preparing to go to Moscow.

Now for Something Completely Different: Kind Words for Abe Shinzo

After Abe Shinzo’s victory in the LDP presidential race, Japan Security Watch co-perpetrator James Simpson and I consoled ourselves on Twitter with recognition that while Abe may have been a failure (and indeed a potential danger) on the domestic front the first time around, his foreign and security policy accomplishments, aside from a few indiscrete remarks, were significant.

There is a tendency to see Japan’s foreign policy in the 21st century split between the “conservative nationalist” period which would cover the Koizumi, Abe and Aso cabinets, and the “Asianist” period with the LDP Fukuda interlude and the DPJ (or earlier to Obuchi if you want book ends). If one however pays attention to what was done, rather than what was said during the last 11 years, a more appropriate division could arguably be made between the Koizumi tenure and the post-Koizumi tenure, of which Abe ushered into existence.

The fact of the matter is is that Koizumi’s foreign policy was not only somewhat opportunistic but often unfocused. In terms of military and security policy, Koizumi dedicated Japan’s resources to inappropriate endeavours and his adminstration appeared to lack an articulated strategic focus other than to simply follow behind the US, something which ultimately overstretched the SDF’s resources and doctrinal coherence to the point of danger. Only, perhaps ironically, under the DPJ, are we seeing a more robust and focused consideration and debate in regards to what the SDF should be doing, rather than trying to do everything or anything that is politically expedient at the time. Koizumi also displaced Obuchi’s human security agenda from the centre of Japan’s foreign policy, at least rhetorically, seemingly on the basis of personal whim. This was an area of foreign policy endeavour where Japan was a global leader and one of great value in terms of Japan’s national interests in the strategically important Southeast Asia region. During Koizumi’s time in office Japan’s crediblity and influence in Southeast Asia fell to its lowest levels, while China was making significant strides precisely at this time. Despite this, Koizumi only visited Southeast Asia once during five years outside of multilateral forums and the like. Even when he did things right, like embracing Indonesia during the post-tsunami humanitarian crisis and during the subsequent crisis (and then peace-process) in Aceh, he failed in terms of follow up and ensuring Japan remained committed. Indeed, after making the initial running Japan meekly ceded a primary leadership role to Finland in Aceh. If Koizumi had of cared more about a coherent and consistent foreign policy in this critical region he may well have ended up with a Nobel Peace Prize as well as enhancing Japanese credibility in the region. The less said about Northeast Asia under Koizumi’s watch, the better, of course.

Abe on the other hand, while only in office one year, was much more focused in terms of foreign policy goals, and was generally constructive and effective. Japan security and geopolitical relations with many strategically critical nations for Japan such as India, Australia, and Vietnam actually went forward in concrete terms in all realms – diplomatic, economic and military. Relations with Northeast Asia, much to everyone’s surprise, stabilized and improved. Abe, and those who came after him, presided over actual progress being made on FTAs/EPAs in the region rather than simply engaging in rhetoric about “region building.” If one pays close attention to what has actually happened under the DPJ in terms of foreign policy, strategic and security policy developments, (that is, rather than being distracted by the diplomatic and political noise), then much of what the DPJ has done effectively in foreign and security policy, albeit quietly, is arguably a continuation and strengthening of tendencies and agendas initiated under the Abe regime.

While the above is somewhat oversimplified for the purposes of making clear that not all is what it seems, it is in this context that one can read fellow antipodean and friend of the show Andrew Levidis‘ articulate, balanced and unsentimental take (not a criticism) on what an Abe 2.0 administration might mean – something MTC was right to identify.

One paragraph in particular could well describe where the DPJ after three years has ended up in regards to foreign policy thinking:

Japan’s diplomatic strategy toward China during the Abe cabinet was symbolised by an ‘unsentimental perception of friendship’ in which China was ‘neither enemy, nor neutral nor friend’. As premier, Abe made the symbolic decision to visit Beijing, endorsed the official declaration of wartime aggression and accepted the creation of a Sino–Japanese history commission. Yet at the same time he rejected the link between anti-Japanese demonstrations in China and the so-called history problem, criticised China experts within Japan for their ‘excessive reactions’, warned of the instability within China from the loss of the philosophical paradigm of ‘equality of outcomes’, and warned of China’s rapid acquisition of military power.

This view would not be out of place among some of the junior and centrist elements of the DPJ, although this was not necessarily the case at the start of 2009. The irony is that Abe’s social and domestic agenda is anethema to many of these very same people, despite there being areas of linkage in the foreign and security policy dimension. Abe’s seeming contempt for the Japanese constitution, symbolized by the setting up of the ‘Yanai Committee’ to discuss how to “reinterpret” the constitution, is also viewed by many in the centre (of both parties) as cynical and contrary to the very spirit of democratic liberalism that Abe and other conservatives are keen to promote as the key difference between Japan and China.

The other issue is that the foreign policy Abe wanted to pursue, and the one he did pursue, may well have been quite different – such are the difficulties of being in a position of compromise and there is no necessary shame in that. However if is is indeed the case, as some have suggested, that Abe believes that the foreign policy he pursued while in office was too soft, rather than being somewhat competent, then this is indeed a troubling thought.

I will leave the last words to Andrew:

Shinzo Abe’s return to the presidency of the LDP and (potentially) to the Japanese premiership offers both opportunity and danger, and the degree to which he succeeds in reconciling the seeming contradictions within his vision will have a direct bearing upon Japan’s relations and role in Asia.

Hashimoto Digging Himself into a Hole with Japan’s Conservatives?

While the recent Chinese protests against Japan did very little for China’s image as a country ruled and inhabited by rational and well-informed people, in terms of the public relations war over the Senkaku territorial dispute itself, and regarding drawing attention to China and Taiwan’s dangerous attempts to undermine Japanese effective administrative control, Japan has been faring badly.

The main problems have been the combination of Japan’s unwillingness to admit that there is a territorial dispute, combined with simplistic understandings of the historical context of Japan’s acquisition(by both sides of the argument, actually), which has made it look less than reasonable, especially as critics have pointed to Japan’s WWII-related territorial disputes with other nations. The recent prominence of hardline conservative voices regarding the Senkaku Islands dispute has also raised suspicions elsewhere. While Japan has proposed taking the ROK to the ICJ over Dokdo, has emphasized the “rule of (international) law” in the UN, and has criticized the ROK for not recognizing the dispute, it has been too timid to also adhere to the same exact logic regarding the Senkaku Islands, which drastically undermines its credibility.

At the same time the Japanese government has also been unable to articulate to the international community that any Chinese attempt to undermine effective control, is, irrespective of historical and legal dimensions of the dispute itself, invalid and dangerous. Essentially there is a difference between being pigheaded and committing violence against the international order. The principle of respecting effective control must be adhered to, especially given the serious limitations of international law regarding dealing with historical territorial claims. However, if Japan admitted that there was a territorial dispute, was open to taking it to the ICJ, perhaps in exchange for China recognizing Japan’s administrative control and not challenging it, then perhaps China’s actions would be regarded as every bit as provocative as the Japanese believe they should be. This is the jist of former ambassador and head of the MOFA Treaties Bureau Kazuhiko Togo‘s argument to deal with the situation, anyhow. There is certainly something to it.

It is of great interest in this context of territorial and international law disputes, security tensions, and “hardliner” Abe Shinzo’s ascendance to the LDP throne, that Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru has chosen this time to pick a Twitter fight with conservatives over territorial and history issues. I have reproduced selected elements of the discussion below with commentary. While there is a lot to deconstruct and challenge regarding his own view of history and past and current conflicts, the below conversation shows why it is too soon to lump him in with populist “nationalists” like Ishihara Shintaro, or for that matter, conservative “nationalists” like Abe Shinzo and Koizumi Junichiro (as people who walked out of even a reasonably mild Diet resolution on Japan’s war responsibility and defunded the secular alternative to the Yasukuni Shrine).


Hashimoto had earlier suggested that Japan propose dual administration of Dokdo, or the area around it, which is arguably a more moderate proposal than the current government line and certainly more so than calls to “punish” the ROK with sanctions or whatsoever. He had already had media criticism. The storm that this touched off led Hashimoto to confront his interlocutors regarding what they perceived to be “weak-kneed” diplomacy regarding South Korea (on his part and of the current Noda government).

He pointed out the most important point – that South Korea has clear and effective administrative control over the islands. He accused past administrations going way back of having done nothing about the ROK’s acquisition of the islands, but he suggested that this was ultimately Japan’s own “fault” and that they had to accept the cruel facts of life – Korea is not going to give up Dokdo, and like Japan with the Senkakus, it has administrative control. While Hashimoto’s own plan of dual administration will be considered for all of a single second in Korea, Hashimoto felt the need to ask his assailants what they would otherwise do to rectify the situation.

Were they actually saying that they wanted “to use force against Korea to take back the islands?” “No” they said – of course not. “But that is basically what you are arguing for” Hashimoto replies. “What about economic sanctions?” some suggest. “Go back and do so more study! How is that going to work?” Hashimoto accurately notes.

Indeed. Hashimoto seems to at least understand that you can’t take one stance on one territorial issue and then self-indulgently take another stance on another conflict.

This morning Hashimoto is at it again, but this time with the Senkakus. What is that retro-conservative saying now?

Japan should admit that there is a territorial dispute and should be willing to go to the ICJ!

Hmmm…that isn’t going to sit well.


Between sovereign states, claims should be settled by reference to principles of law and justice. The rule of law should be respected. While continuing to adhere to such a stance, it is also a reality that a certain degree of one’s own force needs to be maintained. We must face reality while also adhering to the rule of law.

Thus, in regards to the Senkakus, we should stop with this kind of bureaucratic “there is not territorial dispute” stance. If we are so confident in our convictions we should say to China that we are willing to go to the ICJ. This is our chance – actually China is not too keen to go to the ICJ. International society is neutral in regards to disputes. Even the US does not recognize Japan’s sovereignty and is keeping neutral. If we are willing to resolve through the ICJ, we will get considerable support from international society. Even if Korea and China are reluctant, they will have to explain to the international community their position. Likewise with Russia. We should however also increase our national strength. In regards to defense spending, we should not limit it to 1 percent. We should acquire the level of defense strength that we need. As a maritime nation, including the JCG strength, this is a particularly important topic. We need to embrace collective self defense. And strengthen the US alliance. While leading on the promotion of the rule of international law through the ICJ, we should also strengthen ourselves (militarily).

Regarding Japan’s past war deeds, we should recognize our wrongness [literally “that wrong things are wrong”]. However, in regards to the (unchangeable) circumstances of that era, we should also at the same time[as recognizing the bad things] identify the constructive aspects [likely referring to Taiwan and Korea’s economic growth, or Southeast Asian independence?] and correct global perceptions. All of the thinking (statements) about this period is foggy. This fogginess is the main cause of problems. We cannot just say that everything we did was justified or that we are simply being masochistic [by not recognizing positive aspects]. If we admit to the bad things [atrocities] more specifically then we can also talk about the circumstances of the time [perhaps the reasons for the war] and also our contributions. We can push back against mistaken perceptions. This should be made more clear in our government statements on these issues [the bad things should be detailed more as well as “good” things ie the current vagueness is preventing the recognition of either].

We should admit the wrong things, have sympathy for others, and continue to be cautious [about war?]. But, we should push back against unreasonable criticism. Being able to be proud of what we did is directly connected to our recognizing the injustices.

Hashimoto’s point regarding China and Japan having a “chance” shows a good understanding of the situation. China would certainly hesitate to take the Senkaku Islands dispute to the international court, having built it up into a big deal and emphasizing the “unmistakeable” justice of the Chinese claim. In reality, the historical evidence and justifications are foggy at best, and Japan’s continuous administration and lack of Chinese protest before the 1970s could be fatal for China’s case in a court of international law. Certainly ignoring such a risk would be unwise.

Any Japanese administration that lost the Senkakus would be finished to be sure – but what is a Japanese Prime Minister and a new party in government worth these days anyway? The consequences for the Chinese Communist Party would be much more severe. They may ignore the ruling and take on the nose the possibly irreparable harm done to China’s international reputation – significant all the more because they would have agreed to abide by the ruling by going to court. The other issue is that if Japan received a ruling in its favour then it would almost certainly strengthen further its administrative control over the islands and would feel good about doing so. Would China continue to contest this control? Would it launch a military strike?

Conventional logic would suggest no, given the economic, military and diplomatic losses it would incur. But, the CCP’s legitimacy, especially now that the economy is faltering and social instability is rising, is increasingly based on a perception of it being a hardheaded and effective manager of international relations and of China’s rise, and in particular one that would ensure that the historical traumas inflicted by the West and Japan are not repeated. If the CCP just meekly accepted the ruling, the chance of popular anger rising could well lead to the party’s downfall, or certainly end quite a few political lives. Either it would be accused of having been too soft regarding Japan and/or the international community, or it would be accused by others of deceit and manipulation surrounding the Senkaku Islands.The CCP has recently effectively dealt itself “all in” on this dispute.

So Hashimoto probably calculates that Japan being open to taking the dispute to the ICJ is a low-risk, high-return proposition.

In any respect, Hashimoto was not finished there on Twitter and took a few responses. A few other tidbits that won’t endear him to either the left or the right in Japan:

Interlocutor 1:  If we adhered to the 1 percent cap on military spending then Japan would still be 3rd the highest military spender in the world, and that there is still waste in defense spending – 1 percent should be enough.

[Japan is no where near 1 percent right now FWIW]

Hashimoto: I am not necessarily advocating for going beyond 1 percent…just simply that we should start from the point of view of what we need, and we can take the conversation regarding money from there.

Interlocutor 2: The US and Europe never bother to apologize for their colonialism… and there is no way that they could compensate for hundreds of years of colonialism

Hashimoto: There is no need for us to imitate Europe and America’s bad points. We should recognize the violations and we should also note clearly the constructive actions.

[Fun fact just to stir the pot with my American readers: Until 2009 in the US there was no official apology for black slavery or for the treatment of Native Americans/First Peoples – and the resolutions of 2009 explicitly identified that there would be no compensation]

Interlocutor 3: Maybe you want to abandon the [1965] Japan-Korea Treaty on Basic Relations? [Which resolved the legal issue (for the ROK at least) regarding compensation].

Interlocutor 4: Many [Japanese war criminals] were executed, money was paid, and a treaty was agreed to, don’t you think this has been resolved? Are you saying even though reconciliation money was paid and documents exchanged then this is insufficient?

Hashimoto: Yes, legally speaking. But problems of the spirit [lit. heart] are different from legal issues.

An additional comment to No.4: “Could you say the same thing [directly] to the bereaved families of those caught up in “gratuitous” internal incidents?

So Much for the Renewal of the LDP

In the LDP presidential contest run-off Abe Shinzo prevailed over Ishiba Shigeru, 108 to 89 votes, after Ishiba took out the LDP chapters by a margin of 165 to 87 (with three others) and 199 to 141 including the Diet members first round votes. Ishihara gained a full 65 votes from Diet members, but only 34 from the regional chapters. The factions played a decisive role in this outcome.

If this represents a renewal of the LDP, then they are  doing it by going all the way back to the start of the 1955 system. This is the first time in 56 years that a second place getter in the first round has managed to prevail in a run-off of only LDP Diet Members.



Preliminary Results from the LDP Presidential Election: Ishiba Triumphs…in the regional chapters

As of 12.45 Japan time the counting of the LDP presidential contest’s regional chapter votes continues (日). Ishiba has acquired 157, Abe 84, and Ishihara 34.There is only 16 left to apportion. So this means even before they move to the LDP Diet members voting portion of the first round (in an hour or so), this is going to be a two-horse race.

The question now becomes whether those who would have Ishiba (or Abe) as their second choice after Ishihara, Machimura, and Hayashi, are going to switch their votes to him now or only vote for their man in the run-off. Ishiba will probably need about 85 votes to avoid a run-off. If he doesn’t it could bode very badly for Ishiba in a run-off vote, where there is a possibility that for the first time in 56 years the second place getter in the first round will defeat the first place getter in the run-off. The decisiveness of Ishiba “popular vote” victory, gaining over half of the 300 regional votes for himself, (and especially considering there was 5 people in the race), would for all common sense mitigate against such an outcome. But, factionalism could still rear its head in the LDP. This morning there was much talk about this being the last chance for renewal for the LDP. While I have my doubts if Ishiba will represent renewal as such, an Abe victory, when seen in the view of the regional chapter votes and his own biography, would certainly suggest that the last chance for renewal has definitely been missed.

My take on the LDP presidential election

Whoever wins the LDP presidential election is odds on to be the Japanese prime minister after Noda Yoshihiko. When Noda steps down is of course a different issue. If he is able to manage the rest of the crisis with China well, and puts into place a policy platform for the next 9 months that his party can get behind, then he may be able to make it all the way to next year, or even a double HOR-HOC election. Noda has indeed already signalled that he reserves the right (日) to make the decision for himself whether an election will be held “sometime soon,” given the incoherent “betrayal” of the three-party agreement when the LDP censured itself for passing the consumption tax.

Nevertheless, who wins the LDP election may also have a significant impact on what happens next, in terms of when an election is called, and what will happen in that election.

If Abe Shinzo wins then he will likely pursue a hard line against the DPJ and attempt to pressure them into an earlier election focusing on a perceived and imagined “weakness” in regards to dealing with China on the part of the Noda administration. Furthermore, Abe’s election could have an impact on both the LDP’s electoral fortunes (likely to be worse) and also the workability of an LDP-DPJ-Komeito grand coalition in the long to medium term. While there are many in the DPJ who are hawkish on foreign policy, most of these people, like Edano, Maehara, and Hosono (potential Noda replacements) dislike Abe’s social conservatism and lack of interest in administrative, economic and social issues.

Abe’s preferred post-election partner will be Hashimoto’s JRP rather than the DPJ and he will lose no sleep over not being able to work with the DPJ. (He is also unlikely to lose any sleep over the issue of Japan’s electoral constitutionality, not exactly being a big fan of the current Japanese constitution in the first place.) Of course, as soon as Abe realizes the entrenched interests he will have to stand up to to assist the implementation of the JRA’s agenda, then he may have to quickly become interested in issues other than China-baiting and constitutional revision/reinterpretation.

If Ishihara Nobuteru wins, he is likely to continue a hardish line against the DPJ, but will be mindful that he is the owner of the legacy of the “three-party accord” which might compel him to moderate his tone, especially in consideration of a post-election deal with the DPJ and so forth. He is flaky however, so no one can really be sure, however.

If Ishiba Shigeru wins then he will be the most likely to work with the DPJ in terms of passing the government bond bills to fund the budget, as well as any other legislation that they may see fit, including constitutional electoral adjustments. Interested in policy issues, Ishiba may even consider legislation that would take the wind out of the sails of the Japan Restoration Party before an election. Ishiba has the best links to the DPJ and it is not out of the question that Ishiba and Maehara (as the policy chairman, and as a possible successor to Noda) in particular may cooperate more faithfully both before and after the election on a variety of issues. The DPJ can live longer in a coalition with an Ishiba-led LDP and cabinet.

So what is the most likely outcome? (Yes, I am ignoring two candidates.)

The election works as such:

We have 199 votes for the MPs, one point each.

The 47 regional chapters together have 300 votes.

Each chapter was apportioned at least 3 votes, and the rest decided by internal party factors that I am not privy to, but in any respect it is not a strictly proportional distribution based either on population or paid up party membership numbers. Tokyo gets 16 votes, while even chapters with a few thousand members get at least 4.

Each chapter’s votes are allocated on the basis of the D’hondt method.

Before the “election season,” Ishihara Nobuteru was seen to be the favourite. He had pseudo-incumbency as the 2IC to Tanigaki’s deal with the Komeito and the DPJ over the consumption tax. He had support within the party’s MP groups, and enough popular recognition to ensure that he would contend for the “popular” chapter votes, or at least have more popularity than Abe.

Ishihara however may struggle to make it to the run-off that will almost certainly take place. His performance has been uninspiring and a number of his statements are hard to decipher or bordering on reckless. He has a past history of making quite astonishing gaffes. He has also not distinguished himself in any way or form from the other party contestants. It appears he is not well liked outside the main metropolitan areas even among the LDP and it is by no means guaranteed that he will beat out Abe in the “popular vote,” especially because the 300 votes are apportioned in a way that gives votes in the rural areas more impact. He also has lost support within the Diet members’ group and is trailing Abe in this respect. If Machimura bows out, then there is a possibility that Ishihara may still make it to the second round if the retiring party elder Mori directs his people to go with Ishihara, as has been suggested he might. The effect on the popular vote will be minimal perhaps of Machimura bowing out, as he is only likely to do well in Hokkaido, and may pick up a few votes only in the other regions.

Abe has the advantage of support of a few factions within the LDP’s Diet members’ group. His support among the rank and file is a little better than I would have thought (perhaps owing to the exodus of moderates from the LDP after 2009) but still not stellar. With the way the chapter votes are proportioned then he might still beat out Ishihara in that vote however, as areas outside cities carry more weight.

Ishiba has the advantage in the rank and file vote, but has only a weak support base among the factions as the “anti-faction” candidate.

Based on the information available about where the local chapters are trending, home field advantage, and who has the support of what faction, here is a prediction. Have a large bag of salt handy.

Ishiba will take about 130 votes in rank and file voting, Abe 82, Ishihara 77, Machimura 8, Hayashi 3.

Abe has 50 LDP Diet members lined up, Ishihara 40, Ishiba and Machimura 30, and Hayashi 20.

I am going to give the remaining 29 Diet members to Ishiba just because they may be sitting on the fence to see what the rank and file in the chapters want.

Ishiba will get 189, Abe 132, Ishihara 117, Machimura 38, Hayashi 23.

Ishiba will be some way short of the 250 needed for a decisive first round victory. The only chance for Ishiba to take this out in the first round is if Machimura drops out and Ishihara is identified by both the rank and file and Ishihara’s Diet supporters as a lost cause and switch to Ishiba at the last minute.  On the other hand, the Machimura illness may advantage Ishihara, and allow him to sneak into second place – I can see this going both ways. I will wait until Machimura’s situation is confirmed and there is some word with how this will affect the LDP Diet votes before assuming anything. I still predict Abe and Ishiba will face off in the run-off with Diet members only.

After this, I have no idea where to start in a prediction, other than they will be neck and neck at the start. Negotiating for positions and prizes, like the old-school LDP, is certainly possible.

That said, it’s still hard for me to see Abe winning here. Not only would this mean going against the preferences of the rank and file members of the LDP chapters, but I think it is clear for all that the electoral prospects, and for the management of a grand coalition with the DPJ, improves greatly under Ishiba. He is not discernibly less hawkish than Abe, thus not “weak-kneed,” and is more flexible and “realist” than conservative – possibly less publicly tainted by an explicit sense of being “Anti-Chinese” like Abe is. And while he is no liberal, Ishiba is more pragmatic on economic, social and administrative issues. He is unlikely to support to the hilt the reinvigoration of the “construction state” policy that that the LDP’s factions have identified as part of their next election platform. Of course, the LDP is not known as either principled or rational so there is no certainty that such common sense will prevail in the intra-party bargaining.

Abe’s election through LDP backroom politics could however be a god-send for the DPJ and/or the JRP. The Japanese public is disinterested in Abe’s social conservatism even if they are currently partial to a stronger foreign policy stance. It will be easy for the DPJ to shape the narrative around Abe as someone who lost a nation-wide democratic election (2007 HoC election, and quite badly), gave up the PM’s role in the meekest of ways after a disorganized and inattentive year in office, and even then was only the second most popular candidate from his party this time around. The narrative could be something along the lines of “We have learned a lot from our troubled three years in government – the LDP has learned nothing while in opposition” which could give the DPJ a boost in urban areas outside of the Kansai region. They will still lose their majority in the House of Representatives, but it could prevent an outright thrashing if they campaigned skillfully and drew up a coherent party platform.

How unreasonable is Hashimoto?

This could apply to a lot of things, but for now I will look at the announcement that applicants to run for the Nippon Ishin no Kai (JRA) need to agree “100 percent” with the JRA platform.

This is perhaps not as unreasonable as it first looks. It will be unusual for Americans perhaps, and others from presidential systems, but in parliamentary party-focused systems, when you join the party you are expected to fall more or less in line with the policy direction of the senior leadership. Unless there is a conscience or individual vote, or there is a leadership change/battle (which happen much less often in parliamentary systems other than Japan), it is very seldom that an MP will publicly, at least, express an opinion contrary to his or her leader’s policy. Party discipline is important, along with discipline within cabinet (perhaps more important). This was part of the Ozawa “dream” to fully bring a Westminster style political culture and institutions into Japan’s parliamentary system. It is possible that Hashimoto might, quietly and perhaps unintentionally, succeed where Ozawa did not.

Of course, the key difference is that even if party discipline is important, usually the party’s policy is negotiated and a consensus arises at least among the top leadership, even if the middle and lower level MPs have to suck it in for the time being. In Hashimoto’s case, it is less than clear that such policies have been arrived at by any kind of consensus or process. Perhaps absurdly, while having made the public demand that 100 percent conformity is essential, the application form for running for the JRA in the lower house asks one their opinion on a range of issues, such as education, government, diplomacy and social security. Given that Hashimoto just last week published the answer book policy program for the JRA, I wonder what these politically ambitious people are going to write?

Just to give the applicants more help with filling in the forms, Hashimoto has come out in support of Japan embracing the right to collective self-defense. Not surprising or stunning, and probably no where near as controversial as it used to be. He mentions that it would be wise to still have restrictions on its use, suggesting that even Hashimoto would not support a complete elimination of Article 9.* His statement however seems to open the door to change by interpretation rather than constitutional change, which he had shied away from before. If so, this is a problem. If Japan really is the “the most mature, democratic nation in Asia” then it is necessary that the constitution, and its protector, the Japanese Supreme Court, are taken more seriously (or the SC is made to take itself seriously!). He states:

“The right has been recognized also by the U.N. Charter. Why can’t we exercise this right that we have…That does not make sense logically and linguistically.”

To be sure, I personally think that the current state of affairs is odd. But it makes perfect logical and linguistic sense. The right to collective self-defense is not a legal obligation in international law. It is  a right you can choose not to exercise. If one wants to use national constitutional law to restrain the exercise of this right, then what is there to understand?

* Actually eliminating Article 9 would be nonsensical. The first paragraph is more or less part of the UN Charter that most grown up nations have signed on to and agreed to. Few nations’ constitutions recognize this, but it would look odd going out of one’s way to eliminate it.