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?

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.


Maehara goes to Washington

If PM Noda’s negligence in turning up to September’s APEC without omiyage of Japan’s TPP commitment wasn’t enough to convince the US that Japan does not see the TPP as its economic salvation, then perhaps Maehara Seiji’s Washington comments may do. In a meeting with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Maehara communicated (日) that Japan would not consider the US request for prior concessions before joining negotiations, saying that negotiations would be conducted, well, after negotiations had started. So nothing will happen on the TPP front until 2013 when we know who is in the White House.

Of course, the Asahi interprets this as the pro-American, pro-TPP Maehara communicating intra-party hesistancy about joining the TPP. If it was simply this, I believe he may have chosen different words. An alternative explanation could be that Maehara can see like anyone else that the idea of one-sided prior concessions is fundamentally unfair and asinine. Especially when the requested concessions themselves are fundamentally unfair and asinine.

What about future prospects for the TPP? The TPP’s main supporter is now Hashimoto Toru, who places the TPP, perhaps quixotically, at the centre of his policy drive for opening Japan up to international competition. His strategy is that Japan should pursue a more vigorous free trade agenda at the same time as reforming, perhaps through some tough choices, the agricultural and other uncompetitive sectors in Japan. This seems reasonable, although I think he perhaps is unaware of the geopolitical factors behind Japan’s FTA/EPA policy. Essentially anyone who signs on to cooperation with Hashimoto’s JRA will have to embrace Hashimoto’s TPP policy. The seven established Diet members who switched to Hashimoto’s party have done this, although one of them had to allegedly bite his tongue, which may be a sign of things to come.

The interesting question becomes one of electoral math. If Japan is to join the TPP, then what combination of parties could make this happen? The LDP is likely to become more anti-TPP as it takes back a lot of the rural seats it lost in the 2009 House of Representatives election. This is what happened in the 2010 House of Councillors election, where the LDP didn’t do particular well in the cities but came storming back outside of them. I suspect this might happen again. So an LDP-Komeito-JRA collaboration is probably not going to bring Japan into the TPP, nor would an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. Ironically enough, the DPJ may be more inclined after the election as it will probably be “unburdened” of its rural-orientated members. A DPJ-JRA collaboration may be the best bet for the TPP, if the numbers are there. That said, the longer Japan is left out/stays out, the harder it will be to justify entering at a later stage, given it will have little influence over how the deal is to be shaped. While Obama could ignore the autoindustry after reelection to a second term, it is the Senate that is going to be the hardsell for Japan joining, irrespective of what happens in the US House of Representatives. Another issue is that as the President’s “fast track” negotiating authority (or Trade Promotion Authority) expired in 2007 and the TPP, unlike KORUS, will require renewal of this authority before it can be considered (or else the Senate could theoretically filibuster or even make amendments to the multiple-nation negotiated pact). This article from February suggests that even in 2002 the process for negotiating the renewal of fast track authority took 18 months, and it has already been rejected by the Senate once under Obama’s watch. If Japan is still being considered as a TPP partner to negotiations such legislation may take even longer to pass when Obama pushes for it again in 2013. Even if it is quickly done, the Senate will likely demand that it is given authority over admitting new partners to the TPP negotiating process, which would probably mean Japan will not be included as voting against Japan joining woud not jeopardize the whole agreement. The administration could wait until later to give Japan time to commit before pushing forward on the fast track authority. However the administration will not want to wait too long. As the TPP negotiations get closer to its conclusion (if that is, the direction it is going – we wouldn’t know), the more current participants will want assurance that the painstakingly negotiated agreement is not going to be torn to pieces with all sorts of amendments on the Senate and HoR floor. Tricky.

Maehara’s statement to Senator Baucus today may well be where things end with the TPP and Japan for some time.

Maehara has also failed to bring the omiyage of public understanding regarding the MV-22 Osprey deployment. In fact Maehara requested (日) that conditions be attached to the deployment to Okinawa which would prevent the Osprey from transitioning from vertical takeoff and landing mode (VTOL) and short takeoff and landing mode (STOL) unless it was out to sea or within the cofines of the base. Maehara has, to the surprise of some, being quite outspoken on the Osprey deployment and safety issue over the last few months, perhaps hurting his stock in Washington. That said, I have it on good authority that Maehara was not however universally liked by the DC security establishment.

In any respect, this might be the solution. I have never understood why “pilot error” in previous MV-22 crash incidents, as opposed to the identification of a technical design fault, was supposed to assuage the Japanese people of their concerns – if the difficulty is in the transition as some have argued, then is this not a design fault? Certainly not a technicality given that humans will also be flying the Osprey over Okinawa. Nevertheless, this solution, while making the Osprey marginally more costly to operate, could be argued to be equivalent in safety terms to operating the helicopters the US already uses out of its Japanese bases. That is the logical implication in any respect.

Which Party Will Sit Out 2013?

It is generally accepted that we are moving closer to an election, but that is all we know. In fact, we may not even know that. Noda has been at his evasive best saying one thing (yes, yes, election soon), but intimating another – at the recent APEC he said to Putin that he was keen to visit to discuss issues of “historic” importance. My rational side says nothing much will come of it, but sounds like as good a reason as any to put off an election. Who knows – maybe Noda has a “Nixon goes to China” card up his sleeve.

Nevertheless the punditry has begun, mainly because we now know that Hashimoto Toru’s party (Japan Restoration Association (Party) or JRA) will be competing in the next lower house election, and has secured seven current MPs, thereby allowing the JRA to run candidates in the regional PR blocks as well as the Single Member Districts. We also have a fair idea of what his policies will be (another post).

So it is about time I put in my almost certainly overvalued two cents.

Jun Okumura says that incentive is for Hashimoto’s JRA to stay out of any post-election coalition – to let the DPJ-LDP-Komeito marriage of ill-repute come together with extremely low expectations, and to fail to even meet those. All the while the JRA will be ready to pounce,  having acquired for itself some basic party funding, in the 2013 House of Councillors election and the likely snap election that would probably take place soon after. A recent Asahi Shimbun poll (日) supports such a view – even before discussions about a grand coalition 43% are against the idea of three-way cooperation versus 38% for a grand coalition. Such numbers will only drop once “deals” are done and the sausage factory is opened to the public. The same poll also asked people who were well disposed to the JRA having influence after the election which party the JRA should cooperate with after this election. 54% of those people said there was no necessity for the JRA to collaborate with any of the existing parties, corroborating Okumura’s view.

Michael Cucek suggests on the other hand that the incentive is actually for the DPJ to stay out of any post-election coalition, utilizing an ‘excuse’ of having essentially “lost” the faith of the people, to take advantage of a likely LDP-Komeito-JRA train wreck. If there is a formal or semi-formal arrangement – perhaps the LDP-Komeito forming a minority government, with the JRA providing confidence – Cucek predicts that such an arrangement falls apart due to countless skeletons coming out of the JRA amateurs’ (in the non-critical sense of the word) closets and various other iniquities and incompetencies. Even if the arrangement is very loose, it is hard to see collaboration surviving beyond the first budget – the LDP has promised to essentially bring back the “construction state” while the JRA’s continued existence will depend on it not being seen to support such an outcome. The DPJ will, with new leadership and after a period of reflection, be able to make up some ground in the snap election that would come from this,  and will ultimately be in a better position to finally implement, along with the JRA, some of the administrative reforms it originally wanted to.

Where do I stand on this?

I say it depends on how who is left standing in the DPJ after the next election. My issue with Cucek’s scenario is a simple one – I can see his logic, but is the collective leadership of the DPJ that smart…or more so, that brave?

Cucek is correct when he states that Ozawa, and the DPJ in general, had brought in good talent to man, and importantly, woman its middle and junior ranks. The greatest tragedy would be that such talents would go to waste while the ancien regime of the Cold War left and the now compromised senior leadership squeak on by. The party has over time brought in many centrists with real world experience outside of politics, and with a genuine interest in policy. If these talents are wiped out completely then the DPJ will have nothing to rehabilitate and may as well join in on the grand coalition. If the party can affect true “generational change,” perhaps under a humble but young leader like Hosono (who tactically and symbolically did the right thing by not running for the DPJ leadership), then Cucek’s strategy may be plausible. So can a decent size rump of the “next generation” survive 2012?

Depending on who the LDP selects as its leader, the DPJ will probably as the polls show finish second or third in the PR – they will be lucky to get much more than 20%. This will likely rehabilitate the current leadership through PR lists but not much more. So it will come down to   the 300 (or 295) SMDs whether the DPJ can find any salvation. The DPJ “kanban” is certainly not of any help. However much of Ozawa’s recruited talent have been squirreling away and paying attention to their constituencies and their stakeholders over the last 3 years. Those in urban areas should do better than the DPJ’s PR vote. It is likely Rengo, as well as some of the other stakeholder organizations that crossed over to the DPJ in 2009, will still get out significant votes for the DPJ. At least, the LDP has not really given them any reason to go rushing back. Should the JRA eat into the swing against the DPJ, thus depriving the LDP of the former DPJ votes they would have been expecting, then it is possible that the DPJ might do ok in some urban SMDs in a three or four way race. Nevertheless, you would expect some tactical deals to be struck between the JRA, Komeito, the LDP in particular. Already the JRA and Komeito have struck a deal in the Kansai region to lend each other support, but what deals are going to be struck in the rest of the country? Can the DPJ get in on any of these deals?

In terms of the calculus, Hashimoto is losing a little of his shine. Recent opinion polls have asked the question of whether people would want to see Hashimoto having influence in the next government. Previously the numbers had been closer to 2 to 1. Now they are evening up – I recall one recent poll having it at 50% in favour of post-election Hashimoto influence vs 43 % against . A recent NHK poll (日) has 54% as having expectations for Hashimoto’s party, while 42% not having these expectations. In the aforementioned Asahi poll, with the more exact question of “would you like to see Hashimoto’s party take enough seats in the election to have influence,” the number is 50% for the proposition versus 36% against, meaning that the JRA’s ability to take out a large number of SMDs on its own may be compromised if these numbers head further south. Indeed if the above Asahi poll is anything to go by, where only 5 percent said at this point they would vote for the “Osaka Ishin no Kai” then it seems the public’s support of the Hashimoto zeitgeist is not automatic – they may like many of his policies but that is not going to automatically translate into votes. I am not sure I buy the 5% as being representative, but nevertheless the party will still have some work to do and who it puts out as candidates, and what they say will be important. Perhaps Noda’s desire, having now lured Hashimoto to reveal his strategy, is to lengthen the time until the election precisely to allow for as much time for mistakes and disclosures, as Cucek has predicted, to take place.

In any respect the DPJ, if it is concerned with its own long-term survival, should be doubling their efforts to put a wedge between the LDP and Komeito on any issue possible, particularly electoral reform. The DPJ will still likely lose big, and even some notable party names may be knocked off, but if the party is smart or lucky then in the urban centers a number of the younger, centrist Diet members can survive the next election.

However I have my doubts if the senior leadership of the DPJ is that focused, or that considerate of those that they are leading. We can see this is in party elder Sengoku Yoshito’s recent statement that the DPJ would likely, if it had to, settle for the simplest solution to the unconstitutionality of the vote disparity in the House of Representatives of only reducing the number of SMDs by five seats. The rank and file of the DPJ should be under no illusions – if Sengoku represents the party leadership’s feelings, then Sengoku essentially wants to hasten the transition to the grand coalition as soon as possible, but on the most favourable terms for traditional LDP interests, something unforgivable from both an emotional partisan and a rational actor’s point of view.

Noda’s Next Step: the TPP?

Below is the more detailed and longer version of my piece on Japan and the TPP published over at the East Asia Forum.

Speaking of publishing elsewhere, I also am making regular contributions to the Shingetsu News Agency’s news site. SNA is a foreign independent news agency in Japan- one of the few, but well needed. They cover a lot of Japan stories on the ground too, which is becoming less common for international media agencies – see some of their videos here.

There is of course also Japan Security Watch and Asia Security Watch. Anyway, enough of the PR!

Why the TPP will not be Noda’s next big challenge

International expectations of Japanese Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s administration seem to have increased greatly since his success in getting the consumption tax and related social security bills through the lower house late last month. Matthew P. Goodman a former White House coordinator for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the East Asia Summit (EAS), writing for the CSIS, argues that[1] Noda needs “to make one last push over the next few months to secure Japan’s economic future—and his own legacy as one of the most effective Japanese leaders of the postwar era.” The Financial Times’ Mure Dickie[2] also writes that “the black-belt judo enthusiast should not be satisfied with a tax rise as his only legacy,” and along with Goodman suggests that Japanese commitment to joining TPP negotiations should be one of Noda’s main goals going forward.

Certainly Noda has been by the most effective of the (3) DPJ prime ministers. Unlike his predecessors Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto, Noda has remained focused by taking on one policy challenge at a time, and has been calm, resolute and consistent in articulating his rationale for addressing said policy problem. He has avoided needlessly alienating supporters and potential allies, and most importantly, has focused pressure on his adversaries’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities in order to drag them into reluctantly supporting his policy program. While he stumbled in his first few months, he has managed to retain influence in articulating the narrative surrounding the “meaning” of his premiership, something that Hatoyama and Kan both lost early on in their tenures.

If one accepts the above evaluation of the Noda regime, then it would not be unreasonable to think that Noda may well have one or two more policy successes up his sleeve. Noda, and the DPJ, certainly need more than the single, unpopular success of raising the consumption tax to fight the next election on the basis of ‘effective leadership.’ Given that Noda identified joining the TPP as a priority late last year it is therefore natural to speculate that Noda may push forward with a bold Japanese bid to join the growing list of TPP nations in time for September’s APEC meeting in Vladivostok.

There are however many reasons why the TPP will not take a prominent place in Noda’s thinking over the next few months. Aside from the recent challenges surrounding the political management of his much reduced lower house majority, Noda will find pushing forward on the TPP much less attractive than he would have late last year. At the time, Noda found a proactive approach towards the TPP useful as it allowed Japan to temporarily take the focus off Futenma in the, at the time, troubled US-Japan relationship. It also seemed to stimulate Chinese interest in looking at pushing ahead with a trilateral trade agreement with Korea and Japan, giving Japan some diplomatic space for maneuver. This, Noda would have hoped, would have reduced the risk of foreign policy undermining his ability to push forward on domestic issues such as happened with his two immediate predecessors.

However much has changed since then making pushing forward on TPP even more unpalatable than it would normally be as a policy issue to burnish his credentials as a persistent, pragmatic and effective political executive. This time it is not Japan’s hesitancy to take on small but powerful political interest groups, but the US domestic situation that seems to be the biggest barrier to Japan’s entering TPP negotiations. In late May the United States gave a signal that it would start pressing Japan to reduce the nontariff barriers to car imports in talks over Japan’s participation in the TPP. [3] Then came news that the US required concessions in six areas related to automobiles before allowing Japan to join TPP negotiations. The necessary concessions would include relaxation of technological, ecological and safety standards, tax treatment for different engine displacements, and concessions on customer service and distribution. [4]

However Japanese industry reacted with incredulity to both the suggestion that Japan’s automobile market was a closed one and to the unreasonableness of what Goodman curiously describes as “token concessions.” Toyoda Akio, the head of Japan’s automobile industry association and president of Toyota Motor Corp., told the Japanese media that he was “greatly confused” by US requests. He declared that “Japan is an open market without any restrictions on imported vehicles and without any tariffs (on those imports),” and called for an “open dialogue based on facts.”[5] Toyoda also pointed out that Japanese car manufacturers were already having a hard enough time with the extremely strong yen and the weak dollar, something that should have seen US car manufacturers become much more competitive in the Japanese domestic market. The Japanese side argues that poor sales of US cars in Japan are the fault of US automakers and note that there are higher sales of foreign cars in Japan’s domestic market, just not American cars.

Looking at the Japanese media it appears that it has become conventional wisdom in Japan that accusations of Japanese protectionism and demands for unreasonable concessions are ironically part of a US auto industry strategy to maintain US tariffs, currently set at 2.5 percent on imported passenger cars and 25 percent for trucks.  Believing that the Japanese will not accede to these demands, the goal, it would appear to the Japanese, is no more than the exclusion of Japan from the TPP, or the US receiving an exemption for its auto industry – something that would only take place if Japan received a similar exemption for its own sensitive agricultural sector.

At about the same time as Toyoda’s remarks, METI Minister Edano met with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting of trade ministers in Kazan, Russia.  The Asahi Shimbun reported that a Japanese source had said the talks had turned into a “game of chicken,” with both sides refusing to back down, despite the Edano-Kirk meeting lasting 20 minutes longer than the expected 45 minutes. [6]

On June 14, Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi, the Parliamentary Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs who accompanied Edano to the Kazan meeting, told a lower house agriculture committee that there was little hope for Japan being accepted into the TPP until after the US presidential election. [7] This is due to political sensitivities surrounding the US automobile industry’s influence in crucial swing states. Noda at the same time stated that he was not going to force a decision on joining the TPP by the then upcoming G20 meeting, [8] suggesting that a decision would be put off further. While some Japanese media outlets such as the Yomiuri lamented the possibility that Japan would be left behind when Mexico, and then Canada – both countries that declared their interest around the same time Noda did in November last year – announced that they would accept an invitation to join TPP negotiations during the mid-June G20 conference, [9] the Japanese government seemed to be unmoved. After a 19th June cabinet meeting Edano said in response to news of Mexico joining that “every country’s situation and conditions are different, and there is a need to continue to investigate and discuss with internal stakeholders.”[10]

The Japanese government’s suspicions were confirmed at the end of June. First US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, reacting to pressure from the three biggest automakers stated that he did not support Japanese participation in the TPP “at this time.”[11] Later US Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced legislation “aimed at preventing a new Pacific trade agreement from harming auto employment.”  Then 132 House of Representatives’ Democrats (about two-thirds of the caucus) also sent a letter demanding more transparency and better consideration of US stakeholders’ interests to USTR’s Ron Kirk. This coincided with an energized effort by US automakers to put pressure on Washington to not let Japan join talks on the TPP. For example Ford’s vice president of international government affairs Stephen Biegun declared that “It is just simply wrong the decision to put in that discussion a country which is demonstrably protected and closed to American exports.” [12]

While the Japanese auto industry rejected the claims by Ford in particular, arguing that Ford had “chosen to essentially withdraw from the Japanese market” and refused “to seriously compete there,” the fact remains that Japan is did not participate in the 13th round of TPP negotiations in San Diego taking place now, and is unlikely to participate in negotiations in the near future. Those calling for Japan’s immediate entry into the TPP in order to reinvigorate its economy, and for Noda to expend political capital on this goal, need to consider how disastrous it would be for Noda to pursue TPP accession under the current conditions and limitations.

There also needs to be more balanced discussion on what the real factors that are obstacles to Japan joining the TPP. One such factor is that it is not just the Japanese domestic political situation that is an obstacle to strengthening the multilateral trade order in the Asia-Pacific. Neither is it that the Japanese are still necessarily hostile to entering trade agreements with countries with sensitive sectors as seems to have been the case in the past. In the last three years the Japanese have made small but positive steps towards furthering discussions and negotiations to enter economic partnership agreements with nations such as China, Korea, Australia, the EU, and most recently, Canada, in addition to completing agreements with Switzerland, Peru, Vietnam and India. Politically, while the current group of national politicians is still undecided on the merits of free trade, supporters of administrative reform such as Hashimoto Toru are very much, in principle, in favour of increasing trade relations and Japan’s economic internationalization. Aside from MAFF and affiliated organizations, within Japanese officialdom there is increasing openness to liberalizing trade relations and indeed some see it as vital.

Nevertheless, the Japanese focus will remain in the medium-term on forging trade agreements with those nations where the benefits are most clear, and not with countries which insist on “protection” for not only industry interests in their own countries, but are also essentially demanding “protection” in the domestic markets of others, such as we are seeing in the US automaker’s case.

D-Day for the Consumption Tax?

Having hammered out a tentative deal with the Komeito and the LDP in regards to the rise in the consumption tax, and an overarching framework for the reform of social security spending, Party Secretary-General and the DPJ’s policy chief Seiji Maehara today go into today’s crucial session (日) of the DPJ’s Party Research Council to ask for agreement on the 3-party deal.

Noda is currently on his way to the G-20, but despite having managed to acquire Komeito and LDP agreement on tax reform, he will not be resting easy. Noda has been working on the assumption that if need be he could go ahead with the deal and submit it to the Diet in the current parliamentary session even if the Ozawa group opposed. As long as he made appropriate looking overtures, he could handle Ozawa group opposition as long as he had LDP and Komeito support. Indeed success in passing it under such adverse circumstances would demonstrate Noda’s “political leadership” and with Ozawa’s star even further on the wane than usual due to some (as yet unverified – Shukan Bunshun after all) accusations (E) about what he was doing around the time of the Fukushima incident’s escalation, then he probably figured that he may be able to live – and may even benefit- from an Ozawa internal party insurrection in this context. This is of course as long as any disciplinary measures (such as expulsion) did not reduce the party’s lower house numbers below the magic 240 mark.

However in negotiating with the LDP and Komeito, Noda has had to make a number of concessions that seem to eliminate for once and for all the DPJ’s original 2009 election manifesto as a salient policy document guiding the DPJ. Up until now the DPJ has time after time had to make concessions on the big policy promises it made in its manifesto, but some of these were seen to be excessive promises in the first place. Some, such as the guaranteed minimum pension policy, however, were seen as one of the few remaining policies they DPJ could point to in terms of responsible election promises.  However the Komeito and the LDP have used their leverage in current negotiations to expunge from the legislative record any hint that the DPJ is a principled party, with an eye to any upcoming election.

Again, if this was to anger only Ozawa and co. then Noda probably calculated that he could get away with it. However, the “middle-roaders” in the DPJ are starting to express misgivings about what this means for the viability of the DPJ as a party. It may in the short to medium term give a boost to Noda’s individual fortunes, but it will probably put the final nail in the coffin for the DPJ’s attempt to portray itself as a party of reform. The opinion of the “middle-roaders” will become the focus of today’s negotiations and debate within the DPJ and it is by no means a forgone conclusion that they will agree to the negotiated deal.

Depending on the outcome of today’s joint session, which is predicted to go into the evening, a number of things will be of interest.

In the best case scenario for Noda, if he is able to get all but the Ozawa’s group sign-off, he may then be able to submit the legislation to parliament on June 21st as promised (or thereabouts now that the session will definitely be extended (日)) . This would be seen as a big victory for Noda – something the LDP and Komeito may ‘perversely’ be quietly hoping against.  Attention will then turn to the electoral reform bill, with the latest incarnation (if you care about the details ask me in the comments) having very mild Komeito support. The LDP has said it will not support this bill but it seems that the DPJ might go ahead and put it to a straight up and down vote anyway. The Komeito and ultimately the LDP may come around and vote for this as, ultimately, their ostensible motivation for negotiating with Noda on the social security and tax bills is to extract an early election from Noda, technically constitutionally problematic as of this moment. Without this legislation Noda can put off an election indefinitely.

However Noda may try and ride out calls for an election as long as possible. Passage of the tax bill will strengthen Noda in the near term, and this is even without having to promise an election which at one point looked like an absolutely essential compromise for the DPJ to make in order to gain LDP/Komeito support. The reason for this is of course the Hashimoto dynamic, and fear of what the Ishin no kai might do to the LDP’s support base in an election, pushed the LDP/Komeito towards engaging with Noda and the DPJ mainstream. As long as Noda can minimize the impact of an internal revolt, and survive the September DPJ presidential election, he may even be able to last until 2013 and the “double election.” While he will not be able to appeal to the ‘reformist’ narrative, if he can keep cabinet misdeeds and scandals to a minimum he may be able to appeal to the Japanese public as an example of gritty “leadership” and “responsibility.” The focus thus will be on whether the LDP or Komeito can maneuver Noda into calling an election before the end of 2013, and before he builds too much of a “success” portfolio in the interim.

If Hashimoto et al can be placated with the legislation he wants for the “Osaka-to” concept, and thus refrains from making an entrance into the national political scene, as he has suggested he may, then the LDP and Komeito may become much bolder in pushing the DPJ towards an election. Thus expect the LDP and Komeito to focus on this particular piece of legislation if Noda is able to get his way with the consumption tax rise. In this scenario, the DPJ party leadership, made up of the “mainstream” faction (Noda, Okada, Maehara, Sengoku etc), and the LDP/Komeito combination may well be in a post-election situation of (having to) forming a grand coalition. Or so the LDP in particular seems to hope (日). For the LDP and Komeito, they will likely be strengthened in any election that does not feature Hashimoto or other reformist elements, although it is unlikely that they will acquire a majority. However the LDP from their point of view may likely get hold of the PM position in any grand coalition and other cabinet goodies that they are currently denied. This will be, in my calculations, despite Noda and the DPJ faring better in any election from having his “leadership” credentials burnished, even if the policy and ideological content of the DPJ vanishes.

My bet is on Noda putting off an election for a period of time. We also need to factor in the LDP’s own internal party unity that may become an issue if the consumption tax bill is passed, which may limit their own influence and capacity to call for an election. There is also the fact that many in the LDP would likely want to wait until after the LDP’s own September election to push for a general election, as that might, in their calculation, give whoever is victorious a shot at the party leadership (Tanigaki will have to step down if he is unable to secure a DPJ promise for an early general election by September), and as identified above, and also put them in pole position to attain the prime ministership.

However if the “middle-roaders” reject the current negotiated deal today and are unable to be brought around by June 21 when Noda gets back, or at the very least this Diet session, then things will remain murky.

What we do know is that this will require Noda putting off a vote on the tax bill and going back to negotiations with both the LDP/Komeito and DPJ recalcitrants.

Noda will then likely also have to face a no-confidence vote as the LDP and Komeito have promised to submit one if Noda is unable to bring his party into line and deliver the votes for the passing of the tax and related legislation on 21 June or thereabouts. The LDP/Komeito will likely not tolerate internal bickering in the DPJ for very long. Then the focus will be on whether the DPJ still pushes forward on the electoral reform bill that is required before any constitutionally valid lower house election can be held. In their heart of hearts the LDP and Komeito will be hoping that Noda fails with the DPJ intra-party negotiations and has to either call an election in response to a no-confidence motion passing, or quit the party leadership due to his failure to honor his pledge to raise the consumption tax in the current parliamentary session, or both. In this scenario the DPJ will be dead in the water as a vehicle for electoral success. The DPJ mainstream will be discredited as both a ‘pragmatic’ leadership as well as a policy reform voice in Japanese politics, while Ozawa and anyone associated with an Ozawa breakaway group will also have a hard time making a case for election.

However the LDP with the support of Komeito in single member districts may even be able to acquire something close to a lower house majority as any legislation passed to reform the system will likely reduce the number of proportional representation seats, which will undermine the influence of the minor parties.

The wild cards are still Hashimoto and the Ishin no kai, and in particular what the middle roaders in the DPJ will do in reaction to whatever outcome arises from today’s joint session. The Ozawa and middle wings of the Ozawa will be cognizant of the LDP/Komeito’s strategy around these negotiations. The middle-roaders may end up going along with the tax rise as the lesser of two evils in terms of their likely electoral fate, although it may well be bad either which way. They may perceive that they have a fighting chance with Noda if they think he can last until 2013.

Or  they may take a risk, in which case it will come down to whether they will breakaway but also distance themselves from Ozawa, and possibly hook up with other reformist political actors in the system, including the likes of Hashimoto and the Ishin no kai. Ozawa has recently come out and suggested that, much like Tanaka Kakuei did when he was going down in the 1970s, his people could use him as a punching bag for electoral gain, although one wonders whether Ozawa would be so generous as to both fund such a group and at the same time shelve his pride.

My own prediction is that the middle-roaders and even some in the Ozawa group will go along (or possibly abstain) with the Noda bill simply because it allows them to live to see another day, assuming Noda is not pushed into declaring an election any time soon. If they calculate that Noda can put back an election they may then start to think about how to cultivate an alternative vision for the DPJ or any spin-off party that could help them fight against an effective grand coalition ‘bogeyman’ in 2013 of the LDP, Komeito, and the ‘DPJ mainstream.’

What will be of interest is which policy issue will the Noda cabinet pursue next? The tax rise will be a temporary victory only – Noda surely understands that he will need more achievements before facing the electorate later this year or in 2013. The TPP 6 months ago would have been odds-on, but now seems an outside bet as it appears that it the TPP is being hamstrung both by opponents at home as well as by US commercial interests who as time goes on are making joining the TPP even more unappealing for Japan . Perhaps a new energy strategy or energy sector reform based on reduced but not eliminated nuclear reliance?

Hashism v Gomanism

“I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Making sense of Hashimoto is becoming harder and harder as time goes on. On the one hand with his recent obsessions regarding tattooed Osaka city council workers he has started to make himself look like the dictatorial hypocrite that some claimed that he was, or at least fulfilled the expectation that he would be far too full of himself to walk back an obviously badly conceived policy.

It also made him look less like the politically astute operator many believed him to be. It is one thing for your opponents to use what you have done against you to paint you as something you may not be – but walking into a narrative trap (“fascist,” or “intemperate” or whatever) clearly laid out before you seemingly without hesitation is pretty boneheaded.

On the other hand the “defeat” that Hashimoto suffered at the hands of the DPJ government over the Oi nuclear reactor restart reflected upon Hashimoto in a different way: Hashimoto admitted his defeat in this war of the wills and even went as far as to “withdraw” the declaration of war on the DPJ government he had put forward earlier on in the debate about the restart of the reactor, arguing that he was indeed intemperate in making such an announcement – it should only be used as a once in a lifetime resort. I suppose this implies that he is going to break it out again if need be.

What to make of this? Is this a new “flexible” side of Hashimoto coming out? Are his advisors having an impact by counseling him over the types of battles he chooses? Did he realize that the DPJ was trying to drive him into a corner in order to take the wrath of a hot and bothered Osaka during the peak of a summer of brownouts? Or that he had been called on insincere populism? Time will tell I guess. Whatever the correct interpretation it was a rough last couple of weeks for the Osaka Mayor.

But if we are to judge one by their enemies, then the hatred of Hashimoto that fills the infamous cultural fascist, revisionist pseudo-historian, and Sino-Korean provocateur-supreme Kobayashi Yoshinori  (plenty more adjectives could apply) suggests that Hashimoto should rest a little easy. Let us list the ways that Kobayashi hates (日) Hashimoto so, according to the Shuukan Bunshun:

Kobayashi first starts off with the claim that in his 20 years of ‘commentating’ or ‘debating’ issues of apparent national importance (sarcasm should be noted) that he has never seen anyone as infantile as Hashimoto Toru.

He calls him a “fraudulent” patriot.

He is particularly concerned about his lack of reverence for the Japanese emperor. He criticizes him for his wanting Osaka to be considered a 都 (tou). This is not for any administrative or political reason –  Kobayashi argues that such a designation should only be reserved for the city in which the emperor resides, and to expect otherwise is churlish.  

He does have Hashimoto up about his over-eagerness in pursuing teachers who do not stand for the Japanese national anthem and pay appropriate respect for the flag.

Here however his critique is not motivated by some profound  respect for democracy. Nope again,  its about the emperor, particularly the current one who is one record as having said it would be nice if people showed patriotism without being coerced.

He is against the TPP, which is something that Hashimoto has said Japan needs to consider if it wants to internationalize its economy. For Kobayashi the problem is essentially that the TPP would destroy the unique rice-producing nation that was a gift from the gods, and now ruled by an unbroken line of divine emperors. Add in some stuff about an economy being dependent on foreign consumption being bad and potentially turning Japan into Korea.

Kobayashi then makes some vague but more coherent points about neoliberal economic policies undermining the Japanese economy and driving societal inequality through promoting the survival of the fittest. He cites the current global financial crisis as proof of that.

[Essentially he is critical of Hashimoto’s fondness for some of the Koizumi administration’s policies, although to be fair to Hashimoto there are some areas where is actually pro-public investment so may differ from the Koizumi crowd in some crucial ways. Hashimoto, after all, has been rather reluctant to be too closely associated with Watanabe Yoshimi’s Your Party.]

Kobayashi hates Hashimoto’s populism in regards to anti-nuclear movements around the country. He thinks Hashimoto taking on academics and criticizing bureaucrats who criticize Hashimoto is nothing more than a child’s quarrel. He hates how he dismisses people like Kobayashi as precocious brats. And he thinks this kind of behaviour is putting a wall between politicians and the citizenry.

It is true that Hashimoto is somewhat immature in his dismissiveness of people who criticize him, and while good for entertainment probably does not endear him to people he may have to work with in the future. Nevertheless critical debate like this is for Kobayashi the antithesis of democracy (if directed against him anyway). The final paragraph is worth reproducing in full:

Experts and mass media journalists who praise Hashimoto, who is on par with childish dictators like Kim Jong-Eun, and his determination to break through entrenched interests by embracing a decisive politics (or more accurately, a politics that can make decisions), are all idiots. We may as well just give up on democracy and yell “banzai,” “comrade,” and “Hashimoto-shogun” (ie  military dictator) just like they do in North Korea!

Serious stuff as you can see.