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    Abductees schmabductees

    Posted by Sean at 00:07, July 24th, 2005

    Poor North Korea. All it wants is to get along with everybody, and then what do the democracies of the world go and do? Kim Il-sung’s people abduct a few Japanese citizens from moonlit walks on their own beaches, and a quarter-century later the Japanese are still freaking out about it. It’s not like it just happened yesterday, or anything. Can’t people focus on the big picture?

    The DPRK’s Democratic Choson published statements on 23 July that, given that Japan plans to bring up the issue of Japanese abductees at the 6-party talks when they reopen for the fourth time in Beijing on 26 July, “Our definite feeling is that it is not necessary for us to sit in face-to-face meetings with Japan, given that it is determined to use its cunning to make a hindrance of itself at the 6-party talks.” The statements indicated yet again the DPRK’s position that it will not agree to direct talks with Japan for the duration of the meetings.

    The CNN report is here. Check out the part about the flower. Good grief.

    Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Canberra anymore

    Posted by Sean at 20:39, July 20th, 2005

    Re. US-Japan security ties, the Yomiuri reports that the Department of Defense has asked Japan to give us a heads-up if, say, the DPRK fires a missile at us:

    The United States, as part of its missile defense program, has asked the government to share any information obtained by advanced radar systems in Japan as soon as they detect a U.S.-targeted ballistic missile attack launched from such countries as North Korea, government sources said Tuesday.

    Any such missile launch would probably first be detected in Japan by an advanced early warning radar system known as FPS-XX.

    The next-generation high-performance radar system, which is in its final stage of development by the Defense Agency’s Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI), will be a pivotal component of the nation’s missile defense system scheduled to be deployed 2007.

    The government is set to accept the U.S. requests for assistance saying there would be no problem in sharing information in the event of a missile attack on the United States, the sources said.

    The pattern for new gizmos with “next generation” attached to them is one of delayed roll-outs and lots of debugging after release, in my experience. Nevertheless, despite its trouble launching rockets and satellites, Japan’s ground-based surveillance is very good.

    Ambassador Thomas Schieffer has also asked Japan to extend the deployment of SDF personnel in Iraq again:

    Schieffer told reporters at the National Press Club of Japan that it is Tokyo’s decision, but countries in the multinational force are expected to make tough choices to help establish democracy in Iraq.

    “We know that that was a threshold to cross for the Japanese government and the Japanese people. It is not an easy thing for them to be there,” Schieffer said.

    “But we think that their contribution is making a difference, and it is a contribution that they can proudly say they are making on behalf of the international community, and not because the United States is there,” he said.

    “All of us have to do things that we would prefer not to do from time to time,” he added.

    Schieffer’s comments came as Tokyo and Washington have begun working quietly on how to interpret U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546 to allow an extension beyond the Dec. 14 expiry stipulated under the basic dispatch plan approved last year by the Cabinet.

    With the brouhaha over Japan Post reform, other issues before the Diet and cabinet aren’t really getting much play in the news here. It seems unlikely that Koizumi will be inclined to pull out early.

    I still don’t really know what to make of Schieffer. He’s far less a media presence here than Howard Baker was. Not that the old ambassador was all over the society pages, or anything, but he was quoted very regularly in news reports. Schieffer is much quieter. Perhaps he’s getting his bearings–he’s not a really seasoned politician as Baker was. Or perhaps he simply finds it politic to shut up, given the topics there are to opine on lately: anti-Japan sentiment in China, friction over politicans’ pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s push for permanent UN Security Council membership. These aren’t exactly easy shoals to navigate, and Schieffer has only been on duty here since April.

    Post haste

    Posted by Sean at 00:46, July 15th, 2005

    For anyone who’s wondering, of course I noticed that Prime Minister Koizumi has done a 180 on the revisions to the Japan Post reform bill. The line now is: “Revisions? I love revisions. Why, some of my best friends are revisions!”

    I like Koizumi’s support for the WOT, which I think demonstrates real vision and a keen sense of what civilization is up against. I also understand that putting reforms through in Japan is very tough. Even with the voters behind Koizumi’s overall housecleaning program, he’s had to deal with the multitudes of well-connected federal bureaucrats who know exactly how to press elected officials and party leaders to maintain their power.

    But that doesn’t mean that Koizumi has been handling things well. Japan Post reform is a hopelessly unsexy topic, and Koizumi has lost chance after chance to explain to the citizenry, in basic and lucid terms, why privatizing it is so important. (¥¥¥!) And it’s really bad in strategic terms to set a pattern of coming on all tough and implacable and then blinking at a critical moment (cf. the selling down the river of Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka a few years ago) or going mealymouthed when the world is watching (cf. his non-explanation of why he continues to visit the Yasukuni Shrine).

    The result is not surprising: there’s a real chance that the opposition has made enough headway to keep the bill from passing in the House of Councillors:

    Yomiuri Shimbun interviews with all 114 LDP upper house members revealed that opposition is mounting in reaction to Koizumi’s high-handed manner in deliberation as much as on the substance of the bills.

    “I’m upset about the fact that Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe and others in the leadership aren’t even trying to tame the prime minister so that he won’t use the threat,” said an upper house member who wished to be identified only as a former cabinet minister. The former minister was referring to Koizumi’s threat to dissolve the lower house if the bills are killed.

    Even a member of the Mori faction, most of whose members are backing the postal bills, said he was not happy about Koizumi’s style.

    “He’s only inviting more opposition. In the upper house deliberation he must adopt an extremely humble manner in answering questions and all that. Otherwise we can’t improve the rough atmosphere,” the member said of Koizumi.

    Koizumi is still saying that people shouldn’t fixate on his threat to dissolve the House or Representatives because, naturally, the bill will pass. Ten upper house members attended the strategy session for LDP opponents of the bill last night, however. All it will take is 18 LDP votes against for the bill to fail, and there are more than 8 Councillors still on the fence. We’ll see.

    Rice comes to Japan

    Posted by Sean at 22:14, July 12th, 2005

    Secretary of State Rice was here yesterday to talk with Prime Minister Koizumi and Foreign Minister Machimura. (Japanese version)

    “I recognize the importance of continuing to implement anti-terrorist measures,” Koizumi told Rice at their meeting in Tokyo.

    The prime minister, however, made no mention of what his government plans to do later this year on the status of the Self-Defense Forces dispatched to Iraq. The basic plan for the SDF dispatch expires on Dec. 14.

    Japan and the United States agreed they would seek “concrete progress” from Pyongyang toward abolishing its nuclear weapons development program during the six-way talks.

    At a joint news conference held after their meeting, Machimura and Rice said their two countries confirmed agreement on three points concerning the six-way talks expected to start on July 27:

    *Concrete progress is needed in the discussions;

    *Japan and the United States want North Korea to deal with the issues seriously and constructively; and

    *Coordination between Japan, the United States and South Korea is crucial.

    Japan and the United States will hold a trilateral meeting on Thursday in Seoul with South Korea to synchronize their stances for the six-party talks in Beijing, the first since June last year.

    The diplomat-speak in that passage is, BTW, just as exquisitely devoid of content in the Japanese as in the English (though at least the Japanese reporter knew not to use the word synchronize).

    Everything else was basically a reaffirmation of diplomatic ties: the US supports Japan in its pressure on the DPRK to resolve the abductee issue, supports Japan in its push to become a permanent United Nations Security Council member (just not yet), and wants the beef import ban lifted.


    Posted by Sean at 02:25, July 10th, 2005

    With the bombings in London I basically forgot about this, but the LDP’s committee on constitutional reform met Thursday:

    On Thursday, 7 June, the LDP’s New Constitution Drafting Committee (Chairman: former Prime Minister Yukio Mori) convened an executive meeting and approved an outline of proposed reforms put together in committee. With that outline as a basis, the committee plans to have the finalized list of proposed revisions drafted in time for release in November, the 50th anniversary of the formation of the party. The outline contains the precise wording “maintaining of a military for self-defense” and sets forth [Japan’s] contributions to international peace and stability. It is also proposed that it be written into the preamble that the Emperor is to retain his current symbolic role, forfeiting power as head of state. The proposal also decisively retains the existing bicameral Diet system, with its House of Councillors and House of Representatives.

    On the subject of national security, [the outline] decisively retains the principle of peaceableness expressed in the current Article 9. It does revise the clause in which Japan forswears the creation of a military, changing the wording so that the [standing] military nature of the self-defense forces is clarified. Provisions for the formation of a military court to adjudicate [in matters related to] soldiers have also been incorporated. Although it has not been written into the proposed Article 9 revision that Japan retains the right to participate in collective defense operations, which has heretofore been considered unconstitutional by the government, such an interpretation would now be permitted. Further stipulations that the armed forces are under civilian control, with the Prime Minister as commander-in-chief, are also being prepared.

    Next to the new ability to participate in collective self-defense–as combatants, of course, and not in an administrative capacity as the SDF is doing in Iraq–the creation of a separate court system for trying SDF personnel may be the single most resonant item here. It conclusively marks off the SDF as different from civilians under the law and recognizes it as a standing military.

    Of course, we’re still in the draft stage, and once the finalized bill is submitted, its passage through the Diet is likely to be even more fun than what we’re seeing with the Japan Post bill.

    郵政民営化 (続き)

    Posted by Sean at 01:43, July 10th, 2005

    Topic 2 for discussion among talking heads this weekend:

    Japan Post privatization, naturally:

    Asked Wednesday whether he would dissolve the lower house and call a general election if the upper house votes down the bills, the prime minister said he would.

    “The focal point of the campaign would be postal privatization,” Koizumi said in Gleneagles, commenting on his strategy if a lower house election were to be held.

    Firing a warning shot across the bows of antiprivitization [sic] forces within the Liberal Democratic Party, of which he is president, Koizumi said the LDP would not provide party tickets for lawmakers who opposed the bills.

    Asked if he would regard an upper house rejection as tantamount to a no-confidence motion, the prime minister said, “Of course.”

    LDP Secretary General Takebe was on NHK today repeating a point that’s been made a lot of late: the Koizumi administration has not explained, in language the public will warm to, why Japan Post privatization is such a good idea it’s worth causing this amount of controversy for. (That’s a problem he shares with his buddy President Bush–think of, say, Social Security reform.) Everyone–supporters, opponents, hangers-on–is holding to the line that his group will not waver when the upper house vote comes up. We’ll see.


    Posted by Sean at 09:25, July 5th, 2005

    The Japan Post privatization bill passed the lower house today–this was the real deal, the plenary session and not committee. (The vote was 233 to 228.) Now it goes to the upper house. That means the fun is just beginning:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi, remarking on the upcoming House of Councillors debate over the Japan Post privatization bill, stated, “There are still gigantic hurdles to get over. I feel as if we were beginning at square one.” He indicated that he plans to exert all his energy to the end of seeing the bill ratified. He denied the possibility that the bill might be revised yet again in order to squelch opposition in the upper house: “We’ve already made our accommodations. There will be no more.” He answered questions at a press conference held at the Prime Minister’s official residence.

    It’s been clear for a while that Koizumi’s strategy is to bellow, “No compromise!” before every confrontation as a way of keeping concessions to a minimum; nevertheless, concessions continue to be made. Of course, there have been problems with the bill from the get-go, at least if you’re actually, you know, pro-privatization. It will be interesting, if perhaps distastefully interesting, to see what the bill looks like when it comes to its final vote.

    [Interlude: Japan Post Cool Biz]

    Posted by Sean at 22:27, July 4th, 2005

    Okay, you know, this Cool Biz stuff? Seriously working on my last nerve. I’ve almost, in a way, gotten used to seeing top-ranking cabinet ministers show up on television looking as if they’d been yanked out of a golf game for an emergency press conference. It doesn’t exactly give you the sense that the government is proceeding with sober, formal, rule-of-law predictability; but I guess it does save on air conditioning, which is good for the Earth and other stuff.

    However, someone (Mrs. Takebe, are you listening?) needs to tell LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe what 半透明 (hantoumei: “translucent”) means. I didn’t need to see that the undergarment he uses to rein in those man-boobs beneath his white-on-white sport shirts is a narrow-strapped tank-top. I really didn’t.

    Koizumi sees election as shot in the arm for Japan Post bill

    Posted by Sean at 22:59, July 3rd, 2005

    While Koizumi’s name may not have helped candidates in yesterday’s election to win, it cannot be said that the opposite is true–at least, according to the LDP:

    The LDP is taking the results of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election as a decisive vote of confidence in the policies of the Koizumi cabinet. The LDP Executive Committee is looking to get the Japan Post privatization bill passed by the House of Representatives by 5 July, with plans to exert all its power to suppress opponents of the bill within the party.

    It is possible that the bill will be passed by majority vote in the LDP’s House of Representatives Japan Post Privatization ad hoc committee by the night of 4 July. Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi will leave for the G8 summit at Gleneagles on 6 July, so the party is aiming to be able to send the bill to the House of Councillors before then. The DPJ has submitted a proposal for a no-confidence resolution against the cabinet, and is prepared to meet the bill with unwavering resistance. The vote in the upper house plenary session may end up being delayed until after 11 July.

    Added at 18:05: The bill has been passed by the lower house ad hoc committee. Watanuki naturally voted against it; he was just on NHK looking dour.

    Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election

    Posted by Sean at 22:18, July 3rd, 2005

    One reason Atsushi had to come back this weekend was that yesterday was the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.
    Voter turnout was 43.99%, down from 50.08% in the last Metro election four years ago.

    There were 127 slots up for grabs. The LDP lost three seats, and its coalition partner, the Shin-Komeito, gained two. (It’s a shame the on-line Nikkei doesn’t have the graphs that are in the dead-tree version, which illustrates everything very clearly.) The DPJ more than doubled its number of seats, going from 19 to 35. The Commies lost two. And then there were eight or so other seats divided among minor parties. Prime Minister Koizumi’s take, at least as delivered to LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe for release: “Given what we were up against, everyone did very well. The results are excellent. Very impressive.” DPJ Secretary General Tatsuo Kawabata: “We made a big leap in the direction of changing the administration.” He’s referring to which is the ruling coalition, of course.

    The reason people outside Tokyo care about the election is, of course, that the Metro Assembly is the second-most powerful elected body in Japan after the Diet. There are a lot of Tokyo voters, and how they cast their ballots can give an indication of where the national electorate might be heading in the next round of Diet races. Yesterday, the LDP needed to win as many seats as possible without relying too much on Koizumi’s name for support–he’s too controversial right now. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara did step up and do a bunch of endorsements, smiling out from posters and leaflets everywhere. The DPJ’s strategy was to put up candidates in as many races as possible, and it obviously worked. However, the net number of seats the LDP lost was still very low, indicating that voters are not ready to stampede toward the opposition despite recent crises of confidence.