• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post


    Posted by Sean at 12:44, June 10th, 2009

    Well, I can stop worrying about all my dear friends in Japan—the UNSC has drafted another resolution telling the DPRK that it’s naughty-naughty to be playing with plutonium (Japanese version at the Nikkei here):

    The latest U.N. action is expected to spark a reaction from North Korea as in the case of a presidential statement issued by the Security Council on April 13 condemning North Korea’s April 5 rocket launch.

    A draft outlined last week by the United States contained a requirement for all U.N. members to inspect North Korean cargo if it was suspected of carrying nuclear or missile-related items.

    But China had rejected the proposal, urging the six other countries to weaken the wording on cargo inspections and maintaining that mandatory inspections of North Korean cargo would lead to military conflict, the sources said.

    Effectively implementing the inspection of North Korean cargo was one of the measures the Security Council contemplated as a way to enforce Resolution 1718 in response to Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test.

    The resolution, adopted in October 2006 after North Korea’s first nuclear test, states all U.N. members are ”called upon” to take ”cooperative action including thorough inspection of cargo to and from” North Korea.

    Following Pyongyang’s second nuclear test, Japan and the United States had insisted that a new resolution include a phrase making cargo inspections by U.N. members mandatory rather than ”calling upon” them to cooperate.

    Okay, little man, that’s it! It’s a time-out for you.

    Japan notes

    Posted by Sean at 14:40, June 9th, 2009

    This Yomiuri story on Toshikazu Sugaya, who was convicted of the 1990 murder of a child but released last week after new DNA tests pointed to his innocence, exemplifies one of the common complaints about the sky-high rate of convictions among cases that go to court in Japan:

    While saying investigators used heavy-handed interrogation techniques only on the day of his arrest, Sugaya spoke of how he went on to conjure up a story of his “crime.”

    This further shadow over the investigation begs the question as to why Sugaya felt compelled to make a false confession.

    At the station, the investigators and Sugaya became involved in a verbal duel of accusation and denial that continued until the evening.

    He did not immediately admit the crime when investigators showed him evidence such as the results of a test that matched his DNA with that of body fluid found on an item of the girl’s clothing.

    “It was night, I was desolate and began to feel that if I didn’t do anything I wouldn’t be able to go home,” he said.

    After about 13 hours of interrogation, Sugaya finally broke down at about 9 p.m., saying he “gripped both of the detective’s hands tightly and broke down into tears.”

    “The detective seemed to think I’d done it because I cried,” he said. “But in fact, I cried because I was upset that he wouldn’t listen no matter how many times I told him I didn’t do it. I’d gotten desperate.”

    Sugaya later confessed. He also said he imagined the story based on details the media had covered of the case.

    “Since I was young, I’d clam up when people said things to me,” Sugaya said of his personality. “I hate offending people.”

    His lawyer, Hiroshi Sato, said of Sugaya, “He has a tendency to be accommodating and felt he wanted to convince investigators [of what he did].”

    Sato pointed out similarities between Sugaya’s case and that of a man in Himi, Toyama Prefecture, who had been arrested and imprisoned for rape and attempted rape. This man was found innocent in 2007.

    If the Japanese police pick you up and decide they want a confession out of you, they have a well-stocked arsenal to help them ensure they get it (that link via Debito). Notice this sentence: “Yasuda claimed they told him it is cowardly to invoke the right to remain silent and said he should take responsibility as a lawyer.” The Yomiuri article mentions personality, and it’s probable that Sugaya is unusually self-effacing; nevertheless, the tendency in Japan when there’s a disturbance is for everyone at hand to make reflexive apologies. Interrogators, say those who’ve studied detention practices in Japan, play on that. If you don’t apologize and then sign a confession, you’re holding up justice, you’re wasting the police’s time, and you’re disrupting the smooth flow of things. Even if you weren’t the exact person who caused the disturbance, as long as you’re involved in it, it’s considered proper to step up and say you’re sorry. Those concerns are especially powerful to Japanese people. Of course, there are wrongful convictions in the U.S., too, often over the protests of suspects who maintain their innocence all along. At the same time, our system is set up to presume innocence and to maximize the options of the defense. There’s a great deal of self-policing in Japanese society, and often for lesser crimes charges aren’t pressed even if a suspect is picked up. But we were told, practically the moment we arrived in Yokohama for our language program thirteen years ago, that once you sign a confession, that’s it.

    Another story from a few days ago illustrates a complementary problem: when things are not expedited but rather gridlocked because too many entities are engaged in turf wars. This is from a Nikkei editorial published Friday about ITS (intelligent transport systems), in which it is hoped Japan can take the technology and implementation lead:

    ITS comprise things such as vehicle-vechicle communication that avoids collisions between vehicles, road-vehicle communication that transmits road information, and navigation using high-speed roads. Auto navigation or or fee-collection systems (ETC) also fall within them. The metropolitan government and police department of Tokyo are moving forward with route guidance through traffic-signal controls and electronic signage, aimed at easing traffic jams.

    The challenge is the form cooperation between the public sector and manufacturers takes. For ITS, it has a vertically divided structure, with the Ministry of Land, Infrastrucure, Transport and Tourism, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and the National Police Agency having, all four of them, jurisdiction; and there’s a powerful tendency for manufacturers also to be dead-set on their own unique technologies.

    ITS Japan conducted a joint experiment of large-scale ITS in the Odaiba area, for which the Tokyo Olympic Center is planned. The technologies that each federal entity is moving forward with were unveiled, but to look at it from the perspective of people who drive, there was no uniformity to the systems and it was impossible to deny the impression of disjointedness.

    The system that results is almost certain to be a snazzy one. When it comes to electronics, Japan does not fool around. But it’s also likely that consumers will pay, because each ministry, agency, and powerful corporation will find a way to get a piece of the governing power and the licensing and fee structure.


    Posted by Sean at 08:06, June 9th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei today carries the headline “Only reasonable to redesignate North Korea a ‘terrorism-sponsoring state.'”

    United States Secretary of State Clinton has revealed that she is looking into redesignating North Korea a terrorism-sponsoring state. North Korea’s provocative behavior, with its further conducting of nuclear testing threatening the safety of the international community and the region, cannot be overlooked. It would be only reasonable for the Obama administration in the U.S. to shift its pivot point from dialogue to pressure.

    The preceding administration under Bush lifted its designation of North Korea as a terror-sponsoring state in October of last year. Its explanation was that, bearing in mind that North Korea would move forward with the disabling of its nuclear facilities in accordance with the consensus reached at the 6-party talks and had agreed even to inspections of its nuclear program, the lifting of the designation would encourage progress on nuclear issues.

    In order to contain North Korea’s aggression, the U.S. should work in concert with Japan and South Korea, and also firm up the sanctions it adopts individually. What are effective are financing sanctions.

    In 2005, the U.S. government designated as a target of concern related to money laundering Macao bank Banco Delta Asia, and it froze funds in North Korean accounts. It was hard going for North Korea to procure funding in dollars, and the regime was dealt a corresponding blow, but in ’07 the policy was lifted in order to encourage progress on nuclear issues. Where things stand now, the frozen assets have returned to North Korea.

    In addition to being suspected of covertly dealing in weapons of mass destruction, North Korea is also subject to lingering suspicions that is traffics illegally in U.S. dollars and drugs.

    The Nikkei is worried, of course, about what the DPRK plans to do with the two women reporters who were captured along its border with China. Amy Alkon and several of her commenters imply that the women might have wandered into an area that any thinking person would have known was unsafe, and that’s plausible, but I’m really not entirely sure. At least in the Japanese press, stories like this one are very common in my experience. (What’s common is not the economic difficulty, but the open-secret nature of the traffic between the DPRK and the PRC.) I haven’t seen any information about where the two reporters were taken—it’s not in the LAT piece Alkon links, for instance–but it’s hard to imagine “encroach[ing] on North Korean soil” unawares when there’s a river border. Maybe they were stupid and decided to push their luck, or maybe they were nabbed while still on the China side because border guards had instructions to be on the lookout for a convenient, walking negotiation tool. It’s difficult to say at this point.

    I do think that Laura Ling’s sister, freaked out though she understandably is, shows a conspicuous lack of understanding of what’s going on diplomatically here:

    “As we stand here tonight, it is entirely possible that my sister Laura and Euna Lee are standing trial in a North Korean courtroom. I know they are scared,” Lisa Ling said at a vigil at a Santa Monica restaurant that drew several hundred people.

    She also said she was frustrated with the pace of negotiations and the families have begun an online petition calling for the women’s freedom.

    “It seems so simple, why doesn’t someone in our government pick up the phone and call someone from their government? Well, that would be far too easy,” Ling said. “Right now, the only way the U.S. communicates with North Korea is through a third-party, neutral country.”

    Well, yes, and the reason we need a “neutral” country between us is that we’re sworn enemies. I hope Ling and Lee are repatriated soon, but the fact is that they’ve gotten themselves mixed up in something very sticky, especially right at the moment. We’ll have to see what concessions Pyongyang thinks it can demand.

    Added later: Naturally, it’s Bush’s fault.


    Posted by Sean at 12:21, May 24th, 2009

    Not only are the two Japan Post subsidiaries related to the mails less profitable than the bank and the insurance company, but they also, according to the Yomiuri, owe back-taxes for Japanese fiscal year 2008, halfway through which the system was privatized:

    Following investigations by the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau into the two companies, the bureau notified the firms of their unreported earnings for the business year ending March 2008, according to sources.

    The companies are expected to be levied about 9.2 billion yen in back taxes, including penalty, corporate and local taxes, the sources said.

    The total undeclared income reportedly is more than 20 billion yen.

    It also said Japan Post Service and Japan Post Network logged 3.53 billion yen and 5.69 billion yen, respectively, to pay for taxes, on the assumption that the two companies would likely have to pay back taxes.

    Although Japan Post Group said it had a “difference in understanding” with the bureau, the group said it would abide by the notification.

    Well, you know, in Japan, these things are all about perspective.

    Japan Post update

    Posted by Sean at 14:50, May 23rd, 2009

    The Japan Post family of companies released its first financial statements for a full fiscal year since privatization–well, more like partial governmental divestiture, but in today’s climate, anything that even resembles a shift in the direction of less federal control of a major industry feels like a refreshing change–and the numbers are mixed:

    In the consolidated financial statements for J-FY 2008 Q4 that Japan Post released on 22 May, current income (corresponding to sales revenues) was JPY 19.9617 trillion, current profits were JPY 830.5 billion, and net profits (for the quarter) were JPY 422.7 billion. Since privatization in October 2007, this round is the first release of financial statements for a full fiscal year, and while all four companies operating under the Japan Post umbrella ultimately secured balances in the black, the three remaining companies when Japan Post Insurance is excluded fell short of standing projections. CEO Yoshifumi Nishikawa indicated in an interview that he intends to stay on the pitcher’s mound until the two financial subsidiaries [the insurance companies and the savings bank] are in a condition to list their stock, which is planned for as early as J-FY 2010.

    It’s the two finance-related arms that are making most of the profits; the holding company wants to jack up the contribution from the remaining two companies, one of which runs the post offices and the other of which runs the shipping and courier logistics of the old postal system. The Mainichi has an English version here, which scrambles the order of the original Japanese article but doesn’t omit much of the information.


    Posted by Sean at 17:47, March 29th, 2009

    I love this report in the Yomiuri:

    South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency announced on 29 March that there is a possibility that the launch of North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile under the guise of an “artificial satellite” will take place after 6 April due to weather conditions.

    North Korea has announced to international organizations that the launch will take place between 4 and 8 April, but according to the Yonhap wire service, The [Republic of] Korea Meteorological Agency has forecast that, at the launch base in Musudanri, North Hambyong Province, weather conditions will be “overcast beginning 3 April, with rain or snow falling on the afternoon of 4 April, and heavy cloud cover on 5 April also.”

    However, ROK forecasts have a bad reputation with citizens as “often inaccurate.”

    Oh. All right, then.

    Another Yomiuri article, this time posted to the English site, says that intercepting the missile could be difficult for Japan because, of course, no one knows exactly where it will go. This handy diagram is appended:


    If you’re having a hard time reading that, the red lines represent paths in which the rocket falls on land in Japan–the solid line if it’s the first booster rocket to separate, the dotted line if there’s just not enough thrust off the launchpad and the whole thing flops.


    Posted by Sean at 20:26, March 27th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei today carries the headline “Make due preparation for North Korea missile tests.”

    In response to the North Korean ballistic missile test, nominally [for] an “artificial satellite,” the government has convened a security meeting and confirmed a plan to intercept the missile if it falls over Japan’s territory or territorial waters; Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada has for the first time issued an order, predicated on the Self-Defense Force Law, to destroy it.

    Prime Minister Taro Aso instructed [attendees] at the security meeting to “be vigilant and adopt a firm and resolute stance.” If there is disarray in Japan, the result will only be that we’ve played into North Korea’s hands. In order to avoid that, at the stage when the launch date is imminent, and even more after the launch, the appropriate providing of information by the government will be indispensable. That point must especially be emphasized from the get-go.

    The Japanese and United States governments have declared that, even if it were an “artificial satellite,” the launch would violate UNSC Resolution 1695, which was adopted after North Korea launched a series of missiles in July 2006, and UNSC Resolution 1718, from after the nuclear tests of October that year. Improvements in the performance of North Korean missiles are a direct threat to the U.S. and Japan.

    Accordingly, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton warned that “this will affect the six-party talks revolving around nuclear issues, and [North Korea] will end up paying high compensation.” If North Korea ignores the warning and forges ahead with the launch, a debate will be raised at the UNSC [over measures that] include sanctions.

    On the other hand, the Spokesperson for the DPRK Minister of Foreign Affairs [stated] that, if the Security Council makes an issue of the “launch of an artificial satellite,” then “denuclearization will be set back, and we will adopt the necessary strong measures,” implying a resumption of nuclear testing. This development reminds one of 2006, with its series of missile launches and nuclear testing. That’s possibly due to expecations that the scenario in which the U.S. government did a 180 [and pursue] a path of conciliation after the nuclear testing.

    That switch to a path of conciliation is linked to the refusal [to allow] inspection during denuclearization, and to the new missile tests. If we consider these facts, it is necessary for not only Japan, the U.S., and South Korea, but also [all other] participants in the six-party talks, including China and Russia, to be sure of their resolve not to repeat the mistake.

    The Japanese phrase used at the end there is 過ちを繰り替えさない, which echoes–I can’t imagine this is a coincidence, given that it’s part of the last sentence of an op-ed about nuclear weapons–the inscription on the Hiroshima memorial: 安らかに眠って下さい/過ちは繰り返しませぬから (“Rest in peace, for we will not repeat the mistake”).


    Posted by Sean at 14:34, February 17th, 2009

    Secretary of State Clinton–who’d have thought a year ago that we’d be typing that?–has visited Japan, where she met separately with Prime Minister Taro Aso, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hirofumi Nakasone, and Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada.

    Secretary of State Clinton, at a joint press conference after her meeting with the Foreign Minister, issued a warning, strongly underscoring that “North Korea has intimated that there is a possibility of missile launches, but such behavior serves no purpose, and it will not aid in the progress of (US-DPRK) relations.” At the meeting with the Prime Minister, she stated, in connection with North Korea issues, “We would like to come to a decisive solution within the framework of the six-party talks, and that would include the Japanese abductee issue.”

    At the meeting with the Defense Minister, she touched on the activities of the Maritime Defense Force, which is investigating Japanese deployments to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, and issued a request: “We would be grateful if you could look into the possibility of providing aid and defense to foreign ships in times of emergency.” The Defense Minister responded, “We’re considering that and looking into a new law [that would make it possible to provide defense for foreign-registered ships as well].”

    It’s hard to tell whether the “comprehensive solution” referred to in the headline will come to pass. It’s not even certain that the DPRK knows where all the abductees as yet unaccounted for ended up, painful as that is for the Japanese families in question. Tokyo has tried to get Washington and Beijing to put pressure on Pyongyang, but the issue tends to get backburnered, and it’s not really because of callousness. The nuclear and black-market issues are very pressing, while the abductee issue doesn’t appear to be. There’s been no information that I’ve seen recently to suggest that there are known living abductees waiting to be repatriated.

    And yes, I’ve heard about soon-to-be-former Minister of Finance Shoichi Nakagawa’s unfortunate sensitivity to his cold medicine. You really have to watch out for those side-effects.


    Posted by Sean at 11:16, February 12th, 2009

    Former Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi, who made privatization of Japan Post his line in the sand in the run-up to the 2005 snap election, isn’t pleased with current Prime Minister Taro Aso’s performance on the subject:

    On 12 February, Former Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi of the LDP made his greetings at a gathering held at party headquarters to call for progress in Japan Post privatization and roundly criticized a series of pronouncements by Prime Minister Taro Aso related to Japan Post privatization: “If there’s no trust in the prime minister’s statements, we won’t be able to put up a good fight in elections.”

    Koizumi censured the prime minister for his statements, saying, “I’m flat-out disgusted–to the point that I want to laugh more than get angry.” He indicated that “the way things have been recently, it makes me wonder whether the prime minister hasn’t since before been taking shots at people who are trying to do battle (in the lower house election).”

    Among other things, Aso has contended on NHK that the apportionment of the privatized Japan Post has not been settled–which is to say, people knew Japan Post was to be privatized, but not that it was to be divided into four subsidiaries (retail bank, insurance, distribution/conveyance of letters and parcels, and window services/storefront operations) under the holding company.

    I’m not sure how it’s possible to think such a thing. The structure of the new Japan Post was debated, and debated, and debated. Japanese news yak shows, which love flow charts, diagrammed it. If there were people who didn’t understand that the proposed structure was a sticking point, that’s their problem.

    Of course, the bill that passed was a compromise, meaning that those of us who supported privatization rather than “privatization” were given cause for worry. The government is supposed to spin banking and insurance off completely by 2017 and to retain a one-third stake in the postal operations, but a lot can happen in a decade. From the moment the privatization bill was drafted, its lack of provisions against mutual shareholding raised fears that the four new companies would find a way to remain shackled to each other. There was a bill introduced in 2007 to freeze the selling off of stakes and assets; it passed the upper house, which is in control of the opposition. And the bank (Yucho) and insurance (Kampo) arms have been pushing to compete in the marketplace with their private counterparts, which lack the advantages of continued government stakes and brand assocation.

    Yucho is also the world’s largest bank by assets. Together with Kampo, it holds roughly a quarter of Japanese household assets (lots of federal bonds, too). But having been a branch of the government and then a semi-public corporation gives Japan Post Holdings and its hatchlings additional potential for collusion and sweetheart deals. The selling off of group of hotels owned by Kampo was canceled after allegations that the bid was far too low. The postal part of the operation has been busy, too. Japan Post Holdings had existed for approximately three nanoseconds when it made a deal with Nittsu (Nippon Express) to consolidate parcel services. The new brand name (it’s the Obama Era now, so maybe イエス郵ペリカン?) debuts later this year. There was serious discussion of mutual shareholding, too. Who wouldn’t want to get in on infrastructure initally set up by the government and still bearing its imprimatur?

    To be competitive without falling back on their state-controlled history, the service companies are going to need to streamline their operations, but the closures and firings that would be necessary to do so have been hotly contested. The old postal service had unprofitable outlets throughout rural Japan, but they became not only embodiments of its mandate to serve all citizens equally but also fiefdoms for ill-supervised local postmasters, who repaid the LDP by drumming up votes in the countryside to help keep it in power. The LDP has more free-market supporters than the opposition, which isn’t saying much to begin with, but many officials are wary of biting the hand that has fed them for so long.

    The way he makes me feel

    Posted by Sean at 10:44, November 2nd, 2008

    I’m late on this, having spent the last day or so with the stomach flu, trying to edge ginger ale and saltines down my throat unnoticed.

    Anyway, Reason has a round-up of thoughts by libertarian thinkers on the Obama candidacy. (I’m sure a parallel post about McCain is coming today.) While I have to say that Deirdre McCloskey gets off the best line…

    Since I live in Chicago, and anyway am a rational economist, I’m going to vote Libertarian, as usual. After all, why throw away my vote?

    …it will doubtless shock you to hear that I most like Virginia Postrel’s take. How felicitous for her that the Obama campaign came along not long after she’d turned her culture-critic’s eye to the workings of glamour!

    If elected, [Obama] will have not a policy mandate but an emotional one: to make Americans feel proud of their country, optimistic about the future, and warmly included, regardless of background, in the American story.

    A President Obama could deliver just the opposite. He might stumble badly abroad, projecting weakness that invites aggression (think Jimmy Carter) or involving America in a humanitarian-driven war at least as long and bloody as Iraq (think Sudan). As for inclusiveness, you can get it two ways: by respecting individual differences—-however eccentric, offensive, or hard to control—-or by jamming everyone into a conformist collective. Obama’s New Frontier-style rhetoric has a decidedly collectivist cast. NASA is great, prizes for private space flight are stupid, and what can we make you do for your country? A guy who thinks like that will not worry about what his health care plan might do to pharmaceutical research or physicians’ incentives.

    Obama’s campaign draws enormous power from his rhetoric of optimism-“hope,” “change,” and “Yes, we can.” But the candidate’s memoir betrays a tragic vision. In Dreams from My Father, almost everyone winds up disappointed: Obama’s father, his stepfather, his grandparents, the people he meets in Chicago. Only his naive and distant mother keeps on pursuing happiness. Then she dies of cancer. … Hope is audacious because, at least in this world, it’s futile and absurd. Faceless “power” is always waiting to crush your dreams.

    Before anyone starts screeching that McCain also has Daddy issues and that he’s also obsessed with strong-arming people into “national service” and that Obama has too proposed specific policies–yes, I know. So does Virginia, whose piece about McCain is likely, if anything, to be even more cutting when it appears.

    The things she’s talking about still matter. Obama talks a lot about hope, but his view of America is actually pretty dour: we need to be shaken from our complacency (by him and his fellow travelers) and change our ways–not because we’re a society made up of human beings that doesn’t always get it right, but because we’ve got loads of fundamental sins to atone for. As Melanie Phillips wrote last week:

    [T]he only way to assess their position is to look at each man in the round, at what his general attitude is towards war and self-defence, aggression and appeasement, the values of the west and those of its enemies and – perhaps most crucially of all – the nature of the advisers and associates to whom he is listening. As I have said before, I do not trust McCain; I think his judgment is erratic and impetuous, and sometimes wrong. But on the big picture, he gets it. He will defend America and the free world whereas Obama will undermine them and aid their enemies.

    Here’s why. McCain believes in protecting and defending America as it is. Obama tells the world he is ashamed of America and wants to change it into something else. McCain stands for American exceptionalism, the belief that American values are superior to tyrannies. Obama stands for the expiation of America’s original sin in oppressing black people, the third world and the poor.

    Obama thinks world conflicts are basically the west’s fault, and so it must right the injustices it has inflicted. That’s why he believes in ‘soft power’ — diplomacy, aid, rectifying ‘grievances’ (thus legitimising them, encouraging terror and promoting injustice) and resolving conflict by talking. As a result, he will take an axe to America’s defences at the very time when they need to be built up. He has said he will ‘cut investments in unproven missile defense systems'; he will ‘not weaponize space'; he will ‘slow our development of future combat systems'; and he will also ‘not develop nuclear weapons,’ pledging to seek ‘deep cuts’ in America’s arsenal, thus unilaterally disabling its nuclear deterrent as Russia and China engage in massive military buildups.

    My biggest problem with Obama is his instincts. I don’t think that he hates classical liberals (via Eric), any more than I think Sarah Palin hates those of us who live in blue cities.

    What I do think is that he believes, like a lot of liberals who approach things from an academic background, that human relations can be fixed in some ultimate way. We talk until we find common ground, we all make some compromises, and then we all go home partially happy and make the best of it. That means that those of us who believe that ideological conflict is inevitable, that in some conflicts there will inevitably be distinct winners and losers, and that competition among ideas is not only inevitable but frequently salutary, are spoiling the party. As Virginia implies, it’s hard to champion both conflict-avoidance and “diversity.”