Monday, November 29, 2010

Kan: The marked man

With his support rate sliding into the danger zone of 26 and 27% in the latest Mainichi and Asahi polls, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan may not have long to go before he reaches the 19% that his predecessor Yukio Hatoyama hit before resigning.

This time though, it is neither the US base issue in Okinawa nor a personal money scandal that is doing him in; Kan is in deep trouble for a perceived serious mishandling of his entire portfolio. He has been slammed on foreign policy – particularly ineptness in dealing with the row with China over the Senkakus – for a collapsed domestic policy agenda, marked by a stalled legislature and a disappointing budget-waste screening, and for the outright foolishness of some members of his Cabinet, one of whom resigned under fire on Nov. 22.

The press is speculating about “domino resignations” of more gaffe-prone cabinet members. Already the Kan administration’s longevity is being questioned, with the tabloids screaming about a January or so dissolution of a deadlocked Diet.

Domestic debacles
Kan's fate may now be in the hands of his enemies: the opposition parties in the Diet and a unanimously hostile press which has been mercilessly pummeling Kan and his cabinet for allegedly bungling just about everything on the Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) policy agenda. A much touted supplemental budget to stimulate the economy never passed the Upper House, which opposition parties control.
Budgets, however, can be enacted with only Lower House approval according to the Constitution.

Even the DPJ’s pride and joy, a televised series of budget screening exercises to eliminate waste of taxpayers’ money fell disappointingly far short of a much publicized goal to free up 4 trillion yen in hidden funds and is now being dismissed by critics as nothing more than a “political performance.”

The latest embarrassment for Kan has been a string of gaffes and goofs by members of his cabinet that infuriated the opposition camp, the press, and public opinion. Things came to a head on Monday, Nov. 22, when Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida, whose in-house remarks to supporters ridiculing Diet proceedings was leaked to the media, was forced by Kan to resign his seat.

The opposition threatened to file and pass a censure motion against Yanagida in the Upper House. Kan himself is under opposition fire for appointing an unqualified and inept person to a cabinet position. Yanagida admitted on appointment that he had no background in law, having dropped out of the science course in college to work as sushi chef and then for a steel company where he worked as a labor activist until entering politics 20 years ago.

The Yanagida case has been singled out by the press as exemplifying Kan’s inability to make quick decisions on critical issues. Kan has been slammed consistently in the polls as “lacking leadership” on the policy front. The Prime Minister dilly-dallied on what to do about the Justice Minister’s fate for days, letting the Diet fall into chaos. It was only apparently until his aides pushed him hard for a decision that he met with them on Nov. 21 to seal the fate of Yanagida, who had continued to tell the press that he would “hang in there” and not resign.

Kan is criticized for leaving much of the political management of his administration to others, especially his chief cabinet secretary, Yoshito Sengoku, who reportedly made key decisions in handling the Senkaku issue. But Sengoku is also under pressure from the opposition to resign for recently calling the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) an “instrument of violence,” terminology that harks back to the old socialist camp in Japan.

Over the weekend, on Nov. 20, the sports daily Nikkan Gendai – a fairly accurate bellwether of political trends – ominously predicted “domino resignations” that would include not just Yanagida – but also others like “shadow prime minister” Sengoku for their gaffes and affronts to the Diet.

In six days last week, six cabinet members have had to render apologies a total of 10 times for inappropriate words and deeds. Though the Gendai’s prediction may not come true, such speculation further underscores the scathing environment in which the Prime Minister is struggling in to survive. Appearing on TV last week, Kan looked weary, his usual smile gone from his face. His answers in the Diet seemed labored.

At any rate, though Yanagida has resigned, the opposition camp has not blinked. It has continue to use dilatory tactics before the Diet session ends on December 3. Having filed and passe censure motions against Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku and Ministry of Land and Transportation Sumio Mabuchi. Kan has shrugged off the moves, but the Diet remains gridlocked. Looking to the regular session of the Diet in January, the opposition may file and pass more censure motions against cabinet Ministers. They may also summon former DPJ secretary general Ichiro Ozawa to the Diet to testify on his money scandal. Commenting on the current state of Diet affairs, Nikkan Gendai on Nov. 23 said it all: “The DPJ is acting just like the LDP used to.”

Foreign policy failures
Kan’s troubles of course started with the Senkaku row with China, compounded by the leak of a video of the collision between the Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard cutters. It became worse when President Medvedev broke with tradition and officially visited one the four disputed northern islands taken by the former Soviet Union from Japan in the closing days of World War II. The ambassador to Russia was recalled in protest for several days, but there was no follow-up from the prime minister.

Sadly, even the children’s section of a major daily poked fun at Kan by running a cartoon showing
a weak and trembling Kan seemingly cowered by President Medvedev as they traded claims to the northern territories.

Kan’s performance at the G20 in Seoul and his hosting of the APEC conference in Yokohama, too, were generally panned by the press as lifeless and stilted. A telling photograph of his bilateral meeting at APEC with China’s President Hu Jintao shows Kan hunched over his briefing folder, which he always seems to carry, reading out talking points to an obviously bored Hu. In an interview, former close Diet colleague Shusei Tanaka said that Kan did not have the mettle to be a prime minister.

Alliance bright spot
Sunday’s headlines in the conservative Yomiuri on Nov. 21 about a “deepening of the US-Japan alliance” may have been the only good news for the Kan administration in a long time. The daily, which has been a constant critic of the DPJ government’s alleged slights to the alliance, trumpeted that progress has been made in bilateral talks in Washington toward a joint security declaration next spring. The statement reportedly would include a new set of “common strategic objectives” (the former set was issued in 2005) that would specifically deal with China’s maritime push into waters near Japan.

As if to underscore the new security emphasis, Yomiuri and other papers featured photos of Chinese patrol ships cruising near the Senkaku Islands where they were warned away by Japanese Coast Guard vessels.

North Korea provided more cement for the US-Japan Alliance. The latest provocative act, an unprecedented shelling of a South Korean island near disputed waters, killed two soldiers and two civilians, while devastating a small village.

That does not mean that alliance affairs will now go smoothly for Kan. Following the Nov. 28 gubernatorial election in Okinawa, in which the LDP incumbent won, he must soon make a meaningful decision on the Futenma relocation agreement. This is likely to trigger another round of bickering between the DPJ government and that prefecture's citizens that continue to demand that the base be moved outside of Okinawa. Although this situation takes tact and patience, it appears that the only tool that Kan has in reserve is a panic button.

LDP not gaining
The press has already begun speculating about the possibility of the Diet in regular session being so blocked by opposition intransigence that Kan would have to resign his post (in favor of Seiji Maehara) or dissolve the Lower House for a snap election. A January scenario is predicted by some magazines.
Even former prime minister Hatoyama in an interview hinted at a spring dissolution of the Diet. Such a worst case scenario as a general election, however, would not necessarily be an automatic victory for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The former ruling party now leads the opposition camp and controls the Upper House. Even though the DPJ is losing favor with the public, the LDP has not benefited from the shift. In the Asahi’s latest poll, the LDP is indeed a point or so ahead of the DPJ in public support, but each party is only at the 16% range, far below their traditional levels.

Almost 60% of the electorate – a whopping percentage – do not support any party. These independent voters have been willing to switch parties in general elections and are responsible for the see-sawing of election results in recent years. If a snap election were to be called, it is unclear whether one party or the other would be the clear winner or loser. Indeed, a host of small parties that have proliferated in recent years might be the beneficiaries, further gumming up the political works in Japan.

Dr William Brooks
APP Senior Fellow

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Washington's Monday

NATO BEYOND THE LISBON SUMMIT. 11/29, 8:30am- 4:15pm, Lunch, Washington, DC. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: James G. Stavridis, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe Commander, U.S. European Command; Michèle Flournoy, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.

NUCLEAR FUTURES: IMMEDIATE AND LONG-TERM STEPS TO REDUCE NUCLEAR ARMS. 11/29, 10:00-11:30am, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Brookings Institution. Speakers: Thomas Donnelly, director of the Center for Defense Studies at American Enterprise Institute; Keith Payne, president of the National Institute for Public Policy; Michael O'Hanlon, director of research and senior fellow of foreign policy at 21st Century Defense Initiative; and Steven Pifer, senior fellow of foreign policy at the Center on the United States and Europe.

ACCELERATING INNOVATION TO HELP MEET US ENERGY NEES AND CLIMATE GOALS. 11/29,12:30-2:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: National Press Club. Speaker: Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Location: National Press Club, 14th and F Streets NW, Ballroom. Contact: Melinda Cooke, 662-7516, ; $17 for National Press Club members, $28 for their guests and $35 for general admission,

Happening in Tokyo this week

GOVERNANCE OF CONTEMPORARY JAPAN. 12/1, 9:30am-5:30pm, Lunch, Tokyo, Japan. Sponsor: Institute of Social Science (ISS). Speakers: Akira Suehiro, Director, ISS; Kenji Hirashima, ISS; Margarita Estevez-Abe, Syracuse University, USA; Hiroko Takeda, University of Sheffield, UK; Iwao Sato, ISS; Mari Osawa, ISS; Wataru Tanaka, ISS; Yupana Wiwattanakantang, National University of Singapore; Masaki Nakabayashi, ISS; Roland Czada, University of Osnabruck, Germany; Kasian Tejapira, Thammasat University, Thailand; Colin Picker, University of New South Wales, Australia; Junji Nakagawa, ISS; Kaoru Iokibe, ISS. Location: University of Tokyo.

A BETTER PATH TO PEACE: DYNAMIC COLLABORATION BETWEEN PEACEKEEPING AND PEACE BUILDING. 12/1, 10:00am- 5:00pm, Tokyo, Japan. Sponsor: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Speakers: Ms.Sadako Ogata, President of Japan International Cooperation Agency; Dr. Mutrif Siddig Ali Alnimeiri, State Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Republic of the Sudan; Mr. Ouch Borith, Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Cambodia; Mr. Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, UN. Location: United Nations University.

SECURITY COOPERATION AND REGIONAL INTEGRATION IN ASIA. 12/3, 9:00am-7:00pm, Lunch, Tokyo, Japan. Sponsor: Waseda University Global COE Program. Speakers: Kaoru Kamata, President of Waseda University; Satoshi Amako, Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies (GSAPS), Waseda University; Hatsue Shinohara, Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies (GSAPS), Waseda University; Alastair Iain Johnston, Professor, Harvard University; Chikako Kawakatsu Ueki, Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies (GSAPS), Waseda University; Kang Choi, professor and Director-General for American Studies at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Wang Yizhou, Professor, School of International Studies, Beijing University; Benjamin Schreer, Senior Lecturer, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University; Rumi Aoyama, Professor, The Research Institute of Current Chinese Affairs, School of Education, Waseda University; Takashi Terada, Professor of International Relations at Organization for Asian Studies, Waseda University; Rizal Sukma, executive director, CSIS. Location: International Conference Center, Waseda University.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The US and China: The limits of pragmatism

Longtime Asia Policy Point member Dr. Robert Sutter finds in his new book, US-Chinese Relations: Perilous Past, Pragmatic Present that pragmatism will only get you so far with when you don't know what you believe to start with.

Here, he endeavors to help readers strike an appropriate balance in assessing the forces causing the United States and China to cooperate more closely, while differing and diverging on core issues.

He does so by reviewing the development of the US-China relationship, discerning the roots of important differences and practices in the past two centuries, and salient determinants in the four decades since the "opening" under Mao and Nixon.

Sutter portrays a very mixed historical record that shows the persistence of numerous unresolved issues and new differences that feed strong mutual wariness and considerable suspicion. These negative factors are only partly overridden by mutual pragmatism that shifts with circumstances.

In the current period, he assesses that circumstances probably are strong enough to sustain the outwardly positive interchange between the US and Chinese administrations, but moving forward with greater cooperation will remain hampered by differences and the absence of a clear consensus in either country on policy toward the other.

Robert Sutter. U.S.-CHINESE RELATIONS: PERILOUS PAST, PRAGMATIC PRESENT (Rowman and Littlefield 2010) 340 pages.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Monday Events

SCIENCE AND NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT: PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES. 11/8, 8:30am-5:30pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: AAAS, Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science. Speakers: George Perkovich, Vice-President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment; Amb. Kenneth Brill, former US Representative to IAEA, Prof. Nobel Prize in Economics; Thomas Schelling, Univ. of Maryland; Dr. Richard Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus, member of Committee on International Security and Arms Control, National Academy of Science; Dr. Michiji Konuma, Prof. Emeritus, Keio University and Pugwash Council Member, 1992-2002; Prof. Souhou Machida, Hiroshima University; Amb. Nobuyasu Abe, Director, Center for Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation in Tokyo, former Japanese Representative to the IAEA.

NEXT STEPS IN ARMS CONTROL: NUCLEAR WEAPONS, MISSILE DEFENSE AND NATO. 11/8, 9:00am - 3:00pm, Lunch, Washington, DC. Sponsors: Arms Control Association; Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America. Speakers: Rose Gottemoeller, New START Chief Negotiator; Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State; Joan Rohlfing, Nuclear Threat Initiative; Amb. Richard Burt, START I Chief Negotiator; Morton Halperin, Open Society Institute; Adam Kobieracki, Polish Department of Foreign Affairs; Jiri Sedivy, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Policy and Planning; Eugene Miasnikov, Moscow Center for Arms Control, Energy, and Environmental Studies.

JETRO'S 2010 REPORTS ON WORLD TRADE AND INVESTMENT. 11/8, Noon-2:00pm, Lunch, Washington, DC. Sponsors: Japan Commerce Association of Washington DC (JCAW). Speaker: Dai Higashino, Director, International Economic Studies, Japan External Trade Organization.

FAITH MISPLACED: BROKEN PROMISE OF US-ARAB RELATIONS, 1820-2003. 11/8, 6:00-7:15pm, Washington, DC. Sponsors: Middle East Policy Forum, George Washington University. Speaker: Ussama Makdisi, Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair in Arabic Studies and Professor of History, Rice University. 

THE ATLANTIC BLUEFIN TUNA CHALLENGE: SUSTAINING A HIGH-VALUE MIGRATORY SPECIES IN A HIGHLY IMPACTED OCEAN. 11/8, Noon-2:00, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Environmental Law Institute. Speakers: Lee Crockett, Director, Federal Fisheries Policy Reform Project, Pew; Shana Miller, Executive Director, Tag-A-Giant Foundation; Robert Hayes, General Counsel, Coastal Conservation Association; Rich Ruais, Executive Director, American Bluefin Tuna Association and Blue Water Fishermen’s Association; Dr. Guillermo Diaz, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOA; Moderator: Jordan Diamond, Assistant Director, Ocean Program, Environmental Law Institute.

THE EMERGING ARCHITECTURE OF ASIAN MULTILATERALISM. 11/8, 5:00-6:15pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University. Speaker: Professor Amitav Acharya of the School of International Service at American University.

CHINA: STATE MEDIA - REACHING OUT. 11/8, 7:00-8:30pm, Washington. DC. Sponsor: Institute for Public Diplomacy & Global Communication, George Washington University. Speaker: Jim Laurie, Director of Broadcasting, Journalism and Media Studies Center of the University of Hong Kong. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

This Week in New York

TWISTS & TURNS IN JAPANESE POLITICS: IMPLICATIONS FOR JAPAN, & US REGION. 11/8, 6:00-8:30pm, Reception, New York, NY. Sponsors: Japan Society, Asia Society. Speakers: Tobias Harris, Editor, Observing Japan, Ph.D Candidate, Political Science, MIT; Yinan He, Assistant Professor, Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University; Jun Saito, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Yale University; Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Edward Lincoln, Director, Japan-US Center, Stern School of Business, NYU.

US NAVY'S NEW ENERGY REVOLUTION. 11/9, 11:30am-1:00pm, Luncheon, New York, NY. Sponsor: Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Speaker: Ray Mabus, US Secretary of the Navy, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, former governor of Mississippi.

WEALTH MANAGERS GRAPPLE WITH JAPAN’S SHIFTING GENERATION.11/10, 6:00-9:00pm, Reception, New York, NY. Sponsor: Japan Society. Speakers: Johm Fennelly, Global Managing Director of Wealth Management, Thomson Reuters; Oki Matsumoto, Representative Director and CEO, Monex Group, Inc; Alicia Ogawa, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Greening China

Michael Davidson, formerly a Visiting Fellow at Asia Policy Point, is now the China Climate Fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. He supports NRDC’s 30-person Beijing staff on a host of environmental and energy-related issues, and reports on U.S.-China environmental protection efforts to the policy community and the public. Michael maintains a blog, East Winds.

This week, he will speak twice in Washington on U.S.-China climate relations.

GREEN DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA: INSTITUTIONS AND U.S.-CHINA COOPERATION. 11/4, 9:00am-5:30pm, Washington, DC. Sponsors: Chinese Association for Public Affairs, Professional Association for China’s Environment (PACE), Union of Chinese-American Professional Organizations, World Bank-IMF Chinese Staff Association, Chinese Environmental Scholars and Professionals Network. Speakers: Zhang Yesui (invited), Chinese Ambassador to the United States; He Jianxiong (invited), China ED, IMF; Yang Shaolin (invited), China ED, World Bank; Christopher R. Ryan, President, Geo-Solutions Inc.; Nora F. Savage, Nano Team Lead, Office of Research and Development, US EPA; Tom Lewis, Senior VP, Louis Berger Group, Inc.; Jianchang Ye, Senior Process Engineer, Brentwood Industries Inc.; William Chandler, President, Transition Energy; Xiaodong Wang, Senior Energy Specialist, World Bank; Robert Dixon, Team Leader, GEF; David Wheeler, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development; Pamela Franklin, Team Leader, Climate Change Division, US EPA; Michael Davidson, China Climate Fellow, National Resource Defense Council; Ming Yang, Senior Environmental Economist, GEF; Xiaomei Tan, World Resources Institute. Moderators: Hua Wang, President, Chinese Association for Public Affairs; Chao Wang, Vice President, Chinese Environmental Scholars and Professionals Network; Zhihong Zhang, Senior Climate Change Specialist, GEF. Location: International Monetary Fund HQ-1, 700 19th Street, NW, BL-702. RSVP.

U.S.-CHINA CLIMATE RELATIONS IN THE RUN-UP TO CANCUN. 11/5, 9:30-11:30am, Washington, DC. Sponsor: China Environment Forum (Woodrow Wilson Center). Speakers: Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Teng Fei, Institute for Energy, Environment and Economy, Tsinghua University; Michael Davidson, China Climate Fellow, NRDC. Location: Wilson Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, 5th Floor Conference Room.