Sunday, November 26, 2017

Japanese state history dissemination

Autobiography of Massachusetts
native who survived
the Bataan Death March
On November 30, the Abe Administration through its Foreign Ministry's think tank, the Japan International Institute for International Studies (JIIA), will sponsor a conference in Washington, DC at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), entitled, POST-WAR U.S.-JAPAN RECONCILIATION: STRATEGIC BENEFITS OF HEALING.

Its purpose, as the Sankei Shimbun article below explains, is to present the current Japanese government's views of history.

This means it is an effort to sanitize the Japanese Administration's denier history narrative and to discredit Korea and China's historical views of WWII.  The United States will be presented as the "good" reconcilier. However, people who actually fought for historical justice for the American POWs, civilian internees, and comfort women are not included in the conference. These scholars and activists are likely to observe that the U.S. was a reconciler through neglect and its absence in reconciliation programs.

Speakers complicit in this effort are: Representative Niki Tsongas (D-MA); Michael H. Armacost, Shorenstein APARC fellow, Stanford University; Gerald L. Curtis, Burgess professor emeritus of political science at Columbia University; Thomas Berger, professor of international relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University; Rohan Mukherjee, assistant professor of political science at Yale-NUS College in Singapore; Keiko Iizuka, editorialist and senior political writer for the Yomiuri Shimbun; Koichi Ai, acting director general at the Japan Institute of International Affairs; Michael R. Auslin, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution; Jennifer Lind, Associate Professor, Department of Government, Dartmouth College; Toshihiro Nakayama, Professor, Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University; Douglas H. Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; James L. Schoff, senior fellow in the Carnegie Asia Program.

Japan International Institute for International Studies Begins to Spread Japan's Viewpoints on History by Initiating its First International Symposium on History and Reconciliation

Sankei Shimbun, November 19, 2017 [Provisional Translation by APP Interns]

The Japan International Institute for International Studies (President and Director General Yoshiji Nogami, Former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs) will hold a number of symposia overseas on the theme of "history and reconciliation.” It is the first time for JIIA, established in 1959, to hold a symposium overseas on this theme. This is an effort to disseminate overseas the arguments of the Japan side based on objective historical research on such issues as territory and comfort women that Japan has [differences] with neighboring countries.

The symposia will be held in Washington DC on November 30th; in Paris next January; and in New Delhi in February. Researchers from Japan and overseas will participate and it is expected that the latest research in Japan and the opinions of researchers from third-party countries will be presented.

In addition to underscoring the differences between regions that experienced the last world war [大戰] and other events where reconciliation has progressed and those regions where it has not, the symposia are expected also to focus discussion on nationalism in each country.

[Note: The Sankei’s text is ambiguous and written badly. The Sankei writer is hinting above that one should “look at Taiwan and the Philippines, etc., who are very cooperative with Japan despite their war experience, and compare them with the Koreans and Chinese who continue to condemn Japan.”]

The Institute held a symposium in Tokyo this October [the 12th, (Japanese only)] that invited history researchers and others from South Korea, India and the U.S. entitled “History and Reconciliation - Thinking from International Comparison.” One participant, Professor Park Yu-ha of Sejong University [not a historian], the author of the book The Empire's Comfort Women, who was charged [and convicted] of defamation against the several former Comfort Women, said, “The background of the comfort women issue as a major problem between Japan and South Korea can be traced to the fact that the ideological conflict between the left and right in South Korea is closely linked to their views of Korean history as related to Japan.” [i.e., Park is saying that the Korean Left is anti-Japanese and the Right is pro-Japanese]

With an unfair “history war” developing abroad, a JIIA official noted, “We hope that these symposia can spread the data [correct historical evidence] that Japan has accumulated so far in order to appeal to the hearts of people in the West and elsewhere.


>Japan Institute of International Affairs caves to right-wing pressure. 2006/2007

The Struggle for the Japanese Soul: Komori Yoshihisa, Sankei Shimbun, and the JIIA controversy By David McNeill, Japan Focus, September 4, 2006.

Softly, Softly: Did the Japan Institute of International Affairs buckle under right-wing pressure? No, says Ambassador Satoh Yukio. Yes, say his critics by David McNeill; Fred Varcoe interviews Amb. Satoh Yukio, Japan Focus, July 3, 2007.


Part I: "Case Studies on Reconciliation" [Video]

Mr. Brahma Chellaney, Professor, Strategic Studies, Center for Policy Research in New Delhi

Ms. Lily Gardner Feldman, Senior Fellow, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies(AICGS), Johns Hopkins

Mr. Fumiaki Kubo, Senior Fellow, American Government and History, Graduate Schools for Law and Politics, University of Tokyo

Mr. Nobukatsu Kanehara, Deputy Secretary General of National Security Secretariat and Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office of Japan

Part II: "What Promotes and Prevents Reconciliation?"

Ms. Yinan He, Associate professor, Department of International Relations, Lehigh University

Ms. Ji Young Kim, Associate Professor, Department of Area Studies, University of Tokyo

Mr. Kazuya Sakamoto, Professor, Department of Law and Political Science, Graduate School of Law and Politics, Osaka University

Mr. Thongchai Winichakul, Emeritus Professor of Southeast Asian History, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Part III: "Reconciliation and Nationalism"

Mr. Yūichi Hosoya, Senior Fellow, Tokyo Foundation, Professor, Faculty of Law, Keio University.

Mr. Lung-chih Chang, Associate Research Fellow and Deputy Director, Institute of Taiwan History

Mr. Daqing Yang, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, GWU

Ms. Yu-ha Park, Professor, College of Liberal Arts, Sejong University

Mr. Shin Kawashima, Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo

Abe's success of Trump's Japan visit

Japan’s Pyrrhic Victory Over ‘Comfort Women’ Commemoration

Blocking comfort women documents from UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register could do Japan more harm than good.

By Edward Vickers, Professor of Comparative Education at Kyushu University, Japan. He is a member of the War Memoryscapes in Asia Partnership (WARMAP), funded by the Leverhulme Trust and coordinated by Mark Frost of Essex University. His latest book, Education and Society in Post-Mao China, was published by Routledge in 2017.

The Diplomat, November 25, 2017

October was a good month for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Following his crushing electoral victory came a further triumph highly prized by Japanese rightists: the stymieing of attempts to inscribe documents relating to “comfort women” — wartime sex slaves of the Japanese military — on UNESCO’s “Memory of the World Register.”

An international alliance had submitted an application, “Voices of the Comfort Women,” in May 2016. But on October 27, inscription was declared “postponed” pending “dialogue” between the applicants and the Japanese government.

This decision is portrayed by Abe’s supporters as endorsing his efforts to close the book on the wartime past, and restore Japan to a “normal” role in world affairs. But does Japan’s UNESCO diplomacy really serve this end? Or does it rather ensure that controversy over wartime atrocities continues to fester, imperiling Japan’s security by lending ammunition to anti-Japan nationalists?

Over many decades, Japan has invested heavily in UNESCO, which it joined in 1951, five years before becoming a full member of the UN itself. From 2011, following withdrawal of U.S. funding, it became the biggest contributor to the organisation’s budget. UNESCO has served as a rare arena for Japanese diplomatic leadership; it was largely at Japanese instigation, for example, that UNESCO declared 2004-2014 the “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.” Through such initiatives, Japan built up a reputation for responsible global citizenship.

But the Abe administration claims that in recent years other states — specifically China and South Korea — have sought to “politicize” the organisation, in particular its heritage listing process. In 2015, China secured “Memory of the World” inscription for documents relating to the 1937 Nanjing Massacre. Shortly thereafter, Japan suspended its financial contribution to UNESCO in protest.

Japan also sought to buy South Korea’s silence over the “comfort women” issue. A bilateral agreement in December 2015 offered compensation to surviving victims, in return for the South Korean government’s defunding campaigns for further recognition — specifically the application to UNESCO. But far from resolving tensions, the agreement exacerbated them. This was due not least to the blatantly disingenuous nature of the Japanese stance: half-hearted contrition for foreign consumption, alongside intensifying revisionism within Japan itself. Under Abe, discussion of “comfort women” has all but disappeared from school textbooks.

This does not mean that the history of wartime sex slavery simply pits Japanese villainy against Korean or Chinese victimhood. As the South Korean scholar Park Yu-ha has controversially pointed out, Chinese and Korean gangs trafficked women for the Japanese military; some girls were sold into prostitution by their impoverished families; and while most were tricked or coerced, there were exceptions. Trafficking in women for sex is nothing new, and continues across Asia and beyond. For example, China’s skewed sex ratio — a by-product of the One Child Policy — is today fueling an upsurge in trafficking along its southern borders.

Nor were Japan’s imperial forces unique in deploying sexual violence. The Soviet advance into Germany at the end of World War II witnessed an orgy of rape and assault on women, as troops took revenge for suffering inflicted by the Germans on their compatriots. And as Japanese revisionists like to point out, American military bases in South Korea and Japan today are liberally serviced by local sex workers.

However, the “comfort women” system was a particularly coordinated, institutionalized, and brutal form of sexual exploitation. Moreover, for many campaigners, the continuing abuse of women today is precisely the point. The activists at the Women’s Active Museum of War and Peace in Tokyo, for example, see a failure to acknowledge the iniquity of the “comfort women” system as symptomatic of the entrenched chauvinism of Japanese society. For many, securing recognition for wartime sex slaves is partly about drawing attention to the widespread persistence of the kinds of attitudes toward women that underpinned that system. This aim would seem eminently consistent with UNESCO’s humanitarian mission.

But UNESCO is an organization in crisis. In parts of its decrepit Paris headquarters, rusty reinforcing rods can be seen poking through the crumbling concrete. A lack of UNESCO funding left the German government to cover my group’s travel costs when recently visiting to launch a UNESCO-commissioned report on education in Asia. One official whispered fears that Japan might follow the United States in withdrawing completely. Meanwhile, Chinese influence is rapidly filling the void, leaving many UNESCO insiders desperate somehow to restore political balance.

This is the context for the recent “Memory of the World” decision. In 2015, a related Chinese application was turned down, despite the fact that the International Advisory Committee adjudged the submitted documents to have “met the criteria” for registration. In light of the transnational nature of the issue, the committee recommended that groups in various affected countries (not just China) jointly submit a more comprehensive collection of documents. Hence the subsequent South Korean-led 14-country application, the documents submitted by which were described earlier this year by UNESCO’s Register Sub-Committee as “irreplaceable and unique.”

Japan was meanwhile fiercely pressing for revision of the criteria for inscription. It finally secured a commitment to pursue “dialogue” in cases where an application is contested — the principle cited in the recent “postponement” decision. However, as the alliance supporting registration noted in an October 31 press release, this potentially amounts to a perpetrator’s veto: “It means that documents related to colonial regimes should be negotiated with the colonizers, and the damage suffered by victims of war should be discussed with the perpetrators.”

UNESCO’s eagerness to placate Japan is apparent elsewhere, too. This July, the island of Okinoshima off the coast of Kyushu was declared a “World Heritage Site,” along with related shrines on the mainland. The island is a repository of thousands of ancient artifacts from South Korea, China and beyond, mysteriously deposited over the centuries. Intensive Japanese lobbying persuaded the UNESCO committee to override an expert recommendation to register only the island itself, and agree instead to inscribe the mainland sites as well. Moreover, the official description of the site notes neither a “traditional” ban on women landing on Okinoshima, nor the island’s association with nationalistic annual commemorations of a nearby 1905 naval battle.

Not all recent decisions have gone Japan’s way. An application to inscribe as “Memory of the World” documents relating to Sugihara Chiune, the wartime Japanese consul in Latvia who helped save several thousand Jews, was rejected. The reasons were not divulged, but celebrating an instance of wartime Japanese humanitarianism while denying inscription to “comfort women” documents was probably seen as politically unwise.

Given threats from a nuclearizing North Korea and an increasingly assertive China, the project of pursuing a more “normal” constitutional position for Japan’s armed forces has much to recommend it. However, to seek constitutional reform alongside historical revisionism is both ethically indefensible and strategically insane. It needlessly sullies Japan’s international reputation and awards easy propaganda points to nationalists elsewhere intent on portraying Japanese as unrepentant militarists.

And Japan’s actions threaten UNESCO’s reputation, too. In squandering much of the goodwill acquired over decades of involvement in UNESCO, it has exacerbated the very process of “politicization” it claims to lament. Denying inscription to records of wartime atrocities brings discredit both to Japan, for its bullying and mendacity, and to UNESCO, for buckling under pressure and subverting its own processes.

The international alliance has pledged to continue its campaign to inscribe “comfort women” documents, declaring its readiness to enter whatever form of dialogue UNESCO mandates. It remains to be seen whether Japan will approach such an exercise as more than a means of blocking and obfuscation. But for truly meaningful dialogue with its neighbors over this and other aspects of the wartime past, what Japan needs first of all is a long-overdue dialogue with itself.

Monday in Washington, November 27, 2017

PRIVATE SECTOR ENGAGEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN. 11/27, 1:00- 3:00pm. Sponsor: Project on Prosperity and Development, CSIS. Speaker: Gregory Huger, Assistant to the Administrator, Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, USAID; Tony Wayne, Deputy Ambassador in Kabul; Jeffrey Grieco, President and CEO, Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce (AACC). 

SHOULD WASHINGTON BREAK UP BIG TECH? 11/27, 1:30-3:00pm. Sponsor: Economic Policy, AEI. Speakers: Ryan Hagemann, Director, Technology Policy Niskanen Center; Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist, MIT; Moderator: James Pethokoukis, Editor and Fellow, AEI.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Monday in Washington, November 20, 2017

READINESS ON THE LINE: PREPARING TODAY'S FORCE FOR FUTURE FIGHTS. 11/20, 9:30-10:30am. Sponsor: Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Air Force Association. Speaker: Gen. Mike Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Force.

11/20, 10:00-11:00am. Sponsor: Manama Dialogue 2017 Discussion Series, IISS-Americas. Speakers: Mark Katz. Professor, Government and Politics, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University; Neda Bolourchi. Research Associate, Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE).

11/20, 12:30pm. Sponsor: National Press Club (NPC). Speaker: Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank.

COSTING U.S. NUCLEAR FORCES. 11/20, 1:00-2:30pm. Sponsor: Carnegie. Speakers: Michael Bennett, Analyst, National Security, Congressional Budget Office; Kingston Reif, Director, Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, Arms Control Association; Moderator: James Acton Co-Director Nuclear Policy Program, Senior Fellow, Carnegie.

. 11/20, 4:30-5:30pm. Sponsor: Institute of World Politics (IWP). Speaker: Rebeccah L. Heinrichs, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Monday in Washington, November 13, 2017

MORAL INJURY: TOWARD AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE. 11/13, 8:15-11:15am, Coffee. Sponsor: New America. Speakers: Brad Allenby, President’s Professor, Affiliated Faculty, Center on the Future of War, Arizona State University; Andrea Ellner, Lecturer, Defence Studies, King’s College London; David Wood, Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist, Author, What Have We Done, The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars; Moderator: Rosa Brooks, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center.

WINNING THE SECOND WORLD WARS: HOW THE FIRST GLOBAL CONFLICT WAS FOUGHT AND WON. 11/13, 9:00-10:00am. Sponsor: Project on Military and Diplomatic History, CSIS. Speaker: Victor Davis Hanson, Author, Senior Fellow, Hoover.

click to order
AT THE TURNING POINT: ECONOMICS, SECURITY, AND AMERICAN POLITICS. 11/13, 12:30-5:00pm. Sponsors: Economists for Peace and Security and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Keynote speakers: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA); Heather Hurlburt, New America; William Hartung, Center for International Policy; Matthew Duss, Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator Sanders.

PREPARING MILITARY LEADERSHIP FOR THE FUTURE. 11/13, 1:00-5:00pm, Coffee. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Rudy de Leon, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, Former Deputy Secretary of Defense; General (Ret.) James Cartwright, USMC, Chair, Defense Policy Studies, CSIS; Moderator: Ray DuBois, Senior Adviser, CSIS.

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RELIGION AND FOREIGN POLICY: EXPLORING THE LEGACY OF "MIXED BLESSINGS". 11/13, 2:00-3:30pm. Sponsors: Human Rights Initiative, CSIS; Georgetown University. Speakers: Shaun Casey, Director, Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University; Liora Danan, Former Chief of Staff, Office of Religion and Global Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Rebecca Linder Blachly, Director, Office of Government Relations, Episcopal Church; Eric Patterson, Research Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University; Moderator: Shannon N. Green, Director and Senior Fellow, Human Rights Initiative, CSIS.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AS SEEN BY BARBIE AND MICKEY. 11/13, 6:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Intellectual Property Law Program, George Washington University Law School. Speaker: Jane Ginsburg, Professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law, Columbia Law School, Columbia University.

UNRAVELLING THE KASHMIR KNOT. 11/13, 6:00-8:00pm. Sponsor: World Affairs Council. Speaker: Aman Hingorani, Author, Lawyer and Mediator, Supreme Court of India.  Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Horizon Ballroom. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Monday in Washington, November 6, 2017

CLINTON 25: GEORGETOWN REFLECTS ON THE VISION OF BILL CLINTON. 11/6, 9:00am-6:00pm. Sponsor: Georgetown University, Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. Speakers: President Bill Clinton; Bruce Reed, former Chief Domestic Policy Advisor; Rahm Emanuel, former Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy; Minyon Moore, former Director of White House Political Affairs; Maria Echaveste, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff; Mike Bailey, Interim Dean, McCourt School of Public Policy (Moderator); Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State; President Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico; Strobe Talbott, former Deputy Secretary of State; Joel Hellman, Dean, Walsh School of Foreign Service (Moderator); Mack McLarty, former White House Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration; Erskine Bowles, former White House Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration; John Podesta, former White House Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration; Judy Feder, Professor, McCourt School of Public Policy; Faculty Liaison, Baker Center on Leadership and Governance (Moderator). 

THE NEW EURASIA ENERGY LANDSCAPE. 11/6, 9:00am-2:00pm. Sponsor: German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Speakers: Jonathan Katz, Resident Fellow, GMF; Steven Burns, USAID E&E Bureau Director of Energy and Infrastructure office; Will Polen, Senior Director, United States Energy Association; Robert Scher, Head of International Affairs, BP America; Jonathan Elkind, Former Assistant Secretary for the Office of International Affairs, Department of Energy; John McCarrick, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Energy Resources, U.S. State Department.

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE NORTH KOREA? 11/6, 9:00am-Noon. Sponsor: Cato. Speakers: Bill Richardson, Former Governor of New Mexico and North Korea Negotiator; Joe Cirincione, President, Ploughshares Fund; Suzanne DiMaggio, Senior Fellow, New America. 

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ALLIES UNDER THE SHADOW: THAILAND, THE PHILIPPINES, AND THE STATE OF U.S. ALLIANCES IN SOUTHEAST ASIA. 11/6, 11:00am-Noon. Sponsor: Southeast Asia Program, CSIS. Speakers: Dr. John Blaxland, Director, Southeast Asia Institute; Richard Heydarian, Resident Political Analyst, GMA Network; Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery (Ret.), Policy Director, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee; Moderator: Dr. Amy E. Searight, Senior Adviser and Director, Southeast Asia Program, CSIS.

BRAZIL AND CHINA: A DEVELOPING PARTNERSHIP? 11/6, Noon-1:30pm. Sponsor: Elliott School of International Affairs, GW. Speakers: André Soares, Counselor, Inter-American Development Bank's Board of Directors; David Shambaugh, Director, China Policy Program, Elliott School of International Affairs. 

INDIA'S RESPONSES TO THE COMPLEX ROHINGYA CRISIS IN MYANMAR. 11/6, Noon-1:30pm. Sponsor: East-West Center. Speaker: Baladas Ghoshal, Secretary General, Society for Indian Ocean Studies.

NORTH KOREA PUBLIC DIPLOMACY. 11/6, Noon.. Sponsors: Monday Forums, joint project of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and Public Diplomacy Council. Speaker: Robert Ogburn, visiting State Department public diplomacy fellow, School of Media and Public Affairs, GWU. Location: American Foreign Service Association, 2101 E St., NW. Contact:

ISLAM AND THE STATE IN CENTRAL ASIA - A FRIEDRICH EBERT FOUNDATION REPORT. 11/6, 2017, 12:30–2:00pm. Sponsor: Central Asia Program, Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, GW. Speakers: Dr. Sanat Kushkumbayev, Deputy Director, Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

13TH ANNUAL ALVIN H. BERNSTEIN LECTURE WITH ROBERT O. WORK, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE. 11/6, 4:45-7:00pm. Sponsor: SAIS, Johns Hopkins. Speaker: Secretary Work is the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security at the Center for a New American Security and the owner of TeamWork, LLC, which specializes in national security affairs and the future of warfare.

5:00-7:00pm, Sponsor: Hoover Institution. Speakers: Elliott Abrams, Author, Senior Fellow, Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); Samuel Tadros, Visiting Fellow, Middle Eastern Studies, Hoover Institution. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

October Election No Mandate for Abe

By William Brooks, SAIS, Johns Hopkins Fellow and APP Senior Fellow

Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) walked away with an easy win in the October 22 general election. The LDP, with its coalition partner the Komeito, attained a two-thirds majority (313) in the House of Representatives (Lower House). This “landslide victory,” however, should not be interpreted as a mandate for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who is now likely to stay in power until 2021. He is unlikely to implement the most controversial part of his policy agenda, that of amending Article 9 of Japan’s peace Constitution. Public and media opinion are not necessarily on his side, and the LDP arguably won because the opposition was poorly organized and unprepared.

Abe’s Calling Snap Election Had Little to Do with Policy

Prime Minister Abe cited the North Korean threat, which he deemed a “national crisis,” and demographic issues as his reasons for dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election. In reality, his motive was purely political. Policy debates played a minor role in the election campaign. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso even joked after the election that the LDP won “thanks to North Korea,” no doubt knowing that such was not the case.

Abe used the election to shore up his base within the LDP. It had eroded due to plummeting approval rates brought on by two personal money scandals and his party’s ignominious loss in the July Tokyo assembly election. The Kochikai faction in the LDP was getting set to run former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in the party head election next year to prevent Abe from winning another three years as president and thus prime minister.

Abe also worried about the new opposition party led by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and her Party of Hope [PH] (the “Koike boom”). He was keenly aware that if the general election came a year later as scheduled, opposition parties could by then form a possibly undefeatable united front. An election took advantage of a still weak, fragmented, and ill-prepared opposition.

“Balkanization” of Opposition Forces
Democratic Party (DP) head Seiji Maehara’s sudden dissolution of his party, ostensibly to create a larger opposition party by joining the Party of Hope, failed. Koike, in a major tactical mistake, refused to accept the DP’s liberal wing. As a result, the progressives quickly organized the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) to run candidates in the election. Other DP members unwilling to join either side formed an unaffiliated group led by former Foreign Minister and DPJ president Katsuya Okada.

The collapsing DP in short split the opposition camp into conservative and liberal groups that ended up fighting each other in the election. Such confusion may have convinced voters to stay home, since the turnout rate in the election was only 55.6%, the second lowest in postwar history (the lowest being in the last Lower House election in 2014).

The LDP’s win still seems odd because the pre-election polls showed Abe’s lack of popularity, and a majority of the public not favoring him staying on as prime minister after the election. Reports of the LDP candidates campaigning across the country found no outpouring of support for Abe, as well. And yet, the LDP won handily. Why? The poor turnout as potentially anti-LDP voters stayed home must be linked also to the opposition camp’s disarray.

The conservative Party of Hope led by Koike, who did not run for a Diet seat, fizzled. It backed 235 candidates (trying to achieve a majority or 233 seats) but won only 50 seats. It turned out also that the popularity of Koike was primarily a Tokyo phenomenon. But even Koike’s choice to head PH, Masaru Wakasa, lost his seat in Tokyo’s District 10.

The liberal CDPJ, backed by Rengo, the labor union federation, outpaced PH to take 55 seats, emerging as the largest opposition party in the Lower House. The CDPJ, which campaigned on a platform of protecting the Constitution from revision and scrapping all nuclear power, not only captured the liberal vote (perhaps the last gasp of that dying movement), it also drained centrist votes from the Komeito, which lost in Kanagawa, ending up with 34 seats. The biggest loser in the election, though, was the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), which lost half its seats. Apparently, the protest votes that used to go to the JCP went to the CDPJ this time.

LDP Wins by Standing Still

The LDP won 284 seats in the election, but this is the same number it had before the election. In fact, the LDP has not attracted more votes in any election since 2005. The party’s absolute ratio of votes (ratio of votes to the total number of voters; not the turnout rate) in the latest election was 25.2%, about the same level as in 2009, when it lost to the DPJ. The party’s strength has been in the 22-25% range since 2005, when then Prime Minister Koizumi successfully attracted millions of unaffiliated voters to bring the ratio to 32% (and win 296 seats for the LDP).

Polls regularly show that between 40-50% of voters are unaffiliated (mutohasou) and able to swing elections, as in 2005 and 2009, when they did decide to vote. Strong issues in the campaign can mobilize them, but the low turnout in this election showed that a large number of unaffiliated voters were disinterested and stayed home.

Another way of looking at the election is the tally of votes in the proportional representation blocs, in which people vote for a party not a candidate. The CDPJ won about 11.07 million votes, and the PH won 9.66 million votes – a combined total of 20.73 million votes. The total of votes won by the LDP in the proportional representation blocs was 18.52 million votes, or about 2 million votes less than that of the two opposition parties combined. The conclusion reached is that the LDP owes much of its victory to the split in the opposition camp.

The results also show that the three way battles in most districts among the LDP, CDPJ, and PH favored the LDP. In 226 of the 289 single-seat districts, a single ruling coalition candidate took on multiple candidates from the opposition camp. The ruling coalition candidates won 183 of the 226 districts or more than 80%. A united front candidate from the opposition camp would likely have changed the results significantly.

Abe Has No Mandate for Constitutional Reform
Assuming that he will serve as Prime Minister until 2021, Abe now plans to move decidedly toward amending the Constitution, based on his own ideas and on proposals that the LDP is now preparing. For example, Abe would like a clause added to Article 9 to specify the legitimacy of the Self-Defense Forces.

He is counting on his popularity to recover, and indeed a Yomiuri poll released on October 25 showed the Abe Cabinet’s support rate is up 11 points to 52% from only two weeks earlier. But an Asahi poll on the same day has the support rate only up four points from a week earlier to 42%, with the non-support rate down a point to 39%. Moreover, asked about Abe’s desire to amend Article 9, 45% were negative and only 36 were positive. At best, the nation is split on amending the Constitution in the way that the LDP may want, and if that wariness continues, a future referendum to approve the Diet’s changes could fail.

In the Diet, although most LDP members are eager to amend the Constitution, the Komeito, which gives the ruling coalition the two-thirds majority needed to pass Constitutional changes, remains reluctant to tamper with Article 9. Komeito has the capability to put the brakes to Abe’s drive to reshape the Constitution.

The media is also skeptical. Editorials after the election, liberal and conservative alike, rejected that Abe had a mandate. The editorials were wary of Abe and the LDP having too much power in the Diet now and admonished the Prime Minister to “implement politics humbly” and take a cautious approach. They encouraged the administration and the LDP to “listen to the people’s voice” and to build a consensus with the opposition on contentious issues.

The LDP win is attributed to the “missteps of the opposition.” The voters and the press are concerned that he will be “high-handed” on constitutional revision or other issues with his Diet super majority. Yet, the election made Abe appear the more the canny politician than the reckless crusader. He knows will have to proceed cautiously with as monumental a task as changing Japan’s revered Constitution. After all Abe is a conservative in a country that does not like change.

Bill Brooks and Kent Calder, SAIS, Johns Hopkins, Washington, DC, October 25, 2017
Election Discussion