Sunday, January 28, 2024

Monday Asia Events January 29, 2024

 THE INDO-PACIFIC AS JAPAN’S 21ST CENTURY GRAND STRATEGY. 1/29, Noon -1:00pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Harvard University. Speaker: Saori Katada, Professor of International Relations; Director, Center for International Studies, University of Southern California.

US INTERNATIONAL TRADE POLICY AND THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR IN 2024 AND BEYOND. 1/29, 1:00-3:00pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: American Enterprise Institute. Speakers: Sharon Bomer-Lauritsen, Founder, AgTrade Strategies; Gregg Doud, President, National Milk Producers Federation; Joseph W. Glauber, Nonresident Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute; Vincent H. Smith, Director of Agricultural Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute; Craig Thorn, Partner, DTB Associates; Darci Vetter, Head of Global Public Policy, PepsiCo, Former Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the US Trade Representative.

, 2:00-3:00pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Hudson Institute. Speakers: Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-CA), Aparna Pande, Research Fellow, Hudson Institute (India and South Asia).

GLOBAL BUSINESS SEMINAR: JAPAN'S ATTRACTIVE INVESTMENT ENVIRONMENT IN A CHANGING INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT. 1/29, 2:00-4:50pm (JST), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsors:  Cabinet Office (CAO), Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). Speakers: Mr. Marcus Schuermann, Chief Executive Officer / Delegate of German Industry and Commerce in Japan; Mr. Masanori YOSHIDA, Executive Officer, Global Chief, Japan Exchange Group, Inc.; Mr. Mitsuru MYOCHIN, Deputy Director-General for Economic and Fiscal Management, Director General of the Office of Foreign Direct Investment Promotion; Mr. Kazuya NAKAJO, Executive Vice President, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO); Mr. Satoshi TAKAMATSU, Representative Director, President and CEO, ARCALIS, Inc.; Mr. Mamoru NAKANO, Japan Country Manager, Tenstorrent Japan Inc.; Mr. Luc PEJO, CEO, Ciel Terre Japan Inc.


*INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC LAW & POLICY COLLOQUIUM – “UNDERGROUND EMPIRE: HOW AMERICA WEAPONIZED THE WORLD ECONOMY”. 1/29, 3:30-5:30pm (EST), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsor: Georgetown University. Speaker: Abraham Newman, Professor, Director of the Mortara Center for International Studies, Georgetown University.                                                   BYSTANDER SOCIETY: CONFORMITY AND COMPLICITY IN NAZI GERMANY AND THE HOLOCAUST.
1/29, 4:00-5:30pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Wilson Center. Speaker: author Mary Fubrook, Professor of German History, University College London.

BOOK TALK WITH JOSEPH S. NYE JR - A LIFE IN THE AMERICAN CENTURY. 1/29, 5:00-6:30pm (ET), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsor: Aspen Strategy Group. Speaker: Author Joseph S. Nye Jr, Founder and Co-Chair, Aspen Strategy Group.

CHALLENGING CHINA: THE PHILIPPINE EXPERIENCE IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA. 1/29, 7:00-8:00pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: U.S- Asia Law Institute. Speaker: Jay L Batongbacal, Professor, University of the Philippines College of Law, Director, Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea of the U.P. Law Center.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Kishida's Survival Gamble

Taro Aso
Will his administration survival?

By Takuya Nishimura
, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
January 21, 2024. Special to Asia Policy Point

The Special Investigation Division of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has mostly wrapped up its investigation into the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) slush fund scandal. They indicted some Abe faction lawmakers and the accounting managers of the Abe, Nikai, and Kishida factions.

To restore public confidence in politics, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the dissolution of his faction. Although the Abe and Nikai faction also agreed to be dissolved, the remaining three LDP factions--Aso, Motegi and Moriyama—have not. Kishida’s abrupt and unilateral decision threatens to bring about a sharp rift in the LDP.

The Asahi Shimbun has reported that the public prosecutors indicted two lawmakers in the Abe faction, Yasutada Ono and Yaichi Tanigawa, on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Act. The two are specifically alleged to have failed to report funds from the faction that were derived from the sales of tickets for fundraising parties. On January 7, prosecutors had already arrested a lawmaker, Yoshitaka Ikeda.

Ono was indicted in house and has denied any involvement in illegal activities. Tanigawa received a summary indictment and admitted the charge against him. Both men have left the LDP and Tanigawa has submitted his resignation from the Lower House.

The accounting managers of three factions allegedly failed to report the funds relating to their faction’s fundraising parties, including the return of some proceeds of the fundraisers to the lawmakers. Amounts not reported include ¥1.3 billion for the Abe faction, ¥380 million for the Nikai faction and ¥30 million for the Kishida faction.

Strangely, leading lawmakers in the Abe faction, including the “Five Guys,” were not indicted. Prosecutors interviewed them about the management of their money, but apparently did not find sufficient evidence of their participation in reporting violations. The leaders explained that the head of the faction, either former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or former Speaker of House of Representatives, Hiroyuki Hosoda controlled the unreported funds. Coincidentally, both men are deceased.

Abe ended the “kickback” practice, but his successors in the LDP reversed the decision after he died in July 2022. The leaders of the Abe faction and the accounting manager said in their interviews with the prosecutors that the accounting manager decides whether the funds would be reported or not. Prosecutors failed to ask who was responsible for the decision to resume kickbacks.

Another question: What is the difference between the lawmakers who were arrested or indicted and the ones who were not? Asahi and other news media have reported that the charging threshold was ¥30 million. Ono, Tanigawa and Ikeda are suspected or charged with failing to report ¥40 to ¥50 million of funds, while the Abe faction failed to report less than ¥30 million.

It is true that the Abe faction’s unreported amount is lower than in the cases of the Japan Dental Federation in 2004, in which the Heisei Study Group, currently the Motegi faction, received ¥100 million, or of the office of Ichiro Ozawa, which failed to report ¥2.1 billion in 2010. However, the Abe faction has run its kickback system for nearly two decades. Ordinary people will have a hard time understanding the decision not to indict Abe faction leaders.

Predictably, the approval rating of Kishida’s Cabinet did not show any upsurge (Asahi: from 23% to 23%, Yomiuri: from 25% to 24%) after the indictments were announced. Kishida had at first underplayed the reporting failures, but he changed his tune after Asahi reported the prosecutors’ plan to indict not only people with the Abe and Nikai factions, but also some with Kishida faction. He abruptly announced the dissolution of his faction to show his commitment to party reform and to limit further damage to his administration’s public standing.

Kishida did not consult with other factions before announcing the dissolution of his faction. The announcement came as a surprise, if not a shock, to the LDP. Following Kishida’s announcement, the Abe and Nikai factions, both of which handled greater amounts of slush funds than the Kishida faction, called urgent assemblies and declared the dissolution of their factions. Although Kishida did not demand that other factions also dissolve, his decision effectively destroyed the two other major factions.

The other three factions are in a difficult position. They are not alleged to have failed to report political funds, but they are the subject of guilt by association. The factions have stressed the positive aspects of factions as policy study groups. The leader of the Aso faction and the vice-president of LDP, Taro Aso, told Kishida that he would not dissolve his faction. This faction, as well as the Motegi and Miroyama factions will decide how to respond formally to Kishida’s action after the Political Reform Headquarters of LDP issues its interim report later this month.

The structure of the Kishida administration, supported by Aso and Motegi factions, may well collapse, if Kishida does not establish an appropriate rule for the activities of factions. Some in the LDP have discussed making any faction a genuine study group, and ending their roles in the distribution of political funds, support of member campaigns, and recommendation of members for cabinet or party leadership positions.

The LDP may be divided between pro- and anti-faction groups if Aso and Motegi insist on retaining theirs. Kishida’s approval rating has declined for several months. Party leaders could replace Kishida, ensuring his failure in the next general election. Kishida has, however, gambled his administration’s survival on the public’s understanding of his party’s arcane factions without explaining the purpose their fundraising.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Monday Asia Events January 22, 2024

REPORT LAUNCH: INDIA'S PRIVATE POWER MARKET- EXPANDING PRIVATE SECTOR ELECTRICITY DISTRIBUTION. 1/22, 8:00-9:00am (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Vishal Kumar Dev (IAS), Principal Secretary, Energy, Government of Odisha; Dr. Praveer Sinha, MD & CEO, Tata Power.

SURVEYING U.S. AND TAIWAN EXPERTS: WHAT TO EXPECT FOR CROSS-STRAIT DYNAMICS IN 2024 AND BEYOND. 1/22, 9:30-10:30am (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Bonny Lin, Director, China Power Project and Senior Fellow for Asian Security, CSIS; Chen Ming-chi, Chief Executive Officer, Institute for National Defense and Security Research; Kristen Gunness, Senior Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation; Ivan Kanapathy, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University; Lee Hsi-min, Senior Fellow, Project 2049 Institute.

WHAT TAIWAN’S ELECTIONS MEAN FOR THE U.S.—AND THE WORLD. 1/22, 10:00am (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Foreign Policy Magazine. Speaker: Raja Krishnamoorthi, U.S. Representative, Illinois’s 8th Congressional District.

BOOK TALK: RECENTERING PACIFIC ASIA: REGIONAL CHINA AND WORLD ORDER. 1/22, 2:00-3:00pm (EST), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsor: East-West Center in Washington. Speakers: author Brantly Womack, Senior Faculty Fellow, University of Virginia; Chas Freeman (joining virtually), Former Assistant Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Kishida's LDP reform?

Political Reform Headquarters Established Again

By Takuya Nishimura, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
January 14, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president, has established in the LDP a Political Reform Headquarters [PRH, 政治刷新本]. The PRH held its first meeting January 11. The PRH must deal with two issues: the transparency of political fundraising and the legitimacy of factions in the LDP. With the PRH, Kishida is trying to present himself as the leader of party reform. The PRH, however, lacks an ambitious idea that would fundamentally change the LDP’s deeply rooted political culture. Thus, expectations for a new-born LDP are low.

In a press conference on January 4, Kishida announced plans to set up a body to discuss political reform in the LDP. Article 79 of the LDP Constitution states that “If necessary, The President, with the consent of the General Council (GC), may establish special committees.” The General Council approved the PRH on January 10. One of the members of GC, Shigeru Ishida, demanded that all LDP member in the Diet participate.

It is not clear how much Kishida was involved in the selection of the 38 members of the PRH. They have already invited criticism: ten members are from the Abe faction – the faction suspected of systematically distributing slush funds to its members. In fact, nine out of the ten members of the Abe faction on the PRH are suspected of receiving kickbacks from party ticket income. The Abe faction occupies more seats on the PRH than any other faction, and the same number of seats as the independents.

Kishida argues that a large representation of the Abe faction is necessary to reflect the composition of the LDP. However, whether lawmakers suspected of being involved in a scandal can discuss party reform is an open question. Asahi Shimbun reported two days after the PRH’s first meeting that nine of the ten members from Abe faction were suspected of accepting secret funds from the faction. Kishida has yet to put to rest doubts about legitimacy of the PRH.

The PRH will submit an interim report to Kishida before the opening of the ordinary session of the Diet on January 26. Kishida said at the first meeting: “The people keep a skeptical eye on the factions and the political funds of the LDP. The LDP needs to change itself to restore confidence and protect democracy in Japan.”

The PRH’s first order of business is to enhance the transparency of political funds. Some have urged amending the Political Funds Control Act in the next Diet session to lower the threshold for reporting the names of buyers of fundraising party tickets from ¥200 thousand or more to ¥50 thousand. Other reforms would include stricter penalties for violations and the loss of status for a lawmaker when his or her accounting manager is found guilty of a violation.

The LDP’s coalition partner, Komeito, has demanded that the LDP’s fundraising reforms include disclosure of previously unreported expenditures by lawmakers of funds distributed by the LDP. There has been no discussion in the leading parties about a prohibition on fundraising parties.

Two independent members of the PRH have argued for the abolition of factions in the LDP. In the PRH meeting, independent member former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that the abolition of factions would be understandable to the public. Another independent member, son of former Junichiro Koizumi, Shinjiro Koizumi, concurred.

To the independent members, factions are the source of the slush fund scandal. But most lawmakers believe that factions are necessary. The LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi argues that the factions educate young politicians, a task that the LDP as a whole has not taken up. Because the Kishida Administration relies on support from of the Aso, Moteki and Kishida factions, Kishida surely does not intend to eliminate them.

Other members have urged the LDP look back to the Political Reform Guidelines of 1989. At the time, public distrust in the party caused by the Recruit Scandal, in which realtor Recruit Cosmos distributed unlisted stocks to party members, the LDP restricted fundraising parties and demanded that the LDP president, secretary general and other board members leaving their factions.

But now, Kishida was the head of his faction until the slush fund scandal was revealed. Vice President Taro Aso and Secretary General Motegi continue to lead their factions. The faction leaders have argued that the factions are no more than study groups. That can only be true if their factions are independent of political fundraising, election strategy, and the selection of cabinet ministers or LDP board members.

Faction leaders also have said that political fundraising is a necessary cost of democracy. That could have been true before the LDP was established. But post-war Japanese politics is replete with scandals about secret funds, including the incidents involving Showa Denko, shipbuilding, Lockheed, and Recruit. The most notable reform came from outside the LDP: the Hosokawa Administration (9 August 1993 – 28 April 1994) created a subsidy for the parties in order to avoid secret political funds.

Former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi (30 July 1998 – 5 April 2000) established an Executive Headquarters for Political System Reform Headquarters (政治制度改革本部) in 1999. This “headquarters” had its name changed twice: Party Reform Executive Headquarters [党改革実行本部] (2004-2010) and Executive Headquarters for Reform of Party and Political System [党・政治制度改革実行本部] (2010-2021).

In 2021, Kishida again renamed the “headquarters” to the Party Reform Executive Headquarters [党改革実行本部]. So, what is the difference between the 2021 headquarters and 2024 PRH? The only explanation is that by establishing a new organization focused on "political reform" without any specific idea for party reform Kishida hopes to deflect attention away from his ailing Administration to the tainted LDP. He believes this will garner him the public’s support. Maybe

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Kishida's Difficult New Year

It Can Always Get Worse

By Takuya Nishimura, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
January 7, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida enters the new year with new problems. The slush fund scandal continues to invite distrust with the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) factions. Adding to public skepticism is the Kishida administration’s handling of the great earthquake in Noto Peninsula, an airplane collision at Haneda International Airport. Kishida must master these issues if his administration is to survive.

At the very beginning of the year, Kishida spoke of ending Japan’s decades-long deflation. In the new year’s reflection published January 1, he planned to free 2024 from the country’s deflationary mindset and its cost-cutting tendencies. “We need to have the public and private sectors work together so that everyone in the public feels tangibly what it is like for wages to rise and disposable incomes to increase,” said Kishida, aiming to achieve wage increases that surpass rises in prices.

But even before the end of New Year’s Day, a great earthquake with a magnitude 7.6 hit Noto Peninsula. In a press conference immediately thereafter, Kishida announced the establishment of a headquarters for disaster management and his personal leadership for delivering necessary support for the victims. He canceled his ritual visit to the Ise Jingu and stayed in Tokyo to supervise relief efforts.

Although the Japan Meteorological Agency issued warnings for a tsunami in the coastal areas facing the Sea of Japan, the damage caused by the earthquake was not as great as that resulting from the Great Northeast Japan Earthquake in 2011. The area including the Noto Peninsula, however, is home to many nuclear power plants. While there have not been reports of power plant accidents on the peninsula, a public debate over the safety of nuclear power plants is emerging.

Kishida has held daily press conferences to update the country on the situation on the peninsula and the measures his government has taken. The task is daunting. Aftershocks from the earthquake have damaged roads and other transportation infrastructure, making it difficult to send food, water or fuel to the peninsula. A major fire in Wajima City caused many deaths. The flu and Covid are becoming more prevalent in the shelters.

Considering the lessons of previous great earthquakes, Kishida announced that he would spend the reserve in the FY 2023 budget for reconstruction and increase the reserve in the draft of FY 2024 budget. Kishida has sought the cooperation of the leaders of the five parties, but they will find it difficult to agree even in face of appearing in opposition to disaster aid. Thus far, Kishida seems to be managing the disaster well, but he cannot afford any mistakes.  

The very next day after the earthquake, a Japan Airlines (JAL) passenger jet was landing on a runway at Haneda Airport when it collided with a Japan Coast Guard (JCG) plane. Both planes caught fire, and JCG plane exploded, causing five deaths. In a near miracle, the crew and passengers of the JAL plane evacuated before the plane was incinerated.

According to the record of traffic control, the JCG plane had not been given permission to enter the runway. But the record also indicated that the air traffic controller did not notice that the JCG plane was on the runway when the JAL plane was landing. As if to amplify this disaster, the JCG plane was on its way to Niigata to deliver relief to the Noto Peninsula earthquake victims. The Kishida administration needs to make a better effort to determine the cause of accident, and it must take measures to prevent any similar accidents.

The disasters took Kishida’s attention away from the slush fund scandal, which keeps developing. The Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office has interviewed lawmakers in the Abe faction, including Hakubun Shimomura, the former Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The prosecutors have also raided the offices of the Abe faction and two lawmakers, one of whom, Yoshitaka Ikeda was arrested. The leader of the Nikai faction, Toshihiro Nikai, was also interviewed. As investigation continues, public trust in the government erodes.

In the press conference on January 4th, the fifth of 2024 and ordinarily the first conference in the new year, Kishida emphasized his determination to restore public confidence. “I am leading the effort of reforming LDP,” Kishida said. He announced the creation of a new office in the LDP to enhance the transparency of political funds and to set rules for faction activity.

However, Kishida did not identify any specific political reforms. The leading parties have suggested that the threshold for reporting political funds should be lowered from ¥200 thousand to ¥50 thousand. Asked about it, Kishida was non-committal and said that it would be an issue for the parties to discuss in the Diet.
Kishida has said that he is working on other matters that cannot be postponed, such as wage increases, growth in the national birthrate, and international security.  But given his administration’s low approval rating, political ethics should be the very “issue that cannot be postponed.”

The ordinary session of the Diet convenes later this month. The FY 2024 budget bill will pass the Diet by the end of March. It is likely that the lawmakers will talk about a possible snap election of House of Representatives in April or later. If the idea that Kishida is too weak to survive a snap election grows, there will be a movement in the LDP to replace Kishida as prime minister. Kishida must restore confidence so that he will be reelected in LDP presidential election in the fall.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Monday Asia Events January 8, 2024

, 9:00-10:15am (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Center for Global Development (CGD). Speakers: Johannes Linn, Co-Chair, Scaling Community of Practice; John Floretta, Global Deputy Executive Director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL); Veronica Zavala, Former Peruvian Minister of Transport and Communications, Former General Manager for Central America, Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).  PURCHASE BOOK.

*OLD RIGHT, NEW RIGHT? WHAT HISTORY SUGGESTS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF GOP FOREIGN POLICY. 1/8, 11:00am-12:30pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Cato Institute. Speakers: Brandan P. Buck, PhD Candidate, George Mason University; Victoria Coates, Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, Heritage Foundation; Justin Logan, Director of Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute.