Sunday, February 18, 2024

Monday Asia Events February 19, 2024

President's Day, National Holiday, in the United States

US Congress in recess

THE DOHA GLOBAL SOUTH HEALTH POLICY INITIATIVE, “ENHANCING PRIMARY HEALTHCARE ACCESS IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH: CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS.” 2/19, 9:00am-Noon (AST), 8:00-11:00am (EST), HYBRID. Sponsors: Middlee East Council on Global Affairs; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Speakers: Chris Elias, President of the Global Development Division, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Deo Nshimirimana, Member of the Africa Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Committee, World Health Organization; Joy Phumaphi, Executive Secretary, African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA). 

INDONESIA’S 2024 ELECTIONS: JAVA AND BEYOND. 2/19 9:00-10:00pm; 2/20, 10:00-11:30am (SST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Yusof Ishak Institute. Speakers: Deasy Simandjuntak is a political scientist and a political anthropologist. She is Associate Fellow at ISEAS and Adjunct Associate Professor at National Chengchi University, Taipei. Antonius Made Tony Supriatma is a Visiting Research Fellow at ISEAS Ian Douglas Wilson is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at ISEAS. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Kishida Administration Grilled by Opposition Parties

CCS Hayashi
And it is inconclusive

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.
February 10, 2024. Special to Asia Policy Point

In the Japanese Diet, the Budget Committees of both Houses are where the hottest political issues are discussed between lawmakers and government officials. Last week, starting on February 5, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was grilled by members of the Lower House Budget Committee over his handling of political reform within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and his appointment of cabinet ministers connected to the controversial Unification Church. Kishida’s strategy is to give the opposition parties vague and inconclusive answers.

The Budget Committee hearings are the highlight of the Diet session every year and are ordinarily scheduled a week after the Q&A in the plenary session after the Prime Minister’s annual policy speech. While the Q&A in the plenary session is in the form of prepared questions and answers, a Budget Committee hearing is an unscripted debate within the time allocated to every party. The hearing is nominally about the budget bill submitted to the Diet, but the opposition parties ask about everything, because the budget bill deals with everything.

In the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives (Lower House), the opposition parties demanded to know the purpose of contributions by the LDP to its leaders. It was reported that former Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai had received ¥5 billion from that fund over five years. While LDP is continuing to investigate the failures to disclose cash distributions from each LDP faction to its members, the party’s own fund, which covers “policy activities expenses,” has been untouched by the slush fund scandal because this fund is not subject to disclosure requirements.

Kishida asserted a principle of “freedom of political activity” to defend the secrecy of the LDP’s expenses. “Freedom of political activity and people’s right to know should be balanced,” Kishida told the Secretary General for the Constitutional Democratic Party, Katsuya Okada. “Once the fund was disclosed,” Kishida argued, “it reveals business secrets of companies or organizations, and strategic plan of party will be leaked to the rivals in politics, or even to foreign countries.”

It is hard to understand why Kishida so strongly opposes disclosures about the LDP fund. The opposition parties are skeptical about the money, supposing that it must be used for things they cannot explain. It is not strange for people to imagine that the money must have ultimately been handed to local supporters, just as in the bribery cases of Katsuyuki Kawai in Hiroshima or Mito Kakizawa in Tokyo.

The opposition parties even referred to a possibility of tax evasion. Yuichi Goto (CDP) insisted that the leaders who received funds from the LDP may well have evaded income taxes, if they took unused funds and failed to report them on tax returns. A witness from Ministry of Finance testified that the receipt of surplus cash from the LDP may be a taxable event. Kishida reiterated that he would not explain the use of the fund.

Opposition party attacks on Kishida’s leadership have not been limited to reforms in response to the slush fund scandal and have spread to his appointments of ministers of his administration. Asahi Shimbun reported that the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Masahito Moriyama, had received the support of the Federation for World Peace (FWP), an organization connected to Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU, better known as the Unification Church), in the 2021 election. In October 2023, Moriyama’s ministry sought a court order to disband the FFWPU.

According to a series of reports by the Asahi, Moriyama accepted support from FWP for his election campaign, including a telephone bank staffed by FWP members, urging voters to vote. The newspaper also reported that Moriyama had signed a policy accord with FWP before his appointment. The accord included an agreement to support legislation to amend the constitution to enhance security as well as legislation to teach family values and to give children a moral education. He was also asked to caution voters against promoting LGBTQ rights and same sex marriage.

Moriyama’s ministry oversees religious corporations. Once entering into a policy accord with the FWP, Moriyama became responsible for implementing these policies even after he became minister. Obviously, the ministry’s neutrality on these policies was compromised.

In the hearing before the Lower House Budget Committee, Moriyama vaguely recalled that he had received some support from FWP. The next day, however, he refused to provide clear answers about the nature of his relationship with the FWP, repeating “I have no memory of it.” Kishida rejecting a request to replace Moriyama, said that Moriyama had terminated his relationship with FWP.

When the fact of a meeting with a person connected to FFWPU in 2019 was revealed last December Kishida said that he did not know who was in the meeting. The memory of Kishida also has a certain ambiguity.

Questions surrounding that meeting involve not only Moriyama but also another minister closer to Kishida. Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshimasa Hayashi, admitted to having a meeting with FWP officials before the 2021 election. In his daily press conference, Hayashi said that he was not sure about who was there in the 2019 meeting and what they talked about. The Harvard grad also has memory issues.

Watching Kishida’s mounting troubles, some LDP leaders have begun to act. Former Minister of Defense and former LDP Secretary General, Shigeru Ishiba, held a meeting with his colleagues, which he maintains as policy study group. The minister in charge of Economic Security, Sanae Takaichi, gave a lecture to a conservative group.

The activities of these quasi-factions in the LDP began only one week after the largest group, the Abe faction, and some other factions announced their dissolution. These are inconvenient facts for Kishida who will base his leadership on ending factions and promoting political reform in the LDP when he seeks reelection as LDP president this fall. More questions will be coming from the Upper House Budget Committee in its hearing with the Prime Minister in March.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Far From Political Normality in Japan

Kishida Adrift 

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.
February 4, 2024. Special to Asia Policy Point

Having partly dealt with the slush fund scandal in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hopes to re-focus on substantive policy issues such as disaster relief in the Noto Peninsula and passage of the FY 2024 budget bill in the Diet. However, the slush fund scandal is not over. The opposition parties have proposed various political reforms, but Kishida’s response is weak. His administration still operates far from political normality.

The ordinary session of the Diet in 2024 started with an unusual schedule. The customary policy speech by the Prime Minister on the first day of the session was delayed this year because the opposition parties demanded that the Committee of Budget in both Houses discuss political reforms beforehand. The LDP had no choice but to agree to debates, given public interest in political reform as a result of the slush fund scandal.

In the debates, the opposition parties proposed such political reforms as a complete prohibition on fundraising parties or the disclosure of funds raised for the parties that were then distributed to lawmakers. Forced into a defensive position, Kishida apologized for inviting a situation in which the LDP has lost public confidence. But he left the direction of political reform to the discussion among the parties, without offering any of his own ideas.

If Kishida were not shackled to the scandal, this Diet session should have been a stage for him to fight deflation. In his policy speech after the debates in the committee, Kishida stressed the opportunity to remove deflation and to introduce a phase of new growth with his “new capitalism” of wage hikes and positive investment. “With every effort, I am going to achieve a wage increase beyond price hikes,” said Kishida.

Since the Diet session is the first since the Noto Peninsula earthquake on January 1, Kishida pledged ¥1 trillion toward recovery in the stricken area. “I am responsible for the policies from getting the people back to their hometown to revitalization of the region,” Kishida emphasized.

The customary speech of a Prime Minister is also customarily followed by a questioning session with representatives from each party. Questions from the opposition parties this time focused on political reform. The head of the Constitutional Democratic Party, Kenta Izumi, demanded that Kishida request all the LDP members who were involved in the secret funds scandal to resign. The incoming chairwoman of the Japanese Communist Party, Tomoko Tamura, asked Kishida to prohibit any kind of donation from companies or organizations.

Kishida’s answers were ambiguous. Regarding resignations, Kishida said that he would consider making a request in the future after the lawmakers involved in the scandal explain their roles and the LDP fully grasps the facts. It is not clear what action Kishida is going to take. On the donations a from a company or organization, Kishida stressed the freedom of political activity for companies and organizations and said that such donations would not be inappropriate.

While Kishida has been facing harsh criticism from the opposition parties in the Diet, the discussion within the LDP of political reforms remains unsettled. The Abe faction announced on January 31 that it had not included ¥676 million in its political fund reports between 2018 and 2022, and declared the dissolution of the faction, ending its 45-year history, in its last regular meeting on February 1.

The chairperson of the Abe faction, Ryu Shionoya, apologized to its members, saying that he was feeling like his gut was torn apart. But some young members called for Shionoya’s resignation as a lawmaker in expiation for the faction’s scandal. Some members revealed that they had been instructed by the faction not to report the secret fund. Shionoya refused to resign and said that the responsibility of the leaders would be determined sometime in the future. It is fair to say that the rule of the Abe faction in the LDP for the two decades, starting from the time of Junichiro Koizumi administration, has ended.

The outflow of members has not ended Motegi faction. Following the lead of the chair of the LDP Election Strategy Committee, Yuko Obuchi, several lawmakers in both Houses decided to leave the Motegi faction. The remaining members of the Motegi faction have decided to continue its activities as a policy study group without weekly regular meetings. The Kishida faction has decided to close its office and finish its activity as a policy group.

The only faction that has not stepped back (if not dissolved) is the Aso faction. But the faction’s leader, Taro Aso, is creating his own gaffes. In a speech in the Fukuoka prefecture last month, Aso decided to describe the appearance and age of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Yoko Kamikawa. “From the viewpoint of us, this aunt is doing good. She is not that beautiful, though,” said Aso.

The ensuing criticism has gone beyond Aso to Kamikawa, who did not protest Aso’s remarks. Kishida left a boilerplate comment in the discussion of the Diet that members should refrain from mocking someone’s age or appearance.

The LDP has started to interview its members to obtain details on the slush fund scandal. “Even though the factions are dissolved, the responsibility of related people for explaining what happened will remain,” said Kishida in the Diet. Some members of the opposition parties would like to invite LDP lawmakers a hearing on the scandal or to establish a special committee to investigate. Beyond answering questions in the Diet, Kishida seems to have no idea of how to navigate through this political crisis.

Monday Asia Events February 12, 2024

2024 WASHINGTON INTERNATIONAL TRADE CONFERENCE. 2/12-13
, HYBRID. Sponsor: Washington International Trade Association. Speakers Include: Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE), Chairman of the Trade Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee; Jay Timmons, President & CEO, National Association of Manufacturers; Heather A. Conley, President, German Marshall Fund of the United States; Eric Farnsworth, Head of the Washington Office of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society; Ambassador Kurt W. Tong, Managing Partner, The Asia Group, LLC; Florizelle Liser, President & CEO, Corporate Council on Africa.

STRENGTHENING U.S.-ROK-JAPAN TRILATERAL COOPERATION. 2/12
, 9:00am-2:15pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Sung Kim, Former U.S. Special Representative for the DPRK and Former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Senior Advisor, BKL Law Firm and Hyundai Motor Group; Senior Fellow, USC; Sung-han Kim, Former ROK National Security Advisor and Professor, Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University; Masafumi Ishii, Former Ambassador of Japan to Indonesia, Distinguished Visiting Professor, the Faculty of Law, Gakushuin University; Bonny Lin, Director, China Power Project and Senior Fellow, Asian Security, CSIS; Sung Min Cho, Professor, Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies; Rumi Aoyama, Director, Waseda Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies, and Professor, Waseda University; Kevin Wolf, Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, Bureau of Industry and Security, U.S. Department of Commerce; Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP; Wonho Yeon, Research Fellow and Head of Economic Security Team, Korea Institute for International Economic Policy; Shihoko Goto, Acting Director, Asia Program and Director for Geoeconomics and Indo-Pacific Enterprise, Wilson Center.

UNDERSTANDING PAKISTAN’S POST-ELECTION ENVIRONMENT. 2/12, 10:00-11:00am (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Stimson. Speakers: Farhan Hanif Siddiqi, Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad; Niloufer Siddiqui, Assistant Professor of Political Science, State University of NY-Albany; Sarah Khan, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yale University.

IS THE BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE RESHAPING THE GLOBAL ORDER? 2/12, 11:00am-Noon (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Wilson Center. Speakers: Simon Curtis, Associate Professor in International Relations, University of Surrey; Ian Klaus, Founding Director, Carnegie California; Former Senior Adviser for Global Cities, US Department of State.

GITA GOPINATH ON THE GLOBAL ECONOMY. 2/12, 11:00-12:00pm (ET), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Foreign Policy. Speaker: Gita Gopinath, Deputy managing director, International Monetary Fund. 

CHINA’S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT MODEL: IMPLICATIONS FOR US-JAPAN RELATIONS. 2/12, Noon-1:00pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Harvard University. Speaker: Craig Allen, President, US-China Business Council.

IS THE US-CHINA RELATIONSHIP AMERICA’S MOST CONSEQUENTIAL BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP? 2/12, 2:30-3:30pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Brookings Institute. Speakers: Susan A. Thornton, Senior Fellow, Paul Tsai China Center, Yale Law School, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, John L. Thornton China Center; Elizabeth Economy, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; Graham T. Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard University; Josh M. Cartin, Adjunct Professor, Walsh School of Foreign Service - Georgetown University.

KOREA AND TAIWAN IN THE US-CHINA HI-TECH RIVALRY: SPECIAL LECTURE WITH DR. KEUN LEE. 2/12, 3:30-5:00pm (PST), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsor: University of Washington. Speaker: Keun Lee, Distinguished Professor, Seoul National University (Econ).

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Monday Asia Events February 5, 2024

 A FIRESIDE CHAT WITH WORLD BANK PRESIDENT AJAY BANGA. 2/5, 9:00-10:00amsm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Center for Global Development. Speakers: Ajay Banga, President, World Bank Group; Masood Ahmed, President, Center for Global Development.

HOW TO DETER CHINA ECONOMICALLY WITH REPRESENTATIVE FRANK LUCAS. 2/5, 10:00-11:00am (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Hudson Institute. Speakers: Frank Lucas, United States Representative, Third District of Oklahoma; Thomas J. Duesterberg, Senior Fellow.

EMERGING POLICY ISSUES FOR FOUNDATIONAL SEMICONDUCTORS. 2/5, 10:00–11:00am (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Dr. Chris Miller, Associate Professor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University; Dr. Andreas Schumacher, Executive Vice President, Infineon Technologies, AG.

ELECTIONS: FREE, FAIR, CONCLUSIVE? WHAT TO EXPECT WITH PAKISTAN'S ELECTION - AND THE DAY AFTER. 2/5, 10:30-11:45am (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Middle East Institute. Speakers: Madiha Afzal, Fellow of Foreign Policy, Brookings; Michael Kugelman, Director, South Asia Institute, Wilson Center; Syed Mohammad Ali, Non-Resident Scholar, Afghanistan and Pakistan Program, Middle East Institute; Tamanna Salikuddin, Director, South Asia Program, U.S. Institute of Peace.

AN AGENDA FOR REGAINING AMERICA’S MARITIME SECURITY AND COMPETITIVENESS. 2/5, 2:00-3:00pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Heritage Foundation. Speakers: The Honorable Michael Waltz (R-FL), United States Representative and Colonel (Ret.) U.S. Army; Brent Sadler, Senior Research Fellow, Allison Center for National Security.

2024 CHARLES NEUHAUSER MEMORIAL LECTURE FEATURING AMBASSADOR ROBERT LIGHTHIZER — CHINA AND THE TRADE TRAP. 2/5, 4:30-6:00pm (EST), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsor: Harvard University. Speaker: Amb. Robert Lighthizer, 18th United States Trade Representative (2017-2021).

BEYOND RESILIENCE: WHAT JAPAN CAN TEACH THE WORLD ABOUT DISASTER. 2/5, 5:00-6:30pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsors: East West Center; Japan Foundation; Abe Global; Social Science Council. Speakers: Daniel Aldrich, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, Northeastern University; Jordan Sand, Professor of Japanese History, Georgetown University; Anuradha Mukherji, Associate Professor of Community and Regional Planning, East Carolina University; Heejun Chang, Professor and Chair of the Department of Geography, Portland State University; Mary Alice Haddad (chair), John E. Andrus Professor of Government, Director of the Office of the Faculty Career Development, Professor of East Asian and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University.

MAGNITSKIED: THE GROWING USE OF HUMAN RIGHTS SANCTIONS IN A DIVIDED WORLD. 2/5, 7:30pm (EST). HYBRID. Sponsor: Columbia University Human Rights Seminar. Speaker: Louis Charbonneau, UN Director Human Rights Watch.

SPACES OF DEMOCRATIZATION: ENVISIONING THE ALLIED OCCUPATION OF JAPAN. 2/5, 8:00pm (EST) 2/6, 10:00am (JST), VIRTUAL. Sponsors: Yokosuka Council on Asia Pacific Studies; Japan Foundation. Speaker: Professor Annika A. Culver, Ph.D., Professor of East Asian History, Florida State University (FSU), Scholar, US-Japan Network for the Future.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Will the LDP reform?

Kishida’s Halfway Political Reform

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 27, 2024. Special to Asia Policy Point

On January 22, the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) new Political Reform Headquarters released its “interim report” in response to the slush fund scandals of several LDP factions. Although the report proposes banning factions from hosting fundraising parties and eliminating the role of factions in money-raising and in appointments to cabinet posts and the party board, it does not ban factions. Missing from the report are the details of the scandal – an absence likely to exacerbate rather than quell public frustration with the LDP. Since the LDP has no specific plan to issue a final report, discussion of the scandal and the appropriate response to it has carried over to the Diet.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office investigated the scandals in which three LDP factions kickbacked to members the proceeds of ticket sales for fundraising parties that exceeded the quotas assigned to the members. The factions did not include the payments on their required political funds reports. The office has now wrapped up its investigation with the indictment of three lawmakers, all of whom are affiliated with the Abe faction, and seven accounting managers.

The prosecutor’s office did not, however, indict seven leaders of the Abe faction who were under investigation. While they were suspected of receiving kickbacks, the leaders explained that they did not know about the money since payments were the responsibility of the faction’s accounting managers. Although criminal prosecutions will not occur, it still is possible that the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution will discuss the propriety of the non-indictments. Some in the LDP expect further penalties for the leaders, perhaps including expulsion from the party.

The interim report begins with an apology to the public for the kickback scandal. “The people doubt LDP with alleged inappropriate accounting over fundraising parties by specific factions,” says the report, emphasizing that the scandal has been about some specific and not all factions in the LDP.

The interim report calls for enhanced transparency of fundraising so as to prevent future mismanagement. The report also recommends the elimination of fundraising parties by factions and third-party audits for every faction. These recommendations assume that factions will continue to exist; the report does not speak to their possible elimination.

The report has loopholes. Although it would bar faction-led fundraising parties, it does not discuss such parties by lawmakers directly, which could present the same opportunity for kickback scandals. At one time, an LDP faction was group of lawmakers united by an influential leader who was powerful enough to distribute political contributions to faction members. Fundraising parties by individual lawmakers could bring back the old politics of control by bosses.

Also absent from the interim report is any discussion of “political activities spending,” which are distributions by the party to its leaders; how these funds are spent is not disclosed to the public. According to a report of Asahi Shimbun, the LDP distributed fund totaling ¥1.4 billion to fifteen leaders in FY 2022. Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi received the lion’s share, ¥971 million. As long as factions exist, these distributions will continue, even if the LDP tries to stem the flow.

The report does urge that the factions return to their traditional role as genuine study groups. The report defines factions as “entities for studying policy and complementing party with political education.” But the LDP already has study groups. The LDP Policy Research Council has fourteen divisions, which hold meetings every morning for the study of policies with specialists or scholars. The LDP must explain the difference between these newer divisions and traditional factions as genuine policy groups.

Also requiring explanation is the recommendation to end the factions’ role in appointments to posts in the government and the party board. If this role is to end, the LDP needs to clarify how the party will elect the president. Article 10 of Rules for election of President requires at least 20 party Diet members to nominate a presidential candidate. Until now, nominations have rested on a balance of factions. With the loss of this role for the factions, the twenty members may constitute an informal, quasi-faction.

Disappointed with the report’s confusing approach to factions, some lawmakers have announced that they will leave their factions. The chair of Election Strategy Committee, Yuko Obuchi, will leave Motegi faction. Former Minister of Defense, Takeshi Iwaya, will resign from the Aso faction.

There have been other arguments about political funds, which are not addressed in the interim report. Some have argued that the threshold for reporting the names of buyers and the amount of ticket sales for a fundraising party should be lowered from ¥200 thousand to ¥50 thousand. This approach would be effective in regulating political funds because identification of the ticket buyers may deter local supporters.

Requiring the resignation of any lawmaker whose staff was arrested or indicted mismanagement or failure to report political funds should be another option. The Public Office Election Law already strips a candidate of an election victory if a staff member committed illegal activities such as bribery. This provision could be expanded to cover the mismanagement of political funds.

LDP’s coalition partner, Komeito, and the opposition parties support the recommended reforms on political funds. The reforms are matters for the Diet since amendments to laws will be necessary. The ordinary session of the Diet was convened on January 26. During a discussion in the Diet on January 29, Kishida appeared willing to consider a “guilt-by-association” system that hold lawmakers responsible for political funds control law breaches by their staff. Nevertheless, he was reluctant to disclose political activities spending. Kishida will face hard questions during in the rest of the current Diet session that ends June 23rd.