Tag Archives: Japan

What kind of 'hawk' is Japan's Shinzo Abe? Probably not the kind you think

Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, photographed in 2012, from Wikimedia.

Shinzo Abe became prime minister of Japan in December, more than six years after he first took the job, succeeding long-serving Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in September 2006. In the U.S. press especially, Abe is often termed a “nationalist” or “hawk” for supporting expanded military activities and a potential revision of the Japanese constitution.

Crystal Pryor, a Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center and a Ph.D. student in political science at University of Washington (and my former office-mate), released a very useful brief pushing back on U.S. coverage of the new prime minister in Japan.

To keep things in perspective, it’s worth reviewing the actual text of Article 9 of the constitution, which I will render verbatim but in outline form. And it’s worth remembering that advocates of change are pushing for revision, not repeal.

Article 9.
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce
• war as a sovereign right of the nation and
• the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph,
• land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.
• The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Pryor writes:

As the Japanese constitution is currently interpreted, Japan cannot take military action if an ally, the United States, is attacked because Japan does not have the constitutional authority to engage in collective self-defense. Even activities such as sending the Japanese Self-Defense Forces on UN PKOs in the 1990s or on refueling missions in the Indian Ocean after 9/11 in support of the US-led operation in Afghanistan faced major domestic hurdles. Japanese politicians calling for Japan to shoulder its half of the security alliance or to send troops on PKO missions can hardly be considered “hawkish” by American standards.

On the constitutional question, one can immediately see that revision of Article 9 need not completely erase restrictions on warmaking in order to carve out the right for Japan to “pull its weight” in the U.S.–Japan alliance or in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Pryor also argues that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) did not beat the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) because of its “nationalist” character. On this point, few would disagree: Analysts almost universally characterized the LDP electoral victory as a rebuke of the flagging DPJ leadership and economic policies. Pryor also notes that low youth voter turnout undermined the DPJ.

Shinzo Abe and George W. Bush in 2007. We were all younger then.

Shinzo Abe and George W. Bush in 2007. We were all younger then.

So what of the emphasis on nationalism and hawkishness? Five years ago, the connection between Abe’s name and the word “nationalist” was already a point of discussion. In the midst of a conversation between the blogger Ampontan (who recently passed away, and whose voice is missed despite differences of opinion) and Tobias Harris at Observing Japan, I compared Abe’s reputed nationalism to that of Junichiro Koizumi, whose repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine drew loud opposition from leaders in China and South Korea:

As we know, Koizumi spent much more time and international political capital than Abe has in paying tribute to Japan’s late 19th—early 20th century nationalism. But Abe has spent more energy on a more contemporary and more instrumental form of nationalism, the revision of Article 9. The rhetoric behind constitutional revision—especially among the people usually called “nationalists”—often invokes the desire for Japan to become a “normal state.”

Indeed, for all the fear about a potential Japanese remilitarization, Abe has not been a particularly extreme voice in Japan. Though it may not repair perceptions of his orientation among others in the region, Abe is not the biggest “hawk” in the Japanese political sphere.

As Pryor notes, some real hawkishness comes with the emergence of a “third force” in Japanese party politics.  “[Shintaro] Ishihara, who gave up his position as governor of Tokyo for this election, is a hawk even by American standards. Most recently, he played a central role in reigniting the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute by declaring that Tokyo would purchase and develop the islands. Ishihara has also called for Japan to revise its current constitution and develop nuclear weapons.” It was Ishihara’s provocation that led the Japanese national government to take legal control of the islands. Though that move was blasted by many in China, the islands likely would be even more of a sticking point if Ishihara controlled them.

So Japan’s political stage is, unsurprisingly, more complicated than portrayals in U.S. news stories. But the perception of an agressive, nationalist, or unrepentant Japan is real among some in China. Every day in Beijing, I still see bumper stickers declaring “钓鱼岛 中国的” (“The Diaoyu Islands are China’s”)—or, more aggressively, “打倒小日本!” (roughly, “Take Down Little Japan!”). The Wall Street Journal writes from Tokyo that “while [Abe] seeks a more assertive Japanese presence in the region, he isn’t about to provoke China or risk worsening already strained relations between Tokyo and Beijing.” I’m just not sure Chinese media and official voices, let alone those mobilized in the 2012 anti-Japan protests, are on the same page.

Key U.S.–Japan meeting overshadowed by U.S.–China diplomacy

BEIJING — As Japanese Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko visited the White House Monday, the continued strength of the U.S.–Japan relationship was a central message. But this first Washington summit of U.S. and Japanese leaders since the Democratic Party of Japan took control in 2009 was overshadowed in the transpacific news cycle by the U.S. relationship with China.

The timing of the Noda visit may well have been designed to set the stage for the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to occur this week in Beijing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner leading a 200-strong U.S. delegation.

The U.S. “pivot” or “rebalancing” to Asia is a major concern in China, and U.S. leaders may have sought to reassure Japan that it is still a centerpiece of U.S. strategy in Asia and the Pacific.

If all had gone as planned, the administration could have enjoyed an Asia-focused news cycle all week, as the Japanese leader visited, followed by the meetings in Beijing.

But in the last days of preparation for the Japan summit, the U.S. government was confronted by a much more high-profile challenge: the escape of Chen Guangcheng a well known blind activist from extrajudicial house arrest, and his apparent flight to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

As it happens, the first question for Obama in the Noda–Obama press conference was about Chen, not about Japan (though the reporter also asked Noda about Japan’s response to a potential North Korean nuclear test).

[Obama acknowledged he’s aware of “press reports” on the Chen case, but wouldn’t make a statement except to say the U.S. government always brings up human rights in its meetings with China.]

A lesser-known disappointment for some about the U.S.–Japan meeting is that it did not include an announcement that Japan would join the eight countries (including the United States) currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement that does not include China but does include other East Asian countries.

There is significant opposition to the TPP overall, mostly over its intellectual property measures that some view as a rehash of the SOPA/PIPA fight and over a perceived lack of transparency in the negotiations. But the greater opposition to the specific question of Japanese participation comes from sectors in Japan that would lose some existing trade protections, and from the U.S. auto industry.

In their White House statement, both leaders mentioned that TPP talks would continue, but the issue lies largely unresolved. Meanwhile, the U.S.–Japan relationship still spends time on the disposition of the U.S. base at Futenma, the challenge of North Korea, and rather generalized concerns about China.

Five Years of Transpacifica: Five New Japanese Prime Ministers

I’m in transit these days, moving for the time being from Seattle to New York. This is a perfect opportunity to look back on what I’ve written in this space since I started here just over five years ago, on Aug. 18, 2006. Looking back, I found some early speculation about what Aso Taro, then foreign minister, would do if he became prime minister of Japan.

This blog began as “Transpacific Triangle,” focusing specifically on the relations among the three largest Pacific powers: the United States, Japan, and China. In 2006, I had studied Japanese in college and in Japan, and I had just spent a ton of energy understanding the April 2005 anti-Japan protests in China for my undergraduate thesis.

Since then, we have seen five Japanese prime ministers, and a sixth is on deck: Noda Yoshihiko.

Aso Taro didn’t become prime minister back when he was running for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party in 2006. As expected, Abe Shinzō took over in Sept. 2006 after Koizumi Jun’ichirō’s long term. Aso did have his turn, however, two leaders later in 2008.

What’s striking looking back is how little anyone talks about the Yasukuni Shrine issue anymore. Sino-Japanese nationalism is more pronounced these days over issues like the supply of rare earth elements—though a Xinhua report did strike a relatively stern note instructing the incoming Prime Minister Noda on how to act.

Take a look at what we used to be worried about (from my post of Aug. 21, 2006):

The same day that he declared his candidacy for LDP president (and presumably prime minister) Japanese Foreign Minister Aso Taro said he would work to improve ties with China and South Korea if he becomes prime minister. Aso is viewed as a long-shot candidate in the Sept. 20 election, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo the presumptive winner.

“Having no meetings between leaders at all is a distorted form of diplomacy and we must correct this,” Aso said, according to Reuters. Aso has been more flexible than Abe on the Yasukuni Shrine question. He has even proposed that the shrine be re-nationalized as a secular war memorial. Some have remarked that the proposal is insane, but to my mind, Aso has apparently been relatively shrewd in his handling of the Yasukuni issue. By renationalizing the shrine, the government would wrest control of the symbolic site from the private Shinto authorities who enshrined the war criminals in the first place and currently administer the controversial Yushukan war museum.

Meanwhile, Aso struck a familiar nationalist note when announcing his proposal, saying “the tens of thousands of soldiers who died crying ‘Long Life to the Emperor’ filled those words with deep emotion, so I strongly pray that the emperor can visit Yasukuni.” This last statement is no personal sentiment. The special status of Yasukuni Shrine as the place where the emperor, who was at the time considered holy, prayed for war dead was fundamental to its rise in importance during what Japan called the Greater East Asian War. When the Meiji authorities built the shrine on Kudan Hill, across the street from the imperial palace grounds, proximity to the emperor was key.

By taking control away from the Shinto authorities and at the same time encouraging an emperor’s visit, Aso might be appealing to both sides of the Yasukuni debate. Abe appeals only to the nationalists on the issue.
But there is still no indication that disenshrining the war criminals is possible, and even before he introduced this new plan, Aso was agitating for Emperor Akihito to visit the shrine. If Hirohito stopped visiting the shrine after it was tarnished by the war criminals (as was recently confirmed by newly available documents), why would Akihito reverse this decision?

Over the next few days, I’ll cue up some other past posts, not necessarily this old. Much has changed in five years, but much has remained the same. If I have some peace and quiet, I might even do a “why I blog” post like Climate Progress has for its fifth year.


'Crisis in Japan: The Way Forward' at Harvard [live blog]

I’m going to be blogging my notes from Harvard’s “Crisis in Japan: The Way Forward” event, ongoing now with live video here. Usual caveats apply: this is an unedited draft; notes not in quotes are paraphrased; quotes not checked against recording. Starting at 4:09 p.m. EDT.

  • Working to create a digital archive. Prof. Andrew Gordon notes that they are gathering Twitter posts and data, as well as other online documents.
  • Gordon asks for people to send notable documents to [email protected] They will work on permissions and archive it when possible.
  • Prof. Susan Pharr notes it’s only been 12 days. Notes the event is an opportunity to gather efforts together and to understand what this will mean for the future of Japan, for Japanese leadership, and for the future of Japanese democracy.
  • First speaker will be Consul General Takeshi Hikihara northeast U.S., based in Boston.
  • Second will be Yoji Koda, senior fellow with Harvard’s Asia Center. Formerly a vice admiral with Naval SDF.
  • Third, Prof. Michael Reich of the Harvard public health school.
  • Fourth, Kotaro Tamura, a former member of the Diet’s House of Councillors.

Now Consul General Hikihara.

  • According to police as of yesterday, 9,500 dead, 16k missing, many more injured and evacuated. Numbers still increasing.
  • Nuclear power problem. As of yesterday, each of the six reactors reconnected to external power.
  • Rescue teams from seventeen countries and regions in Japan. Most have left.

Now Admiral Koda

  • Opens with images of devastated areas. Including Natori City in Miyagi Prefecture.
  • Those buildings made of heavy materials such as concrete that were also oriented parallel to the direction of the tsunami’s advance were more likely to survive.
  • Lost 28 expensive fighter jets.
  • Search and rescue operations are manpower-intensive because in some areas no mechanized help can be used. Notes long lines for water in some areas, but no one fighting.
  • Currently, a joint task force commander is in charge of all branches. This is unprecedented. Deployed force strength from 37 to 62 percent depending on branch.
  • 19,300 people rescued so far.
  • Operation “tomodachi” (“friend”): U.S. forces and others. Often dirty jobs. Mud, debris, etc. 17k U.S. military involved.
  • Japan had built a 10m network of breakwaters after the 1960 Chilean earthquake struck Tohoku region with 6m tsunami.

Now Michael Reich

  • Despite being on the faculty of the School of Public Health, he is a political scientist who has studied Japanese environmental disasters. Offers reflections, not analysis, of human and social dimensions of ongoing events.
  • Three-way disaster: earthquake, tsunami, nuclear. Interconnected problems that have to be dealt with at the same time.
  • Real challenges trying to figure out which crisis to deal with first and how to deal with tradeoffs where one aspect of response may interfere with another.
  • Stages of disasters: “it’s clear we’re now entering a new stage in how this disaster is evolving in Japan.”
  • “It’s no longer on the front page of the Times, or of the Globe.”
  • Moving out of “emergency response” and into the challenge of returning to patterns of life and provide basic goods and services on an ongoing basis.
  • Notes a quote by a man named Sasa in NYT: This isn’t management of a crisis, but a crisis of management.
  • Problems of regulatory capture “amakudari” (ph) where regulators work for regulatees. And problems of planning for the unimaginable.
  • Three points (1) Loss of social trust. Lack of belief in government, in TEPCO, public conflict between government and TEPCO, conflicting stories for example between US and Japan. People trying to come to terms with how to assess radiation. It’s invisible. So trust and measurement or understanding.
  • (2) Destruction of community. References study of Buffalo Creek disaster. Destroyed not only infrastructure but also social fabric. “I would imagine that some of those same challenges of rebuilding a coastal … community in Japan are devastating.” Already had structural problems, shrinking population, etc.
  • A way to describe to those unfamiliar with Japan that this is like something happening in Maine. Small communities, close to environment.
  • (3) Importance of Public Communication. Challenge of providing a story in ways that people can understand for the public.
  • A kind of odd panic buying in Tokyo, with a kind of calm in Tohoku. Public disagreement among scientific experts and government officials continues today. In some sense this is an inevitable part of scientific disasters.
  • The current crisis as seen through history. Of course, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and discrimination and challenges of hibakusha. Also, wartime destruction by firebombings etc. As well, the environmental disasters of ’60s and ’70s.
  • This will all raise questions of responsibility. How do you take responsibility for things that you didn’t previously have responsibility for. Challenges for the current government, which is not shall we say a strong one, as the first opposition government.
  • “The relative political calm of today is not likely to persist.” Kan’s proposal of unity government with LDP dismissed.

Now to Tamura

  • Focusing on restoration plan: “disaster is a mother of reform.”
  • Directly hit area accounts for no more than 7 percent, BUT the economic damage is happening in the center of the economy. Tokyo megalopolis, the largest economic concentration in the world. More than 30 percent of pop and 40 percent of GDP. And there, they have problems:
  • (1) electric power at less than 30 percent capacity in Tokyo even now.
  • (2) purchasing power: coordination to save energy will also fuel a mindset of saving not just energy but everything. Shopping, dining, etc., will suffer.
  • (3) production power: Toyota cutting production by largest margin ever. Similarly with others.
  • On Radiation: harmful rumors challenge production and consumption; people stay home; international business personnel fleeing; thus a deflationary spiral.
  • Tokyo real estate market, largest in the world. If this collapses, which wouldn’t be likely to happen he thinks, the banking crisis could deepen.
  • Insurance payment issues might create a problem in JGB market.
  • First bankruptcy: entertainment companies that organize big events. If people aren’t going out or gathering, they have no business. Plus, stadiums occupied by refugees.
  • Comparison with Kobe: production recovered in 15 months. GDP then and now, slightly smaller now. National debt almost twice as big. Stock market is 1,500 instead of 19,000 in 1995.
  • Argument in favor of a fiscal stimulus. Kobe was 10 trillion yen. What now? Perhaps two ro three times bigger.
  • One country, two systems: let the central government give more discretion to local governments on taxation, legislation, and regulation. Producing several special economic zones in Japan. Notes that this reminds us of China, but it’s different of course.
  • Specific proposals from a PowerPoint slide called “strategies”: “0% consumption tax like New Hampshire, 0% income tax like Nevada but with gaming business, 8% corporate tax and management friendly corporate law, English as official language, favorable asset tax to invite elderly wealthy, more support to invite single mother, Chinese as official language”
  • [Comment on above: wow!]
  • Ends with ありがとうございます,感谢, and a Churchill quote “Never give in … never, never, never, never.”

Now Q&A

  • Question from president of Harvard Club of Japan. People want to go help, and the government is telling people the government is doing what they can. Susan Pharr adds that there is a shortage of medical personnel, etc. — Koda, among other things, says Tohoku expressway has just reopened. — Hikihara points people who want to help to the website of the consul general, but adds that for more human kinds of help they are receiving help from all over and are not refusing help. On the other hand, it is still the emergency stage and fundamental problems still exist. Food, water, yes: but also gasoline.
  • Pharr pushes further: Is it really the radiation that’s keeping rescue teams from elsewhere out? Noting that the New Zealand quake recently had more teams immediately. — Hikihara: nuclear only in the immediate area. — Koda: Japan government may be to strict about the safety of rescuers.
  • Reich notes that it’s hard to know what to do to help. Often the wrong kind of help is offered or sent. Shutdown of highways that would take people through the nuclear area of concern meant that civilian and private supply lines hit. Also, need to take enough fuel to get back if you’re going to drive north. Another interesting element, the yakuza sends trucks north to help. Also an elaborate process to get help from elsewhere, but as far as he knows not in coordination with the government.
  • Question on whether the “sympathy budget,” Japanese payments for U.S. military base maintenance is in question. — Hikihara says no knowledge about change in host nation support budget, and notes that the new arrangement for the next five years has been recently settled between U.S. and Japan.
  • Reich attempts to answer a general question about nuclear risk. People looking at Japan and saying “Oh my god,” what can we do in our country about this? Radiation: not only is it invisible, but there are multiple different kinds. And with the used fuel, because they can’t get them stored securely they stayed on site in pools. A low probability high cost event, several of them at the same time.
  • Ending soon. More notes only if something especially interesting happens. Thanks for reading! (5:45 p.m. EDT)

The rise of Yukio Edano?

With the world’s attention on the unfolding tragedy in Japan, I completed a short interview this week with Daniel Sneider of Stanford on the post-quake future of Japanese politics. It’s online now at NBR.

One of Sneider’s most interesting points was that, as the Kan administration works through the present crisis, the prominence of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, who has been seen on television virtually constantly since disaster struck.

From what I’ve been hearing from friends in Japan, Edano’s performance has elevated his status significantly, and he has now sort of made himself the heir apparent. This is not to say I think that was on his mind. Rather, he’s performed as a Japanese political leader ought to perform. I don’t think he is thinking about aggrandizing his own personal situation. But that is one of the outcomes of what has happened.

There is a Twitter hashtag for Edano saying “Edano-san, go to sleep,” because people are worried about him and want him to rest. They see him on television, and he’s very calm and professional. He really has embodied the composure and resolve in the face of tremendous crisis that you see more broadly from the Japanese people, and I think people have really embraced him for that reason.

Read the full interview at NBR.