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North Korea is taking on the world, and we have no choice but to respond.

Nuclear Showdown (2005) is journalist Gordon G. Chang’s conclusion to his contribution to the study of North Korea as a East Asian and global crisis.

It was Chang’s chapter on Japan and the abduction issue that first caught my eye. I found the book as I flicked around the shelves of my local store and immediately I knew I had to buy it. I picked up the 2007 Arrow edition, which includes a new foreword addressing the October 2006 nuclear test.

Chang eases you into the book and takes you along a wandering argument that climaxes with an acknowledgement of the dangerous times in which we live. He is even-handed and incisive throughout, even if his somewhat flowery prose may grate at times. He writes well, although whoever decided to forego conventional footnoting for the bizarre system employed might need rounding up and shooting: finding the relevant comments and references is a pain in the ass.

Chang’s conception of North Korea is of a regime fighting to stay alive as capitalism wells up at the grassroots-level. Chang criticises the US for being to soft on North Korea’s past transgressions, such as the capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968, and for not negotiating and controlling North Korea’s nuclear rise in a consistent and firm manner. He also criticises America’s over-generosity to China who should now look to become a responsible world citizen by reining in its client state, or preferably abandoning it altogether. He criticises South Korea, particularly former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, for sustaining a fragile regime that relying on foreign aid for its survival while snubbing market reform as a result of the brewing bottom-up revolution.

On the issue of Japan, Chang is sympathetic to the country’s more immediate concern of attack: the pressing threat posed by North Korea acts more strongly on Japan than the US. He also notes the overwhelmingly political nature of the abduction issue and its emotional underpinnings. Japan is most at risk from a North Korean nuke, and as a result it is struggling to stay confined to the bounds of the constitution imposed upon it by the American post-War authorities. Despite that, it must: a Japanese bomb would create a whole new arms race and set of global tensions.

It is to this tension that Chang so skilfully leads the reader. For him, the North Korean problem highlights the challenge posed to the global hegemon, the US. Chang finds WWII to be apogee of US power, and from then on it has been relatively weakened as the destroyed nations around it have rebuilt. He is not implying that the US is by any means facing the end of its history, but rather that it has a chance to solidify its position.

Chang believes that the US should reinvigorate the non-proliferation norms and regime by carrying out what it committed to in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: the destruction of its nuclear stockpile. Chang suggests that even a wholesale, yet incomplete, dismantling of the US arsenal would show the state’s good intentions to the currently less-than-impressed non-nuclear powers. “The American president can give the order to eliminate all life on this planet several times over. If he decides to reduce his arsenal so that he can kill everybody only once, are his constituents any less safe?”

Chang is encouraging the US to take the bold step to make an example of North Korea. By unilaterally reducing its nuclear stockpile it will show its commitment to a non-nuclear future. He also encourages the US to be tough on North Korea in the Six-Party Talks and place all the issues on the table: from human rights to counterfeiting. By doing so, the Chinese and South Koreans will be forced to take sides (all the while under pressure from the international community to take the most reasonable side, that of the US). Ultimately, however, Chang believes that the US should be prepared to make an example of North Korea by committing itself to a possible use of force. “But if there ever were a reason to go to war, it is to save the nonproliferation treat and the global arms control regime. No other justification for conflict comes close.”

Chang’s argument is bold in and of itself. He is pessimistic for our future, and quite rightly so. At the moment, his work is still relevant. In the three years since Nuclear Showdown was first published, little progress has been made. Whether one accepts his conclusions is down to the individual, but the claims presented are well-linked and researched and show a broad understanding of the North Korean crisis in the context of global security.

Maybe our struggle with [Kim] is not the clash of good and evil, as some would have it, but it is at the very least a fight to preserve the liberal international system that has been responsible for so much global progress.

I really enjoyed a (not so) recent post by Ampontan: Logos, pathos, and Japanese politics. I would really like to get my hands on a copy of Koizumi Seiken—Patosu no Shusho wa Nani wo Kaeta no ka? (the subject of the book review which sparked Ampontan’s post), although at this stage it would be little more than extra weight on my shelf.

My research area came from my understanding of the abduction issue as emotion overcoming reason, and thus it was with a happy sigh that I managed to read something addressing these two aspects of politics in the context of Japan… a sigh because I wish I had been able to read something like this sooner.

He quotes from the review:

(Professor Uchiyama) discusses the advantages and disadvantages of a strong prime minister who frequently resorted to pathos (passions, sentiment) and top-down methods of governing. […] But the author points out the dangers of Koizumi’s incorporation of pathos into politics, which was symbolic of his approach of stripping logos (reason and language) from politics, thereby weakening the logic of responsibility.

Ampontan then suggests that logos has been the preferred political mode in postwar Japan. It is also my preferred mode of politics and the very reason I wanted to take the Japanese government to task for its handling of the abduction issue in light of the very real nuclear threat posed by North Korea. He writes:

After their defeat in the war, perhaps the Japanese developed an antipathy to the use of emotional political appeals as they applied themselves to studying and incorporating the principles of liberal democracy.

This didn’t sit very well with my gut feelings about the abduction issue, although Ampontan’s later comments settle that impression somewhat:

That is not to say that Japanese are not susceptible to pathos; the public were enthusiastic patrons of the Koizumi Theater. It’s just that pathos does not always mix well with politics here.

I had held the view that Koizumi’s conduct regarding the abduction issue was calculated, controlled, and ultimately correct. If he pandered to the Kazokukai and Suukukai, it was in a fashion that kept the politicians largely in control. Certainly when contrasted with the handling by Abe Shinzo which was an absolute barrage on the public sensibilities, arguably stretching their energy in the issue past its point of elasticity. We all know of ‘aid fatigue’, the public’s over-exposure to aid campaigns (particularly in the age of LiveAid); well, I would argue that the Japanese public has suffered ‘abduction fatigue’.

Ampontan sums up my feelings quite well:

Mr. Koizumi used emotional appeals to sway the electorate, but he was an adroit, skillful politician with an engaging personality. In contrast, Mr. Abe lacked political skills, and his personality, while not unpleasant, tended toward the bland businesslike demeanor Japanese expect from men at work.

Every society suffers from hot-button issues, the kind of issues that are used to rally the electorate and identify opponents. The abduction issue, perhaps similarly with its public anti-nuclear principles, are one of Japan’s.

Koizumi used the abduction issue to bring the electorate behind him in 2002 and 2004 (in the latter case so successfully that even the victims’ families could not stand against him). He showed a calculation that Abe just couldn’t wield as a result of being the issue’s champion. Whereas Koizumi could reel the abduction issue’s advocates, Abe simply allowed them to run rampant. It is my feeling that Abe did more for the abduction issue as Koizumi’s Chief Cabinet Secretary than he could have ever had done as Prime Minister.

Finally, the media were a crucial part of the abduction issue’s growth and strength. They helped popularise the issue through the broadcasting of a ‘vicarious trauma’, as Hyung-gu Lynn wrote in Vicarious traumas: television and public opinion in Japan’s North Korea policy’. Ampontan’s comments on the role of pathos in the media are spot on:

Ideals as these, however, must confront the reality that people consume politics through television, and that the demands of television are intrinsically pathos-based and seek the dramatic rather than the sober and the serious.

From this he concludes that pathos is with Japanese politics until the end. I quite agree, although Fukuda’s stance on the issue appears to have brought back some much needed logos. Time will tell how much of that sticks.

The United States’ lack of real regard for the Japanese conduct of the abduction issue, or perhaps Japan’s hyper-sensitivity on the issue, is causing fractures in the US-Japan alliance.

The US has been linked to the abduction issue since it exploded into the Japanese public consciousness in 1997. The issue supposedly caught Clinton off-guard in an April 1997 summit; as Clinton asked the Japanese to provide food aid to the North Koreans, Prime Minister Hashimoto stated the new Japanese concern regarding North Korea’s abductions. The 1998 ‘Taepodong Shock’ showed the Clinton administration, and the rest of the world, that diplomacy with North Korea had to concentrate on North Korea’s destabilising missile and nuclear projects.

President Clinton argued in May 1999 that the best way to deal with the kidnapping issue was to settle the nuclear and missile issues and end the threat of war on the Korean peninsula. He asserted that once these issues were resolved, “it is more likely that other matters will also be resolved.” Unlike 1997, however, the Clinton administration recognized the credibility of the kidnapping issue. President Clinton and other administration officials acknowledged that Japan considered the issue important and that the United States would support Japan’s attempts to negotiate with North Korea on it. Clinton asserted again in May 1999 that: “If you believe that there are Japanese people who were abducted and taken to North Korea, I think you should keep working on it and looking until you find them alive or you know where they’re buried. And I will support that very, very strongly.”

Niksch, L. A. (2002). North Korea and Terrorism: The Yokota Megumi Factor. Korean Journal of Defense Analysis , 14 (1), 7-23: pp. 12-13

The position expressed by Clinton has stuck to this day. As a staff member of the US Embassy in London once told me in early 2007, Japan is America’s chief ally in the Asia-Pacific and the US supports its position on the abduction issue, however the issue is Japan’s not America’s, the US has its own interests to pursue. It’s a diplomatic stance, but in practice the US has sought to minimise the effect of Japanese stubbornness on the abduction issue.

Following the 1999 Perry Initiative, which “outlined a US strategy to negotiate a series of agreements with North Korea to reduce its missile and nuclear programs and eventually eliminate them” (Niksch, 2002, p. 13), the US attempted to secure a Japanese financial agreement to compensation (compared to money transferred during the South Korea-Japan normalisation of relations) without allowing them a negotiating role, presumably because of fears of derailment.

North Korea, at this point, presumably saw a diplomatic opening and entered into direct negotiations with the Japanese. North Korea has never been shy of playing powers off one another and with a possible agreement arising out of the Perry Initiative, North Korea possibly saw a chance to boost their ‘compensation’. However, this was not to be: “Kim Yong-sun’s offer created a situation in which Japan’s role in the Perry Initiative became dependent on direct Japan–North Korean negotiations in which Japan was determined to give priority to the kidnapping issue.” (Niksch, 2002, p. 16)

As the Japanese found their opening to directly negotiate on the abduction issue, the North Korean’s attempted to convince the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, an action that the Clinton administration seemed to seriously consider. As part of the diplomacy, the North Koreans would have to ‘address issues of past support of terrorism’ which, despite the abduction issue not being the reason for North Korea’s inclusion on the list, would have to include consultations with Japan regarding North Korea’s support for the Japanese Red Army. (Niksch, 2002, p. 17)

All the while, the Japanese campaigned to have the US include the abductions in North Korea’s listing, and threatened to undermine US attempts to separate the rational efforts to resolve the missile and nuclear issues from the emotive abduction issue.

Prime Minister Mori reportedly secured President Clinton’s agreement at the G-8 meeting on Okinawa in July 2000 for US diplomats to raise the kidnapping issue with North Korea. Japanese diplomats urged the Clinton administration to raise the issue directly with the visiting North Korean envoy, who arrived in Washington in October 2000. The Japanese renewed pressure for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to place the issue on her agenda with North Korean officials when she visited Pyongyang in late October. The Japanese apparently used strong words with US officials, indicating that the Japan-US alliance would be damaged if the Clinton administration refused to raise the kidnapping issue. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on October 8, 2000, that “Japan views that if the United States removes the DPRK from the [terrorism] list without paying attention to the abduction issue, it would mean the United States is taking Japan lightly.”

Niksch, 2002, p. 20

Albright did bring up the issue in her visit and in doing so helped solidify Japanese expectations that the US would support its position in the future. This perception was undoubtedly strengthened under the Bush administration. In February 2001, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Hubbard met with the Kazokukai and pledged continuing US support for their cause. This meeting sidestepped the Japanese Mori government, whom the Kazokukai felt had betrayed by after a 500,000 tonnes rice aid deal despite Mori Yoshiro’s personal promise that progress towards normalisation would not occur without progress on the abduction issue. Nakayama Masaaki, leader of Nitcho giren (Dietmen’s League for the Promotion of Japan-North Korea Friendship) and of a parliamentary group on the abduction issue, was furious at the Kazokukai’s independent move. (Johnson, E. (June 2004). The North Korea Abduction Issue and Its Effect on Japanese Domestic Politics. Japan Policy Research Institute) However, it was the start of a strong relationship between the Bush administration and the actors in the abduction issue, benefiting strongly from the close interpersonal relationship between Bush and Koizumi Jun’ichiro.

Japan’s involvement in post-war Iraq was inherently tied to both the strength of this personal relationship and Japan’s concerns over North Korea. ‘In February 2004, [Koizumi] declared that it was of overwhelming importance for Japan to show that it was a “trustworthy ally,” because (as he put it) if ever Japan were to come under attack it would be the US, not the UN or any other country, that would come to its aid’. (McCormack, G. (November 8 2004). Koizumi’s Japan in Bush’s World: After 9/11. Japan Focus) If any state was about to attack North Korea, it was North Korea. One Cabinet Office survey showed that 80% felt war with North Korea was likely. Japan was clearly frightened of abandonment by the US over North Korea. (Yakushiji, K. (April 5 2003). Japanese Foreign Policy in Light of the Iraq War. Japan Focus) However, Koizumi’s gamble appeared to pay off: “Bush declared his own “unconditional” support for the Japanese position on the families of the North Korean abductees. […] It was, as a senior [LDP] official admitted, a deal: Japanese forces to Iraq in exchange for US support for Japan’s position on North Korean issues. (McCormack, 2004)

For the US, the abduction issue offered yet more ammunition to pressure North Korea on its human rights issue. In 2006, Abe Shinzo helped tighten the US interest in the abduction issue (beneficially coinciding with a major documentary into the human drama of the issue: Abduction – The Megumi Yokota Story). (Hughes, C. W. (2006). The Political Economy of Japanese Sanctions towards North Korea: Domestic Coalitions and International Systemic Pressures. Pacific Affairs , 79 (3), 455-481: p. 473) In March, Ambassador Schieffer visited Niigata to be given a tour of Yokota Megumi’s final walk home. In a press conference after the tour, he stated ‘the United States would always raise the abduction issue whenever it talked to North Korea about anything’, and ‘that there can be no comprehensive resolution with North Korea without a solution to the abduction issue’. In April , Yokota Sakie (mother of Yokota Megumi and representative of the Kazokukai) and Shimada Yoichi (representative of the Sukuukai) travelled to the US to testify to Congress ahead of the North Korean Human Rights Act. Yokota also met with President Bush who called it ‘one of the most moving meetings’ of his presidency, an impression that has lasted.

Following North Korea’s July Taepodong-2 test, Abe’s rise to office, and the October nuclear test, the US appeared prepared to reaffirm its priorities: missiles and nukes first, everything else later. However, the US were still willing to allow Japan to pressure North Korea on the issue, as Japan was adopting an increasingly hardline under Abe. The human rights issue was a legitimate concern for the world and any pressure was good pressure. With this in mind, the EU submitted a draft resolution on North Korea’s human rights record to the UN General Assembly, co-sponsored by Japan and the US, the latter of whom had received some pressure to work to push the bill through by the Kazokukai in the form of a personal visit to Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. Yet with the release of the 13 February 2007 Joint Statement, which offered a great deal of optimism in the Six-Party Talks, the US sought to pressure Abe to be more specific about just what progress entailed.

Japan’s stubbornness on the abduction issue threatens the worth of its role in the Six-Party Talks. After the negotiations on the release of funds from the Banco Delta Asia finally came to fruition, the US clearly didn’t want to squander this new found energy. Japan’s refusal to allow for bargaining room in the SPT has meant that it is inflexible. To their minds, the North Koreans have been rewarded enough for their bad behaviour. However, now “under the terms of the six-party deal on North Korea’s nuclear programs, the U.S. is committed to beginning the process of delisting the country [from the list of state sponsors of terrorism] as Pyongyang moves ahead with its denuclearization obligations“.

What does this mean? It means that Japan is facing the possibility of being abandoned and essentially betrayed by the US due to a disconnect in their national interests. It means that when push comes to shove, the US cannot be trusted to support Japan. While Bush deals with the question of his legacy, he seems willing to burn his bridges with those that he had seemed so supportive of before. A storm is brewing, and how much damage will occur is anybody’s guess. It may be the clearest test of the popular and political importance of the abduction issue in Japan we can ever see.

I touched upon this in my previous post, but I want to expand on the issue of the abduction issue acting as justification for a more active Japanese security policy.

In the event of a North Korean nuclear attack, incredible numbers of the Japanese populace will no doubt perish. But it is still only a potential tragedy and is yet to overly worry ordinary Japanese citizens. […] For them, nuclear weapon development by North Korea is more or less a technical, abstract topic. The Japanese public is, however, strongly sympathetic [on the abduction issue] because the abductees are no different from the average Japanese who has neither a strong affiliation with any political organizations nor close relations with North Korea.

Nakatsuji, K. (2004). Prime Minister in Command: Koizumi and the Abduction Question. Korea Review of International Studies , 7 (1), 35-46: p. 36.

This quote, to me, is the ultimate expression of the role of the abduction issue: giving an abstract risk a human face. It is, as Lynn Hyung-gu describes in ‘Vicarious Traumas: Television and Public Opinion in Japan’s North Korea Policy’ (Pacific Affairs, 79 (3), 2006, Fall), a national trauma, a narrative of drama highlighting the victimhood of the Japanese nation. It was unjustifiable and abhorrent for North Korea to snatch these young (and in some cases, not so young) men and women from their families, friends, lives and countries. No-one can argue that fact. It makes North Korea seem practically criminal, a reasonable assumption.

A gander at the Cabinet Office surveys on issues of foreign affairs demonstrates the popular appeal of the abduction issue when compared to the more ‘abstract’ missile and nuclear issues. In the surveys, Japanese citizens are asked to state the issues which concern them regarding a range of areas, however the one of interest right now is obviously responses regarding North Korea. I have compiled the responses from 2000 to 2007 (minus the missing data from 2001) to demonstrate the appeal of the abduction issue when compared to the nuclear and missile issues. Please click on the thumbnail to view the chart.

The abduction is shown to figure strongly in the Japanese mindset. The nuclear issue is shown to be rising after the second nuclear crisis in 2000 and the political fallout at the start of the Bush administration’s tenure in the United States and the tougher line held by then-newly elected Koizumi. In 2006, respondents polled in the same month as the North Korean nuclear test and a couple of months after the Taepodong-2 test still more frequently listed the abduction issue (86.7%) as a concern when compared to the nuclear issue (79.5%). The missile issue also figures strongly (the three issues dominate the list of issues, consistently in top three except for in 2000 where the nuclear issue had yet to fully emerge). However, the chart does not show the priorities of the respondents, i.e. which they are more concerned by.

The Japanese populace is saturated with knowledge of the abduction issue, a human drama that tugs at ones heartstrings. It got that way due to the tireless campaigns of the Kazokukai (Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea [AFVKN]) and Sukuukai (National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea [NARKN]) and the spectacle of Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang in 2002 which resulted in the return of Soga Hitomi, the Hasuikes and Chimuras. It was at the Pyongyang Summit that one man positioned himself at the heart of the issue: Abe Shinzo. He won the adoration of the families for suggesting that Koizumi not to sign the Pyongyang Declaration, insisting that the Prime Minister extract an apology from Kim Jong-il and subsequently not return the surviving abductees to a fate in North Korea (Edström, B. (2007). The Success of a Successor: Abe Shinzo and Japan’s Foreign Policy. Silk Road Studies Program. Washington, DC/Uppsala, Sweden: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, p. 8 / Pilling, D. (2006, September 16-17). The son also rises. Financial Times Weekend , pp. W1-W2.).

Abe shaped the growth of the issue, helping to globalise the appeal of the civil society movement. His support for the issue was a crucial part of his rise to the position of Chief Cabinet Secretary and then to the Prime Minister’s office. His short-lived tenure as Prime Minister started off with a flurry of activity regarding the abduction issue: he invited the Kazokukai to his office (something Koizumi had never done, preferring to keep them at arm’s length) and then created a cabinet-level body called the Headquarters of the Abduction Issue, consisting of the entire cabinet and headed by himself (why this was institutionalised is uncertain, presumably it could have just remained as a recurring feature of cabinet meetings). Furthermore, the nuclear test allowed Abe to stretch some economic muscle and impose sanctions on North Korea, something that he and the families had been calling for for a long time.

Abe was also part of a loose group of LDP Diet members that were more willing to move towards what Abe termed ‘a beautiful country’ (utsukushii kuni). Central to this was the instilling of patriotic pride and the return of Japan to being a ‘normal’ country (i.e. revision/removal of Article 9 of the so-called ‘Peace Constitution’). Like those of his ilk, and perhaps sensibly, Abe has been said to have an ‘inherent suspicion of China‘. Despite the moderation with which he treated China during his time as Prime Minister, it is this suspicion that causes problems.

As Christopher Hughes wrote in a paper presented at a conference in Swansea (The Domestic and International Dimensions of Security on the Korean Peninsula), there are a number of layers to the threat posed by North Korea. Certainly, there is the ‘existential military threat’ posed by North Korea’s increasing missile and nuclear arms, but also there is the ‘domestic security threat’ that breeds mistrust of the zainichi chosenjin (North Korean residents in Japan), the ‘alliance political-military threat’ which threatens the stability of the US-Japanese relationship (this is an issue I will cover in a later post), and finally, and crucial, the ‘pretext military threat’.

Hughes wrote that ‘North Korea has come to fill the position of serving as the prime public legitimisation for nearly all major changes in its security policy’. When those in power have a suspicion of rising China, it is thus probable that North Korea is being used as a pretext to prepare Japan for the probable strategic trajectory of collision with the rising power. It is often left publicly unsaid, but privately, it seems, concern regarding China’s rise runs rife. This is the context in which the abduction issue is manipulated.

The abduction issue is thus one of the justifications for using North Korea as a pretext to prepare for China. It produces energetic support, and so the issue is kept alive. Hope for the supposed dead or missing (depending on whose side you subscribe to) is kept alive. Considering that there has been no real progress since the ‘return’ of the abductee’s children to Japan in 2004, there has been a surprising amount of coverage of the issue.

The issue operates within a climate of insecurity. Continually pushing the abduction issue forwards incites outrage, while fear is generated and manipulated by the multiple other issues, namely the existential and domestic threats. Thus the abduction issue is not directly part of a politics of fear, but instead promotes the insecurities and fears surrounding the nuclear and missile issues by virtue of being linked to the same target. It colours the threat perception of the Japanese people making them predisposed to believing that North Korea is criminal or irrational, a threat by virtue of it being evil and willing to attempt anything. All the while, China hawks in the LDP are benefiting from the outcomes: an increased awareness of the need for defence, and the subsequent all-threat nature of procurements and policy changes.

As a result of the multi-layered North Korean threat, Japan seems more willing to increase its military power, in terms of both hardware and legislation. The MSDF and Air Self-Defence Force have gained more offensive capabilities, considering the purchase of Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision guided munitions, both of which could be used against a North Korean ballistic missile launch (Hughes, 2007). Meanwhile, Japan has boosted its intelligence capabilities, launching a series of optical and radar imagery satellites under the remit of the Cabinet Information and Research Office, increased intelligence activities in the Public Security Intelligence Agency, and greater integration of military intelligence under the Defence Intelligence Headquarters (Choi, S.-J. (2004). The North Korean factor in the improvement of Japanese intelligence capability. The Pacific Review, 17 (3), 369-397). Each move is dual-use, as open to use against North Korea as against China, and ultimately, that is the point.

The abduction issue has been (ab)used a security framing tool. It is linked to a range of bilateral issues by nature or design and these other issues benefit from the public’s outrage towards the abduction issue. The appeal of this to politicians is clear in the widespread concern expressed by the public in the Cabinet surveys. The abduction issue provides the means to act on North Korea’s nuclear threat through sanctions and military build-up. The abduction issue has become a tool of choice for pushing through regional security policies. It is a pretext and a frame that immediately lends a leader trust. One danger for the issue itself is its continuing use risks pushing the public towards apathy, but then again, memories seem to die hard in East Asia.

Notes: I admit, this is tenuous in places, but this is the point of my blogging here, I can refine and reshape my understanding of the issue according to my active research and thoughts. Furthermore, while writing this post I realised something that I had since forgotten from writing my dissertation: this is a politics of outrage too… So I have changed the subtitle of the blog accordingly.

Just proving that you cannot escape the political expediency of an appeal to a broader discourse:

LDP’s Nakatani calls foes of MSDF mission ‘terrorists’
Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007
Kyodo News

Gen Nakatani, head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s panel on security policy, has enraged the opposition camp by calling opponents of the Indian Ocean refueling mission “terrorists.”

“Only terrorists would oppose (the mission),” Nakatani, chairman of the LDP Research Commission on Security, said Sunday on a Fuji TV talk show.

Maritime Self-Defense Force ships in the Indian Ocean are currently refueling ships of countries taking part in antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, based on a special law that expires Nov. 1.

“Given that about 30 percent of the public is opposed to the refueling activities, it means three in 10 Japanese are terrorists, ” Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said at a news conference. “It’s outrageous that such horrendous remarks were made before TV cameras. It’s no joke.”

Nakatani’s remarks even drew criticism Monday from Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

“Even if he was speaking metaphorically . . . I think it was not really appropriate wording,” Fukuda said during a session of the House of Councilors Budget Committee.

Pretty inflammatory, huh?

It’s a tactic we’ve seen used to self-defeating effects in the US and throughout the world. Perhaps in an age of patriotic fever, such as the immediate post-9/11 political climate in the US, then one can get away with such nonsense. However, in Japan, where the constitutionality of Indian Ocean mission has always been debatable, such talk is surely a sign of frustration.

Gen Nakatani

Gen Nakatani was an officer of the GSDF (serving April 1980-December 1984) and became secretary to the Director-General of the Defense Agency, Koichi Kato, in 1985. Throughout his career, Nakatani has had strong links to the defence establishment and since April 2001 (that is, since the start of Koizumi’s leadership) he has been the man at the head of Japan’s said establishment.

Perhaps with such credentials, it is likely that he has a lot at stake in the mission both in terms of his past and future.

Regardless, there is no call for such a blatant use of inflammatory labels. Nakatani is engaging in a politics of fear as characterised by a ‘There is No Alternative’ (TINA) perspective (see Furedi, ‘Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right’). TINA closes down the space for debate. No-one wants to be a terrorist (even terrorists would seem to prefer the ‘freedom fighter’ label), so an effective use of this appeal to the terrorist discourse would close off the space for opposition to the subject at hand.

Unfortunately for Nakatani, his speech act (the process of stating something to make it so) was utterly disastrous and incredible. He has done no favours for his party nor himself and Fukuda was right to criticise Nakatani. Such labels had been previously applied to the North Korean threat without much criticism (see Leheny, Think Global Fear Local), but it is one thing to label a foreigner a terrorist, and quite another to apply the same label to a portion of the population and its political representatives. A career politician such as Nakatani should know better.

The race is now on, and it is between Fukuda and Aso, with Fukuda ahead. Both candidates put forward their views on Japanese international relations, and it is worth a read:

Aso, Fukuda agree on refueling mission, but differ on N Korea, Yasukuni
Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 17:25 EDT
Kyodo News

TOKYO – Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Taro Aso clashed over issues surrounding North Korea and Tokyo’s war-related Yasukuni Shrine as they kicked off a dove-versus-hawk duel Saturday for the Sept 23 party presidency election to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But Fukuda and Aso offered little differences in their policy platforms over other issues in a joint news conference, with both agreeing on the need to extend an antiterrorism refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and vowing to continue the course of structural reforms albeit with policy adjustments where necessary to revive local economies.

The ruling LDP’s election appears to be a done deal with Fukuda as the winner having already garnered widespread factional support to succeed Abe, 52, who on Wednesday abruptly announced his intention to step down and was subsequently hospitalized.

On Japan’s position on North Korea, especially in dealing with the unresolved abductions of Japanese nationals, Fukuda called for a flexible stance while maintaining the “dialogue and pressure” approach to resolve the issue.

“We must devise some means to convey to the other side our desire and readiness to conduct negotiations,” Fukuda, 71, said at the joint press conference held after the two officially filed candidacies at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo.

But Aso, who was foreign minister under both administrations of Abe and his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, defended the pressure-oriented approach as the correct way and that it has achieved results.

“The abductions were the extreme of inhumanity,” said Aso, who shares many of Abe’s hawkish and conservative views. “We have learnt from experience that we won’t get to negotiations without pressure.”

On Yasukuni, which enshrines 14 Class-A war criminals along with the war dead, Fukuda said he wants to realize the plan to build a secular national memorial facility to commemorate the war dead.

Fukuda, who has been pursuing the plan since 2002 when he was chief Cabinet secretary, said earlier on Saturday when announcing his candidacy that he will not go to the controversial Shinto shrine to avoid upsetting Asian neighbors that suffered from Japanese wartime aggressions.

Meanwhile, Aso stressed that even if a new memorial facility is built, it would not be a replacement for Yasukuni. But he did not make clear whether he will visit the shrine.

On other issues, however, the two shared similar views. Both vowed to rebuild public trust in the party and to create a society where Japan’s graying population can live at ease, in an apparent reference to growing concerns over the sustainability of the public pension system and the possibility of a consumption tax hike.

Both candidates said they will seek to extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission to support U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.

Fukuda said he intends to consult closely with the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan and others to convince them to agree to the extension.

Aso said he will pursue a new law or other options to continue the mission beyond the Nov 1 legal deadline, noting that simply seeking an extension of the current special antiterrorism law is “quite” difficult due to strong rejection by the opposition side.

The refusal by the DPJ, which overtook the LDP as the largest party in the House of Councillors in the July 29 election, to agree to the extension was one of main reasons cited by Abe in his sudden resignation announcement. The opposition camp can delay the passage of legislation with its DPJ-led majority in the upper house.

Whoever wins will face the daunting task of steering the party through the current political deadlock with the DPJ-led opposition camp, including the imminent showdown in parliament over legislation to extend the refueling mission.

Fukuda has gained support by many LDP members in all nine factions except a small one led by Aso, 66. Public opinion in a recent Kyodo News poll also favored Fukuda 28.1% to 18.7% for Aso.

Another key issue in the LDP election will be how to shore up the party base after the devastating setback in the July election where the ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito party lost its upper house majority.

Earlier in the morning, Fukuda said in officially announcing his candidacy, “The current circumstances were certainly unexpected…After listening to the recommendations by many who supported my running in the race and the ensuing encouragement, I felt strongly that I must shoulder the responsibility to face this difficult situation.”

Fukuda repeatedly said he plans to seek talks with the DPJ, including its leader Ichiro Ozawa, to gain cooperation in parliamentary affairs. He was most notably referring to the refueling mission’s extension and the opposition’s demand for a snap election in the lower house.

Aso announced his candidacy Friday, criticizing the overwhelming factional support for Fukuda as backroom dealing by the other faction leaders and a “regression to old LDP politics, but vowing to “fight fairly and squarely till the end” despite being in a disadvantaged position.

Aso indicated he aims to campaign for the support of those unaffiliated with any factions, as well as the party rank and file.

The winner is assured of Japan’s premiership as the LDP controls the country’s lower house, which has final say in appointing the prime minister. The new party leader’s term will last until September 2009.

Both Fukuda and Aso come from famous political families – the former a son of former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda and the latter a grandson of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.

Both held key posts under Abe’s predecessor Koizumi, with Fukuda as chief Cabinet secretary and Aso as foreign minister. But their political ideologies differ in some fields.

The dovish Fukuda favors promoting amicable relations with neighboring countries, while the hawkish Aso is known for his conservative views and controversial remarks that have angered China.

Fukuda and Aso are scheduled to hold a policy debate at LDP headquarters and street campaigns in Tokyo on Sunday. They will campaign in Osaka and Takamatsu in western Japan on Monday, a national holiday, and in the northeastern city of Sendai next Saturday.

Voting will begin at 2 p.m. Sept 23, with the 387 eligible LDP lawmakers each given one ballot and the 47 prefectural chapters given three each to reflect the choices of rank-and-file members.

Fukuda YasuoFukuda is one of the LDP’s old guard. He was Chief Cabinet Secretary to Koizumi and is in large part responsible for the diplomacy that led to the Pyongyang Summit in 2002. With North Korea, he favours the ‘pressure and dialogue’ track which can be attributed to Keizo Obuchi in 1998. This places him resolutely outside the nationalist conservative camp, aligning him closer to Koizumi (who effectively used both aspects of diplomacy while in office). Fukuda has the statesmanship that Abe lacked, a Woodrow Wilson to Abe’s George W. Bush. If Fukuda can take office, then the LDP has rejected the Abe’s Young Turks.

Abe appears to have been a necessary evil, however. He pushed through the normalisation of the Defence Agency to a ministry, and tipped the balance on North Korea so that they will be grateful to see a new face in office. It has often been said that Abe was Koizumi’s ‘bad cop’ at the Pyongyang Summit. I would take this further and suggest that he was the ‘bad cop-PM’ to whatever more moderate leader follows.

I recall the NBR Japan Forum debating this very issue (although with relation to taxes) as the reason that Fukuda withdrew his candidacy last year. Abe was to be a temporary hard-liner who would get the dirty jobs of reassembling the LDP and implements tough policies so that the air would be cleared for a longer-term minister. Perhaps then, we should not underestimate the back-room management of the LDP. If such machinations are at work, then it only goes to show one thing: Japan is going through some interesting times.

Yomiuri picks up on the worries and sentiments of some of the groups covered in the original post:

Abe decision shocks those close to pet issues
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sep. 13, 2007

Those connected to issues that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe devoted particular energy to, expressed shock at his sudden announcement Wednesday that he intended to resign.

Shigeo Iizuka, vice representative of the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, said, “Abe was one of the country’s politicians who gave the most serious thought to the abduction issue and eagerly worked to resolve it.”

“It may cause serious problems for us if he really resigns. I hope we can find someone [new] who will prioritize the abduction issue,” he said.

Iizuka expressed hope Abe would stay in office for a while longer, adding: “He may be exhausted because he’s been under so much pressure. I believe it’s too early for him to resign.”

The group’s secretary general, Teruaki Masumoto, said: “I’m really surprised. I’m at a loss for words. But I want to properly respond to the situation.”

Shizuoka University of Art and Culture President Heita Kawakatsu, a member of the Education Rebuilding Council, regretted Abe’s announcement, saying discussion at the council was approaching a crucial stage.

“I thought he’d seek the judgment of the public after getting the Diet to pass [an extension of] the Antiterrorism Law. I’m not convinced about the timing of this,” Kawakatsu said.

With Aso as the front-runner, these groups may have some hope of maintaining their strength. The question, however, remains: What does Aso stand for?

CNN aired a special report into Abe’s resignation, which can be found below. It provides a good overview of the day’s events.

via The Yin-Yang Report

Here’s what Jun Okumura had to say on the issue, and I particularly like the incisiveness of his comments:

If her departure takes one awkward problem out of Mr. Abe’s hands, he can’t be pleased that Ms. Koike took the matter and its announcement into her own hands. This reinforces an image of a passive prime minister that does not take charge of the situation and instead allows the situation to dictate to him. In this respect, it does not help him that the two core personnel decisions he has made so far, creating a dual power structure of Cabinet ministers on one hand and the White House-style sub-Cabinet prime minister’s team on the other, and engineering the return of the Post Office privatization rebels, both backfired spectacularly. Another silver lining, of course, is that he will be able to replace her with a more conciliatory figure in dealing with counter-terrorism act whose extension will be the biggest and most urgent issue of the upcoming Diet session.

After only a few months in the job, Defence Minister Yuriko Koike wants out:

Japan’s defence chief wants to leave job
Fri Aug 24, 9:37 AM ET

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s defence minister said Friday she wants to leave her position when embattled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffles his cabinet next week in a bid to salvage his government.

Abe’s first cabinet was plagued by scandal. Media reports have speculated that some top candidates for ministerial posts were hoping not to be tapped, fearing that his government will not last.

Defence Minister Yuriko Koike, often seen as a rising star in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, cited a scandal at the defence ministry over leakage of sensitive information about US-designed Aegis destroyers.

“I want to take responsibility,” Koike told reporters on a visit to New Delhi, as quoted by Jiji Press. “I want to hand over the baton.”

Koike is Japan’s first female defence chief. A former television anchorwoman, she speaks fluent English and Arabic.

But she has also been embroiled in a widely publicised battle about appointments at her ministry.

Koike took office only in July after her predecessor quit over remarks suggesting that the US nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified.

Abe, in Kuala Lumpur at the end of a three-nation tour to Indonesia, India and Malaysia, declined to discuss the reshuffle in detail but said he wanted the new cabinet to pursue “reforms” and boost regional economies.

A ruling party panel tasked with reviewing the election results offered unusual public criticism of the premier Friday.

“People had doubts about his leadership and ability to govern due to his slow response to scandals and lenient measures towards those who were involved in them,” the report said.

The review called on the cabinet to strengthen crisis management.

In his less than a year in office, Abe has seen three of his ministers quit and another commit suicide over gaffes or money scandals.

I imagine she’ll get her wish. It is just another embarrassment for Abe who has been digging in for the past few weeks. I’ll wait until we hear about a successor before I say anything further.