Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tokyo Briefings, Day 3

The firehose keeps on on keeping on as we are being given a heap of info to assess.  I am starting to think the Japanese style of providing handouts of powerpoint is an interesting way to go, despite the dead trees.  Anyhow, today's stuff bounced around quite a bit, with the key consistent theme of "really good food."  Indeed, lunch was at the same place that President George HW Bush threw up long ago (see pic -->)
The only downside to lunch was that it was in an interesting area and we had a chance to walk around, but we got driven to a slightly different area to explore--heaps of upscale shops that were far less interesting.

Our first meeting was with two professors from the National Graduate Institute For Policy Studies. The conversation was wide ranging, but some of the key insights they shared with us include:
  • Perhaps my focus on the defence committees might be misplaced because the key actor in the Diet is the budget committee.  Something I will have to keep in mind.
  • Election year or not election year will be key variable in quality/quantity of oversight.
  • The Territorial Sovereignty Office that I discussed yesterday is more complicated--that its origin lays in de-emphasizing the dispute with Russia (Abe apparently gets along with Putin, make of that what you will).  
    • By changing the office from one focused on the Northern Territories, this de-emphasizes that conflict.  BUT then raises salience of the one with South Korea! 
    • Also, this office and the resulting Minister are part of Japanese tendency to create coordinating offices which then complicate coordination.  I read about this in Richard Sameuls' book on 3/11.
  • My colleagues on the trip kept asking about Okinawa and the basing controversy there, so we learned much here and elsewhere about the history, the identity politics in play.  More than just that some US Marines raped/assaulted some Okinawans over the years.
We then met with a representative from the Economic Partnership Division about the various Japanese efforts to negotiate trade agreements.  None of the folks on this trip are IPE people so we had very few nuanced questions to ask but still learned a great deal.  Key insights:
  • Lots of stuff in play--not just getting TransPacific Partnership ratified (US needs to do so since it only comes into force with those representing 85% of GDP of the group) but various regional efforts with and without China, India.  And for Japan, at least, FPP is seen as partly a US Japan Free Trade Agreement
  • Japan's ratification is complicated since the Minister responsible is in the middle of a scandal (bribery of some sort) even as most of Japan supports the agreement.  Very much still a trading nation.
  • Greater willingness for Japan to bargain on ag issues.  Why?
    • Fewer farmers, as the old ones die, they are not being replaced.   Farms are going unfarmed.
    • Change in electoral laws means that farmers are still significant but not as crucial.
The next meeting was held in the Prime Minister's Office Buiding, which is almost certainly the most beautiful government building in which I have ever stepped.
I have no great pics of the inside as we were rushed in and out
 The conversation with the highly ranked official was mostly off the record.  It was wide ranging and very frank and interesting.  I was most struck by the explanation of what Canada's role in all of this.  Japan does not consider Canada's military power to be relevant and is not asking for heaps of ships to move to the Pacific.  Nope, the focus is on convincing Canada that it is a Pacific power, that as a G-7 democracy, it has a leadership role in helping mentor the younger democracies of Asia/Pacific.  That the key to the long term in the region is building stable democracies that can resist Chinese efforts to corrupt them (literally).
My reactions to this:
  • cool, this is stuff that Canada can do since it is not super-costly and it plays to Canada's strengths.   
  • that Japan needs this kind of help from Canada as Japan is poorly suited to be a democracy mentor given the legacies of the distant past (I am always struck by how much this stuff matters here when Europe has mostly moved on from Germany's very serious crimes against that continent).
  • that perhaps the US is not the best democracy promoter in the region since it has a troubled history--Vietnam/Cambodia--and that a great power hectoring about democracy might seem too self-interested.  Canada has a very positive reputation, it seems, so it can be democracy's cheerleader better than others.  Much less baggage.
  • Indeed, a consistent thread here has been the focus on the need to preserve the international order based on consensus and international law.  That Canada has a key role to play in that--that Japan's friends need to speak up since Asian countries will not (hedging, anxious).
A couple of other insights from this conversation:
  • People talk about China's gender imbalance problem (broken branches), but not about the elderly.  That smaller families (and probably the lack of women since caregiving for the elderly might just be a gendered activity) and a lack of welfare safety nets means that the older people are pretty desperate.   
  • The idea that Russia's obsessive spending on stuff in the Arctic might be panic as it loses its ice "shield" from invasion from the north.  Never heard of that before.
  • While a consistent thread in many conversations is frustrating that the pivot of the US never really happened (thanks Syria!), acknowledgement here that Obama took South China Sea stuff more seriously than Bush, who had ignored it.  Very much in contrast to those who are dismissive of the US Navy's limited sailings into controversial waters. 
The last meeting became two meetings as we met an American Air Force officer who is essentially interning here via a fellowship.  He was so very sharp, reminding me of how so many officers I met can quickly drink from the firehose and be conversant on the key issues.  Just super impressive.
We then met a representative from the China/Mongolia division of Foreign Affairs.
  • China sent ships into Senkaku Islands this morning (well, the morning we were briefed on this stuff).  Oy. 
  • Japanese foreign direct investment in China has dropped quite a bit.  Why?  Greater political risks these days.
    • I was struck by the parallels I saw between how Chinese state businesses insist on 51% of the ownership of many enterprises but don't add much value AND the behavior of the Sopranos.  Protection racket with a much bigger rake!
  • Mongolia!  Just fun to hear a bit about it as it rarely appears in most conversations.
Our last day of briefings is mostly at the Ministry of Defense.  Woot!  Then we get two days of organized tourism--Hiroshima and Kyoto--before returning home.  I am a very lucky guy.

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