Japanese Politics Updates – March 17, 2024

Play Video about Japanese Politics updates: Japanese Politics One-on-One #162

The 162nd of Japanese Politics One-on-One is the latest weekly politics update by Langley Esquire and Japan Expert Insights.

The 13th anniversary of the triple disasters of Fukushima was on Monday. The release of the treated water continues (as it will for the next 35+ years), China is asking for reparations for the damage, still Russia & China both have total bans of fish and agriculture from Japan… decimating Hokkaido’s formerly vibrant industry. Broadcasting today from Kisarazu, a sunny, windy huge Chiba Prefecture port city: Captain Evan Bukowsky & I continue the physically-demanding restoration of his 45 year old 33’ sailing vessel. Speaking of sailing….

PM Kishida still in tumultuous waters

The 2025 Budget is not law yet though it passed the Lower House 17 days ago. On April 1, whatever the Upper House decides, it will become Law. But still, deliberations are ongoing in the UH… complicated by opposition parties’ collective action against the LDP kickback-scandal. To remind you, LDP/Komeito hold 116+27=143/247 (57.8%) Upper House seats and 258+32=290/462 (62%) Lower House seats. So, in the Ethics Committee (as in all Committees), either the LDP or Komeito hold the Chair plus the majority of Committee Members. So railroading is possible throughout. We see this in-play now as the opposition demands this-or-that, and the LDP grudgingly gives some/withholds some. The level of frustration, however, grows. This has spillover effects.

The LDP holds it annual conclave

Today, the LDP holds its annual conclave led, of course, by the President of the LDP and the Secretary General (Kishida/Motegi). We have already gotten into the bad blood between these two. But clearly BOTH are implicated in the scandal. Late this week, though it was a top Agenda item initially, LDP President Kishida decided that the issue of punishment to those implicated in the scandal will better wait for another day. Instead, he wanted to focus on integrating the team and fostering harmony. The ball just got kicked down the path.

Testimonies of Upper House members

Primary among the demands to the Upper House Ethics Committee are the testimony of 31 Upper House Members (over whom presumably they hold some jurisdiction). The LDP offered 3 to testify last week. Hakubun Shimomura, a very close friend of deceased faction leader Abe, has offered to testify tomorrow. This is expected to be bombshell because, though voluntary, Shimomura has a huge and long-simmering bone-to-pick with Yoshiro Mori. Shimomura (and everyone else) attributes the kickback scheme to Mori from 20 years ago. So Shimomura (strangely removed from the Abe leadership gang … some say because of Mori) is out for revenge. Mori, on the other hand, has refused to testify because he “is ill and under medical care” and besides, he is no longer a Diet Member.

Arms export policy goes forward

Pro-militarization LDP and peace & harmony coalitionpartner Komeito decided between themselves the length and breadth of arms export policy going forward. LDP wants the tripartite advanced fighter jet project (Britain/Italy/Japan) to go forward robustly and profitably. The LDP in fact wants to engender a military-industry-complex like in other countries as an economic-driver. Obviously, this means developing & manufacturing-for-export new-fangled weapons. These advanced fighters obviously are defensive in nature (though admittedly they have tremendous offensive impact, too) and thus arguably in violation of Article 9 of the Constitution. Komeito has agreed that “well, let’s say NOT in violation because no export to waring nations, sales only to allied countries, no down-stream sales to countries with offensive intentions… then no Art. 9 violation, let’s say, okay?”.  Of course, this completely defeats the whole sales proposition and value, but AT LEAST the LDP was able to secure Komeito’s agreement when this 10 year project comes-up for funding discussions again in the Parliament. These restrictive stipulations will definitely not stand the test of time but, at least for today, the Project is a ‘go!”. Strange bedfellows in politics.

Privacy Policy

US Steel deal

An unexpected / expected move by candidate Joe Biden this week was the sale of US Steel to Japan. It was quashed: “jobs for Americans” and “we can’t allow China to potentially benefit from steel sales via Japan” and similar arguments. A bit of a blow to the international trade community… but part of the ebb and flow in an election year, I guess. It will come-up again.

Public opinion polls

Public Opinion polls are blistering the Prime Minister. This week, Jiji Press placed the Approval Rating at 14%. JiJi is toughest on Kishida while other polls are a bit kinder. Still, hovering 20%+/- with Disapproval exceeding 50% now. This should be worrying but the Prime Minister is gliding along. His two other pillars (Aso, Motegi) on this three-legged stool (absent the previously-essential Abe-faction leg) is suffering critically, too. Motegi-Kishida practically on not-speaking terms, Aso-Kishida still lingering anger and disdain. This will be more apparent during the Annual LDP Convention that will take place later today (so that all the Members can catch this briefing, first).

Opposition demands testimonies

Upper House Ethics Committee met on Thursday. The opposition demanded that 31 UH violators testify under oath: they got 3 to show-up voluntarily. The main figure was Hiroshige Sek0, 61yo, 5x, Wakayama, Abe. Seko took questions for 2 hours (like the other two) but denied any knowledge of why or how or when or who. Seko was in the leadership team after Abe and he was the UH Director General within the LDP. His testimony pretty much set the tone for the others and was pretty irritating. Many  believe that this will contrast heavily with the upcoming testimony of Hakubun Shimomura 70yo, 9x, Independent. Shimomura, you might recall, was Education Minister throughout the Abe Administration and tight with Abe… certainly within his inner-most-circle. Ousted by the leadership gang (which included Seko), he recently left the Abe Faction completely (after 30 years!).  And does he have a bone-to-pick, one directly related to the kickback scandal. It turns out that former Prime Minister Mori was the outside force pushing-out Shimomura. This is a result of a long simmering feud between these two gentlemen. It is also somewhat common knowledge that the kickback scheme was the brainchild of Yoshiro Mori 20 years ago. So many expect that Shimomura’s testimony tomorrow to be explosive.

Upcoming election scenarios

We discuss snap-elections pretty frequently in these weekly Japanese politics updates. This is the one death-defying power the Prime Minister solely holds. Its application can be devastating. Timing is important, as is the element of surprise. Currently, there are three potential windows: Fall (when Kishida’s LDP Presidency term comes to an end), End of the current Diet Session ~June 6th, or to replace the By-Election on April 28th.  In anticipation, different groups are beginning to actively form. Just this last week, for example, Ishin and CDP met to discuss joint-strategy. Inside the Abe Faction the younger Members are coalescing forces. Taro Kono 61yo, 9x, Kanagawa, Digital Minister is making moves to cozy-up to Suga while not irritating Aso. Meanwhile, Sanae Takaichi 62yo 9x, Nara stating unambiguously “I am running for PM!”.

More resignations over a new scandal

In the category of “If it is not one-thing, its another”: 5 exotic-dancers were the entertainment in a Youth Division gathering in Wakayama which the LDP hosted several months ago. Lots of fondling was reported. Consequentially, immediately when the news broke this week (months later), the two attending Diet Members quickly resigned their appointed party posts. A tad more current and just as damaging, a female Lower House Member was photographed coming out of a love-hotel this week, Canadian sax-player in-arm. She, too, immediately resigned her LDP party post.

Wages on an upward curve

Labor & Wages – it is looking-up for workers. The Spring Offensive will end peacefully and profitably as Labor’s demands, the highest ever, were accepted as presented in the preliminary rounds this week. The average of 5.8% is in reaction to PM Kishida’s insistence that Management does so in order to boost consumption, maybe even the birthrate, but at least stem the overall national decline. Kishida met with both Business and Labor and set in motion price setting in medical services, public works, shipping rates, etc., all designed to boost  public sentiment.

End of negative interest rates

BOJ indicates ending loose money and negative interest rates, and ending the yield curve control pursued over the last 10 years. This era is coming to an end. Governor Kazuo Ueda is likely to move this month. $/¥ at the untenable 151 level. 

Ban on Ospreys lifted

Osprey flights resume – though grounded nationwide due to the crash in Kagoshima 2 months ago (killing all 8 US Servicemen), GOJ lifted this ban. Still, the cause of the crash is undetermined.  In somewhat related news, US warship visits to Japanese ports is drawing some ire. The locals initially declined a destroyer’s visit to an Okinawa commercial port (first time for both!) causing consternation and reflection by both governments. Also, going forward, the two governments have agreed that Japanese ports and contractors will now be servicing US warships so they can be closer to potential action. Heretofore forbidden except for US exclusive ports & contractors, ships have had to to return to the US bases for maintenance & repair. This is another example of the slow, methodical march towards closer integration and support between US forces and JSDF. It just continues and continues.

Questions poised during the 162nd Japanese Politics session

  • Does Japan utilize “Political Action Committees” (PACs) in the way they are understood in the United States, where PACs are organizations that collect and spend money to elect or defeat political candidates, influence elections, and affect legislation? Is there a legal reason or political reason if not? Could this be a political alternative to fundraising in the future?
  • No raise in national pensions which are low anyhow (have been for years) but rise in health costs and inflation. Any developments there?
  • The cabinet decides and approves all those controversial issues/matters. I’m not sure about this cabinet approval. Don’t they have to submit these matters to the houses for discussion? Next generation fighters in collaboration with UK and Italy
  • Yuriko Koike has set up a policy subsidizing women who want to freeze their eggs for 5 years. Your thoughts?
  • Re the next generation fighters in collaboration with the UK and Italy: Such a negative mindset being played out. I would hope the world wakes up to itself and to PEACE. 
  • In Japan, Komeito and LDP are discussing what arms can be exported to what countries. Regarding the agreement to produce fighter jets between Japan, Italy & Great Britain, can Japan tell the other two parties what to sell and what not to sell to other countries willing to buy the equipment produced under the trilateral agreement
  • What is the time sequence order of the decisions Japan makes regarding being a party in the agreement and which countries to sell?

Insights & Analyses