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Japanese Politics Updates – March 31, 2024

Play Video about Japanese Politics updates: Japanese Politics One-on-One #164

Welcome to the 164th update in the Japanese Politics One-on-One series! This week, Langley Esquire and Japan Expert Insights are delivering more news that should help you follow the latest developments in Japanese politics and public policy.

We are finally in April! We have seen the late arrival of gloriously blossoming cherry trees! The new fiscal year and the school-year have started, and freshly minted new employees have walked into their new careers. Expect lots of visuals these next two weeks. Speaking of turning a new page…

The 2025 budget passed

The 2025 Budget passed Thursday, the second largest (after last year’s) in history: ¥112.5 trillion (US$744 billion). After a several-hour delay inside the Upper House chamber (due again to the half-hearted response from the LDP on the kickback-scandal), PM Kishida and Finance Minister Suzuki bowed in appreciation to the entire gathered House of Councilors. 1/3rd is devoted to Social Services; combined with debt-servicing: 57%. To pay for it, GOJ will issue bonds to cover more than ½ the costs. GOJ already holds 53.8% of the total national debt of ¥1.30 quadrillion (US$9.2 trillion), or 263% of GDP; households hold ¥2.14 quadrillion in assets, almost half of that in cash. Astounding or what?

Reprimand coming

PM Kishida is telegraphing increasingly stern punishments for those in the leadership of the Abe Faction. Beyond the group of 4, increasing ire is also being directed at former PM Yoshiro Mori (also Olympic Chairman for a brief-stint), who was Faction leader 1998~2000, then PM 2000~2001, then back to Faction leader 2001~2006. Though Mori ‘retired’ from politics (meaning he purely resigned from his LH seat), he continued to be deeply involved. In the confusion and leadership-vacuum created from Abe’s assassination, Mori stepped-in from the shadows to play a defining role. And in fact, it was Mori who originally came-up with the kickback scheme in the first place. So inquiring minds want to know: after Abe put a stop to it, WHO resurrected it after his death? And speaking of elephants-in-the-room: what about Motegi’s role in kickbacks, and particularly Mr. Kishida’s?

PM Kishida has convened a punishment-panel

In addition, PM Kishida has convened a punishment-panel of three to determine classifications (8 ranks) of punishment and identify who will be reprimanded. The Prime Minister (former leader of the Kishida Faction, also implicated), Secretary General Motegi (leader of the Motegi Faction, also implicated), and Hiroshi Moriyama (78yo, 7x, Kagoshima), who was NOT implicated and his Faction was NOT involved in the kickback-scheme but dissolved anyway will determine everything. Regarding scale-of-severity, the lightest is a finger-wagging from LDP headquarters, and the strongest is ejection from the LDP. It seems likely that two of the four could be ejected from the LDP and others would lose political endorsement when the election eventually rolls around. The panel’s questioning of the Gang of Four begins on Tuesday. But again, this is limited to Abe Faction culprits…

More to do during the rest of the current Diet session

With the Budget now passed, the remaining time left in this session, which is to end on June 23… 13 weeks away, will be devoted to Political Reform (brought-on by the kickback mess), Immigration Reform, Joint Custody, Government Screening for Access to Classified Information, and a whole slew of other Bills. When first started in January, the LDP predicted 56 Bills would be passed into legislation. This now seems unlikely given the ire evident among the opposition. More immediately pressing are the Kishida-Biden State Visit, the April 28 By-Election and everything else that might sneak-up on us. Any distraction, in fact, will do.

Political heavyweight Toshihiro Nikai

Political heavyweight Toshihiro Nikai (85yo, 13x, Wakayama) announced he will not run in the next election. This is big: Nikai is the long-time leader of the 45 Member-strong Shisui-kai Faction, the 4th largest within the LDP. He was the longest serving Secretary General of the LDP during the entire Abe & Suga Administrations. (Can you imagine how much power & ¥ he has been able to accumulate?!) His Faction now, too, dissolved.

Equally important, he was also probably the friendliest China-hand in the Diet. Being as old as he is, maybe it was expected. However, coming on the heels of possible reprimand from Kishida & Co., it is likely he cut a deal to avoid that messiness of a public flogging. This was obviously to preserve his legacy, protect his minions, help his son get elected in his Wakayama Prefecture. Interestingly, Wakayama is the same Prefecture that (a.) is losing one of three LH seats in the recent gerrymandering, and (b.) is the Prefecture where Hiroshige Seko (61yo, 5x, UH, Wakayama) is the Senator but where (as an Abe Faction Leader he is identified for heavy retribution), Seko wants to switch to LH in order to be qualified to run for PM.

Meanwhile, with Nikai telegraphing he will NOT run, Seko sees an opening. But since Nikai and Seko dislike each other, and since Nikai has two sons, Nikai will likely be a wrench in Seko’s plans to become (first) LH Member and then (second) Prime Minister eventually.

This is particularly true because Seko is soon going to be damaged-goods (better stay in the safer, 6-year Term UH, where he has been for the last 30 years. Also, until last month, the LDP’s Secretary General of the UH. How things have changed for him!

Privacy Policy

Militarisation continues

As you have noticed, Japan’s encroaching militarization is a frequent topic in our updates (as is Constitutional Revision). Not because we are alarmists, or because Timothy grew-up on Okinawa, but because of the tremendous militarization that is going on right now! Following our update last week: as between LDP and coalition partner Komeito, a decision was made to allow the joint development of the advanced fighter aircraft and that “this does not violate the Constitution… at least not now”. Pregnantly, this compromise was decided before the Budget was railroaded through the Diet Thursday… suggesting that maybe budget-benefits for Komeito went hand-in-hand with agreeing with the LDP that ‘unconstitutional’ is “constitutional this time only”. But there is more:

The US-Japan alliance re-imaged

 A US 4 Star General will be based in Japan (never since MacArthur); a joint headquarters will be set-up incorporating JSDF Maritime/Air/Ground forces with the US Pacific Command; a huge upgrade in training and joint-exercises beyond the constantly updated SOFA. But there is more:

Hardening up: ports, harbors and airports upgraded

Massive upgrades to ports, harbors, airports are incorporated into the new budget. Specifically, 5 airports and 11 ports are slated for hardening, for those used by JSDF in cases of “military emergencies”: Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Miyazaki & Naha airports will be extended and bibs, runways widened. 11 ports likewise vastly refurbished: 5 in Hokkaido, 4 on Shikoku Island (Kagawa & Kochi Prefectures). Similarly, Fukuoka and Naha’s sole deep-water port. But there is more:

US warships now can visit and be worked-on in Japanese ports

In a huge break from SOFA and decades of policy, US battleships can now make port-calls AND be serviced in Japanese ports using local labor & contractors. To avoid rubbing-up too close to Article 9, and to discourage these ports from being targeted as facilitating a regional conflict, Japan’s policy has been to send warships back to Hawaii or continental US for maintenance and repair; only on rare circumstances would port-calls be allowed… and even in these rare cases, no shore-leave. These former policy imperatives will evaporate in the very near term. Anyone else noticing a trend here?

Questions poised during the current update (65 minutes):

  • Can you touch on the current status of the bubbling Unification Church issue? I think with all these political scandals, our attention was drawn away from it. Isn’t this exactly what the Church wanted?

  • Some news agencies report that the LDP will ask some of the Abe Faction members to leave the LDP because of the political funds scandal. Is this coming from other factions or from PM Kishida himself?

  • How come it is only Abe Faction members who have been singled-out to answer to the Ethics Committee? Other factions followed the exact same scheme but none of their members are in the spotlight. How come?

  • Expanding repairs of foreign navy ships would be a significant boost to Japan’s ship repair companies. Apparantly, this industry, like many others, is suffering as commercial shipping, ship-building, logistics, etc., shift to cheaper locations. Is this one of the aspects of attempting to initiate a military-industrial-complex here?

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