Japanese Politics Updates – April 14, 2024

Play Video about Japanese Politics Updates: 166 of Japanese Politics One-on-One

Langley Esquire is pleased to deliver the 166th Japanese Politics update with Timothy Langley and Japan Expert Insights host Maya Matsuoka.

With the fallout from internal LDP kickback-scandal-reprimands and in the wake of PM Kishida in America, there is plenty to report. Inescapably, we see a real lurch towards more Japanese economic and military integration with several countries, and in ways previously reserved exclusively to the USA via SOFA. The Prime Minister returned this morning from this important trip: expect an immediate return to the kickback action this week. Indeed, interesting… even critical times approaching. Thank you for following. Here are major points from this Sunday’s Japanese Politics update:

Kishida meets Biden in a new launching pad

The State Dinner, the speeches, the goodwill and good-nature Kishida is receiving, the laughs elicited at the joint-session speech. By all accounts, Kishida performed splendidly. His speech in-English was surprising but well-delivered and generated admiration and affinity: Japan looked good. In this atmosphere, not just did President Biden and PM Kishida emphasize a ‘new era for the alliance’, but others were singing this tune, too. The first trilateral with the Philippines, for example, with President Ferdinand Marcos ALSO on a State Visit.

And not to be outdone, Pillar II of the AUKUS arrangement now critically involves Japan’s prowess in critical tech, AI, hypersonic, cyber, underwater drones, semiconductors. The shift now is rather than hub-and-spokes to latticework of like-minded nations. This truly is epical and carries huge implications. 40+ Agreements were inked during the visit. As a result, the fallout (not a negative connotation) from this trip will be filtering out pretty immediately. For example, the Philippine Navy has received Japanese Coast Guard vessels (as gifts) from Japan. These vessels are in the direct line of conflict with the Chinese Coast Guard ships patrolling the waters. Philippine waters are building into a serious potential flashpoint. 

US Pacific Military Command to move a Command-and-Control Center to Japan

The US Pacific Military Command will move a Command-and-Control Center to Japan, with a 4 Star General in position. Japan and the US will further develop integration and joint training efforts. This comes as Agreements also allow Japanese technicians and port-authorities to service US Warships and fighters, together with the expansion of airfields and harbors to accommodate “emergencies’, should they arise… all new developments. The budget passed two weeks ago. It also included funds to pursue the co-development & manufacture of the next-generation fighter aircraft by Japan/Italy/UK.. 

The yen hits new low

The yen hit another low this week: $/¥153.28! This is the lowest value of the yen since 1990 (sealing the end of the bubble-economy and the beginning of the lost-several-decades). BOJ Governor Kuroda is being quiet about intervention and I suspect they are going to let this run its course: prepare for lower-and-lower values in the coming weeks as a consequence.

Japanese astronauts to fly to the moon in 2026

Two Japanese astronauts will fly to the moon in 2026 in the Armitis Program. The US has not visited the moon in 30 years, so this is important. One of these will actually walk on the moon (“assuming things check out” says NASA) largely because Japan will supply a pressurized two-man rover capable of 30 hours of roving. That is big.

Jiji Press polls

Jiji Press published their opinion poll numbers showing the level of public appreciation for politicians in general and specifically with regard to the current cabinet and the various political parties; the results are stunning. The Kishida Cabinet scored 16.6 Approval. Nothing on the PM individually but this is suspected of being several points lower. Anger is due to the leniency of punishments for the kickbacks and lack of sincerity in pursuing remedial measures. Former PM and Abe Faction Leader Yoshiro Mori escaping even being questioned also was featured as a sore point. Party support: LDP – 16.6%; CDP – 3.8%; Komeito – 3.6%; Ishin – 3.5%; JCP – 1.6%; Reiwa – 1.2%; DPP – 0.7%; Shinseito – 0.7%; Free Education Party – 0; No Party Support – 68.9%. Particularly with the By-Election starting within days, these numbers are hugely relevant.

One year till the launch of Osaka EXPO

Osaka Expo 2025 is exactly 1 year from starting. This is always a huge international event, capable of boosting the hosting country economy for years. For Osaka, this is critical. The hosts expect 28 million visitors but things are not totally in-line. Of the 50 countries expected to host their own, hand-crafted pavilions, only 10 have broken ground. 160 countries will of course participate to show-off their economic or technical or scientific prowess. Under the circumstances, GOJ now has to pull them all together to share space in several group-pavilions. The push-and-pull between the central government (shouldering 1/3 of the costs) and Ishin (Ishin dominates Osaka government) is likely to play a defining role in the outcome. If Expo goes great guns, Ishin benefits (and thus grows in strength). Lots of political football going on behind the scenes, so this is something definitely to watch.

S. Korean elections

Korea elections on the same day as the Biden-Kishida State Dinner pushed President Yoon into lame-duck territory. His conservative People Power Party lost seats in the 300 Member parliament while arch-rival Democratic Party swooped up 175 seats. This places the Japan-S. Korea budding-friendship in peril at a particularly delicate time. Unwelcome news to Japan and to PM Kishida (and by extension, to the US, too).

By-Election delicacy

 We know Kishida does not just need but requires a hefty gust of wind from his US Trip: he comes back to a very testy Japan and knives are already unsheathed for him. Of the three seats up-for-grabs in 15 days (Nagasaki, Shimane, Tokyo), the LDP is so despised that the LDP will not even run a candidate (!) in Nagasaki or Tokyo. This is practically unheard of.

To make matters worse, even in what should be an LDP stronghold, Shimane is likely to fall to an independent who has a long-time axe to grind against the LDP. Should the LDP lose all three of these races, the Prime Minister is in exceedingly difficult straights. To escape such a predicament, he may close-down the entire house and go for a general election. He must make his choice within days of his return… likely no later than 4/26. Election Day is 4/28. Watch this space carefully!

Tension build up around the Island of Vanuatu

In an unusually worrisome development, the US Coast Guard assigned cutters to the Pacific nation of Vanuatu. This island nation is three-times closer to New Zealand than to China, yet still Chinese fishing boats have been violating the country’s economic zone; 12 of these were boarded (BOARDED!) by US personnel over the last two weeks. In a somewhat unrelated development, President Marcos proclaimed if there is one Philippine-life lost as a consequence of the aggressive territorial expansion of the PRC into disputed territories, he will immediately trigger the US agreements concerning mutual self-defense. This seems to be the most delicate trigger point right now, since already water-cannons and ramming are being used. And elsewhere, boats are actually being boarded… How far away can we be?

Motegi to disband his faction

LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi has announced that he will disband his Heisei Kenkyukai. This is after losing 6 Members over the last several weeks (qualifies as “an exodus”). The entire Faction will meet and decide on Wednesday upcoming.

Questions Poised (65 minutes)

  • I don’t believe BOJ intervention will help in the nearterm given last week’s US surprise inflation report. What are your thoughts.
  • Do you think that the US Steel acquisition by Nippon Steel will disrupt the Japan-US relations in the near future?
  • Koike is cooperating now with Hagiuda and Nikai, so it is very possible that she may launch a comeback into national politics… what do you think?
  • I have listened to PM Kishida’s address at the joint Meeting of Congress. The speech went well but I am not comfortable with what he said about US “not being alone in their effort to maintain the international order”; “I am here to say that Japan is already standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States”; What does he exactly mean by that… more money… more involvement in conflict areas? If so, I do not think he is representing Japanese people’s voice. Your thoughts?

If you gain insight from these briefings, consider a tailored one for your Executive Team or for passing-through-Tokyo heavyweights. Get in touch by email!

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