JIN-261 -- Vision (Self)-Impairment

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J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
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Issue No. 261
Thursday, February 12, 2004
TOKYO

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CONTENTS

@@ VIEWPOINT: Vision (Self)-Impairment

[We once again invited longtime J@pan Inc contributor,
seasoned military analyst, Fuji TV commentator and Meiji University
Professor Michael E. Stanley to contribute a guest editorial.
The deployment of Japan's armed forces in Iraq -- the nation's first
overseas armed military mission since World War II -- dominates the
evening newscasts and newspaper editorials here. But in this week's
JIN, Stanley -- with his 25 years of experience as a resident
of this archipelago -- suggests that most of the pundits are missing
the point(s).]

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Vision (Self)-Impairment

Recent weeks have seen a classic Japanese media frenzy as the
first units of the Self-Defense Forces slated for deployment to Iraq
departed for that country. In typical sardine-school fashion,
the reporters and talking heads have covered nearly every
conceivable and superficial angle of the story before it has
really even gotten under way. And while descending on every crumb of
information they find relevant to this precedent-setting event,
the domestic media have managed to miss deeper aspects and implications
that will carry meaning far longer then the fodder they have been
serving up.

In this writer's opinion, one looming aspect that reporters and
commentators have failed to address is the connection between
this deployment to Iraq and the health of the Japanese economy.

Prime Minister Koizumi and his ivory-tower financial whiz kid
Professor Takenaka have been unable to drag Japan out of its
post-bubble recession. Their trumpeted privatization efforts are
really nothing more than low-cost, low-risk window-dressing that serves
to divert serious attention from the enormity of what really faces the
country: The entropy of the current low-demand domestic economics
combined with large-scale, deeply entrenched special interests just
will not allow any significant positive change through the normal
political system.

It is in the best interests of other leading developed nations to get
the country on its feet. This responsibility is keenly felt by the
US. And so the bargain evolves: Koizumi & Co. help out with George
W. Bush's efforts in Iraq -- and in return the US begins a gradual
process of indirect economic support in an effort to prime
Japan's economic pump.

The reduction in tariffs a couple months ago on Japan-produced steel
was an early example of what will be a whole skein of such measures.
If all goes reasonably well, Koizumi will have increased Japan痴
international stature and likely moved the nation much closer to its
avowed goal of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
At the same time, he will have jump-started the engine of an effective
economic recovery. While the true effects of that recovery will not
be widely felt until after Koizumi is out of office, his decisions
now will eventually accrue future kingmaking power.

Heian-era Japan developed to a fine art the phenomenon of "insei,"
in which a retired emperor held all the real power while his successor
sat on the throne. This thousand-year-old tradition is far from dead.
Prime Ministers Kakuei Tanaka and Noboru Takeshita called shots
well after their stints ended in disgrace. Just imagine what kind
of behind-the-scenes power the comparatively popular Koizumi will
have if he succeeds.

Another angle that has been virtually ignored has been the vicious
knife-in-the-back infighting between senior figures in the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), the Defense Agency, and certain officials
-- one in particular being very visible -- in the Prime Minister痴
office.

The obvious reason for this is the closed "kisha-kurabu"
(reporters' club) system that effectively turns what are supposed
to be journalists accredited to a particular ministry, agency, or
office into shanghaied public affairs assistants trumpeting as news
what is actually a pablumized program of prepared press releases.

The back-room brawling is in no way new; I recall numerous occasions
in which an infuriatingly holier-than-thou MOFA caused great
problems for both the Defense Agency and the US Forces
Japan when they attempted to intercede in not only the press
coverage but the actual operational preparations and planning
for joint military training exercises being held in Japan.
It is not hard to discern that MOFA would give its eyeteeth to
have an upper hand in the process of the Iraq deployment, but
the Koizumi cabinet has disallowed MOFA that self-appointed
privilege.

Interestingly, there has been a startling silence around the fact
that MOFA and the Defense Agency had to work together in negotiating
a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Kuwait. The SOFA between the
US and Japan has recently been blasted in the Japanese press as
unfair, outdated, and an affront to Japan痴 sovereignty. But now
there is no mention of the issue -- as Japan has to arrange for
a similar agreement to cover its own overseas-deployed forces.

One of the real stories almost got told. Recently, when
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda abruptly terminated the system
of news conferences held by the Chiefs of Staff of the three
Self-Defense Forces -- when Vice Defense Minister Takemasa
Moriya (the Defense Agency痴 top career executive) just happened
to be out of the country -- the truth came close to seeing
the light. Close.

But a few days later, the reporters were back to commenting on the
Arabic-language uniform patches and the Saddamish Middle East-style
mustaches of the Iraq-bound Ground Self-Defense Force advance team.
Fukuda put on his best Donald Rumsfeld charm-school smile and
begged virtually every question on the issue. It is easy to see
that he has his eyes on succeeding Koizumi -- but no one here
seems to be writing about that quite yet.

-- Michael E. Stanley

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Edited by Roland Kelts (editors@japaninc.com)

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