Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kan's dangerous lesson for Noda

As Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda prepares to become his nation’s sixth new Prime Minister since the popular and comparatively long-lived Junichiro Koizumi stepped down just five years ago, he and his top advisers face the challenge of figuring out how to avoid the common fate of his five short-lived predecessors.

The pattern is clear: each new Prime Minister starts out with relatively high approval ratings, normally in the 55-65% range (although in Monday’s intra-party race former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara was the overwhelming public favorite, drawing over 40% in an Asahi Shimbun poll, while Noda drew less than 5% support, so he might start out with less than the standard level of support for a new Prime Minister).

Then, inevitably, the new Prime Minister’s support level starts its slow but steady decline. After about a year, approval dips and stays below 20%, the Prime Minister resigns, and the cycle repeats.
Graph 1: This comparison of the support levels of Prime Ministers Abe, Fukuda, Aso, Hatoyama, and Kan was posted on a right-wing blog in the summer of 2010, making the point that after six weeks Kan’s approval rating (in black) was falling even faster than his predecessors. Source: “正しい歴史意識、国益重視の外交、核兵器の実現 [Proper Historical Consciousness, Diplomacy Emphasizing the National Interest, and the Realization of Nuclear Weapons], July 19, 2010. 

But as the following chart of approval ratings for the Kan cabinet makes clear, in September 2010 this pattern was broken.

Graph 2:
Asahi Shimbun polling showing the approval (red) and disapproval (blue) ratings of the Kan cabinet from its inauguration in June 2010 through July 2011. Source: “首相辞任「8月末までに」7割 [Poll: 70% call for Prime Minister’s resignation “by the end of August]," Asahi Shimbun, July 11, 2011.

By the time that a Chinese fishing trawler collided with a pair of Japanese Coast Guard vessels in waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands on September 7, 2010, the Kan cabinet’s approval rating had already dropped from 60% to below 40%. The collision was initially reported as a minor incident in the Japanese press, but media attention grew as an outraged China demanded a full apology and the return of the arrested captain and crew.

To the surprise of the Japanese press, the Kan administration refused.

The ensuing diplomatic standoff lasted for weeks, and drew global attention. The Kan administration released the crew, but moved to press charges against the captain. China responded by ratcheting up the diplomatic pressure to a level that astounded most observers in Japan and the US, even hyping a planned reduction of rare earth metal exports to Japan as an embargo  – a key component of almost all high-tech modern electronics that is currently produced almost exclusively in China.

And public approval ratings for the Kan administration soared.

This point was lost in most Western media coverage of the standoff, but all major Japanese media reported the same trend: support for the Kan administration continued to climb with each day that it stood up to China. The cabinet regained its inaugural level of support, and appeared headed for even higher levels.

Then, on September 25, the Kan administration folded. The Chinese trawler captain was released and sent back to China without a trial.

U.S. officials applauded what they described as an “adult” gesture by the Kan administration to diffuse the situation, but the Japanese media was unanimous in condemning the move as a show of diplomatic weakness. Public opinion quickly followed suit: the Kan cabinet’s approval rating plunged, and never again regained even its pre-collision level.

Unfortunately, with its show of support for Prime Minister Kan in the weeks before he backed down, the Japanese public unwittingly raised the security risk in northeast Asia.

Incoming Prime Minister Noda has already shown that he is not overly concerned about Chinese or Korean sensibilities. It is difficult to imagine any Japanese prime minister deliberately picking a fight with a rising China, but it is not at all hard to imagine another seemingly minor incident sparking another diplomatic conflict between Japan and China.

If Noda or any future Japanese prime minister studies the Senkaku collision incident and concludes that the way to win domestic public support is to stand up to China, the stage will be set for a significant confrontation between northeast Asia’s two biggest military and economic powers. Handling such a confrontation would be a major challenge not just for leaders in Tokyo and Beijing, but also in Washington, DC.

Conrad Chaffee
APP Nonresident Fellow

Monday, August 15, 2011

August programs

August in Washington is hot and quiet. Anyone with any sense leaves. Unfortunately, a few folks have not gotten the memo that this is the time NOT to hold any events. Unfortunately, the Korea Economic Institute is hiding all the new analytical talent on Korea in two late August programs!

US-PAKISTAN RELATIONS: STRATEGIC OR TRANSACTIONAL? 8/16, 5:30-7:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: South Asia Studies Program, SAIS. Speaker: Riaz Khan, Former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan.

IS CHINA THE NEW NORTH? ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF CHINESE TRADE WITH LATIN AMERICA. 8/17, 9:30-11:00am, 2011. Sponsor: John L. Thornton China Center and the Latin America Initiative at Brookings, with the Council of the Americas. Speakers: Mauricio Cárdenas, Director, Latin America Initiative; Erica S. Downs, Fellow, Foreign Policy, John L. Thornton China Center; Mauricio Mesquita Moreira, Principal Economist, Trade and Investment Sector, Inter-American Development Bank.

HAS AMERICA’S POLITICAL DYSFUNCTION UNDERMINED ITS POSITION AS THE WORLD’S REMAINING SUPERPOWER? 8/16, 1:00-2:30pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Foreign Policy, Brookings. Speakers: Martin S. Indyk, Vice President and Director, Foreign Policy (moderator); Mauricio Cárdenas, Director, Latin America Initiative; Fiona Hill, Director, Center on the United States and Europe; Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe; Kenneth G. Lieberthal, Director, John L. Thornton China Center; Thomas E. Mann, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies.

KOREA’S DOMESTIC POLICIES INFLUENCE ON ASIA (EMERGING VOICES). 8/17, Noon–2:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Korea Economic Institute. Speakers: Andrew Kim, Princeton University; Jiun Bang, University of Southern California; Yukyong Choe, University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Gloria Koo, University of Southern California.

DEFICIT REDUCTION AND THE NEW CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE: A PRIMER. 8/17, 1:30-3:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Budgeting for National Priorities Project, Brookings. Speakers: Ron Haskins, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies; Henry J. Aaron, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies; Sarah A. Binder, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies; Bill Frenzel, Guest Scholar, Economic Studies; William G. Gale, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies.

NUCLEAR SAFETY IN IRAN, POST-FUKUSHIMA. 8/23, 12:30-2:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: National Defense University Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Speaker: Mr. Nima Gerami, Research Analyst, Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction, National Defense University.

THE KOREA CLUB HOSTS DR. ANDREI LANKOV. 8/23, 6:30-9:00pm, Vienna, Virginia. Sponsor: Korea Club, Korea Economic Institute. Speakers: Andrei Lankov, Lecturer, China and Korea Center, Faculty of Asian Studies, Kookmin University; Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director, U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

KOREA: ENERGY AND ECONOMY (EMERGING VOICES). 8/24, Noon–2:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Korea Economic Institute. Speakers: Eunjung Lim, Johns Hopkins University SAIS; Lisa He, Georgetown University; June Park, Boston University.

TERRORISM BY THE NUMBERS: UNDERSTANDING U.S AND GLOBAL TRENDS. 8/25, 11:00-Noon, Washington, DC. Sponsor: Heritage Foundation. Speakers: David B. Muhlhausen, Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis, Center for Data Analysis, The Heritage Foundation and Jessica Zuckerman, Research Assistant, Homeland Security and Latin America, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, The Heritage Foundation.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Reporting from South Sudan

On July 9, the Republic of South Sudan became the world's newest country. Independence follows a referendum vote in January in which 98.83% of South Sudanese voters decided to separate from Northern Sudan and its government in Khartoum. The referendum was a provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the second North-South civil war since Sudan's independence in. The overwhelming vote for independence surprised no one, and most Southern Sudanese view this Saturday as the culmination of their struggle against more than a century of Ottoman, British/Egyptian, and Northern Sudanese oppression.

Juba, the capital city, was a Northern-held garrison town during the war, but has been growing every day since the peace in 2005. The Government of South Sudan has been preparing the city to receive thirty-five African heads of state and innumerable other dignitaries and visitors for the Independence celebrations. A nice, wide JICA-funded bridge over the creek near my office opened on Monday, and the new mayor has been energetically leading a much-needed campaign against litter.

Japan has successfully courted leaders in both Khartoum and Juba, but diplomacy with South Sudan will be more challenging for China. The majority of Sudan's oil is underneath Southern ground. However, all the pipelines, refineries and handling facilities are in the north, which has been sending 65% of its exports to China. The People's Republic gained some points this year in the South with the construction of a hospital in Unity State, Vice President Riek Machar's birthplace. But some of that goodwill was no doubt lost at the end of June, when Beijing hosted Sudanese President Omar al Bashir in the midst of his military aggression in the border areas of Abyei, Southern Kordofan, and even parts of Unity State. The Government of Southern Sudan plans to build a pipeline south through Kenya, but it will be a long time until oil flows anywhere but north.

Oil diplomacy and relations with Khartoum will challenge the new country but the larger issue will be internal tribalism. Cross-ethnic cattle raiding, agriculturalist-pastoralist conflict, factionalism from wartime divisions within the South, and a perception of tribal favoritism in the government combine to create a lot of internal instability.

It is to foster reconciliation that the Church is focusing its work as independence comes. South Sudan has seen very high rates of conversion to Christianity within the last hundred—and even the last twenty—years. Most people at least partially identify with a church, which is often the only form of non-tribal civil society. The five main denominations are Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Africa Inland Church. These and smaller churches are typically very united in message, though their demographics still often reflect earlier missionaries’ territorial division of labor. (Most Nuer Christians, for instance, are Presbyterian.)

The Church’s anti-tribalism strategy has been three-fold. It regularly preaches communal reconciliation, based on similar preaching for Jewish and Greek members of New Testament-era congregations. Together with the government, denominations also promote education, aiding development and occupying young would-be cattle keepers and cattle raiders. And thirdly, especially here in Juba, it preaches against corruption and nepotism, since those vices not only waste meager resources, but breed hostility toward the state.

Church, state, citizens, allies and friends will all have a lot of work to do starting July 10. But no matter how landlocked or unstable, on July 9th, the newly minted citizens of the Republic of South Sudan will be on top of the world.

Reporting by John Marienau Turpin who lives in Juba, South Sudan. He teaches Church History at Bishop Gwynne Episcopal Theological College and works with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM). He worked for APP from 2004-05.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In Sympathy

On July 27th, APP staff and interns visited the Norwegian Embassy to express their sympathy with the country's national sorrow and to sign the condolence book.

Anders Behring Breivik was not the first right-wing Norwegian to betray his country. The most famous was Vidkun Quisling who gave Hilter Norway's defense plans allowing the German Reich to successfully invade the country. Quisling was made Minister-President during the war and executed by firing squad shortly after. His last name has forever become the ultimate description of a national traitor.