Sunday, May 31, 2009

America's North Korea Options

It is often said in response to North Korea’s provocations, including its most recent testing of an atomic bomb, that the U.S. has no realistic military options. It is always assumed that that the only military option is to bomb the North’s nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and elsewhere.

Such action is rightly dismissed as unthinkable because of the threat of North Korean retaliation against Seoul, which, being in artillery range, not to mention missile range, is very exposed. Yet there are other military options that would not put Seoul in danger. To understand, roll back the clock.

The time is 1970. This writer is a young Air Force lieutenant assigned to the 347th Tactical Fighter Wing at Yokota Air Base Japan, west of Tokyo. The 347th is equipped with F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers. One of our squadrons is always deployed to Osan Air Base south of Seoul, South Korea, where it stands nuclear alert.

By nuclear alert I mean that the aircraft are sitting on the tarmac with their engines idling, a pilot in the cockpit and a thermonuclear weapon in the bomb bay ready to take off at a moment’s notice and drop that bomb on . . . .well, better left unsaid even at this date. Suffice it to say that the Cold War was at its height.

But the 347th wasn’t alone. Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, then under U.S. administration, was bristling with atomic weapons. U.S. Navy aircraft carriers assigned to the 7th Fleet routinely carried nuclear weapons into Japan home ports, Tokyo turning a blind eye despite its official policy not to allow nuclear weapons into the country.

Soon after I left the air force, the 347th was disbanded and not replaced. Yokota is still a big American base (made even bigger by closure of other bases in the Tokyo area), but is used now mostly as a stopover and transit point for Asia, a kind of military version of the civilian Narita International Airport.

Okinawa was returned to Japanese jurisdiction in 1972 and nuclear weapons were withdrawn in compliance with Japanese policy not to allow such weapons on its soil. President George H.W. Bush removed nuclear weapons from South Korea, and the carriers no longer routinely carry nuclear bombs. As far as the U.S. and its allies are concerned, Northeast Asia is a nuclear-free zone.

This is not to say there are no assets in the region. The U.S. Air Force bases fighter-bomber at Misawa in northern Japan and in Korea. The 7th Fleet still operates from ports in Japan. But there are (to my knowledge anyway) no nuclear weapons deployed anywhere in the region.

Japan and South Korea still come under the protection of the “nuclear umbrella”, which is America’s promise to defend the two countries, with its own nuclear arsenal if necessary. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Taro Aso reportedly reaffirmed the viability of the umbrella over the phone.

That’s all well and good, but the nuclear umbrella is becoming something of an abstraction to most Japanese and South Koreans. It is not just the question of whether or not America really would risk its own cities by coming to Japan’s aid. That’s an old story.

The problem is that there is there is no longer any tangible evidence of the nuclear umbrella in Northeast Asia, while there is plenty of tangible evidence of another nuclear equipped nation in the neighborhood bragging about its growing capabilities.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, Michael Schiffer, happened to be in Tokyo during the test to discuss what kind of advanced fighter planes to sell to Japan. He told the Nikkei newspaper: “We are ready talk with the Japanese government about all matters” This includes ways to strengthen the nuclear deterrence, he said. He did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, continued provocations from North Korea give conservatives in Japan ammunition to play up the North Korean threat while playing down U.S. capabilities, making it seem as if Japan has no choice but to look out for its own defense, including possibly acquiring nuclear weapons for itself.

Nobody doubts that Japan has sufficient nuclear materials on hand to build hundreds, maybe thousands of atomic bombs if it wanted to. In May, less than one week before the bomb test, two ships docked in Japan and unloaded 1.7 tons of plutonium from Europe. It was mixed with uranium to fuel civilian nuclear power plants.

So far during this episode, no prominent Japanese has called on Japan to acquire nuclear weapons, but there is plenty of discussion about Japan acquiring a “first strike” capability against North Korean missile launching sites with conventional weapons. It would require combining and intelligence-gathering orbiting satellite with cruise missiles. It is not just talk; it likely to become official policy

So one military option would be for the U.S. to reintroduce nuclear weapons at some of its bases in South Korea or place them back on navy fleet aircraft carriers, including those based at Japanese ports. There would be no need to broadcast the action. Japanese anti-nuclear groups can be counted on to get wind of the change, and their predictable protests at the arrival of nuclear-armed carriers at Sasebo or Yokosuka would do the broadcasting for us.

Interestingly, the day after the North Korean test, the Council on Foreign Relations released a 125-page report entitled: “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy” responding to Obama’s recent call for a nuclear-free world by urging the Obama administration to “reaffirm U.S. commitment to security assurances, including extended nuclear deterrence to allies”.

Reintroducing nuclear weapons into South Korea or Japan (on aircraft carriers), would go against the grain for President Barack Obama, who would rather been seen as helping to reduce the world’s inventory, not putting them back where they had been removed.

But it is one effective military response that would require no massive troop deployments, would not deplete already strained manpower in Iraq or Afghanistan or cost a fortune in dubious anti-missile development. It simply means moving some weapons from one place of storage in the U.S. to a new place. That’s assuming we still have them. We do, don’t we?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Who Needs a Peace Treaty?

Japan and Russia have never signed a peace treaty formally ending the brief hostilities in the waning days of World War II. Russia benefitted from its entry into the war, obtaining the southern half of Sakhalin Island and the long chain of islands known as the Kurils.

That has not stopped the two countries acting the way normal, friendly countries act. Both countries exchange ambassadors, carry on normal trade and exchange visits. Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso met with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev on Sakhalin Island last November to inaugurate a natural gas deal.

Vladimir Putin made two state visits to Japan during the eight years he served as Russia’s president, and, of course, he recently revisited Japan in his new incarnation as prime minister. It was a very business-like and productive two-day trip, resulting in the signing of four trade agreements, including landmark nuclear power agreement.

Since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Japanese-Russian relationship has undergone three distinct phases. At first there was a brief euphoria as Moscow eagerly anticipated substantial Japanese investment in the country, especially in Siberia and the Russian Far East.

When that did not materialize, the two countries tended to lose interest in each other and that trend continued as revenues from oil and natural gas made it wealthier in the 2000s.. Under ex-president Putin the Russians began to develop and exploit their own natural resources more effectively and didn’t need Japan any more.

But lately that the Russians are becoming worried about overdependence on natural resources and concerned about weak infrastructure and lagging technology, they have rediscovered Japan. They know that Tokyo is not just an economic powerhouse but a technology powerhouse which can help Russia transform itself into a true industrialized nation.

From Japan’s point of view, as Russia becomes richer from natural resources, it becomes an ever bigger market for Japanese goods, services and technology. The value of bilateral trade grew five-fold in the past five years, from about $6 billion in 2003 to $30 billion in 2008 Japan is now Russia’s its third largest trading partner, after Germany and China.

That change of heart is best exemplified by the landmark nuclear power Agreement that the two sides signed during Putin’s visit to Tokyo May 11-12. Japan did not need an agreement simply to exploit Russia’s uranium resources. Indeed, Japanese companies are already involved in developing uranium mines in Siberia.

Rather the agreement allows for more technical transfer, especially Toshiba’s expertise in constructing nuclear power plants enhanced through its acquisition of Westinghouse. Toshiba has already sold off part of Westinghouse to Kazakhstan to cement its relationships there. Will they be tempted to sell a part to Russia’s new nuclear consortium, Atomenergoprom too?

So if the economic relationship is going so swimmingly, why bother about signing a treaty to end a war that has been over for more than 60 years? The short answer is the Kurile Islands, or, as the Japanese call them, the Russian-occupied Northern Territories. Over the years Japan has dug in over the proposition that all four of the disputed islands must be returned to Japan; Russia agrees to return two..

One reason is that the Japanese media obsesses with the issue. Even before he left Moscow, Putin had to deny that there would be any breakthrough on the touchy issue during his short visit to Japan. And while Aso may have brought it up in a pro forma way, it was never in the cards that he would seriously discuss a compromise during this trip.

In the unique “tandem administration” that Putin shares with his one-time protégé, Putin’s portfolio involves nuts and bolts trade issues. Matters that concern sovereignty belong to the president. The next time that Aso will have to bring the matter up will be on the sidelines of the G-8 summit meeting in July.

There is a school of thought that the whole issue should be stashed firmly in the back of the shelf and left there. After all, it is not apparently hampering in any obvious way he growing trade relationship. Best to treat it as “something left over from history,” as the Chinese used to describe Hong Kong under the British.

But it should be recalled that the Chinese eventually insisted that the sovereignty of Hong Kong be settled. Prof. Shigeki Hakamada, a Russia expert at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, notes that over the years large numbers of Japanese continue express mistrust of Russia, which hampers full development of trade and other exchanges.

“It is fed by the Northern Territory issue,” he says.

That is no doubt true, although much of the mistrust may also stem from Russia’s opportunistic last-minute entry into the World War II, its delay in returning prisoners of war captured in Manchuria and in general antagonisms left over from the Cold War.

Tokyo insists that all four of the disputed islands must be returned before it will sign a peace treaty, while Moscow is willing to concede the two southern-most. Superficially, that seems like a fair compromise, except that the two southern islands, Shikotan and the Habomai, constitute less than 10 percent of the four islands’ total land mass.

Various other compromises have been proposed but not formally placed on the table. The most recent, called the “3.5” solution would grant Japan three islands and half of the larger of the four, Kunashiri. Another possible action would be to declare the islands officially Japanese territory but under Russian administration.

It remains to be seen if Prime Minister Aso will put any compromise proposals informally to the Russian president when they meet at the G-8 meeting, although, at best, they would be only preliminary options to begin serious negotiations leading to a summit and presumably grand treaty signing ceremony in Tokyo.

Perhaps, but I wouldn’t count on much coming it. Despite it commanding majority in the Diet, the Aso government is weak and may be replaced in a few months by the opposition. Right-wing nationalism remains strong – Aso was even criticized for going to Sakhalin Island for the ceremony marking the first shipments of natural gas to Japan.

Meanwhile, Russia is stymied by its own rising nationalism, a shaky economy and the unique “Siamese Twins” relationship of Medvedev and Putin. So a peace treaty is still illusive, but then with a $30 billion in two-way trade who needs a treaty?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Agent of Change

Ichiro Ozawa, who announced his resignation as leader of Japan’s main opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan (DJP), was always a strange figure to be an agent of change. He had no special charisma, was reputedly a poor speaker and not even well liked in his party and the public at large.

He espoused no particular radical views. Indeed, on most topics he was basically conservative. His book Blue Print for New Japan expresses mostly conventional conservative views about the future of Japan as a “normal nation”, which is usually nationalist code for jettisoning the country’s pacifistic constitution.

He was a protégé of ex-prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, Mister “money politics” himself”, who often personified what critics felt was wrong about Japanese politics, and it didn’t seem so out of character when last March his secretary, Takanori Okuda, was indicted for allegedly accepting illegal campaign contributions.

When Ozawa does speak, he often speaks in riddles. Earlier this year he casually suggested that Japan could depend solely on the U.S. Seventh fleet for protection, presumably eliminating the need for any other American bases. He never elaborated on this, and it gave the LDP a small opening to criticize him, until the scandal of Okuda’s arrest gave them a much bigger cudgel.

He does not seem to have been motivated by the pursuit of personal power – at least not in a conventional sense. As secretary-general of the governing party 20 years ago, it is almost inconceivable that he would not have taken a turn as an LDP prime minister, becoming yet another quickly forgotten leader, like Toshiki Kaifu.

But for more than 20 years Ozawa has had one fixed idea, one overriding goal, and that is to change the way politics works in Japan. By that he meant reducing the inordinate power vested in the civil service, a policy in which he finds wide spread support not only in his party but with the public at large.

Another ideal was to end Japan’s status as virtually the only one-party democracy in the developed world, the one democracy that has never done what India has done, what Taiwan has done, what South Korea has done - that is, to throw the rascals out. He wanted Japan to become a normal democracy where parties alternate in and out of power.

The irony is that to accomplish these goals, he used mostly behind-the-scenes parliamentary maneuvers. Ozawa was the consummate back-room boy. In 1993 he fomented a vote of no confidence in the government of former prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa that led to a very short non-LDP government..

What followed were several years of confusion as a dozen new parties rose or changed their names or platforms. The political opposition was like an unstable radioactive atom with a short half life throwing off members like so many free-flying electrons.

Finally, the opposition settled under the rubric of the Democratic Party of Japan in 1996. In the decade that followed it has turned itself into a Western-style opposition party, even to naming a shadow cabinet. It worked out policies and an organization toward that day when it would have a decent shot at taking over the reins of government.

That chance came from Ozawa’s great triumph came in July, 2007, when he helped the DJP to a major victory in the election for the House of Councilors, the upper house in Japan’s bicameral parliament. He has used this majority in that body to frustrate the last two LDP premiers, especially Yasuo Fukuda, who resigned last September.

That victory, plus the stumbling of Fukuda’ successor as prime minister, Taro Aso, encouraged the opposition to believe that it had a fair chance to repeat the success when en election is held for the more powerful House of Representatives, or lower house. An election must be held by autumn, when the Diet’s term expires.

That prospect, of course, dimmed considerably when news broke of the arrest of Ozawa’s secretary in March. Ozawa held on stubbornly in the face of consistent opinion polls that showed the public overwhelmingly opposed to his staying on as leader.

That decision was unpopular with the party’s leadership, which never came out in full-throated support of their embattled leader. But then Ozawa never was very popular, or very well trusted, among them, He was not one of the DJP’s original founders. He brought the tiny Liberal Party that he then headed over to the DJP only after merger talks with the LDP failed.

Now the party must choose a new leader and hope that it is not too late to undo the damage caused in the past two months (which have seen Aso’s popularity slowly improve). Yet most of the DJP party leaders look like pigmies alongside Ozawa, and many of them carry their own baggage.

The party has scheduled a vote on Saturday (May 16) to choose between two former party leaders, Katsuya Okada and Yukio Hatoyama. Perhaps it is superstition, but I would be reluctant to choose the man, Okada, who presided over the DPJ’s biggest election debacle in 2005. As for Hatoyama, one could be snarky and say he has at least one of the qualifications for leadership these days – he is another grandson of a former PM.

The opposition still has a major mountain to climb whenever the election, because of the LDP’s huge electoral margin. The governing party could lose as many as 60 seats in the 480-seat lower house and still have a majority to form a government. (Although it would no longer have the supermajority needed to override upper house votes.)

So, if the opposition does pull off a miracle and win the next general election, it won’t be because the Japanese turned to a messianic figure of “hope”. It won’t be because the public is especially attracted to the opposition’s program. No, if the opposition wins the next election, it will be because, in Confucian terms, the long-ruling LDP has lost the Mandate of Heaven, the right to rule.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Toyoda for Toyota

Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the man who founded the world’s largest automobile company, will take the wheel of a racing Lexus in an automobile endurance contest later this month, just a few weeks before he takes the wheel of the troubled Toyota Motor Corp.

It won’t be the first time that Toyoda has spelled the other drivers in the 24-hour Nurburing endurance race in Germany. This year, like last, he’ll put Toyota’s much touted Lexus LF-A luxury car through its paces. Toyota hopes to officially unveil the car at the biannual Tokyo Motor Show in October.

That’s assuming that there is a Tokyo Motor Show. America’s Big Three automakers, including the now officially bankrupt Chrysler, have declined to participate this year in order to save money and try to ride out the crisis in the automotive industry. So too have several smaller Japanese automobile companies, such as Hino Motors Ltd. It is likely to be a truncated affair.

It is, of course, just one more sign of the severe crisis that is impacting the automobile industry, at least that in the United States and Japan, who together dominate global automobile sales. The downturn has not spared Japan, and Toyota, which recently announced a net operating loss of $4.4 billion for fiscal 2008, its first since 1950.

Consequently, to turn things around or at least try to ride out the crisis, the Toyota board of directors has turned back to the family. Earlier this year it announced that Toyoda, 52, will take over as president in June, replacing Katsuaki Watanabe. He is the first member of the Toyoda family to head the company in 14 years.

Like Ford Motor Company in the U.S., Toyota is family concern, though the actual family ownership is now quite small. It was founded in 1936 by Kiichiro Toyoda, who served as its president until 1950, when, ironically, he stepped down after the company posted its operating first loss - and last one until this year.

The family spells its name with a “D” and the company with a “T”. It changed its name to “Toyota” in 1937 believing that the Chinese characters for the name were easier to write and pronounce. The name also means literally “rice fields”, which was not thought to be an appropriate moniker for a car company.

It can hardly be said that the non-family managers, who headed Toyota for the past 14 years, ran the company into the ground. These were, in many ways, the best years for the venerable car company, which, ironically, enjoyed in its most profitable year ever in fiscal 2007. It current troubles were of very recent vintage.

They led the company into opening “transplant” factories in the US and elsewhere, introduced the Prius, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid car and who presided over Toyota’s displacing GM as the world’s largest car maker last year.

Toyota’s climb to the top of the auto heap had been a long-time coming, but was kind of anti-climatic, considering the sorry state of General Motors and the automobile industry as a whole. In 2008 Toyota made 8.9 million cars compared with GM’s 8.3 million units – too many by most measures. The company hopes to cut production by about a million this fiscal year to avoid overproduction.

Since at least last December, when it projected its first operation loss, the company has been in an emergency mode. It has coped with the marked downturn by delaying the introduction of new plants at home and abroad, such as one planned for the state of Mississippi, suspending production for short periods of time and laying off “contract” workers.

The latter are temporary workers that Japanese manufactures of all stripes have turned to in recent years faced with growing competition from Asia. They do not have the “lifetime” commitment of other workers. Many are from Japanese communities in Brazil, and the government recently urged them to go home, offering them free one-way tickets so long as they promised not to come back.

So far, Toyota has managed to avoid outright plant closings, including any of the seven assembly plants located in the company town, Toyota City, near Nagoya. Some commentators believe that one reason for turning to the family to head the company is that it might make any such closings more palatable to the Japanese. Two older plants in Toyota City that make cars for the Japanese market are considered prime candidates.

One thing that the company probably won’t do is follow the example of the Honda Motor Co. (which is changing its president in June also) and drop out of Formula One and other international auto racing competitions. The new president is known to be a racing enthusiast.
In other ways too, Akio Toyoda is what they call in Detroit, a “car man”. As a scion of the family he has spent years working in various departments of the company, and he is known to get his finger nails dirty. By all accounts he approaches his greatest tasks optimistically.

Says Michael Smitka, an expert on the Japanese car industry at Washington and Lee University: “Toyota faces tremendous challenges. As an organization it has not had to deal with a down cycle before, and this is not just a cycle in one country but in virtually all of its markets.”The company, he argues, invested heavily, possibly too heavily, in exports and failed to read the “bubble component” of the marketing correctly.

“But then who did?”

They also bet that the yen would stay weak, when last year it rose, with every appreciating yen costing the company about $200 million in lost profits.

Toyota must adjust to a rapidly changing market in the US. As the Detroit car makers shed their burdensome legacy costs of universal health care and pensions, Toyota will be losing some of its pricing power and cost advantage. But far from cheering on the demise of the big American assemblers, they have been arguing in favor of bailouts.

In March Jim Lentz, President of Toyota Motor Sales (US), met with the Obama Administration’s auto task force to argue that auto parts suppliers needed a bailout every bit as much as the assemblers. The reason: Japanese transplants depend on the same suppliers and would be hurt of too many went bankrupt.

Like all automakers Toyota faces monumental difficulties, but, unlike the American behemoths, they start from a position of significant financial reserves accumulated through years of rising profits. Last year the company reported a profit of more than $17 billion.


Monday, May 04, 2009

To Dump or not to Dump

If Japanese could choose for their next prime minister anyone in the world, they would undoubtedly pick US President Barack Obama or possibly Britain’s young Conservative Party leader David Cameron, anyone but the goofballs and re-treads that Japanese will have to choose between.

It is getting pretty late in the game to change leaders, but the dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Taro Aso of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DJP), among the public and party rank and file is palpable.

A general election must be held by September, though some say it might be extended even into October so long as it takes place within 30 days of the expiration of the Diet’s (parliament) five-year term on September 11. The betting is later rather than sooner.

For months the press has speculated on when Aso would call for the election – after the first stimulus bill? After the second? After the third? In fact, the prime minister has benefitted from prevarication, hoping that events would play into his hands. Events have.

On March 3 Ozawa’s private secretary, Takanori Okubo, was arrested for allegedly violating the campaign contributions law by accepting illegal contribution from the Nishimatsu Construction Co. He was indicted in late March. Suddenly, the DJP’ prospects of actually winning the general election, despite the LDP’s commanding majority, looked a lot dimmer.

So far Ozawa has refused to step down and turn the party leadership over to somebody else, complaining that he was the victim of a political vendetta orchestrated from the Tokyo prosecutor’s office. The DJP leadership has gone along with his decision, though without obvious enthusiasm.

One of these leaders, Seiji Maehara a former DJP party leader and now a vice president, said of Ozawa’s decision: “When a leader makes a decision, it should be respected. Ozawa has said his overriding goal is to ensure a change on power. I want to believe him.” It was not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Maehara said he wished to conduct a thorough internal poll, especially in key electoral districts about the party’s electoral prospects with Ozawa staying on as leader and potential prime minister. Independent polls unambiguously run against Ozawa staying on as leaderby factors of 60 to 70 percent.

Consequently, the Aso cabinet’s public approval ratings have been crawling back from their deep nadir around the first of the year. A recent poll by Kyodo News Service showed that Aso’s approval ratings stood at about 29.6 percent, hardly a ringing endorsement, but up 13 percentage points from before the Ozawa scandal broke.

The LDP also got a morale boost when its candidate won the governor’s race in Chiba prefecture, thought to be a sure thing for the DJP. Then it won in Akita prefecture too. The Democrats got some relief by winning the mayoral election in Nagoya, Japan’s third city. But even here Takashi Kawamura triumphed mainly through strenuous canvassing by bicycle. He did not invite any of the DJP bigwigs to campaign for him.

So far in recent months, Aso and other party leaders have managed to avoid major gaffes, though Japanese were not very surprised when the premier stumbled in his formal congratulations to the Emperor and Empress on their 50th wedding anniversary in April. He’s known to have trouble reading written Chinese characters.

On the other hand, there have been no further arrests or scandals in the DJP likely to spur Ozawa to quit. Ozawa was never directly implicated or even brought in for questioning by prosecutors. Fears that the scandal might explode to include bribery charges in connection with the construction company kickbacks have not materialized. The situation stalled with the Okuda indictment.

The furor in Japan over North Korea’s rocket launch in April was a godsend to both leaders. For Ozawa it pushed the campaign contribution allegations off of the front pages. For Aso it was a chance to display crisis management skills, moving anti-missile batteries and naval vessels around (although the government was embarrassed by several premature warnings of the launch).

To help restore its good image and put some daylight between it and the governing party, the DJP unveiled a plan to disallow Diet members from essentially passing their parliamentary seats to their offspring as a kind of inheritance, a common practice in Japan.

The Democratic proposal would change party rules to prohibit relatives from running in the same electoral district immediately following the death, retirement or defeat of a sitting member. The proposals would also change election laws to make it difficult for a son or daughter to “inherit” his parent’s support group.

About one third of the LDP members of the Diet occupy seats previously held by a father or grandfather. Aso and the previous two prime ministers are scions of former prime ministers. The Aso cabinet also includes a Nakasone and an Obuchi, both sons or daughters of former PMs.

However, ending “inherited” Diet seats seems to be one of those questions, such as moving the capital out of Tokyo, or capping the salaries of Wall street executives, that gets debated from time to time but is never acted upon. It does make a good talking point for those seeking retire Ozawa (who “inherited” his Diet seat).

While there is still an undercurrent of grumbling in about Aso in the governing party, it seems unlikely that the party will dump him. Among other things, nobody is confident that any among the 300 or so lower house members would make much of a difference with the voters if they did succeed him

It is much more likely that Ozawa will eventually see the light and retire. More than two months after his aide’s arrest, the public’s disapproval of his staying as leader has not abated, and his personal approval ratings are lower even than those of the prime minister.

If he does retire, it is more than likely that the Democrats will turn to Katsuya Okada, one of the DJP vice presidents and who heads the party committee looking into reforms – such as those connected with campaign contributions and “inherited seats” .

Meanwhile, Aso is busy keeping a high global profile. After flying to London for the Group of 20 meeting, he flew to China for a meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao, then on to Europe. In mid-May he welcomes Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and in July he attends the G-8 meeting. Ozawa has been keeping a very low profile.