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    Koizumi’s latest on the Yasukuni Shrine and Japan Post

    Prime Minister Koizumi delivered a few soundbites at a special meeting of the Lower House budgetary committee this morning. (I think he said these things this morning; the meeting is on NHK now, and I think it’s a simulcast.)

    About Chinese and Korean criticism of visits by Japanese officials to the Yasukuni Shrine, he said, “Any nation will feel the desire to pay respects to its war dead. Other nations should not be interfering based on whether they believe our ways of doing so are desirable.”

    Also, regarding the enshrinement of Class A war criminals at the shrine, Koizumi indicated that his view is that there is no problem because “‘one abhores the offense; one does not abhore the person’ are the words of China’s own Confucius.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard him trot out that one before. It’ll be interesting to hear the PRC’s reaction.

    Other remarks revolved around the proposal to privatize Japan Post. Koizumi stressed that “if the bill is rejected, it is impossible to know what will happen.” Regarding who would be held politically responsible if the bill were shot down, he remarked, “Is there any reason that (the cabinet) should resign en bloc? We will fulfill our responsibilities by seeing the bill through to approval; we have no expectation of its rejection.”

    So that’s that, for now. One reason questions about the privatization bill may carry something of a sting right now is that Koizumi has been criticized for giving the heave to two high-ranking bureaucrats who oppose it:

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision to remove two top bureaucrats who are vocal opponents of his postal services privatization plan has met with criticism from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Friday, with party members accusing Koizumi of acting like a tyrant.

    Koizumi, according to the sources, instructed Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso to remove Hiroshi Matsui, the ministry’s vice minister for policy coordination, and Hideo Shimizu, director of the postal services policy planning bureau.

    Another source revealed an incident in winter that foreshadowed the two officials’ removal.

    “Mr. Matsui, Mr. Shimizu, I’m counting on you both,” Koizumi told the two men, who were summoned to the Prime Minister’s Office on Feb. 18. The prime minister’s exhortation, while sounding like a request for cooperation, was actually a warning that meant “Don’t dare stand in my way, you guys,” according to an interpretation by a government source.

    One LDP member, a former official in the erstwhile Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, which is now part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, reacted strongly: “This is a reign of terror. Does anybody have the right to throw people out because they weren’t 100 percent behind their master?”

    Well, it’s true that one doesn’t want heads of state in democratic countries ramming through their pet little proposals against the will of the people. But let’s not forget that these two are bureaucrats–that is, appointees, and not elected officials. Enforcing accountability on bureaucrats in the various federal ministries and their entourage of semi-public corporations has been one of the biggest problems for reform-minded politicians, let alone their long-suffering constituents.

    Whether and how to privatize Japan Post have been debated up, down, around, and through by this point. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that, now that a proposal has gelled, two administrators who are staunchly against it should be told that there’s no role for them in implementing it. I understand the questions about morale, but I don’t think it’s possible to take control of a set of wide-ranging and lucrative services away from an organization without making it feel somewhat unloved.

    By the way, don’t feel too sorry for the two demoted men:

    Matsui is expected to remain a vice ministerial-level official, with his former post allocated to Kozo Takahara, vice minister for policy coordination and director of the international affairs department.

    Meanwhile, Shimizu will be demoted to director general for policy planning in charge of communications. Yasuo Suzuki, director general for policy planning, will take over the post.

    This will not help either’s career, of course, but given the power of bureaucrats in Japan–still, for all the noises about reform–both of them have decades of connections and influence to capitalize on.

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