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    Minor desires turned to major needs

    Posted by Sean at 23:05, August 30th, 2009

    Still busy, busy, busy…but of course I can’t ignore the bit of news from Japanese electoral politics today. The following is the Nikkei graphic:

    ss09_top_graph

    The blue band is the ruling coalition, headed by the LDP. The red band is the opposition, headed by the DPJ. Look very closely, and you’ll see that one is larger. Or you can just look at the numbers.

    It was, of course, predicted that the LDP was going to get spanked in today’s Diet elections, but those are some sorry numbers even so. Voter turnout was high, too. The Nikkei has started reporting what The Australian is saying about the DPJ win:

    Influential Australian daily The Australian prominently announced on the front-page on 31 August the DPJ’s “landslide victory,” and it declared this change of administrations “an event on par with the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s post-war recovery.”

    And I’m sure we’ll be hearing that from a lot of the non-Japanese press in the next week or so. Whether it’s true, though, I’m not so sure. Voters are understandably angry with the LDP leadership, but there’s a lot about the System that you can’t reach through elected officials. That’s true everywhere, of course–legislators come and go, but functionaries remain, and they tend to know how to defend their territory. But it’s especially true in Japan. And Japan is a huge, rich country, and despite the economic troubles of the last two decades, there are a lot of people whose interests are served by the status quo and who have surely already started laying plans to keep Yukio Hatoyama and his crew from spoiling the party.

    But I doubt all the pressure against reform will come from recalcitrant old-timers. Hatoyama used Barack Obama’s “Change” mantra to fuel his campaign, and he’s likely to discover, as Obama has, that issues such as national defense and social welfare look very different when you actually have to govern. The Australian piece, according to the Nikkei, speculates that Japan will move toward more independence from the United States in diplomatic terms (while retaining its fast relationship with its Down Under neighbors, naturally). Hatoyama would undoubtedly like to, but if he tries, he’s likely to run smack up against obstacles called “China,” “Russia,” and “North Korea.” So what kind of change Japan will get is impossible to predict at this point, though it will be interesting to watch.

    One thing I can say: it’s nice to see the Japanese citizenry projecting boldness and vigor on the world stage. For the last twenty years, the Western media narratives have operated at two extremes: either the grin-and-bear-it Japanese were soldiering on through their economic malaise like helpless drones, or some sensationalizably freakish subculture (like hikikomori kids or people who hang out at manga/Internet cafes) represented the social meltdown that was just around the corner. At least, whatever the Hatoyama administration actually ends up doing, for the time being the story will rightly be one of voters using the democratic process to hold their underperforming leaders accountable.

    Added later: And of course I can’t post about a landslide victory and refer to Australia without yet again bringing in my favorite Olivia song (and see post title):


    Don’t expect much change in Japan, either

    Posted by Sean at 10:33, July 26th, 2009

    The DPJ has released a policy document to allay fears that, to put it bluntly, if it scores a majority in the Diet in next month’s elections it will screw things up because it doesn’t really know what it’s doing:

    The policy pamphlet will serve as the basis for Minshuto’s campaign manifesto for the election that many people expect will upset the balance of power.

    For example, Minshuto will no longer insist on the immediate end of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean to assist in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

    Minshuto has also backed down on its previous position concerning the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that Japan has with the United States concerning the U.S. presence in this country.

    Minshuto had long opposed the MSDF’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.

    The policy pamphlet also calls for the implementation of inspections of cargo ships under economic sanctions against North Korea called for by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

    The move is aimed at deflecting criticism from Prime Minister Taro Aso who roundly attacked Minshuto for failing to deliberate a bill that would have allowed for such inspection of cargo ships. The lack of deliberation led to the bill being scrapped.

    To alleviate concerns among officials of the U.S. government that a Minshuto administration would drastically alter relations with the United States, the policy pamphlet says the party will propose a revision to the SOFA with the United States.

    In the draft document, Minshuto sought to start a comprehensive revision of the SOFA.

    Hmmm…shifting away from pie-in-the-sky positions when the prospect of actually taking the reins of government forces pragmatism on you. A memory is stirring…something familiar-sounding…no, lost it. Won’t come. The DPJ is also planning to push up subsidies for farm-family income to 2011. I’m not sure whether that represents an attempt to combat the LDP’s traditional dominance outside urban areas or just the pro-bucolicism sentimentality that seems to stir hearts in every industrialized democracy.


    Aso dissolves lower house

    Posted by Sean at 23:29, July 21st, 2009

    Prime Minister Taro Aso has now dissolved the lower house of the Diet:

    Official campaigning will kick off Aug. 18, but politicians were already behaving as if the race had begun to determine whether Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) would gain control of government.

    In an unusual move, Aso first felt compelled to apologize for his recent flip-flops on policy as well as internal discord within the party.

    “My careless statements caused distrust among the public and hurt trust in the political sector,” Aso said at a news conference Tuesday. “I extend my deep apology.”

    Earlier on Tuesday, Aso apologized at a meeting of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers for his statements and the woeful performance of LDP-backed candidates in recent local elections.

    Aso said at the news conference he would make three pledges to voters.

    He promised to achieve recovery in the domestic economy. He also vowed to assuage growing concerns about jobs, old age and child-rearing and pledged to comprehensively reform the taxation system, reduce the number of Diet members and central government bureaucrats and eliminate the controversial practice of amakudari.

    Bonus points to the Asahi translator for thinking to use assuage there. (“Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” was always one of my favorite hymns growing up, though the post-piety me can’t help thinking that was more due to Haydn’s rousing melody than to the text. Still, assuage is a cool word.)


    どう日本は変わるのか

    Posted by Sean at 13:44, July 14th, 2009

    The tsuyu rainy season is ending and high summer beginning in Japan, and Atsushi as always has sent me a few pictures of seasonal flowers to keep me attuned to the changes. We used to go see them together when I was in Tokyo. This is a lotus from Sankeien Park in Yokohama (which is near the setting of the opening scene of Ringu, for those who know it.)

    lotus from atsushi

    Now that we’ve established an image of tranquility, we can move on to the restiveness at hand.

    For those who haven’t noticed, electoral politics in Japan are in the middle of a shake-up. The LDP got spanked hard in the Tokyo Metro Assembly election a weekend ago, and Prime Minister Taro Aso is finally calling the snap election people have been trying to press on him.

    They decided the election will be officially announced on Aug. 18.

    The prime minister, who wanted to dissolve the lower house this week, held discussions with senior officials of the ruling bloc to that end.

    However, the prime minister apparently was not able to push back strong demands from many ruling bloc members opposing an early dissolution.

    At a government-ruling bloc meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office later, Aso apologized for the poor coalition result in Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and expressed his wish to have important bills passed through the Diet.

    “I’m very sorry [about the result of the metropolitan election],” he said. “I want important bills, such as the bill to revise the Organ Transplant Law and the bill for implementing North Korea-related cargo inspections [to be passed by the Diet].”

    The prime minister said he would dissolve the lower house once he saw how the deliberations over these bills would go after the Democratic Party of Japan presented a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet.

    Naoto Kan, who’s been back as acting leader of the DPJ, is trying to play Sunday’s results up as not only disaffection with the LDP/Shin-Komeito but also newfound confidence in the DPJ:

    In the election Sunday, Minshuto added 20 seats to bring its total to 54 in the 127-seat assembly.

    The LDP lost 10 seats and ended up with 38, the lowest since the party was formed and only tied in the 1965 election. New Komeito took 23 for the coalition’s combined total that fell short of the majority.

    Minshuto’s victory also snapped the LDP’s 40-year streak of being the largest party in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly.

    “It’s a result of higher trust in Minshuto, beyond the Tokyo administration,” Naoto Kan, Minshuto’s acting president, said on an NHK TV program Sunday night.

    Maybe. The Japanese are certainly unhappy with much of the status quo, and they may see the DPJ (called in these articles by a transliteration of its Japanese name, 民主党 [minshutou]: “democratic party”) as genuinely having a better policy platform. I’m not really sure it goes quite that deep, though. That’s not because Japanese are especially ignorant about “the issues”; rather it’s because they accurately understand their system as one that requires equilibrium. The LDP just hasn’t had enough pushback, and with the post-Koizumi parade of milquetoast administrations, it itself no longer represents a force in the Diet that effectively pushes back against the bureaucrats. And the ever-accruing list of scandals—related to political contributions, bid-rigging, and consumer products—gives citizens much less reason to believe that tolerating wheeling and dealing as usual is worth it in exchange for stability.

    That said, it’s disingenuous to talk about Diet elections as if they were United States congressional elections. The LDP and DPJ have differences in their declared policy platforms, sure, but the legislature and cabinet are limited in their ability to put them into practice. That’s not because the bureaucrats “actually run everything,” as is sometimes reductively claimed (I’ve possibly said so myself). It’s because the Diet is just one competing power center among several, which do include the unelected officials in the federal ministries. It’s helpful to keep that in mind when reading things like the last sentence below, from a Mainichi editorial:

    Through the uncommon practice of making a pre-announcement of the House of Representatives’ dissolution, Aso probably wanted to claim his authority to dissolve the Lower House, with the aim of silencing calls within the LDP for him to step down. Surprisingly, however, such calls have not been tempered. Within the party, some are pressuring the prime minister to step down prior to the dissolution of the Lower House, while others who are not going as far as calling for the prime minister to be replaced are proposing a “separation of LDP president and prime minister.” Under this plan, the LDP president would be replaced so that the party can embark on the next general election with a new frontman, who can then be nominated for prime minister after the election if the ruling bloc wins.

    It feels inappropriate for the prime minister — the very person who initiated the dissolution of the Lower House in order to directly ask the public if they support him — to be replaced right after the election. The public has become distrustful of the irresponsibility of a party that has repeatedly replaced its leaders, as if changing its facade could somehow fool the public. Party members convinced that the election cannot be won with Aso at the top of the party would more easily earn the understanding and acceptance of the public if they withdrew from the LDP and formed a new party.

    The opposition bloc including the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) submitted a non-confidence motion against the Cabinet to the Lower House and a censure motion against the prime minister to the Upper House on Monday. For all practical purposes, the long election race has already begun. A benefit of having the general election in late August is the fact that voters will have the time to scrutinize the policies proposed by different parties.

    The various political parties should hasten to compose and announce their manifestos. Prime Minister Aso and the ruling bloc, who have continued to evade voters’ choices, must avoid any tricks and fight this election fair and square with their policies. Hopefully, opposition parties will come up with concrete manifestos that detail what kind of changes we can hope to see in Japan with a change in government.

    There’s certainly more up for grabs than there would have been twenty years ago, and I have no doubt that DPJ legislators would (will) come into power expecting to be able to make substantive changes. But as with the Obama administration here in the U.S., it’s easier to embrace the idea of change than to put it into practice when the constraints of reality have to be factored in. Even Koizumi, who had the ideal balance of insider networks within the LDP and maverick cachet among fed-up voters, had to compromise again and again on reforms. The snap election promises the most entertaining campaign season since 2005, but it remains to be seen how the throw-the-bums-out energy might translate into long-term systemic shifts.


    Test anxiety

    Posted by Sean at 13:29, July 5th, 2009

    Claudia Rosett has a one-question quiz up about the DC reaction to the DPRK’s missile firings yesterday:

    The above phrase — “not helpful” — is from a U.S. State Department Spokesman, describing:

    a) A staffer who forgot to turn off the coffeepot

    b) A staffer who spelled Secretary of State Clinton’s first name with only one “l”

    c) A cloakroom attendant who lost the spokesman’s coat

    d) North Korea’s in-America’s-face test-firing, on July 4th, of yet another round of missiles, following illicit missile tests earlier this week, in May and in April (in that case a long-range rocket), plus a sanctions-busting nuclear test in May


    花火

    Posted by Sean at 17:53, July 4th, 2009

    Isn’t that sweet? Pyongyang has decided to put on a fireworks show to help us celebrate July 4th:

    On the afternoon of 4 July, the DPRK fired off four more ballistic missiles from the vicinity of Gidaeryeong, Gangwon-do, on the Sea of Japan in the country’s southeast. Taken together with the three fired during the morning hours, the total fired sequentially was seven. All missiles fell into the Sea of Japan, but none appeared to have reached Japanese territorial waters. The government of South Korea has captured evidence of preparation to fire the mid-range Nondong missile, the striking distance of which includes Japan, and Japan and Korea are on alert for still further firings.

    Added later: Transliteration of name of launch site corrected thanks to Amritas.


    寄付金

    Posted by Sean at 11:32, July 3rd, 2009

    The MOF has been looking into some of the projects Tokyo’s funding, and—surprise!—there’s waste:

    The Finance Ministry said Friday it found wasteful or inefficient spending for all 57 government projects it has examined, including 11 projects that simply are not needed.

    The 57 projects, worth 2.1 trillion yen, are among 73 projects at 14 ministries and agencies that the Finance Ministry is examining this fiscal year concerning budget allocations.

    “A thorough checking is done when the budget is formed, but some of the wasted spending turns up due to differences in value judgment,” Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano said at a news conference Friday. “We will thoroughly remove the obvious wasteful spending.”

    The ministry will ask the Defense Ministry to find a more efficient way to buy weapons and other equipment.

    Inefficient spending was found in all eight projects involving contracts with outside businesses.

    The Finance Ministry will order corrections to the Fisheries Agency’s project to research next-generation fishing boats because it may unfairly restrict entries of new business operators in the project.

    The ministry said its fiscal 2008 examination led to savings of 32.4 billion yen, which was carried over to the current fiscal year’s budget.

    In a weirdly complementary way, dead and non-existent people have been wasting their money, too…on donations to the DPJ (the major opposition party).

    Yukio Hatoyama, president of opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), on Tuesday acknowledged fabricated donations and apologized.

    Dead people and people who had never made political donations were listed as individual donors in his political fund reports, Hatoyama said.

    Hatoyama’s state-funded aide in charge of accounting used part of the opposition leader’s own money for the nonexistent donations. The aide did so to conceal his failure to collect donations from individuals, Hatoyama said.

    Hatoyama claimed the aide, who had served the politician for over 20 years, acted on his own without the knowledge of the Minshuto chief.

    Even so, Hatoyama’s political fund reports clearly contained false information about donations in violation of the Political Fund Control Law. Hatoyama bears a heavy responsibility for the wrongdoing.

    Between 4 million yen and 7 million yen of Hatoyama’s money was diverted every year for the misdeed.

    Although he is known for his immense personal wealth, Hatoyama’s annual income is less than 30 million yen, according to data published Tuesday.

    Hatoyama entrusted more than 10 million yen to his aide to cover his personal expenses. But was the money really Hatoyama’s? Or did it contain illegal donations whose sources had to be kept secret? There are many other questions that remain unanswered.

    Happily, there’s always a new dirty-money scandal to wick away attention from the current one. The latest, fortunately for the DPJ, involves the ruling coalition (as it usually does, of course, since it’s the LDP and its partners that have power to sell). Indeed, it involves a new cabinet member:

    The LDP’s local chapter in the 10th constituency in Chiba Prefecture did not report 200,000 yen donated by a local civil engineering company in its political funding report for fiscal 2005.

    While admitting the negligence in the financial records and that he had been personally acquainted with the company president, Hayashi denied personally receiving any funds.

    The problem was covered in the July 12 issue of the Sunday Mainichi weekly magazine, in which the 56-year-old president of the civil contractor revealed that he had been footing the accommodation and meal costs for Hayashi’s secretary under his own name, in a bid for Hayashi’s assistance in securing a Haneda Airport project contract.

    “It’s nothing but fraud. They just took money and gave us no contract,” said the president in another interview with the Mainichi Shimbun Thursday.

    JPY200000 is only about USD2000, so we’re not talking huge amounts of money here. I do like, however, the contractor’s bald-faced admission that he was trying to buy a government contract and froth of righteous indignation that it didn’t work.


    Refuge of the roads

    Posted by Sean at 11:07, June 29th, 2009

    This Asahi story (Japanese here) announces a major development:

    For the first time in Japan’s corruption-tainted, money-wasting highway construction industry, competition has arisen over contracts for an expressway project.

    Three expressway operators–East Nippon Expressway Co. (E-Nexco), Central Nippon Expressway Co. (C-Nexco) and Metropolitan Expressway Co. (Shutoko)–have applied to the land ministry for contracts to build a new section of the Tokyo Gaikan Expressway.

    The competition is expected to finally make expressway construction and maintenance more cost-efficient.

    Previously, the government had ordered one public expressway operator, including the mammoth Japan Highway Public Corp. (JH), to construct expressways.

    But JH came under heavy fire for bid-rigging scandals and other antitrust allegations.

    After JH and other related public organizations were privatized in 2005, private expressway operators were allowed to seek government contracts for expressway construction projects.

    E-Nexco, C-Nexco and Shutoko all emerged from the privatization process.

    The Japanese story contains this sentence, though:

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism will from here on be choosing the main operator based on its comprehensive assessments of, for each company, the amount of costs it will bear and its technological capabilities; but it has not been decided whether to use competitive bidding or a no-bid contract.

    The English version leaves off the no-bid part, but IIRC it affects how competitive the process actually is because it requires less transparency. The government could still award the contract to the one that’s best at string-pulling and back-scratching, not necessarily the one that seems to offer the best deal for the public. Well, that could happen with open bidding, too, probably, but the competitors would seem to have more maneuvering room.


    Realpolitik

    Posted by Sean at 13:41, June 26th, 2009

    John Opie links to this op-ed in The Japan Times, which is about America’s new incoherent Asia policy. John summarizes it this way:

    [I]t is nice to see the recognition that US foreign policy under President Bush was understood abroad to have an overarching geopolitical framework…

    Or perhaps, more exactly, a massive focus on China to the exclusion of most other countries there. This is, I think, indeed a problem: India is in so many ways the more “natural” partner for the US, if one ignores the massive Chinese purchases of US treasury bonds.

    Unfortunately, the Obama Administration apparently thinks that China is the only country that matters: this means, in classic liberal wonk fashion, that the other countries will, for the most part be simply ignored or put on the back burner.

    Japan and India are, basically, the losers in the Great Game as it is being played out in Washington. The new Ambassadors to both countries? Political rewards for the faithful. The new Ambassador to India is, to quote, an “obscure former Congressman Timothy Roemer”; the new Ambassador to Japan is “a low-profile Internet and biotechnology lawyer, John Roos”. Neither have any real connections to these countries, and join the long list of US Ambassadors whose claim to fame is the ability to generate campaigning money and organize the party faithful or receive their Ambassadorships as part of some political deal involving others.

    The original op-ed, written by a fellow at what looks like a think tank in India, gives more detail:

    China’s expanding naval role and maritime claims threaten to collide with U.S. interests, including Washington’s traditional emphasis on the freedom of the seas. U.S.-China economic ties also are likely to remain uneasy: America saves too little and borrows too much from China, while Beijing sells too much to the U.S. and buys too little. Yet, such is its indulgence toward Beijing that Washington seeks to hold Moscow to higher standards than Beijing on human rights and other issues, even though it is China that is likely to mount a credible challenge to America’s global pre-eminence.

    The new U.S.-China-Japan trilateral re-emphasizes Washington’s focus on China as the key player to engage on Asian issues. Slated to begin modestly with dialogue on nontraditional security issues before moving on to hard security matters, this latest trilateral is being billed as the centerpiece of Obama’s Asia policy. Such is its wider significance that it is also touted as offering a new framework for deliberations on North Korea to compensate for the stalled six-party talks.

    Despite its China-centric Asia policy, the Obama team, however, has not thought of a U.S.-China-India trilateral, even as it currently explores a U.S.-China-South Korea trilateral. That is because Washington now is looking at India not through the Asian geopolitical framework but the subregional lens — a reality unlikely to be changed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming stop in New Delhi six months after she paid obeisance in Beijing. While re-hyphenating India with Pakistan and outsourcing its North Korea and Burma policies to Beijing, Washington wants China to expand its geopolitical role through greater involvement even in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    It is shortsighted of the Obama team to lower the profile of India and Japan in America’s Asia policy. Tokyo may be ceding political capital and influence in Asia to Beijing, and India’s power might not equal China’s, but Japan and India together can prove more than a match. The Japan-India strategic congruence with the U.S. is based as much on shared interests as on shared principles.

    It would be wonderful if China made the transition to a stable, peaceable democracy full of contented and prosperous citizens. But that hasn’t happened yet. It would be madness to snub China, but it’s also of questionable sanity to pretend that it’s going to be a reliable partner in the way Japan has been and India has been becoming. Of course, the cold-shouldering of Japan began months ago. At that point, it was difficult to tell whether it was Japan as a strategic partner or just Aso as a damaged-goods politician that was being held at a distance. It’s looking more like the former.


    温度差

    Posted by Sean at 14:51, June 24th, 2009

    The Yomiuri reports that an amendment to the FY 2010 defense budget may scotch existing plans to relocate our Futenma base on Okinawa:

    A key U.S. congressional committee has added an amendment to the fiscal 2010 defense budget that would make it hard to realize an agreement reached by the Japanese and U.S. governments over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

    Japan and the United States have already agreed the facility will be relocated to the shoreline off Camp Schwab in Nago, in the prefecture.

    The amendment says the U.S. defense secretary should not give its approval to the alternative facility as long as it fails to comply with minimum flight safety requirements.

    The office of Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, who proposed the amendment, told The Yomiuri Shimbun that the alternative facility under the current plan contravenes safety standards on the following points:

    — The runways are too short.

    — A school, Okinawa National College of Technology, is located nearby.

    — There are obstacles, such as utility poles, along the flight path.

    As a result, Abercrombie has stated that Camp Schwab is not an appropriate candidate for the alternative facility and that a new transfer location should be sought.

    A Japanese government source said, “The content of this amendment suggests the transfer to the alternative facility agreed by Japan and the United States won’t be permitted.”

    The relocation of the base has been a sticking point for years.

    *******

    There’s been an ongoing story about 7-Eleven Japan and one of the downsides to its now-legendary distribution system for prepared food, and the Mainichi has a pretty comprehensive piece on its English site:

    Seven-Eleven Japan Co. announced Tuesday that the company would help cover the costs of unsold food currently borne entirely by individual convenience stores, but franchises said the move was not enough.

    The industry giant’s headquarters will cover 15 percent of the cost of unsold items such as sandwiches and bento boxed lunches at franchise stores beginning in July. The company is the first major convenience store chain to take on part of such costs.

    “Franchises are worried about wasting food, but also that if they don’t order enough, they will run out of stock, causing trouble for their customers and hurting business,” said Seven-Eleven Japan President Ryuichi Isaka at a news conference Tuesday.

    In the wake of the Seven-Eleven announcement, it appears possible the practice will spread to the entire industry, where shifting losses, and the responsibility for the disposal of large amounts of food, onto franchises is common. Perhaps the era of forcing major expenses onto franchises while the corporate headquarters racks up profits is nearing an end. However, as central support for franchises increases, differences in corporate strength between convenience store companies will likely widen.

    In a standard franchise contract, judgment regarding orders of food items such as boxed lunches is left up to franchise owners and they also bear the total burden of losses from unsold items. However, stores that reduce orders run the risk of regularly selling out and leaving their shelves empty, dealing a blow to the business model convenience stores are based on.

    One way to move unsold stock is to reduce prices, but Seven-Eleven Japan had a policy against discounting. However, the company was ordered to eliminate that policy Monday by the Japan Fair Trade Commission, which could spur Seven-Eleven franchises to begin reducing food item prices to avoid having leftovers and the losses they entail.

    Like a lot of people in Tokyo, I worked within a five-minute walk of a good half-dozen convenience stores, and many of the 7-Eleven prepared-food offerings were, at least at first, markedly better than what you got from its competitors. (The nearby am-pm was horrible when I first started at my old company, though it cleaned up a lot, both literally and figuratively, several years ago.) They weren’t home or restaurant quality, but they were pretty much as good as train-station bento. There was a great deal written about 7-Eleven Japan some years ago during its ascendancy, largely because it was one of the few enterprises wowing Westerners after the fashion of the old Japan, Inc., era. But of course, you can’t predict inventory turnover perfectly, especially for something as whim-dependent as what people feel like eating for lunch once they pull up to the refrigerator case and have to pick something.

    *******

    The Nikkei says that China is agreeing in principle to uphold the draft UNSC resolution on North Korea:

    On 24 [June], the Chinese government opened individual meetings in Beijing with both U.S. and Japanese governments, and they were in accord on adopting the direction of upholding the sanction on the United Nations Security Council against North Korea, which had pushed brazenly forward with a second round of nuclear testing. It took the position of non-recognition of North Korea’s possession of nuclear capability and of applying concerted pressure, but it also stressed the importance of dialogue. On pulling together for cargo inspections of vessels entering or leaving North Korea, China is still cooler than Japan, the U.S., and South Korea; and it left unclear how far it would go along the path of “pressure.”