JPRI Critique Vol. VIII No. 2 (February 2001)
Undemocratic Elections: East and West
by Steve Rabson

Bribing the Bushes
by Thomas Flannigan



Undemocratic Elections: East and West
by Steve Rabson

The term "democratic elections," used by United Nations organizations and human rights groups, was coined because all elections are not necessarily democratic. Elections in China and North Korea offer only one candidate for each office. Some South American countries hold elections with an approved slate of candidates in which voting is mandatory, with punishment for those who opt out. In the United States, where there is widespread finessing of what are already loophole-ridden campaign financing laws, the most recent presidential election shows that the candidate with the most votes can still lose.

Disappointment is often expressed from outside Okinawa and embarrassment from within when yet another candidate of the ruling parties wins an election. In Japan voting is voluntary, opposition candidates are on the ballot, and the candidate with the most votes wins. But serious questions arise as to whether recent elections held in Okinawa Prefecture were truly democratic. The issue is intimidation. Okinawa, Japan's poorest prefecture since it was established in 1879, depends now more than ever for its economic survival on subsidies and public works projects funded by the national government. Ignoring numerous proposals from economists and its own locally assigned officials that would give the prefecture a chance for healthy economic development, the Japanese government prefers to maintain this dependence as a means to secure acquiescence to the U.S. military presence. This strategy, carried over from the U.S. military occupation administration (1945-1972), is one of "the carrot and the stick," called "candy and the whip"(ame to muchi) in Japanese.

During the occupation, the U.S. Army funded essential services in Okinawa, such as water distribution, sewerage, electric power, and education, including financial aid for college students. In 1956, when Kamejiro Senaga, a member of the opposition party and a leader in the movement protesting U.S. land seizures for military bases, was elected mayor of Naha, the U.S. froze the city's bank deposits, effectively preventing road maintenance, garbage collection, and other essential services. In those days, a much larger sector of Okinawa's economy was dependent on military expenditures.

Twelve years later, facing widespread protests that were beginning to threaten the utility of American bases, U.S. occupation authorities reluctantly permitted the direct election of a "Chief Executive," the highest local civilian official in its administration who was formerly chosen with U.S. approval. Lieutenant General Ferdinand Unger, then "High Commissioner" of the occupation, said of his decision to permit the election, "I was not unmindful that such a change risked the election of a member of the opposition parties." He called the election a "palliative [that] might momentarily satisfy Okinawan aspirations and thereby give us more time in putting off the day when our freedom of military operations would be circumscribed." (Quoted in Rabson, Okinawa: Two Postwar Novellas, "Introduction," p. 25.)

During the ensuing election campaign, U.S. authorities spread the word that if opposition-party candidate and anti-base movement leader Chobyo Yara won, there would be massive layoffs of Okinawan civilians working on the bases. He did win by a comfortable majority over L.D.P. candidate Junji Nishime, and the U.S. not only carried out its threat of massive layoffs, but also canceled financial aid that had been promised to students in Okinawa scheduled to attend U. S. colleges where they had been accepted.

Today, in addition to funding subsidies and public works projects, the Japanese government offers billions of yen in "development packages" to areas "hosting" military bases or targeted for them. Also applying "the stick," the government has held up budget allocations for essential programs in Okinawa during election campaigns in which the location of U.S. bases was a major issue. While election opinion surveys show that only 25 percent of respondents cite military bases as the most important issue, 52 percent cite the economy. And, although it seems to have been less of a factor than usual in the most recent presidential election, similar polls in the U.S. show that Americans also tend to "vote their pocketbooks" ("It's the economy, stupid.") The difference is that, unlike in the U.S., where government economic policies such as nationwide tax and financial measures, tend to affect people's livelihoods more indirectly, economic survival in Okinawa depends on direct government programs and subsidies for the prefecture. Okinawans are thus, in a sense, held hostage for their votes, a situation that, at the very least, limits the possibilities for democratic elections.

STEVE RABSON is Associate Professor of Japanese at Brown University and is currently doing research in Osaka on the Okinawan community in Kansai. His latest book is Michael Molasky and Steve Rabson, eds., Southern Exposure: Modern Japanese Literature from Okinawa (University of Hawaii Press, 2000).



Bribing the Bushes
by Thomas Flannigan

Reading lots of newspapers is one of my unbreakable habits; there is always something of interest if you dig deep enough. And sometimes, you don't need to dig deeply at all. One morning in 1992, I wiped the sleep from my eyes to read the Daily Yomiuri and was stunned to see a photograph on the front page of Prescott Bush Jr., brother of then-President Bush and uncle of the new President George W. sitting in a conference room with Susumu Ishii. Nearly everyone in Japan and hardly anyone in the U.S. recognized Ishii, then allegedly head of the Inagawa-kai, one of the most powerful yakuza clans in Japan. The yakuza, Japan's organized crime syndicates, control everything from prostitution to gambling, and Ishii was one of the most powerful gangsters in Japan.

The accompanying article stated that Ishii and Bush had reached an agreement whereby Ishii arranged for payments to Bush of $250,000 per year for four years to provide "advice" on acquiring U.S. companies, including Quantum Access, a Houston software firm, and Management International Financing & Settlement in New York City. The article also stated that Ishii and Bush might have violated Japan's Foreign Exchange Control Law by not reporting the substantial payments. This was a scandal of major proportions.

However, Ishii died two days after the article was printed. Japanese newspapers reported he had died after "a long illness." But he didn't look too sick to me. Moreover, a video of the coronation ceremony when Ishii took the throne of the Inagawa-kai, made shortly before his death, was later shown on Japanese national television. Once again, Ishii looked pretty healthy. Many Japanese believe that Ishii was killed or forced to commit suicide to avoid embarrassing the man in the west wing.

The American media showed no interest in this story. The Wall Street Journal reported Prescott's lucrative contract only twice, in a tiny article buried in the back of the paper next to tedious statistics about hog futures. I am not aware of any press report questioning the propriety of the President's brother getting a million dollars from a famous yakuza gangster in exchange for what appeared to be little or no work. Prescott was hardly an expert at mergers and acquisitions, but he did all right with Ishii.

A year earlier, Jeb Bush was also in Tokyo for business purposes. The Asahi Evening News reported that Jeb gave a speech to the Diamond Realty Group at the Akasaka Prince Hotel, indicating how his personal contacts would make it easier for Japanese investors to buy American real estate. I was appalled. Here was the President's son referring to the influence he could use to smooth the way for Japanese purchases of American real estate, a sensitive trade issue then and now. Couldn't such a well-connected person make money without selling out his country?

Our new President George W. also has a soft spot in his heart for Japanese investment. When he was owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, he campaigned vociferously to allow Nintendo, the Japanese electronics giant, to purchase the Seattle Mariners baseball team. Japan has never allowed foreigners to buy its baseball teams and usually doesn't allow them to buy Japanese real estate either. The vote of the baseball owners was close, and it is no exaggeration to say that the Mariners might have remained in American hands had it not been for the personal crusade of George Bush. Bush made a killing when he sold the Texas Rangers, and he is still a popular man in Tokyo.

The Clinton Record

It would be unfair to paint the Bush family as creatures of Japan without considering the Clinton administration's record. Clinton campaigned in part on a platform of tough trade policies toward Japan, but he turned into a pussycat soon after he was elected. The Clinton cabinet read like a finishing school for Japanese lobbyists. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and U.S. Trade Representative ("USTR") Mickey Kantor earned huge fees representing Japanese interests. Brown was chief lobbyist for Japan Airlines, which is like lobbying for the Japanese government.

After Kantor resigned, Charlene Barshevsky succeeded him. Barshevsky's appointment touched off a storm of controversy due to her representation of foreign clients and governments, but the storm blew over, while the smell got worse. Autos and auto parts constitute the biggest item in Japan's huge trade surplus with the U.S., but with Barshevsky at the helm, we had a rudderless ship. Barshevsky's husband left his post with the Clinton Administration in August 2000, to work for Honda corporation, a company he had represented before joining the government. The press release indicated he would advise Honda on trade issues. This conflict of interest was too much even for Clinton, so Barshevsky recused herself from the upcoming auto negotiations with Japan and was replaced by minions who, like her, have no knowledge of the Japanese language. Barshevsky made it clear that she didn't want anyone in the USTR's office who could speak Japanese. But she sure understands Japanese power.

Japan's influence over U.S. political events is grounded in the ownership by Japanese financial institutions of a large percentage of the U.S. national debt in the form of Treasury bills. Estimates vary but many believe that Japanese financial institutions may own over one trillion dollars in Treasury bills. U.S. interest rates would soar and the economy would crash if Japanese companies acted in a concerted fashion, as they did in 1986 when the Reagan Administration briefly imposed trade sanctions against Japan.

Such economic reprisals are not necessary so long as U.S. policymakers are friendly toward Japan. During his years in the House of Representatives, Clinton's Ambassador to Japan, Tom Foley, was known as the Congressman from Osaka in some quarters due to his boundless enthusiasm for Japan. His wife has been employed in a think tank owned by Sumitomo. Once again, the Wall Street Journal ignored the story.

Perhaps the biggest sellout by the Clinton Administration involved Clinton's approval in September 2000, of Nippon Telephone and Telegraph's ("NTT") $5.5 billion acquisition of Verio Corporation, a company that controls a large portion of the backbone of the Internet. Objections came from two sources. The FBI protested the acquisition, arguing that it would compromise the security of the Internet, while a group of Republican Congressmen voiced the familiar protest that it was unwise to allow a crown jewel of American technology to fall into foreign hands. Moreover, Japan has refused to open its telecommunications market to the U.S. and charges exorbitant termination fees for calls placed to Japan. It also goes without saying that Japan would never allow such a high tech company to be sold to a foreign company, and the U.S. would never consider approving the sale of such a company to any other foreign country, including traditional allies such as England or France. But Japan's clout in an election year was too great for Clinton to ignore.

The Future

Bush's election was greeted with cheers in Tokyo. Policy adviser Lawrence Lindsay announced that the Bush Administration would stop nagging Japan about trade deficits so long as Japan continued to "provide capital" to the U.S. This is a green light for Japan to keep its markets closed to American goods. Just as important is the preservation of America's debtor status with Japan. Japan can influence or dictate American foreign policy by threatening concerted sales of U.S. Treasury Bills.

Japan can rest easy as George W. Bush settles into the White House amid escalating trade deficits with Japan. Tokyo has this base covered.

THOMAS FLANNIGAN is a Chicago-based attorney and a member of the Board of Advisers of JPRI. He is coauthor (together with his wife Ellen) of Tokyo Museums: A Complete Guide (Tuttle, 1993), and author of JPRI Critique 2:9 (October 1995) "Opening Up Japan to American Lawyers."


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