George Bush helping Matsuoka?

George Bush, speaking to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, issued a challenge to Japan (and others):

Today, more than 100 countries have fully or partially opened their markets to U.S. beef. The objective of this administration, however, is to make sure that they’re better than partially opened, they’re fully opened, including the countries like Japan and Korea. We’re also working to open up markets that have still got a ban on our imports. In other words, this is an important part of our foreign policy. When I’m talking to leaders and they’ve got an issue with American beef, it’s on the agenda. I say, if you want to get the attention of the American people in a positive way, you open up your markets to U.S. beef. People understand that when it comes to being treated fairly in the world marketplace.

This might be just the thing to revive Japanese Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) Matsuoka Toshikatsu’s sagging political fortunes, giving him the opportunity to pose as the defender of Japanese consumers from disease-ridden American beef (a role he has relished playing since the beginning of his political career).

Of course, it may well be too late for Matsuoka to save himself. Mainichi reports that Kamiwaki Hiroshi, a graduate professor of law at Kobe Gakuin University and head of a citizen’s group called Political Funds Ombudsman, is preparing charges against Matsuoka for five years’ worth of false reporting by his support group, The Matsuoka Toshikatsu New Century Politics and Economics Association. Kamiwaki said: “As is expected, the agriculture minister has not satisfied his obligation to provide an explanation; this illegal issue must not be neglected. Efforts to solve this case in the Diet have stalled, so I think that he must be indicted and the facts made clear in a courtroom.” It is encouraging to see an NGO act independently to hold the government accountable. Stories like this suggest that there may be hope for Japan yet.

The question is whether Abe’s stalwart defense (not to mention appointment to the cabinet) of a senior LDP politician with a long history of political activities of dubious legality will have consequences for the LDP in next month’s local elections or July’s Upper House elections. I would like to think it will, but then the Japanese public seems to have high tolerance for corrupt dealings by the LDP.

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