Whitewashing Matsuoka

Others bloggers have provided thorough reviews of the press response to Matsuoka Toshikatsu’s suicide — see Adamu’s post at Mutantfrog and Matt Dioguardi’s at Liberal Japan — so I will not do so here.

Instead, I want to take issue with the Yomiuri Shimbun‘s editorial on Matsuoka’s death (and by extension Abe’s high praise for Matsuoka’s skills as an agriculture policy specialist), specifically what it says about Matsuoka’s role in agriculture policy.

Yomiuri comments:

High priority has been given to the promotion of the WTO and free trade agreements, and agriculture policies to reform domestic agriculture.

Prime Minister Abe appointed Mr. Matsuoka, a former MAFF bureaucrat, as minister of agriculture because of his command of the details of agricultural issues. He judged that if Matsuoka was the minister, he could stifle domestic opposition so to maintain progress on liberalization.

Moreover, in the agreement to commence negotiations on economic partnership agreement (EPA) with Australia, he valued the agriculture minister’s abilities.

In the age of globalization, what should Japanese agriculture do? His death comes at a critical moment.

The implication in this passage is that Matsuoka’s presence at the head of MAFF made a critical difference for the adaptation of Japanese agriculture to globalization, that he was a great free trader struggling against the forces of protection in Japanese agriculture.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Matsuoka’s activities as a norin zoku member would know that he has, if anything, been the leader of the forces arrayed against liberalization of agriculture. Aurelia George Mulgan describes incident after incident of Matsuoka — prior to his service as minister of agriculture — traveling abroad to harry WTO officials and trade representatives from other WTO members, trying to impress upon them the uniqueness of Japanese agriculture as grounds for protecting it. Defenders of Matsuoka might point to his efforts to promote Japanese agricultural exports, efforts that drew the support of former Prime Minister Koizumi — but promoting exports did not make Matsuoka a free trader, they made him a mercantilist of the basest sort, because he was hardly enthusiastic about the prospect of more liberal food imports. If he supported trade agreements, it was because they presented an opportunity for the government to redistribute funds to farmers — his supporters — who would purportedly be harmed by trade agreements. It is telling that one of Matsuoka’s major activities during the 1990s was participation in the LDP’s committee concerned with Uruguay Round countermeasures.

Matsuoka was similarly opportunistic as an environmentalist, which he came to realize was another way to direct funds to rural Japan; he could argue that support for farmers was critical to keeping Japan “green.”

If Matsuoka was an expert on the details of agriculture policy, it was because he spent so much time trying to figure out ways to direct more money to rural constituencies, resulting in more money for his campaign chest.

None of this is secret. It was all laid bare in Aurelia George Mulgan’s Power and Pork, which in some way reads like a record of the charges against Matsuoka from the span of his career.

Grief over a tragic death is no excuse for whitewashing Matsuoka’s past as protectionist Japanese agriculture’s best friend in Nagatacho.

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