Asia’s many legal systems

This just came out: an interesting survey regarding Asian legal systems. It was structured as a poll of regional corporate executives, and sought to find out which systems are perceived as the easiest to do business within.

In descending order, with 1 being the best score and 10 being the worst:

1. Hong Kong (1.45)
2. Singapore (1.92)
3. Japan (3.50)
4. South Korea (4.62)
5. Taiwan (4.93)
6. Philippines (6.10)
7. Malaysia (6.47)
8. India (6.50)
9. Thailand (7.00)
10. China (7.25)
11. Vietnam (8.10)
12. Indonesia (8.26)

No real surprises for anyone who’s familiar with these countries. But here’s a quick rundown of comparative Asian law to accompany the list:

Hong Kong and Singapore both retained the common law which applied to them when they were English colonies. The systems are so similar that Hong Kong and Singaporean solicitors can become qualified as English solicitors by taking a short transfer exam on professional conduct. The efficiency and transparency of these systems are key reasons for Hong Kong and Singapore’s popularity as international financial centers: contracts are generally enforceable, courts are generally predictable, and things work more or less as they would work in London or New York.

Japan built a civil law system in the late 1800s based on the Napoleonic Code as it had developed in France and Germany. Korea was subject to Japanese law during the colonial period, and while they carefully replaced the Japanese statutes with “native” statutes upon independence, South Korean law is still very close to Japanese law. The Republic of China apparently intended to develop its own civil law during the early 20th century, but was so preoccupied with other matters during its early history that it ended up copying Japan’s system instead. So all three systems are very similar to each other, and share common elements with the law of continental Europe (such as extensive codification and minimized judicial discretion).

The Philippines governs itself through a mishmash of Spanish and American law: family, property and contract matters are governed by Spanish-style rules, while constitutional, commercial and litigation matters are governed by American-style rules. Malaysia and India both follow English common law, with religious law (such as Islamic sharia) applying to family matters. All three countries suffer a similar basic problem: although their legal systems are based on good models, they are quite dysfunctional in practice due to corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency.

Thailand’s strong monarchy managed to keep its legal system fairly independent, but like Japan, Thailand tapped European experts to help write its statute books, so it ended up with a French-style civil law system. Although the system isn’t bad, it remains subject to the will of the monarchy or whomever else happens to be in control of the country at any given time, which isn’t very reassuring to people doing business there.

China is something of a basket case these days, operating under an intricate collection of statutes from different eras. The Republic of China adopted Japanese law, as stated above, but the Communists threw out these rules upon taking control of the mainland in the 1940s, and introduced a close copy of Soviet law. Since the 1980s, though, the National People’s Congress has overwritten most of China’s Soviet law with new statutes governing property, contracts and other basic private legal matters. Many of these are so vague that their practical application falls to bureaucratic discretion. Wikipedia has a chunky but interesting writeup on the subject which could use further development by experts.

Vietnam and Indonesia, at the bottom of the rankings, formally still follow Napoleonic legal systems introduced by their colonial powers (France and the Netherlands respectively), but in practice the rules are only enforced when the government is in the right mood.

Aso gives the first interesting speech in postwar Diet history — media overjoyed

While the financial turmoil has largely outcrowded domestic political news today, the reaction to Taro Aso’s speech to open the Diet session was one of pure, ecstatic excitement among some media outlets (except for the killjoys at the Asahi of course). Just to give you a taste of the ebullience, let me quote the Nikkei:

Let’s hear the Ozawa’s response to Aso’s unconventional speech

Prime Minister Taro Aso gave his first policy speech at a joint session of the Diet. The speech was unconventional — not only did he harshly criticize the DPJ’s actions in the Diet, he questioned the DPJ on issues such as the passage of the fiscal 2008 supplemental budget. The speech took the form of a declaration of war against the DPJ and gave the strong impression that the decisive battle of the next Lower House elecion is near.

It was almost exactly one year ago that former PM Fukuda gave his own first policy speech, in which he took a more relaxed stance as he called for dialogue with the opposition parties to deal with a Diet in which separate parties control each chamber. .Aso’s speech was a shart contrast, and we look forward to hearing DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa’s “response.”

The PM flatly stated that the DPJ’s handling of the last ordinary Diet session “had a consistent attitude of putting politics first and the people’s lives second or third.” He then went further, noting that the DPJ should put forth rules for forming consensus and questioning, “Is the DPJ ready to do that?”

… For the PM himself to use his policy speech to question the opposition parties’ handling of Diet affairs is extremely uncommon.

PM speeches such as the opening policy speech typically take care to mention all the policy initiatives of the various ministries. But Aso eschewed this in favor of a fresher Aso-style address. His determination to take the mantle of administration was clear.

They go on to moan about a lack of specifics and hoped to see them in his party’s election manifesto. They had not a word to say about how his speech was almost totally inappropriate — the point of opening the Diet session like that is so the government can explain itself, not the opposition parties (as the Asahi notes, the tactic may be to try and dissolve the lower house using DPJ intrasigence as an excuse)..

But they have a point.  I watched the speech, and when you can hear him over the jeers of the opposition party Aso actually sounds like a human being. The mere fact that he spoke as if there was some life left in him was what made it truly unconventional and no doubt got the media’s attention. It might not save him come election time, but Aso should be proud that he gave one of the best speeches in recent Diet history.

Internet installation in Japan

I just moved this past Sunday from a crummy and tiny, but cheap and decently located apartment into a less convenient but far, far bigger and nicer actual house. NaturallyIwanted Internet access ASAP so I placed an order for DSL the following day. Japan is well known for excellent Internet service, particularly for low priced and extremely fast (as in 100mbps) fiberoptic service, but fiber is only available for an apartment if the building has first been wired. Therefore, like the first time I lived in an apartment in Japan (2006-7) DSL was my only option.

Setup of DSL takes almost exactly one month. First you place the order, then a couple of weeks later the modem is delivered by parcel, and then a week or two after that the installation guy comes from NTT to check your line and flip on the service. If, as in most apartments, there is already an NTT phone line, this is really all they do-and yet it still takes an entire month for someone to come and do it-and this is not due to a particular backlog, but because of a set four-week schedule.

Now that I’m in a house I can get fiber, which is way, way faster than DSL, for the same basic price, and includes a deal with 5 months free and some cash back in a few more months. I put in the order on the 20th, 10 days ago, and was given an installation appointment of October 3, or about two weeks from the date of order. Today the installer guys came by to do the outdoors portion of the work.

So, why is it that installation of a fiber optic line to a house can be accomplished two weeks from the date of order, while DSL takes four weeks, despite the fact that the fiber installation is multiple orders of magnitude more expensive and time consuming?

Interview with the Japanese PM

BBC reporter Chris Hogg has a great first person account of what it was actually like to interview PM Fukuda.

The reason, I am told, is that here the politicians do not actually matter. The country is run by the bureaucrats – the middle managers.

Scripted interview

I was at first a little sceptical of this claim, until I went to the prime minister’s office to interview the previous incumbent, Yasuo Fukuda.

The problem with these kind of encounters is that Japanese civil servants are always terrified that their man might put a foot wrong. They try to leave nothing to chance.

Continue reading Interview with the Japanese PM

Aso cabinet should remember FSA’s success

Aso’s appointment of arch-conservative Shoichi Nakagawa as both minister of finance AND minister of state for financial services might seem, well, natural to the uninitiated. They’re both financial, aren’t they? For his part, PM Taro Aso has called the decision “more functional than dealing with [financial issues such as the Lehman bankruptcy] separately.”

Functional it may be, but I have my doubts that moving financial regulation back to the finance ministry will prove productive. Independent, prudent, and transparent financial regulations are part of what has allowed Japan’s financial sector to reap the benefits of late 90s deregulations and attract a base of foreign investors. That Japan has escaped the worst of the recent financial meltdown is a testament to the Financial Services Agency’s competence to regulate without the guiding hand of an all-powerful finance ministry. The Nikkei editorial board shares my concerns and has called any aims at reuniting fiscal policy with direct finance industry oversight “extremely problematic.” 

As FujiSankei Business-i explains, the initial decision to separate financial administration and law enforcement was taken in 1991 when Nomura Securities was found illegally compensating clients for stock investment losses. The Financial Services Agency was created later as the stand-alone financial industry regulator when the finance ministry itself saw its credibility devastated by corruption scandals. Currently, financial matters are divided thusly: FSA/SESC are the finance industry regulators, the Bank of Japan is an independent entity responsible for maintaining liquidity and monitoring inflation, and the finance ministry, as keeper of the treasury, has a more limited direct role and keeps an eye on exchange rates and participates in international meetings.
The arrangement appears to work well, except it is partially incompatible with international norms. The G7 meeting of finance ministers, for example, is attended only by Japan’s finance minister, despite his portfolio not extending to financial industry regulations (at the top of the current agenda). Predictably, an anonymous source in the finance ministry welcomes this turn of fortune as it represents a possible restoration of powers, regardless of Aso’s insistence that he chose people based on their dedication to “national interest” and not their ministry’s interest.
In his first post-appointment press conference, Nakagawa gave a somewhat muddled explanation mentioning that while he understands the debate of 10 years ago, fiscal and monetary policy are “two sides of the same coin” and should be handled together in “delicate” times such as these. 
As I mentioned above, on the face of it this doesn’t even look that bad. But getting financial regulation out from under MOF’s thumb has been an important step forward to achieving more normal financial services in this country. The ministry of finance was for decades the symbol of Japan Inc, the comprehensive term for the elite consensus that sustained Japan as a development state. But those days are over, and Japan has been in the process of adopting a more “mature” economy, a part of which was the creation of the FSA.
I have not made a comprehensive review of all the new government’s comments, but so far I have seen zero justification except the need to have someone responsible for financial industry regulation at the G7 finance ministers meeting. I hope they keep it limited to that. 
The FSA has established a reputation as tough but fair in the minds of the industry and the new administration, if it does get a chance to govern, would do well to respect that. 

Language continues to be as much of an issue in Taiwan

5:26pm, 7 December 2007. Image from
5:26pm, 7 December 2007. Image from

Rectification of names by the new administration of the Taiwanese (ROC) government continues. The blog David on Formosa managed to get several snapshots of the old slogan over the entrance to the square surrounding Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, which was a reference to CKS’s chosen name for himself (Zhongzheng), and then followed up a few months later with some photos showing that the Hall itself had in fact been returned to its original name (i.e. CKS Memorial Hall) after a brief period of renaming as Democracy Memorial Hall under the Chen Shui-bian administration. As a comprimise, the KMT Ma Ying-jiu administration accepted keeping the new name of the square, which today is still labeled 自由廣場 (Liberty Square), while returning the old name of the Hall itself.

During my recent 3 week trip to Taiwan, I kept meaning to stop by the Hall, but simply never had the time. I did notice, however, the new “Liberty Sqaure” signs while driving past it. I also happened to be in Taiwan around the time that Taiwan Post, former Chunghwa Post, was again being renamed to Chungwha Post. I actually passed by one post office which just said “______ Post”, with a big empty space where the first word of the name should be. Unfortunately, my camera was in my bag at the time.

At the same time, there has apparently been another controversy over whether to use the name Taiwan or China, this time in a particularly comical place-the nation’s bird watching association.

The renaming of BirdLife International’s Taiwan chapter from Wild Bird Federation Taiwan to the Chinese Wild Bird Federation has caused an uproar among some of Taiwan’s bird lovers, with the founding president of the Wild Bird Society of Penghu, Lin Chang-hsing (林長興), saying that he will call for members to resign from the Chinese Wild Bird Federation.

Apart from refusing to pay yearly membership fees to the Chinese Wild Bird Federation, Lin said he would invite fellow bird enthusiasts to set up a new federation for wild birds using the words “Taiwan” or “Taiwanese.”

There are also at least two more serious developments that have made the news recently though. First is a decision by a Geneva, Switzerland court declaring that Taiwan (ROC) “is an eligible plaintiff in the case on the grounds that it possesses all the elements of statehood and that its government holds and effectively exercises sovereignty over its territory.” While I believe that this does not necessarily have any effect on formal diplomatic recognition by the Swiss government, it certainly seems like it could open the way for it. And most significantly, the court simply recognizes that Taiwan/ROC is a state, without particularly caring what it is called, or about anything related to the “one China” issue. This seems to mean that the Swiss court has effectively opted for dual recognition of China/PRC and Taiwan/ROC as separate and independent states. As a further wrinkle, the actual case involved a lawsuit filed by Taiwan/ROC against the ISO (International Standards Organization) “emanding that the organization correct Taiwan’s designation from Taiwan Province, China to Republic of China (Taiwan) in the ISO 3166 country codes list.” While the current administration certainly has no desire to force the ISO to change the designated name to a simple “Taiwan”, there seems to be no reason why it would not be possible. If Taiwan/ROC prevails in their lawsuit against the ISO, it would open the door for a future DPP administration to request a name change from Republic of China (Taiwan) to simply Taiwan.

And finally, in a move which ideologically could be considered as pro-China, but in practical terms is a victory for simple common sense, the government has finally declared that Taiwan will standardize Mandarin Chinese romanization on Hanyu Pinyin in 2009. Unlike in the PRC, Taiwanese themselves simply do not use Pinyin, and it exists on signs solely for the benefit of foreigners. While the cacaphony of mutually incomprehensible romanizations throughout Taiwan do have a certain charm, the fact that the same name or word may be romanized upwards of a half-dozen ways throughout the island is doing no favors to the visiting (or even resident) foreigner. Ma implemented Hanu Pinyin as an official system during his term as mayor of Taipei, and so this move is far from a surprise. It might be a minor victory for the pro China side in Taiwan’s culture war, but as a practical matter this is simply a good idea.

Oh, and on a more tangentially related note, it appears that the US has dropped Taiwan from the proposed list of visa waiver countries. I guess they didn’t want to piss off one of their largest creditors during the economic meltdown.

“War and Japan: The Non-Fiction Manga of Mizuki Shigeru”

The web journal Japan Focus just published a translation of one of Mizuki Shigeru’s short manga pieces, entitled “War and Japan“, with a brief introduction to the man and his work written by Matthew Penney. One of the most famous and important manga authors in Japan, Mizuki Shigeru remains surprisingly obscure abroad, even among ardent manga fans. English translations of his most popular work may exist, but I have never even seen any. As Penney’s profile of Mizuki Shigeru (who, incidentally, is still alive at the age of 86-over 60 years since losing his arm to an explosion on a south Pacific island in WW2) makes a point of saying, “Mizuki, who unlike most prominent revisionists actually experienced the horrors of war firsthand, sees no contradiction between a love for Japan and its traditions, and a willingness to look honestly at the nation’s war history.”

Mizuki is in fact best known for his work involving Japanese folk spirits (or faeries or hobgoblins or monsters- the Japanese term youkai is a bit hard to translate directly), which despite having a generally comic tone do also occasionally deal with the horrors of war, and also received much acclaim for his truly excellent 8 volume Showa-shi (History of the Showa Period), in which he uses pages of pure historical explanation (all in manga form, of course) to frame the primary narative of his own life throughout the entire Showa period, which began around the time of his birth and ended as he was approaching pensioner age. Although covering the entire 62 years of the Showa period, Showa-shi focuses most heavily on his childhood, when he developed his lifelong fascination with youkai and folktales, and on the WW2 period, when he was the sole survivor of a bombing attack in the South Pacific island of Rabaul, lost his arm, and after the war’s end very nearly stayed behind in the native village that had nursed him back to health.

Showa-shi may be considered the capstone of Mizuki’s career. It is not his last work, but does form a synthesis of themes from throughout his entire career. Although it is his youkai manga that he is mainly known for, he had actually spent a chunk of his early career writing WW2 comics for the rental manga market, which at that time was a market publishing original material.

As it so happens, just last week I picked up one volume of a newly published series which reprints Mizuki Shigeru’s war stories for, I believe, the first time. Japanese books can have maddeningly scant publication history, however, so in fact the copyright page says only that this volume was first published in 2008, without specifying in detail the publication history, or even clearly labelling the original year of publication! Despite this annoying flaw, the book is great stuff. Labelled “comics for thinking about war and peace”, this particular volume is his stories of the air war. Much of the art bears little resemblance to Mizuki’s trademark style, instead opting for a sketchy grim style, particularly for the chaotic air combat scenes.

I haven’t yet had a chance to do more then flip through, although i did just read the first story -“Cockroach”, in which a Zero pilot named Yamamoto is shot down, captured by the Allies, kills a guard almost accidentally and then escapes only to discover upon his return that Japan had surrendered. He is arrested as a war criminal, without really understanding why, escapes from the jail in Japan, and then is finally executed-the last to be executed as a war criminal by the Allied military. In the final panel, as his weeping mother is handed a wooden box containing his ashes, she cries “my son’s entire life was just like that of a cockroach running about and hopelessly trying to escape.” Although the story is clearly anti-war, the ambivalence towards the war crime trials and criticism of winner’s justice presents a viewpoint difficult to sum up in the simplistic left/right paradigm that is all too often employed when discussing Japanese views of World War II.

Rainbow over Hieizan

Yesterday afternoon I happened to glance out my window during a pause in the rain and happened to spot possibly the best rainbow I have ever seen. Luckily, my camera was at hand.

I’m finally moving out of this crummy little apartment next week into a nice house which I just rented. As much as I’m looking forward to it, I will miss the view.