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The rise of Japan’s new Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and lessons for China

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I asked if he agreed with Taichi Sakaiya, who headed Japan’s Economic Planning Agency, that it was time to end the system of “administrative guidance” that had built Japan into an industrial giant because such a system was not flexible enough to compete in the globalizing economy.

Kan went further than agreeing with Sakaiya. He agreed with Japan’s chief foreign critic. “I have long agreed with Karel van Wolfren’s book, ‘The Enigma of Japanese Power’ that criticized the shadow power of the bureaucracy and the lack of a center of political accountability,” Kan said controversially. “Eighty percent of the policies in Japan are made by bureaucrats and only 20 percent by elected political leaders. In our current system, a minister, including the prime minister, has no final power. Can you even call that a government?”

Unlike Japan, China does have a powerful political center: The Communist Party Politburo that directs the bureaucratic elite from its Forbidden City compound of Zhongnanhai. But is a strong, one-party center in China that lacks accountability any different in the end from Japan’s unaccountable bureaucracy?

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