Where is the Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn?

The huge story in Japan this month is the arrest of the former Nissan CEO and chairman Carlos Ghosn. But where is now? Why hasn’t he be photographed or filmed? And has he actually been charged with a crime?

Piecing together the news coverage makes it fairly easy to answer the first question about Mr Ghosn’s whereabouts.

According to Reuters, he is inside the Tokyo Detention House in Katsushika Ward. TV reporters have set up positions outside the building to do “pieces to camera” from there.

Reuters says: “The detention center, a tower-like structure in eastern Tokyo, is where the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which carried out the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways, was executed by hanging this year.”

The death row part of the facility is separate to the one for people being investigated for crimes. But it does add another lurid detail to the sudden and dramatic change in circumstances, since Mr Ghosn flew into Tokyo on September 19th.

Asahi Television must have received a tip that something was happening at the airport. Somehow, it managed to obtain film of men in suits marching up the staircase into Mr Ghosn’s private jet. They quickly pulled down the shutters to prevent people seeing what was going on inside.

AFP agency suggests that Mr Ghosn spent several hours inside the plane with prosecutors – initially on a voluntary basis – and was later arrested.

AFP also says that at around 5pm, investigators raided Nissan’s plush Yokohama headquarters and another team stormed his luxurious apartment, in the affluent Tokyo neighborhood of Motoazabu. By 5:30 pm, word was out and hoards of camera crews swarmed around the building.

So far as I can tell, the reason that nobody’s managed to get any film or pictures of Mr Ghosn since his arrest is that he’s only been in his cell in the detention centre and the press can’t find a way into the building. This, of course, has prevented him from taking the opportunity to answer the claims of his accusers.

So far, Mr Ghosn has been denounced by his company but he has not been charged. This is due to a strange fact about Japanese law of which I was previously unaware. The Japan Times says that: “Japanese law permits the detention of suspects for up to 23 days before they are charged.”

This is a contrast to the situation in the UK, whereby the police can hold a person for up to 24 hours before they have to charge them with a crime or release them – although there are some exceptions for cases involving murder and terrorism.

It suggests that the legal system in Japan seems to press arrested people into confessing to crimes before there is any action in a courtroom. In this context, I am sceptical about reports on NHK that Mr Ghosn has “denied the charges against him” as it seems there are no charges to deny – yet.

Mr Ghosn will need a good lawyer to explain to him what is happening. The Asahi Shimbun claims that Motonari Otsuru, a former public prosecutor, has been hired to defend him.

Mr Otsuru will soon have the arduous task of becoming the public representative of his client before the press. And there are hundreds of journalists in Tokyo and around the world who are keen to hear what Mr Ghosn has to say.

Japan would make the perfect ally if Trump wants to raise the stakes with China

Asia’s leaders, including Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, are still trying to work out how best to respond to the disruptive, America-first policies of President Donald Trump. The November Midterm elections in the United States did not provide any solutions to their dilemma. Indeed, the outcome of the polls suggest that Mr Trump is almost certain to run for re-election as president in 2020. The Japanese must therefore continue to try to maintain an alliance with Mr Trump, difficult though that will be.

The elections allow Mr Trump to continue as America’s leader, with considerable support from his Republican party, which retains control of the Senate, even though a swing to the Democrats has enabled his opponents to take control of the House. Yet when it comes to trade policy, Mr Trump enjoys considerable executive power which he can wield autonomously. That is especially significant when it comes to China.

Tariffs on China

Mr Trump has imposed tariffs of about $250 billion on Chinese imports into the United States and has threatened to increase that figure dramatically.

China is not backing down and nor is Mr Trump. His hawkish attitude delights the conservative wing of the Republican party but there is also backing for his approach among many Democrats.

“I think the outcome of the Midterm elections strengthens Trump’s hand on China,” Professor Linda Yueh from Oxford University told me. “He may well press a bit harder and he could gain some bipartisan support. He’s considering truly massive tariffs in China next year. But will he do that at a time when growth in the US economy is slowing?”

Japan’s dilemma

For Japan, the US-China trade war creates a dilemma. Japanese businesses dislike the disruption it causes to their manufacturing processes. There is also resentment that the US maintains tariffs on Japanese steel exports to the United States, despite Mr Abe’s request to Mr Trump lift them.

These tensions come at a challenging time. The economy shrank in the third quarter of 2018 by an annualised rate of 1.2%. A Reuters poll of economists in Tokyo suggests they see the US-China trade war as the greatest threat to the Japanese economy next year.

The conservative perspective

Despite the risk, conservatives in Japan relish Mr Trump’s challenge to China’s enormous economic power and its increasing political influence. Mr Trump accused the Chinese of interfering in the election process in the United States by pressing voters to back his opponents.

“China was watching the race closely,” Professor Yueh told me. “The Chinese were putting pressure on them to stop the trade war, saying that there would be no winners,” said the professor.

One danger for Japan is that emboldened in his fight with China, Mr Trump becomes increasingly protectionist. The President has ordered an audit of all the countries which have a trade surplus with America, including Japan. “He believes that having a trade surplus means you’re not playing by the rules,” says Professor Yueh.

Free trade principle

Yet there is another option. Instead of allowing a narrow America-first approach to prevail, Mr Trump could recommit the Republican Party to its principle of free trade. In doing so he could reverse his decision to exclude the United States from the TPP international trade agreement, which is strongly supported by Japan. This would act as a counterbalance to Chinese influence.

Shinzo Abe can still claim TPP as a major political achievement, even if America remains outside it for the time being. When the partnership comes into force at the end of this year it will mark a rare victory for global trade liberalisation, with Japan very much as the driving force.