(Mainichi Japan) January 30, 2012
Anxiety and inattention over Tokyo's next Big One

Last week, the possibility of a new political party being formed under the leadership of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara emerged, but Tokyoites were more shocked by news indicating there was a 70 percent chance of a magnitude 7-level earthquake hitting the capital within four years.

The news caused a stir because it was based on projections by the authoritative Earthquake Research Institute (ERI) at the University of Tokyo.

I visited professor Naoshi Hirata, 57, director of the institute's Earthquake Prediction Research Center, thinking the institute's announcement daring.
But I soon learned that this figure was not an "announcement."

The episode is very interesting.

An initial report on the likelihood of a major quake appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun's Jan. 23 morning editions.  初報は読売新聞23日朝刊だった。

In a front-page exclusive, the daily reported the news with the banner headline: "70% chance of magnitude-7 level Tokyo earthquake within 4 yrs.''

The Nikkei, The Tokyo Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun followed suit in their evening editions and The Asahi Shimbun and The Sankei Shimbun caught up with them in their Jan. 24 editions.

All trailing dailies had almost identical headlines.

TV stations quickly reported the news through their news departments as well as in other programs.  テレビは報道部門だけでなく、各局ごとにいくつもある情報番組が一斉に反応した。

Overwhelmed by a barrage of reports by news organizations, the ERI published a special explanation online to account for the reasons behind the Yomiuri report.

Adding a twist to the saga was the fact that the ERI's study team had reported its predictions at an open forum last fall, and they were covered by the mass media.

Looking back, the Mainichi Shimbun reported in its Sept. 17, 2011 editions that there was a 98 percent chance of a magnitude 7-level earthquake striking the metropolitan region within 30 years.

According to Hirata, a 98 percent chance within 30 years and a 70 percent chance within four years mean the same thing.

But human beings, as they are, take the 30-year span lightly and are surprised by the four-year timeline.

The Yomiuri keenly restructured the publicized data and emphasized the period "within four years," causing a big public reaction and forcing other news outlets to follow suit.

As I was looking into the circumstances surrounding the quake prediction story, the nonfiction book "The Great Kanto Earthquake," by Akira Yoshimura (1927-2006), occurred to me.

From the end of the Meiji era to the early Taisho period, Akitsune Imamura, an assistant professor of seismology at Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo), predicted a Tokyo earthquake in newspaper and magazine articles.

But Fusakichi Omori, Japan's foremost authority on seismology and chairman of seismology at the national university, was worried about a commotion in society and tried to defuse public anxiety, resulting in a standoff with Imamura.

On Sept. 1, 1923, the magnitude-7.9 Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Tokyo and its vicinity. Omori lost face and died in frustration, while Imamura was catapulted into fame.

But Imamura had sparked confusion when freely talking about earthquakes before eventually toning his warnings down.

The balance between earthquake predictions and reporting is delicate.

When I asked Hirata if the latest episode reminded him of the row between Omori and Imamura, he said with a wry smile, "It's not such a big deal."

"A magnitude-7 quake's energy is one thousandth of the (magnitude-9) Great East Japan Earthquake.

We did not predict an inland earthquake in the capital," Hirata says. "

The reports tended to cause misunderstanding but were meaningful in that they sounded an alarm against inattention in the Kanto region.

The chances of a big earthquake are greater than before and it is necessary to prepare."

At the outset of a news conference on Jan. 27, Tokyo Gov. Ishihara mentioned disaster-prevention steps, believing there would be questions about the University of Tokyo's predictions. However, none of the questions related to the earthquake predictions.

His 30-minute news conference solely covered questions about the new political party under consideration.

The shocking reports about a 70 percent chance of an earthquake hitting the metropolitan area within four years didn't appear to make a dent at all at the news conference.

News reports are cues for people to become aware of inattention.

The bottom line is how to react in an emergency situation.

Yoshimura's parents went through the Great Kanto Earthquake.

During U.S. air raids on Tokyo in the closing days of World War II, Yoshimura got yelled at by his father when he tried to flee with a pack on his back.

Tales by survivors of the March 11 disasters and Yoshimura's books are filled with survival tips that cannot be found by looking to disaster-prevention goods.

(By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2012年1月30日 東京朝刊







January 28, 2012
INTERVIEW/ Xia Bin: China’s senior economic advisor talks about strategy to promote renminbi

By KEIKO YOSHIOKA / Correspondent
The global currency market is in a state of flux, as the euro is in serious trouble and international confidence in the dollar is also eroding. The outlook for the yen, which has appreciated sharply against the two leading currencies, is also murky because of Japan's mounting economic woes.

Amid this currency turmoil, China's renminbi is attracting increasing international attention as the unit of a country expected to eventually become an economic superpower rivaling or even surpassing the United States. Is Beijing maneuvering to make the renminbi a world currency that challenges the greenback for world hegemony?

In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Xia Bin, a councilor of the State Council who served as top official at the country's central bank and securities regulatory body and is now advising Premier Wen Jiabao, discussed Beijing's strategy to raise the currency's international stature. Excerpts of the interview follow.

Q: Since the global financial crisis started in 2008, the Chinese government has been calling for reform of the international currency regime. What are your complaints?

Xia Bin: The problem is the instability of the dollar. Since the dollar is the key reserve currency, the United States can borrow as much money as it wants from the rest of the world. Unlike other debt-ridden countries, the U.S. doesn't go bankrupt because it can pay back its debt by printing dollars. Since the U.S has such an exclusive privilege it has the obligation to ensure the stability of the dollar. But the country has kept running a current-account deficit (which works to depress the value of the dollar), thereby undermining the stability of the entire world economy.

As the national power of the U.S. has declined, the world is becoming increasingly multipolar, not only economically but also politically. If China's economy becomes larger in size, expanding its cross-border linkages, the renminbi will gradually gain greater influence in the international market as a natural consequence.

Q: The U.S. current-account deficit is certainly huge, but its principal cause is excessive spending. Profligate spending by American consumers has been supporting China's export-driven economic growth. On the other hand, China has also been supporting the U.S. and global economies by using the money it has earned to buy U.S. government bonds.

A: China's dollar assets, which are the fruits of hard work by Chinese people, are now in danger of falling in value. Currently, excessive production capacity in China is supporting excessive consumption in the U.S. It can be argued that China has been dragged into this situation by a wrong-headed U.S. policy. Since the 1980s, China has been under pressure to build up its foreign reserves by expanding its exports in order to alleviate a shortage of capital (needed by its industries) at home. China has also been gripped by excitement about its growing national power. Now, however, we need to rethink our policy.

Q: What kind of options are available for fixing the situation?

A: Many countries, including China, have dollar assets. We don't want to see the dollar weaken rapidly. The U.S., which is bent on protecting its privilege, is resisting necessary reforms. The dollar is drawing strength from its widespread use. For the time being, several rival currencies will compete with each other (for supremacy), and a balance of power will emerge among them as they limit each other's power. Over the next two or three decades, the dollar will remain to be the leading currency, with many others battling with each other for greater influence in the world.

Q: And do you believe the renminbi will be one of these competing currencies?

A: Yes. Experts around the world see the Chinese currency as one of the players that will create a new balance of power (in the currency market). China is trying to expand its influence within international organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank so that the views and positions of emerging and developing countries will be more reflected in the process of developing international financial rules.

Q: But the Chinese government is keeping the renminbi artificially undervalued to promote the country's exports, isn't it?

A: We cannot liberalize at once flows of money that cross our borders, nor can we shift to a complete floating exchange rate system immediately. The primary lesson from the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s is the danger of making a developing country's economy fully open to international flows of capital. Huge amounts of foreign capital suddenly flew into these Asian countries and then suddenly poured out of them, causing serious confusion.

Beijing should expand the renminbi's trading band gradually. This way, it can buy time for necessary reforms at home including reform of its financial markets while ensuring the stability of the currency's exchange rates by taking advantage of the relatively high international confidence in the dollar. In addition, more people will want to hold the renminbi if the currency is generally expected to rise in the future.

Q: There are many restrictions on trading in the renminbi, including controls on cross-border transactions and regulations on Chinese financial markets. It is said that China's foreign exchange rate system is as strictly controlled as Japan's was in the 1970s. Would the Chinese currency gain international popularity even if such restrictions remain?

A: The amount of the renminbi circulating in the world is growing through Chinese companies' investments overseas using the domestic currency and the Chinese government's financial aid to developing countries. We are receiving many proposals to create a market for trading in the renminbi from various foreign financial centers including London and Singapore.

China's approach to reform can be compared to Chinese herb medicine. Progress is made gradually through a holistic process with emphasis on the harmony of the whole. We are going to ease our currency regulations in line with the progress we make in reforming the domestic economy and financial markets. With as many as 1.3 billion people to feed, we put the top policy priority on creating jobs and maintaining social stability in our country. China is still a minor financial player. We cannot introduce systems in mature, industrial nations at a stroke.

Q: China's mainland financial markets are not yet sufficiently open to foreign investors. Opening these markets would facilitate renminbi-denominated investments, wouldn't it?

A: As long as we keep financial markets in the mainland closed, we will use Hong Kong, which is an international financial center. That way, we can undertake new initiatives in financial markets in the mainland while keeping them insulated from certain risks. In Hong Kong, not only a market for renminbi-denominated deposits but also markets for renminbi-based trading in bonds and stocks are growing. When China still restricted international trade in goods, Hong Kong served as the connection point between the mainland and the rest of the world. Hong Kong will play that role again in the area of financial transactions.

The United States is pressing China to ease its financial regulations in pursuit of new business opportunities for its financial institutions. We cannot simply play ball with Washington. The internationalization of the renminbi has barely begun. It would be amazing if the share of the renminbi in the foreign reserves of countries rise to several percent, on a par with the current shares of the yen and the British pound, in 10 years. We will take steps to internationalize the renminbi in stages, starting with efforts to reform domestic markets during a period of preparation that will probably last until around 2020. We will first try to make the renminbi a leading currency in Asia, where we have strong economic ties with other countries.

Q: Then will it be a key global currency?

A: It will depend on what kind of economic growth China will maintain in coming years. In addition, this is not a purely economic challenge. Even if a period of competing currencies will continue for the time being, it is possible for China to make the renminbi a major currency in the world through mutual cooperation with other countries without getting embroiled in international conflict.

A country's currency is an indicator of its power. The Chinese economy is expected to become the world's largest in the mid-21st century. But the difficulty of understanding China's policy positions and goals is creating anxiety among other countries. China needs to clearly explain its financial and currency policies to the world and make it clear it is trying to achieve economic growth together with other countries.

Q: In China, we often hear policymakers talk about lessons from the 1985 Plaza Accord, an agreement among the five leading economic powers at that time to devalue the dollar. They argue that the accord is the cause of Japan's economic problems. By succumbing to U.S. pressure and accepting the yen's appreciation, they say, Japan allowed its businesses to lose international competitiveness, its economy to lose steam and financial market bubbles to form and then burst.

A: I don't think Chinese bureaucrats involved in policymaking believe such a simplified theory. Back then, the era of Japan's rapid, emerging country-type economic growth was already over as the number of young workers was decreasing. After many years of double-digit economic growth, China will also see its economy slow gradually in coming years. A nation cannot maintain its economic growth without carrying out necessary economic and social reforms in response to its development. The yen's appreciation was not the only challenge facing Japan. This is the biggest lesson we should learn from Japan's experiences during that period.

Q: Japan and China have reached an agreement on financial cooperation featuring measures to promote trade settlements using the yen and the renminbi, to develop a Chinese bond market for Japanese investors and cross-holdings of government bonds. It was first proposed by Japan, wasn't it?

A: From China's strategic viewpoint, dealing with Japan, which was the first country to become a major economic power in Asia and has an international currency, is a delicate matter. It is uncomfortable for China to seek Japan's cooperation for efforts to internationalize the renminbi. It would be embarrassing for China to make such a proposal only to be rejected by Japan. If Japan makes such a proposal that is in line with China's policy direction, however, there is no reason for China to decline it.

The internationalization of the renminbi will only accelerate irrespective of Japan's will. The Japanese government probably realized that the yen could be marginalized or Japanese companies could miss out on important business opportunities unless it expanded such financial cooperation with China.

Q: So this is a mutually beneficial deal?

A: Both countries can reduce foreign exchange risks and costs by using their own currencies for trade instead of using the dollar. The development of a market for trading in bonds denominated in Asian currencies would make it easier to invest money earned through trade within the region. It would also make it unnecessary for both countries to hold a huge amount of dollars as part of their foreign reserves. This is definitely beneficial for both sides.

If this cooperation between Japan and China works out well, it would lay a foundation for regional financial cooperation. If China wins the trust of its neighbors by providing solid support to the efforts, it could also gain regional confidence in the renminbi and improve the environment for its currency's rise to the status as a major regional currency.

Q: The world is paying a lot of attention to whether China will help solve the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

A: Since it is benefiting from the world economy, China is really hoping that Europe will regain financial stability quickly. Having said that, I would also say that whether or not China will help Europe with this problem is not an issue. Many European countries are in better fiscal health than Japan or the U.S. They are rich countries with per-capita gross domestic product far larger than China's. Europe has clearly the wherewithal to sort out the situation. In particular, the principal question is what Germany, which has been benefiting greatly from the euro's weakness, will do.

In case the Chinese government considers using part of its foreign reserves to make an investment in Europe, it will assess carefully whether the investment will yield a satisfactory return.

Q: What is your assessment of the probability of a common Asian currency?

A: It may be an ideal, but I don't see any possibility of such a currency becoming reality in the near future. In contrast with Europe, there are some historical problems among Asian countries, and the political systems and the levels of economic development greatly differ from country to country. But Asia is now at the center of global economic growth. There are many challenges Asian countries should tackle together in order to ensure stability in exchange rates and promote the development of financial markets in the region.


Xia Bin: Born in 1951, Xia Bin is currently counselor of China's State Council and honorary director of the Financial Research Institute of the State Council's Development Research Center. He is also a member of the People's Bank of China's Monetary Policy Committee. He graduated from the Graduate School of the People's Bank of China.

By KEIKO YOSHIOKA / Correspondent


米ゼロ金利継続 景気低迷に警戒強めたFRB

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 29, 2012)
Fed's super-low rate policy aimed at boosting economy
米ゼロ金利継続 景気低迷に警戒強めたFRB(1月28日付・読売社説)

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board has decided to keep its de facto zero benchmark interest rate well into the future.

The Fed's new timetable indicates it is increasingly concerned about the future of the U.S. economy.

In deciding to maintain its close-to-zero interest rate policy, the Fed said in a statement released Wednesday that current U.S. economic conditions "are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through late 2014."

This new policy is highly significant as the Fed is prolonging its super-low interest rate a year and a half beyond its earlier stance that an extremely low interest rate should be maintained until the end of the first half of 2013.

The unemployment rate in the United States has remained high at more than 8 percent, while its post-inflation economic growth this year is projected to be below 2 percent.

U.S. business activities have yet to regain their strength.

The European sovereign crisis, which was triggered by Greece and has not yet been resolved, threatens to destabilize the global economy.

Should the European crisis deteriorate because of a delay in implementing countermeasures, the consequences could deal an even heavier blow to the U.S. economy.


Fed action praiseworthy

The Fed boldly decided to prolong its super-low federal funds rate policy to encourage declines in interest rates on long-term loans in the hope of shoring up business activities and stimulating fixed investments and other business areas.

It seems that in its latest policy meeting, the Fed could not brush aside growing uncertainties shrouding the global economy as seen in the eurozone's rapidly deteriorating business conditions and the world's alarmingly unstable financial markets.

The United States has no room for a further reduction of the federal funds rate, and the scope of measures to handle financial policies is limited.

The Fed's resolve to take all possible measures to bring about a strong economic recovery in spite of these circumstances is a welcome development.

The U.S. central bank has made public its outlook for a benchmark interest rate for the first time, indicating that many of its 17 members do not anticipate the need to tighten its monetary policy in the near future.

The Fed also set an acceptable rate of price increases at "2 percent from a year before," another noteworthy change that enhances the transparency of its policy handling.

The 2 percent "inflation goal" is different from a formal "inflation target" that would make it mandatory for the Fed to take measures immediately after price increases exceed 2 percent on an annual basis.

The announcement of the inflation goal, or what the Fed believes is an acceptable inflation rate, however, is sufficiently effective to convey a clear-cut message that it places great importance on an inflation figure of 2 percent.


Yen's appreciation to linger

A protracted ultraeasy monetary policy may bring the risk of higher prices.

Bearing such anxieties in mind, the Fed has firmly stated it will continue to place top priority on price stabilization, an action that will reassure businesses and households.

The focus from now on will be whether the Fed, in the event of further financial market destabilization, will opt for Phase 3 of large-scale quantitative monetary easing, the so-called QE3.

Phase 2--QE2--ended last summer, but it came under criticism for causing inflation in emerging economies to worsen.

Therefore, a number of hurdles need to be surmounted before QE3 can be adopted.

The Fed will have a difficult time carrying out policies, while keeping an eye on how the European crisis evolves.

Japan, for its part, must consider the great possibility that the appreciation of the historically strong yen against the dollar will continue, as the Fed's ultraeasy monetary policy is bound to increase selling pressure on the greenback.

The government and the Bank of Japan must do everything they can in working out measures to stem the yen's appreciation and take measures to prevent the strong yen from worsening business activities in this country.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 28, 2012)
(2012年1月28日01時14分 読売新聞)

一般教書演説 再選へ意欲を見せたオバマ氏

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 27, 2012)
Obama shows determination to win reelection
一般教書演説 再選へ意欲を見せたオバマ氏(1月26日付・読売社説)

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered the annual State of the Union policy address, which made clear his confrontational stance against Republicans in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

In his address, he cited sustainable economic growth and help for the middle class as top-priority issues.

Apparently determined to win reelection later this year, he said he would aim to rejuvenate the economy by revitalizing the manufacturing sector at home, developing natural gas and other domestic sources of energy, improving the skill of American workers and creating more jobs.

Although the U.S. economy has been picking up, there is a strong sense of uncertainty about its future prospects.  米国経済は持ち直してきたとはいえ、景気の先行き不透明感は強い。

Housing prices remain low, while the jobless rate hovers around 8.5 percent.

Obama's approval ratings remain in the lower half of the 40 percent range, primarily due to widening income inequality.

With the president having been unable to give the people their fair share of the fruits of economic recovery, despite his promise to bring about "change," prospects for his reelection are becoming murky, with the light turning to the yellow of caution.


Frustration with Republicans

No matter how much he wants to implement employment measures and other economic stimuli, they cannot be realized without congressional support.

In Congress, the rivalry between the Republicans and the Democrats has been intensifying, making it ever more difficult for bills vital for implementing policies to be passed.

In his speech, Obama said he would fight "with action" those who obstruct the realization of his policies, which can be taken to indicate his strong frustration at the Republicans who dominate the House of Representatives as the majority party.

One important agenda item for his administration in the days ahead is tax system reform.

In his speech, Obama called for higher taxes on wealthy people who pay a lower tax rate than middle-income earners, while also making efforts to trim social security spending.

Obama was apparently conscious of the fact that wealthy Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, has been criticized for paying a tax rate of only 14 percent on the millions of dollars he made in 2010.

Romney paid a lower tax rate than many Americans do because of the preferential taxation of investment income compared to earned income. But Obama also intends to target Republicans who have consistently opposed tax hikes for the wealthy.


Japan's stake in outcome

While the race for the Republican presidential nomination advances, the presidential election will also go into full swing from now on.

The future course of the U.S. economy will have a strong impact on the Japanese economy.

We would like to pay close attention to the verbal battle regarding the economic rejuvenation during the presidential election campaign.

In the area of diplomacy and national security, Obama expressed once again his national defense strategy, which emphasizes Asia.

As part of the fiscal deficit reduction, the United States will cut defense spending by about 500 billion dollars (about 38 trillion yen) over the next 10 years.

Yet if Congress fails to reach an accord on concrete measures to cut the deficit by more than 1 trillion dollars within this year, more drastic budget cut will be made.

Such a development will have a serious impact on the national security of Japan.

We should also pay attention to the battle of words regarding deficit reduction.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 26, 2012)
(2012年1月26日01時13分 読売新聞)




(Mainichi Japan) January 26, 2012
Dust to dust: A different approach to funerals

"A spacious X square meters," "Faces south, gets plenty of sunlight!" -- these phrases on a cemetery ad at the station made me stop and

Even after they die and are turned into bones, many people are concerned about comfort.

In such cases scattering the person's ashes in the sea or on a mountain may seem like a good idea, but not everyone wants this.

Last autumn, I heard about a new freeze-drying approach in which liquid nitrogen is used to reduce the body to a powder, and then the remains are returned to the ground.

Yuji Nakamura, a lawyer who went to Sweden to interview the company that holds a patent on this process, provided details on it at a meeting of Japan's council for promotion of a basic funeral law in Japan.

After being submerged in liquid nitrogen with a temperature of minus 196 degrees Celsius for one hour, the person's body, which is broken up into dust and small pieces, is put into a vacuum container where the remains are slowly dried.

Metals are then removed and the remains are placed into a container which is buried about 50 centimeters underground.

Between six months and a year later, the remains have completely been broken down into the earth.

The attraction of this process is the part where the body is "slowly dried" -- showing that care is being taken over the remains.

South Korea is already apparently preparing to introduce this process.

A long time ago, there was a song in Japan containing the lyrics "hone made aishite" (love me down to my bones).  昔、流行歌に「骨まで愛して」というのがあった。

Here lies sentiment in which the person is crying out for love of their very existence.

To Japanese people, bones are very important, and it is hard to stir up strength when thinking that they will become dust in the end.
But there is something refreshing about the new approach to funerals, a graciousness that comes from leaving all partings and lingering affection -- like the person is saying, "See you, bye-bye," and drifting away.

The developer of the freeze-drying funeral method apparently says that a person's genes are a gift to their children and grandchildren.

The thought of becoming part of nature matches Japanese people's view of nature.

In fact, Japan, which has few religious constraints, may be just the place for this process to receive public acceptance.

Also in environmental terms, overdevelopment of large grave sites is a problem.

"There are various debates on the issue, but I think there should be a choice for funerals that are not limited to cremation," Nakamura says.

(By Takahiro Takino, Tokyo City News Department)
毎日新聞 2012年1月25日 1時35分


施政方針演説 「決断する政治」への戦略持て

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 26, 2012)
Noda must have strategy to pursue 'decisive politics'
施政方針演説 「決断する政治」への戦略持て(1月25日付・読売社説)

In his policy speech to the Diet on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda boldly said, "I will aim...to break away from 'the politics that can't decide,'" and, "This is the time for us to fix our eyes upon the 'big picture' rather than 'political situation.'"
We admire Noda's will and vision. However, the problem lies in whether his administration has a well-planned strategy that will be able to translate his words into reality.

An ordinary Diet session was convened Tuesday.

In his speech, Noda quoted from policy speeches given by two former prime ministers from the Liberal Democratic Party, which was in power before Noda's Democratic Party of Japan took the reins of government.

He quoted former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who said, "It is precisely the responsibility of those in politics vis-a-vis the people to ensure that the ruling and opposition parties conduct thorough discussions...to conduct the affairs of state."

And he referred to a promise former Prime Minister Taro Aso made in his speech: "We will take necessary legal measures by fiscal 2011...to undertake...fundamental reform of the tax system, including that of the consumption tax."


LDP, Komeito must start talks

Noda likely used these quotes to point out that the current attitude of the LDP contradicts these statements. Indeed, the opposition party has not responded to calls to start discussions on integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.

Because the DPJ itself had repeatedly resisted moves by the LDP and New Komeito when they were the ruling coalition, members of the now opposition parties reacted fiercely to Noda's speech.

However, both the LDP and Komeito need to agree to start talks to rehabilitate the current critical state of the nation's finances and establish a sustainable social security system.

The government and the DPJ, too, must change their attitude.

First, they have to sincerely explain to the public why the consumption tax rate needs to be increased.

Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada last week abruptly announced, "Revenue from the five-percentage-point increase will be used entirely to fund social security programs, and will thus be returned to citizens."
This marked a major shift from the previous stance of using 10 percent of the extra revenue to cover government procurement costs that are expected to increase due to the tax hike.

The Noda administration probably changed its stance in a desperate attempt to make the public more accepting of the consumption tax hike.

However, the administration will likely be challenged over the inconsistency with its previous explanations.


Give unclear manifesto the boot

Komeito has been demanding the government clarify its future vision for the social security system.

In its manifesto for the 2009 House of Representatives election, the DPJ promised to integrate the nation's pension programs and create a minimum guaranteed pension of 70,000 yen a month by 2013.

Komeito says it cannot see any connection between these campaign promises and the comprehensive reform.

In response to Komeito's demand, DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi apparently hopes to bring the two main opposition parties to the discussion table by revealing the full picture of social security reform.

Indeed, it will be necessary for the DPJ to show a rough outline of its plan if it wants to ask for the opposition's understanding on the integrated reform.

However, discussions with opposition parties will not get off the ground if the DPJ insists on trying to implement its manifesto, which does not even clearly indicate how its promises will be funded.

Noda should not forget the manifesto has become a major obstacle to the "politics that makes decisions" he is seeking.

If Noda wants to carry out the reform, he should not hesitate to retract the manifesto.

In his policy speech, Noda quoted an old saying, "Undertaking the actions we call on others to take."

He then pointed out it is important for individuals responsible for political and administrative affairs to put themselves on the line and serve as models.
He is absolutely right.

We hope Noda will exercise strong leadership to cut the number of lower house members and the salaries of national government employees.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 25, 2012)
(2012年1月25日01時13分 読売新聞)


独法・特会改革 肝心なのは政府支出の削減だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 25, 2012)
Cuts in govt spending key to administrative reform
独法・特会改革 肝心なのは政府支出の削減だ(1月24日付・読売社説)

A review of organizational structures is only the first step in administrative reform.

To expand the people's acceptance of a tax hike, it is indispensable to link it with a substantial cut in government spending.

The Government Revitalization Unit has decided on reform proposals for independent administrative entities and special accounts.

The government will submit related bills to an ordinary session of the Diet to realize the reform.

The proposed reform calls for abolishing seven of 102 independent agencies, including the Public Foundation for Peace and Consolation, and privatizing seven entities, including the National Hospital Organization.

Thirty-five agencies, including the Riken research institute, will be consolidated into 12 entities.

As a result, the number of such agencies will be trimmed by nearly 40 percent.

In its draft proposal, the government called for abolishing or privatizing a total of five agencies.

To show the government's determination to carry out administrative reforms, the number of such entities being downsized or abolished has increased remarkably in line with the ruling parties' philosophy that politicians, not bureaucrats, should take the initiative in formulating policies.
The reductions lay the foundation for integrated reform of social security and tax systems.

The reform plan this time, it can be said, is more drastic than the one proposed by the coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito in terms of the number of agencies to be cut.


Old wine in new bottles

But the entities to be abolished include those to be transferred to state jurisdiction. Many of those to be privatized represent a mere change of names. It is undeniable that priority was given to manipulating numbers.

Even if the number of executives is trimmed by absorbing other independent administrative entities in charge of completely different affairs, it is feared the changes could lead to the creation of bloated organizations if the staff of each agency remains intact.

The biggest concern is that the government has not revealed how much it will curtail government spending on independent administrative agencies, which totals 3 trillion yen a year.

In line with organizational reforms, it will be necessary to downsize staff and reduce or abolish nonessential and nonurgent operations.

It is important to transfer operations that can be entrusted to local governments and the private sector as much as possible, thereby eliminating dual administration and other administrative waste.

Big agencies hold the key to spending cuts.

Concerning the Urban Renaissance Agency and the Japan Housing Finance Agency, panels of external experts will be formed to draw conclusions on spending cuts this summer.

We hope for reasonable results.

Agencies that continue to exist will be classified by type of function into such categories as financing, human resources development and research and development, and the most appropriate supervisory system will be introduced at each agency.


Continuous reform needed

This is because it is unreasonable to manage independent agencies with different purposes and operations under one system.

Continuous reforms are called for.

The number of special accounts will be reduced from 17 to 11 through abolition or integration of such accounts as the one on social capital investment.

But mere cuts in the number of special accounts will not lead to reduced spending and enhanced efficiency.

The former Road Improvement Special Account was used regardless of profitability to construct highways whose necessity was considered low.
Allocating budgets to higher-priority areas while eliminating such a sanctuary would produce results.

According to the Board of Audit, 1.8 trillion yen in surplus funds for fiscal 2009 was not used in the following fiscal year and was carried over to fiscal 2011.

If possible, surplus funds should be transferred to the general account and used effectively.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 24, 2011)
(2012年1月24日00時59分 読売新聞)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 22
EDITORIAL: Tokyo voters should sign up for nuclear referendum

A signature-collecting campaign is under way to hold a referendum in Tokyo to allow citizens to express their views on nuclear power generation.

But the campaign, organized by a citizens group set up to achieve referendums, is struggling to attract the attention of voters.

The group is trying to collect the required number of signatures to make a direct claim under the local autonomy law to the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Osaka municipal government for the adoption of an ordinance to hold such a referendum.

The Tokyo metropolitan government is a leading shareholder in Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, while the government of Osaka has a stake in Kansai Electric Power Co., which also operates nuclear plants.

In Osaka, the group collected more than 60,000 signatures, exceeding the 2 percent of eligible voters required to make the claim, during the one-month campaign period. The local election administration commission is now examining the signature list to determine its validity.

In Tokyo, the group needs over 210,000 signatures. But with two-thirds of the two-month campaign period already passed, the group has collected less than half the required number.

Why is the campaign receiving such a lukewarm response in Tokyo?

This is neither an “anti-nuke” nor a “pro-nuke” campaign.

The group is only seeking a referendum that will allow citizens to decide on their own whether this nation should continue to use nuclear power as part of energy sources to generate electricity.

In other words, the number of signatures collected is an indicator of how much interest people have in the issue.

Before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, nearly 30 percent of the electricity supplied to the Tokyo metropolitan area was generated at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and TEPCO’s other nuclear plants outside Tokyo.

If voters in Tokyo show so little interest in the question as to make it difficult to collect signatures from 2 percent of them, how would people in Fukushima Prefecture and other areas that host these facilities feel?

Many people in Tokyo seem interested in such a referendum but are clueless as to where they can sign for the campaign.

Tokyo has more than 10 million eligible voters.

There are permanent sites where they can sign petitions, including one in front of Shinjuku Station, but there are not enough to offer easy access to residents in all areas.

In addition, the people leading a signature campaign are allowed to collect signatures only from voters in the cities, wards, towns and villages where they live.

Clearly, this provision in the local autonomy law constitutes a major obstacle to the campaign.

Another major factor behind the different reactions from voters in the Tokyo metropolitan government and Osaka city is the different attitudes toward the issue by the local government chiefs.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto promised to reduce the city’s dependence on nuclear power during his election campaign in November although he is skeptical about the idea of holding a referendum on this issue.

Hashimoto’s remarks have probably spurred interest in the issue among the public.

In contrast, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has given the cold shoulder to moves toward a referendum, criticizing it as a “sentimental and hysteric” reaction.
Ishihara has pointed out that there is “not even a blueprint to secure an energy supply” at this stage.

But a referendum on the issue would prompt citizens to see the development of such a blueprint as their own concern and start thinking about it.

More signatures are needed for a referendum on the future of nuclear power generation in this country?which should be determined through broad public debate.

Now that the nuclear disaster has raised some fundamental questions about the energy policy, it is important for people in Tokyo, as consumers of electricity, to express their views and opinions about nuclear power generation.

Let us achieve a referendum in Tokyo to have an opportunity to do so.


香山リカのココロの万華鏡:人にどう見られるか /東京


(Mainichi Japan) January 22, 2012
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: How we're seen by others
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:人にどう見られるか /東京

The trial has begun for a woman accused of killing three men she was dating after pretending the deaths were suicides by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The woman kept a blog where she wrote about beauty and gourmet foods, and that personality seems to have stayed with her for the over two years since her arrest.

Someone I know who sat in on the trial said, "She appeared in different clothing before and after noon, and her hairstyle and make-up seemed to have been carefully set.

How can she do such things at her own trial?"

It may be that to the woman, how she is seen by those around her is everything.

Even if it was a far cry from the reality of her life, on her blog she acted like she was a rich princess.

Now, even facing trial, she puts her attention on her clothing and hairstyle, as if it is a show with her as the star.

To her, perhaps her real self is the one that others see.

Even if it is not so extreme, we cannot deny that we share some of the same tendencies.

Thinking only about how others see us, we can forget our true selves.

I am sure there are plenty of us who have forced ourselves to go to high-end restaurants where we took pictures, after which we wrote about it all on our blogs as if we go to those places all the time.

I don't worry much at all about how others see me, but when I notice a new gray hair or wrinkle in the mirror, I do worry, "At today's meeting, I wonder if I looked the oldest."

Of course, we can no longer live completely naturally, not worrying at all about how others think of us.

Pulling ourselves together enough to not make those around us feel unpleasant is a matter of social manners.

But if we overly focus on some ideal image of ourselves, even fooling ourselves in order to draw closer to it, we are clearly going too far.

Even if we succeed in showing ourselves off like our ideal and are complemented for our beauty or luxurious lifestyle, afterwards we are left with nothing.

To the woman in the trial, more important than the truth or how the trial progresses may have been being told, "You look younger than your age," or "You're fashionable as ever."

It somehow makes me feel empty inside.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2012年1月17日 地方版


郵政改革 4社案テコに与野党合意急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 22, 2012)
Ruling, opposition parties must push on with postal reform
郵政改革 4社案テコに与野党合意急げ(1月21日付・読売社説)

It can now be said that a step toward realizing postal reform has finally been taken.

The ruling and opposition parties should hold deliberations in the upcoming ordinary Diet session and ensure the nation's postal business is reformed in a way that benefits the public.

A working-level consultative meeting was held Friday between the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito regarding how to proceed with postal reform. The participants agreed to sum up what they have discussed so far.

An accord has been reached under which the government and the DPJ will drop, at least temporarily, a bill that would reorganize the five-company configuration of Japan Post Group into three companies. Instead, the three parties will discuss realigning Japan Post into a four-company structure.

The four-company plan is a Komeito proposal, and the DPJ is poised to accept the plan.

The LDP has no compelling reason to oppose the streamlining of the Japan Post Group organization and changes that would make postal services more convenient for customers.


Diet's neglectfulness

The realistic option would be for the ruling and opposition camps to get behind the proposed four-company system.

Much of the blame for the postal reform bill being stuck in limbo for nearly two years lies with the Diet.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also should be brought to task for the delay in postal reform deliberations in the legislature.
In a meeting with the president of the national federation of postmasters of privately owned post offices (Zentoku), Noda committed himself to "responsibly expediting" Diet business for postal reform.

What to do with government-held shares in Japan Post is the biggest obstacle to an agreement between the ruling and opposition blocs.

The government favors retaining "more than one-third" of Japan Post shares.

If this remains unchanged, the government will hold a stake in two firms under the Japan Post umbrella--Japan Post Bank Co. and Japan Post Insurance Co.

The LDP has laid siege to the government's position. The party claims that if the two financial service arms of Japan Post, which the LDP notes are "protected by tacit government guarantees," enter new markets such as cancer insurance, private-sector businesses will be put at a distinct disadvantage.

Financial and insurance businesses have demanded Japan Post Bank and Japan Post Insurance be completely privatized.

In connection with this, insurance businesses in the United States have expressed concern over Japan Post financial services adversely impacting on private-sector business activities.

Due attention should be paid to ensure Japan Post reform discussions do not hurt this country's bid to join Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement negotiations.


Gain from share sales unclear

Is it impossible to prevent Japan Post companies from gaining an unfair upper hand over private companies, such as by imposing some restrictions on their entry into new businesses?

We urge the ruling and opposition parties to find effective solutions to this problem.

If postal reform goes ahead, the current freeze on selling Japan Post shares will be lifted, and the government will be able to use the profit from sales of these shares to fund reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

However, the deterioration in postal service businesses shows no sign of ending, and it is unclear whether the government will bring in the about 6 trillion yen it expects to gain from selling off its Japan Post shares.

The volume of mail handled by post offices has been declining by 3 percent a year, leaving Japan Post Service swimming in red ink.

Postal savings and the number of postal insurance policies have fallen sharply since their peak.

Should Japan Post be left as is, it will be unable to take such steps as expanding into new businesses, and could get stuck in a rut.

There are fears Japan Post's corporate value could plunge.

Japan Post is a precious asset that belongs to the public. Its value must not be allowed to diminish because of the Diet's neglectfulness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 21, 2012)
(2012年1月21日01時40分 読売新聞)


社説:原発テスト 「結論ありき」と疑う

(Mainichi Japan) January 20, 2012
Editorial: Gov't nuclear power plant tests mired in doubt
社説:原発テスト 「結論ありき」と疑う

How will the lessons learned from the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant be put into practice in the future?

The government's present response is questionable.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which operates under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, has deemed Kansai Electric Power Co.'s stress tests of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at its Oi nuclear power plant as "appropriate."

This marks the first step in evaluating reactors that are being inspected with a view to restarting them.

The reactors are to undergo further inspection by the Nuclear Safety Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

After that, the prime minister and three Cabinet ministers will make a political decision on whether or not to restart them.

However, debate has arisen over whether Cabinet officials should be making decisions on the technical safety of reactors.

Furthermore, when looking at the results of the stress tests, it seems the technical safety appraisal was a foregone conclusion.

Kansai Electric's stress tests conclude that the reactor cores would not be damaged even if there were an earthquake that shook 1.8 times stronger than what was envisaged when the reactors were built, or if the reactors were hit by an 11.4-meter tsunami -- four times higher than what was initially predicted.

The power company says that even if there were a station blackout and no place for heat to escape, the reactor cores would not be damaged for 16 days and the spent nuclear fuel would remain intact for 10 days.

However, the scenarios forming the basis for power plant's conclusions preceded the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The March 2011 disasters have shaken conceptions about the maximum shaking and the biggest possible tsunami in the event of another major quake.

There is no guarantee that the plant's previous predictions are on target.

The more relaxed the scenarios are, the more leeway the power plant seems to have.

When considering this, the phrases "1.8 times stronger" and "four times higher" have no meaning.

The probe into the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has not even been completed. そもそも、事故そのものの検証もまだ終わっていない。

Officials should at least provide a set of risk evaluation guidelines based on the cause of the Fukushima disaster that the public can understand.

In terms of determining the risks of nuclear power plants, doubts also remain over legislation on the life of power plants.

On Jan. 6, Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge of the nuclear disaster, stated that nuclear reactors would in principle be decommissioned after they had been running for over 40 years.

But less than two weeks later the government stated that exceptions would allow reactors to operate for 60 years.

Just where is the government placing its priorities?

Does it really intend to reduce the number of high-risk nuclear power plants?

The way the government is handling the situation invites mistrust over its nuclear power plant policy.

In terms of winning the public's trust, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency's decision to shut the public out of a hearing on the Oi nuclear power plant's stress tests is also problematic.

In principle, debate should be open, and then if there are any major obstacles to proceedings, separate measures can be taken to settle them.

Furthermore, citizens groups have raised questions about a possible conflict of interests among committee members and these must be addressed as a top priority.

Local bodies will have the final decision on whether or not to restart nuclear power plants, but if officials can't gain the public's trust, then it is inconceivable to restart the reactors.

毎日新聞 2012年1月20日 2時31分


新型インフル 緊急事態法制に位置付けよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 21, 2012)
Parties should unite to pass flu epidemic legislation
新型インフル 緊急事態法制に位置付けよ(1月20日付・読売社説)

The outbreak of a new strain of influenza can take place anytime, anywhere in the world.

In the event of a new, virulent strain of flu becoming an epidemic, it is estimated that in the worst-case scenario as many as 640,000 people would die in this country alone.

To prevent such a situation from occurring, it is imperative for the government to take all possible measures in preparation for a flu epidemic.

The government plans to submit a bill for special measures legislation to the upcoming ordinary Diet session to deal with the possible future emergence of a new, highly virulent and infectious flu

Both the ruling and opposition parties must cooperate to ensure smooth passage of the bill.

The planned law will define the onslaught of a highly virulent new strain of flu as a "national crisis."

To prevent the spread of infection and public disorder, the law will empower the government to take strong, binding steps such as restrictions on or postponement of assemblies and securing the supply and distribution of goods.

Currently, the central government and prefectural governments have already worked out "action plans" to cope with the outbreak of a new strain of influenza.


Govt to declare 'emergency'

These measures, however, have no binding power. The central government and local entities can take no stronger steps than "requesting" people to stay home and cancel meetings on a voluntary basis.

When a new strain of flu broke out in 2009, there was no serious damage, since the virulence of the strain was weak.

If that strain had been deadly, the government might have been unable to take any effective steps, resulting in serious harm to the public.

Under the proposed legislation, if a virulent strain of flu becomes epidemic, the government's epidemic countermeasures headquarters will declare an "emergency situation" for affected prefectures.

While restrictions on going out and cancellations of gatherings under the planned law will be sought in the form of government "requests," as currently practiced, the law will make it possible for the government to issue stronger "instructions" if such requests are refused without sufficient justification.

The law will also make it possible for the government to requisition land and buildings needed to secure medical facilities when a flu epidemic occurs.

To prevent the spread of a deadly flu strain, the government may legitimately need to consider meting out punishments against violators of the law.

The invocation of the law, however, must be carried out as scrupulously as possible.

The Civil Protection Law, enacted to prepare this country for an armed attack, states that the curtailment of private rights should be kept to a minimum out of respect for the freedom and rights of the people.


Prepare for goods shortages

Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake, shortages of goods occurred across the country.

The shortages were attributed to panic buying as well as the disruption of distribution networks.

If a containment campaign is enforced in areas affected by a new strain of virulent flu virus, hoarding may occur in reaction to government requests for people to stay home, while local distribution networks may be snarled.

To deal with such a situation, the government, by means of the planned legislation, should enhance the power of administrative authorities to ensure sufficient supplies of goods at stable prices, in part by preventing merchants or suppliers from refusing to sell at the time of a deadly flu epidemic.

The lessons learned from the bitter experience of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami must be used to minimize the damage caused by a deadly flu strain.

The circumstances the planned law aims to deal with have much in common with various other emergencies.

The legislation should lead to the strengthening of preparatory measures for emergencies, such as coordination of communication between the central and local entities, securing local medical services and stockpiling daily necessities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 20, 2012)
(2012年1月20日01時15分 読売新聞)



Preliminary Japanese
lessons for Thai students.


「大阪都」構想 自治再生への将来像を示せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 19, 2012)
Present a vision for renewal of local administration
「大阪都」構想 自治再生への将来像を示せ(1月18日付・読売社説)

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is preparing concrete steps to realize his plan to transform Osaka into a metropolitan administrative unit like Tokyo. If his proposal is realized, how will the people's daily lives and the local administration of Osaka change?

His proposal calls for institutional reform to reorganize the Osaka prefectural government and the Osaka and Sakai municipal governments into a metropolitan administrative unit that would provide administrative services across the entire area and 10 to 12 "special administrative wards" that would provide services close to the daily lives of the local people, such as welfare services.

We can understand Hashimoto's intention of eliminating the prefectural and municipal governments' overlapping administrative services and integrating strategies on urban systems, by reviewing the antagonistic relations that have often existed between the prefectural government and the Osaka municipal government over the years.

Hashimoto has established a headquarters to integrate the prefectural and municipal governments, as a control tower of the scheme, and has come up with one reform policy after another.

Carrying out, first of all, those reforms that can be realized under the present system will offer a favorable wind for the envisaged scheme. Included in such presently doable reforms are integrated management of water services, public hospitals and universities, and elections for more administratively powerful ward mayors with candidates invited from the public from all over the country.

Will these institutional changes lead to, as Hashimoto asserts, the rejuvenation of Osaka, whose local economy is seen faltering?


Costs not entirely clear

Having ward mayors and ward assembly members elected by popular vote may end up raising overall costs. There is also some concern that the review of overlapping administrative services by the prefectural and municipal governments may lead to some services being monopolized by certain entities, eliminating competition and thus making overall public administration inefficient.

Hashimoto should scrupulously answer these questions and draw up a clear future vision of a new local administration.

To realize this metropolis scheme, it is essential to revise related laws, including the Local Government Law.  都構想の実現のためには、地方自治法など関連法の改正も欠かせない。

Both the ruling and opposition parties have begun concerted action based on Hashimoto's scheme.

As the head of local party Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), Hashimoto won a strategic victory in the double elections for both Osaka governor (his preelection post, now held by another member of his party) and Osaka mayor.

Looking toward the next House of Representatives election, Hashimoto said his party will field its own candidates to run against those political parties that do not support his vision.

These strategies can be said to have prodded major national parties into action on his issue.


Govt council to examine issue

Meanwhile, the Local Government System Research Council, a governmental advisory panel, on Tuesday began discussions on what form the administrative systems of mega cities should take.

The central government had seldom squarely tackled the issue of large cities before.

The Osaka metropolis scheme will be a central theme of the council's discussions.

Hashimoto intends to compile a concrete plan by this autumn, with an eye toward shifting to an Osaka metropolis in the spring of 2015.

His moves and the council's discussions will certainly affect each other.

Also to be discussed is the idea of letting ordinance-designated cities become completely independent from prefectural governments as special self-governing units.

There are also other ideas to be taken up for discussion, such as one to integrate Aichi Prefecture and the city of Nagoya to establish a "Chukyo-to" administrative unit, and one to realign Niigata Prefecture and Niigata City into Niigata-shu (Niigata State).

The times require discussions about systems of large-city governance.

The council will also discuss issues related to local municipalities, be they cities, towns or villages, that are dealing with marked population decline and a rapidly aging citizenry.

It is no easy task to consider the problems of large cities and those of smaller municipalities in the context of the ongoing trend of transferring administrative powers to local governments.

Toward the aim of rejuvenating local administrations, a broad-based discussion is called for.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 18, 2012)
(2012年1月18日01時18分 読売新聞)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 16
EDITORIAL: Taiwan’s voters show reserved support for expansion of China ties

"In Taiwan’s presidential election on Jan. 14, voters gave qualified support, not unconditional approval, to expanded ties with China. That probably best sums up the election outcome.

Incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou of the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) won re-election, defeating Tsai Ing-wen, head of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

China-Taiwan relations soured markedly during the previous government of the DPP.

Ma was first elected president four years ago by promising to mend ties with China.

Ma implemented a series of steps to deliver on his pledge.
He launched regular direct flights between Taiwan and China, lifted a ban on visits by mainland Chinese and struck an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement for free cross-strait trade.

Ma, declaring his election victory while being pelted by a pouring rain, stressed that the expansion of Taiwan’s economic ties and trade with China during his first term had strong voter support.
He pledged to continue his China policy for the next four years.

Indeed, relations between China and Taiwan have been on a roll recently.

Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan now outnumber Japanese visitors.
Chinese students are beginning to come to the island to study.

The current state of the cross-strait relationship is a far cry from what it was 16 years ago when Beijing tried to intimidate Taiwan by test-firing missiles during a presidential election.

Even so, China still keeps ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan and is expanding its naval power around the island.  しかし、台湾に照準を合わせた弾道ミサイルを中国は配備したままだし、台湾周辺での海軍力も増強している。

The current stability in Sino-Taiwanese relations is as fragile as a glass sculpture and far from what constitutes true peace.

That’s why there is still strong, deep-rooted wariness about unification among Taiwanese, as indicated by the fact that Ma’s poll ratings dropped immediately after he talked about a peace treaty with China during the election campaign.

The Communist Party of China and the government in Beijing issued an unusual statement following Ma’s re-election, expressing hope for “opening of a new phase of peaceful development of the relationship” and “striving together for a great resurgence of the Chinese race.”
The move clearly reflected China’s enthusiasm about starting political dialogue with Taiwan as a step toward eventual unification.

But the Taiwanese people are not interested in such political dialogue.

Ma needs to tread carefully on this issue.

Beijing, if it really wants political dialogue with the island, should demonstrate its sincerity by taking steps to build a peaceful and favorable environment for cross-strait talks, such as removing the missiles aimed at Taiwan.
We sincerely hope the new Chinese leadership that will be elected in the party convention this autumn will make serious efforts to improve the diplomatic climate for political talks with Taiwan.

For her part, Tsai fared better than the DPP’s candidate for the previous presidential election in terms of the percentage of votes garnered against the total poll. But her failure to offer concrete proposals to tackle key policy issues, like the relationship with China, growing economic inequity among Taiwanese people and employment, was her undoing.

Nevertheless, we applaud Tsai for not inflaming tension during the election campaign, which often happened in the past. This gave the impression that democracy in Taiwan has matured.

In mainland China, the people are still denied the right to vote in democratic elections. Yet, they showed tremendous interest in Taiwan’s election through Internet postings and other forms of online expression.

We hope they will learn more about democracy through Taiwan's experience.

Although Taiwan has no formal diplomatic relationship with Japan, Taiwanese sentiment toward Japan is very friendly. This can be seen by the size of Taiwan’s donation to help victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Its 17 billion yen (about $213 million) topped all other foreign donations.

Japan must respond to the goodwill shown by the Taiwanese people by enhancing its ties with the island through steps like concluding a free trade agreement.



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 15
EDITORIAL: Japan in desperate need of a true leader

If we get a new prime minister this year, it will be the seventh in seven years.

The possibility of such a change is not small at all, as the momentum for a Diet dissolution and Lower House election is growing as politicians battle over the government's plan to raise the consumption tax rate.

After a succession of six prime ministers resigning in the same number of years, Japanese politics has completely lost its focus.

Last year within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, voices loudly demanded the resignation of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Even those within his own party supported the no-confidence motion against him.

His successor, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, won the party leadership by pushing for higher taxes, but some DPJ lawmakers repeated their objections again late last year, and some even left the party.

The Liberal Democratic Party no longer has any semblance of a ruling party.

LDP politicians are acting as if the party had nothing to do with this country's enormous fiscal deficit, and they insist on yammering about the DPJ's breach of its manifesto. The LDP's actions border on the ridiculous.

With politics in such a state, it is little wonder that the recent support rate for the DPJ and the LDP combined, two major parties that make up nearly 90 percent of the seats in the Lower House, didn't even add up to 40 percent.

With an overwhelming majority of the electorate saying they support no party, can this really be called a "two-party system?"

Recognition of the times

In September this year, the terms in office will expire for the leaders of both parties, DPJ President and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki.

It will be a good opportunity to contemplate the essence of political leadership so that politics in this country can be rebooted.

An LDP veteran lawmaker once said: "The only thing postwar politicians had to decide was the general direction of this country: anti-communism, emphasis on the economy, and the Japan-U.S. security alliance. That was all. For the rest, bureaucrats drew up the blueprint."

In an age when politics was on "autopilot," the role of politicians was the "redistribution of expanding wealth."

However, our country is now seeing the progression of an extremely aging society, the extent of which is unprecedented around the world.

Fewer people are working.

Despite the rocky waters of globalization, we cannot find the key to new economic growth.

The divide between the rich and poor, as well as the divide between the young and old, is widening.

Politics is faced with the tough task of "redistributing the burden."

Yet, lawmakers continue to rely on bureaucrats as if we were still in the "autopilot' age. The lawmakers also continue to borrow more money and do their best to muddle through.

This means we are bypassing our own problems and simply dumping them onto future generations.

Political party leaders must first get a good grip on the times we live in.

Then they must brace themselves so that they can fundamentally change our political system into something appropriate for governing this country in this age.

To recreate our society, some drastic changes are essential. For example, a true shift away from bureaucratic leadership to real political leadership is needed, as is a move toward decentralization.

The electorate has already changed along with the times.

The proof lies in the fact that industry organizations are losing their vote-drawing powers not just in the cities but also in rural areas.

As the needs of the voters became more diverse, the electorate became fragmented like grains of sand, and the positions shift like sand dunes.

Respond to change

Politicians are unable to cope with these ephemeral changes.

The single-district system of the Lower House contributes to the parties' tendency to choose leaders they hope can gain wide support, but that is merely a window-dressing tactic aimed at winning over a fickle electorate.

It is impossible to support anyone or any party if they don't have the means with which to recognize and realize what voters want.

It is only natural that voters should write off political parties and politicians that are out of touch with the times.

It is understandable that politicians like Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto are growing in stature when national politics is in such a dire state.

Hashimoto's criticism of the huge Osaka Town Hall organization is extremely easy to understand.

His push to eradicate the wasteful double administration that exists in Osaka--Osaka Prefecture and Osaka city--seems to be in accordance with these times of the shrinking economy

He is always looking for new enemies and using the heat of that friction as the energy source to move forward. Such an approach is dangerous because it risks preventing rational thought and contemplation.

However, his style definitely gives the voters the impression that something is happening in politics.

Existing parties, whatever their party platform or policies, are ingratiating themselves to Hashimoto. This is a pathetic sight.

Prime Minister Noda is asking the public to accept an increased burden as part of the tax and social security reform. That is a step forward in facing up to the changing times.

The country must adamantly achieve government reform and move forward.

The prime minister should take the argument he used to override the anti-tax raise voices within his own party late last year, and repeat the discussion in the public domain in plain sight.

The voters will take notice only when the prime minister steps into the hot seat.

Power to move organizations

How will LDP leader Tanigaki respond?

If he says, "I have always championed tax reform up front and center," then he should clamp down on those within his party who demand an early dissolution of the Diet, and achieve tax reform by leading the way ahead of the DPJ.

If he can achieve that, then he will secure a place in history.

A leader is someone who recognizes how the times are changing, puts forth clear goals, builds a strategy to achieve those goals, and moves organizations and the unsung people who work hard outside the limelight to realize those goals.

That is leadership, and leadership requires experience.

A political culture that casually throws away its leaders in short succession is hardly conducive to producing good, worthy people.


独法改革 見せかけの取り組みでは困る

カラオケ、過労死、あまくだり・・・ そのまま米国で通用します^^。

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 16, 2012)
Going through the motions not enough for reform
独法改革 見せかけの取り組みでは困る(1月15日付・読売社説)

It is vital when reforming independent administrative institutions to achieve tangible results, such as spending cuts.

The government must not allow reform to simply change such organizations' names.

In this regard, newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, who will concurrently serve as state minister in charge of administrative reform, bears a heavy responsibility.

The Government Revitalization Unit will compile a plan to reorganize independent administrative institutions as early as by the end of this month.

Of the 102 such bodies, there are plans to abolish three, including the Commemorative Organization for the Japan World Exposition '70, and to privatize the organization for environment improvement around international airports and one other body.

Other independent administrative institutions will be transformed into public corporations focused on achieving revenue and performance goals, or public corporations aimed at enhancing cooperation with central government projects.

Moreover, the government reportedly will consider integrating some of the first type of corporation after classifying them into eight subcategories, such as those working with universities and those engaging in financial operations.

But it will be unsatisfactory if only five independent administrative institutions are abolished or privatized.

Even if many are transformed into new types of public corporations, it will effectively constitute just a change of name if they continue to exist as organizations.

Reorganizational efforts will be meaningful only if the government drastically reduces the number of such public agencies and slashes overall government spending.


Structural review insufficient

Reviewing their organizational structures will not be enough to reform independent administrative institutions.

In addition to downsizing individual agencies' businesses and making them more efficient prior to transferring such organizations to the control of local governments and the private sector, it also will be necessary to sever the cozy ties between these agencies and the government bodies that have jurisdiction over them.
Such ties have developed through the provision of subsidies and the practice of amakudari, under which bureaucrats take lucrative jobs in related organizations after their retirement.

If the government embarks on the reform of large-scale independent administrative institutions, such as the Urban Renaissance Agency and the Japan Housing Finance Agency, it will help the government substantially cut its spending.

On the other hand, it is dangerous to make decisions that put too much weight on short-term cost performance in fields linked with national strategy, such as research and development in science and technology, and cultural promotion.

The government must consider how to carry out reforms from mid- and long-term perspectives, without insisting too much on "visible results."

In its manifesto pledges for the 2009 House of Representatives election, the Democratic Party of Japan called for a comprehensive review of independent administrative institutions, including their total abolishment.

The party clearly stated in the manifesto that it would be possible to slash 6.1 trillion yen in annual government spending by reviewing independent administrative institutions, public-interest corporations and subsidies.


Minimal effort so far

However, an April 2010 session of the government panel tasked with reviewing wasteful government spending has been almost the only occasion when the DPJ-led government tackled the reform of independent administrative institutions.

We regret to say there is a wide gap between the promise made in the manifesto and the latest draft reform plan.

At the end of last year, the DPJ set up a research committee on administrative reform, spurred by the need to broaden public understanding of the proposed consumption tax hike.

But the move was a hastily devised countermeasure.

What is needed now is not a token effort, but a determined and continuous undertaking.

It is a matter of course for the government and the DPJ to thoroughly carry out administrative reform, including that of independent administrative institutions, as a prerequisite to the integrated reform of social security and tax systems.

Given the country's critical fiscal condition, insufficient administrative reform cannot be used as an excuse to postpone the tax hike.

Efforts to realize the tax hike and administrative reform must be made simultaneously.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 15, 2012)
(2012年1月15日01時16分 読売新聞)