2013回顧・日本 「五輪」「富士山」に希望がわいた

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 29, 2013
Successful Olympics bid, Mt. Fuji designation bright spots in 2013
2013回顧・日本 「五輪」「富士山」に希望がわいた(12月29日付・読売社説)

Apparently indicating the high hopes many people have for Olympic Games seven years ahead, readers of The Yomiuri Shimbun awarded first place on the list of “Japan’s top 10 news stories” this year to Tokyo winning the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

This means 56 years will have elapsed since Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964.

The 1964 Olympiad served as a key factor behind the nation’s high economic growth. The coming Games are expected to act as a catalyst for this country’s reinvigoration. Every possible effort should be made to ensure that the Summer Games and Paralympics are successful.

With Naoki Inose being forced to resign as governor of Tokyo over his receipt of a dubious ¥50 million loan—16th on the domestic news list—personnel affairs concerning the organizing committee of the Games and progress on relevant matters have been left up in the air. It is extremely important for all quarters concerned to carry out concerted efforts to make the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics successful.

The initial design for the new National Athletic Stadium, the main venue of the Games’ competitions, is scheduled to be scaled down after the original plan came under criticism for being extravagant. It is essential to construct new facilities and refurbish existing ones for the Games without wasteful spending.

Second on the list of top 10 news items was UNESCO recognition of Mt. Fuji as a cultural World Heritage site. All components of cultural heritage relating to Mt. Fuji, including the Miho no Matsubara coastline in Shizuoka Prefecture, have been certified as “treasures of the world.”

The beauty of Mt. Fuji and its environs must be left intact for posterity. Regulations were tightened in summer this year on car traffic in the Mt. Fuji area and a fee was experimentally levied on people who wanted to climb the sacred peak. Further endeavors should be made for the environmental conservation of the country’s loftiest mountain and its vicinity.

Many challenges ahead

In pro baseball, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ victory in the Japan Series for the first time placed fourth in the list, while the unbroken winning streak by Rakuten pitcher Masahiro Tanaka ranked eighth.

The triumph of Rakuten gave a great deal of encouragement to victims in the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, as its home ground is in Sendai. Tanaka, who was the major driving force of Rakuten capturing the highest accolade in Japan’s pro baseball world, is just entering negotiations on moving to a U.S. Major League Baseball team. We hope to see Tanaka performing brilliantly in the United States.

The news that baseball legends Shigeo Nagashima and Hideki Matsui received the People’s Honor Award from the government ranked fifth on the list.

Nagashima has made great contributions to developing professional baseball into Japan’s national sport. Matsui, a former slugger for the Yomiuri Giants and the New York Yankees, thrilled baseball fans with his huge home runs.

The scene of Nagashima and his disciple Matsui in Giants’ uniforms performing in an opening pitch ceremony in celebration of their winning of the People’s Honor Award must have engraved itself deeply in people’s memories.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s success in ending the divided Diet after the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito garnered a majority of seats in the House of Councillors election in July placed third on the top 10 list. This achievement was conducive to increasing the Abe Cabinet’s stability.

On the other hand, Japan faces many challenges.

The decision to raise the consumption tax to 8 percent, which will be put into force in April, placed seventh. Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade liberalization, ranked ninth, are destined to continue next year after failing to be concluded this year.

It is imperative for the government to ensure that the signs of business pickup thanks to the Abe administration’s Abenomics package of economic policies will lead to full-fledged recovery of the nation’s business activities. We strongly hope 2014 will prove to be a year when we can really feel the economy rejuvenating.

A number of natural calamities occurred this year, such as mudslides on Izu-Oshima Island, sixth on the list.

We must keep up our guard against disasters.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 29, 2013)
(2013年12月29日01時22分  読売新聞)


辺野古移設承認 日米同盟強化へ重要な前進だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 28, 2013
Nakaima’s approval on Henoko to reinforce Japan-U.S. alliance
辺野古移設承認 日米同盟強化へ重要な前進だ(12月28日付・読売社説)


It was an important advance toward solving the issue of relocating the functions of Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, which has faced various twists and turns since Japan and the United States agreed in 1996 on the return of the air station’s site to Japan.

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima has approved the central government’s request to carry out a land reclamation project in publicly owned waters off the Henoko district in Nago in the prefecture, a necessary step for ultimately relocating the air station to the district.

The Futenma issue has been the biggest pending issue between the two countries for the last 17 years. A huge amount of time and energy has been devoted to it. The problem can be likened to a difficult simultaneous equation, in which many parties such as the Japanese and U.S. governments, Okinawa Prefecture, the city of Nago and the U.S. military have complicated circumstances.

Resolving this difficult issue without nullifying the past laborious efforts will have the highly significant effect of making the bilateral alliance stronger and more sustainable at a time when Japan’s security environment has been worsening.

Okinawa Gov.’s determination

It seems Nakaima finally decided to bite the bullet.

At first he conditionally supported the Henoko relocation, but he had to raise “relocation outside the prefecture” as an election campaign pledge when running for a second term since Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan inflamed prefectural citizens’ expectations in an irresponsible manner during his 2009-10 administration, calling for “relocation at least outside the prefecture.”

However, it is crystal clear that the dangerous situation of Futenma Air Station, located in a densely populated area, would persist for a long time if the reclamation request was not approved.

During a press conference Friday, Nakaima said he judged that the government’s measures, including those to preserve the environment, “meet the standards [under the law]” for reasons of his approval. But he also emphasized, “My view that relocation of the air station outside the prefecture would be faster has not changed.”

The issue of bases in Okinawa Prefecture always involves conflicting approaches—whether to aim at drastic removal of bases or to promote a gradual reduction of base-hosting burdens. We praise Nakaima’s decision as a practical choice, giving top priority to steady reduction of the burden.

The Henoko relocation plan itself is significant, as it will remove a huge airfield from the densely populated area to a sparsely populated district. In addition, it will have the secondary effect of promoting the transfer of U.S. marines stationed in the prefecture to Guam. The relocation will consequently result in a major reduction in the base-hosting burden for the entire prefecture, leading to economic development of the prefecture as well.

The prefectural governor’s brave decision has been criticized by those opposing the Henoko relocation plan, but we are sure even such people will highly evaluate his decision in the future.

Abe takes a risk

We also praise the efforts of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which created conditions to facilitate Nakaima’s decision.

It listed a number of measures to ease Okinawa Prefecture’s burden in hosting many U.S. bases. These included advancing the deadline for returning land used by Futenma Air Station and the Makiminato Service Area to the prefecture, the transfer of military training activities to various locations outside the prefecture and the start of negotiations on a new Japan-U.S. agreement concerning on-site environmental surveys by Japanese authorities on the U.S. bases.

The planned return of Futenma Air Station, targeted for fiscal 2022 at the earliest, was the result of arduous negotiations between Japan and the United States. It will not be easy to advance this timetable as requested by the governor, but Tokyo and Washington should make utmost efforts to do so.

Concerning the issue of moving the training areas for MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft outside Okinawa Prefecture, the local governments concerned are urged to offer cooperation proactively to share the burdens now heavily shouldered by the prefecture.

Washington had been wary about revising the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, but agreed to enter negotiations on a new agreement that would supplement the SOFA. Environmental surveys of U.S. bases ahead of their return are expected to aid the eventual utilization of their sites. Efforts must be made to work out an agreement under which surveys can be started as early as possible.

As measures to promote the development of Okinawa Prefecture, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to secure a budget of the ¥300 billion level annually up until fiscal 2021, in addition to making an additional allocation in the fiscal 2014 budget, thus showing maximum consideration to the prefecture. For promotion of the prefecture’s northern areas, ¥5 billion will be earmarked every year.

With state finances in dire straits, these funds represent exceptionally preferential treatment for the prefecture. But it is an unavoidable step to break the stalemate on the Futenma relocation issue. If the DPJ-led government had not put the issue on such a serpentine path, the people of the nation would not have to bear such a huge expenditure of taxpayers’ money.

The Abe administration was able to obtain the prefecture’s approval on the Futenma relocation plan largely because it consistently worked toward building a relationship of trust with Nakaima even at the political risk of the prefecture’s disapproval. That is why the governor became willing to face criticism from the local people.

Abe must make all-out efforts to secure the continuing deterrent effect of the U.S. military presence in Japan while also reducing burdens on Okinawa and continuing to nurture the relationship of trust with the governor.

Secure local support

There is another hurdle to clear before the transfer of Futenma to the Henoko district in Nago can be realized.

A Nago mayoral election, set for Jan. 19, is likely to be a one-on-one competition between the incumbent opposing the relocation plan and a former prefectural assemblyman approving it.

A former mayor has withdrawn his candidacy, leaving the former assemblyman the only candidate representing the camp approving the relocation plan. But it remains to be seen which side will emerge victorious.

A scenario in which a local election influences the future course of national security must be avoided. In this sense, too, it was appropriate that Nakaima announced his approval of the relocation plan before the end of the year and ahead of the election date.

The Nago mayor is not authorized to cancel the relocation plan. But naturally it is desirable to secure the mayor’s cooperation if projects to construct substitute facilities are to be implemented more smoothly.

The government and ruling parties must make continued efforts to obtain understanding on the relocation plan from a wider spectrum of local people while explaining the significance and benefits of the relocation to Henoko in minute detail.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 28, 2013)
(2013年12月28日01時32分  読売新聞)


首相靖国参拝 外交立て直しに全力を挙げよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 27, 2013
Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine must be followed by diplomatic rebuilding
首相靖国参拝 外交立て直しに全力を挙げよ (12月27日付・読売社説)


In what could be called a “lightning shrine visit,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a surprise visit to Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday, raising the question of why he took such an action at this particular point in time. A number of other questions should also be asked, including what resolve and preparations were in his mind in making this visit to the shrine.

Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday morning, on the first anniversary of the launch of the current Abe administration. It was his first visit since he assumed the top post of the government and the first visit to the war-related shrine by a sitting prime minister since then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went there on Aug. 15, 2006.

Regarding his inability to visit Yasukuni during the first Abe Cabinet in 2006-07, Abe is repeatedly on record as saying, “It was a matter of deepest regret.” Thursday’s visit can be said to be the fulfillment of a personal, long-cherished desire of the prime minister.

U.S. ‘disappointed’

Abe refrained from visiting the shrine earlier this year on Aug. 15, the day marking the end of World War II, and during the shrine’s spring and autumn festivals. Instead, he only sent offerings of masakaki sacred tree stands and made monetary offerings called tamagushi-ryo.

His decisions on those occasions may have been based on a broad perspective that a visit to Yasukuni would worsen Japan’s already strained relations with China and South Korea, which see Yasukuni as a symbol of Japan’s militarism, a step inadvisable from a diplomatic point of view.

The United States was also concerned that a visit to the shrine by the prime minister could heighten Tokyo’s tensions with Beijing and Seoul.

On their trip to Japan in October, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid flowers at Tokyo’s Chidorigafuchi cemetery for the remains of unidentified Japanese who died overseas during World War II. This is believed to have been an attempt to dissuade Abe from making a Yasukuni visit.

We are especially concerned that the United States, in the wake of Abe’s visit to the shrine, has released an extraordinary statement saying that Washington “is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors.”

Was this a miscalculation by Abe, who has placed top priority on the United States in his diplomatic policies?

China has unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea, heightening tension in the relations between Japan and China. China may beef up its offensive stance over the territorial sovereignty issue of the Senkaku Islands.

Japan, in tandem with its ally the United States, must continue acting resolutely in defense of the integrity of the nation’s territorial land and sea.

We cannot help but wonder whether Abe, at this highly sensitive time, has personally created a destabilizing factor for his administration by visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

Some of the prime minister’s close aides reportedly prodded Abe to make a Yasukuni visit, saying China and South Korea have criticized Japan even though Abe had not gone there. The situation would remain unchanged even if the prime minister visited Yasukuni, they reportedly told him.

If Abe came to that conclusion as a result of his failure to find a way to improve relations with China and South Korea, we cannot help but feel that is regrettable.

New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi opposed the visit when Abe phoned him immediately before his visit to the shrine, saying bluntly, “I cannot support that.” After Abe’s visit, Yamaguchi said, “As the prime minister presumably acted knowing there would be adverse reactions from both China and South Korea, the prime minister should personally make efforts to ameliorate the situation.”

Abe must do his utmost to rebuild the nation’s diplomacy, which has been marred because of his visit to Yasukuni.

Abuse by China, ROK

Regarding his Yasukuni visit, Abe said he chose that day “to report the progress of the first year of my administration and convey my resolve to build an era in which the people will never again suffer the ravages of war.” In regard to China and South Korea, Abe said, “I would like to explain this feeling of mine to them directly.”

Rather than lending an ear to Abe’s statement, China and South Korea have begun to use his Yasukuni visit as material to back their claim that Japan is drifting to the right.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement that Abe’s visit “infringed on the national sentiment of war-victimized countries and defied the justice of history.” The South Korean government also criticized the visit, saying it was “an anachronistic act that would harm the stability and cooperation of Northeast Asia from its very foundation.”

Their misunderstanding and distortions are excessive.

Japan has pursued the path of a pacifist nation in the postwar period while upholding the principles of freedom and democracy. It is missing the mark for these two countries to ignore this point and criticize Abe’s Yasukuni visit.

In the first place, China and South Korea should be blamed for worsening relations with Japan by linking the issue of perceptions of history with political and diplomatic affairs.

Aside from the propriety of Abe’s Yasukuni visit, how the prime minister of one nation mourns its war dead is not a matter for interference from other nations.

Build nonreligious site

The predecessor of Yasukuni Shrine is Tokyo Shokonsha Shrine, which was built in 1869 to console the souls of soldiers from anti-Tokugawa Shogunate domains who died in civil wars to achieve the so-called Meiji Restoration. Samurai warriors in the late Tokugawa period, the war dead from the Sino-Japanese, Russo-Japanese and Showa wars are enshrined together at Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine, however, is not dedicated only to the war dead.

Behind the fact that worshipping at Yasukuni Shrine has become a political issue is the enshrinement there of former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and other so-called Class A war criminals who were sentenced to death at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, or Tokyo Trials.

Yasukuni Shrine has argued that it is impossible from a religious viewpoint to transfer enshrined souls elsewhere. But criticism of Class A criminals who led Japan into the Showa War is deep-seated, and there are still calls to move their souls to another place.

Abe stressed that he also visited Chinreisha Shrine, which is located on the premises of Yasukuni Shrine. Chinreisha is dedicated to the war dead killed worldwide—not only Japanese but also people of other countries—who are not enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine. If he gave such consideration, we believe he should have rather worshipped at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery.

It is difficult even for the Emperor and foreign dignitaries to worship at Yasukuni Shrine as long as it stays in its current status. Measures must be studied to make it possible for everyone to worship without any reserve, centering on a plan to build a national memorial site with no religious affiliation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2013)
(2013年12月27日01時43分  読売新聞)


PKO弾薬提供 武器輸出の新原則策定を急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 26, 2013
In intl crisis, govt must lay down new weapons-export principles
PKO弾薬提供 武器輸出の新原則策定を急げ(12月26日付・読売社説)

A country working to support nation-building efforts in Africa under rigorous conditions has every reason to help another country engaged in the same task, a duty that has been taken for granted internationally.

The Ground Self-Defense Force, now participating in a U.N. mission in South Sudan—officially called the U.N. Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS)—has provided South Korean forces with 10,000 bullets for rifles without asking for payment in exchange. The bullets were given via the UNMISS authorities. The GSDF’s bullet offer was the first of its kind to occur overseas.

Amid a rapid decline in the African country’s security situation, South Korean forces were working to protect the safety of about 15,000 refugees in their assigned area, surrounded by armed rebel groups.

It is clear the Japanese government had no option but to supply bullets to the South Korean forces. The action was needed from the standpoint of humanity and urgency, given that the lives of South Korean soldiers and local refugees were at risk.
Supplying the bullets was essential for supporting the global significance of U.N. peacekeeping operations. No participants in the UNMISS mission except the GSDF were carrying bullets that could be used for rifles carried by South Korean soldiers.

South Korean forces telephoned the GSDF unit and expressed their gratitude for the bullets.

There may be cases in which the GSDF asks other nations to support its forces or come to its rescue. Making steady efforts to extend assistance comparable to the recent case of supplying bullets and increasing cooperation with foreign forces will ensure the security of GSDF personnel operating overseas.

Regarding the U.N. Peacekeeping Activities Cooperation Law, which was the subject of questions during Diet sessions, the government has long said it does not expect requests from other nations to provide weapons and ammunition, and that if such a request were to be filed, it would reject the request. This line of reasoning apparently reflects the fact that it is extremely unusual for Japan to be asked by any other country to supply weapons and ammunition, even if it is a request that could affect the survival of the requesting nation’s forces.

Civilian control effective

In deciding on the bullet offer, the government held a meeting of four relevant Cabinet members under the National Security Council and a Cabinet conference. In these meetings, the government concluded the bullet supply would be treated as an exception to its three rules on arms exports and its official interpretation of the peace cooperation law.

Given the lack of procedural defects in the latest decision, it is safe to say our nation’s principle of civilian control has fulfilled its purpose.

In 2011, the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda relaxed the principles regarding arms exports, thus making it possible to offer weapons for peace-building and international cooperation purposes. However, the offer of arms was limited to foreign governments, meaning such institutions as the UNMISS authorities were not included in the list of organs to which our country would supply arms.

The government is currently considering fundamentally reexamining the three principles. Taking the recent bullet supply into consideration, the government should lay down a new set of flexible and realistic principles as quickly as possible.

With the deterioration of the South Sudanese situation in mind, the U.N. Security Council has adopted a resolution to shore up the UNMISS mission to better protect the safety of local residents. About 6,000 staff will be sent to South Sudan, where they will be united with about 7,500 military and police personnel already deployed there.

It is imperative the U.N. resolution be implemented as promptly as possible, to resolve the South Sudanese situation.

About 30 months after its independence, South Sudan is on the brink of a civil war, as a conflict between its president and former vice president has grown into a tribal conflict. International engagement is essential for preventing the conflict from degenerating into civil war.

The United States has begun to intermediate between the warring parties with the aim of seeking a solution to the problem through dialogue.

Japan should contribute to the international peace initiative in South Sudan, a task that should be carried out with close attention to the safety of GSDF personnel operating in that country.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 26, 2013)
(2013年12月26日01時32分  読売新聞)


天皇陛下80歳 公務の負担軽減を検討したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 23, 2013
As Emperor turns 80, it’s time to consider trimming his duties
天皇陛下80歳 公務の負担軽減を検討したい(12月23日付・読売社説)

The Emperor has marked his 80th birthday.

On this occasion, we express our heartfelt congratulations to the Emperor for reaching this milestone while being hale and hearty.

In February last year, the Emperor underwent coronary artery bypass surgery. His recovery has gone as scheduled. The Emperor currently performs official duties at the same pace as he did before the operation.

The day before his 80th birthday on Monday, the Emperor said at a news conference in the Imperial Palace, “While coming to terms with certain constraints due to my advancing age, I would like to continue playing my role as much as possible.”

Referring to his official duties, he said, “I wish to maintain my current pace, at least for a while.” This suggests he is rather negative about any move to reduce his official duties on health grounds.

This is presumably because the Emperor, with his best wishes for the happiness of the people, still feels a strong sense of responsibility to continue moving forward with the populace.

Accompanied by the Empress, the Emperor visited such places this year as areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, and Minamata, the city in Kumamoto Prefecture that has become known for the mercury-poisoning disease with the same name. The Imperial couple also followed a tight schedule on their recent official visit to India.

Many people want the Emperor to be able to continue to engage in his official duties in good health. For this very reason, however, we believe the burden placed on the Emperor should not be excessive.

The Imperial Household Agency should examine how to reduce the load shouldered by the Emperor, perhaps by handing some of his duties to Imperial family members including Crown Prince Naruhito and his younger brother, Prince Akishino.

Adhering to Constitution

The Emperor’s stance of always giving consideration to the people is also represented by his views on his funeral and mausoleum.

In November, the Imperial Household Agency announced that the Emperor plans to be cremated, rather than be buried as has been tradition for emperors since the Edo period, and scale down his mausoleum compared to those of the Emperor’s predecessors.

These plans fit snugly with the wishes of the Emperor and Empress not to impose an onerous burden on the people in regard to the construction of their mausoleums and their funerals. These decisions can be said to reflect the desire of the Emperor, who has been committed to ensuring the Imperial family can meet the changes of the times while keeping the essence of royal tradition intact.

During the news conference, a question was asked about the relationship between the Imperial family and politics.

Some media outlets were outraged that Princess Hisako of Takamado attended the general session of the International Olympic Committee in September that chose Tokyo as host city of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games.

In reply to the question, the Emperor said when he faces a thorny question, “I have made it a rule to seek the opinions of the Imperial Household Agency director general and the agency’s councillors.”

This statement was intended to emphasize afresh his position of adhering closely to Article 4 of the Constitution, which stipulates the Emperor “shall not have powers related to government.”

At the IOC session, Princess Hisako only expressed Japan’s gratitude for such things as support extended from many nations after the Great East Japan Earthquake. She refrained from making any direct reference to Tokyo’s Games bid. Some media said her speech amounted to “using the Imperial family for political purposes.” It was nothing of the sort.

This issue must not be allowed to bother the Emperor any further.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 23, 2013)
(2013年12月23日01時25分  読売新聞)


国の権限移譲 地方の意志と能力も試される

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 24, 2013
Local governments’ will, capabilities tested in transfer of state authority
国の権限移譲 地方の意志と能力も試される(12月24日付・読売社説)

It is essential to revitalize regional areas by eliminating the waste caused by dual administration of central and local governments and work out innovative measures to utilize the individuality and characteristics of each region.

The government has decided to transfer 48 types of clerical work and authority, including the expansion and management of national roads and first-class rivers under its direct control, to prefectures. It also plans to reexamine 18 clerical items, including provision of HelloWork’s job information.

It will submit related bills to the ordinary Diet session convening early next year to realize these goals.

The transfer of authority on national roads and rivers has been left pending since the Council for Decentralization Reform, an advisory panel of the Cabinet Office, recommended this action in 2008. However, the Democratic Party of Japan-led government then came up with a wild scheme of “abolishing in principle” local agencies of the central government, thereby adding a serpentine dimension to discussions on decentralization. But the issue was eventually resolved with realistic measures worked out by the Liberal Democratic Party-led administration.

Administration of some sections of national roads and first-class rivers has already been transferred to prefectures. It is unreasonable to assert that administration can only be carried out by the central government. Coherent town building may be possible by integrated expansion and administration of national roads and connected local roads.

It was appropriate for the government to work out measures to secure fiscal resources, including one allocating local tax grants to finance maintenance and management costs incurred by prefectural governments. Decentralization will not make much headway without securing such fiscal resources.

2-way shift possible

It also will be possible depending on the situation to transfer authority over roads and rivers under the control of local governments to the central government.

Recent years have seen flood damage caused by heavy rain in various parts of the country. In some of these disasters, small municipalities found it difficult to take adequate crisis-management measures for rivers. The central government’s role in times of disaster was recognized anew following the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accompanying huge task of reconstruction.

Transferring authority in this manner is reasonable, rather than calling for the uniform transfer of authority to local governments.

Noteworthy is a system for handling registration and clerical work to audit nonprofit organizations that will provide paid-for transport services to replace taxis and buses in underpopulated areas.

Clerical work will be transferred to municipalities that apply for the system. If they are reluctant to do this, such work will be transferred to prefectures willing to do so.

Thus, municipalities will be asked whether they want to undertake new clerical work or are capable of doing so and to make decisions on their own initiative. This formula can be applied to the transfer of other kinds of clerical work and authority to local governments.

It also has been decided to move 29 types of clerical work and authority, including a decision on standards for the composition of primary and middle school classes, to government-designated major cities. These cities will be required to bear the financial burden of paying schoolteachers and administrative personnel, but they will be able to exercise a wider range of discretionary powers, including whether to form small classes.

It is indispensable for the government, prefectures and municipalities to continue studying how to divide the various roles to promote practical decentralization.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24, 2013)
(2013年12月24日01時42分  読売新聞)


NHK新会長 偏りなき番組で責任を果たせ



The Yomiuri Shimbun December 21, 2013
New NHK president must promote impartiality, fairness in broadcasts
NHK新会長 偏りなき番組で責任を果たせ(12月21日付・読売社説)

We want NHK’s new president to fulfill his responsibility as the head of the public broadcasting corporation by promoting production of fair and neutral programs.

NHK’s Board of Governors has appointed Katsuto Momii to succeed Masayuki Matsumoto as the public broadcaster’s president. After serving as a vice president of Mitsui & Co., Momii has worked in various positions in the business world, including the post of president of Nihon Unisys Ltd., a major player in IT solutions services.

Momii is the third NHK president in a row from the private sector. He should effectively reform the public broadcaster by using the management abilities he cultivated when he worked with private companies.

Matsumoto can be credited with such reforms as lowering viewers’ fees and reducing wages for NHK employees.

However, compared with private broadcasters, NHK must do more to cut manpower and production costs. Momii should bring cost-consciousness home to all NHK employees to overhaul the bloated organization.

Viewers’ fees account for more than 90 percent of NHK’s revenue, but nearly 30 percent of viewers do not pay the fees.

Raising the fee collection rate will be necessary to help alleviate the people’s sense of unfairness.

Legal compliance is also an important challenge for the new president. NHK’s Science and Technology Research Laboratories was hit by a scandal concerning fictitious orders this autumn. Serious irregularities such as insider trading have been rife in NHK.

Enhance awareness

It is essential to enhance employees’ awareness and work toward preventing the recurrence of such incidents.

The political and business worlds have increasingly criticized NHK’s programs and reporting as biased, arguing that they took a negative stance in reporting on the maintenance and restart of nuclear power plants and the deployment of new U.S. Osprey military transport aircraft. This could also be a factor behind Matsumoto’s exit from the post of NHK president.

Also, in regard to reporting on the law on protecting specially-designated state secrets, it seems that NHK failed to present a diverse range of views, inviting mostly experts with negative views of the law as guest commentators on the matter.

Momii, who will assume the post to take ultimate responsibility for production of programs, should constantly take care to ensure program contents are impartial while attaching importance to presenting views in a balanced manner when the programs take up subjects on which opinion is divided.

NHK’s political neutrality is a major principle stipulated in the Broadcast Law. The relationship of trust with viewers and listeners should be built by providing unbiased programs.

Expanding and improving broadcasting for people overseas is also an urgent task. It will serve the national interest to actively broadcast programs about Japanese policies, culture and tourism resources overseas.

Momii will be pressed to craft an effective strategy to expand business in such fields as sales of programs to foreign cable television companies. High expectations will be placed on him in this regard because of his personal connections and the experience he accumulated working with a major trading house.

Focusing on technological innovations such as development of next-generation high-definition broadcasting, dubbed “8K,” and simultaneous provision of programs on the Internet is another mission facing the new president.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 21, 2013)
(2013年12月21日01時33分  読売新聞)


「首都直下地震」 人命と国の中枢をどう守るか

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 20, 2013
Act to protect lives and govt center from major earthquake damage
「首都直下地震」 人命と国の中枢をどう守るか(12月20日付・読売社説)

Paralysis of the nation’s nerve center in a major earthquake is a worst-case scenario that must be prevented.

A panel of the government’s Central Disaster Management Council, which has been studying measures to deal with the aftermath of a major quake whose focus is directly below Tokyo, has compiled a report on the scale of a predicted temblor and the damage likely to be caused.

The predictions were made based on the assumption of a magnitude-7.3 earthquake occurring with its focus in southern central Tokyo. The panel has adopted this scenario because among the various quakes that might happen in Tokyo and its vicinity, there is a 70-percent possibility that a magnitude-7.3 quake will occur within 30 years and it would strike a direct blow to the nation’s nerve center.

The anticipated earthquake would cause shaking at an intensity of upper 6 on the Japanese scale of seven in central Tokyo, even reaching 7 in some areas. In the worst case, 610,000 buildings and houses are predicted to collapse and be destroyed by fire, causing about 23,000 deaths.

This reflects the fragility of a gigantic and overpopulated city. Countermeasures must be taken urgently.

Above all, fires are of serious concern. Fires are anticipated to break out in various places simultaneously and spread for about two days. It is feared that disaster victims will not be able to escape and will be engulfed by fire.

Streets will be swamped with people who have lost their homes or are unable to return home. Major roads will become unusable due to the debris while railways and other transport networks will be disrupted.

Losses of power, water and telephone connections may continue for about a week.

Disruption of official functions

Of special concern is that the Diet, the Prime Minister’s Office and government offices will cease to function. If central coordination and control are lost, the damage will be compounded.

Moreover, if the nerve center for economic activities is destroyed, production and distribution will stagnate, with a major impact across the nation. Economic damage is estimated to total about ¥95 trillion.


If the percentage of buildings in Tokyo equipped with earthquake resistance measures is enhanced from the current 87 percent to 94 percent, the death toll would be halved, according to calculations by the panel.

Regarding fires, if earthquake-sensing breakers, which stop power supply immediately upon sensing a temblor, were installed in every household to reduce the likelihood of fire, it is said that the fire death toll would drop by 90 percent.

The public and private sectors must cooperate in strengthening such immediately needed countermeasures.

The Cabinet Office, under which the disaster panel exists, has drafted a program to preserve government functions in the aftermath of a disaster, taking into account the panel’s compilation of disaster damage predictions.

The program calls for quickly grasping the damage situation to begin rescue and relief activities. It also points out the need to disseminate accurate information both at home and abroad and make all-out efforts to carry out emergency measures on such priority issues as financial stability and public safety. It will be necessary to clarify the roles to be played by the government ministries and agencies concerned so that measures can be implemented without fail.

A special law was enacted last month to accelerate countermeasures against an earthquake centered directly below Tokyo. Areas will be designated based on the law to accelerate the reinforcement of sewerage and other infrastructure systems with the joint efforts of the central and local governments. Projects must be promoted steadily on a priority basis.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 20, 2013)
(2013年12月20日01時36分  読売新聞)


イタイイタイ病 「全面解決」までの長い道のり

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 19, 2013
The long road to full settelment of itai-itai pollution disease cases
イタイイタイ病 「全面解決」までの長い道のり(12月19日付・読売社説)

As 45 years have passed since itai-itai disease was recognized by the state as a pollution-related disease, it was indeed a long journey for the issue to have been “fully resolved.”

The case of itai-itai disease, an affliction caused by pollution in areas along the Jinzugawa river in Toyama Prefecture, reached its resolution when Mitsui Mining & Smelting Co.—the company that caused the pollution—and a victims group signed a compensation agreement on Tuesday. The company has also made a formal apology to the victims for the first time.

The victims have grown old and many victims have died. It appears that the victims and the company responsible for the pollution have mutually conceded and reached a full settlement.

The main pillar of the agreement is that Mitsui Mining will pay a lump sum of ¥600,000 per person to those victims of the disease who were not recognized under the Environment Ministry’s criteria as victims of itai-itai disease and so were not eligible for compensation.

Yet those victims recognized as sufferers by the state were entitled to receive ¥10 million per person.

For victims who had sought to have their cases settled early, accepting the compensation proposal must have been a bitter decision.

Eligible for the lump sum compensation will be those who meet certain criteria, including a degree of kidney dysfunction that is a symptom developed at a stage leading to itai-itai disease. Nearly 1,000 people are believed to be eligible to receive the payments.

Mitsui Mining must compensate as many victims as possible.

Recognition difficult

Itai-itai disease is considered to be one of Japan’s four major pollution-related diseases, along with Minamata disease in Kumamoto Prefecture, Minamata disease in Niigata Prefecture, and Yokkaichi asthma in Mie Prefecture.

As nephropathy patients suffered from brittle bones, they moaned in pain, crying “Itai, itai (It hurts, it hurts),” which is what gave the disease its name. It was recognized by the state as the country’s first pollution-related disease in 1968.

The disease was caused by cadmium, a heavy metal, discharged from the Kamioka mine in Gifu Prefecture. The pollutant spread through the consumption of rice and other things contaminated by cadmium in the river and harvested in the affected areas.

Mitsui Mining has cleaned up the polluted soil, in addition to paying compensation to those recognized as victims. The cleanup of soil in the polluted farm land was completed last year.

Once pollution has been set off, it takes the polluter many years and hefty sums to provide relief measures to the victims and restore the environment—one lesson to be learned from itai-itai disease.

It can be said the criteria for officially recognizing sufferers of pollution-related diseases, set by the ministry, has blocked many sufferers from receiving compensation in a timely manner. As many sufferers of itai-itai disease were not recognized as sufferers until their cases became so serious that they developed the bone-softening disorder osteomalacia, those with relatively milder cases were left neglected.

Minamata disease is similar to itai-itai disease in that the ministry’s criteria for officially recognizing sufferers is rigid.

In April, the Supreme Court backed a lower court ruling that recognized a sufferer who was not recognized under the ministry’s criteria as a victim of Minamata disease. Lawsuits with sufferers of the disease seeking relief measures are still continuing in the country.

It is highly important, first and foremost, for sufferers of Minamata disease and others concerned with it to compromise.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 19, 2013)
(2013年12月19日01時33分  読売新聞)


国家安保戦略 日本守り抜く体制を構築せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 18, 2013
Build defensive system with clear policies under ‘proactive pacifism’
国家安保戦略 日本守り抜く体制を構築せよ(12月18日付・読売社説)


Japan’s security environment situation has rapidly become precarious in recent years. It is therefore significant that the government laid down, for the first time, comprehensive and systematic guiding principles for maintaining peace and security in the East Asian region.

The government has decided on its national security strategy, a historic set of guidelines that replaces the nation’s Basic Policy for National Defense adopted in 1957.

The strategy was drawn up by the National Security Council—a Japanese version of the NSC of the United States—launched earlier this month.

It is historic that the government has put into process a motion to defend the national interest by marshaling the collective strength of the country, not only its defense capability but also its diplomatic, economic and technological capabilities.

The strategy touts “proactive pacifism” as its principle, under which Japan will actively contribute to the peace and stability of the Asia and the broader international community.

Defend national interests

North Korea has repeatedly taken provocative military actions by advancing its nuclear and missile development programs. Meanwhile, China has rapidly built up and modernized its own military capability, while attempting to change the status quo by force in areas near the Senkaku Islands by announcing a new air defense identification zone. We must also remain vigilant against international terrorism and cyber-attack threats.

It is difficult to singlehandedly maintain the security of our nation. By contributing to peace in the region and the global community, the situation in areas surrounding Japan will improve, and cooperation with other countries concerned, including the United States, will be strengthened. Such contributions will prove valuable for enhancing Japan’s security.

As long as Japan holds the position of a major player in the international community, it will have a say in drawing up various international rules, concerning, for instance, maritime activities and free trade.

To this end, the promotion of the proactive pacifism will be key.

The strategy defines the peace and further prosperity of Japan as its national interests, while citing such challenges as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the rapid rise of China. It also defines strategic defense approaches, such as the formulation of the overall defense system and the reinforcement of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

It is critical that the NSC swiftly takes charge and reflects this strategy appropriately in concrete policies. Efforts must also be made to create a cycle in which the strategy can be changed in accord with fresh developments, enhancing and improving its content.

We are gratified that the strategy has referred to a policy of fostering respect for other countries and their people, in addition to love for this country and region.

Regarding new diplomatic and foreign policies, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he will clearly present them to the world and to its people.

It is important for Japan to give detailed explanations both at home and abroad to distinguish its diplomatic methods from the self-righteous methods of China.

Integrated defense capability

The new version of the National Defense Program Guidelines, which the Cabinet has adopted along with the national security strategy, embraces a concept termed “dynamic joint defense force.” The idea is derived from “dynamic defense power,” a concept framed in the current basic defense program, which was enforced in 2010. The new concept attaches great importance to managing the three arms of the Self-Defense Forces in a flexible and integrated manner.

The government has good reason to rework its basic defense framework to shore up our nation’s preparedness to deal with “gray-zone situations” that fall between peace and an emergency, a task that must be complemented by efforts to secure both a qualitative and quantitative improvement in the country’s defense capability.

Japan is witnessing new threats today, even though the end of the Cold War virtually eliminated the danger of foreign armed forces invading the nation. New dangers include the possibility of remote Japanese islands being occupied by other countries, as well as ballistic missile attacks and acts of terrorism. Improving Japan’s defense capacity not only qualitatively but quantitatively is essential to reinforce surveillance efforts aimed at maintaining command of its territorial waters and airspace.

It is reasonable that the new defense program guidelines call for an increase in SDF destroyers and fighter planes, after a continuous decline in numbers over the years. The government should quickly introduce Global Hawk surveillance drones while also increasing the number of SDF early-warning aircraft.

The latest defense framework emphasizes the need to better defend the territorial integrity of isolated islands. It entails the addition of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to the lineup of Ground Self-Defense Force equipment and creation of an amphibious rapid deployment brigade.

To defend remote islands, the SDF must improve its ability to swiftly mobilize troops. It is essential for the SDF to carry out joint exercises with the U.S. forces under various scenarios, while also reexamining the appropriateness of current restrictions on the use of weapons by SDF personnel in gray-zone situations.

However, it is questionable whether the number of GSDF personnel should be increased by 5,000 from the current 154,000 as laid out in the new defense program guidelines.

With the fiscal situation in dire straits, it is impossible to expect a large increase in defense budget appropriations. The nation’s defense capabilities should be improved in a manner that will allot funds where they are truly necessary and curtail appropriations where possible.  厳しい国家財政の下、防衛予算の大幅な伸びは期待できず、防衛力整備のメリハリが不可欠だ。

The new defense policy outline is correct in reducing the number of SDF tanks and firearms. Similar cuts should have been sought in areas of lower priority.

We feel that maintaining the current level of GSDF personnel in Hokkaido may be intended to help alleviate problems arising from the prefecture’s increasing depopulation.

Right to collective self-defense

The new defense program guidelines state that the government will continue to study the advisability of possessing the capability to attack enemy ballistic missile bases and other facilities.

It is imperative for the government to hold in-depth discussions about what kind of ability this country should develop to complement the Japan-U.S. alliance, instead of unilaterally carrying out such a strike.

Another task that must be fulfilled is reconsidering the government’s current stance on the interpretation of the right to collective self-defense under the Constitution.

The government’s official view on the issue must be reversed to make it possible for the nation to exercise that right in the event of an armed attack, when it comes to carrying out what the new basic defense framework terms as “proactive contribution to peace” and shoring up the bilateral alliance.

To arrive at a conclusion on the matter after next year’s ordinary Diet session ends, the Abe administration should start coordinating its opinions in discussions with key players who are cautious about Japan exercising the right, namely New Komeito—the junior partner in the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition—and the Cabinet Legislation Bureau.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 18, 2013)
(2013年12月18日01時36分  読売新聞)


張成沢氏処刑 失政への不満封じる恐怖政治

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 17, 2013
North Korea’s reign of terror aimed at containing people’s frustrations
張成沢氏処刑 失政への不満封じる恐怖政治(12月17日付・読売社説)

The latest developments in North Korea indicate that the country has become even more unstable since former leader Kim Jong Il died two years ago.

Jang Song Thaek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission who was regarded as the No. 2 man in the Kim Jong Un regime, was sentenced to death for allegedly trying to take power by staging a military coup. He was executed the same day, just four days after he was ousted from all his posts and expelled from the Workers’ Party of Korea.

These developments illustrate the coldhearted nature of Kim—the ruling party’s first secretary—who is trying to strengthen his dictatorship through a reign of terror that included liquidating his uncle, in the apparent belief that without doing so he would not be able to maintain control of the country.

North Korea’s state-run media reported the sentence, handed down at a special military court of the State Security Department—the country’s secret police—accusing Jang of attempting to bring about the collapse of the country’s economy and people’s livelihoods. It also said that if the state was driven to the verge of collapse, Jang believed he could grab the reins of power.

Jang was accused in court of a diverse range of crimes, including an act of treason by cheaply selling off the country’s land with a 50-year lease to a foreign country—land in a special economic and trade zone in Rason near its borders with China and Russia—and triggering tremendous economic confusion with the redenomination of the currency four years ago.

To what extent these accusations are true is not known. But the issuance of this statement itself is tantamount to North Korea admitting there are cracks in the regime and economic maladministration. Kim’s regime may be trying to lay all the responsibility on Jang to justify its legitimacy.

North Korea, which is reinforcing its state control at home, may adopt a policy of external provocations.

There are strong fears that the country may flaunt its nuclear deterrent by conducting its fourth nuclear test and fire yet another missile under the guise of launching an artificial satellite.

Nuclear missile development

In this respect, it has been learned through analyses of satellite photos that North Korea has restarted a plutonium reactor, while moving ahead with improving nuclear test and missile launch sites. The international community must pay close attention to such developments and cooperate to deal with them.

Now that Jang has been removed from the scene, Kim apparently intends to carry out economic activities under the Cabinet-led leadership.

There are no signs of the country changing its policy of pursuing, in parallel, both economic reconstruction and the strengthening of its nuclear capability.

As long as North Korea continues to pursue nuclear and missile development, international economic sanctions against the country will not be relaxed. The country will not be successful in wooing any foreign investment or foreign tourists.

The North Korean people’s frustration will grow as economic hardships continue. The danger of the country collapsing from within is growing.

In its efforts to develop the northeastern part of China by helping stabilize North Korea, Beijing has been urging Pyongyang to carry out reforms and open its market. The execution of Jang, who had assumed the pivotal role in this scheme, is probably a major blow to China’s influence.

The destabilization of a despotic state developing nuclear weapons could lead to the outbreak of domestic turmoil. This is an important phase when Japan should prepare itself for any emergency by firmly maintaining the Japan-U.S. alliance and reinforcing its defense capability.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 17, 2013)
(2013年12月17日01時35分  読売新聞)


武器輸出新原則 防衛産業維持にも目を向けよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 16, 2013
Govt must consider how to maintain defense industry, production base
武器輸出新原則 防衛産業維持にも目を向けよ(12月16日付・読売社説)

Japan should reinforce its international cooperation in the area of defense equipment and maintain its defense technology and production base as national security priorities.

The government and ruling parties have started drastically reviewing the three principles on arms exports and drawing up new rules on arms exports.

The three principles, confirmed in 1967 by the administration of then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, prohibit Japan from exporting arms to countries in the Communist bloc, countries to which arms exports are banned by U.N. resolutions and countries involved in conflict.

In 1976, the administration under then Prime Minister Takeo Miki went so far as to effectively ban all such exports, saying the nation must refrain from exporting arms to even countries not subject to the three principles.

Since 1983, however, the government had made one exception after another to the principles, as confirmed in informal remarks made by chief cabinet secretaries, providing the United States with weapons technology, exporting mine detectors and patrol vessels for peace-building efforts and jointly developing and producing missile defense equipment with other countries.

As a result, the whole system has become extremely complex and hard to understand.

This time, the administration under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to end the total ban and to narrow the list of countries subject to export restrictions, while at the same time making the whole system more consistent. Such efforts to meet the needs of the times are appropriate.

Enhance national security

The important thing is to create a standard that will enhance Japan’s national security.

In light of the recent military developments in China and North Korea, the international situation surrounding Japan has become ever harsher.

Expanding cooperation in the area of defense equipment with such countries as the United States, an ally of Japan, European countries and Australia will stimulate the improvement of Japan’s defense technology and the reinforcement of international cooperation, thus contributing to the peace and security of Japan.

It is important to expand international cooperation by making it possible for Japan to export finished products, and parts and components of arms, in addition to joint development and production of arms with other countries.

It is also necessary to establish procedures appropriately to prevent the arms from being transferred to a third country and to tighten export controls on general-purpose parts that can be used either militarily or commercially.

The government and ruling parties must discuss these issues properly and work out a conclusion soon.

It must be kept in mind that because the government’s defense budgets were cut back for 10 years in a row up to fiscal 2012, Japan’s defense technology and domestic production base has been undermined.

In the past 10 years, nearly 90 private companies have pulled out of the defense industry, making it hard in some areas to secure technicians with specific skills.

As tanks, destroyers and fighter planes become ever more technologically advanced, the unit price of the equipment rises. Repair and maintenance costs for the equipment have also been rising. As a result, the government has no choice but to reduce the amount of such equipment procured, putting a strain on the management of companies in the defense industry.

The decline in the nation’s defense technology and its production base will directly lead to the decline in the nation’s overall defense capability. The government needs to discuss ways to maintain and foster the nation’s defense industry in earnest under the constraint of limited defense spending.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 16, 2013)
(2013年12月16日01時22分  読売新聞)


日・ASEAN 海と空で対中連携が強まった

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 15, 2013
Japan, ASEAN strengthen ties in bid to counter China in air and at sea
日・ASEAN 海と空で対中連携が強まった(12月15日付・読売社説)

In a success in his Southeast Asian diplomacy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saw a summit meeting of Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agree to jointly urge China to abide by international rules.

At a special summit meeting among Japan and 10 ASEAN nations held in Tokyo, the leaders adopted a joint statement saying it is important to ensure the safety of seas and the freedom of navigation as well as to resolve conflicts in accordance with the “universally recognized principles of international laws.”

The statement clearly stated the nations will cooperate to ensure the “freedom of overflight” and “civil aviation safety” in air zones over the high seas—with China’s air defense identification zone in mind, although it did not specifically refer to China.

Some Southeast Asian nations, such as Cambodia and Laos, have close ties with China. Nonetheless, it was significant that Japan and the ASEAN member nations issued the joint statement with the aim of holding China in check, which has heightened tensions not only on the seas but also in the air.

Without consulting with its neighbors, China unilaterally set its ADIZ over the East China Sea and threatened to adopt “emergency defensive measures” by the Chinese military against any aircraft that refuses to obey its instructions. It also hinted at setting another ADIZ over the South China Sea.

“Without free ocean and air [navigation], we can’t expect to have active trade,” Abe stressed at a press conference.

‘Proactive pacifism’

During his separate meetings with the ASEAN leaders and during the summit sessions, Abe said Japan will contribute to regional stability based on “proactive pacifism” and proposed holding a meeting of defense ministers from Japan and the ASEAN members.

It is imperative for Japan to deepen cooperative security ties with the ASEAN countries to deal with China and North Korea.

ASEAN and China are considering setting legally binding codes of conduct in the South China Sea, where they have prolonged territorial disputes, but Beijing is reluctant to accept such codes. Japan should cooperate with the United States in backing ASEAN efforts to conclude an early agreement on codes of conduct with China.

During the special summit meeting, participants also made progress in the area of economic cooperation. They broadly agreed in the two fields of investment and service in negotiations for a Japan-ASEAN economic partnership agreement.

Abe expressed Japan’s support for an economic community ASEAN aims to create by the end of 2015 and pledged to actively provide official development assistance to the body.

Absorbing the vigor of rapidly growing Southeast Asia will provide a springboard for Japan’s economic growth.

The leaders also formulated a mid- and long-term plan for cooperation not only in political and economic fields but also in the area of antidisaster measures. They also plan to have more active exchanges in culture, arts, tourism and sports.

Japan and ASEAN have just observed the 40th anniversary of their friendship this year. It is hoped that they will strengthen their strategic ties even further.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 15, 2013)
(2013年12月15日01時25分  読売新聞)


与党税制大綱 家計と景気への目配り十分か

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 13, 2013
Reduced consumption rate system must be at same time as hike to 10%
与党税制大綱 家計と景気への目配り十分か(12月13日付・読売社説)


We are concerned that increasing the consumption tax rate to 8 percent from April may dampen personal spending. The latest tax policy agreement between the ruling coalition parties has left unresolved problems regarding measures to shore up business activities.

The Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito decided Thursday on an outline for tax system revisions for fiscal 2014. The decision signifies the ruling parties’ endorsement of a government budget draft for next fiscal year and a set of tax revision bills to be presented to the Diet early next year.

The LDP-Komeito agreement has fallen short of deciding on a specific date to introduce a reduced consumption tax rate system to curb the tax rate on food and other daily necessities to benefit low-income people. The agreement also has incorporated such items as income and residential tax levies on salaried workers. Steps to impose heavier tax burdens on households are conspicuous in the accord.

Specific timing ambiguous

The biggest focus in the tax revision discussions was whether a reduced tax rate system should be introduced at the same time as an increase in the sales tax to 10 percent scheduled for October 2015.

In January, the ruling coalition reached an agreement to “make efforts to introduce” a tax break on necessities when the planned hike to 10 percent occurs.

The ruling parties' accord, this time, however, said a reduced tax rate system “will be introduced at a time when the consumption tax rate is 10 percent, after necessary financial resources and understanding from the public, including businesses, are secured.” It added that the ruling camp will “reach a conclusion on the matter by December 2014.”

The proviso added to the ruling coalition’s accord, such as “understanding from the public,” will weigh heavily on future discussions on a reduced tax rate, since the wording in the accord can be interpreted as either “at the same time as the hike to 10 percent” or “sometime after” the hike.

This is the product of compromise between the LDP, which has remained wary of implementing a reduced tax rate, and Komeito, which has strongly insisted the proposed tax break on such items as food and newspapers be introduced when the rate is raised to 10 percent.

A reduced tax rate system would mitigate tax burdens on all taxpayers, including lower-income people, helping shore up a broad spectrum of household budgets.

It is also problematic that the tax system revision outline this time has come short of discussing specifics, such as which items would be eligible for a lower tax rate.

Decisions on specific items to be covered and plans to put the reduced rate system into practice must not be postponed unnecessarily. A decision should be made quickly to introduce a reduced tax rate at the same time the rate is increased to 10 percent.

During the ruling camp’s tax discussions, the LDP’s Tax System Research Commission and the Finance Ministry pointed out the introduction of the reduced tax rate system would make it necessary to employ an invoice system to log the tax rates and amounts item by item, leading to complicated clerical work for businesses.

Given that business deals free from the consumption tax, including land transactions, and those subject to the tax have been in place even under the existing tax system, Komeito refuted that argument in the discussions, noting a reduced tax rate system could be realized without an invoice system. The LDP tax panel and the Finance Ministry should have more aggressively addressed resolving impediments to employing a reduced tax rate.

The tax system revision outline also includes steps to reduce the income tax breaks for company employees and other salaried workers, and raising their income and residential taxes. People whose annual income exceeds ¥12 million will be subject to heavier taxes from 2016, and those whose annual income is more than ¥10 million will be subject to them from 2017.

According to a trial calculation by the Finance Ministry, people with an annual income of ¥15 million are estimated to have an additional tax burden of ¥70,000 to ¥110,000 a year. There are fears this will dampen their motivation to spend in anticipation of an increase in the burden on household budgets.

As the planned consumption tax hike is expected to increase the perceived burden on low-income earners, the ruling parties seem to have tried to alleviate the sense of unfairness by imposing increased tax burdens on high-income earners.

Fast and sloppy

However, full-scale discussions on the reexamination of tax deductions were conducted for merely a week. It cannot be helped if the ruling parties are criticized for targeting company employees, whose income can be easily ascertained, unlike that of the self-employed, to ensure tax revenue.

Quite a few people are increasingly dissatisfied over the fact that the ruling parties quickly decided on a tax hike for salaried workers while not presenting a time frame for introducing the reduced consumption tax rates.

In the case of taxation on automobiles, the tax hike for light motor vehicles was incorporated into the outline of tax system revisions as a measure to secure fiscal resources needed to phase out the automobile acquisition tax from next fiscal year.

The tax on light vehicles is less than that on compact cars. As long as light vehicles also impose burdens on roads and the environment, it is unavoidable for the light vehicle tax to be raised in line with the beneficiary-to-pay principle.

In regard to lowering the corporate tax, which was regarded as a centerpiece of the government’s growth strategy, the outline said merely that the matter will “continue to be studied.” Discussions on concrete measures such as the timing and margin for a tax cut have not deepened.

Japan’s corporate tax rates—even if excluding the special corporate tax for reconstruction from the 2011 disaster, which is planned to be abolished at the end of fiscal 2013, one year ahead of schedule as an economic measure—are higher than those in Europe and many other Asian countries.

Cut corporate tax urgently

To stem the hollowing out of industry and lure investments from overseas, it will be indispensable to lower corporate tax rates further. The matter must be studied at a faster pace.

Companies that will benefit from the early abolition of the special corporate tax for reconstruction should use improved profits for wage hikes and employment expansion, thereby spreading benefits to households.

The outline has also put forth a policy of approving up to 50 percent of entertainment expenses used by big businesses to entertain business partners and clients as necessary expenses with no tax levied.

It is understandable that the outline aims to expand the tax exemption system, which has been applied to part of the entertainment expenses of small and midsize companies as impairment costs, to big businesses. We hope sales for drinking and eating establishments will increase by making it easier for firms to increase entertainment expenses and that this will prove effective in curbing the adverse effects of the consumption tax hike.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 13, 2013)
(2013年12月13日01時39分  読売新聞)


マンデラ氏死去 今こそ継承したい寛容の精神

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 12, 2013
World must learn from, carry on Mandela’s legacy of forgiveness
マンデラ氏死去 今こそ継承したい寛容の精神(12月12日付・読売社説)

About 100 heads of state and other world leaders mourned the death of Nelson Mandela at a memorial service for the former South African president in Johannesburg on Tuesday, showing how Mandela was revered all around the world.

Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate honored for his strenuous fight against apartheid and eventual success in ending his country’s system of racial segregation, died last Thursday. He was 95.

The global dignitaries at the national memorial service held for Mandela at a stadium in South Africa’s largest city included Crown Prince Naruhito and former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. In a memorial address, U.S. President Barack Obama praised the anti-apartheid icon’s achievements, describing him as “a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice and in the process moved billions around the world.”

During the second half of the 20th century, Afrikaner whites, the South African minority that ruled the country, repressed the black majority under legislation based on the apartheid policy. Black members of the population did not possess the right to vote and were even restricted in where they could live.

A lawyer, Mandela fought racial discrimination in his country after joining the anti-apartheid activities of the African National Congress, then a political party struggling for the freedom of black South Africans. Mandela’s adherence to his cause despite 27 years in prison for treason provokes amazement.

The true worth of Mandela’s political leadership was demonstrated when and after he was asked by his nation’s white government to help end apartheid. By that time, the South African government could no longer endure the international sanctions imposed on the country.

The power of forgiveness

Mandela ended the ANC’s pursuit of an armed struggle and negotiated with the white government, which resulted in an end to apartheid and a national election open to all races. This enabled the ANC to take the reins of government, with Mandela becoming South Africa’s first black president. However, he urged the black majority not to retaliate against whites.

In his inaugural address as South African president in 1994, Mandela pledged to “build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts.” In fact, the position of vice president was assumed by Mandela’s predecessor, a white president.

Mandela’s spirit of tolerance—with which he sought to transform South Africa into a nation in which all ethnic groups could live in harmony—deeply affected people around the world.

In 1995, South Africa hosted the rugby World Cup. Mandela cheered for his country’s national team, which comprised mostly white players—an episode that helped create a sense of unity among South Africans. The story was later made into an American film that became known to many people around the world.

Mandela’s achievements also included his successful post-apartheid economic policies, which included efforts to skillfully utilize the vitality of white industrialists instead of depriving them of management rights. He did not persist in his own view that his country’s mines should be placed under state control. All this contributed to economic growth.

However, today South Africa seems to be experiencing what may be regarded as the adverse effects of the ANC’s prolonged rule, including corruption within its administration and abuse of privilege. Little progress has been made in narrowing economic disparities between the white minority and the black majority.

Ethnic conflicts and bloodshed attributable to religious differences continue to rage in many parts of the world. Not only South Africans but also people around the world must remind themselves of the precious lessons taught by Mandela.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 12, 2013)
(2013年12月12日01時27分  読売新聞)


TPP交渉 日米対立が招いた合意先送り

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 11, 2013
Final TPP accord postponed due to conflict between Japan, U.S.
TPP交渉 日米対立が招いた合意先送り(12月11日付・読売社説)

As participating countries failed to reconcile a variety of conflicts, including one between Japan and the United States, an accord on creating a new free trade zone in Asia and the Pacific region has been postponed till next year. A rough road lies ahead for the negotiations.

A ministerial meeting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks ended in Singapore on Tuesday.

Japan, the United States, Australia and nine other nations in the talks abandoned their goal of reaching an accord by the end of this year, which they originally hoped for. The countries will continue intensive discussions and hold a ministerial meeting again in January, they said in a joint statement issued after the meeting.

As the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama had given the highest priority to reaching a final accord within this year, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman continued pressing Japan and emerging countries on tariff elimination and market liberalization.

But it is difficult to settle negotiations on issues on which the participants’ interests are complexly tangled. It can be said the latest talks highlighted the reality that the talks will not proceed as Washington hoped.

In particular, the conflict between Japanese and U.S. interests became clear. There is no denying that the conflict between the two countries may have held up negotiations as a whole.

Sticking points

The Liberal Democratic Party has been asserting that rice, wheat and barley, and three other sensitive agricultural products should be regarded as “sanctuaries” exempt from tariff elimination. Bearing this in mind, Japan rejected the U.S. call for full tariff elimination, with no exceptions.

Instead, Japan reportedly proposed, as a concession, to the U.S. side that it would raise its liberalization rate—the percentage of trade items that will be tariff-free—to about 95 percent. But the United States reportedly rejected the proposal.

On the other hand, Washington, which aims at expanding sales of U.S. automobiles in Japan, called on Tokyo to ease regulations on vehicle safety and environmental standards. But Japan steadily refused.

With midterm elections slated for next November, the Obama administration, which wants to showcase a final TPP accord as its achievement, is not in a position to make easy compromises.

Yet Japan needs to proactively tap into the vitality of fast-growing Asian economies and fuel its own growth, rather than merely maintaining a defensive stance.

While trying to reinforce the international competitiveness of agriculture, a sector Japan has been called on to liberalize further, the government must make a strategic plan to promote free trade, centering around the TPP.

Fierce conflicts between the United States and such emerging economies as Malaysia and Vietnam over the protection of intellectual property rights and competition policies can also be cited as reasons why the participating countries gave up on the final accord in Singapore.

The conflicts among the 12 countries are deep-rooted, so there is little cause for optimism that they will be able to reach an accord at next month’s ministerial meeting. The major focus will be how flexibly the United States can respond to other countries’ assertions.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s next moves deserve close attention, as that country has made clear its intention to participate in the TPP.

For South Korea to join the negotiations, it needs to win the approval of the 12 participating countries. That could happen as early as the spring. Before that happens, Japan needs to take the lead in formulating the trade rules and aim to reach an early accord to best take advantage of having already been a member.

Japan must demonstrate tough bargaining power in pursuit of its national interests.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 11, 2013)
(2013年12月11日01時43分  読売新聞)