65歳まで雇用 若者の仕事を奪わぬように

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 30, 2013)
Older Japanese must work longer without crowding out the young
65歳まで雇用 若者の仕事を奪わぬように(3月29日付・読売社説)

The revised Law for the Stabilization of Employment of Elderly People, which requires companies to allow all employees to stay on the payroll until they are 65 if they wish to do so, takes effect on April 1.

The revised law comes in conjunction with a gradual increase in the eligibility age for benefits under the government-run kosei nenkin corporate pension insurance scheme to 65 from the current 60, beginning from April. The revision was enacted in August last year.

The purpose of the legislation is understandable: the need to help people deal with a period in which they might receive no pension. It can be said the times we live in require companies to continue employing all of their elderly workers as long as they desire to stay on at their jobs.

The current law calls for companies to make efforts to enable employees to work until the age of 65 after the retirement age of 60, either by abolishing the mandatory age limit, raising the age limit or implementing reemployment measures for retired workers.

When companies choose one of these reemployment systems, the current law is designed to enable the firm to set certain criteria in selecting employees eligible to continue working, such as health conditions and motivation for working.


Elderly can boost economy

The latest revision to the system is mainly aimed at doing away with the stipulation of criteria, to ban companies from retaining only certain selected workers.
Under the revised law, the government will issue a warning to companies that fail to comply with the new system. If they then refuse to comply, the companies' names will be made public.

To be sure, the nation's average life expectancy has risen markedly and the health of people in their 60s has improved a great deal.

It is significant that people aged 60 to 64, who have so far been supported by the pension system, will instead be able to support the social security system by working and paying premiums for the pension program.

It is hoped that people in this age bracket will receive higher income and also engage in higher spending, thus boosting the country's economic growth.

However, a wide divergence tends to appear among people in their 60s in terms of their willingness and ability to work.

It is reasonable that the business world at one time opposed mandatory continuation of employment up to the age of 65 on the grounds that the system would increase personnel costs, weighing on corporate management.

It is of the highest importance to ensure companies under the new system never deprive young people of employment opportunities for the sake of continued employment of the elderly. They also must never use the system as an excuse to increase the number of nonregular workers.

However, about 40 percent of employers responding to a poll said they will "curb employment of young recruits" following the implementation of the revised law.


'Age of lifelong work'

To prevent the dynamism of society as a whole from dwindling, all companies are urged to use ingenuity to provide jobs for both young and old.

Many firms will have to make important judgments regarding allocation of personnel expenses, such as curbing pay raises for employees in their 40s and 50s.

Meanwhile, the United States, Britain and Germany have already decided to raise their pension eligibility age to 67 or 68.

Given that Japan has been graying more rapidly than these countries, it will be hard for this nation to avoid further raising the pension eligibility age beyond 65.

Since the graying of society coupled with low birthrates will certainly be accelerated, people's working lives will most likely become longer. Under the circumstances, companies and workers alike must think hard about what should be done to prepare for the advent of an "age of lifelong work."

We urge the government to work out and implement policies conducive to expanding employment by giving more teeth to measures for encouraging the development of industries with high growth potential.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 29, 2013)
(2013年3月29日01時38分  読売新聞)


経済連携交渉 日本主導で自由貿易圏加速を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 29, 2013)
Japan should take upper hand in FTA negotiations
経済連携交渉 日本主導で自由貿易圏加速を(3月28日付・読売社説)

Prompted by Japan's recent announcement it would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, various large-scale, free trade agreement initiatives have begun materializing one after another.

On Tuesday, the inaugural round of negotiations on a trilateral FTA between Japan, China and South Korea kicked off in Seoul.

Tokyo has also agreed with the European Union to begin talks in April on an economic partnership agreement. In May, negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will begin, with countries including Japan, China, South Korea and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expected to join the talks.

We can say the trend of nations and regions vying to create FTA frameworks beneficial to themselves has accelerated.

As Japan is scheduled to participate in multiple FTA negotiations, there is an opportunity for the nation to proactively engage in establishing regional trade rules. The government must devote itself to realizing these FTAs at the earliest opportunity, paving the way for boosting Japan's economic growth.

Regarding FTA talks, it is clear that Japan is lagging behind South Korea, which has already concluded FTAs with the United States and the EU. It has been a considerable time since Japan presented FTA proposals to its Asian neighbors and the EU, but talks on these have been slow to materialize.


Japan rallying from behind

However, the EU, China and South Korea have recently begun making favorable comments regarding negotiations with Japan, following Tokyo's move to join TPP talks.

It appears the EU intends to counter the influence of the TPP with an EU-Japan FTA. The EU has also agreed with the United States to begin FTA negotiations, with talks expected to start soon. It is obvious that the EU is concerned about the possibility of being left behind in the global trend.

We assume Beijing has a similar goal. The problem of the Senkaku Islands persists between Japan and China, but it seems China is trying to counter the United States' deepening influence in Asia by engaging in talks with Japan and South Korea.

Japan's challenge is clear--whether it can take the initiative in setting up trade rules.

Points of contention in Japan-EU talks will be eliminating the EU's high tariffs on automobiles and other products, as well as Japan's market deregulation in fields such as cars and medical equipment. Reaching an agreement quickly presents Japan and the EU with many hurdles to overcome.

The outlook of negotiations between Japan, China and South Korea is also unclear, as issues such as intellectual property rights and competition policies are expected to be discussed at the talks.


Need to be a tough negotiator

Regarding TPP talks, countries are expected to employ various tactics on whether to exempt agricultural products, such as rice, from tariff elimination.

A major premise for Japan in joining the TPP talks is to seek to create a new free trade framework that will enhance the level of the market openness of the region.

Meanwhile, by simultaneously undertaking other FTA negotiations, Japan will be able to put pressure on the United States, the EU and China. The government must use its bargaining power to pursue the interests of the nation in the negotiations. It is also important to keep in mind the necessity of inducing China to comply with international trade rules.

As Japan--one of the world's major exporters--has recorded trade deficits in recent years, it is urgent to get the nation back on its feet. Japan's announcement to join the TPP talks had a far-reaching impact on the world. To exploit this opportunity, Japan must prepare a sharp strategy for the negotiations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 28, 2013)
(2013年3月28日01時13分  読売新聞)


衆院選違憲判決 国会は司法の警告に即応せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 28, 2013)
Diet should respond quickly to warnings from judiciary
衆院選違憲判決 国会は司法の警告に即応せよ(3月27日付・読売社説)


Never before has the legislature been so harshly criticized for its negligence by the judiciary.

Rulings have been handed down in 15 of 16 lawsuits heard at high courts and high court branches across Japan over vote-value disparities in the December House of Representatives election.

In 13 of the cases, the courts found results in related single-seat constituencies in the Dec. 16 lower house election to be unconstitutional. In the two remaining cases, the election results were found to be in an "unconstitutional state."
There was not a single case in which the election results were ruled constitutional.

The rulings were handed down as a result of examinations by about 50 high court judges. The Diet must seriously take the rulings to heart and quickly take concrete measures to correct vote-value disparities.


Rectification taking too long

Do vote-value disparities in last year's lower house election--with votes in one constituency worth up to 2.43 times as much as those in another--violate the Constitution, which guarantees people's equality under the law?

If so, is the time period in which the Diet left the disparities unaddressed permissible? These were points of contention in the lawsuits.

The rulings that found the election results to be unconstitutional judged that vote-value disparities violate the Constitution and that a reasonable time period to correct the disparities had elapsed.

The rulings that found the election results to be in an unconstitutional state consider the vote-value disparities to violate the Constitution but view the time period in which the disparities were left unaddressed as permissible.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2009 lower house election, in which the maximum vote-value disparity was 2.30-to-1, was in an unconstitutional state. The disparity widened further in the lower house election last year.

Therefore, it was only to be expected that a series of tough judgments would be handed down by the high courts.

But how large can a vote-value disparity grow and still be considered constitutional? The rulings handed down so far are not necessarily clear on this point.

Another problem is that the Hiroshima High Court and the high court's Okayama branch declared results in certain single-seat constituencies in the December lower house election were invalid.

Other courts have applied the legal principle of "circumstantial ruling" and found election results themselves to be valid in consideration of the confusion that might be created if they were ruled invalid.

But the Hiroshima High Court did not apply this circumstantial ruling principle, saying, "The Supreme Court's right to determine the constitutionality of laws has been disregarded."

The high court also expressed a view that September of last year, 1-1/2 years after the top court's ruling, should have been the deadline for rectifying vote-value disparities.

However, no concrete basis for this standard was given.


Undue judicial interference

The Hiroshima High Court also ruled that the election results in the Hiroshima constituencies will be rendered invalid after Nov. 26 this year.

The decision took into account the fact that the Council on House of Representatives Electoral Districts has been working on revamping these districts since Nov. 26 last year.

It is not clear if a one-year grace period is necessary before the ruling takes effect.

Staying the effect of the ruling can be taken as an intrusion by the judiciary into territory where discretionary power is granted to the legislature.

The Okayama branch of the Hiroshima High Court immediately invalidated the result for an Okayama Prefecture constituency as the principle of equality in the value of each vote, it said, took precedence over concerns for political confusion. We find such a ruling unacceptably reckless.

The existing Public Offices Election Law has no detailed stipulations about revoting, should an election be deemed invalid.

For example, no clear legal procedures for revoting are mentioned, including whether new elections should be held only in constituencies where lawmakers lost their seats, or if instead the lower house should be dissolved for a general election.

Should the rulings nullifying the election results stick, Japan's politics would be thrown into utter confusion.

All rulings related to vote disparities are expected to be taken to the Supreme Court. It is hoped that the top court will make a realistic decision.


Parties must cooperate on solution

Meanwhile, the government and ruling parties should ensure that a draft bill be enacted swiftly to reduce five seats in less populated constituencies in an effort to narrow vote disparities among the least and most represented constituencies to within a 1-to-2 ratio. Then, they must take on the task of revamping the electoral districts.

Reducing five seats without increasing any seats in densely populated districts, as stipulated in the draft bill, is based on the current zoning method, which the top court deemed a major cause for producing vote disparities and urged to be abolished.
The current zoning method first allocates one seat each to Tokyo and 46 prefectures out of the 300 district seats and then distributes the rest of the seats to each prefecture based on population.

As the ruling by the Okayama branch indicated, the reduction of a mere five seats does not amount to an appropriate legislative step to rectify the gap in the value of each vote.

There is, however, no prospect in sight for a sweeping electoral rezoning, hampered by conflicting interests of parties in both the ruling and opposition camps.

The Liberal Democratic Party's reform plan calls for reducing seats under the proportional representation section from 180 to 150. Sixty of the seats would be preferentially allotted to the political parties ranked second or lower.
Such a preferential seat allotment, many say, would violate the Constitution's guarantee of equality in the value of each vote.

The electoral zoning deemed unconstitutional by the judiciary should not be replaced, as part of electoral reforms, by a different system feared to also be unconstitutional.

Upper house electoral zoning, like that of the lower house, has been ruled to be in an unconstitutional state.
Last November, the Diet revised the Public Offices Election Law to add four seats in populated prefectures and eliminate four seats from less populated prefectures.
The law revision, however, was only a stop-gap measure.

The electoral system not only expresses the will of the public but also serves as the foundation of a smooth political process. The Diet must carry out drastic electoral reforms after studying on how parliamentary duties should be divided between the upper and lower chambers.

If conflicting interests of political parties stand in the way of electoral reform, the only way left is to set up an expert council to get electoral reform under way.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 27, 2013)
(2013年3月27日01時12分  読売新聞)


国連人権調査委 北朝鮮に拉致解決迫るテコだ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 27, 2013)
Pile intl pressure on North Korea over human rights violations
国連人権調査委 北朝鮮に拉致解決迫るテコだ(3月26日付・読売社説)

The U.N. Human Rights Council recently unanimously adopted a resolution on establishing a panel to investigate human rights abuse in North Korea.

It is important for the international community to seize this momentum and step up pressure on the reclusive country to improve its human rights conditions, which would pave the way for the swift resolution of North Korea's abduction of Japanese.

The resolution was jointly submitted by Japan and the European Union, and denounced North Korea's "systematic, widespread and grave violation of human rights." It stipulated the establishment of an inquiry panel of three experts to investigate human rights abuse including the use of torture and labor camps, as well as "enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states."

The United Nations has appointed a special rapporteur tasked with investigating North Korea's human rights conditions every year, but establishing the panel will enable a more exhaustive investigation.

The Japanese government should unreservedly support the panel. It must unveil the full picture of the abductions--a crime committed by a state--and bring all the Japanese victims home.


High expectations for panel

The United Nations has adopted resolutions condemning North Korea's human rights situation annually in recent years. Votes cast against the resolutions in support of North Korea have decreased over the years, while votes in favor have increased. Since last year, these resolutions have been adopted unanimously.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution on tougher sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear and missile development programs. Pyongyang has continuously thumbed its nose at international condemnation of the programs. Even China has become more willing to implement sanctions on North Korea.

The North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un must take this mounting international pressure to heart.

North Korea likely will keep refusing to cooperate with U.N. investigations, and will not open its doors to inquiry panel members.

However, the panel can collect detailed evidence from victims, defectors, their relatives, governments and agencies outside North Korea. The panel is expected to compile a report on the state of Pyongyang's human rights violations and specific countermeasures. The report will be issued as an official U.N. document a year from now.

The panel report could firmly pursue the North Korean leadership's responsibility for crimes against humanity. The international community must keep squeezing North Korea until it improves its human rights record.


Little time left for families

The Human Rights Council resolution reflects the Japanese government's strenuous efforts on the abduction issue. We praise the government for its work.

In his policy speech earlier this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his mission will not end until all abducted Japanese stand again on their native soil. Family members of the abductees have grown old, so there is no time to waste. We ask the prime minister to produce tangible results.

The government should develop a strategic and aggressive diplomatic policy toward North Korea, including the option of resuming intergovernmental talks.

Without a comprehensive solution to the abduction, nuclear and missile problems, it will be impossible to normalize relations with North Korea. It is essential for the government to maintain this stance when dealing with Pyongyang.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26, 2013)
(2013年3月26日01時35分  読売新聞)


公示地価 不動産デフレ脱却へもう一息

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 26, 2013)
Revitalization of business crucial to escaping real estate deflation
公示地価 不動産デフレ脱却へもう一息(3月25日付・読売社説)

Land prices have been showing stronger signs of bottoming out. To make it possible to restore real estate prices to normal levels and lead the nation out of deflation, the government must accelerate economic revitalization.

Posted land prices as of Jan. 1 this year, which were announced last week by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, dropped 1.6 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively, in residential and commercial areas from a year before. This marked year-on-year negative growth for the fifth straight year since the Lehman shock in the autumn of 2008.

However, the bright side is that the margin of decline shrank for three consecutive years. Above all, it may be said that the bottom is in sight in three major metropolitan areas where the margin of decline remained below 1 percent.

The year-on-year fall in the average land price contracted in almost all prefectures. This indicates that the situation is improving in both urban and regional areas.

Funds have been flowing into the real estate market on hopes for the economic revitalization policies put forth by Shinzo Abe before he became prime minister. If this trend continues, it will spur a rebound in land prices.


Signs of recovery

Improvement is conspicuous in residential zones as a result of such policies as low interest rates and tax deductions for people who take out housing loans.

In Tokyo, some areas showed positive growth compared to no change the year before, thanks to brisk sales of condominiums.

It is noteworthy that land prices are coming out of a slump in commercial areas, particularly in metropolitan areas, which tended to lag residential areas in the pace of their recovery.

The number of spots with higher land prices increased in redevelopment areas centering on large-scale commercial facilities such as Tokyo Skytree and areas where there is strong demand for moving to newly built houses and condominiums with advanced earthquake resistance.

Vacancy rates are falling, and the drop in rents is coming to an end.

Investments, mainly from after parts of Asia, seem to be expanding. This is possible because real estate in Japan is considered relatively inexpensive, as the yen has weakened due to monetary easing policies.


A matter of concern

Improvement is slow in regional commercial areas facing structural problems such as shrinking populations and battered economies.

In the areas devastated by the tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, the polarization has weakened between land prices in tsunami-affected coastal areas and in higher areas that escaped being inundated.

But it is worrying that a growing number of areas are showing a sharp rise in land prices as the demand to move expands due to the progress of reconstruction projects.

The residential area in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, marked the biggest rate of increase in land prices for two years in a row. Land prices turned upward across the board in municipalities in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures along the Pacific coast.
Miyagi topped the national list of prefectures in terms of the growth rate in land prices.

The central and local governments concerned should beef up their surveillance to prevent sharp jumps in land prices that will have an adverse effect on housing reconstruction.

Authorities must be cautious regarding the effect on land prices of increased demand ahead of a hike in the consumption tax planned for April.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 25, 2013)
(2013年3月25日01時12分  読売新聞)


全柔連改革 人心一新しか再生の道はない

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 25, 2013)
Scandal-tainted judo federation must revamp leadership
全柔連改革 人心一新しか再生の道はない(3月24日付・読売社説)

A rash of scandals, including cases of physical violence and verbal abuse of female judoka, has left the reputation of the All Japan Judo Federation in tatters.

To rebuild the disgraced judo body, the AJJF has no option other than pushing through drastic organizational reform by overhauling its leadership.

But last week, the AJJF decided to allow all of its executives, including Chairman Haruki Uemura, to retain their positions and made no change to the lineup.

Doesn't the federation have a culture of taking responsibility for these scandals? We feel disgusted by the AJJF decision that flies in the face of commonly accepted norms.

Before the federation's decision, an independent panel tasked with looking into the abuse submitted on March 12 a set of reform proposals to the AJJF. The proposals pointed sternly to problems with the federation as an organization. The panel noted the federation has a dearth of human resources that "can stand for socially accepted common sense, not the common sense that works only in the judo world."


Unable to manage crisis

One committee member, psychiatrist Rika Kayama, quite rightly had a brickbat for the AJJF decision, saying her panel had worked out its recommendations after concluding the federation "wasn't functioning as an organization."
Kayama added, "Disciplinary measures should be taken against AJJF executives, including Chairman Uemura."

The federation, which was aware of the physical and verbal abuse dished out by the coach of the national women's judo team, who eventually resigned, decided at one time to keep him in his position. Driven by a sense of distrust, 15 female national team judoka filed a complaint with the Japanese Olympic Committee against the AJJF.

The federation remains oblivious to the gravity of its problems, and has been unable to take proper steps to deal with the situation. It is obvious the federation badly lacks crisis management capability.

Noriko Mizoguchi, a silver medalist in the women's 52-kilogram judo division at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, said the federation "has a strong tendency to concentrate power in a handful of executives, making it hard for others to oppose [their decisions]."

As long as the "handful of executives" remains unchanged, there is virtually no hope for an organizational transformation of the AJJF.

Uemura said the federation "will address the challenges by working as one." However, a revamp of its leadership must be the first step toward reforming the federation.


Irregular use of subsidies

The independent panel also called for the AJJF to appoint executives from outside and introduce a system to adopt female executives and coaches. The federation should ensure these proposals are translated into action to get rid of its closed nature and be transformed into an organization in which everyone can candidly exchange their views.

Another scandal also surfaced in the AJJF: A portion of subsidies the government-backed Japan Sports Council paid to members of a federation committee for supporting promising athletes was allegedly funneled to federation executives for winning and dining for themselves and others.

The disbursements were not recorded, and no receipts were kept. About 20 million yen was reportedly pooled for such usage.

Furthermore, an AJJF executive in charge of the committee for supporting promising judoka has acknowledged that he wrongly received subsidies from the council despite having no involvement in training the athletes, with part of the cash diverted to the AJJF leadership.

The judo federation is an incorporated foundation for the public interest that receives preferential tax treatment. Such opaque financial management at the federation is unforgivable.

It is also crucial that the AJJF get to the bottom of these problems so it can regain the public's trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 24, 2013)
(2013年3月24日01時20分  読売新聞)


キプロス混迷 欧州危機の再燃回避が急務だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 24, 2013)
Prevent disarray in Cyprus from reigniting European crisis
キプロス混迷 欧州危機の再燃回避が急務だ(3月23日付・読売社説)

The financial crisis in Cyprus, a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, has begun to rattle the global economy.

The European Union should play a leading role in resolving the disarray and preventing it from affecting the economies of the rest of Europe and Japan.

The Cypriot government decided on a plan to restructure the nation's second-largest bank, which has fallen into financial difficulty. This is apparently a last-ditch measure to prevent the chaotic breakdown of the country's banking sector for the time being and secure financial assistance from the European Union.

The financial crisis in Cyprus, a member of the EU and the eurozone, was triggered by Greece's financial collapse.

Nonperforming loans have damaged the financial condition of Cypriot banks that owned a huge amount of Greek government bonds, but the Cypriot government lacks the fiscal strength to extend public support to them. This has led to stagnation in the Cypriot model of prosperity, in which the banking sector attracted enormous funds from Russia and other investors around the world.


Tax-on-deposits plan rejected

At Cyprus' request, the EU decided with the International Monetary Bank to extend 10 billion euros (1.2 trillion yen) in assistance. As a condition for the bailout, they demanded Nicosia levy a tax on bank deposits, but that led directly to the current disarray.

Outraged with the envisioned taxation Cypriots rushed to banks to withdraw money, further fueling the chaos. A government bill aimed at gaining public support by excluding smaller accounts from the taxation was rejected by parliament, which was thinking of public opinion.

If this situation continues, Cyprus will not be able to meet the conditions demanded by the EU and the bailout will not be implemented. Some observers have expressed concern that Cyprus may default on its debts.

The Cypriot government presented its plan to restructure the second-largest bank because it was forced to present an alternative to the tax on bank deposits. Nicosia must have realized the merits of restructuring the troubled bank, since it would cost less pubic money than keeping the bank open and bailing it out.


German position key

However, it is still too early to tell whether assistance will be extended quickly. One key to determining that lies with Germany, which demands that Cyprus achieve strict fiscal discipline. Nicosia must work out more details of its measures to stabilize its banking sector, in order to convince Germany and other EU members.

The role of Russia, which has close ties with Cyprus, is also important. We hope Moscow will work with the EU.

The biggest fear is that the Cypriot crisis will spill over to other countries such as Spain and Italy, reigniting the European crisis that is currently calming down.

In the foreign exchange market, the euro continues to be weak while the yen tends to be bought. Wild fluctuations in stock prices have also been seen in markets around the world.

There should be careful monitoring of whether the disarray in Cyprus indirectly hinders Abenomics, the economic policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to revitalize Japan's economy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 23, 2013)
(2013年3月23日01時45分  読売新聞)


イスラエル政権 イラン核問題で米と連携を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 23, 2013)
Israel must closely cooperate with U.S. over Iranian N-issue
イスラエル政権 イラン核問題で米と連携を(3月22日付・読売社説)

At their latest summit meeting, top U.S. and Israeli leaders stressed cooperation--demonstrating a recovery in bilateral relations, which have recently been stressed by differences over issues such as Iran's nuclear development and the Palestinian peace process.

It is important that the two countries utilize their renewed relations to stabilize the Middle East.

After Israel's general election in January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally launched a coalition administration. U.S. President Barack Obama was the first foreign leader to be welcomed by the administration.

Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, a major focus of the summit talks, Netanyahu acknowledged during a joint press conference with Obama that it would take one year for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon, even if it decided to go nuclear. Meanwhile, Obama emphasized, "We prefer to resolve this diplomatically, and there's still time to do so."


Diplomatic solution first

We can conclude that both countries have agreed to fully engage diplomatically to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons.

Last September, Netanyahu warned global leaders that it was within the realm of possibility that Iran had enough highly enriched uranium to produce its first nuclear weapon by as early as this spring. He has also indicated that Israel may unilaterally attack Iran if the international community cannot stop the nation from possessing a nuclear weapon.

But as Netanyahu has reached a compromise with Obama at the latest summit talks, a situation in which Israel takes military action against Iran is unlikely for the time being.

Should Israel attack Iran, the effects of the war would undoubtedly spill over into other areas. For instance, crude oil prices would skyrocket, adversely affecting the global economy. It is for this and other reasons that Israel must refrain from using force.

Obama pledged that the United States would support Israel in matters of security. In a show of his country's intent to keep its promise, Obama inspected Israel's "Iron Dome," a mobile all-weather air defense system that the United States helped to develop.

The security situation around Israel has been increasing in severity. Its neighbor Syria has descended into civil war, and in Egypt, where Islamists have taken the reins of government, the economy and politics have been thrown into chaos. The circumstances surrounding the region are increasingly unclear. In such an environment, Israel needed to restore a cooperative relationship with the United States.

During the joint press conference, Netanyahu also confirmed Israel remains fully committed to the "two states for two peoples" solution to the Palestinian issue, an initiative promoting the coexistence of two states.


Weak administrative foundation

However, the growing number of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and a split in the Palestinian leadership have made reopening peace negotiations difficult. As a result, the process for establishing a Palestinian state is still nowhere in sight.

Netanyahu's administrative foundation is now weaker than it was before the election. His attempts to garner support with a hard-line stance against Iran have ended in failure.

After the election, the prime minister tried to establish a broad coalition administration. However, a religious party that once had been a former coalition partner decided to become part of the opposition, and Netanyahu's Likud party only succeeded in winning over middle-of-the-road and rightist parties. The stability of the new administration remains questionable.

Close cooperation with the United States is indispensable to maintain the Netanyahu government, and preserving its cooperation with the United States over the Iranian nuclear issue is an important pillar of that policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2013)
(2013年3月22日01時11分  読売新聞)


クール・ジャパン 官民が連携して魅力の発信を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 22, 2013)
Abe aims to boost the power of 'Cool Japan' cultural exports
クール・ジャパン 官民が連携して魅力の発信を(3月21日付・読売社説)

Japanese music, anime, fashion and food are in the global spotlight, a trend called the "Cool Japan" boom.

We believe this trend should be boosted to stimulate the nation's economic growth.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered Tomomi Inada, state minister for administrative reforms, to also serve as the nation's first Cool Japan strategy minister. Abe has also launched an expert panel aimed at promoting the government's Cool Japan campaign. These moves reflect the prime minister's intention to make the Cool Japan initiative part of the government's growth strategy.

We believe the government's policy of promoting businesses related to Cool Japan culture to a level Japan can be proud of is worth pursuing.

The cornerstone of the Cool Japan initiative is the content industry, which produces movies, anime and video games. The size of the industry's domestic market is about 12 trillion yen.


Future depends on global market

However, as the nation's population has begun to shrink, the future of Japan's content industry will taper off if it depends only on the domestic market. If the industry seeks further growth, it needs to aggressively advance overseas, and find new business opportunities there.

The size of the content industry's global market is about 130 trillion yen. It is expected to grow at an annual average rate of 6 percent.

One idea is to increase exports of domestic movies. Last year's export sales of domestic movies came to about 5 billion yen, less than 5 percent of domestic box-office revenues that year.

Export sales of domestic TV programs were 6.3 billion yen in 2010, lagging far behind the figure for South Korea, where the government strongly backs TV program exports.

Japan's manga and anime are highly appreciated in the world. The government needs to draw up a strategy to exploit their full potential.

A noteworthy effort that began in India last year is a TV remake of the popular Japanese anime "Kyojin no Hoshi" (Star of the Giants).

The anime TV series was jointly produced by Japanese and Indian firms. Instead of playing baseball, the hero of the TV series devotes himself to cricket, India's national sport.

Japanese companies sponsoring the series have enjoyed product placement for goods such as cars and stationery in the show. We believe the remade anime will also help viewers deepen their understanding of Japan's high-growth period.


Successful examples important

Yasushi Akimoto, general producer of girl group AKB48, has made thought-provoking remarks on the subject. "To prevent the Cool Japan campaign from ending up as a hollow image, it is important to produce successful examples," he said.
Akimoto serves as a member of the government's expert panel on promoting the Cool Japan Initiative.

The government should utilize various ideas generated by the private sector and proactively disseminate parts of Japanese culture that could win the hearts of the world.

The government has earmarked 50 billion yen in the fiscal 2013 budget to establish a fund aimed at promoting the Cool Japan campaign. We urge the government to do its utmost to provide effective financial support and publicity.

It is important for the government and the private sector to join hands to devise a strategy on promoting the Cool Japan campaign. We hope such a strategy will be smoothly put on track.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 21, 2013)
(2013年3月21日01時28分  読売新聞)


南海トラフ地震 最大級の危機にどう備えるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 20, 2013)
Preparing for disasters of the largest scale
南海トラフ地震 最大級の危機にどう備えるか(3月19日付・読売社説)

A working group of the government's Central Disaster Management Council has compiled a report on the expected damage that would be caused by a magnitude-9 Nankai Trough triple earthquake, in which the so-called Tokai, Tonankai and Nankai quakes happen simultaneously.

The huge quake is forecast to cause about 220 trillion yen in economic damage, in the worst-case scenario.

The quake and subsequent tsunami is forecast to cause about 170 trillion yen of damage to homes and office buildings, about 10 times the damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The public and private sectors will need to cooperate and boost the nation's preparedness for such a massive disaster.

The prediction was made on the assumption that densely populated areas and key industrial bases from the Tokyo metropolitan area along to the Chubu, Kansai, Shikoku and Kyushu regions would be rocked violently by the quake, followed by tsunami higher than 30 meters in some areas.


Once in 1,000 years

Last summer, the working group released a prediction that up to about 320,000 people would die in Tokyo, Osaka and 28 other prefectures following the Nankai Trough triple earthquake. The latest report focused on likely economic damage.

The group forecast the total value of corporate production of goods and services--the core of Japan's economic activity--would decline by as much as about 45 trillion yen, nearly 10 percent of gross domestic product, in the year following the disaster, due to suspended production at destroyed factories and other factors.

The group said such a quake occurs "at a frequency of less than once every 1,000 years," emphasizing that such a disaster would be extremely rare.

Although there is no need to worry excessively about such a megaquake, the devastating quake that struck off the Tohoku coast on March 11, 2011, also was an event expected to occur once every 1,000 years. Complacency is not an option.

The important thing is to put in place as many "disaster mitigation" preparations as possible. The central government and local municipalities likely to be affected by the disaster should review their disaster-management processes based on the latest estimate.

According to the group's calculation, making buildings more quake-resistant could halve the economic damage wrought by the disaster. The group also said quick evacuations could reduce tsunami deaths by 90 percent.

The central and local governments have already been making such efforts.


Take basic steps first

The important thing is to, first of all, take basic steps such as accelerating the repair of buildings that lack quake-resistance and securing evacuation facilities and tsunami escape routes.

It is also essential to reinforce networks of trunk roads, harbors and airports to enable immediate rescue and relief operations and reduce damage to the economy.

When the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito were in the opposition camp last year, they submitted to the Diet a bill concerning special measures to deal with the potential Nankai Trough triple quake. The bill would provide more government subsidies for making disaster management facilities more quake-resistant. However, the bill was abandoned with the dissolution of the House of Representatives.

The bill would reinforce the present special measures law that promotes steps to deal with the Tonankai and Nankai quakes. The LDP and Komeito are considering resubmitting the bill. We hope the bill will be thoroughly discussed in the Diet.

Aside from the Nankai Trough quake, the government has predicted a separate Tokai quake has an 88 percent chance of occurring in the next 30 years, while a Tonankai quake has a 70 percent chance and the Nankai quake a 60 percent chance.

There is no time to waste in getting prepared to handle these disasters.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2013)
(2013年3月19日01時19分  読売新聞)


イラク戦争10年 「北」の脅威対処に教訓生かせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 20, 2013)
Iraq War anniversary a chance to reflect on North Korea's threat
イラク戦争10年 「北」の脅威対処に教訓生かせ(3月19日付・読売社説)

Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the controversial Iraq War. There are problems still left unsolved, and Japan today has a particular reason to calmly reassess the lessons of the war.

The Iraq War began under the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, and it ended in December 2011 with the full withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The war taught the United States a bitter lesson. U.S. rule of the occupied land was blundering, the lives of nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers were lost, and huge expenditures on the war ballooned the nation's fiscal deficit. The United States launched the war based on a claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, but such weapons were never found, undermining the U.S. authority.

There is ceaseless criticism that the costs of the war were out of all proportion to its gains.

In addition, the international community was unable to reach an agreement on the issue, as countries such as France, Germany and Russia opposed the use of force by the United States and Britain. The final verdict on the Iraq War will not be rendered anytime soon.


A question remains unanswered

However, we must keep in mind that one fundamental problem that drove the United States to launch the war remains unsolved.

The problem is this: What actions should the international community take, if a country that develops weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons, ignores U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it scrap such weapons?

A case in point now is North Korea, a nation hell-bent on building a nuclear arsenal. The nation has conducted three nuclear tests, ignoring the Security Council's resolutions.

In addition to the direct threat posed by North Korea, Japan also has to cope with the unabated military and economic expansion of China.

Japan was divided over the U.S. decision to launch the Iraq War. Then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi supported the use of force from the standpoint of prioritizing the Japan-U.S. alliance, but the Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties opposed the war, saying it had no justification.

However, the necessity for Japan to firmly maintain its alliance with the United States remains unchanged over the past 10 years, or has even become stronger.


What Japan needs to do

The United States and Britain overestimated the danger of Iraq's programs on weapons of mass destruction. But it will be dangerous if the aftereffects of that overestimate led the international community to underestimate the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. If the United States becomes overly reluctant to use force against North Korea, there will be fewer options for responding to Pyongyang's threat.

Our nation must not be complacent regarding its current relationship with the United States. Japan must take concrete measures to reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance, such as enabling itself to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Iraq's democratization is making progress, as can be seen from events such as its conducting elections. Oil production is recovering, bringing prosperity to the nation's oil-producing northern and southern areas. Such results would have been difficult to achieve under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

However, Iraq's political situation remains unstable. Sectarian strife and terrorist attacks show no signs of abating in Baghdad and other key cities. Despite myriad problems, the administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is slowly heading toward reconstruction of the country. We hope Iraq will succeed in restoring security, which will help it set a steady course toward reconstruction.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2013)
(2013年3月19日01時19分  読売新聞)


国家公務員給与 55歳超の昇給抑制が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 19, 2013)
Pay hikes for govt employees 55 or older must be curbed
国家公務員給与 55歳超の昇給抑制が必要だ(3月18日付・読売社説)

Another step forward has been made in resolving issues put off by the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led administration.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet has submitted a bill to the Diet to revise a law to drastically curb the pay hikes of central government employees aged 55 or older.

If the revised law is enacted, the new salary system will be put into force next January. About 33,000 people will be affected and the government's personnel expenses trimmed by an estimated 600 million yen a year.

The bill takes into account recommendations made by the National Personnel Authority in August.

Under the current system, salaries of central government employees rise every year until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 60.

The recommendation calls for annual pay hikes to be discontinued for those aged 55 or older and whose job performances are deemed average, while pay hikes would be permitted for those in the same age group with excellent job performances, although the margin of increase would be held down.

The salaries of many workers in the private sector decline when they reach the mid-50s.

This is because companies transfer workers in that age group to affiliated companies or have a mandatory age for managers to step down from their posts. It is therefore appropriate to have the salaries of government employees fall more in line with those at private companies.


Rehiring workers

Continued employment of workers who reach the manadatory retirement age of 60 should also be considered as they will not receive benefits from the state-run pension plan until they reach the age of 65.

The government plans to make it obligatory to rehire employees who reach the mandatory retirement age and are willing to continue working. However, the fiscal situation remains dismal.

To reduce personnel expenses as much as possible, it is essential to hold down the salaries for those in their 50s.

Both the ruling and opposition parties must pass the revised bill as quickly as possible.

The DPJ is to blame for wasting so much time before the bill could be submitted.

The Cabinet under then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda failed to act on the authority's recommendation for three months, deciding only to postpone the recommended restrictions on the annual pay hike on Nov. 16, the day he dissolved the House of Representatives.

In announcing the decision, Noda said the government had already taken "a harsh pay-cutting measure" by lowering government employees' salaries by 7.8 percent on average, so it could use the saved funds for post-disaster reconstruction.

However, the real reason is that the government submitted to the Diet a bill related to reforming the national public employees system, which we think stopped the administration from dealing with the recommended curbs.


Working with unions

The main feature of the new bill gives central government employees the right to conclude an agreement with the government, a basic legal labor right.

The bill includes the idea that issues such as pay levels can be decided through labor-management talks, and the National Personnel Authority can be abolished. Because of this, the Noda administration probably decided to ignore the authority's recommendations.

How will the DPJ deal with the bill to revise the salaries of central government employees in the days ahead?

The bill is in line with the DPJ's manifesto when it comes to cutting the central government's personnel expenses. As it will also affect the wages of local government employees, however, it will be difficult for DPJ legislators supported by the All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Union and other labor groups to support the bill.

The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), a key support organization for the DPJ, has opposed the Abe Cabinet's request for the salaries of local government employees to be lowered, in line with those of central government employees, in fiscal 2013.

The DPJ's dependency on labor unions will be tested once again over how the party responds to the bill to revise the salaries of central government employees.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 18, 2013)
(2013年3月18日01時29分  読売新聞)


後見と選挙権 違憲判決が制度の甘さ突いた

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 18, 2013)
Guardian system must not interfere with right to vote
後見と選挙権 違憲判決が制度の甘さ突いた(3月17日付・読売社説)

The Tokyo District Court has ruled unconstitutional a provision in the Public Offices Election Law that denies the right to vote to adults who live under the statutory adult guardianship system.

The court ruling highly evaluates the rights of people with mental disorders or intellectual disabilities.

The plaintiff in the suit was an intellectually challenged woman.

Immediately after a family court chose the father of the adult woman as her guardian in 2007, she was deprived of the right to vote.

The adult guardianship system is designed to allow those who are considered incapable of making judgments to have someone act on their behalf to manage property, make contracts and carry out other procedures.

The Public Offices Election Law does not allow people to whom this system applies the right to vote in national and local elections.


Unjustifiable denial

The court decision on Thursday acknowledged that the woman had the right to vote on the grounds that depriving her of this right as guaranteed by the Constitution "must be limited to extremely exceptional circumstances."

The ruling also noted: "What the family court decided concerned her ability to administer her property by herself, and not her competency in exercising her right to vote.

"A large number of people probably are capable of exercising their right to vote even if they are unable to manage their assets."

It is not surprising that the court ruled the law's provision null and void, as it uniformly restricts voting rights by using two systems intended to serve different purposes.

Denying disabled people the right to vote merely because they have been placed under the adult guardianship system should also be deemed problematic from the viewpoint of ensuring public equity.

Before being deprived of her right to vote, the plaintiff voted in almost all elections. In addition, she is able to read and write simple kanji characters. The district court probably gave a great deal of thought to these facts in handing down the ruling.

The court ruling, however, should not be taken as a blanket denial of restrictions on voting rights in all circumstances.

The ruling said the restrictions on voting rights for people who lack the competence to exercise the right to vote is not unreasonable.

While this country uniformly deprives the vote to right to people under the adult guardianship system, the United States and Europe are heading in the opposite direction.

Japan's adult guardianship system, which was introduced in 2000, is aimed at protecting the rights of the disabled and the elderly with insufficient capacities to make judgments.

The system of incompetency that was abolished in 2000 under the civil law also covered those with reckless spending habits, who were excluded from the list of people covered by the adult guardianship system.

In light of this, the Public Offices Election Law's provision to remove the right to vote from people with guardians does not fit in with the spirit of the system.

There are more than 130,000 adult wards with court-designated guardians across the country.


Applications rising

Because of the rapid graying of society, applications to use the guardianship system number more than 20,000 annually. The court ruling is expected to have various repercussions on how the guardianship system is conducted from now on.

When the system was introduced, the then Home Affairs Ministry asserted that depriving people with guardians of their right to vote was intended to prevent voting irregularities.

Didn't the ministry overestimate the possibility of voting irregularities concerning the exercise, under the guardianship system, of the right to vote, which is the essence of parliamentary democracy?

The court's ruling should be thought of as a warning from the judiciary regarding the slipshod design of the adult guardianship system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 17, 2013)
(2013年3月17日01時25分  読売新聞)


TPP参加表明 自由貿易推進で成長に弾みを

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 17, 2013)
Govt should push for free trade to boost economy
TPP参加表明 自由貿易推進で成長に弾みを(3月16日付・読売社説)


It is essential for Japan's growth to tap into Asia's economic vigor by expanding the nation's free trade and investment. To that end, Japan's move to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact would be a major step forward.

On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally announced Japan's intention to participate in negotiations on the U.S.-led multilateral free trade framework.

Reaching a national consensus on the matter has been difficult over the past three years, ever since the administration of former Prime Minister Naoto Kan began considering participation. We applaud Abe's political decision on the TPP issue.

"Joining the TPP talks is a farsighted national policy," the prime minister said at a press conference Friday. "If we miss this chance, we will be left behind in global rule-making efforts."


TPP could boost Japan-U.S. ties

Currently, 11 countries, including the United States, Australia and Canada, are conducting TPP negotiations, and 29 areas, including tariffs, services and intellectual property, are under discussion.

Abe stressed: "We'll make full use of our negotiating power to protect what needs protecting and push for what we want. We'll seek the best way to serve national interests."

We approve this stance. Japan, if approved, will be a latecomer to the TPP negotiations and will be in a disadvantageous position, but we hope the government will exert its negotiating power.

Meanwhile, the government has released its estimate on the economic impact of the TPP if the country joins the trade pact. According to the estimate, annual production in the nation's agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors could fall by 3 trillion yen. However, with consumption and exports growing, Japan's real gross domestic product is expected to increase by 3.2 trillion yen overall.

The Abe administration faces a test over whether it can devise a mid- and long-term growth strategy in its "Abenomics" economic policy. It is reasonable to use the TPP to boost the strategy.

Abe also said TPP participation would contribute to ensuring security and stability in the Asia Pacific region. Expectations are high that the creation of a free trade zone centering on Japan and the United States could also strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Japan-U.S. security ties were shaken by poor diplomacy by the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan. Taking advantage of the situation, China, which is pursuing a policy of increasing wealth and military power, has opposed Japan's nationalization of the Senkaku Islands and has repeatedly sent Chinese patrol ships into Japanese waters. Such provocations by Beijing have increased instability in East Asia.

To call for a growing China to abide by international rules, it is vital for Japan and the United States to work closely together.

Abe was able to announce Japan's intention to join TPP talks mainly because he obtained confirmation from U.S. President Barack Obama at their February summit meeting that eliminating all tariffs would not be a precondition for joining the talks.

In principle, the TPP is premised on tariff elimination, but the summit meeting has made it clear that exceptions could be made for certain items under negotiation.


What must be protected?

Abe took an ingenious strategy in coordinating views within the Liberal Democratic Party to make the decision to participate in the TPP talks consistent with the party's campaign pledge in the House of Representatives election last year. The LDP had pledged to oppose joining the TPP talks as long as abolishing tariffs without exception was a precondition.

While there were arguments for and against the matter, the LDP adopted a resolution accepting Japan's participation in the TPP negotiations, which created an environment for Abe to make a final decision.

Among other conditions, the LDP resolution calls on the government to place priority on ensuring five agricultural items--rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and plants for making sweeteners--will be exempt from tariff elimination. The resolution also seeks to maintain Japan's universal health insurance system.

Abe is apparently thinking about joining the TPP talks after confirming the party's solidarity on the matter at the LDP's convention scheduled to be held on Sunday.

Obama has announced a goal of completing the TPP negotiations by the end of this year. That leaves very little time as Japan is expected to join the talks around July.

Abe appointed Akira Amari, minister in charge of economic revitalization, as minister in charge of TPP issues. Serving as the government's point man, Amari must do his utmost to work on formulating trade and investment rules that reflect Japan's national interests.

A hard-fought battle is expected over the process of narrowing down items to be exempt from tariff elimination.

In past trade negotiations, Japan has refused to abolish tariffs for about 940 items, which account for about 10 percent of the total, mainly agricultural products such as rice and wheat.

It remains unclear how many items Japan will be able to keep as exceptions. Each country has items they want treated as exempt, with Canada seeking exceptions for dairy products and Mexico for textiles and shoes.

Japan has compromised in prior consultations with the United States and largely agreed, for the time being, to allow the United States to delay eliminating import tariffs it imposes on passenger vehicles and trucks. In return, Japan should win concessions from the United States on agricultural products.


Strengthening agriculture

It is an urgent task for Japan to strengthen agriculture's competitiveness in preparation for further market liberalization. Apart from participation in the TPP talks, the current situation of Japan's agriculture, where farmers are aging, is already severe.

As Abe pointed out that the TPP is a "big opportunity, not an adversity," the government should put efforts into such policies as fostering farmers, and promote "aggressive agriculture."

Japan will soon agree to begin negotiations for an economic partnership agreement with the European Union and also is scheduled to begin talks for a trilateral free trade agreement with China and South Korea.

Japan should switch to the offensive on the TPP and regain lost ground in its trade policies by accelerating negotiations for other trade pacts.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2013)
(2013年3月16日01時34分  読売新聞)


習・李体制へ 威圧外交で高まる中国異質論

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 16, 2013)
China's overbearing diplomacy only boosts its 'alien' image
習・李体制へ 威圧外交で高まる中国異質論(3月15日付・読売社説)

Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has been named president at the National People's Congress, succeeding the retiring Hu Jintao. Xi now holds the country's top three titles, including the top party and military posts.

On Friday, Li Keqiang is set to succeed Wen Jiabao in the premiership. Then the transition of power that began in autumn last year will be complete and the Xi-Li regime can begin to move.

China, now the world's second-largest economy, is being urged to play a much larger role in the international community than it did when the Hu-Wen regime began 10 years ago. We hope China will respond to the demands of the global community and fulfill its responsibility in stabilizing the world situation.


Aiming to be a maritime giant

President Xi, who has said achieving the "great revival of the Chinese nation" is the goal of his administration, is expected to pursue wealth- and military-building policies over his two five-year terms, aiming to transform China into a superpower on par with the United States.

Backed by a strong military, China has been striving to become a "great maritime power." It is quite clear that the country will continue its hard-line stance against Japan, Vietnam, and other neighbors in the East and South China seas.

China's lawmaking body, the National People's Congress, passed government organizational reforms to achieve this aim.

The reforms consolidate maritime patrols under the State Oceanic Administration (SOA)--activities that had been previously administered independently by law enforcement bodies such as the SOA, Agriculture Ministry and Public Security Ministry. This therefore represents a massive increase of the SOA's authority. Above the SOA, a state oceanic commission will be created to direct the country's maritime strategy.

The Xi administration is expected to step up cooperation between the navy and the SOA to maintain and strengthen its demonstrative activities around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. The administration has reportedly been studying the possibility of sending a survey team to the islands to set survey markers and create an accurate map of the islands.

This situation is very worrying for Japan. We cannot accept such a violation of Japan's sovereignty.

Japan needs to increase alertness over China in cooperation with the United States, and prepare for China's ever-escalating provocative actions.

As part of the organizational reform, China has decided to dissolve the Railway Ministry. Dubbed an "independent kingdom" with its own police force and court system, the ministry has been criticized as a hotbed of corruption in the wake of seemingly endless bribery cases. The Xi administration's leadership will be tested over its ability to direct a new railway organization to put customers first and place top priority on safety.


No visible achievements

During the last decade, the Hu-Wen administration sought sustainable economic growth that took the environment into consideration and worked to correct income disparities. However, it failed to produce visible results. Furthermore, the new administration must appropriately deal with the suppression of the human rights of minority groups, such as those in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Xi will need to squarely face difficult problems that could shake the foundation of the country. If the government continues to inflame nationalist sentiments with its forcible, overbearing diplomacy only to distract people from their hardships, it will only give more credence to ideas in the international community such as that China is an alien nation or is a major threat to other countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2013)
(2013年3月15日01時38分  読売新聞)


春闘回答 賃上げを景気回復の糸口に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 15, 2013)
Wage hikes must be linked to economic recovery
春闘回答 賃上げを景気回復の糸口に(3月14日付・読売社説)

It seems the public's expectations for Abenomics--the Abe Cabinet's economic policy aimed at escaping from deflation--have had a positive impact on this year's shunto spring wage negotiations.

Workers' wages had been sliding in Japan for years, helping to prolong deflation. It is essential that these wage increases be linked to growth in consumption and economic recovery.

On Wednesday, major automakers and electronics makers responded to labor unions' demands regarding yearly bonuses and regular pay raises based on seniority. Their decisions influence trends in the annual spring labor offensives.

Most major automakers, such as Toyota Motor Corp., said they will accept their unions' bonus demands in full. The average yearly bonus at such automakers has recovered to the level recorded in 2008, before the so-called Lehman shock. The automakers also acceded to the unions' demands on regular pay raises.

Compared to automakers, business performance has varied recently among major electronics makers. As a result, there were differences in the electronics makers' responses to their unions' demands, but they all accepted the demands on regular pay raises.

The outlook of labor-management negotiations has totally changed from last year, when some companies decided to forgo the regular pay raise and cut their employees' wages.


Management's policy shift

Initially, management took a hard-line stance before this year's shunto negotiations, stressing that certain companies may choose to postpone or forgo regular pay raises. Their policy shift is remarkable.

The underlying reason why the companies chose to accept the unions' demands is the rapid business recovery of export-oriented companies, such as automakers and electronics makers, boosted by the depreciation of the yen that took place after the launch of the Abe administration.

Requests by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and some Cabinet ministers during negotiations that companies increase workers' wages were also effective.

Some company executives have acknowledged they took the government's requests into account. It is understandable for the labor unions to boast that they had a certain level of success in the negotiations.

Ahead the manufacturing industry, a number of convenience store chains, such as Lawson Inc., also raised their employees' wages. We want to praise the convenience store industry's decision to take the initiative in working to boost consumer spending.

However, although the public's hopes for Abenomics are running high, Japan has yet to witness substantial recovery in the real economy.

Few companies have promised to raise base pay, called "base-up" in Japanese, a uniform pay-scale increase that comes in addition to the regular pay raise. It is also unclear whether moves to raise wages will spread to small and midsize companies.


Recovery is yet to come

Depreciation of the yen will drive up the prices of fuel and imported raw materials. We have to be aware that certain industries, such as food services, will be buffeted by the headwind caused by such cost increases.

Will the government be able to connect companies' moves to increase their employees' wages, which the nation has been longing for, to steady economic recovery and make it the beginning of a virtuous economic cycle? What matters is the government's effort to reinforce cooperation with the Bank of Japan to achieve this goal.

The government plans to draw up by June its growth strategy, with policies such as practical implementation of regenerative medicine as its pillars. We hope the strategy will produce tangible results, such as strengthening the competitiveness of domestic companies and nurturing growing industries.

Such moves should be taken in tandem with bold monetary easing and flexible fiscal policy to accelerate the rejuvenation of the Japanese economy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 14, 2013)
(2013年3月14日01時34分  読売新聞)


震災遺構の保存 記憶の伝承に生かせるのなら

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 14, 2013)
Keeping memories of the March 11 disaster alive
震災遺構の保存 記憶の伝承に生かせるのなら(3月13日付・読売社説)

Scars of the massive tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake remain all-too-vivid in some affected areas. A large fishing vessel remains stranded ashore, and buildings reduced to their bare frames dot the landscape.

Local governments in these areas face an extremely difficult quandary: Should structures that remain grim reminders of the devastation wrought by the disaster be left where they are, or should they be dismantled and removed?

In Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, a consensus over whether to preserve the town government's office building for antidisaster measures remains elusive. Many officials in the building died when it was engulfed by the tsunami. In Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, opinion is split over whether to conserve the former town government building where the mayor and other officials were swept away by the dark tsunami waters.

Some bereaved families who lost relatives at such sites have demanded the structures be removed, saying, "It's painful just to see them because they remind us of the disaster." Their deep sadness must be taken seriously.

Some observers suggest leaving these wrecked structures as they are will impede the progress of reconstruction.

On the other hand, there are strong views that the structures must be preserved so memories of the disaster will not fade. Some bereaved families initially wanted these structures demolished, but as time passed, they changed their view and now favor preservation. "They must be kept to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy," is the reasoning for this change of heart.


Full community debate vital

Whether to preserve the ruins should be discussed on a community basis from various perspectives, including the pros and cons of keeping the memories alive, promoting antidisaster measures, memorial purposes and future town building. Consideration also must be given fully to the fact that maintenance and administration of the structures will be costly for the local governments concerned.

The Miyagi prefectural government has formulated a basic vision on how to deal with disaster remains, and submitted it to municipal governments concerned. The vision calls for studying preservation steps commensurate with their fiscal wherewithal.

The prefectural government also set guidelines for preservation, including such requirements as giving approval for using the structures as centers for antidisaster education, conducting repairs to make them safe to use, and making sure they do not impede reconstruction. We think these requirements are reasonable.

Transferring part of the structures to museums or other facilities could be one way to preserve them. Other possible options include taking pictures and preserving other data before they are dismantled.


A symbol of reconstruction

In Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, restoration of the "miracle pine tree" that died after initially surviving the tsunami will be completed shortly. The tree has been reassembled as a symbol of reconstruction after its trunk was hollowed out and filled with a carbon spine.

The area surrounding the tree will be developed as a reconstruction memorial park to be used for future development of the city. If the number of visitors to the park increases, it will help revitalize the city.

We hope various ideas for keeping records of tsunami damage will be used. It is also essential to work out how lessons learned by academic research on the disaster can be passed to future generations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2013)
(2013年3月13日01時24分  読売新聞)


3・11追悼式 被災の教訓を次世代につなげ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 13, 2013)
Relay lessons from disaster to next generation
3・11追悼式 被災の教訓を次世代につなげ(3月12日付・読売社説)

Along with expediting reconstruction in the Tohoku region, it is vitally important to pass the lessons learned from the March 11, 2011, disaster on to the next generation.

The nation has marked the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. In Tokyo, a government-sponsored memorial ceremony was held, with the Emperor and Empress attending. About 1,000 people also took part in the ceremony, including the heads of the nation's legislative, administrative and judicial branches of government and representatives of bereaved family members. They prayed for the repose of the souls of the deceased.

In a speech at the ceremony, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his resolve to "move forward to create a nation with a high degree of resilience to disasters throughout the country, in keeping with the lessons learned through this disaster."

House of Representatives Speaker Bunmei Ibuki said: "It is worrisome that [people's recollections of the disaster] are fading as seen in the reduced number of volunteers. Taking the lessons learned to heart, we're obliged to pass them on to the next generation."

The government and the Diet must use the lessons drawn from the disaster to improve disaster management measures for the entire nation.

The ceremony also was attended by about 150 people from diplomatic circles, including ambassadors from a number of countries.


Action by younger generation

Rin Yamane, a high school student representing Iwate Prefecture, pledged: "The younger generation will aim to better serve as human resources in aiding countries affected by natural disasters using the experience from our own disaster. We'll treat the massive earthquake not as a painful memory but a memory that will lead to the future."

The nation also must expedite reconstruction efforts in a show of respect for the assistance offered by other nations.

Responding to a nationwide opinion survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun in late February, 69 percent of respondents said reconstruction of disaster-hit areas did not seem to have made much progress. The figure was almost unchanged from the 72 percent who responded this way in a survey a year ago.

While it was in opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party harshly criticized the Democratic Party of Japan-led government for its slow and inefficient reconstruction efforts.

Now that he is back in power, Abe should make an all-out effort to produce tangible results in response to public discontent, which remains strong.


Delays in Fukushima Prefecture

Delays in reconstruction are particularly obvious in Fukushima Prefecture, where a number of steps have yet to be taken in the wake of the crisis at a nuclear power plant, when compared to Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, which also were hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami.

The Abe administration has set up a general bureau for reconstruction and revitalization in the city of Fukushima to establish a hands-on approach in tackling such issues as decontamination of radioactive materials and rebuilding communities.

Regarding the return of evacuees to areas near the nuclear plant, Abe said at a press conference, "With a target of around summer, I'll come up with a concrete road map on the restoration of roads, water systems, medical and welfare services, as well as for the return of residents."

We approve of Abe's stance when he said, "Action is everything."

As for the three hardest hit prefectures, the government has for the first time presented a timetable for the construction of public housing units for disaster victims to expedite housing reconstruction. This is the right move.

People affected by the disaster are anxious about their uncertain futures. It is crucial for measures to be taken as soon as possible to give them hope.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 12, 2013)
(2013年3月12日01時26分  読売新聞)