民主党大会 新党も選択肢


January 30, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
Main opposition DPJ holds convention, may merge to form new party
民主党大会 新党も選択肢

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan may seek to form a new party through a proposed merger with a smaller opposition party ahead of a parliamentary election this summer, DPJ President Katsuya Okada said Saturday at a party convention in Tokyo.

Okada expressed his intention to begin negotiations with Japan Innovation Party leader Yorihisa Matsuno over the idea of merging their parties in an effort to confront the ruling bloc in the upcoming House of Councillors election.

The two parties formed a joint parliamentary group in the House of Representatives in December. Differing opinions remain, however, among the members of the two opposition parties about the proposed merger.

"The formation of a new party is not being ruled out as an option. What is important is whether we would be able to share policies and philosophies in common and whether we would be able to pursue political cooperation to earnestly try to take over the reins of the government," Okada said.

"I hope to hold substantive talks with Mr. Matsuno, leader of the Innovation Party. The outcome we would agree on would be presented to party organizations," he said.

Matsuno and Rikio Kozu, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo, were among the guests at the DPJ convention held at a Tokyo hotel.

The DPJ adopted a fiscal 2016 action plan stressing the importance of opposition forces getting together to fight the ruling bloc led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party in the upper house election, citing the possibility of a lower house election being held at the same time.

The DPJ was in power for three years through December 2012.


民主党大会 岡田氏「新党も選択肢」 維新と直接交渉へ







岡田代表の発言 骨子


日銀 2%目標へ強い意志…マイナス金利導入

January 29, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
BOJ shows strong will to achieve 2% inflation target
日銀 2%目標へ強い意志…マイナス金利導入

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) on Jan. 29 announced plans to introduce a negative interest rate to demonstrate its strong commitment to achieving a 2 percent inflation target.

The central bank took the initiative after concluding that it would be difficult to attain its objective at an early date by simply focusing on monetary volume through massive purchases of government bonds.

The BOJ maintains that its ''qualitative and quantitative monetary easing'' policy has produced results. Its decision to add interest rates to that policy reflects the central bank's plan to implement a flexible monetary policy.

In its new outlook report, the BOJ aims to achieve its inflation target in more than four years, instead of an initial objective of around two years. It says it is difficult to attribute the difficulty in achieving the 2 percent target to oil price declines. The BOJ was under pressure to further strengthen its monetary policy.

Financial markets have experienced confusion due to the Chinese economic slowdown and falling crude oil prices since the start of this year. If the BOJ had failed to take additional monetary easing measures, its resolve to achieve its 2 percent inflation target would have been questioned, and it would have faced the disappointment of its monetary policy having reached its limits.

The BOJ thus was under pressure to implement a new set of monetary easing steps to surprise markets and renew its strong will to achieve a 2 percent inflation target.


18歳選挙権 参院選の投票機会を広げたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Expand voting opportunities for youths in upper house election this summer
18歳選挙権 参院選の投票機会を広げたい

The central and local governments, as well as political parties, must cooperate to create an environment in which young people who become newly eligible voters can use that right properly.

A lawmaker-initiated bill to revise the Public Offices Election Law was approved unanimously at a special committee of the House of Councillors. The bill is designed to eliminate cases in which young people who are expected to change their residence this spring cannot vote in the House of Councillors election slated for this summer. The committee’s approval makes it certain that the bill will be passed into law shortly.

Under the current law, only eligible voters who have lived at their present residence for more than three months are listed on the voting register of municipal governments — villages, towns, wards or cities — and are able to cast ballots.

Should the upper house election be officially announced on June 23, with voting to be held and the ballots counted on July 10, that would prevent from voting young people aged 18 or 19 who may change residences in order to enter the next stage of education or start working on March 23 or later.

This would have affected about 70,000 of the about 2.4 million youths who are expected to become newly eligible voters. With the legal revision, they will be able to cast their votes in the municipality where they lived before their move.

The lowering of the minimum voting age to 18 will encourage the young generation to participate in the political process, and may be an important turning point in expanding the base for democracy. Settling the legal deficiency and securing their opportunity to vote are appropriate measures.

The election administration commission of each municipality must expedite such efforts as making systems modifications to voter registration to ensure smooth implementation.

More voting venues

The central government plans to submit a bill to revise the Public Offices Election Law, designed to enhance voters’ convenience, and have it passed into law.

Presently, voting on election day is limited to one polling place designated for each voter. With the government-initiated revision, voters will also be able to submit their ballots at a “common voting place,” to be newly set up at such venues as commercial facilities and stations. Voting hours will also be extended on days prior to the election day.

The revision is also intended to expand the range of minors allowed to accompany a voter into a polling station from infants, as stipulated in the present law, to people under 18. This is expected to help future voters feel familiar with casting ballots.

We hope the central and local governments will proactively work on building an environment in which voters are able to cast their votes with ease, while adopting all possible measures to prevent such dishonest acts as double voting and avoid errors.

The turnout rate in various elections has been declining over many years, and the low interest in politics among young people is also a cause for concern. It is necessary to proactively enlighten young people about the importance of elections, which are the basis of democracy.

With an eye on the upper house election, political parties are throwing their energy into holding discussion meetings to be attended by legislators and students, and into transmitting information. We hope the parties utilize their exchanges with young people in their policy making.

Schools have already started such activities as inviting people including officials from local election administration commissions to help students learn about the Public Offices Election Law and the voting process and hold mock elections with fictitious candidates. With cooperation from such entities as local assemblies, opportunities should also be increased for students to talk with assembly members.

It is important to promote more pragmatic learning aimed at enhancing young people’s awareness as voters, while securing political impartiality.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 28, 2016)


代表質問 不平等克服へ政策競え

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 27
EDITORIAL: Parties should focus on correcting social disparities, not election
(社説)代表質問 不平等克服へ政策競え

How can we overcome social disparities that have become too commonplace today?

This was one of the urgent questions posed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Diet on Jan. 26, the first day of this year’s questioning session by lawmakers representing their parties.

The Diet has a host of other crucial issues to address, such as the economy, diplomacy and national security, as well as the money scandal embroiling Akira Amari, the minister in charge of economic revitalization.

But the growing disparities around the nation between regular and part-time employees, men and women, the big cities and the provinces and so on, are in special need of prompt attention.

Democratic Party of Japan leader Katsuya Okada said, “We would like to propose specific measures for correcting the disparities and ensuring a fair distribution of benefits.”

One of the initiatives he proposed was to increase the per-child amount of child-care benefits, and to raise the upper age limit for eligible children. To secure funding, Okada suggested increasing tax on financial incomes and reinforcing the progressivity of income and inheritance taxes.

Prime Minister Abe promised in his policy speech to take further steps to realize his “equal pay for equal work” concept. Okada asked if Abe’s objective matches the DPJ’s demand for “equal treatment” of regular and part-time employees.

Japan Innovation Party leader Yorihisa Matsuno referred to the number of people who are not paying into the national pension program and demanded swift action.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the relative poverty rate in Japan was 16.1 percent in 2012, which represented a gradual year-on-year growth. Limited to younger households consisting of members under 30 years old, the rate was 27.8 percent, and a much higher 54.6 percent for single-parent households.

Acknowledging this reality, Abe replied, “We will continue to review and improve matters related to employment and social security to prevent the disparities from becoming permanent.”

But the prime minister’s response to Okada’s proposals was somewhat too abstract to be satisfactory.

In his policy speech on Jan. 22, Abe attacked opposition parties and said, “An attitude of spending all one’s time simply criticizing, without putting forward any counterproposals, and expecting that everything will ‘all work out somehow’ is truly irresponsible towards the public.”
Abe then addressed the opposition camp, saying, “Instead, shall we not pit concrete policies against each other and hold constructive discussions?”

When he said that, he must have been thinking of the attitude of the DPJ and other parties toward the national security legislation and constitutional amendment. But surely, it is anything but “irresponsible” to resist any policy that goes against the Constitution. And it is only natural to be alarmed by the prime minister’s resolve to change the Constitution at all costs.

In fact, it is the prime minister himself who needs to live up to his responsibility of responding “concretely and constructively” to questions and proposals put forth by the opposition camp.

With the Upper House election coming up this summer, the current Diet session is expected to be a “short-term battle.” But there are numerous issues that need to be discussed, and the money scandal must be probed to everyone’s satisfaction.

The session must not be allowed to become an ugly sparring contest, fought only with the upcoming election in mind.


中国の人権弾圧 身勝手な力の統治が目に余る

The Yomiuri Shimbun
China must desist from its hardline moves to suppress human rights
中国の人権弾圧 身勝手な力の統治が目に余る

Chinese President Xi Jinping has apparently been further escalating his rule with force.

The Xi administration put in force an “antiterrorism law” this month. The law makes it obligatory for Internet service providers and others to provide technical support to Chinese authorities to help decrypt information to prevent terrorist activities. The law also prohibits media from reporting terrorist activities in detail on the grounds that it might inspire copycat attacks.

Concerns are only rising in the international community that restrictions on activities of foreign companies operating in China and controls on the freedom of speech and news reporting will be tightened further in the country.

The antiterrorism law defines terrorism as “propositions and actions that generate social panic by such means as violence so as to achieve their political objectives.”

It is problematic that there is a possibility that by merely making propositions that are not accepted by the Chinese authorities, one can be punished. The definition of terrorist activities is also vague, leaving plenty of room for discretion.

There is a serious possibility of the authorities’ using the law arbitrarily to suppress the Uighur minority group under the guise of taking measures to fight against terrorism committed by Islamist extremists.

Late last year, prior to the enforcement of the new law, a Beijing-based reporter for a French news magazine who wrote articles critical of China’s policy on the Uighur minority was effectively expelled from the country.

China, under the one-party rule of the Communist Party, touts “the rule of law.” But there is no judicial independence in the country. The law is a means to carry out the rule of the party thoroughly.

Ominous disappearances

Neither can it be overlooked that the authorities, in an arbitrary crackdown, have detained a large number of lawyers and activists who were striving to defend human rights.

Earlier this month, a Swedish man working on human rights issues in China was taken into custody. He was detained for allegedly “posing a threat to national security,” by extending support to human rights lawyers with financial aid from foreign nongovernmental organizations and other entities.

Xi has been solidifying his power base by removing his political enemies through the exposure of their corruption. Despite that, however, he may still harbor a strong sense of crisis over the possibility that public discontent, rooted in factors such as the country’s economic slowdown, may swell because such values as democracy and human rights may spread in society.

Also, it cannot be tolerated that China has been bringing its high-handed methods to Hong Kong, where the “one country, two systems” applies.

In Hong Kong, five people related to a local bookstore — its shareholders, the store manager and others — reportedly disappeared. The store was selling “banned books” that are critical of China, and their publication or sale is prohibited in mainland China.

The Chinese authorities admitted that two of the five are indeed in mainland China, but emphasized that they went there of their own volition.

The authorities are trying to fend off criticism that, with no investigative authority, they have allegedly taken people related to the case from Hong Kong to the mainland and put them into custody.

Should the hauling of those people before the Chinese authorities be a fact, it is a grave situation that would overturn Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy.” It is the responsibility of the Xi administration to give a thorough explanation of the matter not only to the residents of Hong Kong but also to the world.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 26, 2016)


廃棄食品問題 問われる日本の「食」

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 24
EDITORIAL: Waste resale scandal puts safety of Japan’s food industry into question
(社説)廃棄食品問題 問われる日本の「食」

Industrial food waste, which should have been properly disposed of, has been found to be circulating in the market disguised as food products.

The illegal sale of waste food items by an industrial waste disposal company in Aichi Prefecture surfaced after frozen beef cutlets discarded from Ichibanya Co., operator of a national chain of curry houses, were found on sale. There are indications that some of the cutlets had thawed before they appeared on the market, which could have harmed consumers' health.

The company’s chairman has admitted to his lawyer that he committed the irregularity for the sake of sales. We are only left to stare dumbfounded at the way rules were ignored.

One hundred and eight other items were found at facilities of a company in Gifu Prefecture, which bought the cutlets from the industrial waste disposal company and resold them. To current knowledge, those products come from manufacturers and distributors based in 25 areas ranging from Hokkaido to Miyazaki Prefecture.

The food items, likely diverted off legal sales channels, include products from such major firms as Aeon Co. and Marukome Co.

We are only left to watch the extent of the scandal’s reach. We hope the police will investigate the case through and through. The government should also conduct a nationwide survey.

The frozen beef cutlets in question, which had been discarded due to the suspected mixing in of foreign substances, returned to the channels of budget markets and were passed on among more than one tier of brokers after they were sold by the company in Gifu Prefecture.

“We never suspected the products were waste items, because we know stock items are sometimes distributed at low prices,” one of the brokers said.

But how could one assess the safety of food products without identifying their origins?

Irresponsible transactions could pour cold water on serious efforts at offering budget prices to meet consumer demand and on the activity of food banks and other entities that are providing surplus food items, which have no quality issues, to impoverished people and others.

Ichibanya, which saw its products mishandled, had left the cutlets intact when it commissioned the industrial waste disposal company to dispose of them. They ended up being sold illegally, partly because they retained the appearance of food products.

Ichibanya made the right move by promptly formulating improvement measures after the scandal came to light. The company has said it will henceforth ensure its waste food products are destroyed so they can no longer be reused, or alternatively, if that is not possible, make sure its employees attend the disposal process, down to the final stages, for visual confirmation.

We hope those measures will help prevent a recurrence of improprieties.

Other food manufacturers should also intensify their monitoring to ensure their waste items are being properly processed.

The waste management and public cleansing law stipulates that dischargers of business-related wastes should be responsible for their disposal.

Two and a half million tons of food items are discarded annually in Japan as industrial waste. That immensity is partially attributed to the so-called “one-third rule” of the food industry, a business practice whereby products are not allowed to be delivered to retailers when one-third of the period from the manufacture date through the best-before date has passed, and whereby retailers take them off the shelves when two-thirds of that period have elapsed.

Mass disposal of food products that remain edible is a built-in feature of Japan’s food industry. One could say the latest scandal thrust that reality back into the spotlight.


科学技術計画 次代の暮らしに役立つ開発を

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Pursue scientific advancements that will facilitate life for future generations
科学技術計画 次代の暮らしに役立つ開発を

Efforts should be expedited to create and improve a structure in which the strength of Japan’s long-cultivated science and technology will flourish.

The government endorsed at a Cabinet meeting the 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan, a five-year program devised to lay down guidelines for the nation’s science and technology policy, effective next fiscal year.

One of its main pillars is to build what can be described as a “super-smart society” that will network such apparatuses as robots, artificial intelligence and information technology equipment.

If widely spread, much of this technology, including nursing-care robots, will help enable people to live comfortably. It can be widely applied in such fields as transportation, medical and financial services.

In the United States, various corporations are moving forward with projects that transcend their primary lines of work, as illustrated by Google Inc.’s ambitious efforts to build a self-driving car. Although Japan has a large number of information-related companies and researchers, there have been conspicuous delays in this respect due to such factors as their less-than-satisfactory financial strength.

The new basic plan has pointed to the necessity of building and improving facilities and an information infrastructure that can be shared by corporations. To survive international competition in this field, the public and private sectors need to make integrated efforts to achieve this goal.

Another feature of the latest basic program is that an independent heading has been given to national security for the first time. This is aimed at emphasizing the importance of reinforcing cooperation between the government, industry and academia in the field of defense, thereby further encouraging the private sector to join the desired endeavor.

Increase researchers

With China’s increased maritime and space activities, acts of international terrorism and cyber-attacks in mind, the basic plan will also seek to promote necessary research and development from now on. Efforts should be made to successfully put into practical use such technology as drone control techniques, a field of study in which universities are already making progress, as well as ultrahigh-performance resin.

It is worrying to note the decline in the competence of Japan’s scientific research. The basic plan expresses a sense of urgency about the lack of a desired increase in the number of theses in the realm of natural science, as well as those authored jointly with foreign scientists.

Being quoted by many scientists is proof of the excellence of a thesis. Since the beginning of this century, Japan has suffered a continued decline in the ranking of nations whose top-level theses are frequently quoted.

A major task facing the country is how to increase the number of researchers who can actively work internationally. Extending long-term assistance to scientists, not just excessively emphasizing their immediate accomplishments, is essential for the pursuit of this goal.

In many cases, young researchers who have obtained doctorates end up with limited-term positions at universities and elsewhere. They cannot afford to spend sufficient time on research activities. The situation has been viewed as a matter of social concern.

We believe increasing the number of researchers with stable positions will be conducive to improving Japan’s research and development abilities.

Little progress is being made in increasing the percentage of female scientists. This is evident from one of the targets cited in the fourth basic plan, which sought to increase the percentage of women researchers to 30 percent of all newly employed scientists. This target remains unmet.

Advancing scientific technology that explores the unknown fields requires a diversity of human resources. It is also indispensable to facilitate an environment conducive to scientific work, so talented researchers can actively work to the fullest.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 24, 2016)


甘利氏献金報道 疑惑解明へ説明から逃げるな

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Amari must not avoid explaining about scandal involving political funds
甘利氏献金報道 疑惑解明へ説明から逃げるな

A politics-and-money scandal involving Akira Amari, state minister in charge of economic revitalization — who has been acting as a control tower of the economic policies of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — has emerged.

Amari must unravel the facts promptly and make full explanations.

The scandal was reported by Shukan Bunshun, a weekly magazine. The magazine alleges that Amari and his secretaries received illegal donations from a construction company in Shiroi, Chiba Prefecture, in return for extending influence to resolve an issue of compensation over a land dispute involving road construction.

His secretaries were allegedly involved in negotiations over compensation with the Urban Renaissance Agency. The value of the funds and entertainment that the construction company allegedly provided Amari and his close aides is said to total ¥12 million, including ¥500,000 in cash Amari reportedly received at his ministerial office in November 2013.

If the allegations of influence-peddling and acceptance of cash prove true, it will have serious consequences. Amari and his secretaries may face charges of graft for influence-peddling and violation of such laws as the Political Funds Control Law.

What kind of relationship did Amari’s office have with the construction company, and how were the secretaries involved in the negotiations for compensation? What actually happened in connection with the alleged donations? Amari must conduct detailed investigations into these matters and provide compelling explanations.

Concerning the allegations involving his secretaries, Amari said verification will be conducted by a team that includes specialists. Depending on the results of the probe, his supervisory responsibility for secretaries may be questioned.

Minimize impact on TPP

Amari declared during a news conference that he “did nothing illegal.” But he acknowledged part of the magazine report, including meeting with officials of the construction company. He said, “There are some discrepancies between what was reported in the article and what I remember.” These explanations are not enough to dispel the suspicions.

In regard to the allegation that he received cash, Amari said, “Within a week, I will check my memory and speak about it.” As he stated, he must hold himself accountable.

Amari represented Japan in the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which will be signed in a ceremony scheduled for Feb. 4. He will take charge of answering interpellations during the current Diet sessions on TPP-related bills.

It is necessary to minimize the impact of the scandal on deliberations on TPP bills.

Three ministers — including Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi — have resigned over scandals involving politics and money since the second Abe Cabinet was inaugurated in December 2012.

In charge of promoting Abenomics economic policies, Amari is a principal minister of the Abe Cabinet along with other Cabinet members including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. The latest scandal is considered more serious than the past cases and may shake the backbone of the Abe administration, depending on how it evolves.

Entrusting Amari with how to deal with the matter, Abe said he believes “Amari will be accountable.” Ahead of the House of Councillors election set for this summer, Abe must realize the stern fact that dark clouds have started forming over his administration and remain alert.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 23, 2016)


ジャカルタテロ 「イスラム国」の脅威アジアに

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jakarta terrorist attacks show threat posed by ISIL has reached Asia
ジャカルタテロ 「イスラム国」の脅威アジアに

It has become clear that the threat of terrorism, influenced by radical ideology, has spread from the Middle East, Europe and the United States to Southeast Asia.

A group of men exploded bombs and exchanged gunfire with police in central Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. Eight people, including four perpetrators, died and more than 20 others were injured.

The scene of the attacks was in a downtown area where a large commercial facility is located. The Japanese Embassy is also nearby. As in the case of simultaneous terrorist attacks carried out in Paris in November last year, the latest attacks were made against “soft targets” such as a coffee shop, where security is relatively light.

The authorities are investigating the incident as terrorism masterminded by an Indonesian militant who joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group and is now living in Syria. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Such despicable brutality that indiscriminately attacks ordinary citizens and foreigners is intolerable. The international community must urgently strengthen cooperation in antiterrorism measures.

It was reported that the mastermind of the Jakarta attacks has been attempting to establish a Southeast Asian branch of ISIL and may have tried to expand ISIL’s influence in the region by waging terrorist attacks using Indonesian collaborators.

Promote unity

If this is true, it is a serious problem. The authorities must strive to uncover the whole truth of the latest incident and restore order.

It is also necessary to counter ISIL’s propaganda campaign by promoting unity among moderate Muslims.

Activities of terrorist organizations have been abating in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries in recent years since the authorities tightened their crackdown on such groups.

But these countries must stay alert against a possible revival of domestic terrorist organizations at the instigation of ISIL and the possibility that a united front between ISIL and those organizations will become more active.

It is said that about 380 people from Indonesia have joined ISIL. From Southeast Asia as a whole, about 600 people are said to have joined ISIL and other militant groups.

It is worrisome that there is an increasing risk that well-trained militants may return to their countries and commit large-scale terrorism.

In connection with this, the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must strictly implement immigration controls and other measures.

ISIL has clearly said that Japan is one of its targets. Terrorism that has reached Southeast Asia is not someone else’s problem. In December, the government established Counterterrorism Unit-Japan (CTU-J), which is tasked with consolidating information regarding terrorism overseas.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida stressed, “By utilizing the unit and other resources, we want to take steps to thoroughly ensure the safety of Japanese nationals overseas.” To this end, it is essential to share terrorist information with ASEAN countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 20, 2016)


甘利氏疑惑 「記憶あいまい。きちんと整理し説明したい」


January 21, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
Amari says memories of meet where he allegedly took 500,000 yen payment 'vague'
甘利氏疑惑 「記憶あいまい。きちんと整理し説明したい」

参院決算委員会 第三者交えた調査の意向を明らかに

Cabinet minister Akira Amari said on Jan. 21 that he can't remember what happened during a visit to his office when, a weekly magazine alleges in its latest issue, he personally accepted 500,000 yen from a Chiba Prefecture-based construction company.
"I remember accepting visitors, but my memories of what happened are vague," Amari, minister in charge of economic revitalization, said during a House of Councillors Audit Committee meeting. He also stated that "a thorough investigation will be conducted so that I can fulfill my responsibility to explain the situation." Amari furthermore indicated he intended to include third parties in the probe.
The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun carried an article in its Jan. 21 issue stating that Amari had accepted money from the construction firm in return for dispute mediation services provided by the minister and his aides.

"I will fulfill my duties with all my energy," Amari said, denying any intent to resign over the allegations. Regarding his aides' involvement, however, Amari said that "I first heard of it in media reports, and I'm now trying to confirm the details." Amari is the Abe government's point man on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal, and the minister said he would do his utmost to prevent the money scandal allegations from affecting Diet deliberations on the treaty.

In response to a question from opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) lawmaker Misako Yasui, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said of Amari, "I believe that he will fulfill his responsibility to explain the situation."

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that "of course we are setting up Mr. Amari's scheduled appearance" at the planned Feb. 4 TPP signing ceremony in New Zealand. Suga also revealed that the government is setting up Amari's trip to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Opposition parties intend to use Diet deliberations to question Amari thoroughly over the possible money scandal. DPJ Diet affairs chief Yoshiaki Takaki stated, "Even as (Mr. Amari) pushes major changes to the lives and livelihoods of farming families, these allegations surface. This is an enormous problem." Takaki also said his party would "naturally be looking into" the prime minister's responsibility.

Japan Innovation Party Diet affairs head Takashi Ishizeki added to the chorus of opposition party dismay over the possible scandal, saying, "From the perspective of the Japanese people, from the true feelings of the masses, I condemn this. The (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party is returning to its roots."

(no english part observed)


中国GDP減速 安定成長へ構造改革が急務だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
China needs structural reforms to achieve stable economic growth
中国GDP減速 安定成長へ構造改革が急務だ

How can China’s economy shift onto a track of stable growth, while preventing itself from stalling?

Steering China’s economy as its growth continues to slow down has become an ever more difficult task.

China’s real gross domestic product grew 6.9 percent year on year in 2015, the lowest growth in 25 years.

The sluggish growth primarily stems from slackened investment and production activities, as efforts to get rid of excessive production capacity and real property inventory have made little progress.

Exports also declined 2.8 percent from the previous year. As the country’s price competitiveness weakened due to rising labor costs, its status as “the world’s factory,” exporting and selling low-priced products in great volume, has lost much of its luster.

China had set its full-year growth target at “around 7 percent.” The National Bureau of Statistics of China emphasized that “the 6.9 percent growth is still in line with the government target.” But the country’s high growth model led by investment and exports is already approaching its limits.

It is a matter of urgency for China to shift to a consumption-driven growth model, as advocated by the administration of President Xi Jinping.

The Chinese authorities said they will promote structural reforms, such as reducing the systemic oversupply of steel and coal. Temporary stimulus measures alone, such as increasing public spending, will not be sufficient. It may be necessary to force through reforms while overcoming resistance from state-owned enterprises and local governments stubbornly hanging on to their vested interests.

Better numbers needed

In stimulating consumption, developing new products and new services sought by consumers would be effective. In order to bring out the vigor of the private sector, which would serve as a pillar of innovation, it is essential to reorganize and shrink state-owned enterprises.

It is worrisome that China’s economic statistics lack credibility. There is strong suspicion that the Chinese authorities calculate statistics on the high side to make the nation’s economy look better than it really is. They should not relax their reform efforts, while patching things up for the time being with make-believe figures.

Concerns over the uncertain outlook of the Chinese economy and the yuan’s fall have brought about a vicious cycle in the international flow of money, becoming a serious risk factor for the global economy.

The projected decline in China’s oil demand, in line with its economic slowdown, has further dampened crude oil prices. Drops in crude oil prices are driving the “oil money” of the oil-producing countries in the Middle East, whose fiscal conditions have deteriorated, to return to their domestic markets, which is said to be a factor behind a worldwide decline in stock prices.

Further decline in the value of the yuan has accelerated an exodus of capital out of the country. Fears are rising that the performance of Chinese companies, burdened with debts denominated in foreign currencies, will deteriorate.

Also, in order to keep the yuan from weakening further, it is important to create an environment for foreign investment funds to go back to China again, by promoting financial system reforms, including easing regulations on currency trading and liberalization of interest rates.

Grasping the structural change in China’s economy, Japanese businesses also have to review their business plans so that they can meet the new needs of consumers and businesses in China.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 20, 2016)


イラン制裁解除 合意履行を中東安定へ生かせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Use implementation of Iran N-deal to build stability in Middle East
イラン制裁解除 合意履行を中東安定へ生かせ

How to draw Iran into the world community and bring stability to the Middle East, which has been thrown into an increasing state of confusion? A crucial moment lies ahead to tackle this challenge.

Iran and six other countries — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have announced the implementation of a nuclear deal reached last July that called for lifting sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the U.N. Security Council in return for Iran’s downsizing of its nuclear facilities.

Iran has already transferred most of its stored low-enriched uranium to Russia and removed two-thirds of 19,000 centrifugal separators for enrichment. The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed this in an on-site inspection.

This would extend the period needed for Iran to complete the production of nuclear weapons from a range of “two to three months” to a range of “one year or more” if the country undertakes it. The IAEA maintains surveillance, and sanctions will be reimposed if violations are found. This can be lauded as a measure to put the brakes on nuclear development to a certain degree.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the world would be “more secure.” To prevent Iran from moving to become a nuclear power after the 15-year period for implementation of the deal ends, it is essential for the United States and other related countries to support Iran’s moderate reform policy line.

Given the release of U.S. citizens, including a reporter, who had been held by Iran, the channel between the two countries with no diplomatic relations has strengthened.

How to use this to end the civil war in Syria and wipe out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group is now the question.

Rebuild alliance

Iran, a major Shiite-dominated Muslim country, supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has been intensifying its confrontation with Saudi Arabia, a leading country of Sunni Muslims, which calls for the ouster of Assad. Israel is also nervous about ballistic missile development by Iran, a country which is hostile to it.

Washington has announced additional sanctions against Iran over its missile development, but Saudi Arabia and Israel have become deeply distrustful of the United States. Obama must push ahead with reestablishing the alliance with the two countries.

Iran will resume crude oil exports and expand transactions significantly with foreign financial institutions and businesses, which had been subject to a de facto ban due to sanctions imposed by the United States. Crude oil bills said to total $100 billion and other funds, which have been frozen in bank accounts of foreign countries, will become accessible.

Iran’s crude oil reserves rank fourth in the world, and its natural gas reserves rank first. Other countries place high expectations on the country’s market, sustained by its rich natural resources and population of nearly 80 million people.

Japan, which has concluded an investment agreement with Iran, expects diversification of its sources for crude oil procurement, an increase in automobile exports and an entry into plant facilities construction and management. Efforts must be made to promote information gathering and realize participation in the Iranian market.

Of concern is a scenario in which crude oil prices drop further with Iran producing more, thereby causing the worsening of economic conditions in oil-producing countries and global declines in stock prices. If Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in a continued struggle for hegemony in the Middle East, neither the abatement of regional tensions nor the stability of the world economy can be expected.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 19, 2016)


株安と安倍政権 経済政策に「百年の計」を

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 16
EDITORIAL: A heavy price to pay for Abe's short-sighted economic policy
(社説)株安と安倍政権 経済政策に「百年の計」を

The Japanese stock market has been in serious turmoil since the start of the year. The benchmark Nikkei stock average fell in all of the first six days of trading. Postwar Japan had never before experienced a New Year six-day losing streak. During the first two weeks of the year, the Nikkei was temporarily more than 2,000 points lower than its close at the end of 2015.

The stock market’s rout was due mainly to overseas factors like China’s increasingly pronounced economic slowdown. Nevertheless, the decline of stock prices has come as a heavy blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been stressing the fact that the Nikkei index has more than doubled during the three years since he took office as a major achievement of his "Abenomics" economic policy.

Even so, neither the government nor the Bank of Japan should scramble to take new measures to prop up stock prices immediately.

The stock market’s climb in the past three years has been driven mainly by the BOJ’s aggressive monetary expansion. In the meantime, the economy as a whole has been barely growing. That means the market rally has not been underpinned by an improvement in the real economy.

If so, the government’s economic policy should not be affected by what is happening in the stock market. The government should take the latest stock market retreat as a warning signal calling for an effective long-term economic strategy.

The direction of the flow of money in the world is beginning to change radically. Late last year, the U.S. Federal Reserve Board ended its zero interest rate policy and raised interest rates for the first time in seven years.
The Fed’s action has set off a reversal in the direction of the flow of money. For years, money had been moving from industrial nations into emerging countries. The global glut of liquidity created by monetary easing in most of the developed world is likely to shrink in the coming years.

Major adjustments in world stock markets that have received a big boost from global monetary expansion are inevitable. The downturn of the Japanese stock market in the past two weeks should be seen as a consequence of this structural shift in the global trend. It should be assumed that the epic global stock market rally actually ended last summer when China’s fall-off in growth battered markets around the world.


The Abe administration has shown a troubling tendency to place too much importance on short-term results and evaluations in its economic policy. The administration appears to have failed to take into account the implications of its economic policy for future generations as it has focused too much on meeting the current expectations of the public.

Symptomatic of this tendency is how the government has been crafting the policy proposal to exempt foodstuffs from the scheduled consumption tax increase in April 2017.

Although the government has no clear plan to raise the estimated 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) needed to finance the food exemption, Abe recently indicated in a Diet session that the government will consider using the increase in tax revenues for that purpose.

It is extremely irresponsible to count on an increase in tax revenues when deciding on such a permanent economic policy measure.

If tax revenues fail to rise above the estimate, the government will end up funding the measure with new debt. In other words, this approach will only pass on the problem to future generations.

The BOJ’s “different dimension” monetary easing, which has been supporting Abenomics, also entails an “invisible financial burden on the public.”

Currently, the central bank is purchasing huge amounts of government bonds at high prices. When the economy starts picking up, however, bond prices will fall while yields rise. Monetary tightening in response to improvement in economic conditions will result in heavy losses for the BOJ due to negative yields. The central bank could even find its liabilities exceeding its assets. This is a situation that will require taxpayer money to be used to cover the losses.

This, too, is an approach that could force future generations to pay the price of a shortsighted policy focused on bolstering economic growth and stock prices in the near term.


Still, the administration insists that Abenomics is working. Then why are Japanese companies reluctant to raise wages and eager to build up cash reserves, even though they are generating record profits? Why are Japanese consumers unwilling to ramp up their spending?

Keiichiro Kobayashi, a professor of economics at Keio University, says the “short-term optimism” expressed emphatically by the government has underscored its failure to face up to the harsh reality, resulting in the spread of “long-term pessimism” among companies and consumers.

Shifting the burden to future generations will not change the fact that taxpayers in this country will have to cover the price sooner or later.

The burden could grow further in the meantime, leading to bigger tax increases and sharper spending cuts over time. There is even the possibility that people’s livelihoods may be threatened by hyperinflation in the future.

It seems that the Japanese people are increasingly aware of these possibilities and acting accordingly.

In order to allay such anxiety among the public, it is necessary for the government to evaluate and announce both the short- and long-term effects of policy measures by estimating their consolidated results for retirees, the working population and future generations.

At the beginning of the year, both the stock market and the business community were brimming with optimism about the nation’s economic outlook. It was as if market players and business leaders believed that they would be saved by simply talking themselves into betting on the government’s claim that everything will go well.


But the era of excessive liquidity due to extreme easing of the monetary policy is now coming to an end. The government’s excessively optimistic growth forecasts--a nominal economic growth of 3 percent and a real economic growth of 2 percent--and its medium-term fiscal plan, based on this hope-for-the-best policy stance, will both turn out to be serious mistakes sooner or later.

Pushing through fiscal reforms based on more realistic views about the nation’s economy, which also take account of the possibility of a prolonged period of economic stagnation, will become the biggest policy challenge.

The current Diet session is considering a draft supplementary budget that contains an outlay for cash payments to the elderly with small pension pots, a measure that has all the hallmarks of a giveaway of taxpayer money.

The Abe administration’s attention is apparently focused on this summer Upper House election.

Politicians should look further into the future and tackle fiscal rehabilitation under a farsighted policy program. The Abe administration should concentrate its policy efforts on such challenges.


台湾総統選 対中急接近が生んだ蔡新政権

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rapid rapprochement with China led to new administration in Taiwan
台湾総統選 対中急接近が生んだ蔡新政権

The people of Taiwan have applied the brakes to rapid rapprochement with China.

In the presidential election in Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, chair of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — the biggest opposition party — won by a wide margin over her main rival, namely Chu Li-luan. Chu is chair of the ruling Nationalist Party, which has pursued a policy of bringing about reconciliation with China. The election marked the first change of government in eight years.

Concern that Taiwan might be swallowed up by China if Taiwan’s reconciliatory policy toward China continued at the current pace may have expanded public support for Tsai.

In the previous presidential election held four years ago, Tsai asserted, “Taiwan is already a sovereign and independent country” and was defeated by Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou.

As Taiwan has increasingly become economically dependent on China, concern over possible deterioration in relations between Taiwan and China has spread among business and other circles.

Tsai’s election strategy this time proved effective. She repeatedly reiterated her pledge to maintain the status quo in relations with China — not to seek independence or unification — while suppressing the pro-independence tone of the DPP.

Public opinion polls showed that the majority of people in Taiwan support maintaining the status quo.

In her victory speech, Tsai said, “Our message to the international community is that democracy is deeply ingrained in Taiwan.”

Imbalance spurs resentment

The Nationalist Party’s Chu has touted to voters the stability in Taiwan-China relations, in light of the first summit talks between Taiwan and China held in November. Yet there was deep resentment among the people that the fruits of closer economic ties with China have been felt only by the wealthy.

The Nationalist Party also suffered a major defeat in polls to elect legislators, held simultaneously with the presidential election. This has been attributed to a growing sense of “Taiwanese identity” among the young generation, the perception that China and Taiwan are separate.

The DPP has won a majority in the legislature for the first time, which is expected to lead to a stable administration.

The New Power Party, led by young Taiwanese who opposed Taiwan’s policy toward China and unlawfully occupied the parliament in 2014, also won seats. This indicates that the new party has absorbed those who were dissatisfied with the Nationalist Party-led administration.

The urgent challenge for Tsai is to achieve economic development that will be felt among the Taiwanese people, while stabilizing Taiwan’s relations with China.

It is worrisome that Tsai has not accepted the “1992 consensus,” under which both China and Taiwan recognized the “One China principle.” China’s administration under President Xi Jinping, which aims to eventually realize the unification of China and Taiwan, has indirectly warned that unless Tsai recognizes the 1992 consensus, there will be no “status quo.”

Should Tsai continue to refuse to endorse the 1992 consensus, China is likely to apply pressure by restricting cross-strait economic exchanges, thus rocking the new administration. China’s trump cards may include curbs on Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan and direct flights between China and Taiwan.

The future course of the cross-strait relations between China and Taiwan will affect the stability of East Asia. China must respond appropriately.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 17, 2016)


金融市場大荒れ 中国発の不安連鎖を断ち切れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Break chain of anxiety triggered by China causing turmoil in global markets
金融市場大荒れ 中国発の不安連鎖を断ち切れ

Turmoil in the global financial markets, caused by uncertainty regarding the Chinese economy, has been continuing.

On the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the benchmark Nikkei average briefly tumbled below 17,000 points. It later firmed up to a certain degree, but the Nikkei average has dropped as much as 1,800 points since the beginning of January.

The plunge in Tokyo stock prices was triggered by the 15 percent drop in the Shanghai stock market since the beginning of this year. Fluctuations of stock prices have also continued in major stock markets in the United States, Europe and other countries in Asia.

The turmoil has been partly caused by investment money having nowhere to go in markets plagued by fear over the stagnation of China’s economic growth and the plummeting value of the yuan.

The decline of stock prices has also been spurred by oil-producing countries selling huge amounts of stock in markets around the world as the fall of crude oil prices shows no sign of bottoming out.

On the New York market, the crude oil price briefly dropped to the $29 range per barrel, the lowest level in 12 years. But still no signs of a rebound are evident.

This chain of anxiety has to be broken to calm down the markets. Cooperation among the monetary authorities of all countries is essential, but China’s responsibility is particularly grave.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government is aiming at a “new normal” economy, meaning the transition of the Chinese economy from investment-based growth to stable, consumption-led growth. But it has not yet clarified the path to achieve this.

Map out path

The Chinese government should take measures to prevent a rapid downturn of the current economy, and formulate plans to reform state enterprises and deal with nonperforming loans at regional financial institutions. Beijing should specify a road map for such policy measures.

It also must try to communicate carefully with markets, changing its makeshift actions over systems to suspend trading and restrict stock transactions when a market experiences sudden change.

The United States ended its zero-interest policy in December, and is eyeing the possibility of raising interest rates further. It must consider carefully when interest rates should be raised again, and how much the hike should be, after analyzing what effect the country’s monetary policy will have on the global market.

Meanwhile, it is important for Japan to prevent the current turmoil in its domestic market from having a negative effect on the real economy.

Companies have logged record-level earnings, and the Japanese economy is making a mild recovery. The falling crude oil prices have benefits for corporate activities and household economies. We don’t have to be too pessimistic about the current economic situation.

However, the yen’s rising value is a source of concern. Many Japanese companies assume an exchange rate of $1 to about ¥120. If the yen becomes stronger than its current value of $1 for about ¥117, it will push down the earnings of export-oriented companies such as automakers and electronics manufacturers.

While paying consideration to such concerns, the government must prioritize enhancement of its growth strategy. We expect the government to raise the level of the nation’s economy by proceeding with the creation of new enterprises and the development of employment opportunities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 16, 2016)


日韓慰安婦問題 合意履行に朴氏の責任は重い

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Park bears heavy responsibility to implement ‘comfort women’ deal
日韓慰安婦問題 合意履行に朴氏の責任は重い

At a time when North Korea’s latest nuclear test has threatened the stability of the region, improving Japan’s relations with South Korea is an urgent task. The leadership of South Korean President Park Geun-hye will be tested on this issue.

During her New Year press conference, Park spoke about the deal Tokyo and Seoul reached late last year on the so-called comfort women issue. Park reiterated her position to seek public support for the deal, saying she would “do [her] best to ensure its content was acceptable.”

The deal is a breakthrough that improved the strained ties between Japan and South Korea. It is natural that Park will exert every possible effort to make sure the deal is smoothly implemented.

Public opinion surveys conducted in South Korea have revealed that many people are displeased with the deal. Their reasons include the view that “opinions of former comfort women were not listened to.” A support group for former comfort women blasted the deal and said it “betrayed” the South Korean people. Ripples created by this comment are spreading.

Park insisted the government had held talks with former comfort women and the support group 15 times before the deal was reached and had listened to their wishes. She emphasized that three important points — clarifying the involvement of the former Imperial Japanese Army; an official apology from the Japanese government; and compensation funded by the Japanese side — were all reflected in the deal.

Under the agreement, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed an apology and the government recognized the involvement of military authorities at the time. The Japanese government will contribute about ¥1 billion as humanitarian support to a foundation the South Korean government will establish to assist former comfort women. Park’s explanation aims to deepen public understanding of the deal.

Worrying signs

It is questionable that, concerning the statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Park said this was “not the kind of issue the government can give orders over.” The Japanese government has demanded the statue be removed, and South Korea promised it would strive to resolve this issue in an “appropriate” manner. The statue issue must not be left unaddressed.

Recently, the Seoul Eastern District Court ordered Prof. Park Yu Ha, author of “Teikoku no Ianfu” (Comfort women of the empire), to pay compensation to former comfort women who claimed the scholar’s book defamed them.

The ruling acknowledged that, based on the 1993 Kono Statement and other sources, the comfort women had been “forcibly mobilized” and “forced to live like sex slaves.” This ruling was one-sided in contradicting Japan’s position on this issue and went too far. It must not be allowed to negatively impact the implementation of the comfort women deal.

After launching her administration, Park devoted considerable effort to strengthening ties with China. However, since North Korea’s nuclear test, it is apparent Seoul and Beijing differ in their fervor in dealing with Pyongyang.

In her “remarks to the people” that Park made at the start of her press conference, she expressed dissatisfaction with China’s refusal to ease its reluctance to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea. Park also clearly stated she would “consider” the proposed deployment of a cutting-edge U.S. missile defense system in South Korea — a plan China opposes.

Park’s move to lessen her excessive leaning toward China, and her switch to attaching greater importance to cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea on security issues, will boost the deterrent against North Korea.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 15, 2016)


オバマ演説 指導力回復へ全力尽くす時だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
United States must do everything possible to regain global leadership
オバマ演説 指導力回復へ全力尽くす時だ

It is hard to say that the United States is sufficiently exercising its leadership in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear development and the threat of terrorism by extremist groups. We hope the United States will proactively work to solve these issues.

In his final State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “Priority No. 1 is going after terrorist networks” and indicated his intention to go all out to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) extremist group.

Yet he fell short of unveiling any concrete measures to defeat ISIL. As things stand now, it will be difficult for him to make any significant achievements in his remaining year in office.

The modus operandi of limiting military operations and emphasizing international cooperation unless the United States and its allies face a direct threat is showing its limitations. Shouldn’t Washington consider sending out additional special forces?

It is also questionable that Obama declared the continuation of the half-measure strategy that “we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman.”

North Korea has conducted nuclear tests as many as three times while Obama has been in office, taking much of the luster from his comments about “a world without nuclear weapons,” which he advocated in a Prague speech shortly after he took office.

In his State of the Union address three years ago, the president pledged to take “firm action” in response to a nuclear test conducted by North Korea. This time, however, he made no reference to Pyongyang’s latest test.

N. Korea strategy at dead end?

This can be interpreted as Washington reaching a dead end in its strategy in dealing with North Korea. Vis a vis the state, it is important to explore ways to hold a dialogue depending on its behavior, while increasing pressure.

We also think Washington should have taken prompter, stronger action against China, as the country is turning the artificial islands it has built into military strongholds in the South China Sea. To prevent China from accelerating its attempts to change the status quo by force, it is also vital for U.S. military vessels to regularly sail near the artificial islands.

It was appropriate that Obama called on Congress to swiftly approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, saying, “With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.” Washington should learn from its failed approach of prioritizing cooperation with China while turning a blind eye to human rights and other issues.

In his speech, Obama emphasized his achievements over the past seven years and the continuation of his policies, rather than concrete solutions for these problems.

The Obama administration deserves credit for weathering the financial crisis under way at the time it was inaugurated and for implementing its rebalancing policy, which focuses on Asia and has promoted the reinforcement of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

It was also reasonable for Obama to cite such achievements as the country’s normalizing diplomatic ties with Cuba, reaching a nuclear accord with Iran and inking the Paris accord on measures against climate change.

He spoke of his policies of promoting reform of the medical insurance system and immigration system, and pursuing gun control. U.S. citizens are divided on these issues, and the split in public opinion is becoming more serious.

Obama must take seriously the situation illustrated in recent public opinion polls, which have found that about 70 percent of people think the country is heading in the wrong direction.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 14, 2016)


朝鮮半島緊張 北のさらなる挑発を許さない

The Yomiuri Shimbun
World must refuse to tolerate further provocation by North Korea
朝鮮半島緊張 北のさらなる挑発を許さない

Triggered by North Korea’s latest nuclear test, tensions are running high on the Korean Peninsula. Further military provocation by that country absolutely cannot be tolerated.

The U.S. forces flew a B-52 strategic bomber over South Korea. “This was a demonstration of the ironclad U.S. commitment to our allies in South Korea and in Japan,” Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in a statement.

It was greatly significant for the United States to take swift action to demonstrate its deterrent power in an effort to maintain regional stability.

The B-52 bomber, a plane that can carry nuclear bombs and cruise missiles, is said to be one of the U.S. weapons about which North Korea has the deepest concern. It also has a long flight range. In the latest flyover, the U.S. bomber took off from and returned to an air base in Guam.

It is essential for the United States to strongly and repeatedly warn North Korea that no act of military provocation, such as an artillery attack on the South, will be tolerated. U.S. military options under consideration for the immediate future include the deployment of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and a stealth fighter.

Two days after the North’s nuclear test, South Korea resumed loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts condemning its northern neighbor’s regime in the vicinity of the Demilitarized Zone. This was based on South Korea’s conclusion that the latest nuclear test constituted “an extraordinary situation” in which the country could restart propaganda broadcasts. In August, the South and the North had reached a deal under which anti-Pyongyang propaganda would not be resumed unless such a situation arose.

Bitterly antagonized by the South Korean action, the North has reportedly reinforced frontline troops. All this is giving rise to aggravating hostility between the North and South.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, is attempting to justify the nuclear test by calling it “a self-defensive measure to defend the sovereignty of the country and vital rights of the nation.” His statement is a self-righteous assertion that ignores international condemnation, and it is utterly unacceptable.

An array of sanctions

At the initiative of the United States, the U.N. Security Council is proceeding with work to draft a resolution aimed at imposing sanctions on North Korea. Attention is focused largely on such measures as restrictions on banking transactions involving North Korea and restraint on port calls by North Korean ships. The envisaged sanctions must be made effective enough to make North Korea pay the price for its nuclear testing.

What is important is for pertinent nations to take concerted action to reinforce sanctions against North Korea. China, a country that can exert influence on North Korea, must fully cooperate with other nations in adopting the resolution and strictly implementing it.

In video footage used in a recent program aired by Korean Central Television that focused on Kim, an image of Liu Yunshan — a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee — has been removed. The initial footage showed Liu attending a military parade in Pyongyang last October.

There is reason to believe the deletion of Liu’s image was intended to serve as a restraining influence on China, which has denounced the recent nuclear test and is joining talks over a resolution against the North Korea.

Japan, a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, should be proactively involved in promoting negotiations over the envisaged resolution. In commenting on anti-Pyongyang sanctions to be imposed by Japan on its own, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said, “Stern measures will be adopted.”

Japan, the United States and South Korea will hold a string of talks at the level of bureau chief and vice minister this week. It is important for the three nations to closely cooperate with each other to prevent North Korea from going out of control.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 13, 2016)


香山リカのココロの万華鏡: 脳科学と人の心 /東京

January 10, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Brain science and the human spirit
香山リカのココロの万華鏡: 脳科学と人の心 /東京

I wonder what kind of year this is going to be.

As a psychiatrist, this year is likely to be one wherein I will take a fresh look at the question of just what exactly is the human spirit.

The advances recently made in the field of brain science have been astounding.

Ohio State University announced last year that it had finally utilized pluripotent stem cells derived from human skin cells in order to culture an eraser-sized "miniature brain," which included nearly all of the genes of a 5-week-old fetus.

It seems clear, then, that it will become possible within a short time frame to reproduce a human brain.

On second thought, however, I'll bet that before this occurs, analyses of the brain's neural networks will proceed in a manner such that people will be able to replicate their own brain on a computer.

I remember a scene from a science fiction movie where a woman was able to converse with a computer that utilized the same pattern as the brain of her dead husband. Soon, this will actually become a reality.

Let's imagine that this does indeed occur.

A vendor providing a "replacement brain" service comes to your house, picks up skin and hair samples of your dead family member from off the floor, and takes them away.

You later receive notification that the artificial brain is ready, and it is delivered to your home along with an attached apparatus that allows you to converse with it.

You flip the switch, and the nostalgic voice of your relative says, "It's been a long time! Are you studying like you should be?
I know you don't like English!" Naturally, you are also able to hold conversations with the device -- meaning that you can laugh and fight with your family member just like you always did before.
スイッチを入れると「久しぶり。ちゃんと勉強してる? あなたは英語が苦手だから」となつかしい家族の声が聞こえてくる。もちろん対話も可能。昔と同じように笑い合ったりケンカしたりすることもできる……。

Some people are likely to think, "This is amazing! I hope this will become a reality as soon as possible!"

Many others, however, probably feel that no matter how much a particular response pattern is able to be duplicated, it could never take the place of their beloved kin.

And even if one's own brain were able to be simulated via this type of service, few are those who would feel as if they had actually attained the ability to live forever.

If this is the case, then, what does it mean to exist as a particular human being?

Is it the act of possessing a body?

This is clearly not so, since the relatives or lover of someone whose face or other bodily features had become greatly disfigured in an accident would be unlikely to conclude that the individual had suddenly become a different person.

This being the case, then, it is clear that there is a deep connection between existing as an individual being human being and the fact that we have only one life -- even though no one yet possesses a definitive answer with respect to this matter.

Every single individual who sits with lowered eyes and sheds tears while sitting in my office possesses their own unique spirit, and is living their one unique life -- a fact in and of itself that explains the reason why we all get hurt and suffer.

This year, then, I would like to continue probing and agonizing together with all of you with respect to the following questions: What does it mean to be human? And just what is the human spirit?

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)


中東と日本 傍観者でいられない

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 10
EDITORIAL: Japan should not be passive bystander as tensions rise in Middle East
(社説)中東と日本 傍観者でいられない

Tensions are rising in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia and Iran are at loggerheads with each other.

By no means should Japan just be looking on at a time when the Middle East is standing at a doorway to further turbulence.

During his New Year news conference, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe evoked the fact that Japan will assume the presidency at the Group of Seven summit this year and that Japan has become a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

“(The year 2016) will be a year in which Japan’s diplomacy will lead the world,” Abe emphasized in that context. “I intend for Japan to lead the world by looking squarely at the future with a global perspective and laying out the most appropriate road map in order to foster peace and prosperity in the region and around the world.”

We sincerely hope that those words will be fulfilled. And there is one thing we want Abe to do exactly for that reason.

We want him to make sure that Japan will exercise its diplomatic potential in averting a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, just as it will respond to the recent nuclear test by North Korea.

During last year’s Diet deliberations on the security legislation, Abe cited potential deployment of the Self-Defense Forces to minesweeping operations in the Strait of Hormuz as a concrete example of the ways Japan will be exercising its right to collective self-defense.

But minesweeping operations will only become necessary after a conflict has erupted.

Diplomatic efforts to prevent the breakout of a conflict are the most needed at present to face the crisis that is unfolding before our eyes.

Along with supporting the arbitration efforts by the United States, European nations and other parties, Japan should also work with the global community in trying to find out what could be done at this moment.

Japan possesses a diplomatic asset, which allows it to hold a dialogue, under a certain level of mutual trust, with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, Israel and Iran, despite the historically entangled relations between the three parties.

Unlike the United States and European nations, Japan has so far applied the brakes on using force overseas. We could now make the most of the confidence in Japan, which has played an original role in nonmilitary, humanitarian aid that is intended to stabilize the livelihood of Middle Eastern people.

We should not forget that participation of the SDF in logistical support operations for foreign troops, which will become feasible under the new security legislation, could rather undermine Japan’s moral high ground.

Military strength and geographical distance matter in military action. But nonmilitary diplomacy of arbitration is feasible even without strong military power or in far-flung areas.

Seeking a way to avert a conflict in a peaceful manner on the basis of the diplomatic asset that Japan has accumulated over the postwar years would be the best way for Abe to live up to the promises of “diplomacy that takes a panoramic perspective of the globe” and “proactive pacifism”--both being the prime minister’s pet slogans--in the real sense of those terms.

Seldom do we believe there is any easy approach to doing so. But that is the sort of diplomacy that Japan should be seeking as a pacifist nation.


北朝鮮核問題 問われる中国の行動

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 9
EDITORIAL: China crucial to moves to rein in North Korea
(社説)北朝鮮核問題 問われる中国の行動

In response to Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test, the U.N. Security Council will soon start discussions on a new resolution to impose additional sanctions on North Korea.

After North Korea’s third nuclear test three years ago, the Security Council issued a resolution warning that “further significant measures” will be taken if the country conducts another nuclear test.

There is a compelling case for stronger international actions to punish North Korea.

Members of the Security Council should unite and adopt a new resolution swiftly to make North Korea realize the serious consequences of its outrageous act.

However, it should be noted that the Security Council’s warnings and sanctions included in its past resolutions concerning North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have been ineffective.

The primary reason for this failure is a large hole in the international coalition to put pressure on North Korea. That hole is China, on which the secluded and isolated country has been heavily dependent both politically and economically.

Traditionally, the relationship between China and North Korea has been described as ties bound by a blood pledge because China fought for the North during the Korean War (1950-1953).

During the Cold War era, China and North Korea confronted the United States together as members of the communist bloc.

But China’s position in the world has changed since those days. It is now a leading power that has as much responsibility for international affairs as the United States and major European countries.

Beijing should now act in a way that does not allow North Korea to commit any more reckless acts that threaten global security.

In order to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs from repeating and accelerating, China needs to take an action against its neighbor that represents a clear departure from its past pattern.

For years, China has continued providing support to North Korea, even though it has often been annoyed by Pyongyang’s behavior.

That is mainly because China is intent on preventing any situation that could lead to the collapse of North Korea, which could pose a serious threat to its own security.

Moreover, China’s three northeastern provinces near the border with North Korea have strong interdependent economic ties with the country. This makes it even more difficult for Beijing to impose effective sanctions against the North.

A disorderly collapse of North Korea would also have dire consequences for other neighboring countries, including Japan and South Korea. One big worry is a possible large-scale refugee crisis.

Even so, if China continues to support North Korea, the regime of Kim Jong Un will keep making the same mistakes. China should take the initiative in ratcheting up pressure on the regime.

At the same time, a fundamental solution to the North Korea problem requires active involvement by Washington.

What North Korean leaders want the most is a fresh round of talks with the United States for a peace treaty.

U.S. President Barack Obama has been sticking to a policy of refusing to start serious talks with North Korea unless the country takes concrete and convincing actions toward abandoning its nuclear arms program.

But this policy has failed to work.

The Obama administration may be responsible for the fact that it has allowed North Korea to conduct three nuclear tests during its tenure.

The United States needs to work with Japan, South Korea, China and Russia to figure out a new strategy for dealing with North Korea under the leadership of Kim Jong Un.

Starting dialogue with Pyongyang under the framework of the six-nation talks on its nuclear ambitions, for instance, would not necessarily mean making a concession to the country.

All the countries concerned are facing tough challenges in dealing with North Korea, but have no choice but to start making serious efforts to work out ways of playing more active roles through a combination of a hard and a soft approach toward Pyongyang.