G20と政策協調 市場安定へ行動が求められる

The Yomiuri Shimbun
G-20 nations must coordinate policies to stabilize global financial markets
G20と政策協調 市場安定へ行動が求められる

Can the current turmoil in global financial markets be contained by the latest moves of the Group of 20 countries? The developed and emerging market economies must coordinate their policies effectively to achieve this goal.

A conference of the G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors ended on Saturday. A joint communique adopted at the conference included the grim perception that “Downside risks and vulnerabilities have risen” for the global economy.

Based on this recognition, the G-20 countries expressed their strong resolve in the communique to “use all policy tools — monetary, fiscal and structural — individually and collectively” to check the global economy from stalling.

The world economy has been shrouded in a number of destabilizing factors, such as the slowdown in China’s economic growth, a drop in crude oil prices, and capital flows out of emerging market economies in the wake of the recent U.S. interest rate hike.

It is noteworthy that the G-20 countries shared a sense of alarm and came up with a stance of jointly tackling these challenges to realize market stabilization.

The G-20 countries agreed on the view that excessive movement in exchange rates can adversely affect the world economy. They also reaffirmed that they will refrain from competitive devaluations of currencies to promote their exports. The communique thus took into consideration the concern in the market over the yen’s excessive rise and China’s devaluation of the yuan.

The focal point of the conference was whether China, chair of the conference and a country reckoned to be the epicenter of market confusion, can send an effective message to calm the market turmoil.

Trying to calm fears

People’s Bank of China Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan sought to ease the distrust of the market by saying at a press conference, among other things, that the bank would take additional monetary-easing measures. The press conference was, unusually, held ahead of the opening of the G-20 conference. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang also made clear the country’s policy of promoting structural reforms.

However, just emphasizing a reform-promoting stance will not be enough to eliminate deep-rooted concerns about China’s economic prospects. The country will be required to specify the policy course it will take.

It is reasonable that Finance Minister Taro Aso said, “Chinese authorities need to present a structural reform plan with a concrete schedule.”

In dealing with challenges such as reducing excess production capacity and reorganizing state-owned enterprises, the ability to act to carry through painful reforms is vitally needed.

It is also appropriate that the communique clearly stated, “We will clearly communicate our policy actions to minimize negative spillovers,” apparently taking into account such countries as the United States, which is exploring ways to make an additional interest rate hike.

We hope G-20 countries make policy decisions carefully by also paying attention to the possible ill effects of interest rate hikes, such as an exodus of capital from emerging economies.

The vulnerability of Europe’s financial system was also taken up for discussion at the conference. European countries need to throw their energy into accelerating their disposal of nonperforming loans and implementing structural reforms to vitalize their economies.

Japan explained to other G-20 countries that it will get the nation out of deflation with its negative interest rate policy. It is imperative to realize an economic recovery led by domestic demand while pushing through growth strategies.

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


高浜再稼働 後始末をどうするのか

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 27
EDITORIAL: Dealing with nuclear waste a pressing concern with Takahama reactor restart
(社説)高浜再稼働 後始末をどうするのか

Kansai Electric Power Co. restarted the No. 4 reactor at its Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture on Feb. 26.

The 870-megawatt pressurized water reactor became the fourth to resume operations since stricter safety guidelines were introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, as well as the No. 3 reactor at the Takahama facility, had already been brought back online.

The No. 4 reactor at the Takahama plant, like the No. 3 reactor, uses mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel consisting of plutonium and uranium to generate electricity.

What concerns us is whether local residents will be safely and smoothly evacuated in the event of a severe accident at the plant. The decision to resume operations is highly questionable in light of the lessons learned from the calamitous accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Earlier this month, a small amount of radioactive water was found to have leaked near purification equipment installed in the auxiliary structure of the No. 4 reactor building during a test to send water down the primary coolant pipe connected to the reactor.

The cause of the leak was a loose bolt in a valve, according to the utility.

The triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant five years ago has made Japanese far more aware of safety concerns when it comes to nuclear power generation.

Kansai Electric claims it has checked all other valves. Even so, the utility must realize it is assuming a heavy responsibility with regard to the overall safety of the reactor it has restarted.

Operating a reactor inevitably produces additional spent nuclear fuel. What is needed now is a fresh, hard look at the intractable challenge of what to do with nuclear waste.

At Kansai Electric’s Takahama, Mihama and Oi nuclear plants, about 70 percent of the capacity of the spent fuel pools is already in use. If all nine reactors at these plants are brought back on stream, the storage pools will reach their capacity limit in seven to eight years.

Under the government’s nuclear fuel recycling program, spent fuel is supposed to be reprocessed at a special plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, to separate plutonium for fresh use as fuel.

But the completion of the reprocessing plant has been delayed repeatedly, with no prospect of actual operation.

In addition, spent MOX fuel produced by a reactor burning a mix of uranium and plutonium in plutonium-thermal (pluthermal) operations cannot be reprocessed at the Rokkasho plant.

Since the government has made no decision with regard to the disposal of spent fuel, the utility can only store used MOX within the plant, at least for the time being.

The consequences of postponing a decision on how to tackle these vital problems are now making themselves felt.

Consumers, for their part, have long taken for granted that atomic energy will generate much of the electricity they consume. They should not simply foist the responsibility for dealing with the problems on the government or the utilities.

Society as a whole needs to show a sense of responsibility by getting involved in debate on the future of nuclear waste disposal in this country.

People in the Kansai region served by the utility and Fukui Prefecture, where the reactors are located, may be in a position to take the leadership in initiating the debate.

Worried about the expected increase in spent nuclear fuel at the plant, the Fukui prefectural government is calling on Kansai Electric and the central government to build an interim storage facility outside the prefecture.

Last November, the company promised to decide on the location of such a facility around 2020 and start operating it around 2030.

The utility has indicated its intention to build the envisioned storage facility in the Kansai region, which consumes the electricity generated at the plant. But no local government in the region has expressed any willingness to accept such a site.

This surely is an issue the communities that use the power should tackle.

Kansai Electric may as well propose talks over the issue with the Union of Kansai Governments, composed of the governors of the prefectures and the mayors of the ordinance-designated cities in the Kansai region.

If the Fukui prefectural government is also allowed to sit at the negotiating table, it will be a first step toward mending the relationship between areas where nuclear power plants are located and markets for power generated at the plants. The relationship has been strained by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

We realize the talks would not produce any real solution quickly. But it is no longer possible to avoid addressing the issue.


中国と南シナ海 軍事拠点化の加速を憂慮する

The Yomiuri Shimbun
U.S. must bolster patrol activity to secure stability in S. China Sea
中国と南シナ海 軍事拠点化の加速を憂慮する

China’s recent maritime activities can be regarded as a self-serving attempt to expand its sphere of influence by force and thereby increase regional tensions.

China has been accelerating the militarization of islands and artificial isles in the South China Sea.

Satellite images and other findings have shown that China is constructing facilities believed to be radar installations on four reclaimed islands in the Spratly Islands.

It has already established a radar surveillance system in the northern half of the South China Sea, installing radar equipment in the Paracel Islands and elsewhere. With the latest installation of a radar system, China is apparently seeking to acquire warning and surveillance capabilities over almost the entire South China Sea.

It was also revealed that China had deployed fighter jets and bombers in addition to long-range surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands, which is effectively controlled by China. The island’s area is said to have increased by 40 percent in less than two years through expansion of a runway and other facilities.

The series of Chinese maritime activities can be considered the foundation for establishing an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea in addition to the one already set up over the East China Sea.

Clearly, the administration led by President Xi Jinping has an ambition to enclose the South China Sea — without grounds under international law — and treat it like a Chinese “lake” in an attempt to eliminate U.S. influence in the area. China is believed to be considering effectively implementing an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy to ensure naval and air supremacy, thereby deterring the intervention of the U.S. military in times of emergency.

Chinese sophistry

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command, has expressed a strong sense of caution against China’s militarization of the islands, telling a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, “I believe China seeks hegemony in East Asia.”

Of serious concern is that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Li has dismissed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s concern about China’s maritime activities.

During a news conference after meeting with Wang, Kerry said, “I stressed that any enforcement by any party of maritime claims by deploying their own aircraft over disputed areas are not compatible with the freedoms of navigation and of skies of access to flight operations.” But unless Washington applies stronger pressure on Beijing, it will be impossible to stop China’s unilateral actions and speech.

Wang countered by saying more attention must be given to the fact that “strategic bombers and missile destroyers are appearing every day in the South China Sea.” China’s assertion that U.S. military patrol operations, which embody freedom of navigation, are “militarization” is nothing but sophistry.

During his visit to the United States last September, Xi stated that his country “has no intention of pushing militarization.” China argued persistently that the country would perform its international responsibilities, including providing rescue operations and ensuring the safety of navigation.

We cannot accept a situation in which a great power that should play a pivotal role in stabilizing the South China Sea does not honor an international pledge and instead moves to destabilize the security conditions.

It is essential for the United States to maintain and bolster patrol operations. Tokyo and Washington must cooperate closely with other countries concerned as they apply continued pressure on Beijing.

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


原発の延命 電力会社次第なのか

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 25
EDITORIAL: Extending life of nuclear reactors should not be left solely up to utilities
(社説)原発の延命 電力会社次第なのか

Japan’s nuclear regulator has endorsed the safety of two reactors that have been in service for more than four decades.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) announced on Feb. 24 that the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture meet the new safety standards introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The NRA’s verdict has opened the door to an extension of the operating lives of the aging reactors to up to 60 years, one of Kansai Electric’s key goals for its nuclear power generation.

A revision to a law following the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has set the legal life of nuclear reactors at 40 years. But one extension by up to 20 years is allowed with NRA approval.

To extend the operational lives of the two reactors, the operator must receive several approvals from the NRA. If the NRA decides that the reactors have fulfilled all the related criteria, this will become the first case of an extension of the legal life of reactors under the new system.

The 40-year limit was introduced by the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, which was in power when the nuclear disaster occurred, to demonstrate its commitment to weaning Japan from its dependence on atomic energy. It was aimed at ensuring a steady phasing out of nuclear power generation through the decommissioning of aging reactors.

The provision for an extension of the life span was added in response to concerns about possible power shortages due to insufficient capacity.

But no specific rules have been set with regard to what kind of circumstances should justify permitting extended operations.

What is vital for electric utilities is the economic viability of their nuclear power plants. Five small reactors that are not sufficiently cost-effective under the 40-year limit on operations have been set for retirement.
Of the remaining 43 reactors, 18 units have been in service for more than 30 years. Utilities will apply for permission to run aging reactors beyond the 40-year legal life span if it makes economic sense. Some applications for a longer license have already been filed with the NRA.

If an extension of the legal life of reactors is approved one after another, the 40-year limit could become meaningless.

With such decisions, we are concerned that the government’s nuclear energy policy and the energy future of this nation are being defined under the initiative of electric utilities focused on generating profits.

Where is the political will that transcends the profit equations of power suppliers?

If aging reactors are allowed to exceed the 40-year life span in rapid succession, the disturbing safety risk posed by a thick cluster of reactors in Fukui Prefecture will not be reduced.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly pledged to reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy as much as possible. The government should make it clear that an extension can be made as an exception.

Before the harrowing nuclear accident, there was no legal life for nuclear reactors. Initially, electric power companies said the operational life of their reactors was around 30 to 40 years.

Later, the former nuclear regulator, which has been replaced by the NRA, introduced a system that allowed utilities to operate reactors for up to 60 years if they submit maintenance plans every 10 years after the 30th year of service. The regulator cited progress in analysis technology as the reason for extending operational licenses for reactors.

The previous government’s decision to replace this system with the new 40-year rule reflected its will to phase out nuclear power generation in this nation.

Immediately after assuming the post, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka was skeptical about extending the life of reactors, saying it was “considerably difficult.”

In assessing the safety measures Kansai Electric has taken for the reactors at the Takahama plant, however, the NRA has given the green light to the utility’s plan to cover electric cables with a fire-resistant sheet where it is difficult to replace them with flame-retardant cables.

The NRA’s move has greatly encouraged utilities seeking to gain permission to run reactors past the 40-year limit because this has been a major technical obstacle to meeting the safety standards.

In his policy speech at the beginning of the current Diet session in January, Abe made no reference to nuclear power generation. Does this indicate that the government will not do anything to stop the growing trend toward longer-term reactor operations?

If so, the government will act against both the past words of the prime minister concerning the issue and the wishes of many Japanese to see their nation free from nuclear energy.


英国民投票へ EU離脱なら不安定化を招く

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Europe to be unsettled if Britain opts to exit the EU in coming referendum
英国民投票へ EU離脱なら不安定化を招く

A referendum has been set for June 23 in Britain regarding whether the country should stay in or exit from the European Union.

Should the referendum comes out in favor of departure, there will be no turning back for the country. Britain is the second-largest economy in the EU and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. If Britain leaves the bloc, it will inevitably have great impact on Europe’s politics and economy. The EU stands at a crossroads.

Calling to stay in the EU, British Prime Minister David Cameron has emphasized, “Britain will be safer, stronger and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union.” It takes into account a recent agreement reached at a meeting of EU leaders to adopt a package of reform measures aimed at keeping Britain in the bloc.

The deal promises to guarantee Britain “special status” as a concession to that country by the other EU members.

It acknowledges that Britain would not commit itself to further political integration. The agreement would enable Britain to restrict social security benefits given to immigrants and would also guarantee not to place a financial burden on Britain or other non-eurozone member states if an economic crisis erupts in the eurozone.

Cameron’s leadership will be tested over whether he will be able to persuade the British public to accept his calls for remaining a part of the EU.

Divisions over immigration

Since last year, the EU has been confronted with the serious challenge of dealing with a sharp increase in immigrants from the Middle East. Each EU country resorted to its own measures aimed at restricting the inflow of immigrants to its respective territory, which has added impetus to the anti-EU movement. If the current situation goes on, European integration could fall into a crisis.

In Britain, anti-immigration party has gained strength in recent years, against the backdrop of an increase in the number of immigrants from Eastern European countries that have joined the EU. Euroskepticism, the name given to skeptical views of the EU, has grown increasingly strong within the ruling Conservative Party, too. Pledging to settle the immigration issue through a referendum, Cameron scored a victory in a general election last year.

Half of Britain’s export destinations are other EU countries. If Britain exits the EU, it will be necessary for the nation to conclude new trade and other agreements with the union. It is certain that the British economy will face greater uncertainties.

The pro-exit camp has criticized the expansion of authorities given to EU and insists to restore sovereignty of Britain. London Mayor Boris Johnson — a prominent figure tipped as a candidate to succeed Cameron at the helm of the Conservative Party, with the hope of becoming the next prime minster — has said he supports Britain’s departure from the bloc. This will likely deal a blow to Cameron.

Johnson and others may expect that Britain will be able to achieve long-term economic development by having the City in London, an international financial center, freed from EU regulations.

Britain’s exit from the EU would lead to a decline in the EU’s presence as a huge single market. It would also weaken the EU’s voice in dealing with such diplomatic issues as the sanctions imposed on Russia and the fight against terrorism.

A number of Japanese corporations have bases in Britain for their business operations in Europe. They could be forced to reconsider their business strategy, depending on the result of the British referendum.

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


衆院選制度改革 アダムズ方式を先送りするな

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prompt introduction of Adams’ method crucial for lower house electoral reform
衆院選制度改革 アダムズ方式を先送りするな

The rectification of vote-value disparities between single-seat constituencies must be given priority in carrying out reform of the electoral system for the House of Representatives. Legislative steps must be taken for that purpose during the current Diet session after quickly consolidating the opinions of political parties.

The ruling and opposition parties have presented their views on electoral system reforms to lower house Speaker Tadamori Oshima.

The Democratic Party of Japan, Komeito and the Japan Innovation Party have basically accepted the reform proposals recommended by an expert research panel. The Liberal Democratic Party, on the other hand, has agreed to cuts in the number of total seats but wants to postpone the reallocation of seats to prefectures.

The LDP’s reform plan calls for reducing the number of seats in single-seat constituencies by six and reviewing the demarcation of these constituencies, both based on a simplified census conducted in 2015, to reduce vote-value disparities to less than 2 to 1. The number of seats in proportional representation blocs would be cut by four. The party has compiled these proposals by revising the party’s draft plan at the instruction of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has called for seat cuts to be carried out more rapidly.

The LDP is studying a plan to cut one seat each in six prefectures, including Kagoshima and Iwate, without increasing seats in other prefectures. The plan also calls for a reallocation of seats to prefectures based on the census to be taken in 2020, leaving the impression that this is a stopgap measure.

The panel called for reallocating lower house seats based on the Adams’ method, under which seven seats would be added and 13 eliminated. This will reduce the maximum vote-value gap between prefectures to 1.621 to 1 and likely hold the disparities between constituencies to less than 2 to 1.

LDP’s concession vital

The LDP has put off the plan on the reallocation of seats to prefectures because of strong internal opposition to and cautious views against the panel’s reform proposals, which would affect incumbent lawmakers of the prefectures subject to the 13 cuts.

The LDP must not make light of the fact that the ruling and opposition parties promised to respect the panel’s recommendations after entrusting it to study the situation following their failure to reach an agreement on reform plans. The LDP will have no alternative but to reconsider the reform plans, as the Adams’ method has been approved by other major parties.

It is desirable to revise the electoral system, the foundation of democracy, with the approval of as many parties as possible. Abe has suggested he will aim to pass related bills through the current Diet session. As an overwhelmingly dominant force in the Diet, the LDP has the responsibility to lead consensus-building efforts on the reform.

It is disappointing, however, that major parties still hold on to the idea of cutting the total seat number.

The panel proposed cutting 10 seats only in consideration of parties’ pledges to the people that the number of seats would be cut, as it said that “it is difficult to find appropriate reasons or logical basis” for cutting the total seat number.

If the seat number is reduced, diverse public opinions may not be reflected in elections. The legislature’s monitoring of the administrative branch through deliberations on government-proposed bills could be weakened. The number of Japanese lawmakers in relation to the national population is no greater than in some European countries and elsewhere.

It must be taken into consideration that if the number of total seats is reduced, it will become more difficult and troublesome to correct vote disparities.

When lawmakers are asked to accept reforms that are painful to themselves, they should do it by agreeing to cuts in subsidies to political parties rather than by decreasing seat numbers.

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


年金運用改革 ガバナンス強化を優先したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prioritize reinforcing governance of public pension fund management
年金運用改革 ガバナンス強化を優先したい

To manage a massive amount of funds safely and efficiently, it is vital to build an effective organization and system suited to carrying out the task.

A council of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has proposed that the current ban on direct stock investment by the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) remain in place, at least for the time being.

The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito has supported the proposal. The government has decided not to include direct stock investment by the GPIF in a bill related to pension reforms, which it plans to submit to the current Diet.

This was a reasonable conclusion, as it is not only doubtful if the GPIF, under the current structure and human resources, would be able to make appropriate stock investment decisions but also difficult to ensure impartiality and transparency in such investments.

The GPIF, which manages the reserve funds of corporate employees’ pension programs and the national pension program — worth a combined total of about ¥140 trillion — is one of the world’s largest institutional investors.

In principle, the GPIF manages funds through trust banks and other financial institutions, and is prohibited from making direct equity investments.

The GPIF had called for lifting the ban on direct stock investment on the grounds that by flexibly responding to capital market movements, it will be able to earn more profits, while reducing the commissions it pays to the trust banks.

But the decision-making power of the GPIF has been concentrated on its president, and few of its staff members specialize in fund management.

Expert panel appropriate

The council’s proposal calls for reinforcing the GPIF’s governance structure to increase public trust in it.

The main point of the proposal is to establish an executive committee, comprising financial experts and other people, with a collegial decision-making system to consider such important matters as the component ratio of management assets. This is an appropriate recommendation.

To carry out asset management stably over the long term, it will be important to develop its own specialists in fund management and enhance risk-management capabilities.

The fund’s organizational reforms, led by welfare minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki, ran into difficulties last year due to differences of opinion with the Pension Bureau. We hope efforts to develop a new structure will be expedited.

The ministry says it plans to study the issue of direct stock investment again three years from now.

Needless to say, there is risk involved in investing in stocks that fluctuate widely. Safety is an essential consideration to manage pension funds over the long term.

There is also the problem that if the GPIF takes a more active role in investing in stocks with massive amounts of pension funds, it will likely have greater influence on stock markets. This is because stock prices likely would be affected by which stock the GPIF buys and how much.

The GPIF’s fund management reforms are seen as part of the government’s measures to prop up stock prices. Should pension funds be used with short-term price increases in mind, it will distort stock prices. Sufficient consideration should also be given in this respect.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 22, 2016)


丸山議員の失言 国政を担う自覚はあるのか

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Gaffe-prone lawmakers need greater awareness of their responsibilities
丸山議員の失言 国政を担う自覚はあるのか

There has recently been a succession of inappropriate remarks made by Diet members from both the ruling and opposition parties and by Cabinet members. This could heighten distrust in politics. They should be aware that they are in a position of heavy responsibility, and also feel a sense of alertness.

The remarks in question include one made by Kazuya Maruyama, a House of Councillors member from the Liberal Democratic Party. At a session of the upper house Commission on the Constitution, he said: “In the United States, a black man is president [of the country] now. He is in a bloodline of black people who were slaves.” The remark could be taken as an expression of racial discrimination. Besides, the father of President Barack Obama was a Kenyan and not a descendant of slaves.

The day after making that remark, Maruyama attempted to justify himself by saying, “I said that with the intention of praising the fact that the current United States came into being through self-transformation.” However, this cannot possibly be understood.

Maruyama also said, “If Japan becomes the 51st state of the United States, no controversy could erupt over its right of collective self-defense, and the abduction problem would not have arisen, either.” This is just preposterous and a remark that raises questions about his qualifications as a legislator.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan cannot treat the recent inappropriate remarks as having nothing to do with itself.

Masaharu Nakagawa, a House of Representatives member from the DPJ, said at a meeting of party lower house members, “Let’s fight to ensure Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe develops a sleep disorder.”

Nakagawa made the remark when he referred to Akira Amari, former minister in charge of economic revitalization, who has been diagnosed with a sleep disorder. Nakagawa’s remark lacked consideration for people who suffer from such a condition.

The prime minister has expressed a sense of displeasure with the remark, saying it is “a question of human rights.”

Focus on serious issues

There are a number of themes to be discussed in the Diet now, including the revitalization of the Japanese economy and the situation in northeast Asia. We hope each lawmaker will come to tackle Diet deliberations more seriously and deepen constructive discussions.

Needless to say, Cabinet members must speak and act with even greater caution.

During a lecture in which she referred to the nuclear accident that occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa said the government’s decontamination goal of reducing radiation levels to an annual dose of one millisievert or less had “no scientific grounds.”

Later, she offered an apology, saying, “I said that [with the aim of] stating that a full explanation has not been given about why [the target] was set at one millisievert.” In the end, Marukawa retracted her original remark.

In response to requests from communities affected by the accident to thoroughly decontaminate their areas, the administration led by the then ruling DPJ announced it would pursue the goal of curtailing radiation levels to one millisievert or less. By international standards, evacuees from a nuclear accident-affected area can return to their community if radiation levels stand at 20 millisieverts or lower.

It has been pointed out that the high decontamination goal is hindering efforts to ensure that evacuees from communities struck by the disaster can return home, and to rehabilitate the affected areas.

Although Marukawa’s remark seems to make sense in some respects, there is no denying her statement was unguarded and worded immaturely.

Kensei Mizote, chairman of the LDP caucus of upper house members, referred to former lower house member Kensuke Miyazaki, who was discovered to have been seeing another woman just before his wife gave birth. “Some people may feel envious [of Miyazaki],” Mizote said. Though Mizote may have said this as a joke, his remark was thoughtless.

The LDP is being viewed sternly, for reasons such as the scandal involving Miyazaki, who had proposed establishing a system by which Diet members would be allowed to take childcare leave.

Does all this demonstrate that the LDP may be filled with conceit at a time when the party is the sole dominant force in political circles? Now is the time for the LDP to pull itself together.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 21, 2016)


原発自主避難 被害に応じた賠償を

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 20
EDITORIAL: Extent of suffering key to compensating Fukushima evacuees
(社説)原発自主避難 被害に応じた賠償を

An estimated 100,000 or so people are still living as evacuees as a consequence of the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

This figure comprises about 18,000 evacuees who acted on their own initiative and fled from the 23 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that are outside government-designated evacuation zones. They include people who lived in areas that are not covered by the government-supported compensation program.

The circumstances of their decisions to leave their hometowns are more or less similar to those of the people who fled from areas covered by the evacuation orders. Many of them were concerned about the health of their children or found it difficult to continue their businesses in the affected areas.

But compensation paid to these “voluntary evacuees” by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled nuclear plant, ranging from 120,000 yen to 720,000 yen ($1,000 to $6,400) per person, was far smaller than the amounts received by residents of the evacuation areas.

On Feb. 18, a local court handed down a ruling that may open the door to greater relief for these evacuees.

The Kyoto District Court ordered TEPCO to pay about 30 million yen to a man and his wife for mental illnesses the husband suffered following their “voluntary evacuation” from the calamitous accident. The man, who is in his 40s, together with his wife and three children, filed a lawsuit against the utility seeking 180 million yen in damages, claiming he became unable to work because of mental and physical problems caused by the effects of the nuclear disaster.

Concerned about the possibility of his children’s exposure to radiation, the man decided to leave his home with his family. After they fled, the family stayed at hotels and lived in rented accommodation outside the prefecture.

As he had to live in unfamiliar surroundings, the man developed insomnia and depression. The district court acknowledged that the nuclear accident was the cause of these health problems.

Compensation payments to such voluntary evacuees are based on guidelines set by a central government panel addressing disputes over compensation for nuclear accidents. The guidelines say compensation payments should be based on three factors: increases in living expenses due to evacuation, mental damages and expenses incurred in fleeing and returning home.

TEPCO had paid a total of 2.92 million yen to the family based on the guidelines, but the family claimed the compensation was insufficient.

In its ruling, the district court argued that the guidelines only show “items and scope of damages that can be classified according to type.”

The ruling showed the view that damages with a causal link to the accident should be compensated for according to the circumstances involved. The basic principle for compensation espoused by the ruling is that the amounts of damages to be paid should be determined according to the circumstances of individual cases instead of being uniform and fixed.

Compensation payments to victims of the nuclear disaster, such as evacuees and affected businesses, come out of a 9 trillion yen treasure chest provided by the government to TEPCO.

With its management priority placed on its own early recovery from the consequences of the accident, however, the electric utility has been trying to terminate the payments as soon as possible and keep the amounts within the framework set by the guidelines. The company’s compensation policy has been criticized for failing to make the benefit of residents a primary consideration.

About 10,000 evacuees are involved as plaintiffs in damages suits filed with 21 district courts and branches around the country. This points to the high level of discontent with the compensation payments that have been paid out.

TEPCO should respond with appropriate sincerity to the demands of victims entitled to compensation and review its compensation policy and procedures.

The courts that are hearing these cases should hand down rulings that give sufficient consideration to the plight of the victims.


政府慰安婦説明 誤解払拭へ国際発信を強めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
More outward approach needed to fix ‘comfort women’ misperception
政府慰安婦説明 誤解払拭へ国際発信を強めよ

Japan must ramp up outbound dissemination of information in an effort to eliminate misperceptions about the so-called comfort women issue.

During a recent session of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in Geneva, the government gave comprehensive explanations about facts related to the issue for the first time, saying among other things that no documents confirming forcible recruitment of comfort women have been found.

Referring to testimony by the late Seiji Yoshida that he “hunted women” for recruitment of comfort women on Jeju Island in what is now South Korea, Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama denounced his testimony as a total fabrication and said The Asahi Shimbun, which had reported his testimony, had since admitted it was an erroneous report and apologized over it.

Though the government’s rebuttal came belatedly, it is absolutely necessary to accurately correct the international community’s misunderstanding of the facts and actively rebut assertions that could damage the reputation of Japan.

Touching on Japan’s support for former comfort women based on the Asian Women’s Fund and the Japan-South Korea agreement last December, Sugiyama said, “Criticisms that the Japanese government denies history and has taken no action on the matter run counter to facts.”

With this as a starting point, Japan must step up diplomatic efforts to disseminate all facts related to the comfort women issue across the world.

Of concern is the global spread of the misperception that “200,000 women were forced by the Japanese military to become sex slaves.”

Contrary to facts

The spread of that misperception was triggered by a report by Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 1996.

Using the Yoshida testimony as part of its grounds for concluding that the comfort women were “sex slaves,” the report mentioned that the number of comfort women hailing from the Korean Peninsula alone totaled 200,000. Such a mistaken expression was inscribed as part of the epitaphs of comfort women statues installed in the United States.

Arguing that there can be no ground for asserting that there were “200,000” comfort women, Sugiyama also said the expression “sex slaves” was “contrary to the facts.”

History researchers in Japan and foreign countries have assumed certain numbers of comfort women based on such data as the number of soldiers at the time. Their majority view is that 200,000 is an overestimated figure.

It is regrettable, however, that the Foreign Ministry did not make any effective refutation when the Coomaraswamy’s report was submitted to the United Nations panel.

This is probably because the ministry was bound by the fact that the report used some quotes from the statement made by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993. Kono said that “in many cases they were recruited against their own will” and “administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments.” Revision of the Kono Statement is a heavy challenge for the future.

The South Korean government has contended during the U.N. panel session in Geneva that “the forcible mobilization of comfort women is a historical fact.” But it refrained from making a strong condemnation in consideration of the last year’s bilateral agreement that called for both parties to exercise self-restraint on criticizing each other at the United Nations and other international forums.

Japan’s focus this time on explaining the facts about comfort women can be deemed to be based on the same intention. Japan-South Korea relations have started improving after remaining stagnant for a long time. They must avoid a return to the folly of waging a futile battle of mutual criticism.

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


米ASEAN 南シナ海での狼藉に警告した

The Yomiuri Shimbun
U.S., ASEAN warn Beijing over outrageous actions in S. China Sea
米ASEAN 南シナ海での狼藉に警告した

A message has been sent to China, which is attempting to turn the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea into military strongholds, warning that its self-serving actions are unacceptable.

U.S. President Barack Obama invited leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the first U.S.-ASEAN summit to be held in the United States.

With the South China Sea in mind, a joint statement by the leaders set forth the importance of maintaining maritime security and safety by ensuring the right to the freedom of navigation, nonmilitarization and self-restraint. It avoided making pointed references to China but implicitly issued a warning regarding China’s outrageous behavior.

One of the artificial islands China has built in the Spratly Islands reportedly contains a 3,000-meter-class runway and hangars for fighter jets.

Test flights were conducted on the island at the beginning of this year, and full-fledged operations of the runway are expected to start shortly.

China has also reportedly deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system and a radar system on an island it effectively controls in the Paracel Islands.

Viewing the United States as an “extra-regional state” in the South China Sea, China refuses to accept U.S. intervention in the region. China may be making too light of the situation, thinking that once it excludes U.S. influence from the region, it can make its maritime interests a fait accompli.

Yet the safety of sea lanes is a common good for the international community, including Japan.

It was natural for Obama and ASEAN leaders to have announced in the joint statement the significance of “an international order where international rules and norms and the rights of all nations are upheld.”

Regular sailings needed

Last October and in January this year, U.S. Navy vessels sailed close to disputed islands in the South China Sea, conducting patrols to concretely demonstrate the right to the freedom of navigation.

At a press conference, Obama said the United States would “continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” clarifying again that the United States would continue its activities in the region. To deter China from taking provocative steps, it is essential for U.S. warships to sail there regularly.

The noticeable difference among ASEAN countries’ enthusiasm for holding China in check is a matter of concern. Such countries as Laos, the current ASEAN chair, and Cambodia have close economic ties with China. A situation in which ASEAN members become further divided in their positions, weakening the pressure they put on China, must be avoided.

The United States is being called on to promote its rebalancing policy, which focuses on Asia, and to exercise strong leadership. Obama’s planned visit to Vietnam in May is part of such efforts.

Obama and ASEAN leaders at the summit also discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade accord, participated in by 12 countries, including Japan and the United States.

Obama welcomed the participation of four ASEAN members, including Singapore, while expressing support for the remaining six, including Indonesia and Thailand, to join.

An expanded membership in the TPP accord, which strictly regulates trade and investment, would help restrain China, which is taking hegemonic actions in economic fields as well. Greater participation in the TPP by ASEAN member countries would also help vitalize Japan’s trade.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 18, 2016)


朝鮮半島緊張 「北」の軍事挑発に警戒怠るな

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Vigilance must be increased over North Korean military provocation
朝鮮半島緊張 「北」の軍事挑発に警戒怠るな

Ignoring repeated calls for self-restraint from the international community, North Korea continues taking provocative actions. Pyongyang should quickly recognize that such actions will only deepen its isolation and aggravate its plight.

The Korean Central News Agency reported Monday that Kim Jong Un, the first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, called for more satellite launches in the future. This suggests that the country will launch long-range ballistic missiles again.

Defense Minister Gen Nakatani pointed out Tuesday, “We cannot rule out the possibility of North Korea’s repeatedly launching missiles on the pretext of launching satellites.”

It is important for Japan to cooperate with other countries concerned, including the United States and South Korea, and increase its vigilance.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in a parliamentary address, “If time passes like this with no change, Kim Jong Un’s regime, on a reckless run without brakes, will deploy nuclear missiles.” It was reasonable for Park to have warned the nation of the danger of an increasing North Korean threat in light of advances in the North’s military technologies.

In imposing sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear test last month and the latest launch of a long-range ballistic missile, South Korea suspended all operations at Kaesong industrial park, a jointly run cooperation project in North Korea.

Problematic is that North Korea has unilaterally declared the Kaesong complex a military control zone and shut down cross-border telecommunications hot lines for both military forces.

North Korea has taken these steps apparently because it was upset by Seoul’s aiming to cut financial resources of the Kim regime.

Concerted trilateral moves

Since the Kaesong industrial complex started operations in 2004, North Korea has earned a total of $560 million (or about ¥63.4 billion) in foreign currency, including workers’ wages. Seventy percent of the money paid in wages and for other things is said to have gone to the Workers’ Party, which funneled it toward its nuclear and missile development programs or to purchase luxury goods.

There were also news reports saying that the chief of staff of the North Korean Army was recently executed. First Secretary Kim may have become unable to maintain his regime without resorting to a reign of terror by purging one aide after another among senior officials of the military or the ruling party.

It is inevitable for the tensions between the two Koreas to increase. The U.S. forces will deploy a nuclear-powered attack submarine and F-22 stealth fighter planes in and around South Korea. The United States and South Korea should cooperate and deter North Korea from engaging in military provocations.

In her address, Park emphasized that her country is advancing the buildup of defense capabilities of the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

Park’s new policy of negotiating with Washington over the deployment of a state-of-the-art U.S. missile defense system in her country, which she had been wary about, is also part of the defense buildup.

In South Korea, senior officials of the ruling party, a leading newspaper and others have begun to publicly refer to the idea of arming the country with nuclear weapons. Park’s parliamentary remarks may also be aimed at cooling off such a move.

Park has highly rated Japan’s imposition of unilateral sanctions on North Korea, saying it has demonstrated Japan’s strong will not to overlook its behavior.

It is vitally important to make use of the momentum of concerted moves by Japan, the United States and South Korea toward tough sanctions against North Korea so as to realize the adoption of a resolution by the U.N. Security Council.

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


丸川環境相 撤回しても残る「軽さ」

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 16
(社説)丸川環境相 撤回しても残る「軽さ」
EDITORIAL: Marukawa’s gaffe about Fukushima heightens doubts about Cabinet's aptitude

Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa caused a stir by claiming the government had no scientific grounds for its radiation decontamination target around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Her comment came in a Feb. 7 speech on the government’s long-term goal of reducing radiation levels near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to an annual dose of 1 millisievert or less.

“There are people who worry about radiation no matter how much the levels have been lowered, people who might well be described, appropriately or not, as an ‘anti-radiation camp,’” Marukawa said. “While such people were making noise, the environment minister at that time decided (on the target) without any scientific grounds.”

Her remarks were reported the following day by The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, a local newspaper.

Decontaminating areas polluted with radioactive materials and curbing additional exposure to radiation is one of the top policy priorities for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet.

Nearly five years since the nuclear disaster unfolded, decontamination efforts alone appear unlikely to achieve the long-term target in some areas. Residents from these areas have no hope of returning to home soon.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government set the long-term decontamination goal based on recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The panel recommended annual doses in the range of “1 to 20 millisievert” as a yardstick for recovery from the accident.

The government’s decision to adopt the stricter end of the recommended range for the decontamination target reflected strong demand for absolute safety and security among communities in the affected areas.

Responding to residents’ desire to return home as soon as possible while pursuing the tough long-term goal has proved a formidable challenge.

The goal, determined after considering a complicated mix of factors, has forced the government to continue making strenuous efforts while learning from mistakes.

If Marukawa didn’t know this background, she should be accused of failing to do her homework. Or did she know all these facts and was simply trying to demean the previous DPJ-led government?

Even more troubling is how she flip-flopped in replying to questions about her remark.

The environment minister initially responded to questions posed at the Diet and from reporters by repeatedly saying she had “no recollection of using such wording” in the speech.

On the morning of Feb. 12, however, she changed her account and admitted having made the comments. She retracted the remarks in the evening that day.

Did she really forget making the remarks? Or did she bet that people would eventually forget the matter if she kept saying she had no memory of saying such things?

In any case, Marukawa’s remarks raise serious questions about her aptitude for her job.

However, Marukawa is not the only Cabinet member who has made a verbal blunder indicating a disturbing carelessness in speech.

In a Feb. 9 news conference, Aiko Shimajiri, the state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, could not read the kanji characters for the Habomai group of islets, and asked her secretary how the characters should be read. The Habomai islets are part of the Northern Territories, a chain of islands claimed by Japan but occupied by Russia.

Abe himself recently made an embarrassing verbal error.
In an Internet program of his Liberal Democratic Party, Abe misnamed the 2014 Stockholm agreement in which North Korea promised a fresh investigation into the fates of Japanese citizens it had abducted decades earlier. Abe mistakenly called it the Oslo Agreement, a 1993 peace accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Nobody is free from slips of the tongue or misunderstandings.

But the above-mentioned errors are serious because dealing with the nuclear disaster, tackling the territorial dispute with Russia and resolving the North Korea abduction issue are important challenges placed high on the Abe Cabinet’s policy agenda.

These gaffes could call into question not only the ministers’ qualifications for their jobs but also the Cabinet’s stances toward the issues.


拉致再調査中止 「北」の揺さぶりに冷静対処を

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Govt needs to calmly deal with N. Korea’s halt to abduction probe
拉致再調査中止 「北」の揺さぶりに冷静対処を

North Korea’s latest act is a despicable attempt to pressure our nation. The Japanese government should not be upset by this, and must make persistent efforts to resolve the issue of the Japanese nationals abducted by that country.

North Korea has announced it will completely halt a renewed investigation it launched regarding the fate of Japanese abductees and others in July 2014. It also said it would dissolve the Special Investigation Committee.

According to an announcement by North Korea, the latest move has been taken as a response to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strengthening its unilateral sanctions on the country. In the same announcement, North Korea also threatened Japan that it will “continue strong countermeasures to Japan’s provocative acts of hostility.”

North Korea also asserts that Japan’s move to strengthen its sanctions was tantamount to “nullifying” the Stockholm agreement reached in May 2014 to reinvestigate. Japan’s position is that it has no intention to abrogate the accord.

Under the agreement, Japan lifted part of the sanctions it imposed on North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s renewed investigation into the fate of the Japanese nationals in question. They include the 12 people who have been acknowledged by the Japanese government as abductees, but have not yet returned to Japan, as well as other Japanese missing and thought have been abducted by North Korean agents.

Japan’s action to reinforce sanctions was in response to North Korea’s recent move to conduct a nuclear test and launch a ballistic missile, thereby threatening regional security. North Korea’s accusations against our nation are absurd.

It should be noted, first of all, that North Korea has put off reporting the pertinent findings of its probe for more than 1½ years, including what has become of those who were abducted. Although North Korea told Japan that it “has set up four subcommittees” on the committee, it is doubtful whether the country has actually seriously renewed its investigations into the abductions.

World must step up pressure

North Korea’s conduct has been particularly hard on the abductees’ families, who had pinned their hopes on the renewed probe.

Shutting its eyes to its own atrocities, Pyongyang has blamed the whole problem on Japan. Its assertions are totally unacceptable.

The Japanese government has lodged a protest with North Korea through diplomatic channels. Katsunobu Kato, the minister in charge of the abduction issue, has emphasized that he wants to “do [his] utmost to get North Korea to take specific actions, through dialogue and pressure and under the principle of action for action.” He had every reason to strongly demand Pyongyang continue its reinvestigation into the abduction issue.

North Korea has sought to gain greater rewards for fewer concessions by providing various pieces of scattered information. This approach is the country’s usual ploy. The Japanese government should never be cajoled into following North Korea’s lead on bilateral negotiations.

North Korea’s announcement on its suspension of the renewed probe may also be viewed as an attempt to disrupt Japan’s cooperative ties with the United States and South Korea by focusing on a problem unique to our nation.

Japan’s basic policy is to seek a comprehensive solution to both the abduction issue and North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile development. This is the time for Japan to cooperate with the international community to step up pressure on North Korea to rein in its dangerous acts of provocation.

South Korea has imposed a unilateral sanction on the North by shutting down operations at the Kaesong industrial complex, an inter-Korea cooperative project. The United States is also set to strengthen its economic sanctions on North Korea.

As in the past, it is important for Japan, the United States and South Korea to closely cooperate with each other. The emphasis should be put on ensuring that the U.N. Security Council soon adopts additional stern sanctions on North Korea.

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


衆院選制度改革 自民党案で合意形成できるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Can consensus be achieved through LDP’s lower house electoral reform plan?
衆院選制度改革 自民党案で合意形成できるか

The electoral system is the foundation of democracy. It is desirable that the system is reformed based on a broad consensus among the ruling and opposition parties. However, a draft plan proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party looks unlikely to win the understanding of other parties.

According to the draft plan on reforming the House of Representatives electoral system compiled by the LDP, only demarcation of single-seat constituencies would be reviewed based on simplified censuses conducted in 2015, while the number of seats allocated to prefectures would be maintained, to reduce vote-value disparities to less than 2 to 1.

The LDP draft plan also says the reduction of lower house seats and the review of their allocation to prefectures would be postponed until after full censuses are conducted in 2020. The LDP proposes eliminating six seats in single-seat constituencies and four in proportional representation blocs, but details on how to allocate the number of seats to prefectures — which is the most important point — are still unclear.

The LDP claims its draft plan is based on a report submitted by a research panel of experts on lower house electoral system reform, but the party seems to lack sincerity.

The panel says in its report that the Adams’ method should be used to reallocate lower house seats to prefectures. According to the report, this would increase the number of seats allocated to Tokyo and four prefectures by seven in total, while 13 prefectures would lose one seat each. Even if population changes in the future are taken into consideration, the vote-value disparity is expected to be less than 2 to 1 for a while.

Compared to other major allocation methods, the Adams’ method is said to be advantageous to less-populated prefectures. The LDP is critical of the panel’s report for being harsh on provincial regions. However, it certainly pays due consideration to them.

In the report, redrawing electoral districts at the time of simplified censuses is considered merely a supplementary measure for the correction of the number of lower house seats to be done every 10 years.

Respect panel’s report

The LDP’s draft plan, which would change demarcation of constituencies first, cannot help but give the impression that the party has employed only parts of the report for its own convenience. Doesn’t the LDP, in its heart of hearts, only want to avoid opposition from incumbent lawmakers whose constituencies are in prefectures where lower house seats might be reduced?

A major problem with the LDP’s draft plan is that electoral districts would have to be redrawn widely twice — this time, and five years from now.

If demarcation of constituencies is changed often, it could damage the stability of the electoral system. It would also weaken relations between voters and lawmakers or candidates.

Since the LDP failed to reach an agreement on an electoral reform plan in its negotiations with the other parties in the first place, didn’t the party decide to let experts discuss the issue and pledge to respect their report?

Of course, as the report expresses doubt about the necessity to reduce the number of lower house seats, there is some room for discussion on that point. However, it is unreasonable not to accept the Adams’ method, a basic part of the report, and postpone fundamental reform for as long as five years.

Some members of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan have already voiced criticism about the LDP plan, calling it “out of the question.”

Transition to a new electoral system will require revision of the Public Offices Election Law and other relevant laws, and reviewing the demarcation of electoral districts.

The LDP, which is far more powerful than any of the other parties in the lower house, bears the grave responsibility of leading discussions on electoral system reform. The party must refine its draft plan, rising above party interests and strategy.

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


「重力波」初観測 宇宙への新しい窓が開いた

The Yomiuri Shimbun
1st detection of gravitational waves opens new window to universe
「重力波」初観測 宇宙への新しい窓が開いた

It is highly significant that a new observation method has been acquired to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

A research team that includes the California Institute of Technology has announced it detected gravitational waves from the universe.

Albert Einstein hypothesized the existence of gravitational waves a century ago based on his theory of general relativity.

According to Einstein’s theory, celestial bodies like black holes, which have a huge mass, would warp space-time around them. If such bodies collided, the warp would spread like ripples.

The research team believes the gravitational waves it detected were generated 1.3 billion light years from Earth when two black holes merged.

Celestial bodies with a large mass could not be observed directly by the electromagnetic waves — such as light, radio waves and X-rays — that have been conventionally used in astronomy.

The mass and internal conditions of stars can be inferred by observing gravitational waves. The findings may lead to elucidating such mysteries as how black holes whose nature has not been fully understood are created and how they inflate.

Gravitational waves are said to have been generated in the huge expansion of space that occurred right after the Big Bang, which created the cosmos, and the same ripples are said to still exist in space even today. The detection of such ripples may become reality.

Hopes for KAGRA project

The U.S. team’s landmark discovery has been supported by high-precision observation equipment.

The coherence of laser beams was used to measure the warps. Laser beams were sent through two pipes, each measuring four kilometers long, to detect warps of space-time caused by gravitational waves.

The measured warps were only one-ten quadrillionth of a millimeter. Vibration control equipment was installed to prevent the observation from being affected by vibrations caused by wind, sea waves and road traffic. The team has reportedly looked into all other possibilities to confirm that the observed data represented gravitational waves.

Similar observations have been attempted in Japan and Europe. A gravitational wave telescope named KAGRA, now under construction at the site of a mine in Hida, Gifu Prefecure, will start test operations this spring.

Leading the KAGRA project is Takaaki Kajita, a 2015 Nobel Prize laureate in Physics and the director of the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo. Kajita expressed willingness to join international efforts in space observation, saying, “With the participation of KAGRA, the accuracy of observations will improve.”

The U.S. team was able to obtain its results soon after it started observations. Expectations are mounting regarding what discoveries KAGRA will make.

Japan has a long tradition in the field of astrophysics, and has contributed to the observation of neutrinos, thereby developing the science of astronomy.

We also want to see next-generation researchers mature in the field of gravitational wave astronomy.

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


米大統領選 政治不信が招く非主流派躍進

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Outsider candidates dominate U.S. presidential race amid public distrust
米大統領選 政治不信が招く非主流派躍進

Candidates outside the mainstream who are rebelling against the establishment have been gaining ground in the race for the Democratic and Republican nominations for president of the United States. The final election will be held in November.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a strongly left-wing, self-described “democratic socialist,” won the Democratic Party’s primary in New Hampshire over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This marked a difficult start for Clinton, the favored candidate for the party’s nomination, despite her narrow win in the Iowa caucuses.

Real estate tycoon Donald Trump, who has no prior political career, emerged victorious in the Republican Party’s primary in New Hampshire. In Iowa, Trump placed second behind Ted Cruz, a nonmainstream conservative hard-liner.

Indecisive politics continue due to partisan confrontation in Washington. The decline of American influence in the international community is evident. The emergence of these nonmainstream candidates, it may be said, reflects the people’s distrust of and discontent with such developments.

If candidates prevail in early-stage primaries that draw significant media attention, they will be able to gather more campaign funds and support due to the psychological effect of jumping on the bandwagon. The whirlwind set off by the candidates who are standing outside the center of politics will not cease for some time.

Conservatives and liberals have become further polarized under the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama. No national consensus can be found regarding the reform of the medical insurance system, the strengthening of gun control and the process for accepting immigrants.

National consensus illusive

The standard of living for middle- and low-income earners has not improved as their job opportunities decreased due to the transfer of factories to China and other countries, as well as the inflow of immigrants. A sense of unfairness toward the rich has spread among the people.

Of concern is the emergence of a populism that serves to incite amid such a deadlock.

Trump has called for “making America great again” and openly expressed his hostile feelings toward China and Mexico, among other countries. He has even gone so far as to argue for forcible deportation of illegal immigrants and an entry ban on Muslims. Trump is also opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework and is calling for huge tax cuts.

Sanders, a champion of “antiestablishment” policies whose signature campaign promise is the correction of economic inequality, has obtained overwhelming support from the young and other voters by proposing to make tuition free at public universities, and dissolve major financial institutions.

But the campaign promises of Trump and Sanders are nothing but extreme arguments with little chance of being realized.

It is hard to understand why Clinton, who had pushed for the TPP pact as a member of the Obama administration, has changed tack to oppose it. Even if it is a temporary strategy for the campaign, we are left with the undeniable impression that she has been drawn into a swirl of populism.

If the candidates only deny the existing political and economic systems and compete to make radical and inward-looking arguments, neither national reconciliation nor the recovery of America’s credibility can be realized. We want to see constructive debate that will contribute to repairing social rifts.


対「北」独自制裁 厳格な安保理決議の先駆けに

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan should lead push for tough UNSC resolution on North Korea
対「北」独自制裁 厳格な安保理決議の先駆けに

It is important not to ignore the reckless actions repeatedly taken by North Korea and to swiftly implement tough sanctions against that country. Japan should play a leading role in a concerted effort by the international community.

The government held a meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday, attended by its four ministers, and decided to revive and strengthen its unilateral sanctions against North Korea.

Nuclear tests and the launch of long-range ballistic missiles by North Korea pose direct threats to Japan. It is a matter of course for Japan to have promptly taken harsh measures.

These measures include a ban on the reentry of senior officials of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) who have returned home to North Korea, and a ban on entry into Japanese ports by all vessels of North Korean registry, including those on humanitarian missions. All these measures were lifted when Pyongyang began in July 2014 its reinvestigation of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea or suspected to have been abducted.

Added to the reentry ban are engineers related to nuclear and missile technologies. The government has also gone so far as to ban, in principle, remittances to North Korea.

North Korea has postponed presenting to Japan the results of its reinvestigation into Japanese citizens abducted to that country or suspected to have been abducted. As long as Pyongyang continues making such insincere responses, it is reasonable for Japan to decide to revive and strengthen unilateral sanctions on North Korea, in line with the principle of “action for action.”

Don’t close doors

Actions taken by the North Korean regime under Kim Jong Un have become ever more uncertain.

The Foreign Ministry, the National Police Agency and other government organizations must cooperate closely to ensure the effectiveness of the sanctions. At the same time, the government needs to respond flexibly to North Korea, by not cutting off openings for dialogue, for instance.

The government must adhere to its policy of comprehensively resolving the issues of the Japanese abductees and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, and deal with them tenaciously.

Needless to say, Japan’s unilateral sanctions alone will only have a limited effect. It is necessary to hasten the establishment of an international coalition network committed to containing North Korea.

South Korea announced Wednesday that it would suspend operations at the joint industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea, as a unilateral sanction. The move is aimed at reducing the foreign currency earned by Pyongyang, but suspending operations could risk losing a channel for dialogue with North Korea.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held separate phone talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye. They agreed to cooperate toward the early adoption of a resolution by the U.N. Security Council.

The biggest stumbling block for the UNSC resolution is China’s reluctant posture.

China has been asserting that sanctions on North Korea should be limited to measures related to its nuclear and missile developments, and opposes sanctions that would affect the lives of the public.

Yet this conciliatory stance taken for many years by China has bolstered North Korea, letting Pyongyang conduct nuclear tests and missile launches repeatedly. This time, it is vital to strengthen real pressure on North Korea.

It is important for Japan, the United States and South Korea to unite to urge China to modify its stance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 11, 2016)


長期金利低下 マイナスに潜む不安

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 10
EDITORIAL: BOJ's negative interest rate policy positively ineffective
(社説)長期金利低下 マイナスに潜む不安

The benchmark 10-year Japanese government bond yield on Feb. 9 fell below zero percent on the market for the first time. Is this good news or bad? Many people probably don’t know, but they certainly must be feeling anxious.

In normal transactions, the idea of negative interest rates is absurd.

Just think about it: You lend money to someone and you have to pay interest to the borrower? That’s ridiculous. You are obviously better off not lending to anyone because you at least won’t lose any money.

The ridiculous situation surrounding Japanese government bonds was caused by the Bank of Japan’s negative interest rate policy announced on Jan. 29.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda stressed that adding this negative interest rate policy to his already substantial monetary easing policy “should make for probably the most effective framework in the history of the central bank.”

In a sense, the outcome has surpassed Kuroda’s expectations. Mortgage rates, which were already historically low, have come down further, and the near-nonexistent interest rates on time deposits have shrunk even more. Financial institutions have stopped selling low-yield fund products.

But will these developments improve the Japanese economy? We believe the opposite will be the case.

Even if lending rates drop further, it is unlikely that businesses will suddenly start investing more amid sluggish domestic demand. And even if banks further lower interest rates on savings and move on to negative rates, consumers probably will not start spending more so long as their future remains uncertain.

Switzerland and Sweden have already implemented negative interest rate policies, but their economy-pumping effects have been marginal at best. In fact, there are growing fears of “side effects,” such as people keeping their money under the proverbial mattress and banks losing their earnings.

It will soon be three years since Kuroda went ahead with a “new phase” of quantitative and qualitative monetary easing in keeping with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” theory that drastic monetary easing should jump-start the anemic economy.

Although Abenomics has raised stock prices and devalued the yen against the dollar, it has brought no significant changes to the nation’s economic growth rate and consumer prices. Because of this disappointing outcome, the Bank of Japan adopted the negative interest rate policy last month.

On Feb. 9, the Nikkei 225 index fell by more than 900 points, and the yen-dollar exchange rate closed in the lower 114-yen level for the first time in 15 months. These market reactions were the opposite of what all past monetary easing policies brought, and the central bank obviously did not expect this highly irregular outcome.

If this situation continues, the Japanese economy may well become trapped in a vicious cycle of having to rely on further extreme monetary easing, with no relief in sight. An urgent review of the central bank policy is called for.


北方領土問題 首脳会談で打開の糸口を探れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Abe should find way forward on Northern Territories in talks with Putin
北方領土問題 首脳会談で打開の糸口を探れ

Russia maintains a tough, inflexible position regarding the territorial issue over the northern islands it occupies off Hokkaido. We hope the stalemate will be broken as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds more talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking at a national meeting to demand the return of the four islands on Northern Territories Day on Sunday, Abe said, “Negotiations will be conducted tenaciously to work out a final solution through a dialogue of top leaders.”

Arrangements are being made for Abe to meet with Putin in the southern Russian city of Sochi during the extended holiday period from late April to early May. Tokyo and Moscow will also attempt to determine the most appropriate time for Putin to visit Japan.

Putin’s decision on the matter is indispensable to resolving the territorial issue. Abe’s desire to seek a solution by visiting Russia is therefore understandable.

But opposition can be expected from the United States and some European countries, which are at odds with Russia over the Ukrainian situation. To realize Abe’s visit to Russia ahead of the Ise-Shima summit of the Group of Seven major powers, which will be chaired by Abe, it is essential to secure the understanding of the other G-7 leaders.

Last month, the government established a new representative post on bilateral issues with Russia and appointed Chikahito Harada, former ambassador to Russia. Harada will represent Japan at vice-ministerial meetings with Russia instead of a deputy minister for foreign affairs. The appointment is believed to be aimed at more intensively tackling the territorial issue by establishing a task force for that purpose.

Abe apparently wants to bolster security relations with Russia, thereby checking China’s increased maritime advancement and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

No ‘token of goodwill’

Russia is also wary over China’s emergence. Due to the drop in crude oil prices and the weakness of the ruble, Russia’s economy has continued to deteriorate, with its gross domestic product falling to less than one-fourth of China’s. Some people have expressed concern about the widening gap in strength between the two countries.

Whether Moscow concurs with Tokyo about the importance of improving bilateral relations in Russia’s rivalry with Beijing could be a factor in making progress on the territorial issue.

A statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a news conference in late January cannot be overlooked. “Conclusion of a peace treaty is not a synonym for resolution of the territorial issue,” he said bluntly.

Concerning the return of the Habomai group of islets and Shikokan Island, based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956, Lavrov said these islands “would be handed over as a token of goodwill, not returned.”

But since the 1993 Tokyo Declaration on Japan-Russia Relations, both governments have confirmed repeatedly that they would try “to resolve the sovereignty issue over the four islands and conclude a peace treaty.” Thus resolution of the territorial issue and conclusion of a peace treaty are inseparable.

There is no mention of “a token of goodwill” in the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration. Lavrov’s self-serving interpretation cannot be accepted.

While attempting to explore the real intention behind Putin’s reference to resolving the territorial dispute “in a draw,” the government must proceed with negotiations prudently and strategically.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 9, 2016)