2016年7月 4日 (月)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡 : 選挙で大人の階段上る /東京

July 3, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Voting is Japanese youths' new rite of passage
香山リカのココロの万華鏡 : 選挙で大人の階段上る /東京

Revisions to the Public Offices Election Law lowering the legal voting age to 18 from 20 came into effect this year, just in time for the July 10 House of Councillors election.

There are some people who wonder if 18-year-olds, most of whom are still in high school, are capable of choosing a candidate and voting properly, but I for one am in favor of the new voting age. I think it's excellent that young people now have the chance to express their strong opinions about our society.

However, to the question, "Is an 18-year-old really an adult who can formulate a solid opinion?" I would have to answer "no." Until the present era, the psychology community considered 18 to be the age when a person had more or less got a good grasp on what kind of person they were. They were ready to start work, or go onto more specific study in university, or to begin looking for their life partner.

But what about now? I believe that there are very few 18-year-olds now who have a firm idea of who they are, or who can make solid decisions grounded in their own will about study and work. From this perspective, it's understandable to think that 18 is too early an age to start voting.

However, that begs the question: "How old does a person need to be to make their own decisions?" There are more and more people these days who declare that, though they are legal adults, they are still "searching" for themselves. There are ever more people in their 30s, 40s or even 50s who come to my practice and tell me, "I can't find myself. I've tried a lot of different things, but I just can't think of a job or a lifestyle that's really me."

There are others whose sons or daughters have started their adult lives, and the parents ask me, "Will my kids be OK?" Some admit to being so concerned they call the companies their children work for.

That being the case, I think we ought to give 18-year-olds -- many of them nearing graduation from high school -- the vote, simply to say to them, "All right, now is the time to use your head. You ought to be able to make a choice for now (in an election)." This will usher them into adulthood, a full member of adult society, hopefully sparking a new self-awareness. Then parents, too, may be able to tell themselves that their teenage child, heading out to vote, has become an independent individual.

I'd like to add that today's young people have spent their entire lives in a Japan that is struggling economically, and have a pretty good idea of what the world has in store for them. As the world goes through its upheavals, there are many young people who have used the free flow of information across our planet to develop a real globalist sense.

I have high expectations of the coming upper house election and its newly enfranchised 18- and 19-year-old voters. We have to somehow get adults who say they have "no interest in politics or elections" involved again, too.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist) (精神科医)

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2013年8月22日 (木)


The Asahi Shimbun, August 17, 2013
EDITORIAL: Clearer government role needed for Fukushima cleanup

The crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is far from over.

The government has yet to call off the state of nuclear emergency it declared on March 11, 2011, when the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami set off the nuclear accident.

Water contaminated with radioactive materials keeps leaking from the crippled plant, polluting underground soil and the sea in the area.

This fact clearly shows that the nuclear disaster is still going on.

Last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the continued leakage of contaminated water is “a pressing problem."
“The government will take effective measures to tackle the problem instead of leaving it entirely to Tokyo Electric Power," he said.

Abe made these remarks at a meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, set up in line with the government's declaration of the state of nuclear emergency. Abe is head of the task force.

By clearly defining the respective responsibilities of the utility and the government organizations involved in responding to the situation, the government needs to make flat-out efforts to contain radiation and resolve the crisis.

The government has made a big mistake by leaving it entirely to TEPCO. As a result, measures to stop leaks of radioactive water have been ineffective, allowing environmental pollution to escalate. The government's move to step in and get involved in the efforts to sort out the problem came far too late.

Abe told industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi to give appropriate instructions to TEPCO as soon as possible. He also called on Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, to ensure that the nuclear regulatory body will direct all its efforts toward identifying the causes of the problem and take effective steps to secure safety.

Although TEPCO will remain in charge of cleanup work at the site, the government said it will now take concrete actions to support the efforts. The industry ministry has indicated it will cover part of the costs of implementing a plan to freeze soil around the nuclear facilities to prevent groundwater from flowing into the contaminated areas of the plant.

But the ministry will provide the money to partly finance the measure as research expenses. Given the urgency of the situation, the ministry's commitment to tackling the situation is far too weak.

The NRA is not showing an all-out commitment to the challenge, either.
“TEPCO and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy are playing a central role (in dealing with the problem)," Tanaka said. “Our role is to provide advice (for the efforts) as an observer."

It would be shameful if TEPCO, the industry ministry, which has been a champion of nuclear power generation, and the NRA, the nuclear regulator, try to shuffle off responsibility onto one another or make their responsibility vague, thereby causing delays in the implementation of necessary measures.

The NRA's role is crucial.

Ahead of receiving the request from Abe, the nuclear watchdog set up a task force to discuss measures to stop leaks of contaminated water.

The group has shown a willingness to provide guidance for TEPCO's efforts to deal with the situation by raising some specific questions that need to be answered, such as: “How effective will it be to pump up groundwater?" “How far has polluted water spread in power cable ducts?"
The NRA should demonstrate a stronger commitment to the challenge and offer useful ideas by using all its expertise and other intellectual resources.

The chief of the now defunct Nuclear Safety Commission was not even a member of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, but the NRA chairman is deputy chief of the headquarters. The entity should make the most of the powers vested in it according to lessons learned from the disaster.

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2013年8月21日 (水)


The Asahi Shimbun, August 19, 2013
EDITORIAL: Japan, South Korea should work together to cut nuclear power

South Korea is suffering from a serious power crunch as it swelters under a powerful heat wave with daily highs topping 40 degrees in some parts of the nation.

The power shortage stems from the suspension of operations of five of the country’s 23 nuclear reactors partly due to revelations of improprieties in domestic nuclear power plants.

For years, the South Korean government has been steadily increasing the country’s dependence on nuclear power generation. But the government is now facing an unprecedentedly loud chorus of calls from citizens for reducing electricity production with nuclear energy amid criticism over the revelations.

The administration of President Park Geun-hye has said it will work out by year-end a basic plan for future energy supply that sets targets concerning the shares of nuclear power and renewable energy in the country’s electricity mix. We hope the Park administration will pay serious attention to the people’s wishes and embark on full-fledged efforts to scale down the nation’s nuclear power output.

The electricity crisis has generated angry whispers about a “nuclear power mafia” among South Koreans.

In May, it was revealed that parts used in nuclear power equipment had been supplied using fake performance certificates. Investigations into why the forgery had gone undetected uncovered the existence of a close-knit community of public utilities that operate nuclear power plants, related researchers and the regulatory agency.

Prosecutors have questioned a number of people concerned and made a series of arrests.

The administration of former President Lee Myung-bak promoted the construction of nuclear power plants and exports of nuclear technologies. It set a policy target of raising the share of nuclear power in overall electricity generation to about 60 percent in 2030, 60 percent higher than the current level. The Lee administration also promised to increase the share of renewable energy in power generation, which is among the lowest in the developed world, but didn’t pin much hope on natural energy.

The question facing the Park administration is whether it should follow the energy policy set by the previous government.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster has made many South Koreans realize that nuclear power generation is by no means cheap, prompting calls for a shift toward renewable energy sources. The number of lawmakers arguing for less dependency on nuclear power has been rising gradually.

There are already some campaigns for a cleaner energy future that could serve as a model. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has announced a program to replace the electricity that can be supplied by one nuclear reactor with a combination of power generation using renewable energy and power savings by 2014. The goal is almost certain to be achieved.

Under the program, solar panels have been installed on the premises of water purifying plants and on the roofs of bus stops. People’s efforts to reduce power consumption are rewarded with increased points on their IC tickets for transportation means. Officials at many other local governments have taken inspection tours in Seoul to study how it is working.

President Park has proposed a “Northeast Asian peace and cooperation initiative” as a key item on her policy agenda. It would involve discussions for regional cooperation in efforts to ensure safety at nuclear power plants and effective responses to natural disasters.

If a major nuclear accident occurs in South Korea, Japan and other neighboring countries would also be affected. The risks of nuclear power generation know no borders. Final disposal of spent nuclear fuel is another tough common challenge for all countries with nuclear power plants.

This summer, both Japan and South Korea have been gripped by record heat waves. This is probably a good opportunity for the two countries to start talks for energy cooperation toward reduced dependence on nuclear power as well as for better nuclear safety.

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2011年12月 4日 (日)


I love Burma (Myanmar). Burma is one of the most important country in my life.
In order for the Myanmar regime to claim that democracy has taken root solidly in the country, it must release all political prisoners, reconcile itself with ethnic minorities and amend the Constitution, which provides legal foundation for the military’s rule.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 3
EDITORIAL: Myanmar must continue with political reforms toward true democracy

Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic leader of Myanmar's (Burma's) pro-democracy movement, shook hands with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and had a private dinner with her on Dec. 2 in Yangon (Rangoon), the country's commercial capital.

This would have been unimaginable just half a year ago.

After meeting with the country's new president, Thein Sein, Clinton praised the steps he has taken for political reform, including the release of political prisoners and dialogue with pro-democracy forces, and said the United States will consider upgrading diplomatic relations with Myanmar.

However, Clinton stopped short of explicitly referring to the possibility of lifting Washington’s economic sanctions against Myanmar, saying Thein Sein’s reforms had only just begun.

She also warned the regime against military cooperation with North Korea.

Clinton’s visit to Myanmar is the first step for President Barack Obama’s new security strategy, which defines the Asia-Pacific region as a “top priority.”

Having been under autocratic military rule for years, Mynamar is now making steady progress toward democracy.
This development can only be very beneficial to the United States and its allies.

But there is no room for unreserved optimism about the country’s current regime, whose key posts are occupied almost exclusively by former senior military officers.
Washington has good reason to think it would be premature to lift sanctions.

The U.S. move is also intended as a warning to China, which has been increasing its influence over the geopolitically important Southeast Asian country.

While the United States has continued its economic sanctions against Myanmar, China has helped develop ports in southern parts of the country and is now building a pipeline to carry natural gas from a Myanmar port to China’s Yunnan province.

In September, however, Myanmar’s government decided to freeze construction of a dam in the north funded by aid from China.

The United States and other countries have welcomed the decision as a sign that Myanmar is reconsidering its unqualified pro-China foreign policy.

We, too, welcome the Myanmar government’s attempt to diversify its foreign policy focus and strike a balance between its relations with China and the United States if it contributes to the nation’s progress toward democracy.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) recently re-registered as a political party after a ban on the group was lifted.

Aung San Suu Kyi has also announced her intention to run for parliamentary by-elections to be held next year.

Some people in the pro-democracy camp question the wisdom of her decision, recalling how the ruling military junta refused to recognize the result of the 1990 general election, in which the NLD won a landslide victory. These skeptics also point out that the number of parliamentary seats that come up for contest in the forthcoming by-elections will be less than one-tenth of the total.

However, it is true that missing out on this opportunity would further muddy the party's political prospects.

It is easy to imagine that it was a difficult decision to make.

Aung San Suu Kyi must be looking beyond next year to a victory in the general election scheduled for 2015.

In order for the Myanmar regime to claim that democracy has taken root solidly in the country, it must release all political prisoners, reconcile itself with ethnic minorities and amend the Constitution, which provides legal foundation for the military’s rule.

We hope the nation’s new government will pluck up the courage to make such bold moves.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano will both visit the country soon.

Tokyo should also watch carefully to see whether Myanmar is making steady progress toward democracy before it decides to supply aid to the country or expand bilateral economic ties with it.

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2011年8月 6日 (土)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 5
EDITORIAL: Coordinated intervention needed to prop up dollar.

The government and the Bank of Japan made a coordinated effort to check the appreciation of the yen, which was about to mark a postwar high against the dollar.

On Aug. 4, they conducted yen-selling intervention and decided to take additional steps to ease the supply of money.

The government is relying on exports to lift the economy and hasten rebuilding from the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.

But the strong yen stands in the way.

It is significant that the authorities sent a strong message to firmly control excessive moves by the market.

However, there is a limit to what Japan can do on its own.

We urge the government to work closely with the United States and major European economies.

The government also needs to implement comprehensive measures to lift the economy, such as strengthening its growth strategy.

The recent trend of a stronger yen is not a result of investors putting faith in the growth of the Japanese economy.

Rather, it resulted from a loss of confidence in U.S. national bonds and the dollar as the U.S. government faced difficulties in raising its debt ceiling.

Furthermore, the annualized economic growth rate in real terms in the April-June quarter was low, at 1.3 percent, and a sense of uncertainty for the future of the U.S. economy is spreading.

In response, stock prices in major markets across the world, including New York, are declining and the dollar selling spree is spreading.

Now the money is buying the yen because the financial situation in Japan is relatively stable among industrialized countries and the market for fund management is large.

The euro, which could have been bought instead of the yen, is potentially vulnerable.

Italy's fiscal problems are raising new concerns about prospects for the euro zone.

German government bonds, which are the only ones attracting investors, alone cannot absorb a large amount of funds flowing in the global market because the size of its issuance is limited.

Investors are turning to the yen by elimination, so to speak.

The situation is similar to last summer's strong yen.

Since foreign exchange intervention alone is not enough, the Bank of Japan cut short its monetary policy meeting slated for two days starting Aug. 4 to one and proposed additional monetary easing measures.

It plans to increase funds to buy assets from 40 trillion yen ($500 billion) to 50 trillion yen.

Japan's market intervention was carried out for the first time since March 18, a week after the earthquake.

Back then, speculators who expected Japanese companies to sell the dollar and buy the yen to sell their foreign assets and cover damage from the disaster, rushed in to make a head start.

The Group of Seven major economies turned to coordinated intervention and acted as one to bring the confused market under control.

From Japan's viewpoint, the trend appears to be a surging yen.

But from a global viewpoint, it is the weakening of the dollar.

Swiss authorities also decided to lower interest rates and are preparing to intervene.

We urge Washington to firmly recognize that this historically unusual situation, of a possible U.S. debt default and lowering of credit ratings caused by domestic political confusion, allowed the currency situation to get out of order.

In addition, Washington should clarify its stance to protect the value of the dollar as a key currency and bring market speculation under control.

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2011年6月18日 (土)



-- The Asahi Shimbun, June 16, 2011
EDITORIAL: Government must support prefectures' redevelopment plans

More than three months since the Great East Japan Earthquake, local governments in affected areas are beginning to come up with plans for reconstruction while still working overtime to deal with the aftermath of the calamity.

Miyagi and Iwate prefectures have presented their plans to create special zones for regional redevelopment to the central government's council on post-disaster reconstruction.

The two prefectures envision special zones to relocate devastated communities to areas on high ground, promote local industries, develop local transportation networks and build new medical, welfare and education facilities. The local governments are calling on the state to support these plans by providing special subsidies and unifying and simplifying the related administrative procedures that are cumbersome and highly bureaucratic.

The central government has a duty to respond positively to these requests.

Notable about the two prefecture's special zone proposals is that they include ideas that could lead to solutions to some key policy challenges facing the entire nation.

Miyagi Prefecture, for instance, has come up with a plan to establish a special zone for rebuilding the battered local fisheries industry by allowing private-sector companies to enter the business of off-shore fishing, which is now effectively monopolized by local fishery cooperatives.

The plan is aimed at tapping the financial and intellectual resources of the private sector to revitalize the fisheries sector, which is struggling with the familiar problems of an aging workforce and a shortage of young fishermen.

While the local fishery cooperatives are opposed to the proposal, Miyagi Governor Yoshihiro Murai is strongly committed to the idea.

In contrast to the deregulation zone plan for the fishery industry, the prefecture's special zone proposal to rebuild local agriculture and farming villages calls for tighter regulation.

It would restrict the use of farmland by the landowners and tenants and put the land under municipal control for a certain period of time for the development of agricultural infrastructure and distribution of the land by the local governments.

The proposal is aimed at promoting larger-scale and more efficient agriculture.

Iwate Prefecture has proposed a "Tohoku international science and technology research special zone."

It would create a special zone for cutting-edge research in the three areas of ocean, disaster prevention and energy.

The prefecture is pressing the central government to ease the regulations concerning housing, education and residence status to make it easier to invite foreign researchers to work in the special zone.

To help realize these proposals, it is vital for the state to give the local governments both the powers and revenue sources needed.

In Japan, the first major special zone program was launched by the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to promote his structural reform initiative.

The program is still alive with the continuing designation of areas as new special deregulation zones.

The number of such special zones has surpassed 1,100.

But this program brings the benefits of deregulation only to specific industries and businesses, as symbolized by the "doburoku (raw sake) special zone."

These special zones are all very small in both scale and scope.

The two main factors behind this are the system for designation that requires negotiations with the ministries and agencies regulating the industries and businesses involved and the lack of fiscal and tax incentives.

The special zone proposals put forward by Miyagi and Iwate prefectures require effective coordination among the multiple ministries and agencies involved.

And effective fiscal and tax incentives are also needed to support their efforts.

The proposals should prompt the central government to make a comprehensive review of the related laws and regulations.

One key step would be to scrap the current state subsidies for specific local government expenditures based on the rigid division of powers and responsibilities among ministries and agencies and introduce instead a new program to provide prefectures and municipalities with state funds they can use freely over several years.

The special zones in disaster areas should be supported by more powerful measures than simple incentives for investment, such as exempting companies operating in these zones from corporate taxation for a certain period of time.

These zones should be put under a different set of regulations according to a sort of "one country, two systems" approach.

Localities should be allowed and encouraged to take the initiative in the efforts to shape a new future for the nation.

The ideas for reconstruction in disaster-hit areas proposed by local governments in the areas should be fully respected.

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2011年1月31日 (月)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 29
EDITORIAL: Court ruling on anthem

The award-winning comedy "Utawasetai Otoko Tachi" (Men who want the song to be sung), written and directed by Ai Nagai, is set on the day of a commencement ceremony at a Tokyo high school.

The school principal is desperate to make sure that the ceremony will proceed according to the instructions of the board of education. But there are some teachers who are determined not to stand for the singing of the national anthem "Kimigayo" in defiance of the board's instructions. There is also a part-time music teacher who has been ordered to play a piano accompaniment to the singing of the anthem without being aware of the conflict.

They are all good-natured people but get exhausted and hurt in the struggle and find themselves caught in a bind.

In a ruling on the issue that provided inspiration for the play, the Tokyo High Court on Friday rejected all the requests made in a lawsuit by some 400 teachers and other staff members at high schools in the capital.
The plaintiffs asked the court to confirm that they and their colleagues have no obligation to stand for the anthem or play an accompaniment. They also sought compensation for the punishment they received for refusing to take such actions.
The high court overturned a lower court's ruling that said the Tokyo metropolitan government's instructions requiring school staff members to stand for the anthem and play musical accompaniment violated the Constitution, which guarantees "freedom of thought and conscience."

This is an extremely regrettable decision.

In a separate suit over whether ordering a teacher to play an accompaniment to the anthem violates the Constitution, the Supreme Court in 2007 ruled that such an order is not unconstitutional.

Following the reasoning shown in the top court ruling, the high court argued that ordering teachers to sing the anthem or play an accompaniment doesn't amount to denying their individual views and thoughts about history and the world and therefore doesn't violate the Constitution.

The high court's argument shows no sign of sensitivity to the importance of protecting and tolerating as much as possible the values and principles individual citizens cherish and follow. The ruling sounds like simply preaching the gospel of conformity, citing the frivolous reasons that this is something which everybody does and that the plaintiffs are public servants.

Is this acceptable?

We are not opposed to the hoisting of the national flag or the singing of the anthem at school ceremonies. But we have argued that using the threat of punishment to enforce these actions is going too far.

The judiciary should be different from the legislative and administrative branches of the government, where the rule of the majority is the basic principle. Its most important role in a democratic society is the protection of the human rights of minorities.

Both the Supreme Court and the high court should be criticized for abandoning their principal mission and thereby undermining the importance of their own institution.

In recent years, the number of teachers disciplined by the Tokyo metropolitan government over the matter has been declining.

That's because violators are punished by increasingly severer penalties--first a reprimand, then a salary cut and finally suspension. In addition, defiant teachers are denied opportunities for re-employment by the metropolitan government after retirement.

It seems necessary for us to reflect on the fact that school ceremonies are conducted according to the instructions of the metropolitan government only because of such threats and considerations of loss.

When a law was enacted in 1999 to give official status to the flag and anthem, then Education Minister Akito Arima told the Diet that the legislation would not change the professional duties of teachers.



Society must be vigilant for signs that the high court ruling may be promoting intolerance or stifling freedom.

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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 29
EDITORIAL: Downgraded bonds

Just as the Diet was beginning debate on the government's draft budget for new fiscal year and tax reform, a dire warning about Japan's fiscal health came from outside.

Standard & Poor's, a U.S. credit rating agency, downgraded Japanese government bonds to a rating one notch below that for Spain, whose fiscal woes have been arousing international concerns. The move has underscored the fragility of international confidence in Japan's public finances.

Credit rating agencies were roundly criticized after they failed to issue an appropriate warning about the global financial crisis.

Unfortunately, there is little room for disputing the downgrading of Japan's sovereign debt. The combined central and local government debt load now equals 200 percent of gross domestic product, which means Japan's public finances are in the worst shape among industrial countries.

The fiscal crunch is evidenced by the fact that the government will have to borrow more money than its tax revenue to finance the budget for next fiscal year.

The situation is that the government could have found it difficult to issue new bonds due to a sharp drop in confidence in its creditworthiness.

Yet Japan has so far been able to keep issuing huge amounts of new bonds because it has more foreign assets than any other country and is running a current-account surplus. It has also helped that most government bonds have been bought by domestic investors.

The savings rate and current-account surplus could drop significantly, however, as its working population shrinks due to rapid demographic aging.

Japanese investors may eventually start getting out of government bonds. There is no guarantee that the government will be able to keep piling on fresh debt.

What is especially disturbing is the fact that S&P cited the political situation in Japan in its reasons for lowering the debt rating.

The opposition parties, which control the Upper House, are taking an increasingly confrontational posture, making the outlook for bipartisan talks on integrated tax and social security reform bleak. There is even the possibility that bills related to the government's spending plan for the year starting in April may not be enacted.

There is considerable room for Japan to raise its consumption tax rate, which is the lowest in the developed world. Markets have been acting with the expectation that the government would eventually raise the tax, but Japan's leaders have failed to pluck up the courage to tackle this policy challenge.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged to stake his political life on his initiative to push through integrated tax and social security reform. So it was deeply disheartening to hear him say, "I'm not familiar with that kind of things," when he was asked about the debt downgrade.

Instead, he should have emphatically said, "I will achieve without fail both fiscal rehabilitation and economic growth through reforms."

Criticizing his remarks would not be of much help. What lies at the heart of the problems that have led to the cut in the debt rating of Japan is the overall political paralysis.
Part of the blame falls on the opposition Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, which is apparently more interested in pressuring the Kan administration into dissolving the Lower House for a general election than in responding to the fiscal crisis and is showing no willingness to hold talks with the ruling camp over the proposed integrated reform.

It seems lawmakers of both camps who are not willing to start discussing a tax hike are acting irresponsibly on the unreasonably optimistic view that it will still be a while before Japan's public finances reach a tipping point.

The ruling and opposition parties should go beyond their political interests and launch nonpartisan talks on measures needed to secure long-term fiscal sustainability for the sake of the public.

Unless Japanese political leaders demonstrate a strong commitment to addressing the problem, both international confidence in government bonds and expectations for Japanese politics will only keep sinking.

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2011年1月25日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 24
EDITORIAL: Change in Vietnam

In Japanese eyes, what kind of country is Vietnam? For the older generation, Vietnam evokes images of winning its war of national liberation against France and the United States. For the young generation, Vietnam might be a cheap vacation spot where they can buy cute bric-a-brac. Of late, Vietnam is gaining attention as a potential buyer of nuclear power plants and Shinkansen trains.


But, the Japanese don't know much about Vietnam's political system or its society.

And now in Vietnam, the Communist Party that single-handedly rules the country has held its party congress, which takes place once every five years, and selected as its new general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong. This is the first change of party leader in 10 years.

In the 10-year plan adopted by the congress, the leaders intend to carry on the annual 7-8 percent average economic growth, and become an industrialized country by 2020 by nearly tripling the GDP per capita to $3,000 (249,000 yen).

An ambitious goal, but the economic environment changing.

Vietnam's currency is losing value, inflation is on the rise, fiscal and trade deficits are increasing. The national shipbuilding company is in a management crisis, and investors are losing trust.

It has been a quarter of a century since the country began its "doi moi" policies of creating a market economy. Despite great progress economically, the income disparity is growing larger. The people are disgruntled by corruption that permeates the government.

For the new administration, its immediate task is to purge itself of this corruption, ease the disparity and manage economic policies.

In contrast to economic growth, progress in political-social reform, in things like democratization and human rights protection, tend to be extremely slow. It seems that within the party, there was much debate about the latest shuffling. Almost nothing of what was actually said has been made public, and a review is impossible.

There is no end to the incarceration of anti-government activists and repression of religion. According to Reporters without Borders and its ratings of countries and journalistic freedoms, Vietnam ranks 165th among 178 countries and regions.

Doi moi means renovation. The new administration needs to embark upon an ambitious doi moi in its political and social reform, as well.

In that sense, the general election scheduled for May is gaining attention. The right of people to stand for office is limited, so just how many non-Communist Party nominees and nominees without support from party-related organizations manage to gain office is a thing to watch. There were less than 10 percent in the last election.

For Japan, Vietnam is a promising market and a place for investment. The Kan government seems intent on living or dying by the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, and Vietnam has already started negotiations with other countries about its entry.

Japan is also seeking cooperation in national security, with an eye on China's rapid military expansion, and intends to start a joint development project with Vietnam for rare earth minerals.

Japan and Vietnam consider each other as "strategic partners for peace and prosperity in Asia."

If so, the Japanese government should also encourage Vietnam in its democratization and political reform efforts.

Japan should occasionally point out to Vietnam things that may not necessarily sit well, like human rights issues. That kind of attitude should, in the long run, lead to a better relationship between the two countries, and help create a stable Vietnam.

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2011年1月24日 (月)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 22
EDITORIAL: Ozawa and the Diet

It now seems former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa will, after all, not appear before the Lower House Deliberative Council on Political Ethics to explain his questionable political fund reports. This is very regrettable.

Referring to the issue of when he would appear before the council, Ozawa has told the chairman of the panel that he thought his best option was to attend a council meeting "after the enactment of the budget." By dictating the timing of his appearance, Ozawa effectively refused the request.

In response to Ozawa's action, DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada announced his intention to abandon his plan to have the council vote on asking Ozawa to attend a council meeting.

Ozawa is soon to be indicted over the falsified political funds reports according to an October decision by a prosecution inquest committee.

His right to try to clear his name through the courts as a defendant in a criminal case should be protected. So from this point of view, the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" is naturally applied to Ozawa.

But we must point out that Ozawa as a politician is acting in a way that is inconsistent with what he has said.

After the prosecution inquest panel decided, for a second time, that Ozawa should be prosecuted, setting the stage for his forced indictment, the DPJ heavyweight said he would comply with any Diet decision concerning his appearance before the ethics council at any time.

Recently, however, Ozawa has been arguing there is no good reason why he should appear before the panel since the judicial process concerning the case is already under way. But he has also indicated his intention to attend a council meeting sometime during the regular Diet session, according to comprehensive judgment as a politician.

Already a year has passed since the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office searched Ozawa's office and other locations in connection with the scandal. He has not taken any of the many opportunities to explain himself that came up during the period. And he is still setting conditions for every step.

It is hard not to believe that he is trying to escape the ordeal of being grilled over the scandal in public by playing for more time.

As he has himself stressed, Ozawa played the central role in the creation of the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics in 1985.

Faced with the challenge of how to restore the public's trust in politics, which was shattered by the Lockheed payoff scandal in the mid-1970s, Ozawa, who then headed the Lower House Rules and Administration Committee, took the initiative in developing the code of political ethics and creating the council as a body to enforce the rules.

The code says that Diet members, when they are suspected of having acted in a way that betrays political ethics, must make sincere efforts to clarify the facts and their responsibility.

Has Ozawa forgotten this rule? If he maintains his recalcitrant attitude toward the issue and refuses to fulfill his responsibility as a lawmaker to give the public a satisfactory accounting of the flawed reports, his very commitment to the political reform he has advocated for so long will be in serious doubt.

Ozawa's latest move is expected to prompt the DPJ leadership to consider steps such as summoning him to the Diet as a sworn witness or urging him to leave the party.

That will be a natural response to his refusal to appear before the ethics council.

If the ruling party overlooks Ozawa's irresponsible behavior and fails to take action against him, the regular Diet session convening on Monday will again get mired in a futile partisan battle over the issue of money in politics.

There is a long list of important policy challenges that need to be addressed immediately, including the budget for new fiscal year, integrated tax and social security reform, free trade and the regeneration of Japanese agriculture.

Is it acceptable to allow the Ozawa issue to ruin the opportunity for mature and constructive debate on these crucial challenges?

Both Ozawa and the DPJ leadership should ask themselves this question.

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