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2013年2月28日 (木)

補正予算成立 意義ある参院での1票差可決

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 28, 2013)
Passage of supplementary budget in upper house significant
補正予算成立 意義ある参院での1票差可決(2月27日付・読売社説)

The passage of the fiscal 2012 supplementary budget served as an example that the House of Councillors is capable of approving bills submitted by the government even under a divided Diet.

Is this really "a major first step toward decisive politics" as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared?

At its plenary session Tuesday, the opposition-controlled upper house passed the fiscal 2012 supplementary budget to implement an emergency economic stimulus package worth more than 20 trillion yen. This was accomplished by gaining a majority of votes with the backing of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and some opposition parties, including Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party).

The votes of opposition parties were divided. Ishin no Kai, People's New Party, the New Renaissance Party and others voted for the budget, while the Democratic Party of Japan, Your Party, the People's Life Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party voted against it. The number of votes in favor of the budget exceeded the number against it by just one.


New, shifting alliances in Diet

For the ruling parties, passage of the budget was a result of a successful partial alliance strategy, in which the ruling coalition cooperates with the opposition on a policy-by-policy basis.

Ishin no Kai's role in politics is particularly meaningful. The party claims not to be a conventional opposition group that universally resists government proposals, instead considering each matter individually. Its support of the supplementary budget reinforced this claim.

The DPJ, Your Party, the PLP and the SDP jointly submitted a revised supplementary budget to the upper house, but it was not approved. This was the first time that opposition parties have presented a united front during the current Diet session.

The fact that Ishin no Kai did not join this opposition front may influence future Diet deliberations and possible cooperation among opposition parties in the upcoming upper house election, which the DPJ is expected to call for.


First step in 'Abenomics'

The newly approved supplementary budget will enable the implementation of the Abe administration's fiscal policy, a key factor in "Abenomics," the government's economic policy designed to lift the economy out of deflation.

The government calls the supplementary and fiscal 2013 initial budgets a collective "15-month budget" targeting full-scale recovery of the domestic economy. It must quickly implement the 2012 supplementary budget to yield results from its emergency economic stimulus.

Boosting the economy with the supplementary budget is indispensable for the consumption tax hike from 5 percent to 8 percent to take effect in April 2014. This is because a turnaround in the economy is a prerequisite for the increase and the government will determine whether to raise the consumption tax rate by autumn.

Although reconstruction projects have moved into full gear in areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake, public work projects have suffered from delays because the supply of construction materials, such as ready-mixed concrete, and workers are insufficient. In this regard, the government will need to carefully monitor implementation of the supplementary budget.

The DPJ opposed the budget because it said it was based on lavish spending on old-fashioned public works projects. It expressed strong doubts over whether funding such projects will lead to reconstruction of disaster-hit areas and truly promote economic revitalization.

As a matter of course, the government must thoroughly examine proposed projects to ensure effective public works spending.

Although the government should place priority on economic stimulus through flexible and functional fiscal measures for now, it must also bear in mind the importance of restoring fiscal health.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 27, 2013)
(2013年2月27日01時27分  読売新聞)

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イタリア総選挙 欧州危機の再燃を招かないか

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 28, 2013)
Italy's political gridlock may reignite European crisis
イタリア総選挙 欧州危機の再燃を招かないか(2月27日付・読売社説)

Italy's latest election results indicate that Italians are strongly discontented with the government's fiscal reconstruction policy. The impending political turmoil threatens to ignite another crisis in Europe.

In the general election in which the administration of Prime Minister Mario Monti sought a public mandate for its reformist policies, the anti-austerity center-right coalition led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi garnered more seats than anticipated.

The center-left coalition that generally supports the reformist line secured a narrow majority in the lower house. But in the Senate no political group won a clear majority.

Following the election results, the euro plunged on foreign exchange markets in Japan and the United States as the yen strengthened against the European common currency. Stock prices dropped across the board on global markets. These moves indicate a wariness over the prospect that the eurozone's third-largest economy could retreat from fiscal reconstruction.

The administration that was established by economist Monti in autumn 2011 and consists of technocrats tried to trim fiscal deficits through tax hikes and pension reforms. It also launched structural reforms, including a legal revision to create a flexible labor market.


Reforms fail to progress

Monti's reformist policies were received favorably by the markets but failed to make headway because they were not endorsed by center-right parties.

The center-right bloc was able to expand voter support by proposing such populist anti-austerity measures as a reexamination of the tax hikes.

The bloc apparently obtained support from voters critical of the increase in the jobless rate caused by the business slowdown.

A new party, which took existing parties to task over political corruption, fared well to become the third-biggest party. This reflects the people's deep-seated distrust of politics.

A focal point in the days to come will be how the center-left bloc moves to form a coalition government. The prospects of a grand coalition with the center-right bloc are uncertain because of wide policy differences.

The political stalemate could possibly be broken by holding another election. However, Italy's political turmoil is expected to continue for some time.


Bleak prospects ahead

It is highly questionable whether Italy will be able to stabilize its political situation.

Europe's fiscal and financial crisis, which was triggered by Greece, showed signs of abating after the European Central Bank purchased a large amount of government bonds and took other rescue measures since autumn.

However, the economic situation remains extremely sluggish in the eurozone and has fallen into negative growth territory. Future prospects remain stormy.

Financial unrest is smoldering in Spain and suspicions of illegal donations to its ruling party have emerged. A general election is scheduled for September in Germany in which Chancellor Angela Merkel's handling of the European crisis will become a bone of contention.

Italy's reforms must be prevented from falling by the wayside to avoid adversely affecting the world economy, let alone the eurozone.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 27, 2013)
(2013年2月27日01時27分  読売新聞)

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朴大統領就任 日韓関係の改善を期待したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 27, 2013)
Can Park open the door to better Japan-S. Korea ties?
朴大統領就任 日韓関係の改善を期待したい(2月26日付・読売社説)

We hope the chilled relationship between Tokyo and Seoul will thaw under the new South Korean administration.

On Monday, Park Geun Hye took office as the first female president of South Korea, a country currently facing plenty of challenges. Park's father is the late former President Park Chung Hee, and this is the first time an offspring of a former South Korean president has assumed the top post.

The new president held talks with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who attended Park's inauguration ceremony. It is praiseworthy that the two agreed on the necessity of cooperating closely and building a future-oriented relationship between the two countries.

However, the current state of Japan-South Korea relations is severe. It deteriorated rapidly after Lee Myung Bak, Park's predecessor, visited the Takeshima islands last year and demanded the Emperor apologize for the wartime past. Seoul recently lodged a complaint with Tokyo over the attendance of a Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary at a commemoration ceremony on Takeshima Day, an event hosted by the Shimane prefectural government.


Learn from past mistakes

Previous South Korean administrations also have trumpeted future-oriented relationships. However, in the end, they have derailed these diplomatic efforts through their actions on territorial issues and historical perceptions. Park's leadership will be tested over whether she can prevent her administration from repeating the mistakes of her predecessors.

Dark clouds are hovering over South Korea's economy, which had been performing solidly for years. That country's growth rate dropped to the 2 percent level last year, and its export-led economy has been buffeted by a headwind caused by the won's appreciation. South Korea's chaebol conglomerates have developed rapidly by riding the tide of globalization, but this has not led to the creation of jobs.

With a declining birthrate and aging population, South Korea needs to improve its pension and health insurance systems to dispel public anxiety over what life holds for them in old age.

Park pledged to tackle such problems in her inauguration speech. She referred to the "miracle on the Han River," the dramatic economic development achieved under her father's administration, and stressed she would bring about a "second miracle on the Han River."

It will be crucial for her to materialize her plan to expand domestic demand and employment by reinforcing the competitiveness of small and midsize South Korean companies and nurturing venture firms.


Cooperate more with allies

Regarding diplomacy and national security, Park demanded North Korea "abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay." She also showed willingness to hold talks with Pyongyang by saying, "I will move forward step-by-step on the basis of credible deterrence to build trust between the South and the North."

South Korea has recently accelerated the reinforcement of its defense capability, such as by extending the range of its ballistic missiles, as the security threat posed by North Korea grows. According to an opinion poll, more than 60 percent of respondents supported South Korea acquiring nuclear weapons.

It will be essential for countries neighboring North Korea to cooperate more closely to deal with heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Park was quite right to mention she will work to strengthen trust with countries including "the United States, China, Japan and Russia" to ease tensions and conflicts in Asia and promote peace and cooperation in the region.

China has a dominant presence in South Korea. South Korea's trade with China exceeds that with the United States and Japan combined. The annual flow of people between China and South Korea exceeds that between Japan and South Korea by more than 1 million.

All eyes are closely watching whether South Korea will cozy up more to China as it boosts its presence on the peninsula, as this issue certainly has security implications for Japan.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 26, 2013)
(2013年2月26日01時21分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月27日 (水)

日銀総裁人事案 官僚出身を理由に排除するな

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 27, 2013)
Being an ex-bureaucrat not good reason for rejection as BOJ chief
日銀総裁人事案 官僚出身を理由に排除するな(2月26日付・読売社説)

A key personnel decision will determine whether the nation can overcome deflation. The ruling and opposition parties should smoothly carry out procedures to ensure the Diet approves the government's appointments for the next governor and two deputy governors of the Bank of Japan.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has met with New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, to explain the impending appointments of the three top central bank officials to replace the current officeholders, who will step down on March 19.

The government is set to tap Haruhiko Kuroda, former vice finance minister for international affairs and current president of the Asian Development Bank, to replace Masaaki Shirakawa as governor of the central bank. Gakushuin University Prof. Kikuo Iwata and Bank of Japan Executive Director Hiroshi Nakaso are candidates to fill the deputy governor posts.

After his talks with Abe, Yamaguchi showed a positive stance on accepting the prospective candidates, saying, "They basically fit the requirements [for the posts]."

The government will formally submit the personnel proposals to the Diet shortly.

Kuroda directed a massive currency market intervention to stop the appreciation of the yen when he served as vice finance minister for international affairs--the post responsible for international monetary policies--for 3-1/2 years. He assumed the ADB presidency in 2005.


Kuroda meets Abe's criteria

He has insisted on the need to carry out bold monetary easing measures, including the introduction of an inflation target. He also has criticized the central bank, saying the cause of deflation is attributable to its failure in monetary policies.

Abe is using what is referred to as "Abenomics" to overcome deflation.
In explaining the requirements of the new Bank of Japan governor, Abe said he wants "someone who understands my views on monetary policy and tackles the issue with a resolute determination and ability." We consider his choice meets these criteria.

Whether the government can obtain Diet approval for Kuroda to assume the central bank governor's post hinges on the House of Councillors, where the opposition bloc holds a majority. In essence, approval largely depends on whether the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, supports Kuroda.

Kuroda's qualifications match those the DPJ considers vital for the governor's post in terms of practical expertise in financial affairs, broad international personnel networks, ability to communicate and capacity for organizational management.

The DPJ will have no reason to flatly oppose the appointment if it can confirm Kuroda's willingness to proactively work to achieve a 2 percent inflation target and cooperate with the government when he gives his opinions before both houses of the Diet.


Will DPJ cooperate?

Five years ago, the DPJ caused a situation in which the central bank governor's post became vacant because the party refused to name a former bureaucrat to the post. This time, Your Party is opposed to having a former bureaucrat appointed to that post. We consider it unwise to question someone's professional background without considering the person's qualifications.

Some DPJ members consider it problematic that the government's personnel plans were reported by the media before being formally submitted to the Diet. Although it was once decided the Diet would reject the government's personnel appointments if they were leaked by the media prior to being officially submitted, this ridiculous rule has been scrapped. It will be a problem if the DPJ brings up the issue and tries to resurrect this rule.

The judgment each opposition party makes on the Bank of Japan personnel proposals, which the government considers most important, will determine to what extent they will keep the Abe administration at arm's length or whether they will cooperate.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 26, 2013)
(2013年2月26日01時21分  読売新聞)

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原発風評被害 放射能の基準から考え直せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 26, 2013)
Time to overhaul radiation safety criteria
原発風評被害 放射能の基準から考え直せ(2月25日付・読売社説)

The government should make a sweeping review of safety standards for radioactivity. The recent change of administration offers a golden opportunity to do this.

The Consumer Affairs Agency will reinforce efforts to deal with damage caused by radiation rumors since the crisis began at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Masako Mori, state minister for consumer affairs, said, "The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration increased consumers' anxieties." She has issued an order to study concrete measures to alleviate these fears.

Agricultural products harvested in Fukushima Prefecture are shipped after they have been confirmed safe to eat, but they do not sell well unless their prices are set lower than other products. Their distribution volume is barely expanding.

Mori hit the nail on the head when she said a reason for this is that consumers harbor "doubts and concerns about the safety standards."

The administration of former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda adopted stricter standards for radiation contained in food than those in place overseas. The Radiation Council, a government advisory panel, had warned about possible adverse effects this might cause, but then Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoko Komiyama pushed through the new criteria.

This resulted in more food containing radiation that exceeded the restricted levels. Shipments of wild mushrooms were even halted when a check detected a radioactive substance that could only have been caused by past nuclear tests.


Stricter threshold set

The problem is that the Noda government set the yearly radiation exposure of one millisievert as the threshold between safe and dangerous. The one millisievert a year level, which is nothing but a management standard legally set for facilities that handle radioactive substances, was adopted for food safety standards.

The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) also considers it advisable to set the permissible annual radiation dose at no more than one millisievert. But the difference between the ICRP's position and that of the Noda administration is that the former does not consider it dangerous immediately even if radiation exposure exceeds the threshold.

The international commission believes health effects cannot be detected clearly if the total radiation exposure is held to 100 millisieverts. Thus, the one millisievert a year considered by the ICRP is a ceiling deemed far lower than its safety standard, and comes with the condition that the exposure target can be achieved reasonably.

Some places in the world are exposed to radiation of 10 millisieverts a year that comes from the ground, among other sources. A radiological examination at a hospital exposes the patient to about seven millisieverts.

The one-millisievert threshold also has become a factor delaying the return of nearly 160,000 evacuees from the nuclear crisis to their hometowns.


Gap with international standards

The commission considers that a radiation dose of up to 20 millisieverts a year is permissible when affected areas are in the reconstruction stage, and efforts must be made as much as possible to reduce the annual exposure to less than one millisievert.

Then Environment Minister Goshi Hosono, however, stressed the importance of achieving the decontamination target of one millisievert or less. Unlike the ICRP's thinking that equally emphasizes protecting affected residents' daily lives and decontamination, the DPJ-led government gave too much weight to decontamination efforts.

A mistaken political message also was given by Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida. He condemned the disposal by the prefecture's Kashiwazaki and Sanjo cities of disaster debris from Iwate Prefecture as general waste as a "criminal act."

But radiation levels of debris from Iwate Prefecture are the same as trash collected within Niigata Prefecture. We urge Izumida, the head of a local government, not to exacerbate damage caused by nasty radiation rumors.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 25, 2013)
(2013年2月25日01時19分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月26日 (火)

民主党大会 新綱領で一致団結できるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 26, 2013)
Can DPJ unify itself with new party platform?
民主党大会 新綱領で一致団結できるか(2月25日付・読売社説)

The Democratic Party of Japan has an opportunity to reinvent itself after approaching the brink of catastrophe. The party held its regular convention Sunday and adopted a platform stipulating its basic philosophy and goals. It also issued a report summing up its management of the government and the major defeat the party suffered in the latest House of Representatives election.

In his address to the convention, DPJ President Banri Kaieda called for solidarity, saying, "Let's unite under a new party platform."

The platform stipulates that the DPJ is a reform party whose aim is to fight vested interests and collusion for the benefit of ordinary citizens, taxpayers, consumers and workers.

When the party was inaugurated in 1998, it produced a paper titled "Our basic philosophy." This time, it created a formal "platform," although belatedly.

The platform avoided using such ideological language as "middle-of-the-road democracy" or "liberal," in light of objections from conservative members of the party.


A party divided

It cannot be denied that the party remains "a congeries of many households" and "mutual election support groups" whereby Diet members from such ideologically different parties as the Liberal Democratic Party and the Japan Socialist Party gathered under the slogan "anti-LDP."

Standing out in the platform are abstract key phrases such as "symbiotic society" and "the new public." But its axis of confrontation with the LDP is hardly clear.

With regards to the Constitution, in particular, the party remains unclear as to its future course. The platform includes the opinions of members who support the current Constitution and those who want to amend it. The platform says the party "will realize the fundamental spirit of the Constitution" and "will form a future-oriented Constitution."

As before, the party has merely put off the problem in the sake of harmony at least for now.

In its course of action for fiscal 2013, the party has portrayed the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and the House of Councillors election, scheduled for this summer, as "critical political battles with the party's fate at stake." The party's understanding is reasonable. It faces a crucial moment that may determine whether it can continue playing a part in the two-party system.


Conditions worse than before

The current environment surrounding the DPJ is even harsher than before.

On Friday, two upper house members whose seats were up for election submitted letters of resignation from the party. They may have concluded they would not get enough votes if they stayed in a party that voters no longer trust.

In the city assembly election of Kitakyushu held late last month, the DPJ placed fourth in the number of seats won, following the LDP, New Komeito and the Japanese Communist Party.

Over Diet affairs, the so-called united front of opposition parties is in disarray, with the DPJ opposing a supplementary budget for fiscal 2012 and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) supporting it.

In the party convention, senior members of both Ishin no Kai and Your Party, who had left the DPJ, made guest speeches, criticizing the DPJ for such failings as its dependence on labor unions.

With the upper house election ahead, DPJ campaign cooperation with other opposition parties such as Ishin no Kai and Your Party will become an issue of great importance, but differences over key policies have hampered progress.

If the DPJ pursues cooperation with Ishin no Kai and Your Party, it will have to to take more realistic approaches on key policy issues such as the Constitution, diplomacy and national security.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 25, 2013)
(2013年2月25日01時19分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月25日 (月)

日米首脳会談 アジア安定へ同盟を強化せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 25, 2013)
Strengthen Japan-U.S. alliance to boost Asia stability
日米首脳会談 アジア安定へ同盟を強化せよ(2月24日付・読売社説)


The high expectations the U.S. government holds for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became clear during his visit to Washington. To live up to the U.S. trust placed in him, the prime minister should restore the vitality of Japan's politics and economy.

Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama held their first talks at the White House and agreed to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.

"The U.S.-Japan alliance is the central foundation for our regional security, and so much of what we do in the [Asia-]Pacific region," Obama said.

Abe replied that he wants to declare the strong bond of the Japan-U.S. alliance has been restored completely.


Cooperation on energy

Asia has many destabilizing factors, such as China and North Korea. To maintain peace and prosperity in this part of the world, Japan and the United States must properly play their respective roles based on the robust, stable bilateral alliance that is "public property" of the region.

Japan-U.S. ties became disoriented while Democratic Party of Japan-led administrations held power for more than three years. Seemingly going hand-in-hand with this, Japan's relations with China and South Korea also deteriorated.

The Obama administration apparently believes that restoring U.S. relations with Japan under the Abe administration would bring greater stability to the entire Asian region and benefit its own strategy that gives greater priority to Asia.

The two leaders issued a joint statement on Japan's possible participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement negotiations. Abe and Obama confirmed "it is not required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs upon joining the TPP negotiations," though they maintained the basic principle that all goods would be subject to the negotiations.

Before his visit to the United States, Abe reiterated he would uphold his Liberal Democratic Party's election pledge that the party opposes joining the TPP talks as long as it mandates all tariffs must be eliminated without exception.

The latest Japan-U.S. agreement, which allows Abe to maintain his pledge and join the TPP talks, carries great significance.

TPP participation, which will enable Japan to harness the vitality of emerging Asian economies, is expected to become a major pillar for the growth strategy of the Abe administration's "Abenomics" economic policy and help the recovery of the nation's economy.

However, some LDP members and agricultural organizations remain strongly opposed to the TPP. Abe must exercise leadership and carefully explain the aims of the trade pact to calibrate opinions within the country as soon as possible to make Japan's participation in the agreement a reality.

The participation of Japan, the world's third-largest economy, in the TPP will have advantages for the United States, too. Formation of a free trade area featuring the Japan-U.S. partnership will have the effect of putting pressure on emerging China.

During their meeting, Abe asked Obama to promptly approve U.S. exports of shale gas to Japan. The president replied that his government always takes the importance of Japan as its ally into consideration.

Some observers said restrictions on shale gas exports could be lifted as early as March, opening a way for Japan to procure cheap natural gas.

Abe also stressed that he would review the policy set under the DPJ-led government to shut down all of Japan's nuclear reactors by the end of the 2030s.

It is important that Japan and the United States cooperate extensively on economic issues, including energy and nuclear policies.


Increase pressure on N. Korea

In the security field, Abe explained that he would proactively tackle such issues as a revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines, clarifying whether the nation can exercise its right to collective self-defense, and reviewing the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation.

All of these issues are essential for reinforcing the substance of the Japan-U.S. alliance. We hope the government gives priority to these issues and steadily achieves tangible results.

The two leaders agreed to proceed with a plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station from Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district in Nago, also in the prefecture, based on an agreement reached by the Japanese and U.S. governments.

Although the Okinawa prefectural government insists the air station should be relocated outside the prefecture, the Henoko plan is the shortest way to reduce the burdens of communities that currently host the base. The government must steadfastly persuade people involved in this matter to support this option.

As for North Korea's recent nuclear test, Abe and Obama confirmed such provocations cannot be tolerated, and that North Korea should not be rewarded for these actions.

While both leaders agreed to seek the adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing additional sanctions on Pyongyang, they also agreed to consider sanctions independently enforced by such parties as Japan and the United States.

After North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006, the administration of then U.S. President George W. Bush cut a deal in which Pyongyang said it would abandon its nuclear facilities and Washington removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea should not receive any such benefit for conducting its third nuclear test this year.


Form intl tie-up on Senkakus

Although the Security Council should adopt an effective sanctions resolution, China has shown a cautious stance. It is important that ways to apply "pressure," other than a Security Council resolution, be considered under the initiative of Tokyo, Washington and Seoul.

During a bilateral foreign ministerial meeting held after the Abe-Obama meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in reference to Japan-China relations, expressed a view that the Senkaku Islands are covered by the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and fall under the scope of U.S. defense obligations to Japan.

We welcome Kerry's adherence to the stance of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.

Japan, for its part, should calmly address this issue without being rattled by such provocations as the use of fire-control radar by Chinese forces. At the same time, Japan should strengthen the warning and surveillance operations conducted by the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard. To urge China to exercise self-restraint in its saber-rattling, Japan must deepen cooperation with the United States and other nations concerned.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 24, 2013)
(2013年2月24日01時42分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月24日 (日)

竹島の日 政務官の式典出席は妥当だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 24, 2013)
Govt right to send appropriate official to Takeshima Day event
竹島の日 政務官の式典出席は妥当だ(2月23日付・読売社説)

The government made a well-balanced decision on Takeshima Day by expressing a firm stance on the territorial issue while at the same time displaying diplomatic consideration toward South Korea.

The administration sent Aiko Shimajiri, a parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office, to a commemoration ceremony held Friday in Shimane Prefecture.

Though this was the eighth ceremony of its kind, Shimajiri was the first government representative to participate. Additionally, a record number of 19 Diet members attended the event.

Shimane Prefecture in 2005 established an ordinance designating Feb. 22 as Takeshima Day to commemorate the 1905 cabinet decision to incorporate the islands into the prefecture. Since 2006, the Shimane prefectural government has organized the annual ceremony to cement the nation's sovereignty over the Sea of Japan islands as soon as possible by raising public awareness of the issue. Takeshima is currently under South Korea's effective control.


Diplomatic courtesies extended

It is the job of the government to expand public interest in and understanding of territorial issues because such matters pertain to national sovereignty. The central government should organize a Takeshima Day event.

Last summer, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak broke diplomatic norms by visiting Takeshima and demanding the Emperor's apology for Japan's behavior during colonial times. In response, the Liberal Democratic Party pledged to organize a government-sponsored Takeshima Day ceremony in its policy platform for the last House of Representatives election.

However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government decided not to take the lead on the ceremony this year. It also postponed its plan to unilaterally refer the territorial dispute with Seoul to the International Court of Justice. The Abe administration has refrained from such actions to build a future-oriented bilateral relationship with South Korea in cooperation with President-elect Park Geun Hye.

In January, former Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga visited South Korea as the prime minister's special envoy. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso will also attend Park's presidential inauguration ceremony on Monday.

Shimane Prefecture requested Abe and his Cabinet ministers attend its Takeshima Day ceremony, but the government sent only the parliamentary secretary as its representative. This was yet another example of the administration's consideration for South Korea.

Nonetheless, a spokesperson of South Korea's Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry said the parliamentary secretary's attendance at the event was regrettable, and Seoul strongly protested the act.

We resolutely disagree.


Bilateral cooperation crucial

First of all, Shimane Prefecture's ceremony was a domestic event. Even if Japan and South Korea confront each other over the territorial dispute, reprimanding the other country for sending its representative to a local government's event is uncalled for, as such behavior can be considered meddling in domestic affairs.

Furthermore, the partnership between Japan and South Korea is now more vital than ever to ensure peace and stability in East Asia. This is particularly true in light of North Korea's recent nuclear test and launch of a long-range missile, and China's continued heavy-handed demonstrations in the East China Sea.

There are also several pending economic matters that could benefit both Japan and South Korea, such as a potential free trade agreement, if they can cooperate with one other.

The change in the South Korean presidency provides a good opportunity to mend the deteriorated Japan-South Korea relations. The Takeshima dispute may remain unsettled for quite some time. To explore ways to prevent the issue from stifling bilateral ties, Tokyo and Seoul must work together by maintaining careful communications.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2013)
(2013年2月23日01時27分  読売新聞)

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北方領土交渉 「仕切り直し」へ戦略練り直せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 24, 2013)
New strategy needed to resume talks over northern territories
北方領土交渉 「仕切り直し」へ戦略練り直せ(2月23日付・読売社説)

The government's aim of smoothing the way for future talks between Japanese and Russian leaders has been achieved. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now faces a test on whether it can devise a specific diplomatic strategy to make progress in negotiations to solve the dispute over the northern territories.

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori met recently with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow.

During the meeting, Putin said it is abnormal that the two countries have yet to conclude a peace treaty due to the obstacle of the territorial issue.

Drawing a picture of a judo competition area on paper, Putin stated his intention to make a fresh start in the negotiations. He said Japan and Russia cannot compete because both countries stay at the edge of the competition area, and that they should be pulled to the center to start over.

Putin's predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, visited Kunashiri Island, one of the four islands in the northern territories, while he was Russian president. During the visit, Medvedev took a hard-line stance on the issue, saying: "This is our native land. We will not give away an inch."


Figure out Russia's real intent

Abe must appropriately interpret Putin's positive signal on the territorial issue. We hope the Abe administration will negotiate with Russia patiently while trying to figure out what Moscow really has in mind.

During the talks, Mori asked Putin to clarify his remarks in March last year that he would seek "hikiwake"--a judo term meaning a draw--to solve the issue. Putin reportedly said it was meant to be a solution that creates neither a winner nor a loser, but he did not elaborate.

Putin apparently regards the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration as a starting point for negotiations on the territorial row. The declaration stipulates the Habomai islets and Shikotan Island should be returned to Japan after the two countries sign a peace treaty. In recent years, Russia has allocated funding for developing infrastructure in the northern territories to steadily "Russianize" them, especially on the other two islands of Kunashiri and Etrofu.

On a TV program last month, Mori mentioned the possible option of Russia first returning three of the islets--with the exception of Etrofu Island--not all four at once. He made such remarks apparently in the belief that the nation should quickly aim for a realistic solution.

When he was foreign minister, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso floated the idea of dividing the four islands equally in terms of size.

However, bilateral negotiations between the Abe and Putin administrations have yet to take place. If Tokyo takes a concessional approach before the talks start, Moscow may take further advantage of it. In the same way as previously, Japan should aim for the return of all four islands in the negotiations.


Expanded cooperation key

At the meeting with Mori, Putin also expressed his hopes of expanded bilateral cooperation in the energy sector, such as in oil and natural gas. He also said his country wants to take advantage of Japan's agricultural technology in developing its vast Far East region.

Japan's economic strength and technology would be attractive to Russia, which has increased its focus on development of the Far East and Siberia. If the territorial dispute is resolved, Japan and Russia will be able to cooperate in more areas beneficial to both countries. Such expanded bilateral cooperation also could put a brake on China, a growing economic and military power.

It is vital for both Japan and Russia to increase their shared awareness that bilateral cooperation is strategically important. This could pave the way to solving the territorial issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2013)
(2013年2月23日01時27分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月23日 (土)

混合診療 適用拡大が患者の利益になる

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 23, 2013)
Wider use of mixed treatment beneficial to patients
混合診療 適用拡大が患者の利益になる(2月22日付・読売社説)

Everyone wants to receive advanced, effective medical treatment. The medical insurance system should be improved from the viewpoint of patients.

The government's advisory panel on regulatory reform has put expanded application of so-called mixed treatment on its list of topics to to be discussed.

Mixed treatment is defined as the combination of medical practices, such as examination and medication, that are covered by public health insurance with those that are not. Currently, it is permitted only in exceptional cases in the health insurance system.

Mixed treatment is currently limited to about 100 types of treatments designated by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, including heavy particle radiotherapy, which is an advanced radiation therapy for cancer, and genetic diagnosis for hereditary Alzheimer's disease.

If patients receive new treatments that have yet to be approved by the ministry, they have to pay all the medical bills, including examination and hospital expenses that otherwise would be covered by the insurance system.

Even if patients want to receive advanced therapies for cancer and intractable diseases, therefore, they often have to give up on that hope for economic reasons.


Right path to take

The government panel named mixed treatment as a topic for discussion because it considers deregulation of the medical treatment sector a part of growth strategy.

Expanding the application of mixed treatment to all types of medical techniques, including regenerative medicine, is a reasonable step to take.

In its campaign platform for the House of Representatives election in December, the Liberal Democratic Party called for swift introduction of the latest drugs, medical equipment and therapies that could help patients. Reexamining mixed treatment will be a first step toward realizing the party's campaign pledge.

If the government takes a definite stance to support advanced medical treatments, it could encourage doctors to adopt new medical techniques more actively.


Certain restraint needed

However, mixed treatment cannot be allowed to expand without restrictions.

The health ministry has banned mixed treatment in principle, on the grounds it might foster treatments not grounded in science.

The Supreme Court upheld the ministry's policy in 2011. In a lawsuit filed against the state by a cancer patient who received new, yet-to-be-approved treatment, the top court judged that the policy was "legitimate from the viewpoint of ensuring the quality of medical treatment and in light of fiscal constraints."

The top court also pointed out that the policy was meant "to deter medical practices that threaten to undermine the safety and effectiveness" of medical treatment.

It is true that if mixed treatment is approved without restriction, expensive, dangerous drugs and medical treatments whose safety has not been confirmed may become widespread.

In light of what the top court pointed out, a certain amount of restraint will be necessary.

As an effective way of applying mixed treatment, we suggest it be limited to medical techniques approved by domestic medical societies, as well as to drugs and therapies confirmed to be effective overseas.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 22, 2013)
(2013年2月22日01時14分  読売新聞)

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3人死刑執行 凶悪犯罪の抑止につなげたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 23, 2013)
Execution of death-row inmates must serve as deterrent to crime
3人死刑執行 凶悪犯罪の抑止につなげたい(2月22日付・読売社説)

Three death-row inmates were executed Thursday. They were the first executions carried out under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration, which was launched in December.

Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who ordered the executions just two months after he was appointed to his post, told a press conference after the executions, "The spirit of the law shouldn't be disregarded." His statement shows he attaches grave importance to the Criminal Procedure Code, which stipulates that death sentences should be implemented within six months of being finalized.

The statement also indicates his stance to carry out in a somber manner the duties of the justice minister, who bears a heavy responsibility.


134 people now on death row

Under the Democratic Party of Japan-led administrations, few executions were carried out. There was even a period of about 20 months in which there were no executions, due to the successive appointments of justice ministers who were critical of the death penalty. As a result, the number of inmates whose death sentences had been finalized increased to 137, including the three most recently executed, the largest figure in the postwar period.

Internationally, countries that have abolished or suspended capital punishment outnumber those who maintain the system.

In Japan, on the other hand, 85 percent of the public approves of the death penalty, according to an opinion poll by the Cabinet Office.

"At the moment it's unnecessary to review the system," Tanigaki said, taking into consideration this public sentiment.

Death sentences have been given in lay judge trials, in which ordinary citizens participate in the trial process, and the sentences for three inmates under that system have been already finalized.

Considering these circumstances, we urge justice ministers to implement the death penalty system in a strict manner, after closely examining finalized death sentences.

The three inmates whose sentences were carried out most recently include a man who kidnapped and killed a young girl in Nara Prefecture in 2004, and a man who killed or injured nine people near JR Arakawaoki Station on the Joban Line and at another location, both in Ibaraki Prefecture, in 2008.

All three cases were contemptible, cruel crimes that horrified society. The victims and their bereaved family members suffered grievous harm. The bereaved families want the culprits to be harshly punished.

In the case of kidnapping and murder in Nara Prefecture, the perpetrator abducted a first-grade primary school student who was on her way home from school in order to sexually molest her. He even sent an e-mail with a picture of the girl's dead body to her mother's cellphone. The case was extremely malicious.


Prevention of repeat offenses

This is the case that clarified the trend toward toughening the penalties in murder cases so that people who commit atrocious sexual crimes will face capital punishment even if they have only killed one person.

The Nara Prefecture case spurred the government to study measures to prevent the recurrence of sexual offenses, as the perpetrator had a criminal record of sex offenses.

The Justice Ministry now provides the National Police Agency with information on where people with criminal records of sexual offenses involving children live after their release from prison. Sex offenders in prison are required to attend programs to prevent repeat offenses, in which they are taught ways to control their emotions.

However, there is no sign of a significant decline in the number of sex offenses. We should think again about the fact that one purpose of implementing death sentences is to deter atrocious crimes.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 22, 2013)
(2013年2月22日01時14分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月22日 (金)

明石歩道橋事故 強制起訴の課題示す免訴判決

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 22, 2013)
Ruling highlights problems in mandatory indictment system
明石歩道橋事故 強制起訴の課題示す免訴判決(2月21日付・読売社説)

It was a bitter pill for relatives of the victims in the July 2001 crush incident in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, who sought criminal responsibility for a former police officer in charge of crowd control at a fireworks show.

The Kobe District Court on Wednesday dismissed a case in which a former deputy chief at the Akashi Police Station was indicted over failing to prevent the fatal accident on a pedestrian overpass that killed 11 people. A prosecution inquest committee had decided on the mandatory indictment in this case.

The ruling effectively acquitted the defendant by ending the trial.

Based on the decision by the prosecution inquest committee, the former deputy chief was indicted on suspicion of professional negligence causing injury and death over the accident, as he allegedly shared complicity with a former officer at the station who was directly responsible for crowd control. The latter received a prison sentence.

This was the first case in which the mandatory indictment system was applied since its introduction in 2009.

The ruling concluded the five-year statute of limitations had expired by the time of the mandatory indictment in April 2010. The court apparently had no other choice but to dismiss the case as it found the statute of limitations had run out.


Questions on statute of limitations

Court-appointed lawyers who served as prosecutors insisted the statute of limitations had not expired, citing the fact that the former officer--with whom they said the former deputy chief was complicit--was on trial at that time, and the Criminal Procedure Code that stipulates the period is interrupted during the trial of an accomplice.

Wednesday's ruling, however, denied the former deputy chief's fault. "He did not get any request from officers working at the scene to prevent more people coming onto the overpass," the ruling said. "It was also difficult for him to assess the danger by watching security cameras at the station."

The ruling also concluded that the former deputy chief was not complicit with his subordinate because he did not bear any fault, thus acknowledging the statute of limitations had run out in this case.

Even if the former deputy chief escapes criminal responsibility, however, the police were obviously at fault over their security and safety measures for the fireworks display, given the accident's serious casualties.

The ruling also pointed out that the police had an inadequate security plan for the event, saying, "The use of authority by the deputy chief--who was supposed to assist the chief of the police station--was insufficient."

After the fatal crush, the National Police Agency told prefectural police to appoint officers to oversee crowd control measures. It is most important to take every possible measure to prevent the recurrence of a similar accident.

There have been seven mandatory indictment cases nationwide, and Wednesday's ruling was the fourth handed down by a district court. So far, only one guilty sentence has been given in a case involving the mayor of Ishii, Tokushima Prefecture.


Excessive burden on lawyers

These cases, including the former deputy chief's one, have revealed one problem in the mandatory indictment system--the excessive burdens on court-appointed lawyers.

It is not easy for them to gather the evidence necessary to win a guilty sentence in cases prosecutors decided to drop.

Therefore, it may be worthwhile to study creating a framework under which assistant officers for prosecutors can help court-appointed lawyers in examining evidence and other related work.

It is important to provide legal advice to members of prosecution inquest committees, who are selected from members of the public. This becomes more important when they deal with cases like the former deputy chief's, in which the focus was put on whether the statute of limitations had expired by the time of indictment.

In this sense, one lawyer is not enough to serve as an assistant to a prosecution inquest committee.

To help the mandatory indictment system take root, it is crucial to review trials of relevant cases and improve flaws in the system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 21, 2013)
(2013年2月21日02時00分  読売新聞)

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民主衆院選総括 自己批判を再建に生かせるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 22, 2013)
Self-criticism not enough; DPJ must learn from the past
民主衆院選総括 自己批判を再建に生かせるか(2月21日付・読売社説)

Self-critical phrases were found throughout a Democratic Party of Japan report reviewing the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election. The report was quite unusual for an official document of a political party, but the real issue is whether the DPJ can use it to rebuild itself.

The report on the party's humiliating defeat and its handling of the government for about three years and three months was approved Wednesday at a general meeting of the secretaries general of local DPJ chapters. Dubbed a "plan to reform and recreate the DPJ," the report will be officially approved at a party convention scheduled for Sunday.

In the report, the party carefully avoided pointing fingers at anyone as a direct cause of the defeat. However, it did point out a "chain of errors committed by party heads," including those of three prime ministers--Yukio Hatoyama's haphazard handling of the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, Naoto Kan's remarks suggesting a consumption tax hike and Yoshihiko Noda's failure to properly set the date for a lower house dissolution.

The report also admitted that the secession of party members, notably former party President Ichiro Ozawa and his followers, dealt a huge blow to the DPJ's image. This made the public feel "it was inappropriate to entrust the helm of government to a group unable to govern itself," the report said.


Responsibility of 'troika' leaders

Those analyses all have a point. We believe Hatoyama, Kan and Ozawa--once dubbed the troika of the DPJ--are especially responsible for the defeat. If the DPJ really wants to rally from the historical defeat and once again become a rival of the Liberal Democratic Party, it is essential to wholeheartedly examine past mistakes and thoroughly learn from them.

In addition to the faults of the party leadership, we should not overlook the DPJ's lack of governance--a chronic problem for the entire party. Failure to communicate with bureaucrats, party management that lacks unity, members' lack of awareness that they should uphold the party's decisions--all the things pointed out in the report were on the mark.

However, the problem is that all those problems had already been pointed out during the time the DPJ held the reins of government. Instead of taking effective measures to deal with them, the party spent all its energy on intraparty conflicts, such as the battle between the pro- and anti-Ozawa groups.

Based on its review of the general election defeat, the reform plan made seven proposals for the DPJ.

They include suggestions such as "carry the flag of a reformist party and march toward the realization of our reform goals," and "listen to the wide array of public opinions, utilize the knowledge of experts and reinforce our ability to convey our messages to the public."


Proposals too abstract

Frankly speaking, we were disappointed with the abstractness of the proposals. The proposals were supposed to be the centerpiece of the report to help the party fight in the House of Councillors election scheduled for this summer. However, they seem far from serving this aim.

The party needs to promptly decide on institutional reforms, such as how the party's decision-making system should be shaped and the status of its Policy Research Committee. The DPJ has been struggling with such reforms since it took power.

The reform proposal said the DPJ "will offer counterproposals to ruling parties' policies, to fulfill the role of an opposition party capable of creating new values." Having said that, it will be important for the party to utilize the experience of holding the reins of government and tenaciously stick offer viable alternatives to the government's policies.

Currently, the Diet is divided with the DPJ holding the most seats in the upper house. Thus the party shares the responsibility to move politics forward. If the party examines the policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration appropriately and gives constructive criticism as a responsible opposition party, it will lend a disciplined atmosphere to the national administration.

At the same time, it will be important for the DPJ not to hesitate in cooperating with the ruling parties to realize policies that serve the national interest, as such an attitude could be an important step in restoring the public's trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 21, 2013)
(2013年2月21日02時00分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月21日 (木)

国会同意人事 事前報道ルール撤廃は当然だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 21, 2013)
Scrapping prior media coverage rule a wise decision
国会同意人事 事前報道ルール撤廃は当然だ(2月20日付・読売社説)

The rules on personnel appointments requiring approval in both houses of the Diet, which have caused much confusion of late, have finally been reviewed.

The Diet must steadily push through procedures to select officials for important posts, including the Bank of Japan governor.

The ruling and opposition parties have agreed to scrap the so-called prior media coverage rule. The rule states that the Diet can reject in principle the government's personnel appointment proposals if they are leaked by the media before officially becoming public.

It is appropriate to abolish this useless and damaging rule that has just been used by opposition parties to put pressure on the government since its introduction in 2007. Approval of proposed personnel appointments should be based on candidates' abilities and knowledge. It is unreasonable to turn down an appointment simply because it was reported in the news beforehand.


Further delays must be avoided

When the Democratic Party of Japan was in power, it insisted the rule be scrapped. However, the DPJ recently rejected the government's offer to discuss the proposed appointment of former Administrative Vice Finance Minister Kazuyuki Sugimoto as the next chairman of the Fair Trade Commission, on the grounds that the plan was reported by the media in advance. This is a purely senseless act that only amplifies public distrust in politics.

In their latest agreement, the ruling and opposition parties urge the government to ensure thorough information management for its personnel appointment proposals. The agreement also states that if the government's plans are reported by the media in advance, the parties will ask the government to launch an investigation into the leak and report its findings to the Diet after presenting the personnel plans for approval.

Still, there may be some cases in which high-profile government appointments are reported by news agencies before they are officially announced. We find it troubling if the new agreement is aimed at regulating the media.

Personnel appointments for a total of 253 posts in 36 organizations currently require Diet approval.

Under the divided Diet, the former DPJ-led administration had difficulty finalizing its selection of candidates, delaying many appointments and disrupting national politics.

For example, the FTC chairman post has been vacant since September last year. The post of Board of Audit president also remains unfilled, along with four of the seven expert positions on the Council for Science and Technology Policy.

The ruling and opposition parties must endeavor to smoothly expedite the latest personnel appointment plans based on the new agreement.


More work ahead

In addition to the problematic prior media coverage rule, many other issues have been highlighted with regard to personnel appointments subject to Diet approval.

There used to be a provision for some posts that set the supremacy of the House of Representatives over that of the House of Councillors. This allowed the government to officially announce personnel appointments with only the approval of the lower house if it could not obtain the consent of the upper house. However, such provisions have been abolished one after another at the request of the upper house and for other reasons.

Another provision allows officials to remain in their posts even after completing their terms if their successors are left undecided. However, this can only be applied for certain positions.

Furthermore, for discussion will probably be nesessary on the issue of whether to expand the scope of people who give their opinions in the Diet before voting begins on personnel appointments.

In addition to the latest agreement, the ruling and opposition parties should strive to further improve the system for personnel appointments requiring Diet approval.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 20, 2013)
(2013年2月20日01時38分  読売新聞)

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石炭火力発電 技術開発テコに活用続けたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 21, 2013)
Govt must continue pushing coal thermal power generation
石炭火力発電 技術開発テコに活用続けたい(2月20日付・読売社説)

As a nation that relies on foreign energy resources, Japan needs to secure a stable supply of cheap electricity.

In the wake of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, almost all nuclear reactors in the nation have been idled. Thermal power generation using coal, which is cheaper and more readily available than oil and other fossil fuels, is worth taking another look at.

As part of its management reconstruction, TEPCO aims to procure electricity from new coal-fired thermal power plants to be built by other companies.

Within the government, however, opinion on whether to promote the plan is divided. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is in favor of the plan, while Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara appears to be against it. Under such circumstances, private businesses will be unable to freely undertake construction projects for coal-fired thermal plants without worry.

Considering how difficult it will be to build new nuclear power plants given the current situation, the government must put forth a policy to push forward with the continued use of coal-fired thermal power.


Ways to overcome drawbacks

The biggest advantage of coal-fired thermal power generation is its low cost. According to estimations by a government expert panel, thermal power generation using coal costs 9.5 yen per kilowatt-hour, lower than the 10.7 yen per kWh for liquefied natural gas and 22.1 yen for oil.

However, one major drawback of relying on coal is that it creates a relatively large amount of greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants are about twice that from LNG-fired plants.

Technological progress has been made in curbing CO2 emissions at coal-fired plants, but more ways to make up for such drawbacks must be found.

The Environment Ministry has put the brakes on constructing new coal-fired thermal plants based on its environmental assessment, a measure it considers necessary to deal with global warming.

Orix Corp. and Toshiba Corp. were forced to reexamine and scrap their coal-fired thermal plant projects in 2006, as coal was deemed to create too much carbon dioxide. The same happened to Nippon Kasei Chemical Co. in 2010. In fact, no new coal-fired thermal plant construction project has been approved in the past decade.

There are no definite standards set on permissible CO2 emission levels. Some observers have noted it is problematic that the Environment Ministry has arbitrarily discouraged the construction of new coal-fired plants.


Regulatory reform needed

Last week, the government's advisory panel on regulatory reform announced it would study easing and clarifying the requirements for constructing new coal-fired plants. This is a reasonable step. Regulations that have effectively hampered construction must be urgently reexamined.

Japan faces the task of securing a stable power supply while simultaneously implementing measures against global warming. Achieving this became more difficult after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant. It is important to maintain diversified electricity sources, including coal firing, in addition to restarting nuclear reactors once their safety has been confirmed.

Many coal-fired plants in emerging countries, such as China and India, are inefficient. If these nations are to utilize Japan's high-performance equipment, however, it can act as a favorable contribution toward dealing with a global environmental issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 20, 2013)
(2013年2月20日01時38分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月20日 (水)

米航空大手合併 世界の空を競う新時代の到来

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 20, 2013)
American-US Airways merger marks new era of global rivalry
米航空大手合併 世界の空を競う新時代の到来(2月19日付・読売社説)

The U.S. airline industry has reached the end of more than 10 years of mergers and acquisitions among major carriers. This indicates the dawn of a new era in which the three big U.S. carriers will take the lead in the global airline industry, as well as in Asia.

American Airlines and US Airways, the world's fourth and 11th-largest carriers, respectively, have agreed to merge this autumn. Under the deal, the new airline will surpass United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, the current No. 1 and No. 2 carriers, as the largest in the world.

It can be said that the latest development is the result of American and US Airways' shared intention to survive global competition by streamlining operations and expanding their customer base.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, major U.S. carriers fell like dominoes due to economic slowdowns, soaring fuel prices and aggressive sales drives by low-cost carriers.

Later, these collapsed carriers consolidated after restructuring under bankruptcy protection. For instance, Delta merged with Northwest, while United absorbed Continental.


U.S. carriers to take leading role

The latest merger is also a move for airlines to find ways to survive through the same formula for recovery.

American entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection proceedings in autumn 2011 following delays in cost-cutting efforts and other factors. The airline still faces many challenges, as it has been unable to single-handedly put itself back on the corporate reconstruction track.

On the other hand, US Airways, which first entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002 and again in 2004, is smaller than American in terms of passenger traffic, but has recently been performing relatively steadily.

The carrier is apparently aiming to shed its excessive dependence on domestic flight services and hoped to mutually complement each other with the merger with American, which has a solid network of international flights.

The focal point in the months ahead will be how quickly the two airlines can demonstrate the cost-reducing effect of the merger.

The new company plans to capture fast-growing markets, including those in Asia. It is certain that global competition in the airline industry will intensify further, with the three major U.S. carriers taking a pivotal role.

Currently, there are three global airline alliance networks that allow partner carriers to have codeshare flights and share mileage reward systems.


ANA, JAL must act quickly

The American-US Airways merger, in which both carriers belong to different alliances, may trigger a global realignment that goes beyond existing alliance networks.

The two major Japanese airlines--All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, both of which run relatively small-scale operations--must raise their sense of urgency. We hope the two carriers will enhance their competitiveness by making further cost-cutting efforts and improving their services.

Yet the Boeing 787, which both consider their leading, next-generation aircraft, has been forced to suspend operations due to mechanical troubles. This negative effect is a matter of concern.

Hindered by its complicated electronic system and joint development through Japanese, U.S. and European manufacturers, there has been little progress in investigating the cause of recent incidents involving Boeing 787s, leaving no prospect for resuming operations even though a month has already passed since the planes were suspended.

If the suspension is extended, both Japanese airlines must review their business management plans centering on the 787s.

We hope both Japanese and U.S. authorities expedite their cooperative efforts to shed light on the cause of the incidents.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 19, 2013)
(2013年2月19日01時22分  読売新聞)

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東通原発 規制委の評価は公正さを欠く

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 20, 2013)
Assessment of fault risks at Higashidori N-plant unfair
東通原発 規制委の評価は公正さを欠く(2月19日付・読売社説)

We cannot help but suspect the assessment was made on the premise that idled reactors at nuclear power plants should not be allowed to restart.

An expert team of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which examined faults running within the premises of Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s Higashidori nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture, has compiled a draft assessment report. In it, the team concluded the faults were highly likely active ones that moved sometime during the past 110,000 years.

Furthermore, the team said in the draft report it is necessary "to further consider" the activity of short faults right under a nuclear reactor building. The team thus did not deny the possibility that these faults could be active. We think views are divided over whether these faults are worth serious consideration as truly active faults.

Under the safety guidelines on nuclear reactors, key facilities cannot be built just above active faults. Although Tohoku Electric had planned to restart the plant's reactor in the summer of 2015, it will be difficult to do so unless the NRA changes its assessment.


Consumers face higher rates

Tohoku Electric has already asked the government for approval to increase electricity charges. If the utility remains unable to restart the reactor, it will inevitably hike charges further. We are concerned this would affect reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

It is problematic that the team ordered reinvestigations not only within the premises of the Higashidori plant but also in wider areas that include the Shimokita Peninsula, where the plant is located. This is because the team judged ground movements over a wide area resulted in the emergence of active faults that run both vertically and horizontally at the nuclear plant.

The expert team told Tohoku Electric it had to "present data that prove the faults could not possibly be active." By doing so, the team in effect ordered the utility to prove it is 100 percent sure there are no active faults.

This stance reflects the views of Kunihiko Shimazaki, an NRA commissioner who leads the five-member expert team. We doubt the selection of Shimazaki, as well as the four other team members, was unbiased.


Standard impossible to meet

In the first place, it can be said a request for such certainty is impossible to meet given the current state of seismology. Moreover, the expert team concluded that, even if the faults are active, the intensity of their activity is low. We consider it more realistic to check if the plant's quake resistance is sufficient.

Actually, new safety guidelines on nuclear reactors, which the NRA is drafting, are based on the premise that it is difficult to completely grasp the status of active faults. The envisaged safety guidelines require that necessary levels of quake resistance should be determined on the assumption that active faults may exist even if none are found.

We also consider the expert team's assessment processes unfair.

Tohoku Electric was not informed of the content of the draft report until the day of the team's meeting that approved the assessment. It thus was almost impossible for the utility to make counterarguments in response to the harsh arguments made by the expert team.

We think it would improve the safety of nuclear reactors more if discussions were based on relevant data and parties concerned were provided with copies of a draft report in advance in an orderly manner.

The NRA will assess faults at up to eight other nuclear power plants. We think the way assessments are made should be reviewed.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 19, 2013)
(2013年2月19日01時22分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月19日 (火)

学校週6日制 学力向上へ土曜を活用したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 19, 2013)
Use Saturdays to enhance children's scholastic ability
学校週6日制 学力向上へ土曜を活用したい(2月18日付・読売社説)

To enhance the scholastic ability of children, it is necessary to secure enough class hours. Making use of Saturdays for this purpose can be a valid option.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has begun discussing a review of the current five-day school week system, with the introduction of a six-day school week that includes Saturday classes in mind.

This idea is one of the policies the Liberal Democratic Party advocated in its manifesto during the most recent House of Representatives election.

The ministry's new official guidelines for school teaching, aimed at moving away from "pressure-free education," have been fully put into operation at primary schools since the 2011 academic year and at middle schools since the 2012 academic year, greatly increasing the content taught and class hours.

As a result, primary schools have to hold six classes on some days, even for children in the lower grades.

We can understand the ministry's intention to lessen the burden on children while at the same time enhancing their degree of comprehension, by transferring some of the weekday classes to Saturdays.

The five-day school week system was introduced after the Ad Hoc Council on Education advocated it and the Japan Teachers' Union strongly called for it in the 1980s.


5-day system didn't meet goals

It originally came about following the adoption of the five-day workweek for public-service workers, a measure taken in response to calls from the United States and European countries for shorter working hours, against a backdrop of trade friction.

At public schools, the five-day school week system was introduced in stages, starting with once a month in September 1992, twice a month in fiscal 1995, and then fully put into place in fiscal 2002.

The idea was to help children spend more time at home and in their local communities, letting them gain more experience in social and natural environments with a sense of latitude.

Yet it is hard to say such aims have been achieved. It has also been said that the decrease in class hours due to the adoption of pressure-free education has led to a decline in children's scholastic ability.

Meanwhile, many private schools hold classes on Saturdays. Some observers have said the five-day school week system for public schools has brought about a discrepancy between public and private schools in terms of their students' academic ability. It is only reasonable that calls to revive Saturday classes have grown among the parents of public school students.


Vacation days problematic

Yet one problem is how to secure days off for teachers and school officials. It may become necessary to work out a framework whereby teachers or school officials who have worked on Saturdays can take substitute days off in a block during summer or winter recess.

A growing number of local governments have already introduced Saturday classes. While keeping in mind the purpose of the five-day school week system, these local governments have revived Saturday classes as an exception.

In Tokyo, more than 40 percent of public primary and middle schools hold at least six Saturday classes a year, with some of the classes open to parents and local residents. Some schools in Tokyo hold Saturday classes twice a month.

Similar efforts have been taken in other prefectures, including Saitama and Fukuoka.

For a six-day school week to be adopted widely in the country, it is important to closely examine these practices and discuss from various angles how often Saturday classes should be held and in what ways.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 18, 2013)
(2013年2月18日01時26分  読売新聞)

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通貨安競争 対立の火種を残したG20声明

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 19, 2013)
G-20 meeting failed to resolve cause of conflict
通貨安競争 対立の火種を残したG20声明(2月18日付・読売社説)

Industrialized nations--including Japan, the United States and European countries--and China and other emerging nations have agreed to avoid "currency competition" in which currencies are guided lower.

It is laudable that the Group of 20 meeting in Moscow avoided naming Japan in connection with recent weakening of the yen, but it did not quench the underlying fire that could blaze up again into a new confrontation.

The meeting was attended by finance ministers and central bank chiefs from 20 principal economies.

Since its inauguration in December, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has adopted an economic policy dubbed "Abenomics" that combines drastic monetary easing with flexible fiscal measures, but which has led to the rapid weakening of the yen. This was a focus of G-20 discussions because emerging and some other member countries suspect Japan intentionally induced a weakening of the yen.

The joint statement adopted by the G-20 economies stated they would refrain from "competitive devaluation" and "will not target our exchange rates for competitive purposes." No reference was made to Japan in this regard although it was a matter of concern.

Finance Minister Taro Aso, who also serves as deputy prime minister, denied Japan intentionally weakened the yen and explained that the government's aim was to lift Japan out of deflation. It seems his explanation won a certain degree of understanding.


Oblique warning to Japan

Concerning monetary policy, the statement said it should be "directed only at price stability and economic recovery" and adverse impacts would be monitored closely and minimized. This could be interpreted as a warning to Japan that its economic policy should not adversely affect exchange and other markets.

Brazil, Mexico and other emerging economies are vigilantly watching excessive capital inflows and the strengthening of their currencies, which could follow the monetary easing measures of Japan, European countries and the United States. Their vexation may strengthen if the yen depreciates further.

For this reason, the government and the Bank of Japan need to exercise care as they carry out Abenomics to lead Japan out of deflation.


Promote growth strategy

The government should not rely only on the yen's weakness. Instead, it must step up efforts to put together concrete measures for the growth strategy that it lists as one of its "three arrows." The other "arrows" are monetary easing and fiscal stimulation.

There is a growing belief in industrial circles that the recent weakening of the yen represents nothing more than a slight correction of its exchange rates that rose to historically high levels and that the currency remains relatively strong.

It is essential for the government and the central bank to call on other countries to understand Japan's situation. But at the same time, Cabinet ministers and special advisers to the Cabinet must refrain from making comments on exchange rates that could affect the markets.

Bright signs have emerged for the world economy as the worst of the protracted European financial crisis appears to be over and the United States has avoided falling off its so-called fiscal cliff.

But the G-20 statement acknowledges that global economic growth is still too weak. This observation is quite natural. The G-20 economies face the heavy challenges of achieving growth and fiscal reconstruction at the same time.

Japan will have to expedite efforts to break away from deflation and achieve economic revitalization, thereby contributing further to the stabilization of the world economy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 18, 2013)
(2013年2月18日01時26分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月18日 (月)

自賠責保険 合理化努力を値上げの前提に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 18, 2013)
Streamline car insurance program before price hikes
自賠責保険 合理化努力を値上げの前提に(2月17日付・読売社説)

If drivers are going to be required to shoulder a greater financial burden, the government must shed light on every problem in the compulsory automobile liability insurance program and reform it into a more transparent, rational system.

Premiums for the compulsory auto insurance that every car owner must take out will be increased by an average of 13.5 percent from April. This is the second significant increase following the 11.7 percent hike in fiscal 2011.

The planned increase is attributed to the deteriorating financial condition of the insurance program. Its accumulated deficits will exceed 500 billion yen at the end of fiscal 2012.

Revenues decreased after premiums for the insurance were drastically lowered in fiscal 2008, while insurance payouts for deaths and injuries caused by traffic accidents have increased.

The purpose of the compulsory auto insurance program is to help victims of traffic accidents. Since the program cannot be sustained unless its financial conditions are improved, we think premium hikes cannot be avoided.

However, we are concerned that insurance payouts have remained high even though the number of traffic accidents and the number of people killed or injured in them have been declining.

Behind it may be an increase in claims made for mild injuries, which are not included in traffic accident statistics, and assessments of damage by nonlife insurance companies, which tend to be more lenient than those for voluntary auto liability insurance.


Check payments

Private nonlife insurance companies manage the compulsory insurance program. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the Financial Services Agency and other government offices should work together to develop a system to check whether insurance money is paid appropriately.

Returns from the insurance premiums are accumulated in reserve funds to use for various projects, including one to help people who suffered permanent damage in traffic accidents. But how the reserve funds are used is problematic, too.

The ministry manages the funds in its special account. To alleviate fiscal difficulties, however, about 1 trillion yen from the reserve funds was transferred to the general accounts in fiscal 1994 and fiscal 1995.

The repayment deadline has been extended repeatedly, so about 600 billion yen has not been returned yet.

With the account balance down to 200 billion yen, the principal of the reserve funds has been used and shrunk because returns from the funds alone no longer cover the costs of running the projects.

Diverting the reserve funds to help traffic accident victims is not the purpose of the compulsory auto insurance. We expect the Finance Ministry and the transport ministry to swiftly carry out their pledge to restore the full amount by fiscal 2018.


In line with the times

Projects to help traffic accident victims and prevent accidents, which are run by the government, nonlife insurance companies and JA Kyosai (Zenkyoren or National Mutual Insurance Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives) with returns from the funds, should also be checked.

Projects to help victims of traffic accidents are important, but it is worth noting that the three organizations' activities often overlap, as with a project to distribute helicopters carrying doctors. Many should be financed by the government's general account or be conducted by nonlife insurance firms as their contribution to society. It is important to scrutinize the necessity and efficiency of the projects.

The government will need to plan a new insurance program in line with the times, such as one with discount premiums for highly safe vehicles equipped with automatic braking systems to prevent accidents.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 17, 2013)
(2013年2月17日01時26分  読売新聞)

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桜宮高教諭免職 暴力許す風潮の一掃を急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 18, 2013)
Sakuranomiya case a chance to stamp out violence at schools
桜宮高教諭免職 暴力許す風潮の一掃を急げ(2月17日付・読売社説)

We hope the firing of a teacher over the suicide of a student at Sakuranomiya High School in Osaka will become an opportunity to stamp out the scourge of violence at schools.

The Osaka Municipal Board of Education has sacked the teacher who was coach of the public school's basketball club. A boy killed himself after being physically abused by the teacher.

It has become apparent that the teacher was poorly suited to being a coach. The board of education was quite right to punish him severely.

The board's decision followed a report by an independent investigation panel consisting of lawyers, which acknowledged that the student committed suicide after being abused by the teacher.

According to the report, the teacher repeatedly slapped the boy's face over his performance in a practice match the day before he killed himself.

"The student suffered physical and mental distress because he was violently abused in front of others," the report said. "There is no way these actions can be justified."

Moreover, the report pointed out that the teacher regularly meted out violent punishment to several other students in the club, mainly by slapping and kicking them. By using the expression "violence," not "corporal punishment," the report showed that the teacher's behavior did not fall within the definition of coaching.


Attitudes must change

The teacher reportedly believed that hitting students was "an effective part of coaching." Some parents of students at the school regard the teacher as a devoted coach, and a petition has been submitted to the board of education calling for him to be treated leniently.

However, schools and parents should take it to heart that attitudes like this have allowed some teachers to commit relentless and unreasonable abuse against students.

The board of education has suspended for six months another teacher at Sakuranomiya who is head coach of its boys' volleyball club because he physically punished a student in November last year. This teacher had been suspended for three months in 2011 for similar actions.

The board also has replaced the school's principal. This reflects the fact that he failed to make a prompt report to the education board after becoming aware that the teacher had again used violence in the volleyball club.

To help Sakuranomiya get back on its feet, most teachers working there should be replaced and extensive training programs must be implemented for new teachers so they will never resort to physical punishment.


Other cases exposed

In addition to Sakuranomiya, a string of cases involving corporal punishment have been revealed during club activities at other schools, including powerhouses such as a track and field club at an Aichi prefectural government-run high school and a wrestling club at a Kyoto prefectural government-run high school.

These reports seem to prove that the misguided perception that some physical punishment can be allowed for the sake of sports victories remains entrenched among many coaches.

Allowing this issue to go unaddressed will ensure there is no end to the vicious cycle in which students who suffered corporal punishment commit similar actions when they later become coaches.

Boards of education nationwide have been conducting surveys on physical punishment following an instruction from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. They must uncover every single case so corporal punishment can be wiped out from schools.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 17, 2013)
(2013年2月17日01時26分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月17日 (日)

PC遠隔操作 サイバー捜査の強化が急務だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 17, 2013)
Police should upgrade skills in fight against cybercrime
PC遠隔操作 サイバー捜査の強化が急務だ(2月16日付・読売社説)

The arrests of four innocent men in a computer virus case has left indelible stains on the reputation of the police. We expect them to investigate the incident thoroughly.

But the police investigation into the case has made significant progress. This month, the joint investigation headquarters consisting of the Metropolitan Police Department and others arrested a 30-year-old information technology company employee in Tokyo on suspicion of interfering with third-party businesses.
The new suspect allegedly obstructed the activities of a major Tokyo comic book show by posting a murder threat on an Internet bulletin board.

However, he denied the allegation, saying he was not the real culprit.

It should be remembered that two of the four men mistakenly arrested in separate incidents related to this case made false confessions. The police appear to have coerced them into confessing.


Collect objective evidence

Strong-arm investigations cannot be tolerated. It is important to accumulate objective evidence to get to the bottom of the case. The police need to analyze data in the suspect's computer, which has been seized as evidence, to look for signs of the production of a virus to operate other people's computers by remote control.

The investigation headquarters believes that the most recently arrested man is the person who sent e-mails to news media and a lawyer, claiming to be the true perpetrator behind the computer virus incidents.

The police found a memory device attached to a cat's collar on Enoshima island in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture--exactly as had been described in one of the e-mails. The device was confirmed to contain data on the design of the remote-control virus used in the incidents.

Meanwhile, a security camera on Enoshima captured a scene that appeared to show a person who looked like the current suspect approaching the cat. This video footage was a clue leading to the suspect's identification.

But if he had not emerged from cyberspace and gone into the real world, would the investigation have gone anywhere?


Partnership with private firms

Cybercrime perpetrators are said to always be one step ahead of the police. To fight such crimes, how could police improve their investigative abilities? The question has yet to be answered.

In the spate of computer virus incidents, "The Onion Router" (or Tor for short), a software program enabling online anonymity, was used. Tor can hide a user's identity by sending messages via several servers abroad.

Investigators were sent to the United States and returned with some relevant data, but there has been no actual progress in tracking the culprit online.

Until they can find culprits hiding in cyberspace, police will not be able to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.

It is important to train police investigators to be computer experts, but it will take a long time. The National Police Agency has therefore decided to enhance its cooperation with private information security companies. It will be beneficial if the knowledge and experience of companies watching and fighting against computer viruses are incorporated into police investigations.

The police should build cooperative relations with the private sector after considering how to control investigative information.

Investigative authorities in the United States and Europe are considering taking countermeasures against the Tor program. The police in Japan must work with investigators in other countries through such methods as sharing information on viruses.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 16, 2013)
(2013年2月16日01時50分  読売新聞)

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日本版NSC 「外交安保」強化へ縦割り排せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 17, 2013)
Abe's envisioned security council must be strong, well organized
日本版NSC 「外交安保」強化へ縦割り排せ(2月16日付・読売社説)

Setting up a government command and control body is significant for dealing with various national security issues.

A government panel of experts considering the creation of a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council held its first meeting Friday. With the panel planning to compile a report this spring, the government aims to submit related legislation during the current ordinary Diet session.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long sought the establishment of a Japanese NSC. This is a second chance for him to take up the challenge.

In April 2007, the first Abe Cabinet submitted a bill to set up such a body to the Diet, but it was scrapped after deliberations on the issue saw little progress due to reasons such as the Liberal Democratic Party's loss in the House of Councillors election in July that year.

Recently, Japan saw a series of incidents that threatened its security, such as North Korea's nuclear test and a Chinese warship directing weapons-targeting radar at a Japanese vessel.

The government's existing security council has lost substance, merely serving as a forum in which the prime minister and other ministers confirm reports from bureaucrats. It is an urgent task to create a real decision-making body in which the prime minister and Cabinet members, including the chief cabinet secretary and foreign and defense ministers, will have substantial discussions on important diplomatic and security matters.


2 key tasks for Japanese NSC

A Japanese NSC would face two crucial tasks.

One is that it will make appropriate political decisions swiftly and give specific orders to better respond to ongoing emergencies. Another is that it will draw up medium- and long-term security strategies and set the direction of the nation's policy and actions to prepare for a crisis.

To that end, it is vital to eliminate the divided administrative functions of the status quo, under which government bodies such as the Foreign and Defense ministries and the police handle security issues separately, and create a new system that will enable all government entities to work together to support the Prime Minister's Office.

The government already has a body, part of the Cabinet Secretariat, that comprehensively coordinates government policies. It is led by assistant chief cabinet secretaries who deal with security, crisis management and diplomatic issues.

It is unrealistic to think the envisaged Japanese NSC will handle every security issue, and if its functions overlap with the existing entity's, the NSC could create inefficiency in government functions. The secretariat of the Japanese NSC basically should be small and staffed with capable personnel while being designed to take full control of relevant ministries and agencies.


Enhance intelligence capability

It is important to enhance the ability of the whole government in gathering and analyzing information, a precondition for making policies.

The recent hostage crisis in Algeria highlighted the difficulty in obtaining information on terrorism and military affairs in developing countries. It is essential for the government to increase the number of intelligence experts and train such personnel in the medium- and long-term.

We also call for reforms of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, which supervises information handled by the whole government. Regarded as an "outpost of the National Policy Agency," the office's current role is far from its original task of allowing government bodies to share and best utilize key information.

The government also needs to develop a legal basis for counterintelligence to prevent sensitive information provided by the United States and other countries from being leaked.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 16, 2013)
(2013年2月16日01時50分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月16日 (土)

iPS研究 実用化を進める法制度が要る

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 16, 2013)
Legal system needed to spur treatment with iPS cells
iPS研究 実用化を進める法制度が要る(2月15日付・読売社説)

What could be a significant first step has been made toward practical medical treatment using induced pluripotent stem cells.

Clinical research by the Riken Kobe Institute on the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an intractable eye disease, has been approved by the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation Hospital, where the research will be conducted.

A Riken team will file an application with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry for the implementation of its clinical research. If approved, clinical research will start in fiscal 2013 at the earliest to confirm the efficacy and safety by conducting iPS cell treatment on patients.

AMD is a disease that advances with age and leads to reduced vision or blindness due to a disorder in some retinal cells. No fundamental clinical treatment has been established. There are reportedly about 700,000 patients in Japan.

The planned treatment calls for applying a cell sheet generated from a patient's stem cells to the damaged retina, thereby restoring the patient's vision.

As for iPS cells, the risk of them becoming cancerous has been pointed out. But eye tissue, including the retina, has little possibility of doing so. It also shows almost no cellular rejection. For these reasons, the treatment of AMD was chosen for the first clinical application of iPS cell treatment.


Approval system defective

A matter of concern is that even if sufficient results are obtained through clinical research, it may take some time before approval is obtained from the health ministry for practical application.

First of all, there is no legal system in place for that type of procedure.

In order for drugs to be approved for use, procedures must be taken in line with the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law. Clinical treatment using iPS cells--generated from patients' own cells--will require screening criteria different from that applied to manufactured drugs, which are foreign to humans.

So the approval system must be revised.

Even in cases of regenerative medicine not using iPS cells, it takes time to obtain approval. Regenerative medicines, such as those using skin and cartilage, have been put into commercial use one after another in South Korea and the United States. In Japan, there are only two such products.

In South Korea, provisional approval is given on regenerative medicines after their safety is confirmed to a certain degree, thereby encouraging the development of such products.

Japan must study a plan to establish a system under which regenerative medical products can be swiftly put into practical use by adopting a temporary approval system similar to South Korea's and giving full endorsement by accumulating safety data after sales begin.


Fiscal assistance vital

It is essential to provide funds to help expand this planned clinical research to the treatment of other diseases, such as heart disease and diseases of the blood. The government will provide 110 billion yen over 10 years to help finance regenerative medicine using iPS cells and the development of new drugs. Research centers must be continuously expanded.

It must be noted, however, that hopes regarding regenerative medicine have led to the emergence of treatment methods whose safety is questionable. The health ministry plans to regulate such practices with a new law. Safety is important but legitimate research should not be constrained.

As symbolized by the fact that Prof. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University received a Nobel Prize for production of iPS cells, Japan's basic research on regenerative medicine is among the world's best. The country should not fall behind in practical applications, either.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 15, 2013)
(2013年2月15日01時20分  読売新聞)

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レスリング落選 五輪のマットが遠くなった

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 16, 2013)
Wrestling, Japanese sports need more influential advocates
レスリング落選 五輪のマットが遠くなった(2月15日付・読売社説)

Wrestling is likely to be removed from the 2020 Summer Olympics, which Tokyo is bidding to host.

We believe this is regrettable, as wrestling has long been a sport Japan has excelled in, with many of the nation's Olympic gold medals coming from wrestling victories. For instance, Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho both won their third straight women's golds at the 2012 London Olympics.

At an executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday, members chose wrestling from among five candidate sports to be dropped from the 2020 Games, in a bid to revitalize the Summer Olympics by replacing the core sports.

Now wrestling has to compete with seven other sports such as baseball/softball and karate to win one open spot for the 2020 Games, but its resurrection is likely to be difficult.


Unexpected decision

Wrestling is a sport with a long history, and was even part of the ancient Games. It also has been part of every Olympics since the inaugural Modern Olympics in 1896, except for the second Games. Since the sport is so closely related to the history of the Olympics, many people were shocked by the voting results.

Apart from wrestling, modern pentathlon, taekwondo, hockey and canoeing were voted on as potential sports to be dropped from the Games. The executive board reportedly studied data of each sport such as statistics regarding athletes and viewers of televised games before making its decision.

Pentathlon and taekwondo were seen most at risk of losing out, but both sports had advocates among the 14 members with voting rights on the executive board. The sports' support organizations also lobbied the executive board for their survival.

In contrast, no one represented wrestling among the 14 executive board members. Wrestling organizations were not careful enough, believing it would never be dropped because of its status as a core Olympic sport. Representatives of the sport in Japan said the voting results seemed to come out of the blue.

The executive board might have felt wrestling was no longer attractive for the IOC because athletes from West European countries, which comprise a major force in the committee, have performed poorly in recent Games.


Japan's declining influence

The latest development is also due to Japan's declining influence in the IOC. Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda is a member of the body but does not hold an executive board post.

It will be very difficult for Japan to lobby its interests and obtain accurate information within the IOC unless it gains a spot on the executive board.

Japan has a similar disadvantage within other sporting organizations besides the IOC. The nation has already suffered from past experiences, such as when the rules on ski jumping were changed to allow taller athletes to use longer ski plates.

It is a general truth that one must quietly accept the rules made by somebody else unless he or she joins the side of the people making and changing the rules. This is not limited to sports.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 15, 2013)
(2013年2月15日01時20分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月15日 (金)

レーダー照射 危険な習総書記の対外姿勢

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 15, 2013)
Xi Jinping must reconsider dangerous hard-line stance
レーダー照射 危険な習総書記の対外姿勢(2月14日付・読売社説)

The Chinese military's actions have produced a potentially explosive crisis and markedly damaged the stability of East Asia. General Secretary Xi Jinping of the Chinese Communist Party should be fully aware of this and must change his hard-line diplomatic stance.

About the incidents in which Chinese Navy vessels directed fire-control radar at a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer and an MSDF helicopter, the Chinese National Defense Ministry denied that they ever happened, saying it did not use fire-control radar. Furthermore, it explained away whatever actions it did take as "normal observation and alert" using observation radars.

The Japanese government carried out a detailed analysis of the frequency of radar waves and other data and found that differences between the two types of radar are apparent. The Chinese side's claims cannot be accepted at all.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta strongly criticized the radar lock-on incidents, stating that they "could create an even greater crisis."

Japan should cooperate with the United States, which shares its concerns, to convince the international community by all possible means of the unreasonableness of China, which tries to evade responsibility for its dangerously provocative actions.


Xi tilts toward military

Behind the radar incidents is Xi's notable hard-line stance.

In mid-November last year, Xi simultaneously took over the offices of party general secretary and chairman of the party's Central Military Commission from Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Unlike Hu, who assumed the post of military commission chief nearly two years after he became party general secretary, Xi was pressed by the need to rapidly solidify his power over the People's Liberation Army. To that end, we believe, he must have judged it indispensable to maintain a hard-line stance toward other countries.

In just two and a half months after assuming the top military post, Xi inspected the army, navy and air force, the armed police forces and also a satellite launch center in western China, which is an integral part of the country's military technology development. He also met party representatives from a strategic missile corps. What stands out in this series of activities are his "brave" statements.

When he inspected the Lanzhou Military Region in early February, he ordered reinforcement of military readiness, saying, "Expand and deepen combat preparedness." He also stressed in December last year when he visited Guangdong Province that to achieve the dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation the country must fully achieve the dream of a strong army.


Can military be kept in check?

Such an attitude on the part of Xi is seen as enabling the provocative actions of the military, which has become increasingly confident due to the military expansion.

Xi is a civilian but has experience working for the PLA. Due to his experience, the military side may expect further expansion of military budgets. We fear there may be no stopping military expansion under the Xi administration.

Except for Xi, all members of the military commission, which is the leadership of the Chinese military forces, are military personnel. Some observers see an institutional problem, asking whether civilian control can effectively function in such a system.

Can the Xi administration control the military and prevent its forces from running loose? We hope Xi understands such concern, shared among members of the international community, before taking his next actions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 14, 2013)
(2013年2月14日01時05分  読売新聞)

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オバマ演説 「北の核」対処へ行動が肝心だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 15, 2013)
Obama to face global challenges over the next 4 years
オバマ演説 「北の核」対処へ行動が肝心だ(2月14日付・読売社説)

U.S. President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize by declaring it was time to seek "a world without nuclear weapons."
However, the president has been hit by a harsh reality from North Korea that is contradictory to this ideal.

Obama laid out Tuesday his priorities for the year ahead in his first State of the Union address for his second term in office.

The president issued a warning to North Korea, which went ahead with a nuclear test before the speech, making it clear that the United States will take "firm action" against Pyongyang.

Obama said "provocations" like the test "will only isolate [North Korea] further." The United States will "lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats," he added.

Obama also pledged his country will work to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, while engaging Russia to seek further reductions in nuclear warheads.

The United States should eliminate nuclear threats by putting pressure on North Korea through sanctions, while at the same time working closely with other countries concerned through various diplomatic channels. We hope that the president will take concrete action.


U.S. determined to take lead

In addition to nuclear issues, Obama emphasized that the United States will take steps against cyberterrorism, champion freedom and democracy, and provide support to Middle Eastern and African countries in their fight against extremists.

The speech conveyed Obama's strong determination that the United States should play the leading role in maintaining global security as the world's sole superpower, by working closely with other countries at a time when the country plans to withdraw more troops from Afghanistan.

The question is how he will achieve results.

Tuesday's speech did not discuss what a strategy placing importance on Asia actually means or how the United States should regard China. These issues, however, are also among key issues in the diplomatic and security fields for Obama's second term.

The speech also focused on fiscal reconstruction and reviving the U.S. economy as priority challenges for domestic affairs.

Early last month, the United States avoided the fiscal cliff--the expiration of large-scale tax cuts and the automatic imposition of mandatory spending cuts--after the president and Congress reached a deal.

However, the U.S. fiscal administration remains on a tightrope as the two sides have been divided over implementation of drastic fiscal reconstruction measures. There are just weeks left until March 1, the date to which the automatic spending cuts were delayed under the deal.


Looming clash with Republicans

In the speech, Obama said it is important to "reignite the true engine of America's economic growth--a rising, thriving middle class." He showed his focus on middle-income earners and called for Republicans to make major concessions to achieve fiscal reconstruction mainly through overhauling the medical insurance and social security systems, which face ballooning costs.

As Obama took a clearly confrontational approach to Republicans, the two sides are expected to go through a still fiercer tug-of-war.

However, mandatory spending cuts would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy, which is just getting onto a recovery path. Major cuts in defense expenditures also might jeopardize U.S. security systems in Asia and other parts of the world.

Obama also expressed his determination to complete negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework as part of efforts to expand employment in his country. Japan should accelerate efforts to take part in it.

With piles of issues at home and abroad, Obama's leadership will be called into question. He will surely face a series of challenges.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 14, 2013)
(2013年2月14日01時05分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月14日 (木)

階段昇降機「リフテック」 これは便利ですね!






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北朝鮮核実験 国際連携で制裁を強化せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 14, 2013)
World must unite to halt Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions
北朝鮮核実験 国際連携で制裁を強化せよ(2月13日付・読売社説)

North Korea's nuclear weapons development has entered a more dangerous stage. In light of the deteriorating security environment, Japan should strengthen its deterrence against Pyongyang in cooperation with the United States and other countries.

On Tuesday, North Korea went ahead with its third underground nuclear test. It was the first nuclear test under the regime of Kim Jong Un.

Pyongyang boasted that it successfully conducted a "high-level" nuclear test using "a miniaturized and lighter" nuclear device with greater explosive force than those used in the previous tests in 2006 and 2009. North Korea apparently aims to develop a nuclear warhead.

Given that North Korea also tested a long-range ballistic missile in the guise of a satellite launch in December, marking a dramatic extension of its missile range, there is no doubt that the country has moved a step closer to bringing nuclear missiles to the stage of practical use.


Serious threat to Japan

It was only natural for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to make a statement strongly condemning North Korea's nuclear test, saying it is "totally unacceptable" as it "constitutes a grave threat to Japan's security."

Japan will come under the most serious threat due to deployment of nuclear missiles by North Korea. This is because Japan is within striking distance of North Korea's medium-range Rodong missiles, about 200 of which are believed to have already been deployed.

It is essential to improve Japan's missile defense capability based on cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military as well as to guarantee the reliability of the U.S. "nuclear umbrella," which Japan, a nonnuclear nation, relies on as a deterrent.

We commend Abe for immediately tightening Japan's unilateral sanctions against North Korea by banning the reentry of vice chairmen and other senior officials of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) if they leave for North Korea. The prime minister should discuss additional measures.

Although it suspended production of plutonium for nuclear weapons, North Korea has resumed its enrichment of uranium. Therefore, it could begin mass production of nuclear weapons using enriched uranium. The international community must make all-out efforts to stop North Korea's further nuclear and missile development.

The latest nuclear test by North Korea is a major test also for South Korean President-elect Park Geun Hye, who will officially take office on Feb. 25. The Japan-U.S. alliance must be strengthened as a matter of course and it is also crucial to establish a crisis management system between Japan, the United States and South Korea.


Stronger U.N. sanctions needed

The U.N. Security Council must adopt a new resolution calling for stronger sanctions against North Korea.

On Jan. 22, the Security Council adopted a resolution to expand sanctions against North Korea after it fired a missile in December and warned of "significant action" if North Korea went ahead with a nuclear test.

But North Korea has conducted missile and nuclear tests repeatedly in defiance of Security Council resolutions because the adopted sanctions lacked practical effect.

To break this vicious circle, the Security Council should adopt comprehensive and practical sanctions and implement them thoroughly.

In connection with nuclear and missile development, North Korea has deep relations with Iran and Pakistan. With Iran, North Korea concluded an agreement on science and technology cooperation last autumn. The international community must strictly restrict and monitor the movement of goods, money and personnel to prevent North Korea promoting nuclear and missile development.

It is necessary to study comprehensive financial sanctions while bringing into perspective a plan to include financial institutions that do business with North Korea on the sanctions list. It is also important to impose mandatory inspections of cargoes suspected to be banned trade items such as weapons of mass destruction and related materials.

North Korea said it will regard ship inspections as a blockade at sea and retaliate with a "military strike." Its moves must be constantly watched.

The role of China, a permanent Security Council member, is crucial.

China accounts for 70 percent of North Korea's trade. The country has transshipment ports for many vessels from North Korea. It holds the power of life or death over North Korea as the biggest supplier of energy and food aid.

Ostensibly, Beijing expressed its "absolute objection" to North Korea's nuclear test. But it hesitated to impose sanctions for fear of the Korean Peninsula being destabilized, thereby tacitly encouraging North Korea's nuclear development.

The Global News, a Chinese newspaper affiliated with the People's Daily, the organ of the Chinese Communist Party, has insisted on not hesitating to cut assistance if North Korea conducted a nuclear test. The Chinese government led by Xi Jinping must deal with North Korea sternly and put strong pressure on it to give up its nuclear ambitions.


Economic recovery unlikely

Kim Jong Un's slogan of "improving the people's livelihoods" shows no sign of being achieved. It seems he has no means of winning over the military and public sentiment other than boasting of nuclear and missile tests.

Fear of being targeted by a North Korean missile attack is growing even in the United States. With this as leverage, the Kim regime intends to open the possibility of dialogue with Washington. It probably aims to have economic sanctions lifted and to gain U.S. assurances of the safety of the current regime, all while keeping its nuclear arms.

But negotiations with Pyongyang should not be conducted easily. The international community should not lift sanctions on North Korea as long as it does not take concrete action to relinquish its nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang must be aware that its own behavior will ultimately undermine its regime.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 13, 2013)
(2013年2月13日01時17分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月13日 (水)

電力制度改革 安定供給の実現を大前提に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 13, 2013)
Power industry reform must ensure stable power supply
電力制度改革 安定供給の実現を大前提に(2月11日付・読売社説)

Reform of electric power systems must contribute to the achievement of a cheap and stable supply of electricity.

The government should carefully proceed with reform of the power industry by fully considering its effectiveness and side effects.

An Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry panel of experts has compiled a draft plan for reform of power systems. It proposes full liberalization of retail sales of electric power by 2016 and the separation of power generation business and power transmission and distribution business in five to seven years by requiring power companies to set up separate group companies for those businesses.

In the wake of power shortages after the Great East Japan Earthquake and increases in electricity charges implemented by Tokyo Electric Power Co., users have become increasingly discontent with the current regional monopolies held by utilities, under which users cannot freely choose which power company to use.

We understand the aim of the reform plan to widen the range of options for users by facilitating new entries into the markets and increasing competition among power companies.


Many expecting lower rates

Many people probably expect lower electricity charges as a result of competition in liberalized markets. But there are many problems associated with hasty reform.

As for contracts with companies and other large-lot users, retail sales and electricity charges have already been liberalized. Despite this, the share of newcomers in sales stands at somewhere between a mere 3 percent and 4 percent. Indeed, major power companies enjoy powerful monopolies.

If the markets were fully liberalized under these circumstances, "unregulated monopolies" may undermine any benefits to users and instead increase electricity charges. We call for further innovative efforts to create an environment to allow newcomers to easily enter the markets.

It also is necessary to consider the current electric power shortage, with only two of the nation's 50 nuclear reactors operating. The shortage should be quickly solved through such measures as restarting nuclear reactors whose safety is confirmed.


Adjusting power supply difficult

Meanwhile, separating power generation and transmission businesses would make it more difficult to fine-tune the amount of power generated in line with demand, compared to the current combined system for power generation and transmission. And if competition intensifies, business operators may hesitate to make necessary investments in facilities and equipment by placing priority on cutting costs.

Large-scale blackouts have taken place in other countries due to a lack of cooperation between power generation and transmission businesses or curbed investment. Implementing reforms before ensuring a vitally important stable power supply would truly be putting the cart before the horse.

It will be essential to update power infrastructure, including power plants and transmission grids, in a well-planned manner, and establish systems to maintain it. The government should carefully design systems in its reform to prevent adverse effects from occurring.

During the process of shaping the reform plan, unexpected issues not currently in the spotlight are likely to emerge.

It is important to flexibly review the draft road map produced by the panel of experts depending on circumstances by considering the timing of implementation of the reform plan as merely rough targets at this time.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 11, 2013)
(2013年2月11日01時12分  読売新聞)

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農業政策 攻めの戦略で自由化に備えよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 13, 2013)
Prepare for liberalization with aggressive agricultural strategy
農業政策 攻めの戦略で自由化に備えよ(2月11日付・読売社説)

Japanese agriculture obviously needs to enhance its competitiveness and reform itself to withstand further trade liberalization.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has established a headquarters for promoting aggressive agricultural, forestry and fishery industries. The headquarters will reportedly discuss steps to expand agricultural exports, and those steps will be reflected in a growth strategy the government plans to compile.

In the headquarters' first meeting, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said, "We want to help producers to increase their added value, well satisfying consumer demand, and to tap the full extent of the latent strengths of the agricultural, forestry and fishery industries."

We have no objection to this basic policy. The question is whether the government can introduce measures to back it up.

So far, discussions of agriculture under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can hardly be considered aggressive.

The fiscal 2013 budget symbolizes this. The agriculture-related budget increased for the first time in 13 years, but we wonder how much it will strengthen the competitiveness of the nation's agriculture.


Throwing money at farms

Expenditures for land improvement projects, significantly cut when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power, have been restored. Taking the fiscal 2012 supplementary budget into consideration, this expenditure amounts to about 600 billion yen.

The income compensation system for individual farming households, under which subsidies are handed out uniformly, has been left untouched. Its budget remains basically the same as in the previous year, when funds were earmarked for it under a different name.

Government policy that attached too much importance to rice, which is produced mostly by part-time farmers, caused a decline in agriculture. Meanwhile, there is no sign that the graying of the farm population will stop.

The government must thoroughly promote a policy of expanding the size of farms by increasing the number of vigorous young new entrants, including those from different industries, as well as by concentrating farmland and funds into core farms with excellent management sense.

The "multifunctionality direct payment system" that the Liberal Democratic Party has begun to discuss, with the aim of introducing it in fiscal 2014, is also problematic.

Considering that farmlands have multiple functions such as protecting national land and communities, the envisaged system will provide income compensation to all farmers maintaining farmlands.

Merely further expanding subsidy-laden agricultural policies will never brighten the prospects of the nation's agriculture.


Focus on productivity, value

The proportion of full-time farmers is high among vegetable, fruit and dairy farmers. They increase the added value of their products on their own initiative and compete with products from overseas in the market.

Rather than offering subsidies as an easy solution, it is necessary to create a system to increase productivity and expand sales channels at home and abroad.

Regulatory reform is essential to nurture agriculture as a growing industry. The government's reinstated Regulatory Reform Council should also take a scalpel to the Agricultural Land Law as well as such regulations as the agricultural cooperative system--both of which hinder companies from entering agricultural businesses.

Opposition has been growing within the LDP against the country's entering into negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral free trade framework.

To prevent "aggressive agriculture" from ending up as an empty slogan, Abe should decide to enter the TPP negotiations at an early date. It is necessary to accelerate agricultural reforms and prepare for the TPP.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 11, 2013)
(2013年2月11日01時12分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月11日 (月)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 9
EDITORIAL: What is Abe's real motive for collective self-defense?

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a first step toward allowing Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense. At Abe's request, an advisory council of experts has begun to discuss the issue.

Abe says the move is aimed at strengthening Japan's security alliance with the United States.

In what way, then, does he want to change the bilateral alliance? Won't the change that he envisions set the stage for a gradual erosion of the pacifist principles of the postwar Constitution?

Abe should offer clear answers to these and other key questions at the outset of the policy debate on this issue.

If Japan were to exercise its right to collective self-defense, it would regard an attack on the United States, Japan’s ally, as an attack against itself and mobilize its Self-Defense Forces to fight against the attacker along with the United States.

In the postwar period, Japan has consistently held the position that its use of armed force must be limited to the minimum necessary for self-defense under the restrictions imposed by the war-renouncing Constitution.

According to the traditional interpretation of the government, Japan would cross the line and violate the Constitution if it enters war to help defend the United States when Japan has not been attacked directly.

Abe, however, argues that Japan needs to change this interpretation so that it will be able to defend the United States in certain situations. Otherwise, he says, the trust between Japan and the United States will collapse.

Tension has been mounting between Japan and China due to a fresh flare-up of their territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, while North Korea has continued test-firing missiles and carrying out nuclear tests in defiance of international calls for an end to these weapons programs. Abe's push for collective self-defense is likely designed partly to put pressure on these neighbors.

In making his case, Abe has often cited the following scenarios: an attack has been launched against a U.S. warship operating close to an SDF vessel; or, a missile that could be headed toward the United States is detected by Japanese radar.

According to the government's current view, however, in cases where a U.S. vessel sailing alongside a Japanese ship comes under attack, the SDF ship is permitted to strike back as a way to defend itself.

As for the second scenario, Japan's current missile defense system doesn't have the ability to shoot down a missile flying toward the United States.

Moreover, the defense systems of Japan and the United States are already linked closely and strongly.

In modern warfare, certain kinds of information are crucial for securing a victory, such as the locations of submarines and signs of missile launches and their trajectories, and the two countries share a broad array of such vital information.

What, then, does Abe want to realize beyond the current level of bilateral defense cooperation?

The security situation in East Asia is changing dramatically, and it is probably necessary to adjust the bilateral security cooperation flexibly in response to these changes. But why should that require Japan to commit itself to collective self-defense?

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party is seeking to enact a fundamental law for national security that would allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense in a wide range of situations.

Is Abe trying to use this legislation to brush aside the constitutional principle of limiting the use of armed force to the minimum necessary for self-defense and the safeguards Japan has built up over the years to protect that principle?

If so, his initiative will only undermine Japan's national interests.

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復興庁1年 現場主義で地域再生加速せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 11, 2013)
1-year-old Reconstruction Agency must listen to front-line voices
復興庁1年 現場主義で地域再生加速せよ(2月10日付・読売社説)

Sunday marks the first anniversary of the establishment of the Reconstruction Agency, which supervises government efforts to reconstruct areas hard-hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

There are many disaster-related issues to be dealt with, such as collective relocation of people in affected areas, development of social infrastructure and countermeasures against the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government should do its best to accelerate reconstruction projects.

This month, the agency established a head office for the reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture from the March 11, 2011, disaster, and appointed Yukiyoshi Minehisa, former vice minister of the agency, as its first secretary general.

The new office was established to supervise three outposts of relevant ministries in Fukushima Prefecture: the agency's Fukushima reconstruction bureau, the Environment Ministry's Fukushima environment restoration office and the Cabinet Office's local headquarters to deal with the nuclear crisis at the crippled Fukushima plant. It aims to correct sectional approaches to reconstruction of the area.

Restoration of Fukushima Prefecture is lagging behind that of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. We praise the agency for building a system to listen to the voices of people in the area and to make necessary policy decisions quickly by stationing Minehisa in the prefecture as head of the new office.

The agency will also establish a Tokyo headquarters for reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture comprising directors general of relevant government offices. The agency said efforts for reconstruction of the prefecture would be enhanced with two "head offices," one in Tokyo and the other in the prefecture.


Much of budget still unused

As of September, only 51 percent of the reconstruction budget had been paid out. The implementation rate was particularly low--only 18 percent--for funds appropriated for nuclear decontamination, mainly because development of interim storage facilities for radioactively contaminated soil and other materials has been delayed, including securing land for such facilities.

With the establishment of the head office, the government should work harder to negotiate with local governments concerned and seek their agreements to host such facilities.

In the fiscal 2013 draft budget, the government allocated 4.38 trillion yen, up 608.6 billion yen from the fiscal 2012 budget, to the special account for disaster reconstruction. The government also raised the ceiling of the reconstruction budget by 6 trillion yen from the original 19 trillion yen over five years.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government was criticized when a huge amount of funds was found to have been allocated for many projects irrelevant to reconstruction of the disaster-hit areas, under the name of "nationwide disaster management projects."

It was appropriate that the allocation of money for nationwide disaster management projects was narrowed down in the fiscal 2013 draft budget to 130 billion yen from 941.2 billion yen at the budget request stage, by limiting use of the budget to projects directly related to protection of human life.


Eliminate wasteful spending

The reconstruction budget is financed mainly with revenues from income, residential and other taxes that were raised to aid reconstruction. The budget must be concentrated on projects that are absolutely necessary, without allowing any wasteful spending. We expect the government to scrutinize the cost-effectiveness of the projects and work with private companies to achieve synergy.

Reconstruction grants for 40 projects under five ministries, such as development of public housing for people affected by the disaster and redevelopment of residential areas, were doubled to 591.8 billion yen.

However, governments of small municipalities affected by the disaster still often cannot spend their grants because they do not have enough expert staff specialized in engineering.

It is important to enhance assistance for such governments in terms of human resources by utilizing retired public servants and engineers from the private sector.

The government allocated 10 billion yen, more than double the figure in fiscal 2012, to the reconstruction promotion budget to support projects such as holding events and disseminating information, which involve multiple government offices.

The government should take careful action based on the actual needs of the areas affected by the disaster.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 10, 2013)
(2013年2月10日01時02分  読売新聞)

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アフリカとテロ 武装勢力封じ込めが急務だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 11, 2013)
Time to slam the door on terrorist forces in Africa
アフリカとテロ 武装勢力封じ込めが急務だ(2月10日付・読売社説)

Armed Islamist extremists have been expanding their influence over regions in the outer reaches of the Sahara Desert. They have stepped up terrorist attacks, abductions and other criminal acts. Ten Japanese were killed when Islamist militants took dozens of hostages in Algeria in January.

To prevent North and West Africa from becoming a breeding ground of terrorism, now is the time for the international community to think hard about how to beef up assistance to these areas.

A European Union summit meeting decided Friday on a package of measures to help North African countries bolster border controls and reform their security organs.

It can be said the need for assisting these nations' efforts to enhance security has become a matter of urgency, in addition to aid for speeding up democratization and extending economic assistance to them. This reflects the growing sense of crisis among EU members over the increasing rampancy of Islamist militants, who can easily cross national borders.

The tumult in northern and western Africa was spawned by the Arab Spring that started two years ago, in which dictatorial regimes in such countries as Egypt and Libya were toppled one after another. During their transition to new political systems, some of these nations have made little headway toward democratization and their economies have remained in the doldrums. Furthermore, their ability to maintain public security has declined.


Arms, ex-mercenaries from Libya

The chaos in major powers in Africa has opened the door to rising Islamist extremists, whose activities had been kept under control previously. The turmoil in Mali is representative of this.

Former mercenaries and weapons from Libya have flooded into Mali, touching off ethnic conflicts and triggering a military coup d'etat that rocked the government. During the confusion, armed Islamist forces swooped in and took control of northern Mali.

The fight against terrorism in Africa is focusing at this moment on overcoming the armed Islamist forces in Mali.

The intervention by French forces has helped recapture major Malian cities from the militants. However, containing the Islamist militants will require the cooperation of foreign militaries for the time being.

To prevent areas in and around the Sahara from becoming terrorist strongholds, countries in the region must strengthen their security capabilities.

European countries that have strong historical ties with Africa should assume particularly heavy responsibilities in this respect.


TICAD V to be held in June

Security issues in Africa cannot be divorced from Japan. Many Japanese companies have operations in parts of Africa with rich natural resources and where rapid economic growth is expected. The importance of this country's cooperation with African nations is increasing.

Following the hostage-taking incident in Algeria, the Japanese government decided to extend assistance to help stabilize regions near the southern edge of the Sahara, northern Africa and the Middle East. At the Donors' Conference on Mali held in late January in Addis Ababa, Japan pledged funds for the relief of refugees and construction of a U.N. training center for peacekeeping operations.

In addition, Japan will host the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) in Yokohama in June. Japan has held TICAD conferences every five years since 1993 and invited leaders from African countries.

Efforts to boost international cooperation to fight poverty and disease in Africa are still important, but assistance to improve security there must be ramped up.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 10, 2013)
(2013年2月10日01時02分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月10日 (日)

東電経営悪化 現実的な政府支援が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 10, 2013)
TEPCO needs govt aid to deal with Fukushima compensation
東電経営悪化 現実的な政府支援が必要だ(2月9日付・読売社説)

Management reconstruction of the troubled Tokyo Electric Power Co. is becoming increasingly uncertain.

If its business erodes further, the power company might have difficulty dealing with the crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and stably supplying electricity to its customers. The government should consider additional official assistance as quickly as possible.

TEPCO has revised downward its projection of its after-tax deficit in the fiscal year ending in March to 120 billion yen from its initial expectation of 45 billion yen.

The drastic revision was made because the firm's business has come under heavy pressure from soaring costs of fuel for thermal power generation, needed to make up for the shortage of electricity resulting from the substantial delay in the restart of TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture.

Its business has been harmed by the yen's recent appreciation, which has driven up import prices of liquefied natural gas and other fuels for thermal power generation. The comprehensive business plan made last spring to rehabilitate TEPCO has apparently gone wrong in its very first fiscal year.


TEPCO plan hindered

TEPCO also aims to purchase electricity from outside coal-fired thermal power stations because their fuel costs are lower than those of plants using oil or LNG. However, Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara has frowned on the idea, saying, "It will have a negative effect on our efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide."

This policy has turned out to be a hindrance for the rehabilitation of TEPCO.

TEPCO is planning to reactivate nuclear reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in phases, starting in April.

The restart of each reactor is estimated to improve the firm's balance sheet by nearly 80 billion yen a year. Whether nuclear reactors can be reactivated will determine the success or failure of TEPCO's rehabilitation.

However, the Nuclear Regulation Authority is to lay down new safety standards on nuclear plants in July. The new standards are expected to demand additional safety measures such as the installation of filtering vents, which can discharge steam while removing radioactive substances, for the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. That will make the restart even more difficult.

Reactors must be reactivated smoothly once their safety is confirmed. To achieve this, the government has to establish trust with the communities hosting nuclear plants by carefully explaining to them the safety and necessity of nuclear reactors in advance.


Risk of financial failure

Unless TEPCO's business improves in accordance with the initial business plan, lenders might refuse additional financing for the utility, putting it in danger of financial collapse.

Some observers also said TEPCO might be forced to raise electricity charges again, as it did last year. To avoid that, the comprehensive business plan must be revised to a more feasible one at the initiative of the government.

The total amount of compensation TEPCO has paid to people affected by its nuclear crisis has reached 3.2 trillion yen and is expected to increase further. Some experts project the total cost related to the nuclear crisis, including those for nuclear decontamination and decommissioning of the reactors at the crippled plant, is likely to be 10 trillion yen.

The current system dealing with the crisis, which ultimately lays every yen of the gigantic costs on TEPCO, is not feasible. The government, which has promoted nuclear power generation, should shoulder its own share of the burden of compensating people for damage caused by the nuclear crisis.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 9, 2013)
(2013年2月9日01時40分  読売新聞)

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集団的自衛権 安全保障法制を総点検したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 10, 2013)
Legal basis for national security must be thoroughly reviewed
集団的自衛権 安全保障法制を総点検したい(2月9日付・読売社説)

When formulating national security policy, it is vital to first think about what should be done, not just what can be done under the current Constitution and laws.

A government advisory panel discussing reconstruction of the legal basis for national security has submitted a report to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has proposed allowing the nation to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

The panel, which was set up by the first Abe administration, compiled the report in June 2008 after Abe left office, and specifics were never worked out. This is a second opportunity for Abe to take up the issue.

The report is significant in terms of ensuring Japan's security. We want Abe to use it to pave the way for comprehensive legal arrangements.

The report calls for Japan's exercise of the right to collective self-defense, enabling the nation to counterattack if, for example, U.S. Navy vessels are attacked during joint military drills or if ballistic missiles are fired at the Untied States.

For international peacekeeping operations, the report proposes that the Self-Defense Forces be allowed to use force to defend other countries' troops who come under attack nearby.

It also seeks a review of the government's current interpretation that logistical support for other countries' militaries constitutes a breach of the Constitution, as such an act is regarded as an integrated part of the use of force by the countries that receive the support.


Govt's interpretation bizarre

If Japan refrains from protecting U.S. Navy vessels and intercepting missiles launched against the United States based on the bizarre constitutional interpretation that Japan has the right to collective self-defense but is not allowed to exercise it, the Japan-U.S. alliance will collapse.

The current situation, in which only SDF members are excessively bound by legal restrictions during international peacekeeping missions, should be improved swiftly.

The report also calls for actions such as Cabinet approval of a basic security policy and measures to avoid abuse of the right to collective self-defense, including establishing related laws. The content of the report appears good enough to obtain understanding both at home and abroad.

Of course, it is no easy task to establish related laws under the divided Diet, in which the ruling camp controls the House of Representatives while opposition parties hold a majority in the House of Councillors. Even New Komeito, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's junior coalition partner, and the Cabinet Legislation Bureau are cautious about a review of the current constitutional interpretation.

It is inevitable that specifics of the report will be worked out after this summer's upper house election. However, it is important for the government and ruling parties to discuss the issue thoroughly in advance.


Narrow legal gap

Meanwhile, Abe has asked the advisory panel to look into security issues that could require legal arrangements, with the exception of four cases already examined by the panel. We view this as an appropriate call to respond to Japan's deteriorated security environment, nearly five years after the report was compiled.

Near the Senkaku Islands, the Chinese military has continued provocative acts. It is a high priority for the government to task the SDF with a new territorial defense mission and address such issues as the use of force to narrow the legal gap between the right to policing an area and the right to self-defense.

We also urge the government to consider expanding those protected by Japan's collective self-defense to include not only U.S. military vessels nearby but also those operating in distant waters and U.S. military aircraft.

We call on the government to comprehensively examine security issues with the aim of establishing permanent laws, including a fundamental law on national security and others concerning the overseas dispatch of SDF personnel.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 9, 2013)
(2013年2月9日01時40分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月 9日 (土)

国会同意人事 事前報道で拒む参院民主の愚

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 9, 2013)
DPJ must not repeat folly over government appointments
国会同意人事 事前報道で拒む参院民主の愚(2月8日付・読売社説)

We cannot help but be flabbergasted at the attitude of the Democratic Party of Japan in the House of Councillors. It is as if the DPJ has reverted to its outdated pattern of dogmatic "out-and-out opposition."

Azuma Koshiishi, the head of the DPJ's upper house caucus, said in a news conference Thursday that his party intends to reject a government offer to discuss a plan to appoint former Administrative Vice Finance Minister Kazuyuki Sugimoto as the next chairman of the Fair Trade Commission.
Koshiishi said the offer will be rejected on the grounds that the government's candidate for the position was made public in The Yomiuri Shimbun and other media prior to the official announcement.

Koshiishi's argument leverages a rule that government appointments reported in advance in the media should in principal be rejected by the Diet.

The DPJ leadership, apparently unnerved by Koshiishi's remark, is seeking to shift its policy in favor of holding discussions on the nomination if the government provides a convincing explanation about the news reports that emerged prior to its submission of the plan to the legislature.


Media's freedom threatened

The latest hubbub has again highlighted the DPJ's inability to muster a unified response to issues surrounding its policies.

The rule on nominations requiring Diet approval was set when the Diet became divided after the 2007 upper house election, which saw the ruling camp lose its majority in the upper house but retain control of the House of Representatives.

At that time, the DPJ and other opposition parties that held a majority in the upper house sharply objected to the fact that several government nominations to executive posts of government bodies were reported in the media prior to their official announcements. They argued that advance media reports were tantamount to stripping Diet deliberations of their substance and importance.

There may yet be, however, other cases where high-profile government personnel appointments may be reported before being officially announced.

The rule carries significant risk of eroding the freedom of the press to gather and report news. It could also be exploited through the deliberate leaking of information to the media to nullify the government's intended appointments. The rule is clearly more harmful than beneficial, and must therefore be scrapped.

In July, during the DPJ-led administration, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party opposed the government's appointment of the head and other executives of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, as reporting of the planned appointees preceded the official announcements. Has the DPJ already forgotten that it proposed the abolition of the rule at that time?


End futile bickering

Shortly before Koshiishi's statement, DPJ Secretary General Goshi Hosono went on record in favor of the rule's abolition, saying, "When we were in power, [the rule] annoyed us."

As the ruling and opposition blocs had been operating in the current Diet session under the basic assumption that the rule would be abolished, Koshiishi's rash statement constitutes a serious stumbling block to cooperation.

This futile bickering, with the DPJ and the LDP changing their positions in relation to which party currently holds power, must end.

Many personnel appointments requiring Diet approval are high on the agenda, including such important posts as FTC chief and head of the NRA.

Of particular note is the issue of who will take the helm of the Bank of Japan to replace current Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa, who will resign March 19.

The government's previous nomination for the head of the central bank in 2008 was voted down in the upper house due to opposition from the DPJ, which was then out of power. As a result, the crucial post was left vacant for nearly one month.

Is Koshiishi really determined to persevere with his adherence to this detrimental rule?

The DPJ's return to the old-fashioned opposition party tactic of objecting for objection's sake, despite lessons drawn from the experience of being in power, will likely cause voters to turn their back on the party.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 8, 2013)
(2013年2月8日01時27分  読売新聞)

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衆院予算委 首相はTPP参加へカジ切れ

Abe must steer toward participation in TPP talks
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 9, 2013)
衆院予算委 首相はTPP参加へカジ切れ(2月8日付・読売社説)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must look positively at participation in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade and economic framework to realize economic revitalization, which is the top priority of his administration.

Deliberations of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, the first full-fledged Diet debate since the launch of the Abe administration, have started.

In response to questions from lawmakers over participation in the TPP negotiations, Abe did not stray from the Liberal Democratic Party's latest election pledge of opposing participation in the negotiations as long as the premise is the abolition of tariffs without exception. Regarding the Japan-U.S. summit meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama scheduled for late February, Abe only said, "I don't have to bring up participation in the TPP negotiations."

This shows a half-hearted attitude.


Exercise negotiating power

Abe probably took into consideration that wariness within the Liberal Democratic Party toward participation in the TPP negotiations has been gaining momentum. Many LDP members fear losing the support of major LDP support organizations such as agricultural cooperatives with this summer's House of Councillors election in sight.

The LDP is now summarizing members' opinions on the TPP at its Research Commission on Regional Diplomatic and Economic Partnership, but we think there must be difficulties forming a consensus.

Before the lower house election last year, Abe emphasized that the LDP has "bargaining power." As the LDP is now back in the seat of power, it now must make the necessary arrangements to exercise its bargaining power and steer toward participation in the negotiations.

LDP Policy Research Council Chairwoman Sanae Takaichi said during a TV program last month, "There is a small possibility for us to leave the talks after participating in the negotiations if our desired conditions are not met."

Japan must first participate in the negotiations of the pan-Pacific economic partnership agreement and work toward formulating trade rules that will benefit Japan's national interests.

However, the prevailing atmosphere within the LDP is that even the level of commitment in Takaichi's statement should not be allowed.

Some LDP members opposed to participation say there has been no explanation of any concrete advantages of Japan's participation in the TPP.

Participation in the TPP, which is designed to take advantage of the vitality of emerging Asian economies, can become a major pillar for Japan's growth strategy. The government needs to sufficiently explain this and other advantages to the Diet and the public.


Continuously work on China

Meanwhile, ruling and opposition members alike expressed strong concern at the committee meeting about the continuing provocations by China against Japan in the East China Sea.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the locking of fire-control radar on a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer by a Chinese Navy ship is equivalent to a "threat of force." He also pointed out the possibility the action may have violated the U.N. Charter.

Abe expressed eagerness to improve relations with China, saying, "We have problems with China, and that's why we should advance dialogue with them."

As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China bears a great responsibility in maintaining global peace and stability. Japan must cooperate with other nations, including the United States, to continuously and strongly call on China to observe the rules of the international community.

Rising tensions in East Asia will adversely affect both the Japanese and Chinese economies. It is vital for the government to continuously try to persuade China to understand returning bilateral relations to normal will benefit both nations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 8, 2013)
(2013年2月8日01時27分  読売新聞)

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アラフォーの婚活を支援するサイトをご紹介いたします 有料ですが確実です


それは、アラフォー結婚相談所 アイビジョン(I Vision)です。




結婚相談所 アイビジョン

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2013年2月 8日 (金)

思いつくままに 1-4



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--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 6
EDITORIAL: China’s provocative acts are raising the risk of a military clash

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera revealed Feb. 5 that a Chinese warship locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese destroyer operating in the East China Sea last month. In doing so, the Chinese vessel essentially signaled it was preparing to open fire.

In a separate incident earlier in January, a Chinese frigate apparently locked on to a helicopter belonging to Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, according to Onodera.

It remains unclear what caused tensions to suddenly ramp up like this. But what is clear is that the Chinese ships engaged in dangerously provocative acts that could easily have triggered a military clash. Thus, the Chinese actions are completely unacceptable. The Japanese government did the right thing when it lodged a strong formal protest with Beijing over these incidents.

The dispute over sovereignty of the Senkakus has escalated since the Japanese government purchased some of the islands from a private landowner last September. Chinese ships have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the group of islets.

In December, a propeller plane operated by China’s State Oceanic Administration entered Japanese territorial airspace over the islands in the East China Sea. That also added to tensions as China scrambled fighter jets in response to patrolling and monitoring operations by SDF aircraft and U.S. reconnaissance planes.

But the act of putting a radar-lock on a Japanese ship and a helicopter are far more serious in nature than anything that had occurred previously in connection with the dispute.

It has been reported that some members of the Chinese military, as well as the public, are even clamoring to start a war with Japan over the sovereignty issue. It is possible that Beijing is escalating its provocative behavior due to pressure from such belligerent voices at home. If so, this is something we must not overlook. We strongly urge China to exercise self-restraint.

We are deeply concerned that current tensions between Japan and China over the island dispute could touch off an accidental armed clash. The governments of the two countries should act swiftly to establish an effective channel of communication to prevent such a crisis from happening.

Some encouraging signs of diplomatic efforts by both countries to improve the strained bilateral relations finally emerged recently.

Last month, Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of New Komeito, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s junior coalition partner, visited China carrying a personal letter from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In his meeting with Yamaguchi, Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, the country’s new leader, stressed the importance of acting from a “broader perspective” for the sake of further development of the bilateral relationship.

But the radar-locking incidents could shut the window of opportunity for constructive dialogue between the two countries that has finally opened.

China’s Communist Party has set up a new organization for coordinated actions concerning the Senkaku Islands dispute among the military, the State Oceanic Administration and other bodies concerned. The new organization is headed by Xi himself.

It is not clear whether Xi was aware of the military’s use of the radar against a Japanese ship and a helicopter. But he is clearly responsible for what happened. What are his thoughts about these provocative acts, which are totally inconsistent with his call for behavior based on a “broader perspective?”

Other countries are becoming increasingly concerned about the tense standoff between Japan and China.

Last month, before her retirement from office, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a strong warning against further provocative acts by China in connection with the islands dispute. In a news conference after her meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Clinton said, “We oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration” of the islands.

Beijing has effectively ignored this message from the U.S. government.

The international community is becoming increasingly uncomfortable about China’s militant behavior. Beijing should realize that.

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原子力規制委 組織の運営方法に問題がある

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 8, 2013)
Nuclear agency should correct operational problems
原子力規制委 組織の運営方法に問題がある(2月7日付・読売社説)

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has been operating since its launch last year without Diet approval for the government's appointments of its commissioners. This irregular situation will finally come to an end.

The House of Representatives and the House of Councillors have started procedures to retroactively approve the appointments of Chairman Shunichi Tanaka and four other officials. Both chambers aim to vote on the appointments by the end of next week.

"We'll make fair, independent decisions from scientific and technical viewpoints," Tanaka said when he attended a hearing by the lower house's Committee on Rules and Administration on Wednesday.

We hope Tanaka will manage the organization just as he said.

Even after the NRA was launched in September, the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda postponed Diet voting on the appointments of its commissioners out of fear that some members of his Democratic Party of Japan would rebel against the party's leadership.

It is natural for the new Cabinet led by Noda's successor, Shinzo Abe, to ask the Diet to give its approval.

The Diet is likely to approve the appointments because both Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and the DPJ have decided to vote for them.


Screening schedule undecided

The NRA presented last month a draft outline of new safety standards, which include countermeasures against severe nuclear accidents. It will seek public opinion and work out details before setting down new rules by July.

The new standards will be used as the basis for determining whether idled nuclear complexes can be reactivated.

However, Tanaka said he "can't specify" a screening schedule for resuming operations of nuclear reactors. Such an attitude fails to present a clear prospect for ensuring the nation's stable supply of electricity.

As NRA operations have tended to be delayed since its launch more than four months ago, we wonder if the organization has systemic problems.

For example, the NRA has failed to separate the roles of its commissioners and advisory experts.

At the hearing, Tanaka said the commissioners will compile the new safety standards "by taking advantage of their respective expertise."

At the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)--after which the NRA is modeled--commissioners do not carry out day-to-day operations, but are tasked with making judgments on rules compiled by its secretariat or advisory experts, among other matters.


NRA officials play double roles

At the NRA, in contrast, the commissioners also serve as advisory experts. It seems odd that one of the commissioners is obsessed with checking whether active faults run near nuclear facilities.

Even though the NRA plans to set up advisory panels, it has yet to appoint their members. The NRA should establish a system modeled after the NRC to enhance its operational efficiency.

The NRA faces many other issues as well--for example, measures to deal with the aging of nuclear reactors, ways to dispose of radioactive waste and establishing safety standards related to decommissioning some of the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the site of the nuclear crisis following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
We will feel anxious if the NRA moves swiftly forward on these issues without changing its current system.

The NRA also should have more robust personnel arrangements. For this purpose, it should change its position of excluding experts previously involved in the nation's nuclear regulation policies, so as to carry out its operations by garnering knowledge from a wider range of people.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 7, 2013)
(2013年2月7日01時17分  読売新聞)

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レーダー照射 中国軍は危険な挑発を慎め

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 8, 2013)
China should stop playing dangerous game over Senkakus
レーダー照射 中国軍は危険な挑発を慎め(2月7日付・読売社説)

The Chinese Army has crossed a line, taking an action against the Maritime Self-Defense Force that went beyond global military norms. We can hardly tolerate this provocative, and also extremely dangerous, action.

The Japanese government recently revealed that a Chinese Navy frigate locked its fire-control radar onto an MSDF destroyer north of the Senkaku Islands on Jan. 30.

Fire-control radar is used to guide hostile fire--such as missiles--toward a target. Locking the radar onto a target is regarded as tantamount to an attack. Another step in the wrong direction could lead to a military clash.

China has repeatedly provoked Japan on a number of occasions, such as having its ship-based helicopters approach MSDF vessels at extremely close range and sending airplanes from its State Oceanic Administration to intrude into Japanese territory. However, China's latest provocations rise to a new level of outrage.

It was totally appropriate for the Japanese government to reveal the radar incident to the public and lodge a protest with China. "We will urge China to restrain its actions and prevent similar actions from recurring," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.


Global concerns raised

China's high-handed behavior against its neighbors over the East China Sea and the South China Sea has been a concern of Asian countries for some time, but now it has become a common concern of the global community.

Japan should strengthen its cooperation with the United States and countries in Southeast Asia and urge China to rectify its problematic behavior. At the same time, it is important for the government to respond calmly to the matter to keep the situation from escalating further.

The government must also realize that tensions with China in areas around the Senkaku Islands have ratcheted up to an even more dangerous level. The SDF will be required to cooperate more closely with U.S. forces and the Japan Coast Guard to reinforce preparedness for any contingency in the area.

During a party meeting held Jan. 28, Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping rejected the possibility of making any compromise on the nation's "core interests, sovereignty, security and development interests."

However, experts are divided on whether Xi knew about the Chinese frigate's action beforehand or some military officers made the radar decision on their own initiative.

China's Foreign Affairs Ministry said it will confirm the facts of the incident. Having said so, the ministry has a responsibility to thoroughly investigate the incident and reveal the results to the public. It must not try to set the matter aside without clarifying the whole picture.


Rise of 'China threat theory'

During his meeting with New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi on Jan. 25, Xi stressed the importance of dialogue between the two countries. However, after the talks, China perpetrated both the radar incident and a 14-hour intrusion into Japanese waters by a marine surveillance ship--the longest intrusion ever. The incidents present serious problems.

Before leaving office, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly stated she opposes China's strong-arm actions aimed at changing the current status of the Senkaku Islands. On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed concern over China's latest provocative action.

It is likely that countries concerned about China's territorial claims will raise their level of caution against the nation due to the radar incident. It will also likely accelerate the rise of a "China threat theory."

If the Chinese leadership wants to avoid such situations, it should issue clear instructions to its military to contain itself and refrain from provocative behavior.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 7, 2013)
(2013年2月7日01時17分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月 7日 (木)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 5
EDITORIAL: Japan surrounded by an exciting new field of research

The seabed has tectonic plates that can cause devastating earthquakes, but it is also a treasure trove of natural resources. New discoveries concerning the seabed were made after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. Japan, a scientific and technological powerhouse surrounded by the sea, should more aggressively research and develop the seabed.

Japan is small, but it is surrounded by territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone that add up to about 4.47 million square kilometers--the sixth-largest in the world. Since some of these waters are quite deep, Japan ranks fourth in the world in terms of the volume of water that surrounds it.

Japan now has the means to explore these deep waters.

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology's manned research submersible Shinkai 6500 and the drilling vessel Chikyu are finding new things about the seabed. In the supplementary budget for fiscal 2012 that ends in March 2013, the government has earmarked 11.4 billion yen (about $122 million) for the construction of vessels that can look for natural resources in wide seabed areas.

With both the sea and vessels available for research, there is no reason not to take advantage of both.

Marine life is the focus of special attention. Because of the absence of light and the extreme scarcity of nutrients in the sea bottom, conventional wisdom held that few creatures could survive in such an environment.

But 15 years ago, the unmanned submersible Kaiko, which can dive about 11,000 meters deep, discovered a large number of shrimp in the Mariana Trench, south of Japan, the deepest part of the world's oceans. These crustaceans have an enzyme that efficiently changes cellulose, a plant fiber, to glucose. The application of this enzyme could lead to the production of biofuels and food.

Some of the deep sea creatures that survive in severe environments, such as mud volcanoes that erupted in the sea due to earthquakes, are resistant to high heat or carry toxins in their bodies. Their genes could become valuable resources.

The Great East Japan Earthquake resulted in mass breeding of microorganisms in the hypocentral region. This is believed to have been caused by the generation of methane, which occurred when huge volumes of hydrogen were released from cracked rocks. The methane probably "woke up" the microorganisms, which until then must have been in long "hibernation" for lack of nutrients.

We may learn something about the history of our planet from microorganisms that lurk deep down on the ocean floor and have extremely slow-paced lives.

The United States and Europe are paying more attention to the new field of geomicrobiology, which comprehensively covers rocks and marine life. In addition to being a scientifically fascinating field, it could lead to the use of them as resources.

We encourage Japan's young scientists to transcend their narrowly defined disciplines and challenge this highly promising field. It is a bit disappointing for Japan that overseas researchers were the first to show interest in genetic analysis of microorganisms living in the seabed.

Japan needs to develop a system that encourages and values researchers who take on such new challenges. Universities and other institutions should collaborate actively not only in research but also in developing young talent.

As a maritime nation, Japan's ideal attitude would be to aim for a brighter future through marine research and development.

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F35部品輸出 3原則の例外扱いは妥当だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 7, 2013)
F-35 exception to weapons export ban makes sense
F35部品輸出 3原則の例外扱いは妥当だ(2月6日付・読売社説)

It is essential that a defense equipment policy, such as on weapons exports, is implemented from a comprehensive perspective to ensure Japan's national security and interests are safeguarded.

The government is coordinating views in the direction of exempting domestically manufactured parts of the F-35 jet--the Air Self-Defense Force's next-generation fighter--from the nation's de facto ban on arms exports.

This exception to the rules will not only deepen Japan-U.S. defense technology cooperation and fortify the bilateral alliance, but also help maintain and develop Japan's defense technology and production base. We think the government's move toward allowing exports of F-35 components makes sense.

The previous administration under Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda drastically eased the three principles on weapons exports in December 2011 and worked out new criteria, lifting bans on joint development and production of arms with other countries.

While maintaining the conventional principle of "avoiding any possible aggravation of international conflicts," the new criteria call for strict export controls and make it mandatory for any nation with which Japan will develop weapons to agree to such conditions as gaining Japan's prior approval for any transfer of these arms to a third nation.


Joint output has advantages

Developing fighter jets and warships requires huge expenditures. In recent years, the trend has been for two or more countries to undertake such development jointly by harnessing their latest technologies.

If Japan alone shuts itself off from weapons technology while adhering to the rules on its arms export ban, it will fall behind in arms technology and end up having to pay higher prices for weapons. The adverse effects would be immense.

The impact will be especially serious in the production of fighter jets. Domestic production ceased in September 2011, and there are fears the industry will decline. For this reason, Japan's participation in the joint production of F-35s is significant.

The F-35 is a next-generation jet that will be produced jointly with the United States. It has stealth capability that makes it virtually invisible to radar. Israel, which has tense relations with some neighboring nations, plans to introduce the F-35. For that reason, some observers have suggested Japan's production of the fighter could fuel international conflicts.


Japan's involvement limited

However, the F-35's development and production are primarily undertaken in the United States. Japan's role is limited because Japanese firms will be involved only in manufacturing some parts such as engines and radars. Even if Israel adds the F-35 to its fleet, it will not lead directly to destabilizing the Middle East region.

If the principle of avoiding any possible aggravation of international conflicts is applied more strictly than required, even exports of weapons to the United States--an ally of Japan--cannot be permitted. This is an unrealistic policy option.

The security environment surrounding Japan has been deteriorating due to China's military buildup and North Korea's nuclear and missile development. China has been ramping up demonstrative activities in waters around the Senkaku Islands and is developing its own stealth aircraft.

Japan needs to press ahead with a plan to introduce 42 F-35s that started this fiscal year. Along with this, it is indispensable to put joint production of F-35s on track and strengthen international cooperation with the countries involved.

At the same time, the government must explain to the people the reasoning behind its decision on the F-35 to obtain public understanding of its weapons export policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 6, 2013)
(2013年2月6日00時55分  読売新聞)

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ネット選挙 早期解禁へ弊害抑止の議論を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 7, 2013)
Damage from use of Internet in campaigns must be prevented
ネット選挙 早期解禁へ弊害抑止の議論を(2月6日付・読売社説)

While the convenience of the Internet can be useful in election campaigns, its potentially harmful effects must be minimized. It is essential to carefully create a mechanism to ensure fairness in elections.

The Liberal Democratic Party has compiled a bill to revise the Public Offices Election Law, with the aim of lifting a ban on the use of the Internet in campaigns for this summer's House of Councillors election.

Passage of the LDP's bill will enable political parties and candidates to update their websites and send out e-mails. The use of blogs, microblogs such as Twitter and social networking services such as Facebook will also be liberalized.

As the Democratic Party of Japan, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party also support removing the ban in the near future, the ruling and opposition parties will soon begin discussions on the matter. The current times require a review of the outdated law, which was not designed with the use of the Internet for election campaigns in mind.


Increased voter participation

By using the Internet, political parties and candidates will be able to easily distribute information on their policies to a wide range of voters. The Internet can also serve as a means for candidates' swift rebuttal when negative information is circulated about them.

Since low voter turnout among people in their 20s has become a concern, the use of the Internet in election campaigns will help galvanize young people's interest in politics. Additionally, voters living overseas will probably feel closer to politics at home.

The LDP plan proposes a system in which e-mail messages are allowed to be sent only to people who agree to receive them, instead of to many unspecified recipients.

A legal penalty is also included to counter spoofing, in which people falsely assume candidates' names. Furthermore, websites and e-mails must provide e-mail addresses to identify the people in charge of websites and senders of political e-mails.


Effective measures imperative

We applaud the LDP plan for restraining the use of the Internet to some extent rather than allowing unregulated use, to prevent potentially damaging repercussions.

Nevertheless, are these measures sufficient to root out the possibility of malicious obstruction of political parties' and candidates' campaigns? It is important to prepare effective measures by studying relevant cases in countries where Internet usage is prevalent as a reference.

The LDP plan also allows not only political parties and candidates but also general voters to engage in election campaigns via the Internet. For example, anyone will be able to send an e-mail calling for support for a certain candidate.

However, this could lead to rampant negative campaigns in which voters slander candidates they oppose. We are concerned that Internet campaigns waged to cause a candidate to lose, which have spread in the past in South Korea, may also become widespread in Japan.

Each political party needs to thoroughly discuss measures to prevent the Internet from distorting elections and having an adverse impact on their outcome. If effective countermeasures are not implemented, the ban on the use of the Internet in election campaigns should only be partially lifted.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 6, 2013)
(2013年2月6日00時55分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月 6日 (水)

医療機器入超 承認の遅れは競争力を殺ぐ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 6, 2013)
Slow medical device approval hinders intl competitiveness
医療機器入超 承認の遅れは競争力を殺ぐ(2月5日付・読売社説)

We want Japanese makers of medical devices to strengthen their international competitiveness. The government should remove any obstacles that prevent excellent products from being more widely used.

The health ministry has decided to shorten the time required for approval and certification of medical devices. To expand the range of products allowed for screening by private certification bodies, the ministry plans to submit a bill to revise the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law to the current Diet session.

This decision was made after the government's Industrial Competitiveness Council, which is holding discussions on growth strategy, called for deregulation in this field. The Regulatory Reform Council also will take up medical issues. We believe the ministry has taken a proper course of action.

In Japan, an average of about three years is needed from the development of medical devices to approval by the health ministry. As this is about two years longer than in the United States, the time lag is significant.

This has deprived domestic makers of their competitiveness. Although their technological strength is extremely high, commercialization of their products takes far too long, making them reluctant to develop new products or enter the market.


Domination by foreign rivals

Cardiac pacemakers and heart valves, for example, are dominated by foreign companies, with most of them being imported. Imports of medical devices exceed exports by about 600 billion yen annually, indicating how serious the situation is.

Medical devices are a promising growth market. The current situation in which Japanese makers lag far behind foreign rivals must be rectified.

It is crucial to revitalize the domestic industry, strengthen strategies to compete in markets abroad and boost Japan's economic growth.

If cutting-edge products become available for immediate use by shortening the time it takes to approve products, it also will help patients.

The latest decision by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is aimed at expanding the range of products allowed for certification by private entities to those that involve relatively higher risks.


Simplify regulatory process

The range of products--now limited to magnetic resonance imaging and a few other devices--is expected to be expanded to generic versions of contact lenses, dental implants and other products.

In Europe, private entities generally certify medical devices, allowing them to be commercialized quickly. In Japan, we want to accelerate the commercialization and sales of products. Further expansion of the range of products permitted to be certified by private entities is an issue that must be addressed.

Naturally, the safety of medical devices must not be neglected. The government should oversee certification bodies and consider measures to enhance the quality of screening processes.

Regarding subcontractors producing devices for major makers, the health ministry plans to simplify the regulatory process by shifting to a notification system from one in which permission is necessary. This is expected to allow companies to develop products and enter the market more easily.

Slow market penetration is also attributable to the difficulty in carrying out clinical trials for medical devices, in which the effectiveness and safety of products are tested on patients. It is essential to review the current system through such measures as expanding joint clinical trials with overseas institutions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 5, 2013)
(2013年2月5日01時40分  読売新聞)

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警察不祥事 治安の維持へ悪影響が心配だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 6, 2013)
Police scandals threaten nation's public security
警察不祥事 治安の維持へ悪影響が心配だ(2月5日付・読売社説)

Scandals involving police officers, whose task is to protect the safety of the people, show no signs of decreasing. This is a matter of grave concern.

If police lose the public's trust, it may have a negative impact on maintaining public security, as it would become harder for them to obtain public cooperation in investigations. The National Police Agency and prefectural police headquarters must realize the urgency of the problem.

According to the NPA, 458 police officers--including administrative workers--were punished in 2012. Among them, 62 officers were dismissed and 128 were suspended. Ninety-three officers were arrested, the highest figure in the past 10 years.

Topping the list of the reasons for disciplinary measures were sexual offenses including assault and molestation; theft and embezzlement.

Those arrested included an assistant police inspector of the Toyama prefectural police who was held on suspicion of killing an elderly couple he knew and setting fire to their house. An assistant police inspector of the Fukuoka prefectural police was arrested on suspicion of leaking investigative information to men with links to a crime syndicate, and a senior policeman of the Osaka prefectural police was held over sexually assaulting a girl at a swimming beach. All of these incidents were malicious.


Young officers lack morals

Why are scandals occurring so frequently among police officers? Police believe the declining quality of young police officers is one reason. After being arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a girl, a policeman of the Kanagawa prefectural police was quoted as saying: "I've been a chronic molester since I was a high school student. I thought I would be able to quit it if I became a police officer."

It is astonishing that a police officer could so lack a sense of ethics.

In recent years, the NPA and prefectural police headquarters have increased employment as baby boomers hired en masse began retiring. More than 10,000 police officers have been hired each year recently.

It has become increasingly important to recruit people who are competent both physically and mentally. Police should work out methods to scrutinize candidates more effectively, such as putting more emphasis on interviews in order to understand their personalities and internal strengths rather than focusing on written examinations and physical tests.

It is also crucial to increase study and training sessions for young police officers to inculcate them with the philosophy that the duty of police is to serve the public.


Senior officials lack experience

We also should not overlook another problem: the deterioration of abilities of police officers in managerial positions. Cases that illustrate this tendency have been increasing in recent years, such as senior police officials failing to notice fictitious statements in investigation records prepared by subordinates. Some observers point out that due to the rapid generation shift in senior officials in recent years, more and more police officers are assuming managerial positions without sufficient hands-on experience.

Police need to work harder to assess officials' administrative abilities more accurately through performance evaluations and promotion exams.

In the late 1990s, police came under harsh public criticism due to their mishandling of such incidents as the stalking and murder of a female college student in Okegawa, Saitama Prefecture. In response to such criticism, a panel of experts was established, and it made proposals on reforming the nation's police system in 2000. Following the proposals, police later introduced strict punishments for officers involved in scandals, among other reforms.

Initially, the number of police officers subject to disciplinary actions dropped, but three years ago, the figure began increasing sharply. This is a worrying trend. The entire police organization should go back to the basic philosophy of the police reform, and work hard to tighten discipline.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 5, 2013)
(2013年2月5日01時40分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月 5日 (火)

社説:安倍政権の予算 財政再建の道は険しい

January 30, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Budget draft shows gov't faces uphill battle in fixing debt-ridden finances
社説:安倍政権の予算 財政再建の道は険しい

The fiscal 2013 state budget draft, which the government has approved, shows that the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces an uphill battle in rehabilitating debt-ridden state finances.

In drafting the budget, the government trimmed new bonds that it will issue during next fiscal year to below the amount of estimated tax revenue -- for the first time in four years. The government also managed to avoid increasing the total amount of the budget draft from that of the current fiscal year. The budget draft has sent the public a clear message that the Abe administration is determined to save the economy from the prolonged downturn while improving its fiscal discipline.

However, it must be kept in mind that the budget was drafted on the optimistic assumption that an economic stimulus package and other policy measures to be implemented by the government will drastically improve economic conditions. Despite broad tax breaks for businesses, the government estimates that Japan's tax revenue will increase nearly 800 billion yen in fiscal 2013 from the current fiscal year because it projects that Japan's economy will post 2.7 percent nominal and 2.5 percent real-term growth.

In the budget draft, the government is expected to issue less than 43 trillion yen worth of bonds, below the 44 trillion yen upper limit set by the previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan. However, this is also based on the optimistic assumption that interest rates will not increase.

When it released the budget framework for fiscal 2013, the Finance Ministry estimated that it would need to set aside a record 24.6 trillion yen to repay state debts and pay interest on outstanding bonds. However, the government reduced the amount to 22.2 trillion yen in the budget draft because it lowered the assumed interest rates from 2.2 percent in the budget framework to 1.8 percent.

If the government were to predict a boost in the economic situation, it should estimate that interest rates will rise. This reflects the latest market interest rates, but the government should have drafted a budget that can respond to any possible deterioration in the fiscal situation to a certain extent if it intended to maintain fiscal soundness.
Prime Minister Abe proudly said that the government has restored fiscal health because the estimated tax revenue is above the projected amount of state bonds the government will newly issue. However, Japan's fiscal condition is not as sound as the prime minister believes, considering that 5.5 trillion yen worth of construction bonds will be issued to finance public works projects incorporated in the fiscal 2012 supplementary budget.

Moreover, the fiscal 2013 budget draft has raised concerns that emphasis may be placed on quantity rather than quality and on construction projects rather than people. Livelihood assistance benefits will be substantially reduced, but public works spending will increase 16 percent from the current fiscal year although a massive amount of funds to finance construction projects have been allocated for such projects from the fiscal 2012 supplementary budget.

Defense spending will be also increased for the first time in 11 years. The government needs to gain understanding from the public even in repairing and replacing aging infrastructure such as roads and bridges as well as increasing defense outlays, considering Japan's serious state finances.

There are signs that Japan's economy will pick up as the value of the yen has declined and share prices have risen.

However, the question is whether the government can sustain steady economic growth.

If concerns spread about the government's free spending policy while the Bank of Japan has boldly relaxed its monetary grip, it could lead to an increase in interest rates as a result of a sharp fall in the market prices of bonds and eventually to a collapse of the government's economic recovery plans.

Opposition parties have come under mounting pressure to grill the Abe Cabinet over its fiscal rehabilitation policy through Diet deliberations.

毎日新聞 2013年01月30日 02時31分

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自転車事故 厳罰で危険運転にブレーキを

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 5, 2013)
Use harsh penalties to stop dangerous bicycle riding
自転車事故 厳罰で危険運転にブレーキを(2月4日付・読売社説)

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office made a drastic change last month in its policy toward traffic violations involving bicycles.

Prosecutors will now deal strictly with cyclists who repeatedly violate traffic regulations, bringing criminal charges against them.

As cyclists cause accidents, such a policy shift is necessary. We hope the prosecutors spare no effort to make the new policy known widely, thereby curbing traffic accidents.

As driver's licenses are not needed for bicycles, violators will be given a red ticket notifying them that prosecutors will send papers regarding their case to the prosecutors office and begin criminal procedures against them, rather than a blue ticket informing them of administrative punishment.

Previously, prosecutors did not prosecute violators. Under the new procedures, those who violate regulations twice or more will be given summary indictments for violating the Road Traffic Law.


Violators will acquire record

If a violation is confirmed by a summary court, the perpetrator will be fined up to 50,000 yen. Like other criminal offenders, they will have a criminal record.

The prosecutors office in Tokyo will initially focus on summary indictments for those who run red lights, a major cause of serious accidents in Tokyo.

Prosecutors did not prosecute offending cyclists in the past because they considered criminal punishment too harsh, as automobile drivers got off with administrative punishments for minor violations.

However, the Tokyo office has shifted its policy at the request of the Metropolitan Police Department, to reduce dangerous bicycle riding and curb accidents.

In Tokyo, accidents involving bicycles account for nearly 40 percent of traffic accidents. The incidence is about two times higher than the national average.

Fatal accidents have occurred in which cyclists collided with pedestrians and automobile drivers tried to avoid cyclists making sudden and unexpected movements.

Accidents were caused by such factors as running red lights, failure to look ahead properly and erratic riding. Cyclists have been particularly to blame.

Recently, there has been an increase in accidents triggered by cyclists who were talking on cell phones. Many pedestrians have also been put at risk by sports bicycles speeding along crowded walkways.


Govts, police must spread word

Improving cyclists' riding etiquette is vital for enhancing traffic safety.

Local municipal governments in Tokyo will have an important role to play in making people aware of the latest change, as will the police.

We hope they will make such efforts as holding courses on the safe use of bicycles and distributing leaflets, with the cooperation of local schools and factories where there are many cyclists.

There was a civil court case in which a cyclist who caused a fatal accident was ordered to pay tens of millions of yen in compensation. Cyclists must be aware that dangerous riding will lead to their being held as responsible for accidents as if they were driving a car.

What measures should be taken against bicycle accidents is an issue not just for urban communities but for the entire nation.

The efforts taken by Tokyo will be helpful to other regions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 4, 2013)
(2013年2月4日01時39分  読売新聞)

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中国の海洋戦略 「強国化」は地域の安定損ねる

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 5, 2013)
China's maritime strategy could threaten regional stability
中国の海洋戦略 「強国化」は地域の安定損ねる(2月4日付・読売社説)

China's expansion of its maritime interests has been heightening tensions with neighboring countries. All possible measures must be taken to ensure Japan does not crack under coercive Chinese pressure.

The Chinese government led by Xi Jinping has set this year as the first year in China's bid to become a strong maritime power. As China's military might grows, its expansionist strategy calls for enclosing the East China Sea and the South China Sea and making it a "China Sea."

China has set the goal of doubling the value of its maritime-related sectors such as seabed resources development and fisheries, which will be calculated in its gross domestic product, in 2020 compared with 2010 levels. China probably intends to accelerate the development and expansion of offshore natural gas fields and fishing grounds.

Its friction with Vietnam and the Philippines over the sovereignty of the Spratly Islands will unavoidably intensify.

The director of China's State Oceanic Administration declared early last month that Beijing will repel any attempt to infringe on its interests, and mentioned Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan by name. China reportedly will continue its demonstrative activities around the Senkaku Islands.


Specter of patriotism

China's self-righteous behavior flies in the face of efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region. The Japanese government must strongly call on Beijing to exercise self-restraint while persistently informing the international community about China's misdeeds.

Of further concern is that the Xi administration has laid out a policy of bolstering patriotic education in connection with the protection of maritime interests.

Based on the lessons of modern history in which China was pushed around after the 19th-century Opium Wars by Japan and West European nations, whose maritime forces were superior to China's, Beijing has justified the augmentation of its navy and is attempting to enhance its national prestige. TV programs aimed at arousing patriotic sentiment among Chinese will undoubtedly increase.

China's patriotic education of the 1990s planted distorted anti-Japan feelings among young Chinese that eventually led to the spread of anti-Japan rallies and rioting. The "maritime version of patriotic education" will likely be a spiritual prop when the Chinese government and military take a hard line toward neighboring countries in connection with maritime interests.


Cool heads needed

There appears to be no end in sight to intrusions into Japanese territorial waters by Chinese government ships.

Japan must respond calmly. At the same time, the Japan Coast Guard's structure must be bolstered to deter attempts to infringe on this country's sovereignty.

The core of these efforts is a plan to establish a special force tasked with patrols and surveillance around the Senkakus. The plan calls for deploying 12 large patrol boats within three years.

As things stand, the JCG has no alternative but to operate in turn patrol boats deployed from across the country to strengthen its protection of waters around the Senkakus. Setting up this special task force will not obstruct the JCG's regular operations such as maritime rescues, and would be significant in contributing to maintaining a long-term patrol system.

Japan needs to keep order on the seas in cooperation with the United States and other nations on the assumption that China will intensify its maritime strategy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 4, 2013)
(2013年2月4日01時39分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月 4日 (月)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:90代の詩人の励まし /東京

February 03, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Encouragement from an elderly poet
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:90代の詩人の励まし /東京

Poet Toyo Shibata has died at the age of 101. The late-bloomer began writing poetry in her 90s, grabbing attention after sending her writings to a newspaper. Shibata's first published poetry collection sold over 1.5 million copies.

In one of her poems, she writes: "I had hard times, but I'm glad I have lived." It is easy to try to encourage young people by telling them that good things will come to them in their lives, but it is more meaningful coming from Toyo, who was in her 90s when she penned the words.
 詩集の表題作となった「くじけないで」には、こんなフレーズがある。「私 辛(つら)いことが/あったけれど/生きていてよかった」。「生きていればいいことがあるよ」と若い人を励ますのは簡単だが、90代のトヨさんが言うのだから説得力が違う。

Furthermore, when Toyo wrote that poem, her collection had not been released yet, and she was not a best-selling author. She had been living alone as a widow for many years, and though she had appeared on television a few times, her home was not huge or new, just a small, cozy dwelling.

So why did Toyo then think it was good she had lived? Reading her poetry, one can see why -- she lived while gaining encouragement from the sunlight, the wind, and reliving memories of her youth.

We tend to not feel value in our lives unless we are complimented, given raises and promotions. Immersing ourselves in memories is also sometimes criticized as clinging to the past. We think that if we are not being active and receiving praise now, we are living lonely and empty lives.

However, that is not true. We can talk about the kind moonlight, a seasonal flower, the rain and the snow, and have our hearts set alight. We can receive encouragement from the memories of those who we interacted with. If we can do that, even if we are alone now, or if our lives are far from ideal, we should be able to say we are glad we lived.

In my consultation office, there was a patient who said, "I'm alone, so I do not laugh or talk." I think if that person comes again, I will talk to them about Toyo and say, "If you are alone, it's OK to laugh out loud and talk to someone, even if you can't see them."

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年01月29日 地方版

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--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 3
EDITORIAL: Deflation a baffling excuse to reduce welfare benefits

The government’s decision to cut welfare benefits has raised concerns about an endless decline in “the minimum standards of living,” which is guaranteed by the Constitution.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided to reduce the budget for the livelihood protection program in the new fiscal year. Financial support to help the needy cover their living expenses will be effectively slashed by 6.5 percent over the next three years.

The benefits paid out under the program, which started in 1950, were trimmed only twice in the past, by 0.9 percent in fiscal 2003 and by 0.2 percent in fiscal 2004. The planned reduction will be exceptionally large.

The government says that 58 billion yen (about $625 million) of the 67-billion-yen cutback will represent an adjustment for the general decline in prices from 2008 through 2011.

That’s a baffling claim.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has reviewed the levels of the benefits provided under the program to ascertain that they are neither too high nor too low compared with the levels of spending by general low-income households.

A panel of experts for the ministry actually carried out the review in 13 meetings that were open to the public. The panel concluded that the benefits to help cover living expenses should be relatively high for families of a husband and wife with children and relatively low for households consisting of a single elderly person.

An adjustment of the benefits in line with the panel’s conclusion would reduce the budget for the program by only 9 billion yen. But the government has decided to prune the budget by an amount that is more than six times larger under the pretext of deflation.

It is indeed necessary to ensure that the levels of livelihood protection benefits are appropriate. Unlike the pension program, however, the livelihood protection program does not have a mechanism to reflect changes in prices on the amounts of benefits. The cutback for deflation adjustment has only been hastily introduced in line with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s desire to cut the benefits by 10 percent in principle.

The government should ask experts to re-examine the drastic decline in benefits from the viewpoint of the actual cost of living. The government would be acting in a rash and careless manner if it starts cutting the livelihood protection benefits based solely on its political decision without seeking opinions from experts. On the other hand, the administration is set to spend as much as 190 billion yen to reduce medical fees actually paid by elderly patients at hospitals.

Would the Abe administration raise the amounts of benefits if its 2-percent inflation target is achieved?

The government’s move has brought to the fore the disturbing fact that there is no clear limit to cuts in livelihood protection benefits.

When the economy kept growing and the levels of welfare benefits were constantly raised, there was probably no strong need for serious and exhaustive debate on the exact meaning of “the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living,” which is guaranteed by the Article 25 of the Constitution.

The only definition of the “minimum standards of living” that has ever been formulated in the history of the livelihood protection program is “having enough nutrition to be able to get out of bed in a daily life,” according to one study. This definition was established shortly after the end of World War II when the scars of the war still remained unhealed.

But times have changed.

What are the “minimum standards of living” that should be guaranteed to all members of society?

This question is assuming greater importance for the security of life in today’s Japan, where the population is aging and the employment situation is becoming increasingly unstable.

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大津いじめ報告 調査結果を再発防止に生かせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 4, 2013)
Panel's report must be used to prevent school bullying
大津いじめ報告 調査結果を再発防止に生かせ(2月3日付・読売社説)

An investigative report has been released that clearly recognizes that relentless bullying was the direct cause of a boy's suicide.

The report, released by an independent committee of the Otsu municipal government, concerned the suicide of a second-year middle school student in the autumn of 2011.

The municipal government plans to publicly release the report's contents as widely as possible.

Given that school bullying has shown no signs of ceasing, boards of education, schools and teachers are strongly urged to draw lessons from the Otsu case and increase efforts to prevent such tragedies.

The panel's report has recognized that in the month prior to his suicide, the boy was tormented by his classmates, such as by being forced to remove his trousers frequently.

"The bullying humiliated the victim, leading to a feeling of despair and sense of helplessness that culminated in a desire to die," the report said.

The investigative panel questioned 56 students and other people and analyzed in detail relevant documents seized by police at the school and the education board.


Lack of communication

The panel's report referred to the school's failure to prevent the boy's suicide and the board of education's halfhearted approach in looking into the cause of the incident. The report's in-depth analysis of the case deserves praise.

Another major point brought up by the report is the lack of communication among teachers.

Even though students told teachers about the bullying prior to the boy's suicide, the teachers failed to share this information and did not instruct the bullies to cease their activities.

The panel suggested that the teachers might have been uneasy that the bullying, if brought to light, would smear the reputation of the school.

In addition, the report questioned the irresponsible responses by the school and the board of education in the wake of the boy's suicide. From the beginning, the education board left the task of investigating the incident up to the school.

Only three days after the suicide, there are indications the school may have decided not to recognize any direct link between the boy's death and bullying, bringing the school's fact-finding investigations to a premature end, the report noted.

It was a matter of course for the report to condemn the school and education board for "abdicating their responsibility" to clarify what happened.

The municipal board of education indicated that the victim's home environment was a factor behind the suicide. The report, however, dismissed this argument as baseless.


Role of news organizations

If a story was fabricated to make it appear the boy's home environment was a major reason for the suicide to avoid legal responsibilities in the event of a lawsuit, the school and education board must be severely criticized for their malevolent conduct.

The tendency of the school and board in placing priority on self-preservation can be said to have slowed efforts to uncover the truth and caused the bereaved family to suffer even more mental anguish.

It is worth noting that the report referred to an article in The Yomiuri Shimbun in December reporting the investigative panel's suspicions that there was a direct connection between the bullying and the boy's suicide. "The news report led to a complete severing of any relationship of trust between the panel and the bullies, which led to the obstruction of our investigation," the panel said.

News organizations have the duty to report incidents of public interest to society.

By examining anew how we should cover such problems as bullying, we believe it important to expand public understanding about the role of news organizations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 3, 2013)
(2013年2月3日01時36分  読売新聞)

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首相沖縄訪問 普天間移設へまず信頼回復だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 4, 2013)
Govt should restore trust with Okinawa to solve Futenma issue
首相沖縄訪問 普天間移設へまず信頼回復だ(2月3日付・読売社説)

The efforts that many people have made for 17 years since the United States agreed in 1996 to return the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to Japan must not be wasted. The government should do its utmost to advance relocation of the air station.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the prefecture on Saturday for the first time since taking office and held talks with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima. Abe told Nakaima that the government had increased appropriations for the economic development of the prefecture in the fiscal 2013 budget and sought his understanding for relocating the air station to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture.

Nakaima praised the increase in funding and expressed his gratitude.

In fiscal 2012, then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government increased the budget for development of Okinawa Prefecture by 25 percent. The current Abe administration has allocated 300 billion yen, up 4 percent, in fiscal 2013.

The government is also planning to shorten the construction period of the second runway at Naha Airport by more than one year from the seven years initially scheduled.


Achieve tangible results

The trust between the central government and Okinawa Prefecture, which was broken by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government under then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, must be restored so progress can be made on the long-standing issue of Futenma. We can understand the Abe government's intention to expand measures for development of the prefecture as the first step toward that goal.

But the government must achieve tangible results. The DPJ-led government paid due consideration to the prefecture by giving preferential treatment to the budget for its development. But it failed to make progress on Futenma because it rigidly clung to the premise that the development budget and the issue of U.S. bases were not connected.

During his talks with the prime minister, Nakaima said Okinawan residents strongly desire the Japanese and U.S. governments to relocate Futenma outside the prefecture.

"Futenma can't remain [at the present location]," Abe replied. "I'd like to proceed [with the issue] within the framework of the Japan-U.S. agreement."

After his talks with Nakaima, Abe said the government would not apply for permission from Okinawa Prefecture to reclaim coastal areas of Henoko before he visits the United States late this month. We think this is part of his efforts to restore the trust between the central and Okinawa prefectural governments.


Exhaustive talks necessary

So far, there is no appropriate place other than Henoko to transfer the functions of the air station in Ginowan. If the government fails to get permission from the governor to reclaim land, the dangerous situation at Futenma is highly likely to be unchanged for an extended period of time.

To avoid the worst-case scenario, the government and Okinawa Prefecture should hold serious and exhaustive discussions on the issue from various perspectives.

One idea is for the central and prefectural governments to discuss with the city of Ginowan how to use the plot of land that hosted the air station once it is returned to Japan.

The lack of plans to efficiently use the sites of U.S. military facilities after they are given back often makes the Japanese owners reluctant regarding their return and delays the process.

It is also important to alleviate the burdens on local communities by achieving the return of the marines' Camp Foster (Zukeran) and other U.S. facilities, and by relocating some U.S. military training facilities outside the prefecture.
Besides, the government should steadily move forward with consultations with Okinawa Prefecture on development of the northern part of the prefecture, along with the relocation of Futenma to the Henoko district.

Past governments led by the Liberal Democratic Party had a good track record of having numerous talks with people concerned in local communities since 1996, to expand their understanding of the relocation of Futenma.

Now it is the time for the government and the ruling parties to work together to accelerate their persuasion of local communities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 3, 2013)
(2013年2月3日01時36分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月 3日 (日)

防衛予算増額 領土を守る体制拡充の一歩に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 3, 2013)
Defense spending increases should serve national security
防衛予算増額 領土を守る体制拡充の一歩に(2月2日付・読売社説)

The abnormal situation in which Japan alone kept slashing its defense spending while neighboring countries were substantially increasing theirs has been brought to an end. This is a significant development.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to boost defense-related spending, excluding financial support for municipalities that host U.S. military bases, to 4.68 trillion yen in a draft budget for fiscal 2013, up 35.1 billion yen, or 0.8 percent, from the previous fiscal year. This is the first defense spending increase in 11 years.

Compared with China, which has seen double-digit rises in its defense spending every year, Japan's increase is insufficient. However, we highly regard the government's emphasis on protecting Japan's territories.

In tandem with a review of the current National Defense Program Guidelines, which is expected to be carried out this year, it is vital to send a message to the international community in the medium and long term that Japan takes its security seriously.


SDF eyes capacity buildup

We think it reasonable that the fiscal 2013 budget reflects the government's focus on the Senkaku Islands and other southwestern Japanese territories, placing importance on a capability buildup for surveillance and defense of remote islets.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force plans to introduce the new P-1 patrol aircraft and aims to extend the useful life of a total of 16 escort vessels and submarines by five to 10 years through repair. The Air Self-Defense Force also plans to reinforce the ability of its equipment, such as the Airborne Warning and Control System, the early-warning E2C aircraft, and the radar system on Miyakojima island in Okinawa Prefecture.

The Ground Self-Defense Force intends to deploy a coastal monitoring unit on Yonaguni Island and expand the scale of joint exercises with U.S. marines.

These buildup plans are in line with a national "dynamic defense" vision that places priority on increased mobility and troop operations. The plans are likely to boost deterrence toward the nation's neighboring countries.

The government also has included in the draft budget research costs on the Global Hawk high-altitude reconnaissance drone and the upgraded Osprey transport aircraft. The Global Hawk is fit for lengthy surveillance activities while the Osprey would be instrumental in protecting remote islands. The government should consider introducing them more aggressively.


Questions raised over priority

Meanwhile, we question why the government has decided to divide the 287 newly recruited SDF members almost equally among its branches--94 for the GSDF, 96 for the MSDF and 97 for the ASDF. This is a typical example of horizontal egalitarianism.

Given that China's provocations around the Senkaku Islands could continue for a long time, Japan's top priority is clearly to strengthen surveillance by the MSDF and ASDF. The government would be able to deploy more GSDF personnel to southwestern Japanese territories simply by shifting them from Hokkaido and other regions, instead of increasing their number.

After the Cold War ended, the nation's National Defense Program Guidelines were revised three times, but the respective percentages of the budget allocated to the GSDF, MSDF and ASDF remain almost unchanged. Such allocations should be reviewed in response to changes in national threats, but bureaucratic tribalism and organizational defense structures are said to hamper such a review.

Amid fiscal difficulties, the government would find it difficult to significantly boost the defense budget. It therefore needs to reduce the number of GSDF members and streamline procurement of defense equipment further when crafting new national defense guidelines and budgets for fiscal 2014 and after.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 2, 2013)
(2013年2月2日01時24分  読売新聞)

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北朝鮮拉致問題 国際連携強め事態を打開せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 3, 2013)
Stronger intl ties key to solve issue of abductions by N. Korea
北朝鮮拉致問題 国際連携強め事態を打開せよ(2月2日付・読売社説)

How can the government make a substantial breakthrough on the issue of abductions by North Korea? The government is now under pressure to have a well-prepared strategy on the issue.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his intention to solve the issue in the first meeting of his second administration's government Headquarters for the Abduction Issue. All Cabinet ministers are members of the headquarters.
"I would like to solve the problem while I am the supreme officer on the issue," Abe said at the meeting. The government plans to make all-out efforts for the immediate return of all abduction victims, uncover the truth about the abductions and extradite the abductors.

The administration also newly established the Liaison Council of Government and Ruling and Opposition Parties Institutions for Measures against Abduction Issue.

The abduction of Japanese citizens is a grave crime against national sovereignty and the lives and safety of people. Regardless of their political affiliations, all lawmakers must work together to rescue the victims. We praise the government's efforts in pursuing this issue in such a dedicated manner.


U.N. human rights panel eyed

As an immediate task, Abe said the government will work to establish an investigation committee on human rights issues in North Korea at a March meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council. He revealed the government has begun discussions with relevant countries on the issue.

The United Nations has adopted resolutions to express concern over abductions and serious human rights violations against political prisoners, among others in recent years. They were adopted after initiation by Japan and the European Union, but North Korea has ignored them.

Even if such an investigation committee was established, North Korea would refuse to cooperate. However, a thorough investigation by experts will surely boost the international pressure against North Korea.

Under the administration of Kim Jong Un, an official bilateral dialogue between the Japanese and North Korean governments occurred in November last year for the first time in four years. The Japanese side strongly demanded that North Korea take Japan's calls on the abduction issue seriously and respond to them.

Without dialogue, it is impossible to find a way to solve the problem. The government needs to advance aggressive diplomacy toward reopening of bilateral talks specifically on the abduction issue.

Out of 17 abduction victims officially recognized by the government, only five of them ever came back to Japan. In addition to the officially recognized abductees, there are hundreds of "missing Japanese probably related to North Korea," who went missing in cases that cannot be ruled out as abductions by North Korea.

Members of abductees' families are elderly and complain of the hellish suffering they have to endure. The government should waste no time in dealing with this issue.


Dialogue and pressure

In December last year North Korea went ahead with launching a long-range ballistic missile despite repeated warnings by the international community. Reacting against the U.N. Security Council's resolution for beefed up sanctions, the country even indicated the possibility of conducting its third nuclear test. This behavior cannot be overlooked.

If North Korea actually conducted another nuclear test, Japan should closely cooperate with the United States and South Korea, as well as China, to further toughen sanctions against the reclusive country.

The Abe administration should advance its North Korea policy, while firmly maintaining the position of "dialogue and pressure."

For normalizing Japan-North Korea relations, together with reaching a solution to the nuclear and missile problems, solving the abduction issue is essential. Concrete measures to make North Korea understand this should be considered with the whole country as a united team in an "all-Japan" manner.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 2, 2013)
(2013年2月2日01時24分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月 2日 (土)

園田監督辞任 選手を追い詰めた責任は重い

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 2, 2013)
Women's judo coach Sonoda should feel heavy responsibility
園田監督辞任 選手を追い詰めた責任は重い(2月1日付・読売社説)

The head coach for the national women's judo team has expressed his intention to resign after a number of team members accused him in a letter of acting violently toward them.

The coach, who also hounded the female judoka psychologically, is not qualified to continue to instruct them.

The coach is Ryuji Sonoda, a member of the Metropolitan Police Department. He apologized during a press conference Thursday, saying, "I regret that my behavior and words caused trouble for the athletes." Sonoda bears a heavy responsibility for causing the public to lose confidence in the judo world.

The incident came to light when 15 female judoka, including some who participated in the London Olympics, submitted a letter of complaint to the Japanese Olympic Committee in December. In the letter they said they were subjected to violence and harassment.


Judo federation sloppy

The players said Sonoda and another coach struck them with their hands and a kendo shinai, a bamboo sword, on different occasions, including a special training camp for the Olympics. At least one athlete was threatened with expulsion from the Japanese team when she complained about the violence.

After receiving the letter from the JOC, the All Japan Judo Federation conducted an inquiry on Sonoda and decided the contents of the letter were almost entirely true.

The federation learned in September that Sonoda had been violent toward one of the team members involved in a special training program. However, as Sonoda admitted the accusation and apologized to the woman, the federation reportedly considered the problem to be settled.

The federation initially planned to keep Sonoda as head coach until the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but it was only natural that a mutually trusting relationship could not be built between a coach and players who made such complaints.

We also see a serious problem with the judo federation's lack of crisis management ability, as it could not grasp the situation until the 15 judoka submitted the letter to the JOC. The 15 gave the letter to the JOC instead of the federation apparently because they distrusted the AJJF.

As judo is considered Japan's particular forte, people tend to think it is natural for Japan's judoka to win in the Olympic Games. Therefore coaches must feel heavy pressure, much more than in other sports. There must be occasions when they have to sternly instruct judoka whose performance in their matches has been unsatisfactory.


Chain of violence?

However, behavior and statements that judoka interpret as violence or harassment should never be allowed.

Since the corporal punishment case at Osaka municipal Sakuranomiya High School came to light, people are turning much sterner eyes on violence in situations where athletes are trained.

Players who were punched by coaches may interpret these actions as an expression of their enthusiasm, and use violence themselves when they are eventually in a position to instruct athletes. We suspect there may be such a chain of violence.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura has instructed the JOC to investigate the situation in sports other than judo as well. Japan's entire sports world needs a thorough checkup.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 1, 2013)
(2013年2月1日01時17分  読売新聞)

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原発の新基準 安全と再稼働の両立を目指せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 2, 2013)
N-plant restarts, safety concerns must be reconciled
原発の新基準 安全と再稼働の両立を目指せ(2月1日付・読売社説)

Remember this: Setting safety criteria for nuclear power plants is tantamount to passing judgment on the rights and wrongs of operating them.

An expert panel meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) worked out on Thursday a draft outline of new safety standards based on the lessons of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

To prevent another nuclear disaster, the draft outline calls for mandatory countermeasures against severe accidents, citing specific steps that should be taken. Such measures have so far been left up to the utilities' voluntary efforts.

After seeking public opinion on the nuclear safety standards, a set of NRA rules are to be set down by the end of July.

On the basis of the NRA rules, the government will screen long-idled nuclear complexes to determine whether they may be reactivated.


Avoid blanket application

Restarting nuclear plants is a prerequisite for ensuring the nation's stable supply of electricity.

The new standards must be used to enhance the actual safety of nuclear power generation, not as a means of making nuclear plant operations impossible.

To deal with potential incidents similar to the Fukushima disaster, the draft outline seeks to oblige power companies to set up a second control room capable of remotely controlling the cooling reactor containment vessels. This is meant as preparation for a scenario in which an ordinary control room is rendered unusable for reasons such as a loss of power supply.

Regarding fire-prevention measures at power plants, the draft calls for making it obligatory for power utilities to boost the fire resistance of their nuclear facilities. On measures against earthquakes, the draft seeks to require power companies to even more closely scrutinize any possible active faults beneath the facilities.

Concerning tsunami, the draft outline envisions having power companies look into the greatest tsunami known to have struck areas where plants are located. On the basis of the examinations, specific mandatory safety measures should be imposed, such as construction of sea walls, according to the draft.

We hope the NRA will tailor these rules and measures to the specific circumstances of each plant, rather than applying them in a blanket manner.

In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, every nuclear facility has already augmented its electric power sources and emergency water injection functions in accordance with government instructions. Layers of precautions against severe accidents are now in place.

Safety enhancements requiring large-scale construction work, such as a second control room, should be given a grace period, allowing them to be completed as medium- or long-term projects.


Many experts' views needed

As for active faults, it would be meaningless to conduct examinations solely aimed at 100 percent confirmation of their nonexistence.

If there is a possibility of an active fault beneath a nuclear facility, it is definitely important and realistic to study measures to minimize the risks of radiation leakage by strengthening the earthquake-resistance of the facility.

A colossal amount of money will certainly be needed to put into effect the measures sought under the new safety standards.

Some power companies may be left with no choice but to decommission their reactors.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has dismissed these concerns, saying, "We have no intention whatsoever of taking such matters into consideration." Some members of the expert meeting reportedly objected to this stance, calling the safety requirements "excessively stringent."

The draft outline this time has been put together by a handful of experts and the secretariat of the NRA.

Opinions from a broader spectrum of experts should be listened to in the process toward eventual legislation of new nuclear safety standards.

Regulatory measures for nuclear safety must be efficient as well as reasonable.

An unnecessarily long time must not be spent on safety screening procedures for reactivation of nuclear plants.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 1, 2013)
(2013年2月1日01時17分  読売新聞)

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2013年2月 1日 (金)


January 31, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Islamist militants gunned down fleeing Japanese: local staffer

ALGIERS, Algeria -- Two of the 10 Japanese killed in the recent gas plant hostage crisis here were gunned down trying to flee as Islamic militants swept into the facility on Jan. 16, an Algerian plant worker has told the Mainichi.
The two victims were Bunshiro Naito, 44, and Rokuro Fuchida, 64, 30-year-old Abdel Hamid told the Mainichi during a Jan. 30 interview. Both men worked for companies affiliated with engineering firm JGC Corp. The Algerian has been an office employee at the plant in In Amenas, southern Algeria, since March 2012.

According to the local employee, the two Japanese workers were boarding minibuses in the residential quarter of the natural gas plant when they ran into the invading militants. The Algerian employee survived the ordeal, but said he was certain he would be killed.
The attack began at around 5:40 a.m. on Jan. 16, when the 30-year-old was preparing for work. He saw red lights outside his room in the residential quarter at about the time some 10 JGC employees were scheduled to board buses bound for their office at the plant. What was actually happening, however, was a faceoff with the militants. The driver threw the bus into reverse and tried to escape, only to be stopped when the vehicle hit a rock, according to the employee.

The passengers got off the minibus and tried to flee, but Fuchida and a Malaysian worker were shot in their tracks before they could reach the safety of a nearby building. The militants then killed Naito and a Filipino worker in their hiding place in another structure.

According to the local employee, Fuchida would always greet him with a smile, saying, "Good morning" in Arabic, whenever they got on the same bus to work. He said Japanese workers were kind, adding that he didn't know what to say about what happened to them.

The 30-year-old himself hid under his bed when the militants opened fire, locking the door and turning off the air conditioner and lights. One of the attackers tried to open the door but soon gave up and moved to the next room.

At about 9 a.m., the 30-year-old tapped out an email to his father on his mobile phone, telling him the residences were being attacked by terrorists and asking him to call police. He also asked his father not to worry his mother by telling her what was going on. Later, during the five hours of sporadic gunfire that followed the initial assault, the employee heard voices in English and Tunisian-accented Arabic saying they wouldn't harm Muslims, but he was too scared to come out.

The local employee finally fled his room on the morning of Jan. 17 when a friend called to him from just outside his window, asking him to flee together. They joined around 40 people making their escape, including a Japanese JGC worker. They saw the bodies of their murdered coworkers on the way but, desperate to get away, they ran on. The 30-year-old was dizzy and breathless by the time they reached the dormitory of a nearby Algerian state-run firm, where he was taken to a clinic.

The next morning, he and other workers made the 30 minute walk to another facility where other survivors were gathered. Along the way, he saw a vehicle that had been destroyed by an Algerian attack helicopter. He also saw six other Japanese survivors of the ordeal. He was taken to an airport on the back of a truck and was finally reunited with his wife and child at their home on Jan. 19. He had lost 12 kilograms over the three days. He told the Mainichi that he was still scared even now, and that he could have been killed had the gas plant been blown up.

An earlier interview with sources close to a hospital in In Amenas -- about 50 kilometers east of the gas plant -- has revealed that two Japanese were killed in air attacks by Algerian forces, while at least five other Japanese had been shot, though it remains unclear by whom. In total, 38 workers were killed in the hostage crisis.

毎日新聞 2013年01月31日 11時20分(最終更新 01月31日 12時46分)

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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 28
EDITORIAL: Abe must offer a clear explanation about his defense policy review

The Abe administration has set out to review Japan's defense policy.

It was decided at a Cabinet meeting last weekend to revise the current defense program outline and scrap the new midterm defense program, which were both crafted under the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan. The Abe administration plans to hammer out a new defense outline and a midterm defense plan by the end of this year.

The government also plans to increase defense spending in the budget for fiscal 2013, which starts in April, for the first time in 11 years.

Japan and the United States are also now in talks on revising guidelines for bilateral security cooperation again.

The Abe administration has taken those steps in rapid succession.

The security environment in East Asia has changed dramatically in recent years. In particular, China's dramatic military buildup and growing naval presence in the Pacific Ocean have drawn concern. The country is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, which has created tension between the two countries. North Korea has also become a bigger threat to regional security with its repeated missile launches and nuclear tests.

It is fully appropriate for the Japanese government to make a periodic reassessment of its defense strategy in response to changes in the international situation. As the United States has begun to shift the focus of its defense strategy toward the Asia-Pacific region, it is also necessary for Japan to strengthen the bilateral security alliance.

But Abe's move could end up heightening tension in the region if it is seen by Japan's neighbors as a reckless departure from the nation's traditional defense policy. We cannot help but have concern about the Abe administration's headlong rush to change defense policy so drastically.

Since the end of World War II, Japan has imposed tight restrictions on its exercise of the right to self-defense based on the pacifist principle laid down by Article 9 of the Constitution. For instance, the Self-Defense Forces are prohibited from using armed force abroad. Nor is the SDF allowed to exercise the right to collective self-defense, which would enable it to fight alongside U.S. forces in hostile situations overseas.

Abe, however, has already indicated his desire to give the green light to Japan's use of its right to collective self-defense. The Abe administration's series of steps to review national security strategy was apparently based on the premise that the right to collective self-defense will gain parliamentary approval.

If so, what form of defense cooperation between Japan and the United States does he envision and under what kind of situations? We fear that the approval of the right to collective self-defense will give the SDF unlimited powers. Abe has a duty to address this concern.

Unless he does so, his actions could cause great alarm among Japan's neighbors and trigger a fierce arms race.

Wanton expansion of defense spending is also unacceptable.

The current defense program outline adopted the concept of "dynamic defense capability." This approach is aimed at achieving greater efficiency in SDF operations amid the fiscal crunch that forced the government to cut defense spending in the first place.

Due to the nation's dire fiscal situation, there is an ever-present need to scrutinize the SDF's equipment, manpower and activities from the viewpoint of cost efficiency. Ramping up the budget allocation to the Japan Coast Guard could be a more efficient way to enhance the nation's capability to defend its borders against foreign intrusions in southwestern sea areas, including those around the Senkaku Islands.

Dealing effectively with China is a difficult and complicated challenge. Tackling this challenge requires a comprehensive strategy that incorporates diplomatic and economic efforts. It would not be wise to focus solely on bolstering defense capability.

As the Abe administration works on the new security policy, it needs to offer clear and convincing explanations about its intentions and avoid creating unnecessary tensions. This is the essence of security policies.

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代表質問 経済再生へ建設的論戦深めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 1, 2013)
Parties should hold constructive debate to revive economy
代表質問 経済再生へ建設的論戦深めよ(1月31日付・読売社説)

We urge the ruling and opposition parties to engage in constructive debate on how to rejuvenate the economy, the most urgent task facing Japan.

On Wednesday, party leaders began questioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy speech at the Diet. It was the first clash between Abe and Banri Kaieda, the new president of the Democratic Party of Japan, as party leaders in that venue.

Kaieda expressed concern over the 2 percent inflation target set jointly by the government and the Bank of Japan, saying the target could result in a drop in real wages and a rise in long-term interest rates. "We can't ignore the side effects [of the inflation target] on people's daily lives," Kaieda said.

Kaieda also attacked Abe's stimulus measures. "Old-fashioned economic measures that depend on public works projects are less effective," he said.

Regarding the possible side effects of his monetary easing policy, Abe rebutted Kaieda, saying, "I'll deal with them through flexible macroeconomic measures."

Abe defended his stimulus policy by saying that his administration will pay close attention to fiscal discipline. "We'll achieve the two goals of restoring fiscal health and rejuvenating the economy simultaneously," Abe said.


Beating deflation top priority

Kaieda has a point. However, it is a fact that the yen's value and stock prices are continuing to improve as the market reacts favorably to Abe's announcement of his "three arrows" approach to the economy--combined policy initiatives of bold monetary easing, flexible fiscal spending and a growth strategy that induces public investment.

Conquering deflation is a long-standing issue for the nation. Measures with a stronger punch than conventional steps are needed to achieve that goal. It is important for the government and the central bank to cooperate more closely to bolster the economy.

Regarding the government's energy policy, Kaieda asked Abe whether his administration will adopt the previous DPJ-led administration's goal of achieving "zero nuclear power by 2030." Abe clarified that his administration will review it.

We believe it is inevitable for the government to review the zero nuclear policy, as there are still no feasible ideas how to secure the alternative power sources necessary for a stable power supply.

The government should draw up a new energy policy aimed at utilizing safe nuclear power plants after sufficient discussion with local governments that host nuclear power plants and countries concerned.


DPJ shouldn't stick to old tactics

Kaieda also referred to his party's role as an opposition party. While stressing that the DPJ will fulfill the role of checking the government run by the LDP and New Komeito, Kaieda also said, "As an opposition party that has experience holding the reins of government, we'll promote politics that can move important issues forward."

We believe Kaieda's philosophy is appropriate. The DPJ has the most seats in the House of Councillors. Under the divided Diet--in which the DPJ and other opposition parties have a majority in the upper house--the DPJ should never forget it shares an important role of moving politics forward.

When the DPJ previously sat on the opposition bench, the party gave priority to blocking the ruling parties through tactics such as opposing government personnel appointments that are subject to Diet approval. If the party uses such tactics again, it will be natural for the party to be labeled an opposition party whose identity is to oppose everything.
The public would be unlikely to support such a party, and it would be a step back for the party's reform.

Takeo Hiranuma, head of the Diet members' caucus of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), said his party would decide whether to oppose the LDP-led government on an issue-by-issue basis. Hiranuma even responded favorably to Abe's economic policy, saying, "I feel affinity with the prime minister's stance [on the economy]."

The cooperation of opposition parties is essential for the early passage of the fiscal 2013 budget and related bills.

Abe said he would like to "gather the wisdom of all ruling and opposition parties" to deal with the nation's problems.
To do so, he himself must exercise flexibility by sincerely listening to the assertions of the opposition parties and reflecting them in government measures if necessary.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 31, 2013)
(2013年1月31日01時39分  読売新聞)

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春闘スタート 景気回復へ問われる労使協調

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 1, 2013)
Business, labor groups should cooperate for economic recovery
春闘スタート 景気回復へ問われる労使協調(1月31日付・読売社説)

This year's shunto spring wage negotiations have just began, as the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to revitalize the nation's economy and pull Japan out of deflation. Leaders of business and labor groups surely will have a fierce tug-of-war over wage hikes.

The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) insists that overall salaries must be raised by 1 percent--in addition to a seniority-based regular wage increase--saying salary hikes are necessary to boost personal spending and ultimately pull the nation out of deflation.

Wage levels have been falling for more than a decade--a factor cited by Rengo as discouraging consumers from spending money and causing the nation to suffer a sluggish economy and deflation.

The Japanese Business Federation (Keidanren) counters such arguments by saying top priority should be placed on securing employment and therefore there is no room for a pay-scale increase.

There are large differences between opinions of the labor and management sides.


An indication from Abe

A major focus of attention is how much this year's spring wage negotiations will reflect Abe's policy to put top priority on pulling Japan out of deflation.

"We aim to help companies become more profitable so as to expand employment and increase wages," Abe said during a press conference earlier this month at which he announced an emergency economic package. "We'd like to seek cooperation from company executives."

The prime minister has also announced a measure to reduce corporate taxes on companies that raise wages.

As the government and the Bank of Japan have set a 2 percent inflation target, Abe apparently does not want to see "bad inflation," under which only prices rise while wages do not.

Such strong signals from the prime minister may put some wind in the labor unions' sails. However, it is not clear whether they can achieve wage increases.

The most important thing is to help companies improve their productivity so they become strong enough to increase salaries.

The nation's businesses have been fighting an uphill battle mainly due to the prolonged sluggishness of the economy and fierce competition with overseas manufacturers. Quite a few companies also remain overstaffed.

The hyperappreciation of the yen is being rectified, while stock prices are rising. These are among the positive signs since December's general election brought a change of government from the Democratic Party of Japan to Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.

Nonetheless, different companies perform differently even in the same industry. One approach would be for companies that are doing relatively well to be the first to increase salaries.


Older and nonregular workers

Another major issue in this year's spring wage negotiations is retaining workers until the age of 65.

From April, companies will be obliged to retain workers until that age if they want to work beyond the current retirement age of 60. Keidanren has expressed its view that companies will suffer a huge burden of increased labor costs due to the measure.

We hope the labor and management sides will hold deeper negotiations on the issue to make the system work well for both sides.

Another important issue is improving the working conditions of nonregular workers, who account for 35 percent of the workforce.

Increases in the number of nonregular workers--who get lower salaries and suffer unstable employment compared to their full-time counterparts--have also triggered sluggish consumer spending.

Regarding nonregular workers, Rengo has called for introducing a system to change their status to full-time workers and creating clear rules on how they may enjoy pay hikes. Correcting gaps in working conditions between the two groups will surely encourage workers in general to spend more money.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 31, 2013)
(2013年1月31日01時39分  読売新聞)

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