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2013年6月29日 (土)

物言う株主 企業価値向上へ対話の道探れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 29, 2013
Firms, shareholders must pursue dialogue to raise corporate value
物言う株主 企業価値向上へ対話の道探れ(6月28日付・読売社説)

Activist shareholders, including foreign funds that apply pressure on corporate management, have made their presence felt at recent shareholders meetings for the first time in a long time.

Through their resurgence, Japanese firms face a heavy challenge regarding how to improve corporate value through management reform.

The annual wave of general shareholders meetings of companies with business terms that ended in March has passed its peak. Activist shareholders were at center stage.

At a meeting of Seibu Holdings Inc., its largest shareholder, Cerberus Capital Management LP, argued against management policy and proposed eight director candidates of its own. But the U.S. fund failed to gain majority approval for its proposal as all the candidates recommended by Seibu were elected to the board of directors.

Before the shareholders meeting, Cerberus had pressed for reform of Seibu’s management through such moves as a takeover bid. Seibu argued against the Cerberus reform plan, leading to deepened confrontation with the U.S. fund. But Seibu appears to have managed to block the Cerberus offensive for the moment.

Nevertheless, Seibu’s reform is still pending as it seeks to be relisted. The company must tackle that difficult challenge while relations with its largest shareholder go unrepaired.

Questions to answer

Sony Corp. had been asked by a U.S. fund, one of its major shareholders, to spin off its movie and music business and list the new entity on the stock market. But Sony took a wary stance toward dividing up its businesses, arguing that synergistic effects can be expected with the manufacturing of TV sets and other businesses.

At its shareholders meeting, however, Sony was pressed on the separation issue by other shareholders. As a result, Sony announced a plan to study the demand. Improving earning capacity through reconstruction of its main line of business, including production of TV sets, has now become an important task for the Sony management.

Stable shareholders, including banks and business customers, account for a majority of shareholders in Japanese firms, so management often lacks a perspective of paying attention to shareholders. Japanese companies tend to put a low priority on earnings power and returning profits to shareholders.

More parties heard from

Abenomics, the economic policy pursued by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has drawn fresh global attention to the Japanese economy. As a result, the ratio of foreign holders of Japanese equities reached a record high of about 30 percent as of the end of March.

In addition to foreigners, the number of Japanese shareholders who strongly press demands, such as expansion of profits to improve corporate value, is certain to increase. Management must be prepared to listen sincerely to shareholders’ voices.

It is laudable that Toyota Motor Corp. and many other Japanese firms decided at this year’s shareholders meetings to adopt outside board directors, thereby meeting the requests of shareholders.

Nonetheless, shareholders’ demands for short-term stock price increases and higher dividends are not always right. Investment in personnel training and research and development is also vital from the viewpoint of enhancing corporate competitiveness in the medium and long term.

Management has a responsibility to present reasonable policy and continue dialogue with shareholders even if it turns down their specific demands.

Improving corporate value is a common goal for firms and shareholders. They will be required to accelerate management reform amid their tense relationship.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2013)
(2013年6月28日01時27分  読売新聞)

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iPS臨床研究 再生医療の実用化に近付くか

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 29, 2013
Hopes high for clinical iPS studies
iPS臨床研究 再生医療の実用化に近付くか(6月28日付・読売社説)

A big step has been taken toward realizing regenerative medicine using human induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells.

A panel of the Health, Welfare and Labor Ministry has given the go-ahead to the Kobe facility of Riken, a governmental scientific research institute, and another research organization, to conduct clinical studies using iPS cells in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration.

This unprecedented clinical research project, scheduled to be launched as early as the summer of 2014, should be conducted to reliably determine the effectiveness and safety of iPS-based regenerative medicine.

Age-related macular degeneration is a currently intractable eye disease that can appear as part of aging. It damages part of the retina cells in the back of the eye and distorts the field of vision, causing loss of sight.

Danger of cancer

In the project, iPS cells will be created from a patient’s skin cells and cultivated to form cell sheets that will be attached to the retina. The researchers in the project will select six patients for whom medication and other currently available remedies have not been effective.

The planned iPS clinical application will certainly heighten expectations among those who suffer the eye disease, who are estimated to number about 700,000 throughout the country.

It is believed, however, that five years or more will be required before age-related macular degeneration patients in general can receive iPS treatments, as the clinical research project will be followed by therapeutic trials.

It is especially problematic that iPS cells have the possibility of turning cancerous. This is believed to be because genes that can trigger cancer have to be used in the process of making iPS cells.

It is appropriate that the ministry’s panel approved the clinical studies on the condition that those genes be eliminated before iPS cell sheets are transplanted onto retinas.

Although the eye is generally considered not to be prone to developing cancer, it is impossible to forecast with 100 percent accuracy what cellular anomalies could take place after the transplant of the iPS cell sheets to patients. As much attention as possible should be paid to the danger of cancer and other risks that are as yet unforeseen.

Establishing safety is imperative for securing public trust in regenetrative medicine.

Applications are also planned for the treatment of such conditions as serious heart diseases and spinal cord injuries due to road accidents. Many countries have been engaging in fierce competition in iPS cell reseach and development projects.

As Japan is one of the world’s most advanced countries in basic studies of iPS cells, we hope this country will spearhead international competition in terms of iPS applications as well. It is crucial to steadily advance the project through trilateral cooperation between industry, academia and the government.

Key bills carried forward

Creating an environment more conducive to supporting iPS R&D projects is also a must.

The government has deemed regenerative medicine through iPS applications to be one of the centerpieces of the nation’s growth strategies, hammering out a policy of providing 110 billion yen in subsidies for iPS studies in the coming 10 years. The passage in April of a law to promote regenerative medicine for encouraging practical applications of iPS technologies can give a boost to the envisioned goal.

Meanwhile, a bill to revise the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law to simpify screening procedures for regenerative medicine products to speed up government authorization, as well as a bill for a new law to regulate potentially problematic therapies to secure the safety of regenerative medicine, failed to pass the last Diet session. Deliberations on the bills have been carried forward to the next sitting of the legislature.

The bills should be enacted through in-depth discussions in an extraordinary Diet session to be convened in autumn.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2013)
(2013年6月28日01時27分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月28日 (金)

通常国会閉幕 首相問責で野党は何を得たか

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 28, 2013
Opposition parties lost more than they gained through censure
通常国会閉幕 首相問責で野党は何を得たか(6月27日付・読売社説)

The ordinary Diet session has closed in a terribly disorganized manner.

On Wednesday, the last day of the Diet session, the House of Councillors adopted a censure motion against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Democratic Party of Japan, Your Party, and other opposition parties voted for the motion in the opposition-dominated chamber.

Then the opposition parties refused deliberations of bills in the upper house, behaving as if such refusal was reasonable. Key bills, such as those to revise the Electric Utility Law and the Daily Life Protection Law, were scrapped as a result. A bill to formulate a basic law on the water cycle, which was submitted as lawmaker-initiated legislation to protect water sources, was discarded as well.

The censure motion was submitted by the People’s Life Party, Green Wind and the Social Democratic Party. They condemned Abe for his recent skipping of deliberations at the upper house Budget Committee, claiming the act “violates the Constitution.”

Clear political motive

It is clear the motive of the three parties was to use Abe’s absence from certain Diet deliberations as a tool to launch an offensive against the Liberal Democratic Party ahead of the upcoming upper house election. Do they really think such actions will be welcomed by the public? If so, we have to warn them that they have made a glaring mistake.

In the first place, were Abe’s actions really worthy of censure? Abe absented himself in response to the unilateral decision by Budget Committee Chairman Hajime Ishii, a DPJ member, to hold intensive deliberations at the committee meetings, using the chairman’s authority to hold such meetings. The ruling parties said a no-confidence motion against upper house President Kenji Hirata, which had been submitted earlier, should be dealt with first, and boycotted the deliberations.

That was the reason why Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended Abe’s actions, saying that the prime minister had “sound justification” for skipping the deliberations. We believe Suga’s explanation has some validity.

On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to understand why the DPJ’s upper house caucus decided to vote for the censure motion.

On Tuesday, the DPJ assured the ruling parties that it would prioritize the passage of important bills and thus will not agree with the censure motion.

However, the next morning, the DPJ abruptly changed its attitude, having been persuaded by Your Party and other opposition parties. If the DPJ had kept its initial stance, the key bills would have been able to pass the Diet smoothly.

We believe the DPJ itself still has a vivid memory of being distressed by censure motions, which lack legally binding power, when the party held the reins of government. DPJ Secretary General Goshi Hosono defended the party’s action by saying, “The LDP has no enthusiasm for completing the bills.” This remark is a transparent attempt to dodge the DPJ’s responsibility and shift blame to the LDP.

This Diet session’s top political issue was electoral system reform for the House of Representatives. Regarding that issue, the ruling parties exchanged documents with opposition parties confirming that “once the upper house election finishes, parties will immediately resume negotiations and reach a conclusion” on drastic reform, including a reduction in the number of lower house seats.

However, if the parties continue insisting upon only their own ideas for reducing lower house seats and do not compromise, and if they continue their attitude of putting party interest above national interest, making such agreements will be absolutely meaningless.

Creating a third-party body

To break the impasse on the issue, Abe revealed a proposal at a press conference held after the end of the Diet session. “I would like to suggest establishing a third-party organization [on electoral system reform], which comprises experts from the private sector, within the Diet,” Abe said. We believe this is a sound proposal.

The organization should have binding power so the parties would comply with the conclusion of experts.

Meanwhile, during the Diet session, the Commission on the Constitution in both the lower and the upper house has vigorously discussed the issue of amending the Constitution, even debating on the specific contents of each amendment. Constitutional amendments are likely to become a major point of contention in the upper house election. We urge parties to make concrete proposals during the election campaign, so that the voters can make informed decisions on the issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 27, 2013)
(2013年6月27日01時17分  読売新聞)

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教科書検定 近隣諸国条項の見直し慎重に

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 28, 2013
Govt must be careful about reviewing sensitve textbook screening provision
教科書検定 近隣諸国条項の見直し慎重に(6月27日付・読売社説)

A special division of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Headquarters for the Revitalization of Education, which has been studying a review of the government’s textbook screening system, has submitted an interim report of its discussions on the matter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It demanded improvements in screening standards, saying it has found descriptions obsessed with a “self-deprecating view” in history textbooks. It also asked the government to have the screening standards specify that textbooks should avoid conclusive descriptions about matters of modern and contemporary history on which a definite academic consensus has not yet been reached.

It is indeed necessary to provide an education that can make people proud of their own country.

Abe showed zeal to review the textbook screening system in April at the Diet, saying that the spirit of the revised Basic Education Law, which emphasizes patriotism and love for one’s hometown, has not been well reflected in the system since it was revised under his first administration. The LDP panel’s interim report is based on the same awareness of that very problem.

As a result of last fiscal year’s textbook screening, changes were made to a description of the Nanjing Incident that initially read, “Well over 100,000 Chinese people were killed.” The revised text read, “There are various views [on the number of people killed], such as about 200,000 or over 100,000, as well as lower figures.”

We understand the aim of securing objectivity in descriptions in textbooks by more thoroughly carrying out the text screening in this way.

Consider other countries

The LDP interim report also listed as one of the topics for future consideration a review of a provision requiring the government to pay consideration to Japan’s past relations with neighboring countries in descriptions of modern and comtemporary history.

Following last year’s House of Representatives election, the LDP included the review of the so-called neighboring countries provision among its campaign pledges for next month’s House of Councillors election. This can be said to symbolize the Abe adminsitration’s education policy theme.

The provision was added to the screening standards after the screening in fiscal 1981. It was created in the wake of false reports that a textbook’s description of an “invasion” of China by the defunct Japanese Imperial Army had been changed to an “advance” into the country. It was a measure to quell fierce reactions from China and South Korea on the issue.

However, the provision has been directly applied to the screening process in only a limited number of cases, including the fiscal 1991 screening, when the description that Japan had “caused trouble” to other Asian nations during wartime was changed to “caused unbearable suffering.” There has been no application of the provision since fiscal 2000.

Some experts argue that excessive consideration paid to countries such as China and South Korea based on the neighboring countries provision would make it difficult to correct biased textbook descriptions.

Review necessary?

However, even the current screening standards rule out the presentation of one-sided views without some explanation.

Considering that no big problems have been caused by existence of the provision, we doubt the necessity of reviewing it. Doing so would risk turning history textbooks into a diplomatic problem anew.

The interim report also requests the government to study establishment of a “textbook law” to comprehensively deal with screening and adoption of textboooks, among other related issues.

In advancing discussions of the textbook screening system review, attention must be paid to the intent of the current system, which respects a diversity in textbooks.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 27, 2013)
(2013年6月27日01時17分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月27日 (木)

民主参院選公約 この政策では説得力に欠ける

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 27, 2013
DPJ manifesto for upper house election campaign far too vague
民主参院選公約 この政策では説得力に欠ける(6月26日付・読売社説)

The policy goals in the Democratic Party of Japan’s new electoral campaign pledges seem to be too passive. The new manifesto’s policy measures are just too abstract. This is because the opposition party lacks self-confidence in advancing specific policies after learning a bitter lesson from its failure to achieve unrealistic numerical targets in the past.

On Tuesday, the DPJ unveiled its manifesto for the upcoming House of Councillors election, professing that it would “help people protect their livelihood.” The election pledges cite seven priority areas, including economic well-being and social security. They also emphasize the party’s determination to support women, extend child-rearing assistance and provide better education programs.

In presenting the opposition party’s economic policy, the new manifesto took a moderate approach in criticizing the economic management of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration. It only expressed concern about the adverse effects of Abenomics, saying Abe’s policy package will increase prices and cause violent fluctuations in interest rates, for instance. The election pledge contrasts with the party’s draft of a new manifesto, which was strongly critical about the harmful effects of Abe’s economic policy. This indicates the opposition party has become ambiguous about where its economic policy differs from the Abenomics package.

Meaningful debates unlikely

The lack of specifics in the DPJ manifesto is also evident in the party’s own measures for the most essential part of political management--tax, fiscal and financial policies, and growth strategy. The election pledge incorporates few specific plans that rival those advanced by the Abe government. Therefore, the DPJ cannot be expected to hold meaningful debates with the government over economic, fiscal and other crucial issues.

With respect to nuclear power generation, the new manifesto remains unchanged from the party’s policy pledge for the 2012 House of Representatives election. It states that measures must be taken to ensure no nuclear power plant is in operation “by the end of the 2030s.” However, the DPJ manifesto does not include a road map to achieve that target or measures to secure alternative energy sources.

This is also true with regard to the party’s social security policy. The manifesto’s social security plan is much the same as the party’s current programs, which are designed to create a system by which citizens would be paid minimum guaranteed pension benefits, with the cost covered entirely by taxpayers’ money. This would be combined with a plan to integrate all public pension plans.

In its policy pledges for the 2009 lower house election, the DPJ said its minimum guaranteed pension scheme would pay “70,000 yen per person monthly.” However, the party’s 2012 manifesto did not give a figure, after its target was found to be unattainable. The new manifesto does not mention an amount, either.

Admittedly, the DPJ has reason to omit impractical numerical goals from its election pledge. Still, the opposition party must realize it will never be able to regain its public trust if it only showcases a set of abstract policy measures.

The DPJ must give serious thought to why it was unable to deliver on its earlier promises, a task that must be complemented by efforts to change its policy measures into practical ones that the public can relate to. The party must overcome these hurdles before holding policy debates with the ruling parties. If it fails to do so, the DPJ will find it difficult to use the upper house election as an opportunity to improve its situation and squarely confront the ruling camp.

The new manifesto is reasonable in regard to foreign and defense issues. It emphasizes the DPJ’s determination to steadfastly defend this nation’s territorial integrity by taking advantage of its alliance with the United States as the basis of its foreign policy. Nevertheless, the DPJ’s election pledge appears to be less specific about what actually must be done. It contains fewer explanations than a similar document prepared by the Liberal Democratic Party on how to deepen the bilateral alliance and protect the country’s territory.

Status quo on Constitution

Another important matter addressed by the manifesto is a proposal to revise Article 96 of the Constitution ahead of an attempt to change other provisions in the supreme law. The article in question requires the approval of two-thirds or more of legislators in both chambers of the Diet for initiating amendments to the Constitution.
However, the DPJ manifesto opposes the proposal, saying the two-thirds majority rule is reasonable. It also insists on “conceiving a future-oriented Constitution” by promoting “dialogue with the public” on the nation’s top law.

This shows that the DPJ remains unchanged in trying to deal with a conflict of opinions among party members by producing vaguely worded documents acceptable to rival groups. This is also noticeable in the language used in the new manifesto regarding the Article 96 issue. The election pledge has been phrased in a manner that offends neither pro-amendment party members nor those cautious or negative about such reform.

The DPJ lags other parties in addressing constitutional reform. Other parties have already disclosed their versions of how the Constitution should be amended.

Indications are that, after the upper house election, the controversy over constitutional reform will become a major bone of contention in political circles. The DPJ should expedite an internal consensus about constitutional change, with a view to putting together its own draft of a new constitution.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 26, 2013)
(2013年6月26日01時15分  読売新聞)

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いじめ防止法 着実な取り組みで子供を守れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 27, 2013
Relentless efforts must be made to protect children from bullying
いじめ防止法 着実な取り組みで子供を守れ(6月26日付・読売社説)

The enactment of a new law represents one step forward in the fight against bullying. The legislation should help deter malicious bullying that traumatizes children.

The Diet recently passed a law to promote measures to prevent bullying. It will come into effect as early as autumn. The ruling and opposition parties integrated bills they separately submitted to the Diet and had the law passed because they both recognized measures to cope with bullying need to be strengthened.

The new law calls on local governments and schools to establish counseling centers or rooms, and regularly conduct surveys on bullying. It urges each school to continually deal with bullying by forming an antibullying team of teachers and counselors.

Progress at last

Many of these steps have been called for in the past, and it is significant that they are now stipulated in the new law. Society as a whole should take this opportunity to share the recognition that bullying must never be tolerated.

Needless to say, these measures alone will not be able to solve the problem.

The father of a boy who committed suicide in Otsu due to vicious bullying said, “If teachers can’t detect bullying, the law will have no effect.”

It is important that all teachers keep an eye on every child and never overlook any possible sign of bullying.

The new law defines slandering someone on the Internet as bullying. Harassment by posting messages on an online bulletin board and e-mail spoofing is insidious and causes serious psychological damage to the children they victimize, but it is hard to grasp the actual situation.

The new law appropriately calls on the central and local governments to develop a system to support private organizations that monitor bullying on the Internet.

Slandering someone by their real name online can be considered an illegal act, such as defamation. This point must be drilled into school students.

Victim must come first

To deal with bullying problems, it is essential to take the viewpoint that the most important thing is to fully protect victimized children. Active use of a system to suspend students who bully others was one punitive step incorporated in the new law. Schools should take an unbending attitude against students who continue bullying even after being instructed to change their behavior.

It is also understandable that the law emphasizes that good behavior should be taught at home and obliges parents to make efforts to ensure their children to develop an awareness of proper social norms.

It is noteworthy that the law spells out how education boards and schools should respond to a serious bullying case that endangers a child’s life. The law obliges schools to conduct an investigation to find the cause of the incident and explain to the bullied students' parents about the facts it uncovers.

The closed nature of schools, which has often been a target of criticism, must be changed. As a supplementary resolution to the new law says, it is important to ensure fairness by having a neutral third party with no ties with the school participate in an investigation into bullying.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 26, 2013)
(2013年6月26日01時18分  読売新聞)

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「0増5減」成立 参院の存在意義はどこにある

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 26, 2013
Upper house role questioned after inaction on electoral reform
「0増5減」成立 参院の存在意義はどこにある(6月25日付・読売社説)

The House of Councillors appears to have abandoned its responsibility as a legislative organ. The meaning of its existence needs to be strictly scrutinized.

A law to rezone the House of Representatives’ single-seat constituencies, under which the number of the seats will be cut by five, has been enacted after a lower house plenary session passed it in a second vote by a majority of more than two-thirds, with support mainly coming from the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

After the bill first passed the lower house, the upper house failed to vote on it within the prescribed 60 days. As Article 59 of the Constitution stipulates, the bill therefore was considered to have been rejected by the upper house. It is the first time since 2008 that a bill has been passed by a second vote by the lower house after being rejected through the upper house’s failure to act on it.

The rezoning law is meant to rectify disparities in the value of a vote in the lower house’s single-seat constituency election, which the Supreme Court has judged as being in a “state of unconstitutionality.”

Measures insufficient

The number of single-seat constituencies will be cut in five prefectures, including Yamanashi, and the zoning of 42 constituencies in 17 prefectures, including the five, will be redrawn. The gap in population among constituencies based on the 2010 national census thus will be reduced to less than 2-to-1.

The rezoning law still keeps the so-called one-seat allotment system, in which one seat is allocated to each prefecture first before seats are distributed on the basis of population, although the Supreme Court said this system should be abolished. Some observers have pointed out the law is not enough to correct the disparity. But as the court issued its “state of unconstitutionality” ruling, there was no choice but to take emergency measures.

The upper house even failed to enter deliberations of the bill. The opposition parties called the ruling camp “arrogant” for just sitting back and waiting for the bill to pass through a second lower house vote. In this regard, the ruling parties’ handling of the matter could be considered problematic.

But passage by a second vote is a democratic move, as it is stipulated under the Constitution. The ruling parties should not hesitate to resort to it.

What makes no sense is the Democratic Party of Japan’s handling of the issue.

In November, the DPJ agreed to implement a reduction of five seats first and support a law to reform the lower house election system. But after a shift in power, the party opposed the rezoning bill, which was to implement the electoral system reform law.

The DPJ caucus in the upper house even refused to vote on the bill. The DPJ apparently believed that if the bill was sent back to the lower house for a second vote, the party could criticize the ruling parties’ handling of Diet affairs for forcing the issue.

DPJ approach opportunistic

The public will never accept such an opportunistic approach. The humiliating defeat in the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election may not be unconnected with the DPJ’s self-serving stance in the handling of Diet affairs.

It is regrettable that the ruling and opposition camps failed to reach an agreement over more drastic reform of the lower house election system following the move to reduce the number of seats by five.

Political parties have yet to come up with a written agreement to resume talks on the issue after the upper house election. This is because the DPJ remains unyielding, demanding that the timeline for measures to reduce the total number of lower house seats be disclosed.

To reach an accord on electoral system reform, reducing the number of seats, over which the ruling and opposition parties differ significantly, should be separated from other issues. Any idea of attracting public support by reducing the number of Diet members should be discarded, so discussions on electoral reform can be set on the right path.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 25, 2013)
(2013年6月25日01時27分  読売新聞)

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離島防衛訓練 自衛隊に海兵隊機能が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 26, 2013
SDF must be equipped with functions like those of U.S. marines
離島防衛訓練 自衛隊に海兵隊機能が必要だ(6月25日付・読売社説)

To bolster the defense of Senkakus and other remote islands, the Self-Defense Forces urgently require upgraded capabilities similar to those of the U.S. Marine Corps, such as the ability to carry out amphibious landings and rapid deployment.

The SDF and the U.S. military have been conducting joint exercises in California for the defense of remote islands. This is the first time the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces have all conducted overseas exercises with the U.S. military.

During the training, the U.S. military’s new MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft landed on the deck of an MSDF destroyer. The GSDF’s Western Army Infantry Regiment, which is primarily responsible for the defense of remote islands, was engaged in joint training with U.S. marines to regain remote islands captured by an enemy.

These are practical exercises to meet the needs of the times, as the defense of remote islands is of increased importance.

Chinese expansionism

Training has been conducted with the Chinese military as the supposed enemy. China called for the training to be canceled as its timing overlapped with a U.S.-China summit meeting. It is natural that Tokyo and Washington refused the Chinese request.

Under the banner of making China a maritime power, that country’s navy, air force and State Oceanic Administration have been bolstering their equipment, openly aiming to expand their territorial and national interests in the East and South China seas.

Intrusions by China’s maritime surveillance ships into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands can be dealt with by the Japan Coast Guard. But to deter Chinese special forces from occupying the islands, it will be indispensable to improve the quick reaction capabilities that can be acquired through the joint exercises of the SDF and U.S. military.

Military threats to Japan have changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. Invasions of remote islands can be considered “new threats” along with missile strikes, terrorist attacks and cyber-attacks. SDF personnel allocations, equipment and training must be reexamined in accordance with the changed threats.

Defense of remote islands will be a core of the new National Defense Program Guidelines to be compiled by late December.

It will be essential to augment the GSDF’s Western Army Infantry Regiment, which plays a central role in defense of the Nansei Islands stretching from Kagoshima Prefecture through Okinawa Prefecture, as well as to obtain equipment such as amphibious landing vehicles. To secure naval and air supremacy, it will be necessary to increase the number of MSDF destroyers and ASDF fighter jets and early warning aircraft so as to strengthen warning and surveillance activities.

New hardware needed

Procurement of the Global Hawk, an unmanned surveillance aircraft, must be accelerated while introduction of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft must be studied earnestly.

Amphibious vehicles and Osprey aircraft will be useful for rescue operations and relief activities in damaged areas in times of major disasters such as earthquakes.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has boosted the defense budget for the current fiscal year, the first increase in 11 years, reversing the trend of year-on-year erosion in defense spending. Given the worsening of the security environment around Japan, defense spending must be increased next fiscal year and onward. But a huge hike cannot be expected in light of stringent fiscal conditions.

It is essential to allocate defense budgets on a priority basis, such as by expanding allocations for bolstering “dynamic defense capabilities” that emphasize troop mobility, particularly for defense of remote islands, while curtailing spending through cuts in the number of GSDF personnel, consolidation and abolition of bases and efficient procurement of equipment.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 25, 2013)
(2013年6月25日01時27分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月25日 (火)

首相沖縄訪問 政府一丸で基地負担を減らせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 25, 2013
Govt needs to make unified efforts to reduce burden on Okinawa
首相沖縄訪問 政府一丸で基地負担を減らせ(6月24日付・読売社説)

To reduce the excessive burden on Okinawa Prefecture of hosting U.S. military bases, the government must make unified efforts.

On Sunday, the 68th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the prefecture and attended a memorial ceremony held to console the souls of those who died in the battle.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Ichita Yamamoto, state minister for Okinawa affairs, also attended the ceremony. It marked the first participation by foreign and defense ministers since such ceremonies were first held in 1962.

To tackle the Okinawa issues, it is essential that the ministries concerned closely cooperate with each other and coordinate views with local governments in a multitiered manner.

‘Visible’ reduction

Following the ceremony, Abe said his government would implement measures to reduce the burden of Okinawa “visibly.” With regard to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, Abe said the Futenma base should not be permanently used. “We’d like to make efforts to realize the relocation of the base as soon as possible,” he said.

The governments of Japan and the United States announced in early April that the tracts of land, more than 1,000 hectares when combined, that are now used for the six U.S. military facilities in the southern part of the prefecture will be returned to Japan over the next 10 to 16 years.

The quickest way to reduce Okinawa’s burden of hosting the U.S. bases is to steadily implement this plan. It is particularly important to realize the relocation of Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the Henoko area of Nago.

Both governments agreed on June 13 that the return of the residential area of western Futenma used by Camp Zukeran in Ginowan, originally scheduled for next fiscal year, would be carried out within this year.

This can be highly evaluated as part of the government’s efforts to improve the environment for Okinawa Gov. Yoshikazu Nakaima to approve the reclamation of land from public waters, planned in line with the relocation of the air station to the Henoko coastal area.

It is important for the central and local governments to hold talks over those areas that are to be vacated with the return of the U.S. military facilities and discuss ways to use them more efficiently. Such efforts should be made in tandem with the implementation of various measures designed to promote the local economies of Okinawa. They would certainly enhance the significance of the return of the U.S. bases to Japan.

Promotion of economy

After the ceremony, Abe and Nakaima exchanged views over how to promote the Okinawa economy. While fostering their relationship of trust, Abe should win a broader understanding of Nakaima over the Futenma relocation to the Henoko district.

On the other hand, the reduction of Okinawa’s burden of hosting U.S. bases should be made, in principle, while maintaining the deterrence of the U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa Prefecture.

This is essential because the ability to respond rapidly and maintain mobility of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. forces stationed in Japan has become more important in the light of the nuclear and missile development by North Korea and the rapid military buildup and aggressive actions of China.

The town assembly of Yonaguni, Okinawa Prefecture, approved on Thursday the lease of land to the central government needed for the deployment of a Ground Self-Defense Force unit on the Yonaguni Island to monitor coastal areas.

The Defense Ministry and the town were once at odds over the payment of cooperation expenses to the town concerning the deployment of the GSDF unit. But they are expected to conclude the lease contract later this week.

For both the SDF and the U.S. forces in Japan to operate effectively, it is essential for both to build stable and amicable relations with local officials concerned. The Defense Ministry needs to continuously deepen its ties with Okinawa by making use of various opportunities in the days ahead.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2013)
(2013年6月24日01時40分  読売新聞)

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都議選自公完勝 アベノミクスへの期待票だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 25, 2013
Abenomics helped LDP, Komeito score huge victory in Tokyo poll
都議選自公完勝 アベノミクスへの期待票だ(6月24日付・読売社説)

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been given a significant boost. It remains to be seen whether the voters’ verdict this time will affect the outcome of next month’s House of Councillors election.

In the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on Sunday, all of the Liberal Democratic Party’s candidates were elected, and the LDP regained its status as the largest party in the assembly. The LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, also succeeded in having all of its candidates elected, and it took over as the second-largest force.

The LDP and Komeito, which form the ruling coalition, threw their support behind Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose and together far exceeded a majority of seats in the 127-seat assembly. The metropolitan government will certainly gain stability.

DPJ trounced

As there were few contentious issues on how to steer the administration of the metropolitan government, the assembly election, the first major electoral contest since the second Abe Cabinet was launched in December, focused mainly on the public’s evaluation of Abenomics, the Abe administration’s handling of economic policies.

Given the landslide victory of both the LDP and Komeito, it can safely be said the Abe administration’s key policies and its government management received a favorable rating from Tokyo voters.

However, there have been a number of recent cases in which candidates backed by the LDP have lost to incumbents in local contests, including the June 16 gubernatorial election in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Commenting on the results of the Tokyo assembly election, Abe told reporters, “What we need now is to brace ourselves by deepening our sense of humility.”

The DPJ, which became the largest party after the previous Tokyo assembly election in 2009, suffered a shattering defeat, plunging to fourth position in the assembly. This appears to reflect the deep-rooted distrust of voters after the party committed a number of serious blunders over the handling of national politics. It is evident that the party has failed to stop its decline in strength.

In its latest electoral campaign, the DPJ stressed the negative aspects of Abenomics by taking note of the current erratic fluctuations of stock prices and exchange rates. The party’s unyielding reproach against the government without offering counterproposals apparently failed to satisfy the electorate.

In the upcoming upper house race, the DPJ should have in-depth policy discussions with the LDP by presenting specific policy measures that offer an alternative to government policies.

Despite fielding a large number of candidates in the Tokyo assembly race, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) fared extremely poorly. This was probably due to remarks by the party’s coleader Toru Hashimoto regarding the issue of so-called comfort women.

During the campaign, former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, the other party coleader, complained about Hashimoto. In response, Hashimoto hinted he might step down from the party’s top post depending on the outcome of the Tokyo contest.

It should be noted that Tokyo is Ishihara’s hometown. The disastrous defeat of Ishin no Kai should be attributed partly to the dwindling influence of Ishihara over Tokyo voters.

Link with upper house race

Your Party, which withdrew from an electoral cooperation accord with Ishin no Kai because of the Hashimoto remarks on the comfort women issue, did remarkably well considering it fought the election single-handedly. The party seems to have obtained some degree of support from floating voters who are averse to the LDP and the DPJ.

The Japanese Communist Party doubled its seats in the Tokyo assembly to become the third-largest party in the assembly. This may be due to the low turnout compared with the previous Tokyo assembly election as well as its solid support base on the strength of its organizational skills.

Attention is now focused on how the respective parties’ vote-garnering capabilities that have been demonstrated in the Tokyo race may affect the electoral landscape for the July upper house election.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2013)
(2013年6月24日01時40分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月24日 (月)

税制改正前倒し 企業減税で経済の再生を図れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 24, 2013
Implement corporate tax cuts to increase capital investment
税制改正前倒し 企業減税で経済の再生を図れ(6月23日付・読売社説)

An increase of capital investment by companies is essential to ensure full-fledged growth of the Japanese economy. The government must accelerate deliberations on tax reduction measures and implement them promptly to encourage more investment.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to hold discussions on tax reform, which normally are held in December, earlier than scheduled. Abe wants to make tax reform a major pillar of his second growth strategy to be announced in autumn.

Japan’s real growth rate was as high as 4.1 percent in the January-March quarter, a promising sign for economic recovery. However, a self-sustained recovery driven by the private sector has yet to materialize.

Growth strategy criticized

The first growth strategy the government announced in mid-June has been criticized as being insufficient. The strategy incorporates a target under which the government encourages the private sector to make capital investments totaling 70 trillion yen in three years, but it is said to lack concrete measures.

The prime minister apparently considers it essential to increase willingness of companies to invest and have them lead the economy. Now under consideration is wider application of a measure to write off all costs for capital investment as deductible expenses in their first fiscal year.

This would lead to a tax reduction in the first year of capital investment, and with the extra funds at hand encourage companies to adopt a new strategy to make additional investments.

This measure is currently allowed when companies purchase environment-related equipment, such as solar and wind power generators. We believe it is necessary to expand items for investment subject to this immediate depreciation. This will encourage companies to renew decrepit facilities more actively and decide on new investment. Such companies would eventually be able to improve their productivity and become more competitive.

The government also should consider tax reduction measures to encourage investment on research and development, and on development of human resources.

Review tax breaks

Meanwhile, many twists and turns are expected in discussions on a reduction of corporate tax rates that the business sector strongly demands. The LDP pledged to cut corporate taxes during its election campaign for last year’s House of Representatives election. However, the LDP-led government did not refer to corporate tax rates in its growth strategy. The party has again stipulated a drastic reduction of corporate tax in its platform for the upcoming House of Councillors election, but opinions of the government and the LDP on the issue are not necessarily the same.

Japan’s effective corporate tax rate is about 38 percent, higher than in many countries in Europe and Asia, where the rates are at the 20 percent level. The high rate is said to be a major factor in lowering Japan’s international competitiveness and the hollowing out of this country’s industries.

We call on the government and the LDP to hold substantial discussions on corporate tax reduction to attract more investment from other countries.

The question is how funds necessary to carry out this can be secured with fiscal conditions in such a dire state. The government needs to examine existing preferential tax treatment for companies and determine whether these breaks have already finished their roles and should be lifted.

More than 70 percent of companies in Japan do not pay corporate taxes. It is important for the government to review the tax loss carryforward system that allows a company to carry deficits forward and to use them to offset profits in following fiscal years.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 23, 2013)
(2013年6月23日01時32分  読売新聞)

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中国海洋強国化 地域の緊張どこまで高めるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 24, 2013
How far is China going to heighten tensions in the region?
中国海洋強国化 地域の緊張どこまで高めるか(6月23日付・読売社説)

As long as China has committed itself to taking a path of “peaceful development,” it must take the initiative and relax tensions in its international relations.

The administration of President Xi Jinping, which has declared this year the “first year for making China a maritime power,” has been accelerating moves aimed at forcibly enclosing the East China Sea and South China Sea.

In late April, Beijing started cruise tours to the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, triggering a fierce reaction from Vietnam, which has been locked in a territorial dispute with China over the islets.

Each cruise tour comprises about 200 passengers who can swim and go sightseeing on the islets, in what appears to be an attempt to make the visitors tangibly feel that China wields effective control over the chain. The scale of the tours is likely to be expanded.

‘Patriotic education’

Beijing launched the cruise tour program after the city of Sansha was placed in charge of administering three island groups--the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands and the Macclesfield Bank--in June last year.

The cruise tours of the Paracels are considered part of China’s “maritime version of the patriotic education program,” along with the planned construction of a national maritime museum in the suburbs of Tianjin, northern China, with a view to broadening public support for Beijing’s bid to secure its maritime interests.

On Wednesday, Xi met with his Vietnamese counterpart on his trip to China. A joint statement released after their talks stated the two countries will “remain calm and avoid action that could complicate or escalate a dispute.”

That these two countries at loggerheads have agreed to prevent any further deterioration of ties over the dispute should be welcomed. It is crucial, however, that China and Vietnam abide by the accord, rather than just letting it end up as words on paper.

In May, Chinese surveillance ships started patrols in waters surrounding the Spratly Islands that have been under the effective control of the Philippines. This is similar to China’s regular patrols by surveillance vessels since last year in waters around the Scarborough Shoal near the Macclesfield Bank.

In February, Beijing’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, docked for the first time at its homeport in Qingdao, Shangdong Provice. China is believed poised to have the Liaoning set out for a long-distance voyage before the end of the year. Flaunting its bolstered naval capabilities may be designed to put pressure on Japan, the United States and other countries.

Chinese surveillance ships have continued to make regular intrusions in waters near the Senkaku Islands, Okinawa Prefecture.

In the latest U.S.-China summit meeting, President Barack Obama was quoted as telling Xi that the U.S. government would not accept China intimidating Japan, a U.S. ally. This remark can be interpreted as a warning to China over repeated provocations by its ships in the waters. Obama’s remark is important in that it will solidify the Japan-U.S. alliance.

‘Shelving’ logic irrational

We cannot overlook the fact that high-ranking officials of the Xi administration are trying to change the status quo over the Senkakus by reiterating that the issue “must be shelved.”

Fundamentally, no territorial problem between Japan and China exists, so there is nothing to be shelved.

Back in 1992, China itself did away with the logic of “shelving” the dispute by stipulating explicitly for the first time what it claims to be China’s “sovereignty” over the Senkaku Islands in its Territorial Waters Law.

In a series of meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be held from late this month to early July, discussions will be made on various issues, including the principle of the “rule of law” in the South China Sea.

At these meetings, the Japanese government must actively explain the historial facts involving the Senkakus and the urgent need to strictly abide by internationally acceptable rules so as to persuasively convey Japan’s position.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 23, 2013)
(2013年6月23日01時32分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月23日 (日)

子宮頸がん ワクチンの情報提供を丁寧に

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 23, 2013
Info on vaccination against cervical cancer must be given thoroughly
子宮頸がん ワクチンの情報提供を丁寧に(6月22日付・読売社説)

Confusion is spreading among women and girls who plan to receive vaccinations for cervical cancer.

This is because the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which had pushed the vaccination, has now opted to withdraw its recommendation, citing side-effect risks. The ministry needs to provide information on the vaccine’s effectiveness and side effects in a comprehensible manner.

Cervical cancer, which develops at the entrance to the womb, has been increasing among young women. About 9,000 women a year develop the cancer, with 2,700 dying as a result. The cancer is caused by a virus transmitted through sexual intercourse.

The vaccine is effective against the virus, which causes 50 percent to 70 percent of cervical cancer incidences. It has not been verified whether the vaccine is effective in preventing the cancer from progressing over a period of several years to decades. However, it has been confirmed that the vaccine is effective in preventing precancerous mutations in cervical cells and tissue.

Benefits outweigh risks

The number of cervical cancer cases are expected to be reduced significantly with the vaccination.

The vaccination is given in more than 100 countries in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization.

Japan adopted a system in April under which girls from the sixth grade of primary school to the first year of high school can receive the vaccination at public expense in principle. The vaccination is given for free at medical institutions.

The vaccine’s side effects are not especially greater than those caused by other vaccines. Of an estimated 3.28 million females who were vaccinated, 357 developed serious side effects. This suggests that the benefits of the vaccine are greater than the risk of side effects.

Of concern is that 43 people complained about chronic pain in various parts of their body after being vaccinated. No cause has been determined yet. The family of a female student who developed side effects, as well as other victims, called for a prompt halt to the vaccination. Their action is understandable.

As long as many people are voicing concern about side effects, it is inevitable that the ministry would decide to call off recommending the vaccination while continuing to routinely offer it.

Thorough analysis needed

The ministry must conduct a detailed analysis of the type of women likely to suffer side effects, in addition to determining the cause.

Vaccination against influenza, which can spread explosively, is meant to be a “social defense.” In contrast, vaccination against cervical cancer has a stronger aspect of protecting individuals who receive it.

Since it is up to individuals to decide whether to get vaccinated, it is important that they receive it only after fully grasping its effect and possible side effects.

With the introduction of the routine inoculation system, the number of applicants is expected to increase.

Medical institutions will be asked to give detailed and thorough explanations to applicants with no specialized knowledge.

This also should apply to vaccinations against other infectious diseases.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 22, 2013)
(2013年6月22日01時33分  読売新聞)

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米核軍縮提案 中国の核増強にも目を向けよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 23, 2013
Obama's call for U.S., Russian N-cuts should help boost stability in Asia
米核軍縮提案 中国の核増強にも目を向けよ(6月22日付・読売社説)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposal for Russia to start new negotiations to reduce both sides’ nuclear weapons should lead to enhancement of security in Asia amid a growing mood for nuclear disarmament.

In Berlin, Obama recently made a speech seeking such negotiated cuts with Russia.

Obama said he wants to reduce the maximum number of U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads by one-third from 1,550--set under the New START, which stands for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty--to about 1,000 each.

He also intends to target smaller, tactical nuclear weapons, which are less powerful, for the proposed cuts.

The U.S. president appears to have used the speech to express his willingness to continue to pursue nuclear disarmament during his second term in office after achieving the conclusion of the New START in his first term.

Prospects of N-talks unclear

However, Russia has given the cold shoulder to Obama’s call, with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin saying Moscow “can’t take such a proposal seriously.”

Russia is strongly concerned that U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe could weaken its nuclear deterrent capability.

Therefore, prospects of the proposed nuclear disarmament negotiations are dim. But the United States and Russia, both nuclear superpowers, in particular bear responsibility for ensuring world stability.

At present, there are reportedly more than 10,000 nuclear weapons in the world, of which 95 percent are owned by these two countries. It is not convincing if they urge other countries to refrain from having nuclear weapons or to reduce their nuclear arsenals without making any reductions themselves. We hope the both countries will keep that point in mind and sincerely work on nuclear reductions.

In making the proposal, Obama also said his country would work together with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to seek cuts in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons.

N-weapons spreading in Asia

Meanwhile, the ability of Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his vision and work to seek “a world without nuclear weapons,” likely will be tested over his future efforts in Asia, where nuclear weapons have spread.

Currently, China has about 250 nuclear warheads. China, India and Pakistan have been building up their nuclear arsenals while North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, pressing ahead with its efforts to develop nuclear missiles.

In Japan, which depends on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” amid such circumstances, some people may worry that Washington’s push for nuclear reductions could have adverse effects on regional stability in Asia.

However, Obama said in the Berlin speech, “I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent,” even if the United States and Russia reduce their nuclear weapons in line with Obama’s proposal. Such remarks are reassuring.

Meanwhile, we urge China to promote nuclear reductions in tandem with the United States and Russia. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Obama have agreed to push for North Korea’s denuclearization. To urge Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons, however, Beijing should scale down its own nuclear capability.

Also, to allow the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to come into force as early as possible, Washington and Beijing should work together to build support in their countries to ratify it.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 22, 2013)
(2013年6月22日01時33分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月22日 (土)

自民参院選公約 政権党としては物足りない

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 22, 2013
LDP fails to present concretemeasures in campaign pledges
自民参院選公約 政権党としては物足りない(6月21日付・読売社説)

How will the Abe administration tackle the host of issues it faces at home and abroad six months after the Liberal Democratic Party returned to power?

The LDP has unveiled its campaign platform for the House of Councillors election in July, placing emphasis on realizing its Abenomics economic policies and pledging to seek tax incentives for capital investment and drastic cuts in the corporation tax. The party’s aggressive stance can be surmised from the campaign pledges, but the party has failed to present concrete measures.

As for the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the platform declared that the party will “protect what should be protected and assert what should be asserted in accordance with national interests.”

Japan is scheduled to take part in TPP negotiations in late July. Even though Japan has yet to enter full-scale negotiations, it is unsatisfactory that the ruling party has not presented concrete measures to prepare for the liberalization of trade, including steps to bolster competitiveness in the agricultural sector.

Warning from farmers

This is probably because opposition to participation in TPP negotiations runs deep in farming areas. In Hokkaido, a political wing of the Japanese Agriculture Group, a traditional support base for the LDP, has decided to allow its members to vote at their own discretion, a warning to the party leadership ahead of the upper house poll.

The party leadership has reflected the complaints of anti-TPP elements in a policy package dubbed “J-file 2013,” which was compiled as a supplement to the campaign pledge. In the package, the party clearly mentioned that the government “will not hesitate to pull out from the negotiations unless it is certain five agricultural items, including rice and wheat, will be treated as exceptions to free trade.”

The J-file presents medium- and long-term policy targets. Offering such exceptional treatment can be regarded as a desperate measure to secure farmers’ votes.

In regard to energy policies, the LDP pledged to make utmost efforts to obtain the understanding of local governments concerned as it seeks to restart nuclear reactors pending approval of their safety by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

It is reasonable for the party to clearly mention a policy to restart nuclear reactors, which is indispensable for the country to achieve economic growth. But the party’s platform is far too vague in defining nuclear power generation and the nuclear fuel cycle in its medium- and long-term energy strategy.

Concerning the Constitution, the party made a case for the need to revise the supreme law to meet the needs of the time and respond to new challenges. This is natural.

Constitutional standstill

Regarding Article 96, which stipulates procedures for constitutional amendments, the party stressed that parliamentary requirements for initiating revision should be relaxed, saying it is necessary to “make it easier for the people, with whom sovereign power resides, to have the opportunity to take part in constitutional judgments through national referendums.” The party must explain its stance more thoroughly to win over the people.

The effort to revise Article 96 ahead of other provisions has been postponed due to a wary stance shown by the LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito.

The LDP had no alternative but to give up on its plan to work out common campaign pledges with Komeito this time because of differences in their constitutional revision standpoints. After the election, Komeito will possibly hold the key to deciding how the constitutional revision issue will pan out. It is vital for the two parties to continue to discuss the matter tenaciously.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 21, 2013)
(2013年6月21日01時20分  読売新聞)

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FRB出口戦略 市場の混乱防ぐ舵取りが要る

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 22, 2013
Fed needed to steer policy for preventing market turmoil
FRB出口戦略 市場の混乱防ぐ舵取りが要る(6月21日付・読売社説)

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board is poised to begin scaling back by the end of the year its third round of quantitative monetary easing, a huge stimulus program known as QE3 that has helped shore up the U.S. economy.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, in a press conference Wednesday following a two-day meeting of the bank's monetary policy panel, the Federal Open Market Committee, revealed for the first time the central bank's “exit strategy” for normalizing its ultra-easy monetary policy.

Regarding QE3, under which the the Fed purchases Treasury and mortgage-backed bonds at a monthly pace of $85 billion (about 8.2 trillion yen), Bernanke said it would be “appropriate to moderate the monthly pace of purchases later this year...and we will continue to reduce the pace of purchases in measured steps through the first half of next year, ending purchases around mid-year,” as long as the country sustains its economic recovery.

Sign of confidence

The Fed's announcement of a policy shift toward reducing QE3 and clearly stating a goal for ending it, while predicated on the condition that the U.S. economy continues to grow as expected, received attention worldwide and is certain to have wide-ranging effects.

Ever since the financial crisis that erupted following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, the U.S. central bank has carried out quantitative easing three times to end the crisis and prop up business activity.

The long-awaited launch of an exit strategy signals the central bank is ready to make a major change to policies that were aimed at coping with an emergency situation.

Bernanke’s bold remarks appear to be backed by confidence in the fundamentals of the U.S. economy, which have indicated recovery recently. He may also have thought it necessary to dispel a sense of uncertainty in the market over the future of U.S. monetary policy.

Stock prices in New York, however, tumbled on Wednesday with the Dow Jones industrial average closing more than 200 points lower than the previous day, while prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange also dropped sharply on Thursday.

These declines were largely due to a surge in investors selling shares out of fears that cash flowing into the market may dwindle.

In the wake of Bernanke’s statement, concerns will likely persist over erratic fluctuations in stock prices and foreign exchange rates in the world's markets, which will present the Fed with the knotty task of preventing market confusion.

Toward the end of last year, the Fed said it would not lift short-term interest rates from zero until the unemployment rate shrinks to 6.5 percent, while also keeping an eye on inflation. The easy-money measure has been in place since December 2008.

It is widely believed, however, that the U.S. jobless rate will not move from the current 7.6 percent to the Fed's target until 2014 at the earliest. Improvement in the U.S. employment situation has remained slow, making a full-fledged economic recovery uncertain.

Learn from U.S. challenges

Moreover, possible adverse impacts on business activities of fiscal belt-tightening by the administration of President Barack Obama cannot be underestimated.

Will the Fed be able to lift its zero interest rate policy after bringing QE3 to an end without causing market tumult? In this respect, we urge the central bank to use all the tools at its disposal to maintain a “dialogue with the market.”

The Bank of Japan, which has also implemented an extraordinary monetary easing policy, should learn from challenges the Fed is now addressing.

The BOJ needs to maintain its focus on ending deflation and resuscitating the national economy to maximize the effects of its monetary policy. But sooner or later, the central bank will need to seriously examine how it will dial back these policies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 21, 2013)
(2013年6月21日01時20分  読売新聞)

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原発新基準 効率的で柔軟な審査が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 21, 2013
NRA must be flexible in applying safety standards to each N-reactor
原発新基準 効率的で柔軟な審査が必要だ(6月20日付・読売社説)

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has decided on new safety standards for nuclear power plants. The regulatory panel must confirm in an efficient way the safety of nuclear power reactors, which have been idle for a long period of time, toward the restart of their operation.

The new standards will be enforced from July 8 after they were approved by the government at a Cabinet meeting. Five electric power companies including Kansai Electric Power Co. have expressed an intent to apply to have 14 nuclear reactors examined with the aim of restarting their operation.

The nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant began when unexpectedly huge tsunami hit the plant, causing an inability to cool its reactors. As a result, a vast amount of radioactive material leaked from the reactors. The regulatory committee took this lesson to create the new safety standards.

Under the new standards, the regulatory authority calls for taking into consideration natural disasters such as tsunami, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions from broader perspectives than they were previously. The standards also require the reinforcement of water pumping and power source equipment, which are indispensable for cooling nuclear reactors at times of severe incidents.

Standards have some flaws

It is indeed necessary to repair weak points in safety measures, which became apparent after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis.

However, there are also problematic points in the new standards. Investigations on active faults under and around the grounds of nuclear power stations are one such example. The new standards require research on any signs of fault activity up to 400,000 years ago. The former standards required research covering 120,000 to 130,000 years ago.

Even if a fault is ancient, if it is located right under important nuclear power plant facilities and judged as active, it will be difficult to restart reactors there.

Yet, judging whether faults are active is very difficult. There could be cases of misjudgment. We think it would be more practical to consider some technological countermeasures to prevent a severe accident that may be caused by an active fault, rather than seeking zero risk.

The NRA included, as much as it could, in the new standards requirements related to severe accident countermeasures. Some people criticized that too much emphasis was placed on hardware.

It is understandable that some power company officials criticized the standards as excessive regulatory measures designed to prevent them from restarting reactors.

We want the NRA, in examining safety countermeasures at nuclear power plants, to evaluate the effectiveness of safety measures based on each power station's circumstances. We think it is necessary for the regulatory committee to take a flexible stance, such as approving certain facilities even if they do not conform to the new standards if they can ensure sufficient safety features of such facilities.

Old plants face difficulties

The regulatory panel has decided to allow a five-year grace period for putting in place some safety equipment, as it judged other devices can ensure reactor safety for the time being.

At the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors of KEPCO's Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which are the country's only nuclear reactors currently operating, the NRA will conduct the work to confirm the conformity of the plant's safety features with the new standards through on-site inspections and other procedures. The possibility of approving the continuation of the operations of the reactors has now been reportedly increasing.

We would like the NRA to thoroughly pursue rational responses such as this.

Implementing the new safety standards will require power companies a huge amount of money. According to a power industry estimate, it will easily surpass 1 trillion yen for the industry as a whole to meet the new standards. In particular, it is not easy to recover costs at nuclear reactors more than 30 years old after they are repaired and reinforced. There are likely some cases in which power companies will choose to scrap reactors.

Sharing the burden of decommissioning costs of abandoned reactors as well as measures to dispose of nuclear waste are also important subjects to be discussed hereafter between power companies and the government.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 20, 2013)
(2013年6月20日01時28分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月21日 (金)

G8首脳宣言 日本経済が久々に示す存在感

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 21, 2013
Japan, Abenomics grabbed spotlight at G-8 summit meeting
G8首脳宣言 日本経済が久々に示す存在感(6月20日付・読売社説)

For the first time in many years, a Japanese prime minister has grabbed the spotlight in the international arena. Now all eyes are on whether Shinzo Abe can steadily implement his policies to rejuvenate Japan’s economy, a pledge the prime minister presented to world leaders at the recent Group of Eight summit meeting.

The summit meeting, held at Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, concluded Tuesday after the adoption of a joint statement. Leaders of Japan, the United States, Germany, and other G-8 nations took part in the meeting.

“Global economic prospects remain weak,” the statement said, stressing the necessity for countries “to press ahead with the necessary reforms to restore sustainable growth and jobs.”

The eurozone economy is still trapped in negative growth, and the growth of China and other emerging nations, which have been serving as the locomotive of the world economy, has lost steam. It was absolutely necessary for the G-8 nations to reconfirm their unity at the summit.

Expectations for Abenomics

One of the agenda items discussed at the meeting was Abenomics, the economic policy of the Abe administration. During the meeting, Abe told world leaders that “Japan’s economic development will give a boost to the economic progress of the world.”

It is noteworthy that the statement referred to the so-called “three arrows” of Abenomics--bold monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and growth strategy. The statement gave a positive assessment to Abenomics, saying that the three arrows would underpin the nation’s growth.

Japan must work hard to meet this global expectation and speed up its efforts to conquer deflation and rejuvenate its economy.

However, the statement did not forget to make requests of Japan, whose fiscal condition is the worst among advanced nations. Japan needs to “address the challenge of defining a credible medium-term fiscal plan,” the statement said.

The Abe administration plans to draw up a medium-term fiscal plan this summer. It is crucial for the government to show in the fiscal plan a concrete path toward simultaneously achieving the goals of economic growth and fiscal rehabilitation. After announcing the plan, the government must make wholehearted efforts to realize it.

The statement said open trade is a key engine of global economic growth. It listed ongoing free trade talks, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership framework talks in which Japan is involved, and added that the G-8 nations “aim to finalize all these deals as soon as possible.” In this regard, we urge the Abe administration to speed up its preparations for agricultural liberalization.

Regarding the problem of tax avoidance, or global companies trying to reduce their tax payments by exploiting low tax rates of certain countries, the G-8 leaders agreed to speed up their efforts to create an international legal framework to prevent such moves. This is an important step forward--we urge Japan to play a leading role in establishing a framework that enables countries to fairly collect taxes from companies.

Pile pressure on N. Korea

The G-8 leaders also agreed to take concerted action on measures against terrorism in North Africa, in light of January’s hostage crisis at an Algerian natural gas complex. This is also a laudable development.

The joint statement demanded North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and refrain from taking provocative actions. It also urged Pyongyang to address the concerns of the international community over its human rights violations, including the abduction issue.

We believe it suggests that Abe’s message on North Korean problems was appreciated by the G-8 leaders. Abe has been keen to express Japan’s stance on the issue.

The G-8 leaders should also seek to join hands with China to urge North Korea to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions as well as obligations stipulated in a joint statement issued in six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

(From the Yomiuri Shimbun, June 20, 2013)
(2013年6月20日01時28分  読売新聞)

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一部執行猶予 更生を促す体制整備が急務だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 20, 2013
New penal system should help criminals rehabilitate themselves
一部執行猶予 更生を促す体制整備が急務だ(6月19日付・読売社説)

It is essential to ensure the newly envisaged penal system is conducive to preventing criminal offenders from committing more crimes, which is essential to improve public security.

The Diet recently passed into law a set of penalty-related bills, including one aimed at revising the Penal Code to introduce a system by which people serving terms of imprisonment would be released early. The system is designed to help rehabilitate prisoners by treating them as normal members of society. To this end, they will be discharged after serving part of their terms. The new system will be enforced within three years.

The Penal Code incorporates two types of sentence: one requiring a convicted defendant to serve a prison term, and the other that does not oblige the accused to spend time in prison. The latter sentence means, for instance, that a two-year term of imprisonment suspended for three years would allow the accused to remain free unless he or she commits another crime within three years.

Under the new system, sentencing can be regarded as a cross between a term of imprisonment and a suspended sentence.

1st-time offenders

For example, a person may receive a three-year imprisonment sentence with a two-year stay of execution of one year. This means the accused will be imprisoned for two years, and then released. The accused will not be sent back to prison to serve the rest of the original sentence unless he or she commits another crime within the next two years.

The new system is intended to address problems facing people who have been discharged from prison after serving their terms. In many cases, they find themselves unable to adapt to society, and quite often break the law again. Given this, we understand why the new system is designed to rehabilitate prisoners by releasing them before they serve their full terms.

The system will mainly cover first-time offenders convicted of less serious crimes, such as offenses related to stimulants and other drugs.

Without exception, the system will subject drug addicts to probationary supervision during the suspension of their sentences. Probation officers will require them to attend programs aimed at ending their drug dependence. If necessary, they will be treated at medical facilities.

This reflects a widely accepted view that drug addicts should live their daily lives as members of society, rather than throwing them into prison. According to experts, drug addicts should be allowed to live with all the temptations of life in the real world and persuaded to resist the lure of drugs again and again. Such an approach is believed to be more beneficial in ending their drug dependency.

Hire more probation officers

According to one estimate, the adoption of the new system will entail an increase by 2,000 to 3,000 in the number of people subject to probationary supervision. However, it is distressing to see that our society is not fully prepared to accept such people.

It will be essential to increase the number of probation officers, while also securing a sufficient number of volunteers tasked with aiding in their rehabilitation.

There also are too few medical institutions specializing in treating drug addicts. With this in mind, the Justice Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry should cooperate in establishing more hub hospitals responsible for playing a central role in this task.

Some private-sector rehabilitation institutions are working to arrange for drug addicts to live together and to help them return to society. We hope the public and private sectors will cooperate in setting up more facilities that accept drug addicts released from prison.

The new system will also require the courts to adequately examine whether--and how realistically, for that matter--defendants will be able to rehabilitate themselves.

The new system is very different from the current release-on-probation system.
The current system decides whether a prisoner should be released on parole, by considering the degree to which he or she has been rehabilitated while in prison. Under the new system, however, judges must reach a crucial conclusion when they hand down their decisions--whether a sentence should be complemented by a partial stay of execution.

Meanwhile, public prosecutors should properly assess each defendant’s prospects for rehabilitation when they argue their cases.

The new system also challenges members of the public to consider what it means to accept offenders trying to rehabilitate themselves in society. It is essential for people to accept the idea of encouraging offenders to rehabilitate themselves.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 19, 2013)
(2013年6月19日02時16分  読売新聞)

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G8とシリア 依然見つからない内戦の出口

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 20, 2013
No end in sight for Syrian civil war, as arms support grows on both sides
G8とシリア 依然見つからない内戦の出口(6月19日付・読売社説)

How can the Syrian civil war be brought to an end? Leaders of the Group of Eight major powers should do their utmost to put an agreement on this issue reached in their latest meeting into practice.

Regarding the Syrian situation, a focus of attention at the two-day G-8 summit meeting in Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders agreed to seek an international conference as early as possible to end the bloodshed in the Middle East country.

The agreement came after U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a separate meeting to hold such a conference.

Although Obama and Putin reiterated their shared recognition that an international conference is important for dealing with the Syria situation, their views on the matter still differ widely.

A quagmire of violence

During the summit meeting, Obama and Putin were unable to resolve their differences. While Obama considers the creation of a transitional government in Syria without Syrian President Bashar Assad as a goal of the envisaged international conference, Putin opposes any move to remove Assad from power.

The Syrian civil war has turned into a quagmire, with the violence becoming increasingly severe. The death toll has topped 90,000 in the about two years since demonstrations calling for Assad's resignation started. The situation is serious.

The international community is divided into pro-Assad and anti-Assad groups.

The European Union, which has criticized the suppression of human rights by the Assad administration, lifted a ban on arms exports to Syria, paving the way for supplying weapons to Syrian rebels.

The United States, meanwhile, has decided to provide military assistance to the Syrian rebels, after saying it had evidence that the Assad administration had used chemical weapons. It is widely believed that Washington will soon provide Syrian rebels with ammunition and other military supplies.

In contrast, Russia, which backs the Syrian government, argued that the United States’ assertion is groundless and plans to support the Assad administration by offering surface-to-air missiles.

Lebanon’s Hizbollah militia, which is supported by Iran, has recently joined the Syrian government forces. There is no sign of the war subsiding.

It is necessary to get facts about the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad government, which is one reason for the mutual distrust between Washington and Moscow.

Peace talks needed

Unless peace talks get on track, the Syrian civil war may drag on and there also is concern that it could destabilize surrounding countries.

Taking advantage of the ongoing civil war, Islamic militants linked to Al-Qaida, an international terrorist network, have expanded their influence. Is there not a risk that some of the large amount of arms to be distributed could land in the hands of terrorist groups?

Meanwhile, the number of Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan and other neighboring countries has exceeded 1.5 million. Taking in these refugees is a heavy burden for those countries.

During the G-8 summit meeting, Abe announced the government will offer $10 million in emergency grant aid to assist evacuees in Syria and refugees, as well as provide yen loans worth $120 million to Jordan.

It is necessary to seek a political solution for ending the Syrian civil war, and G-8 countries must provide as much humanitarian assistance as possible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 19, 2013)
(2013年6月19日02時11分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月19日 (水)

イラン大統領選 対外強硬路線は修正されるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 19, 2013
Will Iran’s hard-line stance change under new president?
イラン大統領選 対外強硬路線は修正されるか(6月18日付・読売社説)

How can Iran’s newly elected president live up to the people’s will expressed in the presidential election? We hope the new leader will first tackle the task of mending relations with foreign countries.

Hasan Rowhani, a conservative and moderate candidate, emerged victorious in the election held Saturday at a time when Iran has become increasingly isolated internationally due to its nuclear development. Rowhani, a cleric, won overwhelmingly after calling for improved relations with the United States and Europe.

Rowhani garnered more than half of the votes cast to score a stunning victory over a conservative hard-liner who had been billed as the leading candidate.

In acknowledging his win, Rowhani said it was “a victory of wisdom over radicalism.” He appears to be willing to follow a line that maintains a distance from that of the current administration.

It will be desirable for the international community if Rowhani shifts from the hard-line diplomatic policy pursued by outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who caused alarm by making provocative statements such as calling for Israel “to be wiped off the map.”

Behind Rowhani’s resounding victory is a sense of stagnation that is enveloping Iranian society.

During Ahmadinejad’s two terms over eight years, tight controls were placed on reformist politicians and freedom of speech. The United States and Europe have imposed economic sanctions in response to Iran’s continued nuclear development. This led to decreased crude oil exports and skyrocketing domestic prices of goods, which has stung people’s livelihoods.

A mandate to end impasse

Iranian voters, it may be said, have given Rowhani a mandate to break the stalemate.

A focal point is how he will deal with the nuclear issue.

Iran has been pressing ahead with uranium enrichment in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Tehran has enriched some uranium to 20 percent, far exceeding the 3.5 percent of nuclear fuel used at nuclear power plants. This unavoidably has stirred suspicions that Iran aims to develop nuclear weapons.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany have placed highest priority of having Iran stop production of uranium enriched to 20 percent.

It is natural that the United States and European countries have urged Iran anew after the election to quickly resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically.

During the Iranian administration led by reformist President Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005, Rowhani showed flexibility as he conducted nuclear negotiations with Britain, France and Germany. Nevertheless, little optimism can be warranted at this time.

Khamenei holds real power

In Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the reins of power, including diplomatic decisions. Under the union of religion and politics in Iran, there can be no change in nuclear policy unless it is approved by Khamenei. Can such a key person change Iran’s policy stance?

Israel has not ruled out the option of a military strike to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons. Military tension in the region will heighten if Iran continues its nuclear development.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed hope that Iran’s change of president will bring about concrete progress toward resolving the nuclear issue. Japan will lean on the new adminisration to achieve that goal by utilizing their “traditional relationship of friendship” as leverage.

Japan relies on the Middle East for most of its crude oil imports, so ensuring stability in the region is a matter of life and death. The Iranian situation demands constant vigilance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 18, 2013)
(2013年6月18日01時33分  読売新聞)

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地方制度答申 自治体連携で活性化図りたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 19, 2013
Proposals call for local govts to cooperate to cut waste in administrative services
地方制度答申 自治体連携で活性化図りたい(6月18日付・読売社説)

To eliminate waste in local government and reinvigorate local economies, it is essential to boost cooperation among local governments and promote the division of labor and sharing of roles.

The government’s 30th Local Government System Research Council has submitted a set of proposals on reforming the governance of major cities. To eliminate overlapping functions of prefectural governments and those of the ordinance-designated major cities within their borders, the proposals call on the prefectural and municipal governments to establish a joint council and to transfer 35 types of administrative jobs, including paying public schoolteachers, from the prefectural government to the ordinance-designated city government.

The ill effects of overlapping local administrations have been observed in various parts of the country. For instance, there have been cases in which prefectural and major municipal governments have built similar public facilities close to each other, thus diminishing the utilization rate of both facilities.

Such inefficient city planning must be avoided. It is significant that besides the talks to be held between a prefectural governor and a designated city mayor when necessary, a system has been proposed whereby a formal consultative organization is set up for senior officials of both prefectural and municipal governments to discuss policies and coordinate their views in a multitiered manner.

The proposals also referred to the vision of “transforming Osaka into a metropolitan administrative unit” like Tokyo, but no specific plans were presented. Instead, the proposals listed certain points to keep in mind. For example, the proposals urge that the transformation be carried out in such a way that changes such as an increase in local tax grants given to Osaka do not have adverse impacts on the fiscal state of the central government and other local governments.

This is because the Osaka metropolis issue has already come to a conclusion of sorts with the enactment last August of a law that authorizes cities of over 2 million people to establish special administrative wards.

The proposals also call for boosting the decentralization of government authority within an ordinance-designated city, such as giving a ward mayor a special service status and more authority over personnel decisions and budgets.

Decentralization realistic

Such ordinance-designated cities as Yokohama are hoping to be transferred into “special cities” independent from the prefectural government. But the creation of a special city involves a number of challenges such as the establishment of special wards and the division of police organizations. It would be more realistic to promote the decentralization of government authority within an ordinance-designated city, at least for now.

On the other hand, the proposals advocate, as ways to deal with population decline, wide-area cooperation among local governments, which would center around 61 “pivotal local cities,” whose population exceeds the 200,000 mark, with the daytime population in excess of the nighttime population.

Under such a partnership, a pivotal local city and its neighboring cities, towns and villages will conclude an accord on policies covering issues ranging from health care, transport, industry and employment and have their administrative functions divided and shared. The central government would support them through the grant tax.

The idea is modeled after the system that started in fiscal 2009 on the “settlement and self-sustaining zones” centering around 84 “central cities” with populations of more than 50,000.

An era of consolidation

Many local governments are worrying about how to maintain administrative services while the population and tax revenues in their municipalities decline. Now that it has become difficult for a single local government to provide every kind of administrative service to local people, it is essential for such services to be shared through wide-area cooperation among local governments.

The important thing is for local governments to exert their originality and ingenuity in catering to the actual needs of local municipalities.

In the settlement and self-sustaining zone in northern Miyazaki Prefecture, Nobeoka and eight neighboring cities, towns and villages are promoting cooperation and division of functions among the prefectural-run Nobeoka hospital and other hospitals. Through such efforts, the hospitals have been able to improve their on-duty doctor system for nights and holidays, lessening the burden on doctors at the prefectural hospital by more than 40 percent. Such examples should give ideas to other local municipalities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 18, 2013)
(2013年6月18日01時32分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月18日 (火)

低公害トラック 天然ガス活用の幅広げたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 18, 2013
Govt must introduce measures to popularize use of CNG trucks
低公害トラック 天然ガス活用の幅広げたい(6月17日付・読売社説)

In promoting environmental measures, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it has become a challenge to have trucks, a major means of distributing goods, emit less pollution.

Trucks fueled by natural gas are drawing attention in this respect, as they are superior to light oil-driven diesel vehicles in environmental performance, emitting 30 percent less greenhouse gases. They also emit far less toxic particles such as nitrogen oxide and black exhaust fumes.

While Japan depends on the Middle East for as much as 90 percent of its oil imports, natural gas can be procured from many other areas. Increasing the number of natural gas-driven vehicles on the road is also desirable from the viewpoint of the nation’s energy security.

Following the shale gas revolution, the global supply of natural gas is expected to increase. The price of this fuel is forecast to fall to about half the price of light oil over the middle to long term, bringing down the cost of transportation.

As these advantages have been recognized, the number of natural gas-fueled trucks and buses are rising sharply around the world. In 2012, global sales of such vehicles reached the 17 million unit level, a threefold increase in six years.

Sales lagging in Japan

The U.S. government has been promoting the use of natural gas as transportation fuel. In countries in Europe and Asia, vehicles using compressed natural gas (CNG) are increasing in popularity.

However, the number of CNG vehicles in Japan stands at around the 40,000 level. There are a number of reasons why they are not popular in this country.

A CNG vehicle can travel only a relatively short distance even on a full tank, so CNG is not considered practical as a fuel for large trucks, which are often used for long hauls. Moreover, there are only about 300 CNG filling stations in the country.

Most Japanese-affiliated truck makers selling CNG-driven vehicles in other Asian countries and elsewhere no longer produce vehicles for the Japanese market. This has resulted in a catch-22 situation: “As we cannot sell them, we won’t produce them. And as we do not produce them, they won’t become popular.”

Safety standards too tough

There is also the problem concerning high-pressure gas containers, equivalent to a fuel tank, as the safety standards are much higher than in other countries.

If these safety standards were on a par with those in Europe, the manufacturing cost of a container would be reduced significantly.

This would reduce the cost of CNG vehicles, which now are 3 million yen more than diesel trucks for medium-size vehicles and 10 million yen for large trucks.

To help expand the use of CNG trucks to transport goods between Tokyo and Osaka, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry will subsidize part of the purchase cost of vehicles and the cost of building CNG filling stations out of its fiscal 2013 budget.

We hope the government will resolutely introduce measures to promote the use of CNG trucks, including deregulatory steps to make the expansion of CNG stations easier.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 17, 2013)
(2013年6月17日01時21分  読売新聞)

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知財ビジョン 国際競争に勝つための体制に

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 18, 2013
Safeguarding intellectual property rights key to competing globally
知財ビジョン 国際競争に勝つための体制に(6月17日付・読売社説)

Intellectual property rights such as patents and trademarks relevant to cutting-edge technologies are undoubtedly the source of the international competitiveness of the nation’s industries.

The need has been increasing for further strengthening joint private-public arrangements to effectively utilize the nation’s intellectual properties.

The government has drawn up a “vision of intellectual property policy” with a view to laying out Japan’s approach toward handling intellectual property rights for the next 10 years, while deciding on a set of “basic principles” on the matter.

It’s been 11 years since the country laid down an outline of intellectual property strategy.

In recent years, manufacturing businesses in such countries as South Korea and China have grown stronger, intensifying global competition among companies, including those in the United States and Europe, which place high importance on the protection of intellectual property rights.

In-house inventions a focus

It is reasonable that the government, having a heightened sense of crisis over the circumstances, has embarked on overhauling the nation’s intellectual property policy in a way well-suited to the times. The envisioned policy shift can be expected to provide impetus to the growth strategy being undertaken by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Worthy of note in the envisioned policy is a new idea concerning “in-house inventions,” or inventions created by employees while performing research and development activities for their firms.

In the basic principles, the government has proposed two options for discussion: reviewing the current patent system, which stipulates patent ownership belongs to employees, so as to have the ownership belong to companies; or requiring patent ownership to be covered in a contract between the employee and the employer.

There have been many instances in which employees dissatisfied with the compensation paid by their companies in return for their in-house inventions have sued the companies, causing the firms to be ordered to pay huge sums of settlement money. The government-proposed changes of patent ownership is in response to demands from businesses to rectify the situation.

If the changes take effect, businesses will find the risks of being subject to patent ownership-related lawsuits mitigated, making it easier for them to craft management strategies by flexibly utilizing patents.

On the other hand, there are concerns the policy shift would affect adversely the willingness of researchers to engage in R&D and end up in a brain drain overseas.

The government is set to clarify the pros and cons of the two envisaged steps. Further studies and in-depth discussions should be carried out from the standpoint of beefing up Japan’s industrial competitiveness.

The proposals are worthy of high marks because they seek the enhancement of support for small and midsize businesses, which are delaying charting out intellectual property strategies on their own. These proposals should make it easier for them to develop human resources relevant to patent matters with the support of experts, such as chartered patent agents.

The basic principles have also incorporated steps for sending from Japan patent examiners to emerging economies in such areas as Asia to help them build infrastructure with an eye toward protecting intellectual property rights.

While an increasing number of Japanese companies are branching out abroad, intellectual property right protection is insufficient in emerging countries, which is a major impediment to Japanese firms’ efforts to expand there. Having a “Japan model” spread overseas in this respect will greatly benefit Japanese businesses.

Increase patent examiners

A key issue is how to prevent important technological information from illegally flowing out to emerging countries and others.

The basic principles have rightly pointed out the need for strengthening the nation’s intellectual property right protection arrangements. Information leakage abroad is a serious problem that could shake the very foundation of Japan’s industries.

Steps should be taken to prevent retirees and others from taking technological information out of the country. Such measures as encouraging companies and their employees to conclude an agreement on maintaining confidentiality of corporate secrets should be promptly put into force.

Compared to the United States and European countries, Japan has few government officials in charge of screening patent applications and related matters. It is critical to increase the number of patent examiners to ensure prompt acquisition of patent ownership and its effective use.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 17, 2013)
(2013年6月17日01時21分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月17日 (月)

川重社長解任 合併で混乱招いた社内抗争劇

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 17, 2013
Kawasaki Heavy power struggle keeping market on tenterhooks
川重社長解任 合併で混乱招いた社内抗争劇(6月16日付・読売社説)

It is unusual in Japan to see the head of a major company suddenly dismissed. The market is now watching with a sharp eye the confusion caused by a power struggle within a major company.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. dismissed President Satoshi Hasegawa and two other directors during an ad hoc board meeting on Thursday. The three had been pushing merger talks with Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co. The company also said it decided to scrap the integration talks.

Shigeru Murayama, who was promoted to president from senior vice president, said “a strong sense of distrust had developed” regarding their assertive way of pursuing the merger talks because the three had acted as if “the integration was a foregone conclusion.” It was an agonizing decision to dismiss them, he added.

What happened is in effect a palace coup staged jointly by Murayama and others to stop the merger plan with Mitsui Engineering.

In the shipbuilding and heavy machinery industry, Kawasaki Heavy is the nation's second largest company and Mitsui Engineering is the fifth. News reports revealed their integration talks at the end of April. If realized, the integration would have created a giant company with combined consolidated sales approaching 2 trillion yen.

Japanese shipbuilding companies once dominated the global market. Today, however, Chinese and South Korean rivals have overtaken Japanese companies.

It happened mainly because Japanese firms have suffered from a becalmed global shipbuilding market after the so-called Lehman shock and the negative effects of the super strong yen. They are also at a disadvantage to other Asian rivals in cost competitiveness.

Surviving fierce contest

Mizuho Corporate Bank, the main bank financing Kawasaki Heavy and Mitsui Engineering, acted as a middleman in their merger planning. The plan can be seen as one tactic aimed at survival in a fierce global contest.

In January, shipbuilding companies related to JFE Holdings, Inc. and IHI Corp. were integrated. Moves by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and Imabari Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. to enhance their partnership apparently pushed Kawasaki Heavy and Mitsui Engineering toward the possible merger.

Within Kawasaki Heavy, however, opinions about the integration were greatly divided. Supporters and opponents to the merger plan apparently had different views on the actual businesses of the company.

Shipbuilding accounts for only 10 percent of Kawasaki Heavy’s sales. Manufacturing of trains, aerospace equipment and motorcycles is considered the company's major business.

Many strongly opposed the merger plan, arguing that it was expected to create synergies for the shipbuilding section but would not benefit the other unrelated sections much.

Industrial reorganization

Against this background, we urge Kawasaki Heavy to reflect on its past conduct of not disclosing important management information to the market at appropriate times. The company initially denied the preliminary merger talks but suddenly admitted them on Thursday.

Attention will now focus on what management strategies the two companies will develop in the wake of the merger talks being scrapped.

The new Kawasaki Heavy president said the company will continue to study the possibilities of integration, merger and acquisition, and partnership, but the specific proposals Murayama will make remain to be seen. It is also important for the company to readjust its relations with the main financing banks.

Meanwhile, Mitsui Engineering, whose business performance is sluggish, has a rocky road ahead.

The government revealed its policy to support industrial reorganization as a measure to enhance competitiveness of Japanese companies. However, the failed merger negotiations between Kawasaki Heavy and Mitsui Engineering proves that industrial organization is never an easy job.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 16, 2013)
(2013年6月16日付 読売新聞)

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ストーカー殺人 理不尽な凶行に極刑が下った

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 17, 2013
Court’s capital punishment ruling in stalker-murder case realistic
ストーカー殺人 理不尽な凶行に極刑が下った(6月16日付・読売社説)

Considering the ferocity of the crime and the outrageousness of the perpetrator’s motive, as well as the improbability of rehabilitation, the court had no other choice but to hand down a death sentence Friday in a stalking case in Nagasaki Prefecture.

In a lay judge trial at the Nagasaki District Court in a case known as the Nagasaki stalking-murder incident in Saikai, Nagasaki Prefecture, in December 2011, a panel of three professional and six citizen judges sentenced the defendant to death as requested by the prosecution.

The defendant was accused of murder and other charges in the killing of the mother and grandmother of a woman acquaintance, his former girlfriend, whom he repeatedly stalked. He committed the crime after breaking into the home of the mother and grandmother in Saikai in an attempt to have the woman return to him, according to the ruling.

Desire to possess woman

Regarding the motivation of the defendant, the court decision said he committed the felony as he was “preoccupied with his desire to possess and control the woman.”

This may be a common trait in stalking offenses. It is only natural that the district court determined the man’s actions were “extremely egoistic and unreasonable.”

In the ruling, the court said it considered the defendant’s behavior before and after the killings in great detail.

In the past, the accused had repeatedly stalked two women other than the one at the center of the Saikai incident, the court noted.

In the place he was being detained after his arrest, he wrote in a notebook such things as “I’ll kill anybody who places obstacles in my way” and “I’m resolved to get the woman back even by using others.”

Although he pleaded not guilty, the defendant repeated irrational explanations that were defamatory and distressing to the bereaved family members of the victims.

In view of this behavior, it is quite reasonable for the court to reach the conclusion that there was no hope the defendant could be rehabilitated.

In her testimony, the stalked woman tearfully told the court, “Although I desperately wanted police to protect me, they failed to apprehend him.” The incident has taught the police many lessons about what they should do in stalking cases.

The woman and her relatives talked to officers from the three prefectural police departments of Chiba, Mie and Nagasaki about their fears, but the three prefectural police departments failed to share their information.

In particular, Chiba prefectural police officials delayed accepting the complaints and instead went off on a pleasure trip to Hokkaido before launching investigations. The police should do some serious soul-searching.

The antistalking law must be toughened. The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito plan to jointly submit a bill for revising the law to the Diet.

Law must be strengthened

Currently, organs that have the power to issue a prohibition order or warning against stalking are limited to police in the area where a victim lives and the relevant prefectural public security commission. The proposed bill is designed to enable stalking victims to file complaints also with prefectural police and the public security commission in charge of the area where the offender lives and places where stalking occurs.

The planned bill is aimed at prompting every prefectural police department to take quick action in response to stalking offenses.

All prefectural police should eliminate the negative effects of the vertically segmented structure in their relations and act in coordination.

The number of stalking cases reported to police last year stood at a record-high 19,920, up 40 percent from the previous year.

Stalking offenses have a high rate of recidivism.

To prevent stalking tragedies like the one in Saikai from recurring, police should deal with cases by putting themselves in the victims’ shoes.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 16, 2013)
(2013年6月16日01時54分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月16日 (日)

東京都議選告示 参院選を占う先行指標となる

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 15, 2013
Tokyo assembly poll foreshadows result of upper house elections
東京都議選告示 参院選を占う先行指標となる(6月14日付・読売社説)

The results of the June 23 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, with about 10 million voters, will be a harbinger of results in the House of Councillors election scheduled for next month.

A major issue in the metropolitan assembly election will be what judgment parties make on Abenomics, the economic policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government.

The official campaign period for the election starts Friday. However, the de facto election campaign is already overheating, with presidents and senior officials of political parties running to and fro in Tokyo.

The metropolitan assembly election attracts a lot of attention because in the past it has often foreshadowed the results of national elections held soon afterward.

Will history repeat?

In the previous metropolitan assembly election of 2009, for instance, the Liberal Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat while the Democratic Party of Japan made a remarkable breakthrough to become the assembly’s largest group. It was as if the poll projected the results of the House of Representatives election the following month, which brought about a change of government.

In the upcoming metropolitan assembly election, the LDP is trying to become the largest party in the assembly again and to secure a stable majority with its partner New Komeito.

Their success or failure will likely predict whether the two parties will win a majority of seats in the upper house election, thus ending the divided Diet in which opposition parties control the upper house.

“[Abenomics] has drastically changed the dark, thick cloud and [negative] atmosphere that had covered Japan,” Abe said during a street speech in Tokyo. “If we keep this course, the economy will grow without doubt.”

The so-called third arrow of his economic policy, following bold monetary easing and flexible fiscal policy, is growth strategy. Since its outline has only just been announced, it should be allowed time to bear fruit.

However, what kind of road map to economic recovery is the LDP going to draw? The party needs to provide more detailed explanations.

Meanwhile, DPJ President Banri Kaieda stressed risks of Abenomics during his street speech. Abenomics “will raise prices, increase people’s burdens and destroy their livelihoods,” he said.

However, if he only stresses the disadvantages of Abenomics, it will not constitute convincing criticism. We hope Kaieda will engage in a substantial debate with the LDP by presenting a specific counterproposal to Abenomics.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) is losing steam due to remarks by its coleader Toru Hashimoto on so-called comfort women. Your Party, which had been building a coalition with Ishin no Kai, decided to cancel their cooperation in the metropolitan assembly election after Hashimoto made the remarks. The same situation is seen in the upper house election. Attention should be focused on what judgment voters will make on the so-called third force political parties.

In the metropolitan assembly, the LDP and Komeito are ruling parties supporting Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose’s government. The DPJ, the largest group in the assembly, is also strengthening its position as a quasi-ruling party.

There thus appears to be no major issue of local Tokyo politics on which the election is likely to turn. How will voters without any party affiliation, who abound in urban areas, respond to the situation? Low voter turnout is one troubling possibility.

Tokyo facing challenges

In fact, however, the metropolitan government faces more than a few challenges. One of them is to make Tokyo more resistant to natural disasters as soon as possible. For instance, the metropolitan government must make a plan to deal with the huge number of people who would be unable to go home due to paralysis of public transportation after a major earthquake. It also must take fire prevention measures in residential areas crowded with wooden buildings.
Another urgent task for the metropolitan government is to reduce the number of children waiting to enter public day care centers and develop facilities for the elderly.

The metropolitan assembly election should be considered as an opportunity to think not only about Tokyo’s relationship with national politics but also about those specific challenges the nation’s capital is facing.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 14, 2013)
(2013年6月14日01時35分  読売新聞)

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骨太方針 「再生の10年」への険しい道

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 16, 2013
Nation faces rough road ahead to achieve 'decade of revival'
骨太方針 「再生の10年」への険しい道(6月15日付・読売社説)


To realize a “strong Japan,” it is indispensable to revive the economy with a growth strategy and fiscal rehabilitation as the driving forces.

This is a steep path for Japan, which has the worst fiscal deficit of any industrialized nation, but the most important thing for the nation is to exercise its ability to get things done. In that sense, Abenomics--a set of economic policies of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe--will be put to the test.

The government on Friday approved the basic policies for economic and fiscal management and reform at a Cabinet meeting. The policies were compiled by the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, which was revived by Abe in January. It is the first time since the cabinet of Taro Aso four years ago that such basic policies have been compiled.

Abe emphasized his administration would “reverse two decades of stagnation for the Japanese economy to a new decade of revival.”

Surplus target to stay

The most important point of the basic policies is that they clearly state the government will maintain its fiscal rehabilitation target of “turning the primary fiscal balance of national and local governments into a surplus by fiscal 2020.”

Currently, the fiscal deficit amounts to about 34 trillion yen. This is quite a high hurdle as this red ink must be eliminated in seven years.

Furthermore, the basic policies set a new target of realizing “a steady decline in outstanding long-term debts” even after fiscal 2020.

The Bank of Japan has been purchasing a huge amount of government bonds under its aggressive monetary-easing policy. If this action is taken by markets as merely a way to finance the fiscal deficit and confidence toward the government fiscal policy is shaken, prices of the government bonds may sharply decline, causing long-term interest rates to further rise.

It is quite appropriate that the basic policies emphasize the government’s determination to realize “both sustainable economic growth and fiscal consolidation,” clarifying its stance of emphasizing fiscal discipline.

Lacking concrete content

However, the policies show no concrete path for fiscal consolidation. In that sense, the policies lack depth. This is probably because the administration puts a higher priority on consideration for local governments and industry organizations, with the July House of Councillors election approaching.

The basic policies are especially unclear about cuts in government expenditures, although they do say the government will aim to review all spending for social security--the government’s biggest item of spending--without exception to promote efficiency. However, the policies only list subjects for review such as expenses for medical costs for the elderly not covered by health-care insurance and promotion of the use of generic drugs.

It is rather problematic that the policies do not refer to how much the spending should be cut.

On the other hand, the policies say the government will proactively handle so-called national land strengthening measures such as improvement of aging infrastructure, including roads and bridges, as well as disaster management efforts.

We understand the importance of these measures, but public works projects involve a huge amount of expense. It remains ambiguous in the basic policies how fiscal discipline will be maintained in this connection.

Concerning the planned increase in the consumption tax rate, the policies only say judgment on the raise will be made by comprehensively considering the economic situation.

Sort out policy priorities

The focal point for the moment is whether the government will be able to articulate a clear plan for putting state finances on a sound footing when it compiles a midterm fiscal program this summer.

For fiscal rehabilitation to be successful, it is unavoidable to curb spending and promote regulatory reform although these will impose pain on the people.

Numerical targets for spending cuts and other factors that can be appreciated by the market will have to be incorporated in the fiscal program.

In summer, the government will decide the ceiling on budgetary requests by ministries and agencies for the fiscal 2014 budget. Efforts must be made to devise ways of allocating limited budgets in order of priority to implement policies effectively.

For fiscal reconstruction to succeed, it is also necessary for business to recover steadily.

The gross domestic product for the January-March quarter grew at a high 4.1 percent annual rate in real terms. In its monthly economic report released this month, the government revised upward its business assessment, saying, the economy “is picking up steadily.”

The current economic climate has been brightening, but optimism is not warranted.

At the behest of Prime Minister Abe, it was decided to start annual discussions about tax system reforms, such as tax breaks for plant and equipment investment, earlier than in usual years. This is an appropriate judgment.

Abe expressed his willingness to carry out the government’s growth strategy, saying it “will submit necessary bills in an extraordinary Diet session in autumn, which will be a ‘growth strategy parliament.’”

The growth strategy is designed to realize economic recovery with the initiative of the private sector and to expand business further. An increased growth rate would bring about a rise in tax revenue, thereby putting fiscal management on a sound footing. This would alleviate anxiety about the future, and personal consumption and corporate capital investment would soar. Realizing such a virtuous circle is very desirable.

Restart N-reactors

Realization of stable growth is premised on a stable supply of cheap electricity.

Operation has been suspended in almost all of the nation’s nuclear power stations. This has led to increased fuel costs at thermal power plants and a series of hikes in utility bills.

It is natural that the basic policies clearly state, “The restarting of nuclear reactors will be promoted by respecting the judgment of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.”

The nuclear watchdog’s new regulation standards will be in place in July. We urge the authority to screen utilities’ applications to restart their reactors without delay.

The government must exercise leadership in winning over local governments, which have administrative authority over sites where nuclear power plants are located, so reactors can be restarted smoothly after their safety is confirmed by the authority.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 15, 2013)
(2013年6月15日01時20分  読売新聞)

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株価急落 相場の変動に振り回されるな

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 15, 2013
Govt, BOJ must stay calm in face of fast-changing market trends
株価急落 相場の変動に振り回されるな(6月14日付・読売社説)

Reflecting the turbulent moves of speculative money on world markets, erratic fluctuations in this country of both stock prices and exchange rates have continued.

Confronted with this situation, the government and the Bank of Japan must remain calm and steadily push ahead with down-to-earth economic policies.

The 225-issue Nikkei index on the Tokyo Stock Exchange fell sharply Thursday, ending the day at 12,445, down 843 points from Wednesday’s close. The yen’s appreciation, on the other hand, advanced, briefly hitting the 93 yen level against the dollar.

The Nikkei average, however, is still more than 2,000 points higher than it was when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his second administration in late December.

3rd arrow fired

The recent strengthening of the yen is not so painful as to deal a heavy blow to export-oriented industries. It should be noted that a stronger yen has the favorable effect of stemming rises in import prices.

The government has mapped out the nation’s growth strategy, meaning that all three arrows of the Abe Cabinet’s Abenomics business stimulus package have been fired.

Overreacting to market trends could cause declines in confidence in the government and the central bank, and threaten market turmoil.

Abe and Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda met Thursday to discuss the economic situation prior to the Group of Eight summit scheduled to open in Britain on Monday.

Kuroda was quoted as explaining to the prime minister that the current pace of Japan’s economic recovery “has gradually becoming more buoyant than before.” In response, Abe was quoted as saying the government would take its “share of responsibility by steadfastly implementing growth strategies and relevant policy measures.”

Their views can be said to represent a correct assessment of the current state of the economy.

The stock market plunge was attributed to the perception by the market that U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke may have hinted the Fed would wind down its ultra-easy monetary policy sooner than expected.

This led market players to move funds away from risky assets such as stocks.

Foreign investors who purchased Japanese stocks in large quantities have started to sell their shareholdings. In addition, speculative moves intended to drive down stock prices and high-speed, automated transactions are two other factors considered responsible for the market plunge.

Trying to control the global flow of money simply through Japan’s domestic policy measures is extremely difficult.

It is incorrect to call the decline in stock prices the result of “insufficiencies in growth strategies” needed to revitalize the economy.

However, the government should be partly blamed for misleading the public. When stock prices were on the rise until late May, the prime minister and ministers in charge of economic affairs repeatedly stressed that this was due to the “fruit of Abenomics.” They must engage in serious soul-searching over the new development, as the declines in stock prices could be deemed as representing a failure of the government’s economic policies.

Vigilance rather than action

Earlier this week, rumors spread that the Bank of Japan might hammer out measures to stabilize long-term interest rates. As soon as it was learned that the central bank has no such intention, the yen began to appreciate and stock prices dived.

The stock and financial markets appear to be “wooing” the central bank to come up with additional financial measures to stabilize the markets.

It is inadvisable for the bank to adopt any measures that kowtow to market pressures.

However, vigilance over market trends must be the order of the day.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 14, 2013)
(2013年6月14日01時35分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月14日 (金)

全柔連会長続投 「退場勧告」への感度も鈍い

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 14, 2013
Judo federation must cleanse itself if it hopes to achieve reform
全柔連会長続投 「退場勧告」への感度も鈍い(6月13日付・読売社説)

The only way to revive an entity that lacks the ability to purify itself is to completely change the awareness of its members. We are simply astonished that the head of such an organization has announced he will not resign, despite the many problems plaguing his federation.

Haruki Uemura, president of the All Japan Judo Federation, or Zenjuren--which has been hit with a series of scandals--has announced he intends to stay on as president of the organization, saying, “To carry out appropriate reform is the mission tasked to me.”

At an about three-hour federation board of directors’ meeting held Tuesday, whether Uemura should resign was reportedly not on the meeting agenda. Uemura and other executive federation members’ intent to take no responsibility over the organization’s management is far removed from societal norms.

No end to scandals

Concerning the federation, physical violence and verbal abuse directed toward female judoka on the national team by their then head coach came to light in January.

Another problem emerged in March. The federation forced individual members of its support committee, which works to help improve judoka’s skills, to divert a portion of subsidies provided by the Japan Sports Council for that purpose to the committee itself.

Last month, it was also revealed that a former top female judoka was the target of obscene acts by a member of the board of directors.

Three directors in total were forced to resign over these scandals. It is crystal clear that the president, as the leader of the organization, cannot evade his supervisory responsibility.

In regard to the misused subsidies, the outstanding sum amounted to about 23 million yen as of March. The rest was reported to have been primarily used by the committee for wining and dining expenses.

Unacceptable behavior

Such behavior should not be allowed in a public interest incorporated foundation, which is entitled to preferential tax treatment. A third-party panel investigating the problem determined in its interim report in April that it was an organizational decision to use the subsidies outside of their intended purposes. The panel criticized the judo federation as “lacking the spirit to observe rules.”

We should not overlook the fact that the subsidies’ obligatory payment system to the committee had already existed when Uemura was chairman of the support committee.

It is also a major problem that Zenjuren was ordered by the Cabinet Office’s Public Interest Corporation Commission to resubmit a report on the scandals.

The commission, which examines applications for public interest incorporated associations and foundations, and supervises approved organizations, requested Zenjuren to submit a report on the problems. However, in its report, the organization pointed a finger at the third-party panel, saying it “felt something was wrong” with the panel’s evaluation of the federation.

The report was submitted to the commission at the discretion of a few executives, including Uemura, without discussing the matter at a board of directors meeting.

It is only reasonable for the Cabinet Office commission to point out that the comment “led us to suspect that Zenjuren has governance problems.”

Since the federation was founded in 1949, the post of Zenjuren president has been held by a son and a grandson of Jigoro Kano, judo’s founder. Exercising his influence as the federation’s honorary president, Kano’s grandson acts as a guardian to Uemura, the organization’s first nonhereditary president.

Zenjuren does not function as a healthy organization should. If Uemura says he will reform the federation, reshuffling its executive members should be a matter of course. Additionally, the federation needs to change its closed nature by employing external and female board members.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 13, 2013)
(2013年6月13日01時27分  読売新聞)

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薬のネット販売 安全性と利便性両立が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 14, 2013
Regulation of online drug sales should promote safety, convenience
薬のネット販売 安全性と利便性両立が必要だ(6月13日付・読売社説)

We believe the government’s decision regarding the online sales of nonprescription drugs must please people who have limited means of transportation, such as the disabled and the elderly, and those who live on remote islands or in mountainous areas that lack pharmacies.

The government will mandate in its growth strategy, which is scheduled to be approved by the Cabinet on Friday, the lifting of a ban on online sales of nonprescription drugs, with certain exceptions.

Under the plan, regulations on online sales of nonprescription drugs will be significantly relaxed. Currently, only a limited number of drugs are allowed to be sold online, but consumers will soon be able to purchase most of the 11,400 existing nonprescription drugs through the Internet.

Although the economic impact of the move remains uncertain, the government expects the plan will be a symbol of its regulatory reform efforts.

The lifting of the ban was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling in January. The top court concluded that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s ordinance banning online sales of drugs--except for a few drugs said to have a low risk of side effects--was “illegal and invalid.”

The top court said the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law contained no clear indication that nonprescription drugs must be sold face-to-face. Currently, nonprescription drugs are required to be sold at drugstores through pharmacists or registered vendors.

The growth strategy said the safety of drugs should be discussed rationally and objectively, regardless of whether drugs are sold online or face-to-face, an apparent reflection of the judicial decision. We believe it is absolutely necessary to get rid of excessive regulations.

There has been research suggesting that the quality of communication conducted via the Internet is not necessarily inferior to that of face-to-face communication.

Some regulations necessary

However, we should not overlook a problem that emerged after the January ruling. Many companies have entered the online drug sales market since then. As a result, the ban on online sales has in effect dissolved along with the restrictions.

The possibility of nonprescription drugs causing serious side effects is extremely low. However, 24 cases of death resulting from nonprescription medication have been reported in the five years since fiscal 2007.

If massive amounts of nonprescription drugs are sold carelessly over the Internet, the risk of accidents will rise. Of course, the same can be said of over-the-counter sales, but we believe a certain amount of regulation of online sales of such drugs is necessary.

It was thus appropriate for the government to keep some exceptions to the ban on online sales of nonprescription drugs in tact. Due to safety considerations, the government said experts will further discuss the handling of 25 drugs, such as Loxonin, a prescription antipyretic-analgesic drug that was recently recategorized as a nonprescription drug.

Learn from foreign examples

The government said it will draw a conclusion on such drugs by the end of autumn, and aims to build a framework for them that is similar to the system for general nonprescription drugs, but which also promotes their careful sale and use. We want to remind the government of the importance of establishing a system that does not confuse consumers.

It seems that counterfeit drugs are being sold through some websites that sell privately imported drugs. The government must work out measures to effectively monitor such malicious businesses and eradicate them.

Britain is a good example to follow. The British government has already lifted its ban on online medicine sales. Business entities there are required to register with a pharmacist organization and obtain a mark of certification.

The government must make wholehearted efforts so that the safety and convenience of consumers will be achieved simultaneously.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 13, 2013)
(2013年6月13日01時27分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月13日 (木)

トルコのデモ 首相の強権姿勢が反発招いた

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 13, 2013
Erdogan's heavy-handed policies fan flames of unrest in Turkey
トルコのデモ 首相の強権姿勢が反発招いた(6月12日付・読売社説)

In Turkey, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a month ago, police have fired tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators to quell protests calling for the resignation of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that have continued for more than 10 days.

The protests have brought turmoil to the country, leaving several people dead. We hope the serious unrest will be brought under control as soon as possible.

Turkey is a strategically important regional power that borders civil war-hit Syria and Iraq, which is in the middle of national rebuilding. If Turkey’s political uncertainty becomes prolonged, its burgeoning economy could suffer a setback. The unrest could also deal a blow to efforts to stabilize the Middle East.

The protests were triggered by a heavy-handed crackdown that involved the use of tear gas by police during a protest against a redevelopment plan for a park in the nation’s largest city of Istanbul.

Angry demonstrators, mostly young people, have harnessed the Internet to call on people to rise up, causing the number of antigovernment protesters to swell into the tens of thousands. The protests have since spread to the capital of Ankara and other cities.

Results oriented leader

Despite the criticism, Erdogan has delivered results by rebuilding his country’s economy. In the decade since he took office, Turkey’s gross domestic product has more than doubled, and the nation has raised its international status and become one of the Group of 20 major economies.

Turkish people apparently gave credit to Erdogan’s achievements, as his Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamic party, overwhelmingly won in general elections in 2007 and 2011. It is understandable that the prime minister is confident in keeping his administration in power.

However, it is evident that public frustration has grown especially among secular people over his Islamic policy and perceived autocratic political style.

Since its foundation in the 1920s, Turkey has applied the principle of secularism, separating religion from politics.

But the recent enactment of a law banning alcohol sales from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. has increasingly alarmed secular opponents that the law was enacted to uphold Islamic values.

In the wake of incidents such as the arrests of journalists critical of the government, questions also have been raised over freedom of speech in the country. Some protesters have criticized Turkey’s media as reporting from a pro-government viewpoint.

Authority challenged

According to his party’s rules, Erdogan, who is serving a third term, is supposed to step down as prime minister after the current term. However, there has been speculation that he will seek the presidency after beefing up the presidential authority by amending the Constitution.

Referring to protesters as “looters,” Erdogan remains defiant, urging loyalists of his party to take part in rallies in Ankara and Istanbul to counter antigovernment protests.

Such a firm stance has fueled concern that the confrontation between secularists and supporters of the ruling party will intensify.

Will Erdogan be able to avert further splits in society by listening to the voices of secular people, whose frustration has turned into protests? His ability to handle this incident will no doubt be tested.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2013)
(2013年6月12日01時18分  読売新聞)

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公務員制度改革 政治主導の人事ならいいのか

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 13, 2013
Civil servant system reform must not pander to the public
公務員制度改革 政治主導の人事ならいいのか(6月12日付・読売社説)

Careful discussions are necessary on a review of the civil servant system--one of the foundations of the nation--so problems will not be created in the future.

The government will draw up, as early as this month, an overarching picture of the national civil servant system reform. It plans to submit related bills to the Diet after next month’s House of Councillors election. The ruling parties apparently want to emphasize their positive stance toward the reform ahead of the election campaign, but it cannot be denied that their move is somewhat abrupt.

The government faces several major challenges such as reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake, lifting the economy out of deflation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations. We do not think high priority should be given to civil servant system reform.

The Democratic Party of Japan administration’s misguided “lawmaker-led politics” has been overturned, and bureaucrats have reportedly regained a zeal for their work. The government should first explain the point and benefits of the reform, such as what problems bedevil the existing system and why the reform is necessary.

Back to the future

A bill on this reform was submitted to the Diet by the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Taro Aso in 2009 but was scrapped. Tomomi Inada, state minister in charge of civil service reform, said the government will examine the bill and resubmit it to the Diet.

The main pillar of the bill was the establishment of a new cabinet personnel affairs bureau that will integrate the personnel affairs of senior officials of the Cabinet Office and ministries. The new bureau will be under the Cabinet Secretariat.

The Cabinet Secretariat would have been able to control senior officials from the Cabinet Office and ministries, and the prime minister or chief cabinet secretary could take the political initiative in appointing or dismissing them.

The bill was aimed at rectifying a harmful effect of bureaucratic sectionalism that seemingly placed importance on ministries’ interests above the national interests.

However, there are about 600 senior official positions, including vice ministers and bureau chiefs. If candidates for those posts and applicants for open recruitment are included, the personnel affairs process becomes enormous. Is it possible to fairly and accurately gauge the performance and skills of so many individuals? There is also concern that politicians could make arbitrary judgments in personnel affairs.

The envisaged bureau will have jurisdiction over the management of the number of officials in different classes currently classified based on job complexity, responsibility and other factors by the National Personnel Authority. Civil servant salaries are based on this classification. The bureau will manage the structure and number of officials at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. We think consolidating the disjointed administration of personnel affairs will make administrative organizations more efficient.

Opposition joining fray

However, the National Personnel Authority in 2009 opposed control of the class-based quota being handed to the Cabinet Secretariat, which manages civil servants.

Every year, the personnel authority recommends a revision in national civil servants’ salaries to compensate for the fact that their basic labor rights are restricted. The authority has a point in insisting that its function to compensate for this situation will be reduced if it cannot manage the class-based quota, which is a main factor in determining civil servants’ working conditions.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe needs to deal with this matter after closely examining past discussions.

Opposition parties also are preparing a plan to reform the civil servant system before the upper house election. This is probably because they believe “civil servant bashing” will go down well with the public. Your Party said it will abolish the guaranteed status of national civil servants by granting them basic labor rights, which would make layoffs possible.

It would be absurd if the reform lowers civil servants’ morale and accelerates the tendency among young people to shy away from becoming public workers. The reform must not pander to the public.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2013)
(2013年6月12日01時18分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月12日 (水)

オスプレイ訓練 沖縄の負担を軽減する一石に

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 12, 2013
Osprey proposal a chance to get ball rolling on easing Okinawa's burden
オスプレイ訓練 沖縄の負担を軽減する一石に(6月11日付・読売社説)

It is important that the unfair burden Okinawa Prefecture shoulders by hosting U.S. bases be reduced and shared by the entire nation. However, the latest proposal designed to make this a reality seems doomed.

In talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) coleader and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Ishin no Kai secretary general and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui proposed that some training flights of the MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft stationed in Okinawa Prefecture be held at Yao Airport in Osaka Prefecture.

Abe instructed Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to study whether holding Osprey training flights at the small airport is feasible.

Twelve Ospreys were deployed at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture last autumn. An additional 12 are scheduled to arrive at Futenma this summer.

Opposition to these deployments remains strong in Okinawa, apparently due to misunderstandings or prejudice that the aircraft is highly accident-prone.

Osaka plan had holes

The aircraft has conducted five training exercises over the main islands of Japan, with the marine corps’ Iwakuni Air Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture as the main base. The Osprey has a long flight range, so it may be possible to transfer more training flights outside Okinawa.

We applaud Hashimoto and Matsui for their awareness of Okinawa’s excessive burden and their willingness, as leaders of local governments on the mainland, to actively alleviate the load on Okinawa.

Despite this, their proposal was obviously not the product of a thorough study on its feasibility and rationality from a military perspective.

The Iwakuni base has an offshore runway. By contrast, Yao Airport sits in an inland residential area. Yao residents are concerned about noise and safety problems, and Mayor Seita Tanaka opposes the proposal.

The training flights would require hangars and refueling facilities to be upgraded, so the proposal would not be very cost-effective.

Existing U.S. bases such as Camp Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture and Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture are far more realistic options than Yao.

Hashimoto’s recent controversial remarks on so-called comfort women has triggered a plunge in the popularity of Ishin no Kai in the proportional representation bloc of the upcoming House of Councillors election. Some pundits speculate that the Osprey proposal was merely political opportunism by Hashimoto to recover some lost ground.

When Hashimoto was Osaka governor, he said Kansai Airport in Osaka Prefecture could be used to accommodate some functions of the Futenma air base. But there also were doubts about whether that proposal made sense from a military perspective.

U.S. bases play vital role

According to political observers, Abe accepted Hashimoto’s proposal primarily because his party, the Liberal Democratic Party, is considering cooperating with Ishin no Kai after the upper house election.

For all that, Hashimoto’s proposal should not be allowed to end up as a fleeting idea. The central and local governments must deal properly with the issue of reducing the burdens of Okinawa.

Given North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs and China’s rapid military buildup, stably maintaining the stationing of U.S. bases to ensure the peace and security of Japan has become even more necessary.

Live drills by U.S. marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture and training flights of F-15 fighter jets deployed at Kadena Air Base in the same prefecture have been transferred out of Okinawa. We hope moves to shift Osprey training flights will make steady progress.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 11, 2013)
(2013年6月11日01時18分  読売新聞)

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米中首脳会談 力に依存しては共存できない

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 12, 2013
China's reliance on force hampers its pursuit of coexistence with U.S.
米中首脳会談 力に依存しては共存できない(6月11日付・読売社説)

For stability in the Asia-Pacific region, it is essential that the United States and China--the world’s sole superpower and the second-largest military and economic power--take confidence-building measures.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the United States and met with U.S. President Barack Obama at a retreat in California. It is unusual for a Chinese president to visit the United States only three months after his inauguration to meet with a U.S. president.

Through eight hours over two days, the two leaders discussed a new cooperative bilateral relationship. They agreed to step up pressure on North Korea over its nuclear programs and promote measures to address global warming. But their differences in intentions were conspicuous.

The “new model for a relationship between major countries” that Xi is seeking is a relationship with the United States on an equal footing, in which both sides respect each other’s social systems and core interests. Close attention should be paid to Xi’s remarks during the talks that “the vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for the two large nations of China and the United States.”

Obama, for his part, called for a “peaceful rise” of China based on the premise that it abide by international rules.

Cybersecurity concerns

Xi also requested information regarding U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade talks. Beijing apparently is wary that the envisaged trade framework could effectively contain China.

Obama expressed concerns regarding the focal issue of cyber-attacks seeking illegal access to data, saying resolving cybersecurity issues would be key to the future of U.S.-China economic relations. His remarks are based on suspicions voiced in the United States that the Chinese government is involved in such activities.

As long as Xi insists that China is also “a victim of cyber-attacks,” Beijing should take measures to block hacking in cooperation with the United States.

As for the Japan-China confrontation over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, Obama called for dialogue through diplomatic channels rather than actions on the East China Sea. This was meant to persuade China--which continues its saber-rattling by allowing its marine surveillance ships and other vessels to enter Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands--to exercise self-restraint.

But Xi said he hopes those concerned, apparently referring to Japan among others, will stop taking provocative actions and promptly return to a track of settling problems appropriately through dialogue. This is an extremely self-serving stance. It is China that must restrain its excessive provocations.

Must behave responsibly

China’s attempts to unilaterally expand its maritime interests in the East China Sea and the South China Sea appear to contradict the “peaceful development” policy it vocally advocates.

If China seeks an equal relationship of coexistence with the United States, it must behave responsibly to achieve that end. Complying with international rules is a minimum obligation for Beijing.

The Japanese and U.S. governments are planning to set up a bilateral summit meeting to coincide with an upcoming Group of Eight summit meeting of major nations. Japan needs to reconfirm the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance without lowering its guard against China, which is trying to reassure itself that it is indeed a major nation by relying on its mighty power.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 11, 2013)
(2013年6月11日01時18分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月11日 (火)

中国・欧州摩擦 世界経済を損なう不公正貿易

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 11, 2013
Unfair trade practices, protectionism hurting growth of world economy
中国・欧州摩擦 世界経済を損なう不公正貿易(6月9日付・読売社説)

International trade disputes have been erupting frequently. It is important to correct unfair trade practices and revitalize the world economy.

The European Union recently reached a provisional decision to impose antidumping levies on imports of Chinese solar panels in two stages, saying that Chinese firms are exporting them at improperly low prices.

The EU will impose a tariff of about 12 percent on imported Chinese solar panels until early August, and increase this to an average of 48 percent later if Beijing does not take corrective measures to resolve the issue. The EU will decide by the end of the year on whether to keep the levies in place.

According to the EU, Chinese exporters sell their solar panels for as much as 90 percent below a fair market price. They have apparently been trying to increase sales in the EU market, the biggest export market for their products, with scant regard for making a profit.

Battered by China’s low-priced sales drive, business conditions for their European counterparts have deteriorated. Some have gone bankrupt.

EU position understandable

We can understand the EU stance of trying to rectify an unfair trade practice, in line with international rules of the World Trade Organization.

The EU will impose a low tariff in the first stage, as it attempts to elicit concessions from China amicably. It also took into account the caution some member nations such as Germany feel about taking tough measures against Beijing.

However, China reacted sharply and announced it would launch an investigation into the possible dumping of European wine on its market. This appears to be a tit-for-tat response.

As it remains uncertain whether European wine exports actually caused any actual loss to the Chinese market, Beijing’s forceful action can hardly be considered as adhering to international rules.

China and the EU also are at loggerheads over China-made mobile telecommunications equipment. The EU has launched an investigation into possible dumping by Chinese makers. The current situation could degenerate into the mutual imposition of sanctions.

EU countries and China have become key trading partners. Should their trade conflict escalate, it would adversely affect the global economy. We hope the EU and China try to settle their disputes as soon as possible through dialogue.

The growing trend toward protectionism in various parts of the world is a cause for concern. This is apparently designed to assist domestic industries while the world economy dawdles toward a full-fledged recovery and some newly emerging economies face a slowdown in growth.

Japan claim upheld

In May, the WTO upheld Japan’s claim against a controversial feed-in tariff program introduced by the Canadian province of Ontario. Only companies that meet certain local content levels for renewable energy-related equipment can take part in the program, in which electricity generated from renewable energy sources is sold to power companies at fixed prices.
The WTO ordered the province to take corrective measures.

Japan, together with the United States and the EU, have filed claims against China’s export controls on rare earth minerals, as well as Argentina’s import permission system for certain goods, such as automobiles. They referred the issues to the WTO because they wanted action to correct these unfair trade practices.

The rise of trade protectionism is detrimental to development of the world economy. Japan has to devise a strategy to cooperate with the United States and European countries, while holding on to the WTO rules as fundamental to promoting the global economy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 9, 2013)
(2013年6月9日01時45分  読売新聞)

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出生数過去最少 結婚・出産支援も強化したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 11, 2013
Marriage, child-bearing assistance needed to combat low birthrate
出生数過去最少 結婚・出産支援も強化したい(6月9日付・読売社説)

A number that makes us keenly aware of the crucial need to lift the nation’s low birthrate has been released.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s demographic statistics for 2012, which were made public Wednesday, the number of babies born in Japan last year stood at 1,037,000, the lowest figure since the government started compiling population statistics in 1899.

The year’s population decline, calculated by deducting the number of births from the number of deaths, totaled 219,000, the largest on record.

The fertility rate--the number of children a woman is expected to give birth to in her lifetime--slightly increased in 2012 to 1.41 from 1.39 the previous year.

Population to shrink further

A major factor behind the slight rise in fertility is that an increasing number of so-called second-generation baby boomers--people around 40 years old--are having babies, the statistics show. The marginal rise in the fertility rate is hardly something to become ecstatic about.

As there are fewer people in the generation below the second-generation baby boomers, the number of newborns is expected to decline.

If the population continues to shrink, the burden of working people supporting the elderly will become heavier. The decline in the workforce will also create a drag on the nation’s economic growth.

Effective measures are essential to stop the birthrate from falling further.

On Friday, the government approved a set of steps to deal immediately with the low birthrate on the basis of measures to deal with the “national crisis of the low birthrate” drawn up late last month by a panel of academics and experts.

In addition to conventional government assistance for child rearing and improving working conditions for women with small children, the panel said support for “marriage, pregnancy and childbirth” should act as pillars to stem the decline in the birthrate.

The measures included strengthening assistance in local communities at such facilities as postnatal care centers to provide mothers immediately after giving birth and their babies with better breast-feeding and mental care services.

They also called for improving the quality of counseling services at these facilities to help eliminate anxieties women may have during their prenatal and postnatal periods.

The measures also emphasize the importance of providing information about pregnancy and childbirth.

The government has abandoned a plan to distribute a handbook about life and women, or so-called women’s handbook, in light of criticism that the government was trying to dictate to women when they should have children, through descriptions in the handbook about the appropriate age for pregnancies and relevant information.

There are, however, many women who regret missing the suitable child-bearing age from a medical point of view.

It is obviously up to the individual whether or when to have a child. But it is highly important to disseminate knowledge about childbirth.

Steadily enforce steps

Some local governments have had success in dealing with the birthrate decline. The Yokohama municipal government, for example, has reduced to zero the number of children on the waiting list for day care nurseries.

Other local governments have set up “courses for prospective fathers” while some sponsor programs to provide men and women with a meeting place for possible matchmaking.

Arrangements to assist in marriage, pregnancy and child-bearing are expected to be incorporated into recommendations by the government’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, a basic policy of which is scheduled to be worked out shortly.

Measures that should be put into force to stem the decline in the birthrate have been worked out in full.

These measures must be steadily put into effect.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 9, 2013)
(2013年6月9日01時42分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月10日 (月)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:リワークプログラム /東京

June 02, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Making a gradual comeback from depression
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:リワークプログラム /東京

It's not uncommon these days to hear of people who have had to take a long time off work due to depression. About 60 percent of companies and other workplaces in one survey said their staff ranks included people with mental health problems.

What do workers do after succumbing to such problems? The first thing is probably to see a psychiatrist or visit a department of psychosomatic medicine, and if necessary, obtain a doctor's certificate saying the person needs time off work. The person will then likely receive appropriate treatment, resting at home.

When the patient shows signs of recovery and expresses a desire to return to work, their doctor is likely to tell them, "It's dangerous to return to work right away. You should get used to returning to work a little at a time."

Why, exactly, is it dangerous for someone to return to work right after recovering? Though the person's symptoms may have disappeared, there's a big difference between resting at home and commuting to work and performing one's job. Patients who have recovered from depression, in particular, have to avoid overexerting themselves mentally and physically. It's therefore undesirable for them to use up a great deal of energy stemming from the tension of suddenly working fulltime once more.

In that case, the person should first get used to commuting to work. Before making a full return to work, the person needs to gradually get used to working once more, meeting their colleagues face-to-face, for example.

This said, quite a few firms and business establishments will tell the person, "We don't have any system for a gradual return to work." Some people wanting to return to work therefore first want to set a lower hurdle for themselves and undergo rehabilitation.

Medical institutions, administrative bodies or nonprofit organizations can help these patients through so-called "rework programs." Under these, the patients first practice getting on the train at a set time each day and traveling to a specified location. They practice speaking with people other than family members, work at computers and perform research, acquiring the skills that will prevent them from succumbing to depression. Recently such programs have attracted much attention in mental health circles.

The clinic where I work doesn't have such a program, so I seek the assistance of other medical institutions in treating patients thinking of returning to work. At those times, I always think about how dangerous it is to rush full steam into anything after once having slowed one's pace down. And that goes for things besides depression.

It's the same after a worker has been sick from a cold or other ailment, when someone has taken time off due to bereavement, or after a period when they have been unable to concentrate on their work due to the death of a family member or other personal circumstances. During such times, rather than thinking "I'm going to make up for the time I was off," how about instead making an effort to return to one's original pace step by step?

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年05月28日 地方版

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2013年6月 9日 (日)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:「年相応」の生活楽しんで /東京

June 09, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Enjoy life in old age, but don't push too hard
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:「年相応」の生活楽しんで /東京

Recently, 80-year-old Yuichiro Miura made the news for climbing to the top of Mt. Everest. At a news conference held right after his return to Japan, he revealed yet another goal, saying, "Next I will ski down an 8,000-meter mountain."

The energy of people like Miura in their 80s and 90s nowadays is surprising. When I go to the bookstore, I see best sellers by authors in their 80s and autobiographies by pianists and photographers in their 90s. Meanwhile, I know a woman who in her 70s decided to study a foreign language abroad, and was a little taken aback by a friend's reaction who had heard it was popular among grandmothers who had finished caring for their grandchildren. It seems no one is surprised these days if someone in their 70s starts something new.
 最近の80代、90代の「元気っぷり」はすごい。書店に行くと80代の作家の本がベストセラーになっていたり、90代のピアニスト、写真家の自叙伝が出ていたり。私の知人で70代になってから語学留学を決意して友人に相談したら、「それ『グランママ留学』って言うんでしょ? 孫の世話が一段落した祖母たちの間ではやっているんですって」と言われ、拍子抜けしてしまったという女性がいた。今や70代で新しいことを始めても、誰も驚かない時代になったのだ。

However, not everyone enters into old age with good health and strong curiosity. For fiscal 2010, the average "healthful life expectancy" -- the age through which one lives a normal, unhindered lifestyle -- in Japan was 70 for men and 74 for women. We can see that the 82-year-old who starts learning ballet, or the 91-year-old who goes mountain hiking every week, are very much exceptions to the norm.

Once, a woman in her 80s visited my consultation room. "I don't feel like doing anything. Do I have depression?" she asked. Her husband had died and she lived with her son's family. She also had a bad back and other chronic conditions. However, she was articulate, she didn't look like someone in their 80s, and she didn't seem to have any significant difficulties living her day-to-day life.

"I don't think it's depression. Don't worry too much, listen to music, talk on the phone to friends, and do what you want," I advised, but she didn't look convinced. In her mind, people in their 80s were supposed to be energetic, contributing to society and pursuing new goals.

Of course, it is wonderful if people can continue with their jobs or hobbies into their 80s and 90s. I want people to pursue their goals without holding back because of their age. But not everyone has to climb Mt. Everest or publish a best seller. It is precisely because those people are rare that they gain such public attention. In recent years the phrase "appropriate for one's age" has gained negative connotations, but there should be nothing wrong with living our elderly lives quietly in accordance with the illnesses and other effects of our age.

To seniors I would like to say, enjoy yourselves without pushing too hard.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年06月04日 地方版

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自民地域版公約 普天間「県外移設」は二枚舌か

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 9, 2013
LDP, Okinawa chapter out of sync on Futenma air base relocation plan
自民地域版公約 普天間「県外移設」は二枚舌か(6月8日付・読売社説)

It is irresponsible for the Liberal Democratic Party’s Okinawa prefectural chapter to include policies in its campaign pledge that go against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s weighty political decision and the policies of the party’s headquarters.

The chapter has decided to mention its demand for relocating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to a site outside the prefecture in the prefectural version of the party’s manifesto for the House of Councillors election scheduled for July.

LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and Policy Research Council Chairwoman Sanae Takaichi repeatedly tried in vain to persuade the chapter not to include the “outside-the-prefecture relocation” pledge in the local manifesto.

Originally, the prefectural chapter supported a plan to relocate the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the Henoko district in Nago. But as calls grew louder among prefectural residents to relocate the base outside the prefecture, in a backlash against the Democratic Party of Japan-led government’s bungled handling of the relocation issue, the chapter changed tack to call for an outside-the-prefecture relocation plan, as Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima did.

The LDP plans to field a rookie candidate in the Okinawa prefectural constituency of the upper house election against an opposition-affiliated incumbent. Some in the chapter contend it will be impossible to win the election if its candidate insists on relocating the base to Henoko.

However, it must be noted that the Futenma relocation is a crucial issue deeply tied to Japan’s diplomatic and security policies. The upcoming poll is a national election, so the chapter should not decide on a campaign pledge based only on regional factors, even if it is intended for the local version of the manifesto.

2-tongued approach baffling

The party headquarters plans to promote the relocation of Futenma to Henoko in its campaign pledge. If the chapter puts forward a policy that is inconsistent with this party line, it will only lead to confusion among voters.

The Futenma issue is in an extremely critical phase of determining whether the longstanding issue can be resolved.

In a summit meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in February, Abe confirmed a policy to push forward the Futenma relocation. In March, the government filed an application with the Okinawa prefectural government for approval of reclamation of the Henoko coastal area for this purpose.

The Abe administration must stand fast on its plan to accelerate the relocation to Henoko. The Nago Fisheries Cooperative, which agreed with the reclamation plan, has said it “will withdraw the approval if the relocation to Henoko is not mentioned in the LDP’s campaign pledge.”

If the reclamation is not permitted, this would be a serious blow to the Abe administration.

Not a smart choice

The LDP must take seriously that the prime minister made a political decision with high stakes. It is only natural that the party as a whole cooperate in his bid to promote the relocation to Henoko.

First of all, the plan to relocate the base outside the prefecture is unlikely to be realized because it contains no concrete measures. The plan will most certainly lead to extending the status quo for a long time, during which the Futenma base will continue to pose a risk to the surrounding areas. This cannot be a smart choice for the prefecture.

Some members of the LDP Okinawa prefectural chapter--including Kosaburo Nishime, a House of Representatives member, and upper house member Aiko Shimajiri, a parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office--have been indicating they will approve relocation to Henoko. The government and party headquarters must join hands with local entities who have yet to voice their approval of the relocation plan.

The first thing to do is to reverse the chapter’s decision in favor of relocation outside the prefecture. This could be the first step to laying the foundation for Gov. Nakaima to approve reclamation of the Henoko coastal area.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun June 8, 2013)
(2013年6月8日01時49分  読売新聞)

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日仏首脳会談 互いに有益な原発・安保協力

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 9, 2013
Closer nuclear, security ties will benefit both Japan, France
日仏首脳会談 互いに有益な原発・安保協力(6月8日付・読売社説)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and visiting French President Francois Hollande met Friday. After their meeting, the two leaders issued a joint statement saying their countries would work together in a wide range of areas including security and nuclear technology.

On nuclear power generation, the statement pledged comprehensive bilateral cooperation in areas such as ensuring the safety of nuclear facilities and conducting the final disposal of nuclear waste. It also referred to joint projects to promote the nuclear fuel cycle and develop a next-generation, high-speed reactor.

It is highly significant that Japan and France agreed to work together by taking advantage of their accumulated technologies and experience.

The two countries agreed to expand partnerships between the public and private sectors to clean up the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. France is known for its high-level technology for processing water and soil contaminated with radiation. Closer ties between Japan and France in this area likely will become a model for internationally handling a nuclear crisis.

The joint statement also noted the Japanese and French governments will work with the private sector to export nuclear power plants to third countries.

Last month, a consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and French nuclear giant Areva SA clinched its first order from Turkey to build a nuclear plant there. This international strategy will benefit both countries’ economies.

United front against China

Security was the other main pillar of the joint statement. Japan and France agreed to strengthen security cooperation “to deal with new issues caused by a rising power.” This apparently was a reference to China, which has become increasingly assertive in recent times.

In particular, the statement sought respect for the principles of the Law of the Sea. Japan has high hopes it will be able to work with France, which has island territories in the Pacific Ocean, to stand firm against China on maritime matters.

However, a French company recently signed a deal with China to sell equipment that helps helicopters land on ships even in bad weather. The government has voiced concern to France over China’s increased maritime capability, as Chinese government vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands.

During Friday’s meeting, Abe and Hollande agreed to launch intergovernmental dialogue to discuss exports of equipment that could have military applications. We view this agreement as a step forward. But Tokyo needs to press Paris further to strictly curb exports of defense equipment to China.

Regional rows concern Paris

After the summit talks, the French president addressed the Diet, during which he mentioned Japan’s tensions with China and South Korea over differences in historical perceptions. “A line must be drawn for past issues,” he said, citing the improved relationship between his country and Germany, which waged war against each other for years in the past.

Japan must thoroughly explain to France its position on the issue of historical perceptions.

Hollande is the first French president to visit Japan as a state guest since Jacques Chirac 17 years ago. Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, seemed unenthusiastic about Japan as he placed more importance on building closer economic ties with China. We hope Hollande’s visit to Japan will be an opportunity to make a fresh start in deepening Japan-France relations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun June 8, 2013)
(2013年6月8日01時49分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月 8日 (土)

パキスタン情勢 対米修復が地域の安定を導く

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 8, 2013
Pakistan must improve relations with U.S. for regional stability
パキスタン情勢 対米修復が地域の安定を導く(6月7日付・読売社説)

If political instability is to continue in Pakistan, on the frontline of the United States’ war against terrorism, regional stability is almost hopeless.

Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister of the country and the leader of the largest opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which won the May general election, was elected as prime minister after his party won support from many independents to gain a majority in the National Assembly.

In a country that has seen repeated coups, a military government did not come into power again and a peaceful administrative change was realized. This shows the country’s democratization movement has further taken root.

The winning factor for Sharif was that he criticized the administration of President Asif Ali Zardari as blindly following the United States and succeeded in currying favor with anti-U.S. voters.

Two years ago the United States killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, who was hiding in Pakistan, without informing the Zardari administration of the attack. In addition, the United States continues drone bombings against Taliban armed antigovernment rebels in areas bordering Afghanistan.

In his inauguration address, Sharif emphasized, “The drone attacks must now stop.” However, he avoided naming the United States in the speech. We think he is trying to mend relations with the United States, which extends the most assistance to Pakistan, while considering the anti-U.S. sentiment strongly rooted in the nation.

Sharif’s leadership test

The U.S. military’s withdrawal deadline from Afghanistan is the end of next year. Will it be possible for Pakistan to improve the security situation in the country, which is aggravated by the terrorism of the armed rebels, by the deadline and contribute to regional stability?

Sharif’s leadership ability is now under scrutiny. To demonstrate strong leadership, it is critical for him to establish a relationship of mutual trust with the military forces, which have been engaged in operations to clear out the rebels.

Sharif emphasized during his campaign the importance of having dialogues with the Taliban rebels. However, the Taliban refused to enter into dialogue with the Sharif administration because one of its top commanders was killed in a recent U.S. drone attack. The future of the policy of holding dialogues faces a difficult challenge.

Relations with India, a neighbor Pakistan has fought in three wars, have been rocky. We hope tensions between India and Pakistan, which both have nuclear weapons, will ease as soon as possible.

Balanced diplomacy key

Meanwhile, Sharif has also announced a plan to complete the construction of a road and a railway network connecting Gwadar Port, a strategically important facility, with China, with assistance from that country.

It is important for Pakistan to improve relations with the United States and India, while not overly strengthening relations with China further, to develop a well-balanced diplomacy.

It is also an urgent task for the country to boost the economy. With a low economic growth rate of less than 4 percent a year, the country’s foreign currency reserves have sharply declined. Power shortages are also a serious problem. Expectations are running high for Sharif, a former business owner with experience tackling the country’s economic reforms, to restart a suspended International Monetary Fund loan package.

The Japanese government needs to extend indirect support for the country’s economic reconstruction, by deepening cooperation with the country in such ways as helping to provide a stable supply of electricity.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2013)
(2013年6月7日01時35分  読売新聞)

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消費増税転嫁法 「還元セール」の混乱を防げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 8, 2013
Govt must take measures to prevent pricing confusion after sales tax hike
消費増税転嫁法 「還元セール」の混乱を防げ(6月7日付・読売社説)

The government has been urged to make its best efforts to take measures to ensure that the planned two-stage consumption tax hike starting next year does not cause confusion among consumers and businesses.

Special legislation passed Wednesday when a bill for the law, with modifications made by the ruling and opposition camps, cleared the House of Councillors. The bill encourages businesses to smoothly reflect the tax hike from April 2014 in the prices of goods and services.

Effective through March 2017, the law prohibits major companies from using their strong positions to engage in dishonest practices such as pressuring suppliers and others not to reflect the tax hike in transactions to keep prices down.

Protecting small firms

When the consumption tax was raised in 1997, many small and midsize companies dealing with such major firms as supermarket chains were unable to compensate for the tax increase by raising their prices and had to absorb the burden themselves.

To prevent a similar situation, the new law rightly aims at allowing smaller companies to reject pressure from major companies without fear of reprisal.

We also welcome the fact that the special measure has taken into full consideration the possibility of a “tax shift cartel” whereby wholesalers and other suppliers would act in concert to increase their prices to offset the tax hike.

One concern that emerged in the process of deliberating the legislation was what types of advertising by retailers for goods and services should be permitted when the consumption tax is raised.

Initially, a government bill for the law banned adverts such as “3 percent price cuts on all our goods,” which can be taken as sales that do not pass the tax burden on to customers. The government later withdrew the plan, amending the bill in favor of sales campaigns as long as the term “consumption tax” is avoided.

Under the legislation, such wording in adverts as “3 percent price cut” and “discount sales for supporting livelihood in spring” would be permitted. However, ads that aim at not reflecting the tax hike in prices, such as, “We’re offsetting the consumption tax hike,” are forbidden.

We think it was quite reasonable that the initial bill was reviewed in response to negative reactions from retailers and others concerned.

Depending on cost-cutting efforts made by businesses, their after-tax prices could remain unchanged even after passing the tax hike on to consumers.

Still, the government must avoid unnecessarily restricting price competition among businesses, as well as their respective sales promotion activities. It is essential to avoid stifling businesses’ motivation to engage in fair competition.

It is not easy to detect unfair practices in business transactions. Such watchdogs as the Fair Trade Commission and the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency must do their utmost to be vigilant regarding dishonest practices.

Simple guidelines a must

Under the new law, the obligation on the part of retailers to comply with the “aggregate pricing method,” or repricing to include the consumption tax hike, has been relaxed. As long as companies make it known to the public that their prices do not contain the tax, they are allowed to display before-tax prices.

However, a situation in which some retailers explicitly display after-tax prices while others do not may lead to confusion among consumers.

The government intends to work out in the near future guidelines on how to implement the new law, as well as price display methods. They should be specific and easy to understand, and the government should make efforts to familiarize the public and businesses with the new law.

The decision to raise the consumption tax rate has naturally been premised on thorough consideration of business trends and other relevant factors. Still, the government must not neglect the need to sufficiently prepare for the tax hike’s execution.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2013)
(2013年6月7日01時35分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月 7日 (金)

成長戦略 民間活力の爆発で日本再生を

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 7, 2013
Utilizing power of private sector key for 'third arrow' to hit target
成長戦略 民間活力の爆発で日本再生を(6月6日付・読売社説)


Will Abenomics really be able to boost the competitive power of domestic companies and rejuvenate Japan’s economy? Can Japan win in the global market? The true value of the Abe administration’s economic policies will be finally tested.

On Wednesday, the government’s Industrial Competitiveness Council finished compiling a draft of the administration’s growth policy, which is touted as the “third arrow” of Abenomics. Now almost all the elements of Abenomics have been revealed to the public.

On the same day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a speech on the growth strategy at a hotel in Tokyo, stipulating deregulation as the heart of his economic reforms. Abe expressed his resolve to rebuild the nation’s economy, citing the “eruption of the private sector’s vitality” as a key factor of his growth strategy.

In his speech, Abe also revealed the mid- and long-term goals of his economic policies, such as increasing per-capita gross national income by 1.5 million yen over the next decade.

Full picture of Abenomics

The growth strategy has three pillars: to restore the nation’s industries, strategically create new markets and help Japan’s businesses expand abroad. After Abe’s speech, the Tokyo Stock Exchange plunged due to criticism including the notion that the growth strategy lacked originality, but we believe the growth strategy is pointed in the right direction.

Regarding the goal of restoring the nation’s industries, the government will designate the next five years as an emergency period for structural reforms, focusing on measures such as utilizing the untapped potential of the female labor force and promoting private investment.

The centerpiece of the measures is a plan to create “national strategic special deregulation zones,” which Abe revealed Wednesday. The plan aims to create cosmopolitan cities that attract companies and talented workers from all over the world by boldly relaxing regulations in the special zones.

We urge the government to swiftly prepare concrete measures to materialize the plan, so Japan will become a country that provides the best working environment for companies.

Regarding the goal of strategically creating new markets, the government plans to find and nurture new business opportunities from problems facing Japan, such as the stagnant birthrate, graying of society and aging social infrastructure. It also targets the nation’s medical industry, which is lagging behind foreign competitors, and its agricultural industry, which suffers from low productivity. The agricultural industry has long been urged to enhance its international competitiveness.

On deregulation, the growth strategy includes a plan to lift a ban on the online sales of nonprescription drugs. The government also intends to expand the scope of so-called mixed treatments, a combination of medical practices covered in part by public health insurance and in part by patients, which is currently limited to exceptional cases. We believe these measures will lead to important progress.

Japan now faces many difficulties. But let’s turn misfortune into blessings by riding the wind of such deregulation measures and combining the wisdom and innovation of the government and the private sector.

Joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework will be the first step in promoting the overseas advancement of Japanese businesses. The government needs to work hard to make up for the lack of progress in commerce policies.

Japan’s domestic market has begun to shrink due to the declining population. In such a situation, it is essential for the nation to attract foreign demand to sustain economic growth by boosting infrastructure-related exports, such as nuclear power plants and Shinkansen bullet trains.

Beef up control tower functions

All the numerical targets Abe has revealed--including 70 trillion yen in private capital investment, 30 trillion yen in infrastructure exports and 35 trillion yen in direct investment to Japan by foreign companies--are ambitious and lofty goals.

His enthusiasm appears genuine, but such goals are meaningless if they end up as empty promises. The Abe administration must steadily carry out measures to achieve its goals and produce real results.

Achievements were made in less than 10 percent of the policy measures stipulated in the New Growth Strategy two years after it was adopted by the administration of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan in June 2010. A well-detailed timetable that listed when each goal was to be achieved, for instance, was just window dressing.

The same mistake should not be made again. The management capabilities of the Prime Minister’s Office should be reinforced to block resistance from individual ministries and avoid jurisdictional disputes among ministries over deregulation measures.

Abe said his Cabinet will verify every year the level of achievement of each policy, based on new indicators. If a policy is found to be behind the timetable, the administration will not casually lower the target, but introduce additional measures to achieve the goal. We urge the administration to review the programs continually and improve its measures to achieve goals whenever necessary.

We are concerned, however, because many policy measures demanded by business circles were not included in the growth strategy.

For example, businesses sought a reduction in the corporate tax rate, which is higher than those of other major countries, and drastic agricultural reform, including lifting the ban on the possession of farmlands by corporations. However, these measures were shelved.

The House of Councillors election is just around the corner and a hike in the consumption tax rate is scheduled for April next year. In this situation, Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party probably wanted to avoid policies that could prove unpopular with voters.

However, to break the nation’s economic deadlock, the administration needs the determination to bravely challenge the barrier of vested interests. We hope the Abe administration will accelerate discussions on pending issues that it put off dealing with.

To improve the efficacy of the growth strategy, it is important for the Abe administration to improve individual policy measures as well as remove barriers to hamper the economic activities of the private sector.

Stable power supply essential

After the launch of the current Abe Cabinet, the hyper-appreciation of the yen that had afflicted the Japanese economy was corrected. However, many issues still remain unsolved.

The shortage of power is a particularly serious problem. As the fuel costs for thermal power stations snowball, national wealth continues to steadily flow out of the country and power rate hikes go on.

Electricity is the lifeblood of the economy. Unless the days of stable supply of inexpensive electric power return, it will be difficult to achieve stable growth in the economy.

In that sense, it is natural for the administration to have clarified in the growth strategy that the “entire government will make maximum efforts” to reactive idle nuclear reactors after their safety is confirmed.

The government must take the initiative to explain the necessity of this policy to local governments hosting nuclear power plants and make its utmost effort to realize a stable supply of electricity.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 6, 2013)
(2013年6月6日01時21分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月 6日 (木)

W杯出場決定 いざブラジルへ高まる期待

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 6, 2013
Expectations high for men's soccer team after clinching World Cup berth
W杯出場決定 いざブラジルへ高まる期待(6月5日付・読売社説)

It is great to see Japan’s national soccer team secure a World Cup berth for the fifth consecutive time. We are looking forward to seeing how the national team players will fare in the big event one year from now.

It was the first time ever for Japan to secure a World Cup berth in a home game. The elated team members shared their jubilance with more than 60,000 cheering spectators at a packed Saitama Stadium. It was a moving scene that could only be seen at a home game.
Japan tied with Australia 1-1 on Tuesday in the final round of World Cup qualifiers, winning a ticket to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Japanese first qualified for the World Cup in 1998 held in France--a feat the team had been struggling to accomplish for many years.

Since then, Japan has won a berth in the finals for Germany 2006, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. It qualified automatically for the 2002 event because it was one of that year’s two cohosts, along with South Korea.

J.League serves as springboard

This means the squad has maintained its top-tier status in Asia, which can be attributed to the team’s expanded player depth and smooth introduction of younger, up-and-coming players.

A springboard for Japan’s national team has been J.League, which marked the 20th anniversary of its inception this year. J.League players have intensely competed for their survival in the glamorous but highly competitive professional league.

An increasing number of successful J.League players have opted to play for teams overseas, which has helped them develop their agility, techniques and other qualities in demanding environments. Such a trend has surely raised Japan’s level of soccer.

Players belonging to foreign clubs have become a majority on the national team. Among them, Keisuke Honda, Makoto Hasebe and Yuto Nagatomo--who spearheaded the team’s advance to the Round of 16 of the last World Cup--now lead the team.

Honda, who slotted the penalty kick that leveled the score against Australia on Tuesday night, displayed outstanding mental strength. Shinji Kagawa, who was not selected for the national team in the last World Cup, has developed into a core member.

Fancy footsteps to follow in

Nadeshiko Japan, the women’s national soccer team, became World Cup champions two years ago. The achievement, which stirred up the entire nation, must have served as an impetus for the men’s squad.

Japan’s defense and organizational skills proved to be sufficient in the last World Cup. The challenge for now is scoring. We hope the Japanese side will be strong enough to miss no scoring opportunities.

If each player does what is required of him, it is not unthinkable that Japan could reach the quarterfinals for the first time in the World Cup next year.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 5, 2013)
(2013年6月5日01時26分  読売新聞)

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憲法改正論議 公明党は現実路線で一歩前に

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 6, 2013
Komeito must take realistic tack on constitutional amendments
憲法改正論議 公明党は現実路線で一歩前に(6月5日付・読売社説)

Ahead of the House of Councillors election this summer, ruling and opposition parties are ramping up preparations, including those for their campaign pledges.

Their positions on the nation’s basic law are being put under scrutiny through issues related to constitutional amendment.

As a pledge concerning constitutional revision, New Komeito will likely advocate that adding new provisions it considers necessary--such as those regarding a human right to a decent and healthy environment--to the nation’s supreme law is the most realistic and reasonable approach.

Referring to Article 9 of the Constitution, Komeito will stipulate that the party will carefully discuss adding the existence of the Self-Defense Forces and how the SDF should contribute to the international community to the top law, while keeping the existing provisions of the article intact.

The fact that there is no stipulation of the SDF in the Constitution has given rise to the unrealistic interpretation that the SDF are not military forces, and has hampered efforts to extensively formulate national security policy.

Articles 9 and 96

How will Komeito consider the status of the SDF while keeping Paragraph 2 of Article 9, which states, “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained”? Although doubt remains over some of the specifics, Komeito can be commended for squarely facing up to amending Article 9.

We hope Komeito will take further action to formulate provisions to be added to the Constitution.

Komeito is cautious about changing Article 96, which stipulates procedures for constitutional revision, ahead of other revisions. The party insists it is appropriate for this change to be discussed with other revisions. This is one reason why the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito have failed to make common campaign pledges.

However, it is difficult for the Diet to propose an amendment to the Constitution to the public under the current requirement that the revision must be supported by at least two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers. This hurdle is far too high compared with other countries. More discussions are needed on easing this requirement.

Depending on the result of the upper house election, the relative importance of Komeito in discussions over constitutional amendment could grow. Komeito must coordinate its position with the LDP, which is trumpeting its own draft of constitutional revisions.

DPJ’s stance as clear as mud

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan’s stance remains unclear. In its campaign pledge draft, the DPJ says it will promote “a constitutional dialogue” with the public, deepen discussions on what should be added and what should be changed, and craft the concept of a future-oriented constitution. This is tantamount to advocating nothing.

Voters will be unable to make an informed judgment unless the DPJ concretely presents which clauses it wants to be reviewed and how. Discussions over many years have made it evident what should be added or what should be changed in the top law are the existence of the SDF, environmental rights, a provision concerning responses to an emergency, and the upper house’s excessive authority.

The DPJ, which has not presented its own alternative plan, lashed out at the LDP draft, deriding it as “an anachronism” and “reactionary.”

During the campaign for the December House of Representatives election, the DPJ strategy was to fan the people’s anxiety of the LDP. In one extreme case, they raised the specter of whether the LDP might “turn the SDF into an organization that can launch intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

The DPJ should not just slap labels on the LDP, but actually hold constructive debates on key matters.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 5, 2013)
(2013年6月5日01時30分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月 5日 (水)

検察の懲戒請求 報道の自由が侵されかねない

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 5, 2013
Prosecutors' action may limit freedom of news reporting
検察の懲戒請求 報道の自由が侵されかねない(6月4日付・読売社説)

Recent action by prosecutors may have a chilling effect on those who would cooperate with reporters as news sources.

The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office has asked the Osaka Bar Association to impose disciplinary action against a lawyer who provided NHK with video footage of questioning by prosecutors, disclosed earlier as evidence in court.

The prosecutors called for disciplinary action as they considered the provision of the footage to be use of evidence for other than its original purpose, which is prohibited by the Criminal Procedure Law.

The prohibition was established when the range of evidence to be disclosed by the prosecution to the defense was expanded under a revision of the law in 2004.

Remember law’s purpose

It is designed to prevent evidence leaks from leading to intimidation of witnesses or invasion of privacy of those involved with the case.

This can be considered a provision necessary to secure fair judicial procedures. But it is questionable whether the application of this provision to the latest case is justifiable.

The footage recorded a verbal exchange that appeared to contradict a statement made on the basis of a “confession” of a defendant charged with inflicting bodily injury resulting in death. This turned out to be one reason for the court to hand down a not-guilty ruling.

The lawyer offered the footage to NHK only after the ruling was finalized. The footage had been replayed at a public trial, with the courtroom spectators seeing it. The lawyer reportedly obtained prior consent of the former defendant before handing the video to the broadcaster.

When airing the footage in its program, NHK took measures to protect the defendant’s privacy by obscuring the face and changing the voice.

It is unlikely that the provision of the footage and its broadcast on TV adversely affected the court ruling or defamed those concerned.

The lawyer has explained that he “wanted to inform the public about the real situation of the prosecutors’ questioning.”

It can be said that providing such evidence for the purpose of examining how criminal investigations should be conducted is sufficiently within the public interest.

Regarding the prohibition on the use of evidence for other than its original purposes, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations called for, at the time of the law revision, allowing exceptions to the prohibition in cases when there is a good reason.

The Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association has also expressed its opinion saying, “There is a great fear [of the prohibition] leading to the restriction of news gathering.”

Consider the context

The issue has also been taken up for discussion in the Diet, where it has been proposed that a clause be added to the law to state that in suspected cases of its violation, “the purpose of the action, the way the action is taken, or whether there is a possible defamation of those concerned, should be taken into consideration.”

Did the Osaka prosecutors office sufficiently examine the case from these perspectives?

In March, a man was indicted for allegedly posting on a video site some disclosed evidence, including crime scene photos showing a victim. Such a malicious case should be dealt with strictly.

But if the provision of information in the public interest is deliberately put into question by prosecutors, it may lead to infringement on the freedom of reporting and news gathering.

It should not be forgotten that evidence gathered through the use of public authority is not the exclusive property of the prosecutors. It is public goods.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 4, 2013)
(2013年6月4日01時12分  読売新聞)

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限定正社員 制度導入への課題はなお多い

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 5, 2013
Not so fast on introduction of 'limited regular employees'
限定正社員 制度導入への課題はなお多い(6月4日付・読売社説)

Will it be a step toward expanding employment and better allocating human resources to growth areas?

The government’s Regulatory Reform Council is set to propose that so-called “gentei sei-shain” (limited regular corporate employees) be systemized as part of the nation’s growth strategies.

These employees would be limited in the types of duties they could perform, work locations and working hours. Just like full-fledged regular employees, workers holding this position would be covered by corporate welfare benefit programs and would not be subject to a set period of employment. These workers also are called “job-based” regular employees, which are common in the United States and Europe.

Although limited regular employees would be paid less than regular workers, their job status is considered more stable than that of nonregular employees. This category is expected to enable workers, who spend a considerable amount of time on child-rearing and nursing care, to choose a way to work that better fits their wishes.

Firms would also benefit

Many companies have introduced similar systems. But employment rules for such workers have not necessarily been established yet.

Institutionalizing limited regular workers is expected to bring nonregular employees, who now account for 35 percent of Japan’s workforce, a step closer to regular workers. The growing number of nonregular employees, whose salary is low and who can easily be shown the door during corporate restructuring, is considered a factor behind the nation’s sluggish consumption.

If work duties are limited to certain areas, employees’ specialized fields would be clarified. Some could utilize the system to build their careers, and it could be an advantage if they change jobs.

Furthermore, if the system of limited regular employees takes root, it would benefit companies. When companies shut down some outlets or abolish certain job categories whose objectives have been completed, they could dismiss those employees more easily than regular workers, whose employment would be protected through such steps as transfers to different departments.

The envisaged system would remedy the current situation in which unprofitable divisions groan under an excess of workers.

But many challenges remain before the new position can be institutionalized. The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) has taken umbrage with the fact that the limited regular employee system is being studied to ease rules covering worker dismissal. The labor organization has voiced opposition, saying that companies could fire employees just for their own convenience when factories or offices are shuttered. It denounced the system as “a liberalization of policies on firing workers.”

Clear rules needed

Many companies are worried about the increasing risk of facing a lawsuit over staff dismissals.

The Regulatory Reform Council is calling on the government to establish clear rules on such matters as in what cases companies could dismiss limited regular employees.

We think the envisaged system should not be allowed to facilitate easy restructuring, which would rather destabilize the employment situation.

How can shifting labor from structurally depressed industries to growth industries be promoted without increasing unemployment? Crafting a highly fluid labor market is essential for the revival of the nation’s economy.

To help laid-off workers find new careers, the government and companies also need to strengthen job placement and training services.

We hope discussions will deepen from broad viewpoints, not only regarding employment but also including economic growth and the international competitiveness of Japan’s industries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 4, 2013)
(2013年6月4日01時12分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月 4日 (火)

南スーダン支援 地元連携で効果的なPKOに

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 4, 2013
Work with locals to enhance effect of Japan's PKO in South Sudan
南スーダン支援 地元連携で効果的なPKOに(6月3日付・読売社説)

It is important for Japan to adopt a strategy that enhances the effectiveness of its contribution to U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan, by closely cooperating with local people.

The government has decided to extend the area of engagement by the Ground Self-Defense Force engineering unit taking part in the U.N. Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).

Since January last year, about 330 personnel of the unit have been improving major trunk roads and an airstrip in the capital Juba, which is in Central Equatoria State. After Bangladeshi units pull out of Eastern and Western Equatoria shortly, the GSDF unit will also operate in these two states.

The GSDF engineers have withdrawn from the Golan Heights in the Middle East and Haiti, leaving South Sudan as the only country where the unit is engaged in peacekeeping operations.

Unit stars in engineering

Extending the unit’s area of engagement is quite appropriate for enhancing Japan’s presence in and reinforcing ties with Africa, which is expected to grow markedly in the future.

China, South Korea and India also have dispatched engineering units to South Sudan. In northern South Sudan, where the units of these three Asian nations conduct their peacekeeping activities, rebel forces still operate actively. In April, rebels attacked a U.N. convoy and killed 12 people, including five Indian peacekeepers escorting the convoy.

The public security situation is relatively stable in the three southern states where the GSDF unit will operate. Nonetheless, it is necessary to remain vigilant to ensure the safety of the unit by, for instance, constantly gathering information on the movements of rebel forces.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July 2011, but little progress has been made in its nation-building efforts. From May to October, heavy rainfall makes roads impassable in many areas. Therefore, it is hugely significant that the GSDF unit is helping to improve a road network that will serve as a foundation for that country’s economic development.

The unit has achieved tangible results in repairing and improving roads--its specialty area--in such nations as Cambodia and East Timor. The unit has earned a reputation for its precise and diligent work. Its attention to detail includes adjusting the camber of a road and the width of side gutters in line with rainfall of a specific area.

The important thing is for the unit to have numerous dialogues with local people to accurately grasp their true needs. This will enhance the effect of Japan’s assistance.

The GSDF unit began building a 1.7-kilometer community road in Juba in February. The unit proposed this project to the UNMISS after actively determining what locals need and want. The road is funded from about 84 million yen of grassroots grant aid of Japan’s official development assistance, which is used to procure necessary materials.

Think outside the box

The GSDF’s reconstruction activities in postwar Iraq were made in cooperation with locals, and were highly praised. We hope such assistance will be expanded.

The Foreign Ministry, for its part, must think hard about how to enhance the synergic effects of Japan’s official development assistance and peacekeeping operations. This might involve extending not only small-scale grant aid but also larger-scale assistance, such as the improvement of facilities, in tandem with the GSDF unit’s operations.

The GSDF has dispatched three majors, including intelligence staff, to UNMISS headquarters. For Japan to have a bigger say in peacekeeping operations, it will be necessary to dispatch higher-ranking SDF officers and have them placed in posts higher up the chain of command.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 3, 2013)
(2013年6月3日01時17分  読売新聞)

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財政再建目標 達成と景気回復の両立を図れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 4, 2013
Govt must make fiscal rebuilding compatible with business recovery
財政再建目標 達成と景気回復の両立を図れ(6月3日付・読売社説)

To reinvigorate the national economy and put it on a sustainable growth path, it is imperative to restore fiscal soundness.

The government must address the challenge of ensuring compatibility between fiscal reconstruction and business recovery.

The Fiscal System Council, an advisory organ to the finance minister, has compiled a report calling on the government to hold fast to its avowed goal of rebuilding public finances. Regarding the primary budget balance deficits of the central and local governments, it sets a target of “halving the ratio of the budget deficits to gross domestic product in fiscal 2015 from the level in fiscal 2010, and achieving a primary budget surplus in fiscal 2020.”

Worst debt burden

Japan’s public debt burden is the worst among industrially advanced economies. The outstanding balance of the combined long-term debts of the central and local governments stands at slightly less than 1 yen quadrillion, twice the size of the nation’s GDP.

Primary budget balance figures represent the extent to which government spending on policy implementation, excluding debt-servicing costs, can be funded with tax revenues without depending on debt. The combined deficit of the central and local governments for fiscal 2013 is expected to swell to a level equivalent to 6.9 percent of GDP.

Under the circumstances, it appears extremely difficult to attain the goal of halving the deficits in fiscal 2015 and returning the budget to a primary surplus by fiscal 2020.

In addition, the Bank of Japan, in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies to end deflation, has embarked on bold monetary easing steps by purchasing massive amounts of government bonds.

The council’s report released on May 27 correctly warned that the government must take adequate precautions to avoid giving rise to suspicions that Japan may attempt to offset the public debt through the central bank’s bond purchase.

If confidence in government finances is shaken, government bond prices could drop precipitously, possibly causing interest rates on long-term loans to climb further. As a result, the willingness of companies to spend on capital investment could decline, chilling business prospects that have finally become brighter, while jacking up government bond-servicing costs. The government must remain alert to avoid fiscal deficits swelling further.

Based on the council’s report, the government plans to incorporate its aim to achieve fiscal discipline into a “Basic Policy for Economic and Fiscal Reform,” scheduled for release this month.

In a joint statement at a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 major economies in April, Japan was pressed to come up with a credible medium-term fiscal plan.

While it is important to assist current business conditions through flexible fiscal measures, medium-term fiscal reconstruction steps also should be worked out.

The report also emphasized the need for curbing social welfare expenditures and a growth strategy aimed at increasing tax revenues. A growth strategy is vital to resuscitate the national economy.

Spending pressures

To make this a reality, it is essential to adopt policies aimed at acquiring new markets through deregulatory steps, while at the same time expediting technological innovations in the private sector. The government now faces the task of bringing about a steady business recovery, as it moves toward raising the consumption tax rate.

With the House of Councillors election scheduled for July, the government faces mounting pressure to expand outlays for public works projects. It is also being pressured to provide more support as for farming and other sectors due to Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral free trade negotiations.

The government must make careful decisions on government-subsidized project spending by weighing whether they are really necessary and make efficient use of budgetary appropriations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 3, 2013)
(2013年6月3日01時17分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月 3日 (月)

運動部活動 暴力に頼る指導は許されない

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 2, 2013
Sports club coaches must not resort to physical punishment of students
運動部活動 暴力に頼る指導は許されない(6月1日付・読売社説)

It is essential to drive home the point that coaches should never use physical punishment in school sports club activities. They should instead focus on developing students’ capabilities.

An expert panel of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has compiled instruction guidelines for sports club activities. This came in response to a series of incidents of corporal punishment meted out by coaches of such clubs since the suicide of a student who attended Osaka municipal Sakuranomiya High School. The student killed himself after suffering corporal punishment at the hands of a teacher who served as the coach of the school’s basketball club.

Some coaches of school sports clubs still tend to have the wrong idea that physical punishment is acceptable as a “strict form of instruction.” The panel’s guidelines must be used to change their thinking.

Sports club activities are part of school education. Sixty percent of middle school students and 40 percent of high school students participate in such activities. These activities provide students with a valuable chance to learn the importance of working hard through sweating together as well as to cultivate the ability to cooperate and develop a sense of responsibility.

But the wrong instructional method can hurt students mentally and physically. It is natural that the guidelines clearly reject the use of strong-arm instruction, saying, “It is totally wrong to think physical punishment can be allowed if a relationship of trust is established with students.”

Excessive practice harmful

While saying there is no problem with seeking victory per se, the guidelines recommend not forcing excessive practice by sticking to a victory-is-everything doctrine.

As concrete examples, the guidelines say repetitive practice to acquire skills can be allowed, but forcing students to run for a long time under a hot sun without supplying them with water is not permissible. They also ban the use of violent and offensive language that may violate students’ sense of integrity.

A report based on a survey on corporal punishment compiled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education last week shows the necessity for the guidelines.

A teacher advising a Tokyo metropolitan high school’s baseball club made students run as far as 40 kilometers without a lunch break as a punishment for the team’s defeat in a game. The teacher reportedly said the purpose of the punishment was for the students “to reflect on reasons for the defeat.” This could be a case of excessively egocentric thinking.

Imposing excessive training may lead to such serious consequences as heatstroke and cardiopulmonary failure.

In addition to teachers, people with athletic experience also serve as coaches for school sports clubs. These outside instructors must be thoroughly taught about the educational significance of club activities and the ban on corporal punishment.

A chain of violence

There are not a few cases in which students with outstanding records of performance in club activities become athletic coaches when they grow up.

Those who have suffered physical punishment may use force when they become instructors. This linkage could be behind the widespread use of force not only in school club activities but in the sports world as a whole.

Sports organizations, including the Japan Sports Association, issued a belated declaration in April that acts of violence must be stopped.

We suggest that the sports and educational worlds join hands to improve the ability and quality of coaches and establish effective coaching methods.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 1, 2013)
(2013年6月1日01時19分  読売新聞)

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対「北」防衛協議 日韓関係改善の一歩にしたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 3, 2013
Use 3-way defense talks on N. Korea to help thaw Japan-South Korea ties
対「北」防衛協議 日韓関係改善の一歩にしたい(6月2日付・読売社説)

To respond effectively to North Korea’s military provocations, it is essential that Japan, the United States and South Korea firmly stand shoulder to shoulder. By sharing information in a wide range of fields, Tokyo, Washington and Seoul must closely coordinate their security policies to bolster the deterrent capabilities of their military forces.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and their South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan Jin, met in Singapore on Saturday. They later issued a joint statement calling on North Korea to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions that demand it abandon its nuclear weapons and development program.

The statement also said Japan, the United States and South Korea are committed to strengthening cooperation to counter North Korea’s provocations.

Never yield to intimidation

In April, North Korea appeared to be preparing to launch a ballistic missile. However, the launch did not eventuate.

In late May, a special envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was dispatched to China, signaling Pyongyang could be poised to shift from its bellicose stance to seeking dialogue with nations concerned.

To produce positive results in diplomacy toward North Korea, Japan, the United States and South Korea must stand united and ensure nations such as China and Russia join a coalition that can effectively apply pressure on Pyongyang.

Conducting regular joint military exercises and reinforcing surveillance and patrol activities will also be crucial so Japan, South Korea and the United States do not buckle in the face of North Korea’s diplomatic intimidation.

In addition to steps to deal with North Korea, trilateral defense cooperation has steadily expanded to various fields ranging from disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, countermeasures against piracy and activities to help Southeast Asian nations boost their military and maritime security capabilities.

In addition, Japan should step up efforts to build trilateral frameworks of cooperation with the United States and Australia, and the United States and India, for example. These multilateral webs would help preserve the stability of Asia as a whole.

In the triangle linking Japan, the United States and South Korea, it is a matter of concern that cooperation between Tokyo and Seoul remains unsatisfactory compared to Tokyo-Washington and Washington-Seoul ties.

Tokyo-Seoul relations chilled after then South Korean President Lee Myung Bak visited the Takeshima islets in August last year. Many observers expected ties would thaw with the launch of the administration led by President Park Geun Hye in February.

Regrettably, bilateral ties have deteriorated further due to a string of events such as Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine, and remarks by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, coleader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), regarding the “comfort women” from Japan’s wartime past. Making matters worse, a column in an influential South Korean newspaper recently described the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as “God’s vengeance.”

Address strategically key task

Under Park’s administration, Japan and South Korea have not held summit talks or a foreign ministerial meeting. Planned bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Singapore meeting also were canceled. We think both sides should seek to rebuild bilateral ties on the strength of the latest three-way meeting of defense chiefs. Japan and South Korea should ramp up diplomatic efforts to set the stage for bilateral summit talks or ministerial-level meetings, by making use of international conferences and other opportunities.

Boosting cooperation between Japan and South Korea is a strategically key issue for the sake of squarely dealing with not only North Korea, but also the rapidly rising strength of China. The United States strongly wishes to see Japan-South Korea cooperation boosted in this connection.

Tokyo and Seoul have continued to exchange military information, including on movements by the North Korean military. To materialize full-scale bilateral security cooperation, however, both nations urgently need to sign a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 2, 2013)
(2013年6月2日02時23分  読売新聞)

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アフリカ会議 日本の顔見える支援拡大せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 3, 2013
TICAD 5: Opportunity to expand Africa aid that shows Japanese flag
アフリカ会議 日本の顔見える支援拡大せよ(6月2日付・読売社説)

The fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 5), a summit meeting of Japanese and African leaders, began Saturday in Yokohama. It is a wonderful opportunity for Japan to strengthen its partnership with Africa, an emerging continent.

The conference is held every five years, and representatives from 51 of Africa’s 54 countries are attending TICAD 5.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the meeting that Japan and Africa have become partners who are helping each other grow. He also pledged to provide Africa with up to 3.2 trillion yen in aid from the private and public sectors over the next five years. The amount will include 1.4 trillion yen in official development assistance, the prime minister said.

A wealth of resources

Africa is rich in natural resources, and its annual growth rate remains high at 5 percent or more. The continent has a population of about 1 billion and is a promising market in which the number of middle-income people is increasing.

However, electricity shortages remain a serious problem in Africa, and underdeveloped infrastructure such as roads, ports and railways is also a challenge.

Africa has high expectations of Japan. We agree with the government’s plan to expand aid and investment for Africa in cooperation with trading houses, manufacturers and other private companies.

The growth strategy of Abenomics will be boosted if Japan can promote development of natural resources in Africa such as natural gas, which are essential for the country, and speed up the export of infrastructure to African countries.

Be wary of China’s moves

However, Japan must be cautious about China’s moves on the African continent, where it is stepping up its presence.

Beijing has been sending its leaders to African countries one after another and rapidly increasing loans and investment on the continent.

China last year announced it would extend a total of 20 billion dollars in loans to African nations over three years, but the reality on the ground is not clear. We cannot ignore China’s policy toward Africa, which is noticeably aimed at monopolizing natural resources there while focusing only on China’s own interests.

Abe pledged at the conference to visit Africa as soon as possible. We think it is appropriate for the prime minister to lead Japan’s policy for Africa to vie with Beijing.

It is important for Japan to help Africa become more self-reliant and to build a mutually beneficial friendship with it through aid that shows the Japanese flag.

Africa is still suffering from poverty and diseases such as AIDS. Japan should help Africans boost their agricultural productivity to alleviate poverty by teaching them Japanese skills to grow more rice.

The government should take strategy measures to help Africa that only Japan can do, by making effective use of its ODA. Such measures include supporting human resource development programs by helping 30,000 people find jobs and promoting transfer of technology.

In Algeria, a hostage crisis involving Japanese nationals took place in January, and security continues to deteriorate in some parts of Africa. We think the governments of African countries should take the initiative in developing an environment in which Japanese companies will find it easy to invest.

The government should not forget that it is significant for Japan, which aims to reform the U.N. Security Council, to expand the foundations of its diplomacy in a way that will redound to the country’s benefit as it enhances its ties with African nations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 2, 2013)
(2013年6月2日02時23分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月 2日 (日)

李克強首相発言 歴史を無視した言いがかりだ

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 2, 2013
Chinese premier's outrageous claim to Senkakus has no historical grounds
李克強首相発言 歴史を無視した言いがかりだ(6月1日付・読売社説)

Japan needs to strengthen its guard against China’s propaganda, especially in light of that country’s selfish claim of sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

In a speech in the German city of Potsdam on May 26, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the No. 2 figure under the government of President Xi Jinping, made an apparent reference to the islands, saying, “Territories Japan stole from China must be returned.”

Japan absolutely cannot accept the claim that the Senkaku Islands are part of China’s territory. It stands to reason that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rebutted Li’s remarks, saying, “They were comments that completely ignored history.”

Referring to the Potsdam Declaration that Japan accepted at the end of World War II, Li said the declaration called on Japan to abide by the Cairo Declaration, which stipulated that Chinese territories “stolen” by Japan--such as the northeastern region, Taiwan and other islands--must be restored to China.

China’s reasoning is that the Senkakus were taken over by Japan during the Sino-Japanese War, and that as long as Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration, the islands should be returned to China along with Taiwan. Beijing claims the Senkakus belong to Taiwan.

Beijing’s intention

While there is nothing new in Li’s remarks, why did he make them at the location where the Potsdam Declaration was issued?

By asserting that the defeated country Japan has been disrupting the international order since World War II, the Xi administration is apparently trying to convince Europe that there is a territorial dispute to be resolved between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands.

After confirming that there is no evidence that the Senkakus were under the control of the Qing Dynasty of China, Japan formally incorporated the islands into Okinawa Prefecture after Cabinet approval. This action was taken before Taiwan was ceded to Japan after the Sino-Japanese War.

China’s claim that the Senkakus are part of Taiwan thus has no historical grounds.

Furthermore, the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which legally demarcated Japan’s territory after World War II, does not include the Senkakus in a list of territories Japan should renounce.

Furthermore, the Republic of China (Taiwan), which was recognized as a country by Japan at that time, did not raise the issue of the Senkakus during negotiations that resulted in their peace treaty.

On top of that, neither the Cairo nor Potsdam declarations mention the Senkaku Islands. These declarations also bear no legally binding power in defining Japan’s postwar territory.

For about 75 years since Japan incorporated the Senkakus into its territory, Taiwan and China had never objected to Japan’s control of the islands. This fact also points to a clear contradiction in Li’s reasoning for China’s sovereignty of the islands.

Japan needs own appeal

Remarks by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are also problematic. Wang rebuffed Suga’s criticism of Beijing’s claim, saying the top Japanese government spokesman should not make comments that betray common sense. We strongly believe it is China that has behaved deviantly.

Li’s remarks in Potsdam came after the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, published an article suggesting the country has sovereignty even over Okinawa Prefecture. These moves are apparently intended to place added pressure on the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Japanese government should not only call for efforts by all of its diplomatic missions abroad but also use every possible opportunity, such as international conferences, to make Japan’s stance on the islands better known to the world.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 1, 2013)
(2013年6月1日01時19分  読売新聞)

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2013年6月 1日 (土)

選挙制度論議 政治の安定へ衆参同時改革を

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 1, 2013
Lower and upper houses must be reformed at the same time
選挙制度論議 政治の安定へ衆参同時改革を(5月31日付・読売社説)


Although the current Diet session will end in less than one month, discussions on the comprehensive reform of the electoral system of the House of Representatives remain bogged down.

There seems to be no desire in either the ruling or opposition camps to reach an agreement on the matter. This indicates that reform of the lower house election system is unlikely to happen before the end of the current Diet session on June 26.

A bill jointly submitted by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito for rezoning lower house electoral districts by slashing five seats in the single-seat constituencies is to become law even if the House of Councillors does not discuss on it, through a second vote in the lower house before the end of the Diet session.

The legislation, however, is nothing but a stopgap measure.

Now is the time for both blocs to start fresh and renew discussions for realizing comprehensive reform of the lower house election system.

Fears of Diet functions’ decline

Among factors hampering formulating an accord between the ruling and opposition forces, the biggest is the disagreement over the number of lower house seats to be reduced.

The Democratic Party of Japan has insisted the number of seats, currently 480, be slashed by 80. They argue the parties “must accept some pain” through the seat reduction at a time when they are asking the public to bear the burden of a higher consumption tax.

The issue of cutting the number of lower house seats, however, has nothing to do with rectifying the current disparity in the value of individual votes between the least and most represented constituencies--the issue behind electoral reform discussions.

If the DPJ feels the need to “accept some pain,” it should focus on such steps as curtailing the annual salaries of Diet members and reducing government subsidies for political parties. These measures would certainly be more effective than reducing the number of lower house legislators.

The LDP is in favor of cutting 30 lower house seats in the proportional representation. This would leave 150 seats, 60 of which would be preferentially allotted to parties other than the top vote-getter. The LDP-envisioned reform plan is apparently in consideration of the wishes of its junior coalition partner Komeito. Can it be considered a fair and adequate electoral system to create preferential seat allocations for medium- and small-sized parties?

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party, for their part, have proposed that the number of seats be reduced by 144 and 180, respectively.

It is almost as if the parties are vying for public attention simply over the extent of seat reduction.

The fact that the parties seem to have found it effective to curry public favor merely by advocating a larger reduction in the number of lower house seats is deplorable, as these tactics smack of populism. The issue of reducing lower house seats must be discussed separately from the task of reforming the electoral system.

It is worth noting that the number of Japan’s legislators is relatively low compared with other industrially advanced democracies.

The parties in power under the nation’s existing parliamentary system send their lawmakers into the government as Cabinet members, senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

If the number of Diet seats is reduced, those who have to oversee multiple committees will increase. Additionally, small- and medium-sized parties will face the danger of losing the opportunity to voice their views. The result would be that the legislative powers of the Diet and its function of overseeing the administration could decline.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled the disparity rate in the value of votes in single-seat districts in the 2009 general election, which stood at a maximum 2.3-to-1, was in “a state of unconstitutionality.”

In handing down the decision, the top court pointed out that the current formula of uniformly allotting one single-seat electoral district seat to each of the 47 prefectures is a major cause of the vote-value disparity. It called for the formula to be abolished.

The Supreme Court’s ruling can be seen as the judiciary stepping into the sphere of the discretionary powers of the legislature.

Gap correction not absolute

In 14 lawsuits over the vote-value disparity in connection with the lower house election in December, high courts and their branches across the nation found the gap to be “unconstitutional” in their rulings.

Even the election itself was ruled to be “invalid” in two of these court decisions. However those rulings could be said to be irresponsible in light of the fact that no rules have yet been devised governing the holding of further elections to address such a problem.

The equality of vote values is not the only measure of the electoral system. Constituency elections are held based on administrative zones. Populations in rural areas have been dropping phenomenally in recent times. There are also problems peculiar to specific areas as well as extenuating economic and cultural circumstances that cannot be resolved simply by having constituency seats be a proportional reflection of the population.

The establishment of an election system that can harmonize judicial rulings with real politics on the ground is what is needed.

If the proportional representation system is adopted fully for the lower house election, as advocated by the Japanese Communist Party, the will of the public can be more accurately reflected in the number of seats, thus eliminating the gap in vote value.

But it could make it easier for small and midsize parties to gain more seats, resulting in the creation of many small parties. Coalition governments would become the norm, destabilizing politics and creating a situation in which small and midsize parties hold the key to making policy decisions.

The most crucial question is how to translate the will of the people into a stable government.

To achieve this goal, the only realistic option is the revision of the current single-seat constituency plus proportional representation system, as advocated by the LDP and the DPJ, among others, and the reinstatement of the multiple-seat constituency system as demanded by some small parties.

The electoral system for the upper house must also be reviewed. We face an extraordinary situation in which the election systems of both chambers of the Diet have been judged to be in a “state of unconstitutionality.”

Viewed optimistically, now is an excellent opportunity to reexamine the electoral systems of both Diet houses simultaneously.

Both systems are similar in that they comprise of elections in constituencies and elections held under proportional representation systems.

Roles under bicameral system

An additional problem is that the upper house is said to have become “too strong.”

To put an end to “indecisive politics,” it is essential to engineer electoral systems for both houses that are less liable to cause a divided Diet in which the upper house is controlled by the opposition parties.

First and foremost, it is crucial that fundamental discussions on the division of roles and authority between the two Diet chambers are held. We suggest that debate on revision of constitutional provisions on the bicameral system is also deepened.

As long as both houses continue to insist on their own uniqueness and political parties stick to partisan interests, it will be difficult to reach consensus on this issue, regardless of how much time is spent.

If the current situation continues unabated, there will be no alternative but to refer the matter to an independent third-party organization comprising experts with no partisan affiliations.

In that instance, it would be vital that both the ruling and opposition parties work out legislative arrangements decisively by respecting the recommendations of such a panel.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 31, 2013)
(2013年5月31日01時15分  読売新聞)

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