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2014年10月31日 (金)

新ODA大綱案 平和目的の軍支援は進めたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
ODA for peace-oriented activities by armed forces should be allowed
新ODA大綱案 平和目的の軍支援は進めたい

It is important to enhance Japan’s diplomatic power by using its official development assistance more strategically.

Revising the nation’s ODA policy for the first time in 11 years, the government released a draft of a “development cooperation outline” that is to replace the current ODA Charter. The government will then invite public opinions on the draft before seeking Cabinet approval in December.

A main feature of the draft charter is to approve assistance for nonmilitary activities such as the construction of roads and disaster relief by armed forces. The draft says, “the government will pay attention to substantial meanings [of such activities] and study them specifically case by case.”

This reflects a proposal made in June by the ministry’s panel of outside experts. They proposed that the use of ODA for projects with civilian purposes to be carried out by armed forces “should not be categorically rejected.”

Under the current policy, ODA for activities involving military forces are strictly restricted. It is also difficult to offer civilian training to military personnel. In developing countries, however, armed forces are often used to deal with large-scale disasters, the reconstruction of countries and combating the spread of infectious diseases.

We think it is appropriate to use ODA in accordance with such reality.

This envisaged policy change will fit with the “proactive contribution to peace” policy advocated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.

As part of activities to help build special capabilities, the Defense Ministry has already been sending members of the Self-Defense Forces to other countries to train armed forces personnel, including in East Timor, where automobile maintenance skills are taught. It is a significant move to improve the efficiency of ODA by combining it with such activities.

Universal values stressed

The draft also emphasizes that Japan’s assistance must be based on universal values such as “freedom, democracy, respect for fundamental human rights and rule of law.” With China in mind, it is appropriate to strengthen partnerships with other countries, including those in Southeast Asia.

As assistance to peace-building activities, the draft lists, for example, helping to enhance developing nations’ capabilities to guard their coastal waters, maintain security and counter terrorism.

Such assistance leads to securing the safety of the sea-lanes that Japan relies on for shipping and transportation and thus contributes to its national interests.

The draft also stipulates that middle-income countries, which no longer qualify to receive ODA according to standards set by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, will be added to the group of countries eligible for ODA. This appears to refer to island countries in the Pacific and the Caribbean that are vulnerable to natural disasters.

The range of Japan’s international contributions could be expanded by defying conventional restrictions on ODA and making its implementation more flexible. That will be an effective diplomatic option to win support for Japan from even more countries regarding reform of the U.N. Security Council and other opportunities.

The draft also incorporates a plan to seek synergistic effects by coordinating the investments and loans of private companies and government-affiliated banks, such as the Japan Bank of International Cooperation, with ODA.

“It is vital for the government and private sectors to jointly help [developing countries] improve infrastructure by using ODA as a catalyst,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

We expect that win-win relations could be constructed between Japan and countries receiving its assistance by using ODA as a catalyst to improve the overseas business activities of Japanese corporations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 30, 2014)Speech

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政治資金問題 報告書監査の実効性を高めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Auditing of political fund reports must be made more effective
政治資金問題 報告書監査の実効性を高めよ

There has been a succession of scandals involving Cabinet ministers and Diet members over money in politics. To regain the public’s trust in politics, both the ruling and opposition parties must promptly discuss ways to prevent the recurrence of such irregularities.

A local office of the Liberal Democratic Party in Hiroshima Prefecture, headed by Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa, was found to have received political donations totaling ¥400,000 from a local company that was majority-owned by foreign nationals in 2007 and 2008.

His receipt of the money could constitute a violation of the Political Funds Control Law, which bans political donations from foreign individuals or corporations.

Miyazawa told reporters he was not aware of the actual status of the company. However, there is no denying he failed to manage his political funds strictly enough.

When the Democratic Party of Japan was in power, then Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara resigned to take responsibility for having received political donations from a South Korean resident in Japan. Former prime ministers Naoto Kan and Yoshihiko Noda, both of whom belong to the DPJ, were also criticized for receiving political donations from foreign nationals.

It is regrettable that there appears to be no end to similar scandals in politics.

Also coming to light recently was the fact that Miyazawa’s fund management organization spent political activity funds at a bar that puts on sadomasochistic shows.

Miyazawa must put his political fund management under stricter scrutiny to ensure no further improper spending has occurred, and he must give a detailed explanation on these matters.

Growing problem

Meanwhile, a political organization related to Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki failed to record about ¥6.6 million in expenses that should have been recorded as entertainment expenses in political fund reports in 2008 and 2009. Instead, the expenses were put down as costs for New Year’s greeting events held by volunteers, which had nothing to do, in principle, with entertainment expenses, and thus did not need to be recorded in the reports.

Mochizuki explained that as his wife, who was in charge of accounting for the organization, has passed away, he cannot confirm the details as to how the designation of the expenses came to be changed.

Nonetheless, he cannot evade his responsibility for having failed to properly supervise the management of his funds. He must conduct a full-fledged probe into the case by questioning relevant parties and make public the outcome of the probe.

Opposition parties cannot treat the recent spate of scandals as someone else’s problem.

A political organization of Yukio Edano, the DPJ’s secretary general, failed to record about ¥2.4 million in revenue from a New Year’s party held in 2011 in its funds report. Admitting to a clerical error, Edano apologized.

With the introduction of a system of public funding for political parties, public funds are included in political funds.

Even after two female Cabinet ministers resigned over politics-and-money scandals, more and more similar irregularities are cropping up. This is a situation that may heighten public distrust of politics.

Under the Political Funds Control Law that was revised in 2007, a political organization related to a Diet member is obliged to have their political funds audited by a certified public accountant or a certified tax accountant, starting with the 2009 funds reports.

In reality, however, the auditing goes only so far as to check, for instance, whether the entries are made in line with the receipts. It falls short of checking the appropriateness of the spending. Enhancing the auditing’s effectiveness must be discussed.

It is also essential to enhance the competence of those in charge of accounting and the secretaries who are supposed to compile political funds reports. The LDP is discussing the possibility of holding a training workshop concerning fund reports, which will be given to secretaries and other officials working for Diet members of the party.

It is a matter of urgency for such efforts to be promoted proactively and to be widely put in place.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 30, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月30日 (木)

アジア投資銀 過剰な中国主導で大丈夫か

The Yomiuri Shimbun
What does China’s plan for a new infrastructure bank portend for Asia?
アジア投資銀 過剰な中国主導で大丈夫か

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a new international financial organization led by China, will be established in 2015 based on a basic agreement reached recently by 21 nations, including India and nine Southeast Asian nations.
The establishment of the AIIB has been proposed by China to accelerate infrastructure building in Asia.

Demand for investment to build infrastructure, such as railways and roads, in Asia through the end of 2020 will total an estimated $8 trillion, or about ¥860 trillion.

It is true that the existing international financial organizations, including the Asian Development Bank, will face difficulty in shouldering such a huge cost by themselves.

Emerging Asian economies, which want to use infrastructure development as a locomotive for growth, understandably have high expectations for the AIIB.

Japan, however, will not participate in the AIIB because its significance and management policy are not clear. Australia and South Korea are also conspicuously absent.

In July, China also decided to set up a new development bank in collaboration with the other emerging economies in the so-called BRICS grouping, which comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

China apparently wants to use the AIIB and the BRICS bank to counter Japan, the United States and European countries that lead the International Monetary Fund regime and establish a new order in international financing.

A bank for China’s benefit?

In particular, the AIIB is aimed at providing China’s domestically struggling state-owned enterprises with opportunities to enter the huge market for building infrastructure in Asia. Furthermore, China apparently has a strategy to increase the number of friendly nations by utilizing its foreign currency reserves, now swollen to as much as $4 trillion.

It is also worrisome that China’s influence over the AIIB will likely be overwhelming.

The bank will be headquartered in Beijing and aims to procure $100 billion in capital. The ratio of investment will likely be decided in accordance with the scale of each economy, which will make China a majority stakeholder.

There are nagging concerns that the AIIB will recklessly provide tied loans — such as requiring Chinese companies to win infrastructure contracts — in the guise of an international financial institution and will put priority on development projects that are beneficial to China. If its loan screening becomes lax, it is feared that development projects neglecting environmental and human rights concerns will be encouraged.

A financial support framework that is excessively dependent on China could stall development projects should the Chinese economy stumble.

It is essential for Japan, the United States and other nations to jointly beef up monitoring to see if the AIIB will be operated in a way to contribute to the healthy development of the Asian region.

Nonetheless, we should take heed of the use of China’s ample funds for Asian growth. Japan, the biggest ADB stakeholder, should work to establish a proper complementary relationship between the ADB and AIIB.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 29, 2014)Speech

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エボラ熱対策 国内発生に万全の態勢整えよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Foolproof measures needed in case Ebola patient is confirmed in Japan
エボラ熱対策 国内発生に万全の態勢整えよ

We must establish a system capable of swiftly responding to the Ebola virus whenever a patient is confirmed to be infected in Japan.

The Ebola scourge is continuing to spread in West Africa. The gravity of the problem is severe, as the disease has crossed into Europe and the United States. On Tuesday, the Japanese government decided at a meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers to implement thorough measures against the disease.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki, who is in charge of dealing with infectious diseases, to report on developments to the National Security Council. It is highly likely anxiety will spread throughout the nation if a person is confirmed to have the disease in Japan. It may hamper the nation’s economic activities.

In this sense, it is quite reasonable for the government to place priority on national security in dealing with the disease.

On Monday, a man who had stayed in Liberia arrived at Haneda Airport via Europe with symptoms of fever. He was transferred to a government-designated hospital and, fortunately, tested negative for the Ebola virus.

However, the case underscored that in an era when people frequently travel across borders, Japan may not be able to remain free of infectious diseases that erupt in Africa.

Relevant agencies and institutions were able to respond quickly to Monday’s case as the man reported that he had stayed in Liberia. In case of emergency, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry obtained the passenger list of the flight the man used. The inside of the plane that carried the man was sterilized.

However, if a plane carries a passenger who tests positive for Ebola, the possibility of other passengers and flight crew becoming infected with the virus cannot be ruled out. Concerns remain on how to deal with cases in which passengers do not reveal their travel history.

Improve medical system

The health ministry has begun beefing up quarantine inspections. At international airports, all passengers who arrive in Japan are asked whether they have stayed in countries hit hard by Ebola.

As Ebola’s incubation period is long — a maximum of 21 days — those who have been to such countries are required to report their health condition to quarantine stations twice a day until the incubation period expires, even if they do not show symptoms of Ebola. This measure must be thoroughly implemented.

Quarantine stations and immigration controls must keep in close contact and take every possible measure to contain Ebola at the port of entry.

Even if the government strictly reinforces quarantine inspections, there is a possibility a person with the Ebola virus will slip through quarantine. It is imperative for the government to improve the medical system in Japan.

Currently, there are 45 medical institutions across the nation designated to provide treatment against Ebola. However, nine prefectures do not have any such institution. These prefectures must establish a system to smoothly transfer patients to designated institutions. Many doctors and nurses have become infected with Ebola while treating patients in West Africa, the United States and Spain. Training is essential at medical facilities in Japan, such as how to put on and remove protective suits.

The number of people infected with Ebola has exceeded 10,000 in West Africa, and about 5,000 people have died from the disease. If the epidemic continues at the current pace, the worst-case scenario of patients reaching 1.4 million at the beginning of next year may become reality. The international community must join hands to contain Ebola infections in areas hit hard by the disease.

Needless to say, Japan should contribute in combating Ebola in such fields as medical assistance, as well as research and development of treatment methods.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 29, 2014) Speech

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『第二回イルミネーションアワード』で全国イルミネーションランキング発表! 一般社団法人夜景観光コンベンション・ビューロー

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2014年10月29日 (水)

原発賠償条約 事故収束の加速にも有益だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Intl pact on N-damage compensation would help restoration in Fukushima
原発賠償条約 事故収束の加速にも有益だ

Japan’s participation in an international convention on damages compensation for nuclear accidents will have significant implications.

By taking part in the pact, Japan must build closer relationships with the United States and other member nations to help accelerate restoration after the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The government has decided to join the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, an international framework on damages compensation for nuclear accidents. It has called for treaty ratification by the Diet and submitted related bills it seeks to pass during the current extraordinary Diet session.

A nuclear accident damages not only the country where it happens, but neighboring countries as well. The convention, known as the CSC, calls for setting international rules whereby compensation can be made smoothly in the event of a nuclear accident.

The CSC has already been joined by the United States, Argentina, Morocco and two other countries. It has yet to take effect because the requirement for combined nuclear power capacity among member countries has not yet been met. However, the condition will be met if Japan becomes a member.

The convention makes it mandatory for member nations to set aside at least ¥47 billion for compensation. If the total damage estimate surpasses this amount, other signatory countries will provide funds to supplement it. Considering that the damage compensation estimate amounts to as much as ¥5 trillion in the case of the Fukushima accident, the convention is far from being able to provide sufficient funds.

Liability to be clarified

A huge effect from joining the convention can be expected because it will become clear where liability for compensation lies, among other things.

The CSC stipulates that liability for damages should be shouldered entirely by the power company concerned and a lawsuit concerning compensation for nuclear damage can only be filed in the country where the accident occurs.

To promote restoration after the accident at the Fukushima plant and the decommissioning of its crippled reactors, utilization of U.S. technology and expertise is called for. But U.S. firms are leery of providing their technical know-how out of concern that they will face the possible lawsuits for huge damage compensation filed in the United States by victims if a new accident occurs.

If it becomes clear that TEPCO is liable for future damage compensation, U.S. firms’ active cooperation can be expected.

The restoration work at Fukushima has stumbled over disposal of radioactive contaminated water. There is a limit to what Japan can do single-handedly to decommission nuclear reactors, a project that is unprecedented in this country.

U.S. technology and know-how, which were mobilized to deal with the Three Mile Island accident, must be employed for such difficult operations as the removal of melted nuclear fuel rods.

Participation in the CSC will also benefit Japanese makers in that they will be able to reduce risks accompanying nuclear power plant exports.

Nearly 200 nuclear reactors are under construction or planned across the world. Japan’s nuclear plant exports have an aspect of spreading their safe performance and safety standards, which are said to be at the world’s top levels.

Legal arrangements to deal with the aftermath of nuclear accidents are insufficient in many emerging economies. Turkey and Vietnam, to which Japanese makers are scheduled to export nuclear plants, are not signatories to the CSC yet.

The government should call on these countries to join the CSC and work toward laying the foundation for international cooperation on nuclear power plants.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 28, 2014)Speech

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「イスラム国」 過激派の勧誘に惑わされるな

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Don’t be fooled by Islamic State propaganda; united front needed
「イスラム国」 過激派の勧誘に惑わされるな

Propaganda by extremist groups justifying terrorism could generate new terrorist outrages in industrially advanced countries.

This vicious circle must be severed.

A Muslim convert, who planned to go to the Middle East, was shot dead by Canada’s parliamentary sergeant at arms after the man killed a soldier and then went on a shooting spree inside the parliament building in Ottawa.

Near Montreal, soldiers were killed and injured recently in what appeared to be a terrorist attack, while in New York, a man attacked police officers with a hatchet.

In both incidents, the perpetrators were known to be sympathizers of Islamic extremism. The New York attacker had reportedly watched the site of the extremist group Islamic State.

It is obvious that the radical beliefs of the Islamic State, which is expanding its influence in Iraq and Syria, lie behind the recent spate of attacks.

Young people from a number of countries have joined the Islamic State as combatants. Advanced countries were alert to the possibility of those fighters launching terrorist attacks when they return to their home countries.

Yet there has been no indication that any of the perpetrators of the recent attacks was a combatant who had returned home. Nevertheless, these incidents pose a new threat as they can be considered “home-grown” terrorism in advanced countries.

The recent spate of incidents is also characterized by the fact that they were each carried out by a person acting alone.

As there appears to be no conspiracy with similar-minded people, investigative authorities have great difficulty in detecting such acts of violence in advance, presenting them with a huge challenge.

Even Japanese affected

In Japan, a male university student is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department on suspicion of planning to privately engage in military combat by attempting to go to Syria to join the Islamic State as a foreign combatant.

The student allegedly received assistance on travel to Syria and converted to Islam at the advice of a former university professor, who specializes in Islamic law.

The student reportedly said: “I want to die as I’ve been fed up with this world. I wouldn’t mind being killed in Syria.” Another man, who was living with the student, was reportedly planning to go to Syria with him.

Is the clever propaganda that justifies rule by the Islamic State affecting the minds of those who feel alienated in their home country?

The Islamic State is a heinous organization that justifies mass murder and slavery. In this year alone, it has received about ¥2.2 billion in ransom money for hostages. Before U.S. warplanes bombed oil refineries operated by the Islamic State in September, the group was said to be earning about ¥100 million a day through the illicit trade of crude oil.

Supported by unprecedented funding, the terrorist organization is believed to be carrying out an extensive propaganda campaign. It is important for nations to expose the true nature of the Islamic State through such tools as the Internet.

Needless to say, the most important thing is to annihilate the Islamic State. The U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 550 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. But the fighting is said to be fluctuating, with combatants sometimes advancing and sometimes retreating.

There also is disarray in the coalition over strategy. It is essential to restore a united front against the Islamic State.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 28, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月14日 (火)

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ちょっとかわったフリーマーケットなんですが、ココナラ を発見しました。


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2014年10月13日 (月)

「消費税10%」 やはり軽減税率が不可欠だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Lower rate for some items necessary if consumption tax rate hiked to 10%
「消費税10%」 やはり軽減税率が不可欠だ


Will the planned hike in the consumption tax rate heap further pressure on the stuttering economy?

The government and ruling parties have stepped up discussions over whether the consumption tax rate should be increased from the current 8 percent to 10 percent as scheduled in October 2015.

While fiscal reconstruction is not an issue that can continually be kicked down the road and dealt with later, the sluggish consumption that has persisted since the tax rate was jacked up from 5 percent in April must not be taken lightly.

If the consumption tax rate is to be lifted to 10 percent, we think the government should introduce a reduced rate for daily necessities such as some food items, to minimize the burden that will be placed on household budgets.

Tough decision looming

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to decide by the end of the year whether to go ahead with the planned tax hike. He will make this decision after confirming important economic indicators, such as the nation’s gross domestic product for the July-September quarter.

If the tax increase is put off, the government’s efforts to lock in revenue sources for Japan’s snowballing social welfare costs will become even more difficult. The likelihood of attaining the government’s goal of a primary budget surplus by the end of fiscal 2020 also will fade.

That said, however, if the higher consumption tax rate derails the economic recovery and sinks efforts to break out of deflation, everything will be lost.

Abe has said, “I will make a decision that will be helpful to the people’s lives.” The prime minister faces a very difficult choice, one in which he must give consideration to the overall picture of the economic recovery and the state of the nation’s finances.

Special attention should be given to the direction of consumption trends, which will be significantly affected if the tax rate is hiked to 10 percent.

The Family Income and Expenditure Survey, a key monthly gauge compiled by the government, revealed that average consumption expenditures by regular households dropped year-on-year for five consecutive months from April, when the tax rate was increased.

While unseasonal weather has played a part, sales at summer bonus time were sluggish in spite of aggressive campaigns. Spending on consumer durables such as air conditioners has plunged. Consumption of travel and other services, which saw barely a bump in last-minute demand before the tax rate was ratcheted up, remains tepid.

The inevitable fall in response to the tax increase is one reason for this. However, another major cause of these prolonged consumption doldrums is that wage increases have not kept up with rising prices, some of which have jumped by more than the three percentage point margin of the higher tax rate.

Prices of imported grains and other natural resources have climbed due to the yen’s weakness. Moves to raise prices of food and other items are spreading. There are concerns that more consumers will tighten their purse strings as they take “defensive measures” to protect their daily lifestyles.

When the consumption tax rate was hiked to 8 percent, the government unveiled a ¥5.5 trillion economic stimulus package to cushion the blow. The package centered on public works projects, while measures designed to aid consumers were limited. A special cash benefit of ¥10,000 to ¥15,000 paid to low-income earners was intended to help blunt the impact on family budgets, but was too small to have any tangible effect.

Based on lessons drawn from the drop in consumption, the government should consider what effective steps it can take to prevent a “consumer recession.”

Winnowing eligible items

Unlike a single-serving lump-sum payment, lower tax rates for essential commodities can have a long-lasting effect in curbing tax burdens. Every time a consumer purchases an item covered by the reduced-tax-rate system, he or she will actually feel the benefit, so the system is also desirable from the standpoint of keeping consumer confidence from being chilled.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner Komeito embarked on full-fledged debates on the advisability of introducing reduced tax rates in a consultative meeting of the two parties on Wednesday.

Although the ruling parties, in adopting a tax system reform outline toward the end of 2013, did refer explicitly to a policy of introducing a reduced-tax-rate system, it is worrisome that a considerable gap remains between the LDP and Komeito regarding their eagerness for realizing lower rates.

Tetsuo Saito, chairman of Komeito’s Tax Research Council, has come out actively in favor of lower rates, saying, “We are determined to address the task of introducing a reduced-tax-rate system with an unflagging resolve.”

In contrast, his LDP counterpart, Takeshi Noda, chairman of the party’s Research Commission on the Tax System, is still cautious. Noda has only said, “We haven’t finalized the details [on the reduced rate system] yet.”

Groups that support the LDP, such as organizations of small and midsize businesses, have opposed the idea of reduced tax rates, mainly on the grounds that it would raise their administrative costs.

If different tax rates are applied to different categories of items, more time and effort will certainly be needed in keeping accounts and following tax payment procedures.

It should be noted, however, that most European nations have introduced reduced rates into their value added taxes (VATs), the European version of Japan’s consumption tax.

By carefully studying overseas precedents of reduced consumption rates, including VATs, discussions must be deepened about what measures should be adopted to minimize increases in related administrative work for private-sector businesses.

A lower-rate system applied to all food and beverages would translate to an annual loss of as much as ¥660 billion in consumption tax revenue for every one percentage point cut in the tax rate. How to narrow the scope of items eligible for lower rates is a major challenge.

Komeito has been working on plans to rein in tax revenue declines by limiting the items to be covered by a reduced rate system to grains and fresh produce. The ruling parties’ deliberations must swiftly address the specifics of how to put a lower tax rate system into practice.

Newspapers deserve lower rate

Food, newspapers and books are subject to lower tax rates in the majority of nations in Europe and elsewhere that apply a lower tax rate on some items.

In Japan, more than 90 percent of newspapers are home-delivered, and many households receive a newspaper almost every day. This plays a major role in supporting democracy and the culture of the printed word in Japan.

Books also have helped to share a wide spectrum of knowledge.

Newspapers and books are not merely consumer products. They can be considered an essential public good for maintaining the affluent lifestyle of the people.

We think Japan should emulate the example set by other nations and adopt a lower tax rate for newspapers and books.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 12, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月12日 (日)

アスベスト判決 「泉南」の教訓を対策に生かせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Govt must use Sennan case as lesson for future relief of asbestos victims
アスベスト判決 「泉南」の教訓を対策に生かせ

The government’s negligence in failing to mandate necessary regulations has led to extensive damage caused by asbestos — this was the recent judicial decision made on asbestos-related health problems.

The government must accept the ruling seriously and take all possible countermeasures.

In its ruling on two lawsuits filed by 89 plaintiffs, the Supreme Court on Thursday determined that the state was responsible for the damage suffered by 82 plaintiffs and ordered it to pay them compensation. The 89 plaintiffs comprise former employees who suffered from asbestosis and lung cancer after working at an asbestos spinning mill in the Sennan district, southern Osaka Prefecture, and their bereaved families.

Health damage due to asbestos was discovered in 1958 during a survey conducted by the then Labor Ministry. But it was not until 1971 that the ministry made it mandatory to install ventilation systems at factories and plants. The top court denounced the delay as “quite unreasonable.”

The ruling harshly criticized nonfeasance on the part of administrative offices. The ruling illustrates the top court’s stance that the damage suffered by patients due to the delay in introduction of regulations must be relieved, as in a 2004 ruling on a lawsuit filed in connection with lung disease caused by dust inhalation inside coal mines in the Chikuho district, Fukuoka Prefecture, and a ruling in the same year on a Minamata disease lawsuit filed by residents in the Kansai region.

Almost all the asbestos factories were operated by small and mid-size companies. The Supreme Court likely gave much weight to the government’s responsibility for leaving the task of ensuring labor safety in the hands of such operators with insufficient funds.

The court sent a case by some of the plaintiffs back to the Osaka High Court in order to calculate the amount of compensation. Of the 89 plaintiffs, 14 have already died.

Solution needed soon

The government should seek early solutions through such means as out-of-court settlements.

Asbestos, which offers superior fire resistance, was imported in large quantities from the 1970s through the 1990s. Used mainly as a housing construction material, it was totally banned in 2006.

Many of the buildings in which asbestos was used have become obsolete. There is concern that the substance will be spread when the structures are dismantled. A large amount of asbestos is said to have been dispersed when houses collapsed in the aftermath of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

The government enforced the revised air pollution control law in June, making it mandatory for contractors to report plans for demolition work to local governments before it is conducted. Violators will be fined.

Local governments must work toward preventing health damage from asbestos by implementing such steps as on-the-spot inspections at demolition sites.

Relief measures are indispensable for those suffering from such diseases as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

More than 20,000 sufferers of asbestos-related disease have been recognized for work-related accident compensation or entitlement to benefits under the asbestos relief law. The number of such people is expected to increase further.

After asbestos has been inhaled, it takes 20 to 50 years for the effects to appear. Those who feel uneasy about whether they inhaled the substance in the past are advised to undergo testing.

The government, for its part, must provide additional support to develop treatment methods for asbestos-related diseases.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 11, 2014)Speech

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ノーベル平和賞 テロに屈しない少女への栄誉

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rights defenders Malala, Satyarthi honored by Nobel Peace Prize
ノーベル平和賞 テロに屈しない少女への栄誉

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has announced that it will give this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to 17-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai in honor of her determination and courage, which have remained undaunted even after an armed attack.

Malala was critically injured in the attack by Islamic extremists, but even after her recovery she has continued to campaign for women’s right to receive an education.

The prize will also be awarded to Kailash Satyarthi of India, 60, who has been rescuing children forced to work under exploitative labor conditions in his country.

The committee cited the two “for their struggle ... for the right of all children to education.”

Wars and oppression have deprived children of opportunities to receive education. It is hoped that the world will take this occasion to recognize again this reality facing children and renew its determination to solve the problem.

Malala is the youngest-ever winner of a Nobel Prize in any category.

In Pakistan, extremists opposing education for women have destroyed many schools and obstructed girls from going to school. Malala was thrust into the global spotlight several years ago when she wrote blog posts to spread knowledge of the situation to the rest of the world.

Two years ago, she was shot in the head by extremists while riding a bus back home from school. She was on the brink of death at one point but made a miraculous recovery.

Education is power

In a speech last year when she was invited to the U.N. Headquarters, she stressed the importance of education. “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world,” she said. “The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them.” Her fearless attitude has moved the hearts of many people around the world.

Her winning the prize sends a strong message that the world will not tolerate the infringement of human rights, including discrimination against women, by Islamic extremists or their repeated acts of violence.

A fund established in line with her mission has been widely used not only for children in Pakistan, but also children who became refugees in the wake of the Syrian civil war and Nigerian women who lack the means to receive an education.

Satyarthi has denounced the exploitation of many young children who are forcibly separated from their parents and made to work at farms and other sites. He has reportedly rescued as many as 80,000 children from forced labor.

It is hoped that campaigns to protect the rights of children will be spread worldwide by people inspired by the awarding of the peace prize to Malala and Satyarthi.

Promotion of proper education is essential to eradicating prejudice, discrimination and poverty, as well as creating a society in which people solve problems through dialogue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 11, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月11日 (土)

派遣法改正案 増えるか減るかに終始するな

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Temporary staffing bill debate goes beyond simple ‘increase or decrease’
派遣法改正案 増えるか減るかに終始するな

A government-sponsored bill to revise the Temporary Staffing Services Law has become a legislative cause over which the ruling and opposition parties are locking horns at a newly opened Diet session.

The focus of their debate over the bill is what should be done to improve the treatment of temporary employees and guarantee their job security. Legislators need to promote constructive debates on the whole issue during the extraordinary Diet session, which opened on Sept. 29.
The bill was submitted to the new Diet session after similar legislation was scrapped at the last ordinary Diet session, which closed in late June.

The main pillar of the bill seeks to enable business corporations to utilize temporary staff in all categories of services for unlimited periods.

The current law does not permit corporations to keep temporary workers on their payroll for a period in excess of three years. Professionals in 26 fields, such as interpreters and secretaries, are an exception to this rule.

This legal restriction is aimed at preventing companies from replacing regular employees with temporary workers to conduct the work currently carried out by regular employees.

The amendment bill would authorize corporations to extend the period of employment for temporary workers, provided input is heard from labor unions and other entities affected by proposed measures once every three years. We find it reasonable that the bill will make it easier for companies to use temporary staff as a resource necessary for corporate activities such as expanding the scope of business operations.

Nonetheless, the bill will not allow temporary workers to be kept continuously on the payroll at a single business facility. The bill places a three-year upper limit on the term of employment for temporary workers in each job assignment.

The rationale for this rule is that experiencing various job assignments will help improve the skills of temporary employees, thereby enabling them to receive higher wages and other advantageous treatment.

These envisaged rules mean temporary staffing agencies will have a greater obligation to fulfill in this respect. For instance, the bill would require such agencies to take measures aimed at increasing the job security of each temporary employee after three years of work at the corporation to which he or she has been assigned. More precisely, a temporary staffing agency must ask the company to directly employ the worker, while also finding a new company to which the worker could be sent.

Systematic training necessary

Another obligation for personnel placement agencies would be to assist temporary workers in improving their career opportunities through measures such as systematic vocational training.

These steps constitute an effort to better protect temporary employees while also guaranteeing them a diversity of work styles. In fact, the current legislation has been insufficient in protecting such workers over the years.

Given this, the specifics of the bill can be deemed to be reasonable.

The Democratic Party of Japan is urging other opposition parties to join hands to oppose the bill, criticizing it as a measure conducive to increasing the number of “life-time temporary workers.” At a session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, a DPJ member pressed the government for an answer to his question over whether the bill is intended to “increase or decrease” the number of temporary workers.

In reply, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized the purpose of the bill by describing it as a set of measures to “aid temporary employees in their career development, including an effort to place them on the regular payroll.”

About 40 percent of temporary workers hope to become permanent regular employees. It is important to reduce the number of people taking up temporary jobs despite their desire to earn a permanent position. However, it should be noted that a considerable number of people have limited time to work because of their family circumstances and other reasons, and, consequently, want to work as a temporary worker.

No one should be obsessed with debating the whole issue just from the standpoint of “an increase or decrease” in the number of temporary employees. Such a stance is tantamount to looking negatively at all temporary jobs without exception.

What is important is to improve the working conditions of temporary workers. It is essential to discuss pertinent issues from various perspectives, with a view to rectifying the status quo of temporary staff as low-paid workers who have poor job security and cannot expect to receive pay increases.

The amendment bill would obligate all temporary staffing agencies to operate on a licensing system, meaning they must fulfill more rigorous requirements.

If temporary staffing firms are consolidated into a group of corporations whose size exceeds a certain level, it will improve their power to better negotiate with the companies to which temporary staff have been sent.

We hope achieving success in realigning the temporary staffing business will do much to improve the treatment of workers in that sector.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 8, 2014)Speech

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ノーベル賞 世界変えた青い光を誇りたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
We are proud that Japan’s bright blue light has changed the world
ノーベル賞 世界変えた青い光を誇りたい

The potential of Japan’s technological development has again been shown to the world.

On Tuesday, three Japanese scientists who succeeded in developing blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and putting the technology into practical use were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The three are Prof. Isamu Akasaki of Meijo University; Prof. Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University; and Prof. Shuji Nakamura of the University of California, Santa Barbara. We would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to them.

It had long been regarded as impossible to develop blue LEDs.

Akasaki came up with an idea to form a special crystal based on a substance called gallium nitride, thinking that the crystal would emit blue light. He conducted numerous experiments with Amano, who belonged to Akasaki’s lab at that time as a graduate student, and the two succeeded in developing blue LEDs in 1989.

The achievement completed the development of LEDs in green, red and blue — the three primary colors of light. It has become possible to form various colors by mixing the three colors.

However, one problem remained — finding a way to mass-produce blue LEDs. In 1993, Nakamura, who was working at a chemical company in Tokushima Prefecture, succeeded in developing a manufacturing process for blue LEDs, which paved the way for the spread of the light source.

We are proud that the entire development process — from idea to practical implementation — was done by Japanese scientists.

Improving quality of life

LEDs have become fundamental technology that underpins today’s information society. The light source is integral to the mass processing and transmission of information through computers. It is also used in various products around us, such as traffic lights, large-screen displays and camera flashes.

In addition, LED lamps are now replacing incandescent bulbs and fluorescent lights as a light source that has a longer life span while consuming less power. The technology is also useful in combating global warming.

There was a legal battle between Nakamura and the company he had belonged to over a patent regarding the manufacturing process. However, the fact that the three academics received the prestigious award at the same time suggests the Nobel committee concluded the three equally contributed to the scientific progress and the development of society.

There now have been 22 Japanese Nobel Prize laureates, with 19 of them coming from the field of natural science. This is proof of how well Japanese scholars excel in their creativity and technical capability.

One point of concern regarding everyday research activities in Japan is a lack of talent and a decline in competitive prowess, problems that are becoming increasingly serious. Young researchers have become reluctant to enter technological development fields as it takes time and hard effort to produce tangible results.

As for the number of research papers published in journals, which is regarded as a barometer of the vitality of research activities, Japan ranked second around 2000 but has now dropped to fifth, surpassed by China and other nations.

The news of three Japanese scientists winning the Nobel Prize should serve as great inspiration to young students who wish to enter scientific fields. We hope it will also help rejuvenate Japan’s manufacturing industry, which is now struggling under cutthroat international competition.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 8, 2014)Speech

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再生エネ中断 電力の安定供給が優先される

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Put priority on stable electricity supply over use of renewable energy
再生エネ中断 電力の安定供給が優先される

Under the government’s feed-in tariff system, Japan’s major electricity utilities are obligated to buy power from renewable energy producers at set rates. However, a growing number of utilities are freezing new applications by producers keen to access their grids with electricity generated through solar, wind and other renewable sources.

Seven of the nation’s 10 major utilities, including Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co., have explained that the surge in applications to provide electricity generated through renewable sources has exceeded the capacity their grids can accept. If this situation is left unaddressed, there are fears it could destabilize the balance of electricity supply and demand and lead to blackouts, according to the utilities.

We want more renewable energy to be used as much as possible. Nevertheless, the stable supply of electricity must be given top priority. Shortcomings in the government’s feed-in tariff system must be quickly remedied.

If the renewable energy providers approved by the government were all operating, they would have a supply capacity of 70 million kilowatts. This would equate to 90 percent of the government’s target, which is to have renewables provide 20 percent of the nation’s total electricity supply.

A glance at these figures would suggest the introduction of renewable energy is proceeding swimmingly. However, there are pitfalls.

A major weak point of solar and many other renewable energy sources is that their output can fluctuate sharply depending on weather conditions and the time of day. Failure to maintain a steady balance with demand presents the risk of disrupting the frequency and voltage of electricity supplies, which could in turn cause power outages and damage equipment and facilities.

Supply-demand balance key

The greater the use of renewable energy, the more adjustments must be made to the supply of electricity generated through such sources as thermal power generation. This can make it difficult to maintain a balance between supply and demand.

This is why the special measures law enacted to promote renewable energy stipulates that power companies can refuse to buy electricity generated from renewables if they have concerns that there may be hindrances to the smooth supply of electricity.

Power companies feel a sense of alarm that the rapid acceleration of renewable energy provision could jeopardize a steady supply of electricity in the future. We can understand why some have taken the step of limiting access to their grids.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has established a task force of experts that has started to examine what capacity of electricity generated through renewable energy the nation’s utilities can handle. At the House of Councillors Budget Committee on Tuesday, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi said, “I hope the task force will finish its work by the end of the year.”

Under pressure from the halt in renewable energy generation plans, many operators have been left in the lurch. We hope this issue will be thoroughly examined based on accurate data.

There are ways utilities could accept a greater amount of electricity generated from renewable energy sources. For example, they could install huge storage batteries and build more transmission lines between their respective areas so surplus electricity could be shared among them as needed. However, implementing these steps on a large scale will reportedly come with a price tag measured in trillions of yen.

It is expected these costs will mount if the use of renewables expands dramatically. However, right now there are not even rules in place for covering these expenses.

The root of the problem is the slipshod design of the system, decided when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power several years ago. Its flaws include insufficient screening processes and inflated prices at which utilities must buy electricity. We think the government should review the system from top to bottom, and revise its policies for promoting greater use of renewable energy to make them more realistic.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 9, 2014)Speech

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日米防衛指針 切れ目ない共同対処を可能に

The Yomiuri Shimbun
New defense guidelines must enable seamless, effective joint cooperation
日米防衛指針 切れ目ない共同対処を可能に

It is extremely important for the new defense guidelines to enable the Self-Defense Forces and U.S. forces to act jointly and seamlessly in line with changing circumstances from peacetime to contingencies.

The Japanese and U.S. governments on Wednesday released an interim report on revision of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation. The revisions focus on better enabling swift, flexible and effective bilateral defense cooperation between the two countries, while eventually eliminating the three classifications of circumstances — peacetime, contingencies Japan may face and contingencies in areas surrounding Japan — stipulated under the present guidelines.

Enacted in 1999 on the basis of the current guidelines that were adopted in 1997, the law concerning the nation’s response to contingencies in areas surrounding Japan is a landmark in security legislation that has established the various forms of cooperation that Japan can extend to U.S. forces, ranging from supplies to transportation, in preparation for a contingency on the Korean Peninsula.

As there are strict criteria for the recognition of circumstances as a contingency in areas surrounding Japan, it can hardly be denied that the law is difficult to invoke.

Experts have also pointed out such problems as the fact that the nation cannot supply fuel even to U.S. military vessels on joint alert with the Maritime Self-Defense Force over a ballistic missile launch by North Korea.

What is urgently needed is an enhanced bilateral security system allowing the SDF and U.S. forces to cooperate closely and respond effectively to so-called gray-zone situations — which are deemed neither peacetime incidents nor contingencies — such as the occupation of remote islands by armed groups.

It is important that the interim report has stipulated that “protection of assets (including equipment)” should be included in the revised guidelines as a specific type of cooperation.

SDF scope expanded

This stipulation is based on the government’s new interpretation of the Constitution, adopted in July, which allows the SDF to protect U.S. vessels under armed attacks in gray-zone situations, in addition to enabling the nation to exercise, within a limited range, the right of collective self-defense.

The use of weapons, as permitted under such a scenario as MSDF vessels coming under armed attacks, stipulated in Section 95 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, is to be applied to the protection of U.S. military vessels.

This should be recognized as an effective move that will facilitate Japan-U.S. joint warning and surveillance activity in areas surrounding Japan, and enhance bilateral relations of trust.

Details related to the use of the right of collective self-defense are not included in the interim report. The matter has been put off until the final report, which both governments plan to decide on at the year-end. As the issue constitutes a core element of strengthening the deterrent power of the Japan-U.S. alliance, the new guidelines need to stipulate them clearly and specifically.

Also included in the interim report are the reinforcement of joint Japan-U.S. cooperation in Asia and in the world, and the promotion of trilateral and multilateral security and defense cooperation with regional allies and partners, with an eye on Australia and South Korea.

Since the current guidelines were worked out, security cooperation between Japan and the United States has expanded on a global scale, ranging from refueling in the Indian Ocean, postwar reconstruction assistance to Iraq, measures to deal with pirates and natural disaster relief efforts.

Reflecting the current state of bilateral ties and diversifying international peacekeeping cooperation in the new guidelines will be significant, as it will strengthen the value of the Japan-U.S. alliance as “a public good” that contributes to regional peace and stability.

Before releasing the interim report, the United States briefed South Korea on the contents and sought its understanding. It is quite an appropriate step. Japan, for its part, must explain in a careful manner to its neighboring countries what the nation intends to do with the guidelines and its policy for developing related legislation so as to enhance transparency in their revision.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 9, 2014)Speech

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東京五輪半世紀 あの感動を2020年にも

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Emotions of 50 years ago return in anticipation of 2020 Tokyo Games
東京五輪半世紀 あの感動を2020年にも

The Olympic flame was lit at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Oct. 10, 1964, a fine autumn day. Just half a century has passed since the Tokyo Olympics opened in exultation on that day.

The Tokyo Games, which drew the participation of 93 countries and territories, was the first Olympics held in Asia. It was a major event that showed the world a Japan that had achieved rapid reconstruction from its devastation by war.

The women’s volleyball team, dubbed “The Witches of the Orient,” and the men’s gymnastics team won gold medals. These and other spectacular performances by Japanese athletes thrilled the nation.

The outstanding performances of foreign athletes — including marathon gold medalist Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia and Soviet women’s gymnastics gold medalist Vera Caslavska — also made a lasting impression in the minds of many Japanese people.

The 1964 Tokyo Games left behind a number of legacies, including the National Stadium and other venues for Olympic events, which have been used for various sports since. The Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train service and Tokyo monorail started operation in 1964, and the Metropolitan Expressway running through central Tokyo was also built.

Thus, the Tokyo Olympics sparked the construction of urban infrastructure that has led to the creation of Tokyo as it is today.

We again feel the passage of time on the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo Games.

Masae Nakamura (whose maiden name was Kasai), captain of “The Witches of the Orient,” died in October last year. The gymnasium at Komazawa Olympic Park, where the final volleyball match between the Japanese and Soviet national teams was held, will be dismantled due to age.

When final Olympic torch runner Yoshinori Sakai, who lit the Olympic cauldron, died in September this year, many middle-aged and elderly people were said to have been deeply moved.

Prepare carefully

On the other hand, the number of people who did not experience that thrilling moment half a century ago has been increasing. So it is all the more delightful that there will be yet another chance to light the Olympic flame in Tokyo.

Preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been put into high gear. It is essential for all those concerned to make concerted efforts to carry out the necessary projects carefully.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has been reviewing plans to build competition venue facilities, as construction costs are estimated to swell significantly due to spikes in material and personnel costs. As long as public money is to be invested, it is natural to work toward reducing costs as much as possible while eliminating wasteful spending.

But it must be noted that the main venue facilities will remain as legacies for the future after the Olympics. So care must be taken to make them viable in the long term. It is necessary to accelerate the construction of the new National Stadium, which has been delayed due partly to the cumbersome bidding procedures for the project.

It is essential to improve systems for hosting foreign athletes, players and spectators. Preparations must be made in both the fields of hardware and software to improve information infrastructure and make it easier to access the Internet, to introduce a multilingual system for street guidance signs and signboards, and to improve the public’s abilities in conversational English to deal with foreign visitors.

Such endeavors will become valuable assets for Japan in its aspirations to become a tourism-oriented country. We hope the Tokyo Games will be a fantastic sports extravaganza that presents a model of how the Games should be held in a developed city.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 10, 2014)Speech

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産経前支局長 韓国ならではの「政治的」起訴

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Indictment of former Sankei bureau chief suggests political motivation
産経前支局長 韓国ならではの「政治的」起訴

It is an exercise of governmental authority far removed from the reaction expected of a democratic nation.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office has indicted without arrest the former chief of The Sankei Shimbun’s Seoul Bureau. He has been charged with defamation under South Korea’s information and communications network law. The indictment alleges a column posted on the Sankei website in August damaged the reputation of South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

This appears to be a politically motivated indictment following the wishes of the Blue House, which had declared it would pursue criminal responsibility in this case. The pressure being applied to the media is absolutely unacceptable.

We wonder if this was intended to punish a Japanese media organization that printed an article irksome to the Park administration, against the backdrop of anti-Japan sentiment in South Korea.

Freedom of the press is an essential principle that shapes a democratic society.

It is conventional wisdom in the international community that in nations where democratic politics have become established, a criminal prosecution based on the content of a media report should be restrained as much as possible.

The Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club, a club for foreign media organizations with offices in South Korea, announced it was “deeply concerned” about the indictment, and said it could interfere with the freedom of the media.

The online column in question reported there were “rumors” Park had met with a man on the day of the Sewol ferry disaster in April. The report included quotes from a column in the Chosun Ilbo, a major South Korean newspaper.

The Sankei bureau chief also added original information from his own “political sources” that insinuated Park was in a “close relationship” with another man.

Another strain on bilateral ties

The indictment concludes that these rumors have been confirmed as untrue. It insists the former bureau chief “accentuated false information as being true” through the Internet.

The former bureau chief has left himself wide open to criticism for readily writing an article based on a rumor. Nevertheless, criminal prosecution in this case is going too far. He has already been banned from leaving South Korea for more than 60 days. This also breaches the basic human right of freedom of movement.

The Sankei Shimbun has demanded the indictment be retracted, and insists the column about the movements of the South Korean president, a public figure, “had a bearing on the public good.”

It is only natural that there should be a different response when someone’s reputation has been tarnished, depending on whether they are a public official such as a politician who has opportunities to give their side of the story, or a private individual who does not.

The Blue House lodged a protest with The Sankei Shimbun. Records that show the president’s movements on the day in question were shown to the National Assembly. We think Park’s reputation should already have been restored on this issue.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has expressed concern about the indictment, saying it could have an impact “on the freedom of the press and Japan-South Korea relations.” In meetings with his South Korean counterpart in August and September, Kishida had urged the South Korean side to handle the matter carefully.

The forcible indictment of the former bureau chief could develop into a diplomatic problem. That could further complicate efforts to patch up bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 10, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月 8日 (水)

大学中退調査 経済的な負担を軽くしたい


The Yomiuri Shimbun
Measures needed to lessen financial burdens of college students in need
大学中退調査 経済的な負担を軽くしたい

More and more college students have given up studying because of the inability to pay tuition fees. Supportive measures are needed to help students who want to learn devote themselves to their studies.

A survey taken by the education ministry found that, in the 2012 academic year, the number of those who dropped out of universities, junior colleges and similar institutions totaled 79,000.

One out of five students who left school before graduation did so for financial reasons, up six percentage points from the previous survey taken in the 2007 academic year.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has analyzed the cause as “a widening economic disparity among households, against a backdrop of the lingering effects of an economic slowdown.”

It is essential for universities to take flexible approaches, such as giving students more time to pay tuition fees.

Also important is to make student loans extended by the government more accessible for students.

The education ministry aims to introduce student loans with repayment linked to a recipient’s postgraduate income, so the amount of monthly repayments would be adjusted in line with annual income.

Such a flexible framework is expected to lessen the burden of repayment on loan recipients.

There are more interest-bearing student loans than those with no interest. To help students in financial straits gain easier access to such loans without anxiety, it would be prudent to increase interest-free loans.

Also worrisome is the fact that many students are dropping out of school because of poor academic performances.

It was the third most-cited reason by those who left school before graduation, following those who quit school for economic reasons and those who changed schools.

Promote studying abroad

In recent years, many experts have pointed out that the academic ability of college students is continuing to decline.

In their attempts to survive in light of the dwindling number of school-age children, colleges and universities have given priority to meeting intake quotas, resulting in an increasing number of students who are unable to keep up with classes.

With colleges and universities falling short in filling their intake quotas, some students who do enroll lose their academic motivation and perform poorly.

Colleges and universities should organize systems in which faculty members would counsel students and treat them sensitively in handing out advice, in addition to providing remedial classes and other assistance.

To prevent a mismatch between what a college can offer and what a student expects out of a school, a college or university should improve the dissemination of information and presentations to students to show clearly what kind of students they want to see enrolled and what sort of educational content they can offer.

Students preparing for an entrance exam should decide which school or department they want to study at by locking their sights on the future. High schools also should give students appropriate career guidance.

The number of college students who were absent from school with official approval in the 2012 academic year totaled 67,000. Of them, only 10,000 students were absent because they were studying abroad.

Study abroad offers an important opportunity for young students to grow, as they will come into contact with different cultures and undergo various experiences in another country.

Yet there is strong concern among students that studying abroad means they will have to graduate from school later than other students and may be at a disadvantage when they look for a job. We hope business firms will positively evaluate students who have studied abroad.

It is also important to build an academic environment in which students will feel more at ease in studying abroad by having credits earned at foreign schools qualify for graduation at Japanese universities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 7, 2014)Speech

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日中「海上連絡」 偶発的衝突の回避に不可欠だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan-China hotline indispensable to avert accidental military clashes
日中「海上連絡」 偶発的衝突の回避に不可欠だ

Efforts must be stepped up to establish a hotline between Japan and China to prevent accidental clashes.

Tokyo and Beijing will resume negotiations before the end of this year to establish a maritime liaison mechanism between the two countries’ defense authorities.

The agreement to resume talks came during the bilateral working official-level talks held in late September to discuss maritime issues. The mechanism is aimed at preventing accidental clashes between naval vessels and aircraft of the two countries in and over the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

The mechanism will consist mainly of regular conferences between the defense authorities of the two countries, establishment of a hotline between their senior defense officials and direct radio communications between naval vessels and aircraft.

The Japanese and Chinese defense authorities reached a broad agreement in June 2012 on the establishment of the mechanism incorporating these plans. China, however, unilaterally discontinued talks in protest against Japan’s nationalization of the Senkakus in September that year.

A Chinese Navy vessel locked fire-control radar onto a ship of the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the East China Sea in January 2013. In May and June this year, Chinese fighter jets ventured abnormally closed to Self-Defense Forces planes.

If a multilayered liaison system is in place, it will help prevent an incident, whether accidental or not, from escalating into a military clash. The system will benefit both countries in light of crisis management.

Beneficial for both sides

China has agreed to comply with Japan’s repeated requests for resumption of the talks probably because it wants to show off its proactive stance toward easing tensions with Japan ahead of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit set for November in Beijing.

Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff of the MSDF, stood talking with a top Chinese Navy officer during an international conference in September with both agreeing on the need to deepen communications to avert a bilateral military clash.

By taking advantage of the planned resumption of bilateral defense talks, Tokyo and Beijing should work toward building confidence in each other and improving relations.

But it should not be overlooked that China has been intruding into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus on a regular basis and trying to establish a fait accompli for changing the status quo by force.

Violation of Japanese territorial waters by Chinese government vessels have occurred at a pace of four to 10 vessels a month this year. Intrusions by Chinese fishing boats have increased sharply as the Japan Coast Guard issued warnings to 208 such vessels as of the end of September to leave the area, more than double the 88 last year.

Chinese military, government and fishing vessels are said to make concerted actions by cooperating with each other. The government must not loosen its warning and monitoring activities.

The JCG will establish a specialized surveillance system for the Senkakus in fiscal 2015, which will involve 12 large patrol ships. In its spending request for fiscal 2015, the JCG called for a budget to introduce four small and highly mobile patrol boats.

The MSDF, for its part, has plans to beef up its force, including one to introduce two new types of small destroyers with low construction costs in a few years.

Close cooperation among the JCG, MSDF and police could serve as a deterrent against accidental clashes.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 7, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月 7日 (火)

ダイエー消滅 新たな流通革命につながるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Daiei’s demise must be followed by next distribution revolution
ダイエー消滅 新たな流通革命につながるか

The trade name of Daiei Inc., a pioneer in supermarket operations that revolutionized Japan’s distribution industry, is disappearing for good.

Its parent company, Aeon Co., has announced that it will make a full acquisition of Daiei, whose outlets will consequently be operated under the Aeon brand by the end of 2018.

Launched in Osaka in 1957 by the late Isao Nakauchi, Daiei won the support of consumers with its discount sales, which were made possible through bulk purchasing under its strategy of selling “quality products at ultralow prices.”

Riding the tide of Japan’s high economic growth, Daiei achieved remarkable growth thanks to its strategy of aggressively expanding its outlets.

In 1972, its sales surpassed those of the Mitsukoshi department store chain to become Japan’s largest retailer, reaching the ¥1 trillion mark for the first time in 1980.

Daiei succeeded in cutting purchasing costs by bypassing wholesalers and buying products directly from makers. It also boldly challenged the business practice of makers setting uniform retail prices. Daiei thus achieved a revolution in the distribution sector by winning the right to set retail prices on the back of its astonishing sales records. The great contribution it has made should be applauded.

Things appeared to be going smoothly for Daiei until the firm suffered financial problems in the wake of a fiasco in hotel operations, which it entered during the bubble economy period of the late 1980s. In a strategic blunder that dealt the company a serious blow, Daiei sold one of its rapidly growing subsidiaries, the Lawson convenience store chain, losing vital revenue from the promising convenience store business.

Challenges in Internet age

After embarking on a tortuous path that included resorting to financial support from the governmental Industrial Revitalization Corporation of Japan, Daiei became an Aeon subsidiary in 2013.

After the full acquisition is completed, Aeon aims to streamline operations by integrating Daiei and Aeon supermarkets. Merely changing the signboard from Daiei to Aeon, however, will not win customers.

The distribution industry has shifted from the age of supermarkets to a golden era of convenience stores. In addition, online sales have dramatically increased.

Goods and services purchased on the Internet by households have increased about fivefold over the past 10 years. The sales made on websites operated by Rakuten Inc. have already surpassed those of major department store and supermarket chains.

It is hoped that another distribution revolution will emerge to create new business models that meet consumers’ needs by using realignments that transcend industries as leverage.

It is worrying, however, that new supermarkets and convenience stores are being opened mostly in Tokyo and its vicinity, where stable earnings are projected. As things stand, it is feared that the trend will further fuel cutthroat competition over limited shares.

In contrast to urban areas, rural communities, where supermarkets and convenience stores are few and far between, have seen a steep increase in the number of people who have difficulty visiting such outlets, including elderly residents who do not drive.

The revival of the retail industry hinges on how it can adequately respond to such changes in the social structure as depopulation, a graying society and a gap between urban and rural areas.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 6, 2014)Speech

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「イスラム国」 テロ戦闘員の流入を阻止せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Intl community must stem flow of extremists drawn to Islamic State
「イスラム国」 テロ戦闘員の流入を阻止せよ

In an alarming trend, terrorists and others espousing extremist beliefs have been coming together from all parts of the world to join the Islamic State group of extreme militants in the Middle East. Such a highly dangerous state of affairs can never be tolerated.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution compelling all members of the world body to make new laws and restrictions to punish citizens who try to go overseas for terrorist purposes, as well as people who support such citizens.

The resolution is aimed at preventing the inflow of foreign fighters into the Islamic State, also known as the ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), which has been expanding its influence across wide swaths of such countries as Syria. The Security Council action is also designed to prevent fighters who have returned from the ISIS to their home countries from engaging in terrorist activities.

U.S. President Barack Obama has pointed out that “more than 15,000 foreign fighters from more than 80 nations have traveled to Syria” in recent years. Youths and others sympathizing with the causes of the ISIS have been answering its recruitment campaigns through the Internet and other means.

The international community shares a sense of urgency in the face of the menace posed by the Islamic State group. In particular, European nations, which have large numbers of Islamic immigrants, are eager to make new legal arrangements in response to the Security Council resolution.

France’s National Assembly has passed a bill centering around such purposes as temporarily seizing the passports of French nationals planning to commit radical activities and restricting access to websites that justify terrorism. Britain has been considering such steps as temporarily depriving radicals of their passports and prohibiting them from boarding passenger airplanes.

Infiltrating Asian Muslims

The Japanese government is set to clamp down on people traveling abroad for terrorist purposes through existing laws and regulations, including the Penal Code. The government is also poised to coordinate opinions to legislate a new law aimed at cutting off the flow of funds to terrorist organizations. Japan must also implement measures to effectively contain terrorist moves.

It is worrying that the ISIS’ influence has been rapidly spreading among Muslims in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, an estimated 1,000 people from this region are believed to have headed for such countries as Syria and Iraq to join the ISIS.

Multiple extremist groups in Southeast Asia, including some in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population of about 200 million, have expressed support for the ISIS. Some have engaged in fund-raising activities in support of the Islamic State.

There have reportedly been a number of Muslims who have joined the ISIS from China’s Xinjang Uygur Autonomous Region, where clashes between Uygur and Chinese authorities have continued unabated.

A note of warning was sounded against the spread of terrorism on Sept. 18, when police took 15 ISIS supporters into custody in Australia. They were said to be plotting the indiscriminate killing of ordinary citizens.

There is no doubt that the spread of sympathy in Asia for the ISIS comes against a background of poverty and rampant corruption that has fomented deep discontent among the populace over the unfairness of society.

To prevent further infiltration by the ISIS, it is essential to reform such deep-seated maladies in Asian nations over the mid- and long term.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 6, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月 6日 (月)

原発避難解除 帰還者をしっかりと支えよう

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shore up returnees’ lives after Kawauchi evacuation advisory lifting
原発避難解除 帰還者をしっかりと支えよう

An evacuation advisory issued in the wake of the March 2011 crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was lifted this month for the eastern part of the village of Kawauchi, Fukushima Prefecture.

The lifting of the advisory applies to an area in which 139 households registered their residences. Although those who have actually returned to Kawauchi currently account for only a portion of the registered residents, there are rising expectations that the lifting of the evacuation advisory will serve as an incentive to expedite moves to resuscitate the village community. Both the central government and the Fukushima prefectural government must help in the task the returnees face in rebuilding their livelihoods.

The area is within a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled nuclear plant. Immediately after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis, all of the community’s residents were forced to evacuate.

Subsequently, through such efforts as radiation decontamination, radioactivity levels in the village have been lowered to those similar in the city of Fukushima. Kawauchi’s infrastructure systems, such as its electricity and gas supplies, which are essential to daily life, have been restored. Progress has also been made in rebuilding stores dealing in daily necessities and medical institutions in the community.

The foundation for rebuilding the livelihoods of village residents can now be said to be in place.

Three businesses, including a manufacturer, have moved into the area in response to requests by the village government. The number of students enrolled at primary and middle schools in the village has increased after related facilities were improved.

In April, an evacuation advisory was lifted for the eastern area of the Miyakoji district of Tamura, a city neighboring Kawauchi on the north. The overall number of households in Tamura has recovered to a little more than 70 percent of that before the accident. As a number of families with children have returned, the city has reportedly begun to regain its vitality.

The resumption of the livelihoods of as many registered returnees as possible is certain to lay the foundation for the restoration of disaster-affected areas.

‘Fukushima Vision’ promising

To facilitate the evacuees’ return, it is imperative to review the current arrangements for compensation payments to these people. Under the current system, monthly compensation payouts by TEPCO cease only one year after an evacuation advisory is lifted. Because of the uncertainty of their future livelihoods, evacuees have difficulty in accepting the lifting of the advisory.

The government should consider the advisability of creating a new framework, such as making TEPCO provide evacuees with lump-sum payments to allow them to secure sufficient funds to rebuild their lives.

Before the crisis, the region’s major industries were the nuclear plant and related businesses. Building a new industrial base to ensure job opportunities is another important task that must be undertaken in the area.

Research and development related to the decommissioning of the nuclear reactors, which is expected to take at least 40 years, can become a potent industry that can help reinvigorate the region’s economy.

A blueprint for rehabilitation of the area is already in place, since a report titled “Fukushima Innovation Coast Vision,” also referred to as the “Fukushima International Industry City Vision,” was worked out in June with the collaboration of such entities as the central and Fukushima prefectural governments and city, town and village municipalities around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

In order to push forward with the decommissioning work smoothly, it is essential to conduct analyses of the actual conditions of the crippled reactors and develop technologies for making robots capable of working in places that humans cannot access because of high radiation hazards. The Fukushima Vision report was designed to aid the development of such R&D facilities in municipalities in the plant’s vicinity. The report can be safely described as practical in light of the area’s realities.

Work to construct facilities for carrying out analyses and R&D programs envisaged in the Fukushima Vision report has already started. Further efforts should be made to accelerate the undertakings.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 5, 2014)Speech

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新幹線50年 安全で正確な運行これからも

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Efforts must be made to extend life of safe, punctual Shinkansen lines
新幹線50年 安全で正確な運行これからも

Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the Tokaido Shinkansen line. When it was put into service, the bullet train was called “the superexpress train of our dreams.”

Shinkansen service at a speed of up to 210 kph reduced the time required for a train trip between Tokyo and Osaka to four hours, compared with the 6½ hours the same trip took on a limited express train.

The latest Shinkansen model, which runs at 270 kph, has shortened the time to less than 2½ hours. A train evolving through incessant efforts, the Shinkansen should be considered a good example to other nations seeking to build similar high-speed railway systems.

The Tokaido Shinkansen line served as the main artery connecting the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kansai region, a development essential for underpinning our country’s successful efforts to achieve high economic growth.

Later, the Shinkansen system was expanded to include the Sanyo, Tohoku and Joetsu routes, which tremendously widened the range of destinations for one-day trips. All this greatly contributed to improving the efficiency of doing business in this country while also promoting tourism in many parts of the nation.

A popular topic of conversation related to the Shinkansen was a TV commercial featuring a young couple who had a long-distance romantic relationship. The serialized “Cinderella Express” spot depicted the couple using the Shinkansen to meet over the weekend and say bittersweet goodbyes to each other on the platform before taking Sunday’s last Shinkansen to return home. The commercial seemed to show that the Shinkansen service had considerably affected the lifestyle of people in this country.

It deserves special mention that the Shinkansen network has maintained a high degree of safety over a half century. During that period, not one passenger has died due to such accidents as derailments or crashes on the high-speed network.

Nevertheless, in 1995 a schoolboy died after his fingers were caught in a closing Shinkansen door and he was dragged by the train. Derailments also took place in the 2004 Chuetsu Earthquake and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Safety mustn’t be assumed

The Shinkansen network should never be considered perfectly safe, which could lead to dangerous complacency about the system’s safety. We hope consistent efforts will be made to further improve the safety of the Shinkansen network.

Another feature of the Shinkansen system is its precise operation control system. No parallel can be found among railway systems in other nations.

For instance, delays in Tokaido Shinkansen services average less than one minute, including those caused by bad weather. This precision makes it possible to run Shinkansen trains at high speeds. But it also guarantees an extremely congested schedule for Shinkansen operations, as indicated by the fact that such trains depart once every three minutes during peak hours.

It is said that many foreign visitors to Japan are amazed to see a Shinkansen train arrive at its last stop and its interior immediately cleaned during a period of less than 10 minutes for a new run.

Not only the capacity and safety of Shinkansen trains but their excellent operational control system is something Japan can boast to the rest of the world as one of the nation’s assets.

It is essential to properly pass on our nation’s accumulated Shinkansen technology and expertise to the next generation.

Projects have been prepared to build and improve high-speed railway systems in more than 10 locations around the world. The Shinkansen technology can become a centerpiece of our nation’s infrastructure export drive as a pillar of the growth strategy pursued by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The government and the private sector need to join hands to succeed in this endeavor.

The government and the ruling parties are studying the idea of opening three new Shinkansen routes that will cover Hokkaido and the Hokuriku and Kyushu regions, respectively, earlier than initially planned. If the idea is translated into action, it would increase the amount of construction costs by a sizable ¥540 billion.

We believe priority should be placed on projects to repair and refurbish obsolete railway tracks and bridges instead of hastening to complete the new routes, thereby making it possible to safely extend the life of the existing Shinkansen lines.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 5, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月 5日 (日)

衆院予算委 現実的な安保論議を深めたい


The Yomiuri Shimbun
Now is the time to deepen realistic deliberations on national security
衆院予算委 現実的な安保論議を深めたい

How does Japan boost its deterrent capability to ensure the nation’s peace and security? The ruling and opposition parties should deepen discussions based on a realistic view of national security.

Interpellations have started in the House of Representatives Budget Committee. This is the first full-on Diet debate for the recently reshuffled Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Edano blasted the government’s new interpretation of the Constitution that allows Japan limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense. “By attaching conditions that could be read in many different ways, just how far will this [limited scope] extend?” he asked.

Edano continued his questioning on the specific example of minesweeping by the Self-Defense Forces in the Middle East. “Would this correspond to a case of an attack by another country [in which the exercise of the right of collective self-defense would be permitted]?" he asked.

In response, Abe asserted: “For example, the Hormuz Strait is a vital lifeline for Japan’s energy security. This is a situation that could meet the conditions [for exercising the right].”

Preparing the legal and implementation systems that allow Japan to foresee various threats and respond appropriately to them will be key to the nation’s security. The DPJ held the reins of power not too long ago, so it should have keenly appreciated this necessity.

We think that the government’s new constitutional interpretation enabling the SDF to conduct minesweeping operations before hostilities have ended is reasonable.

DPJ should make up its mind

The DPJ has been putting off establishing a party view on the appropriateness of allowing limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense. The main opposition party should face up to the deteriorating security environment surrounding Japan and quickly come to a conclusion on this matter.

Abe emphasized that the new interpretation has a settled consistency with the government’s previous stance. He also clearly stated that the SDF would not participate in a military operation such as the Iraq war.

Under the new interpretation, the exercise of the right of collective self-defense is restricted to conditions including where there is a “clear danger to fundamentally overturn the [Japanese] people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The prime minister needs to carefully explain the significance of this wording to the public so that they better understand what it really means.

Seiji Maehara, a former leader of the DPJ, took a swipe at the Abe administration’s “Abenomics” economic policies. “Real wages have gone down, and salaried workers and other people are finding it tougher to get by,” he said.

“I want to help wages catch up [with rising prices] as fast as possible,” Abe replied. “I’ll push ahead with flexible fiscal policies and economic growth strategy.”

To realize a “virtuous economic cycle” in which rising corporate profits lead to higher wages and increased consumption, it is vital to boost employment and improve the working conditions of nonregular employees. The ruling and opposition parties need to discuss what policies can best give impetus to these issues.

Regarding the planned increase in the consumption tax rate to 10 percent, Abe said, “I’ll give priority to dragging the economy out of deflation, and make a decision while watching the state of the economy, which is a living thing.”

The prime minister will need to make a political decision on whether to hike the consumption tax rate by the end of the year. As a signatory to the three-party deal — along with the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito — that agreed to the tax hike, the DPJ also should hold responsible discussions in the Diet on this matter.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 4, 2014)Speech

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産経前支局長 韓国は出国禁止を続けるのか


The Yomiuri Shimbun
How long will S. Korea keep Sankei’s ex-Seoul bureau chief from leaving?
産経前支局長 韓国は出国禁止を続けるのか

The attitude of the South Korean Office of the President, or Blue House, toward human rights and freedom of the press has been called into question.

South Korean prosecutors are still investigating the criminal responsibility of a former chief of The Sankei Shimbun’s Seoul bureau on suspicion of defaming President Park Geun-hye in an article he wrote.

The prosecutors banned the former bureau chief from leaving the country in early August. The ban has been in place for more than 50 days, as it has been extended six times.

The former bureau chief was ordered to move to Tokyo in a personnel transfer effective Wednesday, but he was unable to do so. The continued ban is hindering his reporting activities.

Freedom of movement, which is a fundamental human right, has been infringed. It was natural for the former bureau chief’s lawyer to call for the ban to be lifted, saying, “Bans on leaving the country should be kept to a minimum.”

The article in question was carried on the newspaper’s website on Aug. 3.

He reported that there was a rumor Park met with a man on April 16, the day when the Sewol ferry capsized. Quoting from a column carried by the Chosun Ilbo, a leading newspaper in South Korea, he incorporated information he obtained independently as he wrote the story.

Four days after the story’s publication, the Blue House announced it would inquire into the criminal responsibility of The Sankei Shimbun. The Blue House seems to have thrown itself wholeheartedly behind the prosecutors’ tenacious investigation.

Allegations denied

The Sankei denied the alleged defamation, arguing that the article had no intention whatsoever of defaming or slandering the president.

The newspaper, on the other hand, said it would “sincerely comply with the requests during the investigation.” In fact, the former bureau chief has voluntarily complied with the prosecutors’ request for questioning on three occasions.

The Sankei has also insisted that no related evidence would be de-stroyed and the former bureau chief would not become a fugitive after he returns to Japan.

It is rare in South Korea for a foreign reporter to face criminal responsibility after writing an article.

Little can be done if the current commotion means the Blue House is imposing de facto sanctions on a foreign reporter through the prose-cutors’ investigation.

The article in question, however, can be criticized in that it did not verify whether the rumor was true or false, while referring to the man by his real name.

But if South Korea is a democratic country, it should be extremely prudent in investigating criminal responsibility in connection with media reporting. If an investigation and prosecution are conducted without thorough consideration, there is a risk of violating freedom of the press — essential for a democratic society.

The Blue House submitted to the parliament the president’s detailed itinerary on the day of the deadly Sewol ferry accident. Can it believe this refutes the rumor and her reputation has been restored?

South Korea’s probe into the former bureau chief’s case is being closely watched by Japanese and other foreign media organizations. Coolheaded judgment is called for on the part of the Blue House.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 4, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月 4日 (土)

御嶽山惨事 火山情報の発信に工夫が要る

> 安倍首相は国会で、「火山活動の監視を強化するなど、対策にスピード感を持って取り組む」と述べた。惨事を繰り返さぬよう、防災体制を再点検すべきだ。


The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mt. Ontake tragedy shows volcano information must be better conveyed
御嶽山惨事 火山情報の発信に工夫が要る

There may be no escape if a climber becomes enveloped in the plume spewed out by a volcano. Once again, we have been reminded of just how terrifying a volcano can be.

The eruption is now the worst volcanic disaster in Japan since the end of World War II. Its death toll has exceeded the 44 people known or thought to have died in pyroclastic flows caused by the 1991 and 1993 eruptions of the Fugendake volcano on Mt. Unzen.

Mt. Ontake is popular with climbers and is on the list of Japan’s 100 most famous mountains. The eruption occurred on a weekend during a season when many people travel to the mountain to see its vibrant autumn foliage, and began around the time many climbers had reached the summit and were preparing to eat lunch. These factors combined to push up the death toll. Many of the victims died after being struck by volcanic rocks that rained down during the eruption.

Firefighters, Ground Self-Defense Force personnel and police are continuing their meticulous search for more victims. The area has been blanketed by volcanic ash, and toxic volcanic gas is being generated. The risk of another eruption and streams of mud and ash caused by rain cannot be ruled out. We hope the utmost caution will be exercised to ensure a secondary disaster does not occur.

Information about whether climbers had escaped the eruption changed again and again, which confused families waiting for the return of their loved ones. This may be the result of search-and-rescue operation details being released before they were properly confirmed, due to a lack of coordination between the disaster headquarters established by the Nagano prefectural government, and by the prefectural police and firefighters.

Japan is dotted with 110 active volcanoes. Local governments near a volcano that requires close attention because it is highly active should strengthen preparations for the possibility it could erupt.

The Mt. Ontake eruption has highlighted the importance of climbing registration forms. These notifications contain information including the name of a climber and any companions, their planned trekking route and emergency contact details. They can be submitted at post boxes installed at various locations, including the base of routes up a mountain.

Onus on climbers

In the event of an accident in the mountains, this information enables the police and local government authorities to quickly ascertain who is on the mountain. Hiking plans provided by climbers are useful for identifying which areas rescuers should check.

Many climbers have met with misfortune on Mt. Tanigawadake in Gunma Prefecture and Mt. Tsurugidake in Toyama Prefecture. The Gunma and Toyama prefectural governments have adopted an ordinance that requires mountaineers to submit a climbing notification before they tackle these peaks. These are the exceptions, however — on other mountains, it is currently left up to the climber to register. Many climbers begin their ascent without submitting such a form.

Even now, authorities are spending considerable time and energy trying to determine how many hikers were on Mt. Ontake when it erupted, which has hampered search operations. This is a bitter lesson.

The Japan Meteorological Agency had been monitoring Mt. Ontake’s activity around the clock. In mid-September, the agency detected a rise in the number of volcanic earthquakes around the mountain, and on three occasions passed this information to nearby local governments and posted it on its website.

However, there was not always a concrete explanation of what these earthquakes could indicate, so the local governments did not regard the information as important.

If the agency detects changes in the activity of a volcano, it is essential that it figure out how to pass this on in easy-to-understand terms. It would also be helpful if such information was displayed at the start of mountain trails and in huts on the mountain. We also urge climbers to pay close heed to information about volcanoes.

In the Diet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “The government will quickly work on countermeasures, such as strengthening the monitoring of volcanic activity.” A reexamination of the nation’s disaster-prevention systems is needed to ensure the tragedy on Mt. Ontake is not repeated.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 3, 2014)Speech

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大学への脅迫文 言論封じを狙う卑劣な行為だ

> 読売新聞は、紙面で朝日の慰安婦報道を分析し、いかに甚大な影響を及ぼしたかを示した。誤報の背景を探り、徹底検証することが、傷つけられた日本の名誉を回復し、報道機関の信頼を取り戻すためには必要だと考えるからだ。


The Yomiuri Shimbun
Threatening letters over Asahi report are vile acts violating freedom of speech
大学への脅迫文 言論封じを狙う卑劣な行為だ

Acts of intimidation that attempt to suppress freedom of speech can never be overlooked.

Threatening letters have been sent to Tezukayama Gakuin University in Osaka Prefecture and Hokusei Gakuen University in Sapporo demanding the dismissal of two faculty members, both former reporters for The Asahi Shimbun, on the grounds that they were involved in the newspaper’s reporting about so-called comfort women.

The letters sent to each university included such statements as “If you fail to dismiss him, your students will get hurt” and “A gas bomb containing nails will be set off.”

Nails were said to have been enclosed in some of the letters.

Attacking the two Asahi reporters and threatening to harm the universities’ students is despicable.

Police are investigating the case on suspicion of forcible obstruction of business. We urge investigators to do their utmost to capture the perpetrator or perpetrators of this intimidation.

The former Asahi reporter who was a professor at Tezukayama Gakuin University wrote an article concerning claims by the late Seiji Yoshida that he forcibly rounded up and took away women in Korea during World War II. The Asahi Shimbun recently retracted the articles.

Ever since the Asahi ran a set of articles in August about verification findings regarding its coverage of the comfort women issue, the university has been flooded with such inquiries as “Why hasn’t the professor been dismissed?” The former Asahi reporter resigned as a professor on Sept. 13, the day one of the threatening letters was delivered to the university.

The other former Asahi reporter, who now is a part-time lecturer at Hokusei Gakuen University, was the first to report the statements of Korean women who claimed to be former comfort women.

Slander on Internet

There have even been slanderous postings on the Internet identifying the names of people believed to be relatives of the former reporters. They have made the family members, who have no connection to the reporting, the object of attacks. This behavior is simply outrageous.

The Asahi’s series of comfort women reports have spread the misunderstanding in the international community that Korean women were forcibly taken away by the Japanese government during wartime.

The Asahi bears a heavy responsibility for seriously damaging Japan’s national interests and helping foment anti-Japanese sentiment among people in South Korea.

Doubts about the veracity of the “Yoshida statements” had been raised since around 1992. Nevertheless, the Asahi made no review of its reports on the issue, finally retracting the articles in question in August this year.

There can be no denying that the fiasco has greatly damaged public confidence in news media.

However, it is never permissible to resort to intimidation because the Asahi’s reports on the issue are objectionable. When one encounters a problem in the realm of speech, it should be refuted through speech as a matter of principle.

The Yomiuri Shimbun analyzed the Asahi’s comfort women stories to show the immensity of their harmful impact. We believe that thoroughly reviewing the Asahi’s erroneous reports, in order to explore their background in depth, is necessary to redeem Japan’s tarnished reputation in the international community and restore the nation’s trust in news organizations.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle that is essential to building and maintaining a democratic society. This principle must be upheld under all circumstances.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 3, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月 3日 (金)

香港抗議デモ 混乱の長期化が懸念される

The Yomiuri Shimbun
As Hong Kong protests drag on, Beijing should consider dialogue
香港抗議デモ 混乱の長期化が懸念される

In the years since Hong Kong reverted from British rule to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the territory has never witnessed such scenes of chaos. The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping has found itself with a major political problem on its hands.

Students demanding greater democracy in the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, and supporters of other pro-democracy groups, are continuing to occupy a commercial district, the financial district, areas around government buildings and other parts of central Hong Kong. On Wednesday, which was China’s National Day holiday, many students and other protesters gathered in the central part of the city.

The demonstrations have snarled some transport networks and caused other disruptions to people’s daily lives. This is an extremely serious situation.

The protests have their origin in the August decision by China’s National People’s Congress on a new system for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive.

Although the Xi administration approved, for the first time, the introduction of a “normal election” in which eligible voters in Hong Kong can directly elect the territory’s leader, any candidate who is essentially not pro-Beijing will not be allowed on the ballot.

Hong Kong is legally guaranteed a high degree of autonomy in all matters under the “one country, two systems” formula. We can understand why the students have slammed the 2017 plan as a “fake election.”

A White House spokesman even said, “The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong ... and we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people.”

Hong Kong authorities have responded by using tear gas and pepper spray against the protesters, and tried to clear away the students who have boycotted classes and repeatedly taken part in street demonstrations. Many arrests have been made.

Attrition warfare

Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has said he expects the protests to continue “for quite a long time.” His comment embodies the uncomfortable state of affairs for authorities that have no effective options to quickly bring an end to the situation.

The approach of the Xi administration will hold the key to how this situation pans out. Beijing has denounced the occupation of Hong Kong’s streets as “illegal activities that undermine social stability.” The Chinese leaders are likely concerned that swallowing the students’ demands would render them unable to exercise sovereignty over Hong Kong as they would like.

They are undoubtedly also gripped by a sense of alarm that these protests could rekindle demands for greater democracy in the rest of China, which have been bottled up since the Tiananmen Square Incident in 1989.

Events in Hong Kong could also derail any unification strategy for China and Taiwan that would seek to apply the “one China, two systems” policy. We wonder if demands for greater self-rule in regions home to ethnic minorities will grow stronger.

The ability to impose Beijing-orchestrated governance appears to be reaching its limit. The current situation in Hong Kong vividly illustrates this point.

The worst-case scenario of using armed force to suppress the protests must be avoided. The Xi administration should show serious consideration for Hong Kong’s autonomy, and resolve this situation through dialogue.

Worryingly, the protests are starting to have an impact on the economy. Stock prices have fallen, and several banks have suspended operations.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s foremost international finance centers. If the demonstrations there drag on, they could even become a destabilizing factor for other financial markets around the world ― including those in Japan.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 2, 2014)Speech

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日銀短観 景気回復の足取りはまだ重い


The Yomiuri Shimbun
Central bank’s survey result shows pace of economic recovery still slow
日銀短観 景気回復の足取りはまだ重い

The findings of the latest economic survey give cause for concern that the economic slowdown in the wake of the consumption tax rate hike may continue for a protracted period.

The Bank of Japan’s Tankan economic survey for September showed that the diffusion index for large manufacturers’ current business conditions stood at plus 13, against plus 12 in the previous survey taken in June.

The DI for current business conditions among large nonmanufacturers, including those in the retail and service sectors whose performance depends largely on domestic demand, was down 6 points to plus 13. The DI for small and medium-sized businesses declined, in both the manufacturing and nonmanufacturing sectors, for two consecutive quarters.

The December business outlook DI for both large businesses and small and medium-sized companies was found to be flat, indicating that many companies are making a cautious forecast that the economy will remain at a standstill for the time being.

Business sentiment remains dull, mainly because private consumption has stayed sluggish. Private consumption soared due to a last-minute surge in demand on the eve of the April consumption tax rate hike, but then plunged, with the pace of economic recovery remaining slow.

Domestic consumption has been affected somewhat by unseasonable weather in the summer, including unusually heavy rain. But lackluster consumer spending can be primarily attributed to the fact that rises in income have not caught up with the price increase of about 3 percent, stemming from the hike in the consumption tax rate.

The government and the central bank have an expectation that the economy will pick up moderately. But they should not be overly optimistic. We hope both will raise their guard against any abnormal developments in the domestic economy and remain thoroughly committed to policy management that prioritizes economic recovery.

No signs of virtuous cycle

It will be hard to realize sustainable economic growth led by private-sector demand as long as there is no virtuous cycle created, a cycle in which increases in corporate profits are passed on to workers in the form of wage hikes, and rises in household income boost overall consumption.

The survey also found perceptions of a labor shortage among businesses to be at a high unseen since 1992. This is expected to make it more likely for wages to rise.

Yet there is also fear that a lack of manpower could result in such effects as business contraction. It is important to keep a close watch for adverse effects.

On the currency exchange market, the yen has continued to slide against the dollar, with the dollar briefly rising above ¥110 in Tokyo for the first time in about six years. The yen’s depreciation serves as a tailwind for export-oriented industries. But for businesses driven by domestic demand and small and medium-sized companies that do not export products or do business abroad, the currency’s decline will send the prices of imported raw materials soaring, thus weighing heavily on their business performance.

The government needs to steadily implement its growth strategy to improve the domestic business environment through reductions in the effective corporate tax rate and eased regulations.

The plans for promoting regional revitalization and supporting women’s active participation in society, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe advocates, are intended to enhance the growth potential of the economy, by taking measures to deal with changes in the composition of society such as population decline. The government needs to expedite its efforts to map out effective and concrete plans.

Within this year, Abe will make a decision on whether to raise the consumption tax rate to 10 percent starting in October next year. If his administration goes ahead with yet another hike in the consumption tax rate, it must then introduce reduced tax rates for daily necessities, including foodstuffs, to reduce the burden on the average household.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 2, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月 2日 (木)

衆院代表質問 民主党は対案示して論争せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
DPJ should offer own proposals, lock horns with govt responsibly
衆院代表質問 民主党は対案示して論争せよ

Merely criticizing the government in the Diet will do little to give depth to parliamentary discussions.

To fulfill its duty as the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan should present counterproposals that could be an alternative to important government policies.

On Tuesday, representatives from the ruling and opposition parties started questioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over his key policy speech at the House of Representatives.

DPJ President Banri Kaieda criticized the prime minister’s Abenomics economic policy as “an approach aimed at placing priority on helping business corporations gain profits.” The DPJ leader also expressed a negative opinion about the government’s desire to lower the corporate tax rate, citing the need to secure a massive amount of revenue to offset the reduction.

The prime minister refuted Kaieda’s argument by saying that his Abenomics policy is “starting to produce a virtuous economic cycle.” With the recent rise in prices, Abe also emphasized his determination to “create a situation in which wages will increase every year.”

Ending deflation requires a virtuous economic circle where an increase in corporate earnings will help raise wages and create more jobs, thereby boosting consumption and, consequently, improving the economy. It should also be noted that a reduction in the corporation tax is helpful in bolstering the international competitiveness of our nation’s corporate sector.

It is essential to make progress in the economic management of Abenomics, a task that needs to be complemented by paying careful attention to its potentially adverse effects, including a widening disparity in income levels.

In May, the DPJ put together an economic policy package aimed mainly at reviving the middle-class segment of the population and regional economies. However, Kaieda did not discuss the details of his party’s policy package.

The DPJ leader also referred to an envisaged increase in the consumption tax rate to 10 percent, arguing that measures should be taken to improve the quality of social security systems when the tax is raised. In reply, the prime minister revealed his intention to finance new social security policies with 20 percent of the revenue increase to be accrued from the tax rate hike.

Security plans blasted

By the end of the year, the prime minister is scheduled to decide whether to increase the tax rate to 10 percent after considering the economic situation and other factors from a comprehensive perspective. His decision will be significant in that it is bound to greatly affect the economy and the progress in fiscal reconstruction. Given this, legislators should debate pertinent issues from various points of view.

The themes addressed by Kaieda at Tuesday’s Diet session included a government plan to create and revise laws for national security that would permit this country to exercise its right of collective self-defense. He told the lower house that “the dispute [over the government’s new stance on the right] is being set aside without offering any necessary explanations to the public.” His condemnation targeted a government intention not to submit security legislation to the current Diet session and, instead, present them at next year’s ordinary session.

The blame for “postponement,” however, should fall on the DPJ. The opposition party is still unable to form an intraparty consensus about the pros and cons of the latest government decision on the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense. The DPJ should hold internal discussions on the issue as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Ishin no To (Restoration Party) coleader Kenji Eda told the Diet that the consumption tax rate hike could serve as “a decisive trigger for a failure resulting from Abenomics.” He also said the Abe administration is “entirely inadequate” in trying to curtail wasteful government spending.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), the predecessor to Ishin no Kai, had been poised to support the Abe administration if any government policies could be deemed commendable, while opposing the government if any of its policies were unacceptable. This is in contrast to the stance adopted by Ishin no To toward the government. The party is increasingly confrontational against the Abe administration.

If Ishin no To changes its position as an opposition party that thinks and acts responsibly, the party should remain committed to dealing with controversial policy issues in a constructive manner.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 1, 2014)Speech

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拉致再調査 「北」の時間稼ぎは許されない

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Don’t let Pyongyang buy time with its abduction investigation
拉致再調査 「北」の時間稼ぎは許されない

How can North Korea’s dishonest attitude be changed so that progress can be made on the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the country? The government should be wise and tough in its diplomatic efforts with the reclusive nation.

On Monday, Tokyo and Pyong-yang held talks between foreign affairs officials at the director general level. Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador in charge of normalization talks with Japan, told Japan that Pyongyang’s reinvestigation of abduction victims is “not at a stage to give a report.” He added, “Details should be given directly through the special investigation committee in Pyongyang.”

The government is now working to send senior Foreign Ministry officials to Pyongyang. It is important to scrutinize what kind of measures would be effective in urging North Korea to make full-fledged efforts on the reinvestigation so as to produce tangible results.

In Monday’s talks, Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, asked North Korea to carry out the investigation on abduction victims as soon as possible, and promptly announce the results.

“We are making steady progress in our scientific and objective investigation,” Song replied. He also reiterated North Korea’s claims that the investigation is at its initial stage and that results will not be revealed individually.

Releasing information little by little is Pyongyang’s conventional tactic to maximize returns. The government must not allow the nation to continue buying time.

“Every topic covered by the investigation is important, but the abduction issue is especially significant,” Ihara told Song.

Maintaining ‘action for action’

The investigation is being conducted on topics including abduction victims, other missing Japanese suspected of being abducted by North Korean agents and remains of deceased Japanese nationals. Ihara’s remark was a clear message that Japan wants North Korea to put its focus on confirming the safety of abduction victims.

Tokyo formally recognizes 17 people as being abducted by North Korea. Among them, 12 people, including Megumi Yokota, have yet to return Japan. North Korea’s past explanations over the safety of the 12 people mostly lack credibility. It is completely reasonable for the Japanese government to assign top priority to confirming the safety of the abduction victims.

“Doors of negotiation [with North Korea] should not be closed so easily,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. “We would like to conduct dialogue along with applying pressure.”

North Korea’s relationship with its traditional ally, China, has deteriorated, and talks with Seoul have been stalling. Nuclear talks with the United States have ceased for a while. We suppose Pyongyang still has the intention of improving its ties with Japan to address its isolation within the international community.

We urge the government to take advantage of such a situation to make tangible progress on the abduction issue.

What is important is to maintain the principle of “action for action.” North Korea should first demonstrate positive action over the abduction issue, and Japan should then take measures that match those actions.

Japan lifted some of its sanctions on North Korea when Pyongyang started the investigation in July. If North Korea continues its insincere attitude, the Japanese government should discuss the option of resuming the sanctions at their former scale.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 1, 2014)Speech

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2014年10月 1日 (水)

交流サイト被害 便利な機能には危険も潜む

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Parents should be alert to predators who lurk in their children’s phones
交流サイト被害 便利な機能には危険も潜む

Measures are urgently needed to protect children who use social networking sites, where they can exchange information with people they do not know, from falling victim to such despicable crimes as sexual assault.

Social networking sites may appear to be alike, but they come in various types.

There are social networking services such as Facebook, and free phone call and messaging applications such as Line and Kakao Talk, and online message boards for users to seek like-minded friends.

According to the National Police Agency, 698 children under 18 were victimized in the first half of this year by criminals they encountered via social networking sites. The figure is the highest seen in the first half since the NPA began collecting such data in 2008. More than 90 percent of the victims were young girls. This is indeed a serious situation.

There have been many cases in which girls ended up getting involved in sexual misconduct, commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. In Kumamoto Prefecture, a female high school student was killed by a man she got in contact with via an online site.

The advent of message boards, where people can exchange user IDs for popular, free-call and free-message apps with the general public, has helped such crimes spread.

With free calls and messaging apps, people can make free calls and exchange messages as long as they know the recipient’s user ID, without having to know the other person’s phone number or e-mail address.

There have been notable cases in which people too casually shared their user IDs in public on message boards, started exchanging calls or messages with a stranger and then were tricked into meeting that person, who victimized them.

Evil in disguise

Some perpetrators have lured young girls into meeting them by falsely representing themselves through photos of a completely different and much younger person. There have been other cases in which young girls sent messages apparently offering “compensated dating.”

The Line service operator, by the end of last year, took measures so that users under 18 could no longer make calls and exchange messages with parties the users know only by IDs.

As a result, the number of victims is said to be declining. We hope other app operators will take similar measures.

Regarding dating service websites, a law has been enacted to prevent children from falling victim to sexual crimes through them. There are also regulations that require site operators to notify relevant authorities and prohibit those under 18 from posting any content or information on the site.

Yet social networking sites where people search for hobby companions and friends are not subject to regulations.

A social networking site is convenient when it functions as a tool of communication. But it is essential that children be made to understand, at home and at school, the potential risks involved.

Also effective is the use of content filtering programs for children’s mobile phones to block objectionable apps and sites.

According to a Cabinet Office survey, the utilization rate of content filtering programs remains at about half of all mobile phones used by children. Approximately 20 percent of parents with young children were “unaware of” whether the program was installed in their children’s mobile phones.

Parents should make themselves aware of how their children are using their cell phones or smartphones.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 30, 2014)Speech

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所信表明演説 地方創生の具体論が問われる


The Yomiuri Shimbun
Govt must devise concrete measures for successful regional rejuvenation
所信表明演説 地方創生の具体論が問われる

It is understandable that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to recover the nation’s economic growth through regional revitalization and the creation of what he describes as “a society in which women shine.” But what is crucial is what concrete measures his government will take to implement such plans.

Abe made a policy speech before the plenary sessions of both houses of the Diet on Monday. Calling the extraordinary Diet session an opportunity to discuss regional revitalization, Abe said the government would “implement bold measures that are completely different from steps taken in the past” to reinvigorate regional areas and deal with population decline.

Saying young people hold the key to halting the crisis of rural depopulation, Abe presented his ideas for creating communities attractive to young people as well as to promote tourism and local industries.

Abe was able to convey his determination but discussions on each measure have just begun. The prescriptions for what ails the nation have not yet been made clear. The bill on the rejuvenation of local “communities, people and jobs,” which the government seeks to enact in the current Diet session, does not go beyond defining the basic ideals and the role of the state.

Japan’s population is estimated to drop to 87 million in 50 years, two-thirds of the current level, leading to the demise of half of the nation’s municipalities. It is not easy to attain the government’s target of keeping the nation’s population at about 100 million.

The government needs to come up with measures that can meet the needs of local communities by exchanging opinions with local governments and the private sector.

If the government resorts to carrying out the conventional type of public works projects and handing out subsidies, such as with past national land development projects, it will have a limited effect. It is essential to look into past successful cases of community building and, on a priority basis, allocate budgets to promising cost-effective measures.

Pillar of growth strategy

To help support greater participation of women in the workplace and society, Abe said the government will expand aid for child rearing and study the introduction of a system that would make it mandatory for listed companies to make public the number of female board directors. The utilization of women’s capabilities could become a pillar of the government’s economic growth strategy.

We want the government to make good on placing top priority on an economic policy, while steadily carrying out drastic regulatory reform and restarting nuclear reactors whose safety has been confirmed.

Abe made no reference to raising the consumption tax rate to 10 percent. He must decide before the end of this year whether to carry out the tax increase in October next year, as scheduled. He will have to give a detailed explanation of the procedure and thinking leading to the conclusion he draws on the matter.

On the diplomatic front, Abe presented his idea of pushing for international economic cooperation strategically through such frameworks as a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Abe has visited 49 countries since taking office in December 2012 as he attaches importance to economic diplomacy while serving as the top salesman for Japan’s nuclear power plants and rapid-transit railway system.

Utilizing the vigor of emerging economies will help boost the growth of the economy, and the country’s greater economic clout can then be used as a diplomatic card. A virtuous circle of diplomacy and economy is vital.

Improving soured relations with China and South Korea must also be tackled urgently. Given the signs of favorable responses from both Beijing and Seoul, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum set for November in Beijing will be a good opportunity for Abe to hold talks with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts. Arrangements for the realization of these talks must be made via low-key diplomacy with the two Asian neighbors.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 30, 2014)Speech

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