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--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 28
EDITORIAL: G-20 members need to end dependence on easy money policies
(社説)G20協調 緩和依存から脱却を

The top finance officials of the world’s major economies met last week for the first time since global financial turbulence started early this year.

The meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors, which ended Feb. 27 in Shanghai, confirmed the nations will “use all policy tools” to prevent a further rise in global financial risks.

The opportunity for the G-20 members to show they are ready to work together may have helped suppress market turmoil. But the occasion may have also revealed that it is never easy for the G-20 to come up with effective, concrete measures.

A slowdown in the Chinese economy, a sharp drop in crude oil prices, and the recent interest rate hike in the United States are believed to be the primary factors behind the market anxiety.

Instability in the world, as exemplified by the influx of refugees into Europe, rising tensions over North Korea and the chaotic situation in the Middle East, is another factor leading markets to believe the global economy could remain sluggish over the long term.

Since the 2008 collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered a worldwide financial crisis, all major economies of the world have been reacting to similar situations with stimulus packages and monetary easing.

But those countries have used up almost all available means, leaving little room now for additional measures.

Moreover, the excess of such response measures has generated investment bubbles in emerging economies and natural resources, which ended up triggering the financial turbulence we are currently in. Ironically enough, the responses to crises have engendered other crises.

To end this cycle, the major economies should refrain from indulging further in stimulus spending and easy money. While awareness of that issue was not shared during the G-20 meeting, it is probably high time its member states change course.

The most necessary policy measure is structural reform, designed to achieve long-term economic stability. For China, that reform would include clearing overcapacity and excessive debt and reforming state-owned enterprises; in Europe, deepening fiscal integration; and in Japan, reforming tax and social security systems and stabilizing state finance.

Amid the shortage of effective means, there are worries that countries may rush to devalue their currencies in favor of their own export industries. The G-20 members confirmed during the latest meeting that they will refrain from “competitive devaluations.”

But the Bank of Japan’s recently introduced negative interest rate policy has devaluing effects. If Japan and Europe, which have adopted that policy, were to continue or even intensify it, that could trigger a devaluation race across the globe.

In a worrisome development, leading candidates for the U.S. presidential election, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are blaming Japan for moving to weaken the yen.

After all, the super-easy monetary policy, being continued by Japan and Europe, is nothing more than a stopgap stimulant, and it has yet to create the economic growth expected of it. Moreover, gradual erosion of market functions, a side effect of that policy, is growing more serious as the policy becomes prolonged.

Japan and Europe should outgrow their dependence on easy money as early as possible. That is precisely what the major economies of the world should be working together for.
2016/02/29(月) 18:32 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
The Yomiuri Shimbun
G-20 nations must coordinate policies to stabilize global financial markets
G20と政策協調 市場安定へ行動が求められる

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying to calm fears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 28, 2016)
2016/02/28(日) 20:54 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 27
EDITORIAL: Dealing with nuclear waste a pressing concern with Takahama reactor restart
(社説)高浜再稼働 後始末をどうするのか

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We realize the talks would not produce any real solution quickly. But it is no longer possible to avoid addressing the issue.
2016/02/27(土) 18:20 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
The Yomiuri Shimbun
U.S. must bolster patrol activity to secure stability in S. China Sea
中国と南シナ海 軍事拠点化の加速を憂慮する

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese sophistry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 26, 2016)
2016/02/26(金) 18:55 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 25
EDITORIAL: Extending life of nuclear reactors should not be left solely up to utilities
(社説)原発の延命 電力会社次第なのか

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If so, the government will act against both the past words of the prime minister concerning the issue and the wishes of many Japanese to see their nation free from nuclear energy.
2016/02/26(金) 04:47 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Europe to be unsettled if Britain opts to exit the EU in coming referendum
英国民投票へ EU離脱なら不安定化を招く

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divisions over immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 24, 2016)
2016/02/24(水) 21:44 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prompt introduction of Adams’ method crucial for lower house electoral reform
衆院選制度改革 アダムズ方式を先送りするな

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

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

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

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

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

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

LDP’s concession vital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2016)
2016/02/23(火) 10:31 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prioritize reinforcing governance of public pension fund management
年金運用改革 ガバナンス強化を優先したい

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expert panel appropriate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 22, 2016)
2016/02/22(月) 17:52 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Gaffe-prone lawmakers need greater awareness of their responsibilities
丸山議員の失言 国政を担う自覚はあるのか

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on serious issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 21, 2016)
2016/02/21(日) 18:34 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 20
EDITORIAL: Extent of suffering key to compensating Fukushima evacuees
(社説)原発自主避難 被害に応じた賠償を

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The courts that are hearing these cases should hand down rulings that give sufficient consideration to the plight of the victims.
2016/02/20(土) 20:02 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
The Yomiuri Shimbun
More outward approach needed to fix ‘comfort women’ misperception
政府慰安婦説明 誤解払拭へ国際発信を強めよ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contrary to facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 19, 2016)
2016/02/19(金) 21:21 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
The Yomiuri Shimbun
U.S., ASEAN warn Beijing over outrageous actions in S. China Sea
米ASEAN 南シナ海での狼藉に警告した

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular sailings needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 18, 2016)
2016/02/18(木) 21:31 英字新聞 記事URL COM(0)
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