Tag Archives: Shinzō Abe

Germany summons N. Korean representative amidst missile launch threats

Germany has summoned North Korea’s emissary for talks in Berlin while Switzerland has offered to play a mediating role in the crisis. Tensions have risen dramatically after Pyongyang staged its largest nuclear test yet.

After North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test to date, Germany’s Foreign Office called for a meeting with Pyongyang’s representative in Berlin on Monday afternoon.

Continue reading Germany summons N. Korean representative amidst missile launch threats


Poll: Majority of Chinese Predict War with Japan by 2020

Japan and China Trade Blame over Fighter Jets' Close Encounter
Surveys conducted in China and Japan reveal people think a conflict between the two nations is likely

More than half of Chinese people think their country could go to war with Japan, according to a recent poll.

The survey, conducted by Japanese non-governmental organisation Genron and state-run newspaper China Daily, revealed that 53.4% of Chinese people believe a conflict will happen, with many thinking it will occur “within the next five years”.

The poll was also conducted in Japan, where 29% of people think a conflict between the two nations is very likely.

The survey comes as Japan and the US are discussing the possibility of Tokyo acquiring new weapons.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced in July that Japan’s pacifist post-war strategy will be reinterpreted. It is expected to allow Japanese troops – which are now limited to defending the country – to fight with allies abroad.

Some believe the decision was triggered by Japan’s growing fear over China’s increasing military power.

In another survey carried out this year, more than 90% of Japanese people said they had an “unfavourable impression of China”. The percentage of Chinese who had an unfavourable impression of Japan stood at 86.8%.

“The most common reason for the unfavourable impression of China among the Japanese public was ‘China’s actions are incompatible with international rules’ at 55.1%,” Genron and the China Daily said in a joint statement.

Last June, China lambasted Japan’s Diet, or parliament, for passing a resolution against Chinese aircraft which allegedly flew too close to Japanese aeroplanes above the East China Sea.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was quoted by China.org as saying it was highly irresponsible for Japan to use the incident to hype up the “China threat” and defame the country.

Another reason for the negative impression of China among Japanese people was said to be the “continuous confrontation over the Senkaku islands.”

The islands, which lie about 2,000km from Tokyo and 200km from Taiwan, have been the object of a long dispute between the two countries, which both claim sovereignty of the territories.

Just 500 Miles Apart, Japan Holds Drills With Russia, US

Japan will today begin exercises with the U.S. Army on its northernmost island of Hokkaido, a day after it started naval maneuvers with Russia 500 miles (800 kilometers) away off the coast of Vladivostok.

The drills illustrate the balance Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must strike between his attempts to mend relations with Russia and the need to bolster his country’s alliance with the U.S. as a backstop to a more assertive China in the region.

While Russia supplies about 10 percent of Japan’s natural gas needs, and potentially more, Japan backed Group of Seven sanctions over Russia’s infiltration of Ukraine. That sparked recriminations from Russia and raised military tensions, with Japanese jets dispatched hundreds of times to head off approaches by Russian aircraft in the three months through June.

“What’s difficult for Japan is that the alliance with the U.S. is the centerpiece of its security policy,” said Taisuke Abiru, a research fellow specializing in Russia at research group The TokyoFoundation. “How can they maintain this alongside relations with Russia? This is an extremely important problem for Prime Minister Abe now.”

Abe had sought to strengthen ties with Russia until that country’s annexation of Crimea in March. He may use his first summit with President Vladimir Putin in nine months at an international forum in Beijing in November to restart his diplomatic push.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Roaring Jets

The roar of F-15 fighter jets is almost constant at Japan’s most northerly air base in Chitose, even as the number of approaches by Russian planes has fallen.

Japanese aircraft were dispatched 89 times to head off Russian planes in the three months through September, compared with 235 such flights in April-June, the Defense Ministry said this month.

The Russian missions are probably a message aimed at the U.S., which has 38,000 military personnel in Japan, Abiru said.

The 12-day Operation Orient Shield, the U.S. Army’s first maneuver with Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force on Hokkaido in four years, will involve about 2,000 military personnel. The U.S. sent Apache helicopters and Stryker combat vehicles.

Japan has separately dispatched its Hamagiri warship to Vladivostok for the first joint exercise since Russia’s takeover of Crimea. Even though U.S. and Russian naval ties are frozen, Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet, sees Japan’s exercises with Russia as a useful point of contact.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun

Japan’s maritime force acts as “an interlocutor while the Seventh Fleet is on hold interacting with the Russian Federation Navy,” Thomas told reporters in Tokyo last week.

Five Summits

A row over ownership of a small group of islands off the north of Hokkaido has lingered since the Soviet Union ended a neutrality pact with Japan days before the end of World War II, invading the islands and expelling thousands of Japanese residents.

Pledging to resolve the dispute of the islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, Abe has held five summits with Putin since taking office in December 2012.

Even though a planned visit to Tokyo by Putin this autumn has been postponed, the two leaders have kept lines of communication open. They called one another on their respective birthdays in September and October, and met briefly on the sidelines of a forum in Milan this month.

“Abe cannot risk falling too far out of step with Washington’s policy of punitive measures against Moscow,” said Tina Burrett, assistant professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “He needs Obama’s goodwill in Japan’s ongoing territorial dispute with China and in stalled negotiations over TPP,” she said, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

Gas Imports

The Japanese government and corporations are continuing to consider importing more gas from Russia’s Sakhalin island, which could increase the share of Japan’s gas needs supplied by Russia to about 17-18 percent, Abiru said.

Putin is interested in continuing what was a regular and steady dialogue with Abe, said Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

“Of course the state visit cannot happen given the annexation of Crimea and Russian military intervention in Ukraine,” she said. “Nonetheless, there is ample reason for Japan to pursue its own interests with Russia.”

36 dead, 7 missing in Hiroshima landslide

Hiroshima landslides
Harsh conditions in the disaster area are hindering rescue workers in the western Japanese city. Photograph: The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Imag

Hillsides and slopes rapidly swept away in torrents of rock, mud and debris in at least five valleys in Hiroshima city suburbs

Rain-sodden slopes collapsed in torrents of mud, rock and debris on the outskirts of Hiroshima city on Wednesday, killing at least 36 people and leaving seven missing.

Japan’s public broadcaster NHK showed rescue workers suspended by ropes from police helicopters pulling victims from the rubble. Others gingerly climbed into windows as they searched for survivors in crushed homes.

36 dead, 7 missing in Hiroshima landslide

Hillsides were swept down into residential areas in at least five valleys in the suburbs of the western Japanese city after heavy rains left slopes unstable.

Police put the confirmed death toll at 36; the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 15 people were injured, two seriously.

Local government official Nakatoshi Okamoto said a few people were washed away, and it was hard to know exactly how many were unaccounted for as harsh conditions in the disaster area were hindering rescuers.

Authorities issued warnings that additional rain could trigger more landslidesand flooding.

The land collapsed rapidly at multiple locations, with evacuation advice arriving an hour after the first mudslide, said Kenzo Kanayama, the city’s disaster management chief. “We misjudged the situation. It was too late,” he said.

“It’s so regrettable,” Kyodo News service quoted Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui as saying. “We’ll find out what went wrong and take the necessary measures.”

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who was on holiday, had to cancel his plans to play golf outside of Tokyo so he could return to his office to set up a taskforce.

Landslides are a constant risk in mountainous, crowded Japan, where many homes are built on or near steep slopes. Torrential rains early on Wednesday apparently caused slopes to collapse in an area where many of the buildings were newly constructed.

Hiroshima’s geology, consisting of highly water-retentive soil, makes the city particularly prone to such disasters, said Hiroshi Ikeya, a landslide expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

36 dead, 7 missing in Hiroshima landslide

The damage was extensive “because of intense rain, extremely fragile slopes and the disaster hitting in the dead of night,” he said in an interview on NHK. Mudslides, floodwater, broken trees and debris flowed down the hill, smashing into houses, he said.

More than 30 people died in 1999 when Hiroshima was hit by hundreds of landslides.

36 dead, 7 missing in Hiroshima landslide

Damage from land and mudslides has increased nationwide over the past few decades due to more frequent heavy rains, despite extensive work to stabilise slopes. In the past decade there have been nearly 1,200 landslides each year, according to the land ministry, up from an average of about 770 a year in the previous decade.

In October last year, multiple mudslides on Izu-Oshima, an island south of Tokyo, killed 35 people, four of whose bodies were never recovered. Those slides followed a typhoon that dumped a record 824mm (more than 32 in) of rain in a single day.

36 dead, 7 missing in Hiroshima landslide

Japan suffers worst economic contraction since tsunami of 2011

Japan suffered its worst economic contraction since the earthquake and tsunami more than three years ago after an increase in the national sales tax triggered a sharp fall in consumer spending in the second quarter.

The annualised 6.8 per cent decline in gross domestic product, reported by the government in a preliminary estimate on Wednesday, was a shade milder than the latest market forecasts but still far more severe than most experts had predicted when the tax rise took effect in April.

Its scale, and the fact that it was the first significant quarterly reversal since Shinzo Abe, the growth-pursuing prime minister, took office in late 2012, will embolden sceptics of Mr Abe’s promise to rejuvenate Japan’s economy with his stimulus-heavy programme of “Abenomics”.

The GDP decline mirrored a similar-sized jump during the first quarter, and optimists might still make the case that it was a statistical anomaly – a consequence of the 3 percentage point tax rise disrupting spending patterns among households and businesses.

Many moved expensive purchases forward and stockpiled daily items, in effect shifting their spending from one quarter to another.

Yet the contraction more than wiped out the earlier gain: growth from January to March was revised down in Wednesday’s report, from 6.7 per cent to 6.1 per cent, while the government also said it now believed the economy had shrunk slightly in the final quarter of 2013. Ultimately, the size of the economy barely changed between the middle of last year and the middle of 2014.

Mr Abe will have to address the tax issue again soon. The April increase was the first of two that were approved by parliament before he took office, and the next phase – an additional 2 per cent rise, to 10 per cent – is scheduled to take effect in October next year. Mr Abe needs to decide by December whether to let it go ahead or scrap it on the grounds that the economy is too fragile.

Most analysts think economic activity has picked up again in the current quarter, and it will be data for this period, due for release in November, that will be most crucial to Mr Abe’s decision. Oddly, the sharp fall in the April-June numbers could work in favour of another tax increase by creating a weak baseline and amplifying any subsequent rebound.

“Confirmation of a return to a clear recovery tone in the third quarter would make a consumption tax increase likely,” said Tomo Kinoshita, chief Japan economist at Nomura, adding that “decline in GDP in the second quarter of 2014 would make strong growth in the third quarter easier.”

Economists who believe Abenomics remains on track point to historically high corporate profits, a tight labour market, rising bonus payments for salaried workers and signs of a post tax-rise recovery in retail sales.


Japan GDP

Others, however, worry that exports are not expanding as they should be in response to a weakening of the yen under Mr Abe, and that wage increases are running well behind rises in consumer prices – a situation that could depress household spending well beyond the latest quarter.

The question of how badly the tax increase would hurt the economy has been contentious. Japan’s public debt is the largest in the world, making revenue-raising a crucial task for the government, and the sales tax is still much lower than in most wealthy, developed countries.

But the previous time the tax was increased, in 1997, the economy went into a tailspin – a memory that has shadowed the recent debate.

The government’s argument that it was the Asian currency crisis, not the tax increase, that caused the crash has not silenced critics of the latest rise, who will note that the GDP decline in the first quarter that followed the 1997 increase was less that half as severe as the latest fall.


Japan Approves A $182 Billion Stimulus Package

shinzo abe japan

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved a $182 billion economic package on Thursday to pull the economy out of deflation, but doubts remain about the economic impact.

The package has a headline value of 18.6 trillion yen ($182 billion), which is an exaggerated figure as the bulk of the package includes loans from government-backed lenders and spending by local governments that was already scheduled.

The core of the package is 5.5 trillion yen in spending measures Abe ordered in October to bolster the economy ahead of a national sales-tax hike in April, and the government does not have to sell new debt to fund this spending.

The package has raised concerns that Japan’s government has not broken away from the stop-gap measures and piecemeal policymaking that some say has hampered long-term growth.

“Market participants want the government to focus even more energy on economic policy,” said Hiroshi Miyazaki, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

“Some of these items, like reconstruction from the earthquake, were already scheduled and don’t really constitute an economic strategy.”

The measures approved on Thursday will add 1 percentage point to gross domestic product and create around 250,000 jobs, according to the Cabinet Office.

Miyazaki was less optimistic, saying the measures may only contribute around 0.4 percentage point as a lot of the direct government payouts to the elderly and families will go straight to savings.

The steps approved on Thursday include measures to boost competitiveness; assist women, youth and the elderly; accelerate reconstruction from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami; and build infrastructure for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The overall size of the package is on a par with Abe’s 20 trillion yen burst of spending early this year as part of his campaign to end 15 years of falling prices and tepid growth.

The headline figure usually announced by the Japanese government on economic measures often includes spending that has already been committed, and tends to far exceed the amount of actual new government spending.

New debt issuance is not required as new spending will be covered by tax revenues that have exceeded initial budget projections due to the economic recovery, as well as using unspent funds from other accounts. ($1 = 102.6550 Japanese yen)