Indian nuclear deal challenges Japan’s green credentials

nuclearJapan’s prime minister says its innovative green technology can tackle global climate change. But a plan to sell nuclear power reactors to India has been criticised as “eco-destuctive” and condemned by the former mayor of Fukushima.

This week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was among the world leaders to give a speech at the COP21 conference on climate change in Paris. His comments included a classic piece of chequebook diplomacy, as he pledged that Japan would increase its support for developing nations from a trillion yen to 1.3 trillion yen ($10.6 billion) a year by 2020.

Japan supports the United Nations-backed Green Climate Fund and plans to assist vulnerable nations by promoting technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, Mr Abe said the next generation of Japanese made batteries will enable electric cars to travel five times further than they do at the moment.

Japan has a strong motivation to be energy efficient as it relies on other countries for its oil and gas.

It recently restarted its nuclear power reactors following the Fukushima disaster. The nuclear shutdown led to more fossil fuel use within Japan and that caused a rise in greenhouse gas emissions. It also deterred other countries from signing deals with Japanese energy companies. The UK chose China as its nuclear energy partner.

Japanese multinationals such as Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi are seeking opportunities elsewhere. They will have Mr Abe’s support when he visits India next week. There is speculation that a deal could be struck to invite Japanese companies to develop nuclear power reactors in India.

India’s Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) has gathered a petition condemning the move. It said: “We strongly demand that Japan must not proceed with negotiations for sales of nuclear technology to India and also must refrain from nuclear export to other countries. The India-Japan nuclear agreement must be terminated for its dangerous international implications and for unleashing an anti-people and eco-destructive nuclear expansion in India.”

Another critic is Katsutaka Idogawa, who was the mayor of Fukushima when the nuclear accident happened in 2011. He has appealed on Youtube, asking Mr Abe not to sell the nuclear technology to India.

United Nations urges Japan to accept refugees

Syrian refugees at Bashabsheh camp in Jordan...epa03308933 A Syrian refugee who fled the violence in his county flashes the victory sign at Bashabsheh refugee camp, at Jordan-Syria Border, Ramtha City, 90Km North of Amman, Jordan, 17 July 2012. Jordan on 10 July said it had begun construction of the countrys first Syrian refugee camp, as part of efforts to cope with a refugee influx that has reached as high as 1,000 people per day. The camp, designed to host up to 5,000 refugees, will be jointly funded by the UN and the JHCO and completed by the end of the week, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  EPA/JAMAL NASRALLAH

The United Nations is putting pressure on Japan to accept more refugees, especially people displaced by the war in Syria. Prime Minister Abe has said Japan should deal with its own problems before taking in newcomers.

This week, the head of the UN body responsible for refugees, Antonio Guterres, was in Tokyo. He was quoted by Reuters as saying he would like the Japanese government to increase the number of people resettled in Japan and be especially open to the the humanitarian admissions of Syrians.

There was no direct and official response from the government, although Prime Minister Abe has so far pushed aside the issue of accepting refugees, preferring to respond to the crisis by offering money.

He recently told the United Nations that Japan would offer some $1.6 billion to assist Syrians and Iraqis displaced by conflict and for building peace across the Middle East and Africa.

Another influential person calling for more refugees to be accepted is Sadako Ogata, 88, who used to be the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

She said it was nonsense to suggest Japan does not have the resources to accept refugees and it is not doing enough on the humanitarian front, despite its desire for a bigger global political role.

The interview with Lady Ogata was a scoop for Reuters’ Tokyo team Linda Sieg and Ami Miyazaki who point out that Japan accepted less than a dozen asylum seekers last year, despite five thousand applicants.

Japan’s attitude towards immigration puzzles many foreigners, particularly Americans, who are used to living in a multicultural society drawn from immigrants from all over the world.

Farah Stockman, writing in the Boston Globe, says that although most Americans consider the influx of talented, energetic immigrants to have benefitted their economy, Japan thinks the opposite way. Her report focusses on members of the Nikkei community in Japan; Japanese-Brazilians, whose families emigrated to South America at the turn of the 20th century and who have now returned.

Their situation is difficult, as I witnessed when I made a programme about them for the BBC and found a family of six people sleeping on the floor of a tiny flat in Hamamatsu.

A poster called Sensato made an interesting comment on the Japan Today website: “In the late 1800s into the early 1900s the Japanese government actively encouraged massive emigration of Japanese people to North/South America and elsewhere in Asia as a means of alleviating poverty in Japan’s rural areas (not to mention the enormous emigration push by Imperial Japan). It is time for Japan to return the favor and accommodate many more refugees who need a fresh start.”

Accepting refugees and encouraging immigrants to come and work in Japan are different issues. In discussing the latter point, the American business newspaper the Wall Street Journal claimed that Prime Minister Abe has ruled out a significant increase in immigration, despite many economists’ contention that it is essential to meet Japan’s long-term demographic challenges.

The WSJ said that even though Japan has an unemployment rate of just 3.4% –  one of the lowest in the world – it still faces labour shortages in many sectors.

Women claim chauvinism and harassment hinder gender equality

20150905_asp501The media often presents Japanese women as sexy and strange. Yet it also frequently reports on the pressures women face to become successful in their careers, suggesting they have a duty to assist Japan’s economy.

This week, the readers of the leading US business newspaper the Wall Street Journal were presented with a striking image of three Japanese women wearing bikinis, bathing in red wine at an onsen. Apparently Beaujolais Nouveau is good for the skin. It was a typical fun picture story and a dramatic contrast to the heavyweight piece in the Financial Times about female entrepreneurs being coached for leadership roles. The FT piece showed two women leaning over a laptop, working hard.

The FT explained that the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for more women to take leading roles in business and government. If he succeeds in closing the gender gap in employment, Goldman Sachs estimates it would boost Japan’s gross domestic product by almost 13 per cent.

The contrast of the pictures and articles in the FT and the WSJ reveal Japan’s dilemma over gender. Many sources this week covered a report from the World Economic Forum showing that Japan ranks 101st out of 142 countries in the global gender gap index. That was a few places higher than last year but Japan’s female participation rate in the labour force remains one of the lowest among developed economies.

It has been claimed that one of the reasons for this is because many women have trouble maintaining careers after having babies because of mata hara,” short for “maternity harassment at work. A government survey suggested this is a widespread problem and the British newspaper the Guardian cited it as an example of widespread discrimation against women by Japanese men.

Examples of Japanese male chauvinism are seized on by the press. Take the case of the manga cartoon called Himozairu. It showed men learning how to become good at housework in order to attract girlfriends. The Washington Post said that the cartoon by Akiko Higashimura, a well-known Japanese manga artist, was withdrawn from a magazine called Morning because some readers claimed it was demeaning to men.

Another area where there is a lively debate over gender is gay rights.

Japanese women are often seen as depending on men for emotional and financial fulfilment. Yet the widely circulated photographs of Hiroko Masuhara and Koyuki Higashi, who recently signed a civil partnership in Tokyo, presented a different image.

The Tokyo ward of Shibuya has issued them with a certificate which allows them to enjoy many of the benefits of a couple which are normally reserved for married people. Writer Erica Friedman discussed the issue in Slate and asserted that LGBTQ groups in Japan are becoming braver every year. She said that many people who have never really thought about gay rights are now considering the issue due to the media.

Abe supporter fired in row over defence policy

ED-AU349_Auslin_J_20151111130257A university president who publicly supported Prime Minister Abe’s defence policy has lost his job. The news has led to a debate about freedom of speech and highlighted the divisions within Japan over the sensitive issue of national security.

Koji Murata, 51, a professor of political science, was until recently the president of Doshisha University in Kyoto Prefecture. In the summer of 2015, he was invited to Tokyo to give his views on controversial proposals concerning defence and security, which Mr Abe was trying to bring into law.

During his testimony before a committee of MPs, Mr Murata said the security legislation proposed by Mr Abe was necessary for Japan. This caused anger among many of his colleagues from Doshisha. More than people from the university signed a petition denouncing Mr Murata’s comments.

The petition said “we are ashamed from the bottom of our hearts that despite [the nature of] the legislation, the professor who serves as the president publicly expressed support for the bills.”

When Mr Murata stood for re-election last week, he lost the vote and was replaced by a candidate who had criticised him.

As in the US and Europe, it is common for university staff in Japan to be openly critical of government policies. For example, Noriko Hama, a professor of economics at Doshisha uses the phrase Stupidnomics to pour scorn on Mr Abe’s economic policy.

Professor Hama is often quoted in the international media as she speaks perfect English and has a dynamic term of phrase. I interviewed her many times for the BBC.

Support for Mr Murata came from the Wall Street Journal. The paper commissioned an article about the case by Michael Auslin from the right-leaning think tank the American Enterprise Institute. He suggested the university staff curbed Mr Murata’s freedom of speech by removing him from office. Mr Auslin said Japanese academics normally accuse Mr Abe of repressing their liberal views.

Events at Doshisha reflect the passion stirred by Mr Abe’s security reforms. There was nearly violence in the Japanese parliament when they were debated earlier this year. The changes allow the Japanese military to fight in defence of allies such as the US even if Japan itself is not directly attacked.

This is based on a reinterpretation of the pacifist clause of Japan’s constitution, which was drawn up by the American occupying forces at the end of WWII. That clause forbids the use of military force except in self-defence.

However, the reinterpretation is a less drastic step than a permanent rewrite of the constitution, which was at one time on Mr Abe’s mind. The security issue has lost him support among many voters.

Mr Murata’s profile has been raised by his dismissal. Given his outspoken views, striking appearance and fashionable clothes, there will now no doubt be plenty of offers for him to exercise his freedom of speech through the media.

Relations warm between Japan, China and South Korea

tpbje20151102017_53734637There has been a breakthrough in Japan’s diplomatic relationship with China and South Korea. The leaders of the three countries met for the first time in three years last weekend. A few days later, China’s premier urged Japanese businesses to maintain their trade with China, despite a slowdown in China’s rate of economic growth.

On Sunday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, China’s Premier Li Keqiang and President Park Geun-hye of South Korea met in Seoul. Such meetings had been suspended since 2012 amid disagreements over history and territory. Afterwards, the leaders issued a joint declaration stating that their trilateral cooperation has been “completely restored”. They promised to resume their regular meetings and said they would work towards greater economic integration.

The media were largely positive about Japan’s role in the summit. For example, Joseph Nye of Harvard University wrote in the Huffington Post that Mr Abe has been relatively successful in terms of foreign and defence policy. Defence has been a keynote issue for Mr Abe. He has enhanced the role of the Japanese Self Defence Force but he has not overturned the pacifist clause of Japan’s constitution, a step which would have infuriated China.

This week, more than two hundred members of the powerful business association the keidanren travelled to Beijing. The Chinese premier Li Keqiang urged them to strengthen business ties with China. He promised to broaden market access and provide a more open and fair investment environment for foreign companies.

The relationship between South Korea and Japan still suffers from the pain caused by Japanese occupation. The biggest stumbling block, according to President Park of South Korea, is the issue of comfort women. Such women were enslaved by Japan to provide sex for its troops, and articles which shame Japan over the issue often appear in the Korean media. Following the meeting in Seoul, the two countries agreed to hold more talks on the issue and Mr Abe said they “should not leave behind difficulties for future generations” in building a co-operative relationship.

When it comes to the legacy of occupation, China shares similar resentments against Japan to South Korea. However, that does not mean they necessarily gang up on their former enemy. South Korea and Japan have more in common politically with each other than they do with China; both are allies of the United States. For Japan, the ultimate diplomatic goal is cordial relations with all its neighbours and with with the US, a challenge made more more complex by China’s rapid economic rise and increasing diplomatic assertiveness.

Japan offers its sporting venues to the world

c44adf44925f415ab24b53e9d75bdbddJapan wants big sporting events to boost its economy and bring it international prestige. It is hoping to learn from the UK how to gain long-term benefit from hosting international tournaments.

For the past month, England has been hosting the Rugby World Cup and has been widely praised. “We couldn’t be more pleased with how England 2015 has succeeded. We believe it has succeeded at every level,” said Brett Gosper, the managing director of Rugby World Cup Limited.

On the field, it was the Japanese performance which really impressed Mr Gosper: “Possibly the greatest story of 2015 has been the success of the Japanese team. The Japan-South Africa game, I’m sure they’ll make Hollywood films of that one day,” he said.

The Japanese victory over South Africa was probably biggest upset in rugby history and the buzz of excitement over rugby in Japan at the moment is enormous. The Japanese TV commentator was so shocked when Japan won the game in extra time that he was unable to speak for 45 seconds.

Japan is now looking forward to hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

This week, I attended an excellent event in London called Presenting Japan, organised by Dentsu. Among other things, it emphasised the great opportunities for Japan associated with the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics in 2020. For example, there will be investment in signs in English, which should make it easier for foreigners to travel in Japan. There are plans to encourage more community sports participation, especially among Japan’s older people. Japanese people are also going to promote sport in developing countries.

This week the logo for the Rugby Word Cup was revealed bearing two of Japan’s most recognisable symbols, the rising sun and Mt Fuji. It has apparently been rigorously tested to ensure it is original and not a copy. The logo for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was criticised for its similarity to something designed for a theatre in Belgium.

Japan hopes that the legacy of the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics will be beneficial, both economically and diplomatically. At the London presentation, the Tokyo 2020 Chief Operating Officer Yukhiko Nunomara looked back to the last time the Olympics was held in Tokyo, in 1964. He said that it transformed the way Japan was seen by the rest of the world following the war. He also said it was a factor in bringing about the rapid economic growth which began in the early 1960s. One example is the famous shinkansen train, which went into service at around the time of the games.

David Cameron hails the UK’s “golden era” with China

chinese-queen-jinp_3477676bThe British prime minister David Cameron said the relationship between Britain and China is entering a “golden era”. Many business deals were signed during a trip to London by the Chinese president. Should Japan be worried?

There was a warm welcome for President Xi by the Queen, Mr Cameron and Britain’s politicians and business leaders. One Chinese newspaper called it a match made in heaven because the UK wants to attract overseas investment and Chinese investors are seeking quality destinations for their funds.

The UK would like Chinese money for big transport and energy projects, such as high speed rail lines and nuclear power plants. Those are fields in which the Chinese and the Japanese compete. For example, Chinese investors have agreed to take a stake in a new nuclear plant. Japanese companies such as Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Toshiba are also keen to help build nuclear power plants in Europe. However, the Fukushima disaster has damaged Japan’s safety reputation.

Another concern for Japan will be the diplomatic impact of President Xi’s visit. China and Japan are sensitive when their rival is courted by other countries. Yet even as the red carpet was being rolled out for President Xi at Buckingham Palace, the British Parliamentary Group was holding a reception for the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in a building beside Big Ben.

President Xi mentioned Japan briefly during his speech in the City of London. He said this year marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against “Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War”.

He praised George Hogg, a British journalist who he says exposed the “atrocities committed by Japanese aggressors” in his reports.

Mr Xi said: “The enduring friendship forged between the Chinese and British people in the flames of war is an invaluable asset of China-UK relationship.”

Such rhetoric is so often used by the Chinese it was barely noticed by the British media.

However, there were some people who expressed disquiet about the British establishment’s enthusiasm for China. One critic used the BBC’s flagship radio programme Today to voice his concerns. China expert James McGregor warned that Britain would now be seen as being “on a leash” by the Chinese leadership. Mr McGregor, who is the chairman of consultancy group APCO Worldwide’s Chinese operations, said: “This is incredible what’s going on right now, with the British Government saying ‘we want to be your best friend, we want to be your best friend, we’ll do anything for it’.

“Well, if you act like a panting puppy, the object of your attention is going to think they have got you on a leash. China does not respect people that suck up to him. I think England is going to rue the day they did this.”

The Chinese state newspaper China Daily said the business deals stemming from the visit will only be the low-hanging fruits. “This visit is more about diplomatic realism. It is too early to talk about a UK-China ‘love story’.”

Japan embraces ASEAN region despite investment risks

 20150822001168722734-minihighres-400x238Japan is investing twice as much money in South Eastern Asian countries than it is in China. Many countries which were invaded by the Japanese in the last century now want Japan to help their economies grow.

This week I attended a conference about the ASEAN countries at Asia House in London. It gave a valuable insight into an extremely diverse region, from the small but wealthy city state of Singapore to the still largely rural economies of Laos and Mynanmar, formerly known as Burma. Japan’s trade body, JETRO, says that Japan’s investment into the ASEAN nations jumped 120% over the past year to $23.6 billion. A report by PWC Australia explains that this largely came at the expense of China, which saw Japanese investment decrease by 33% to $9 billion.

There are three principle opportunities for the Japanese in the ASEAN region. Firstly, there is an opportunity to grow the market for Japanese products and services.  Secondly, there is a chance to invest in infrastructure. And thirdly, Japanese companies are seeking to build products in reliable factories with workers who will accept lower wages than the Chinese.

Although parts of the ASEAN region remain poor, there are many countries where rapid economic growth is creating a growing middle class. Consumer spending is ASEAN countries is set to reach two trillion US dollars by 2020, according to PWC. That makes it an attractive market for Japanese companies, who face a shrinking domestic market on the Japanese islands. So, Honda is busy selling cars in Indonesia, Mizuho bank is issuing bonds in Thailand and food and drinks companies such as Kirin and Suntory have set up their regional headquarters in Singapore.

Another opportunity for Japanese businesses is infrastructure. Earlier this year, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to invest more than a hundred billion dollars in Asian infrastructure projects, much of it through the Asian Development Bank. That should benefit countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, which want Japanese money for transport projects, renewable energy and rural development. The Japanese have extensive experience in these areas although they are cautious helping industries which might become rivals to Japan.

It is not always a straightforward process. For example, Japan offered to build a Shinkansen high speed railway in Indonesia but the government asked the Chinese to build it instead. As Richard Dailly of Kroll said at the Asia House conference, the competition pitted a Chinese state enterprise against corporate Japan – something of an uneven battle.

Another incentive for Japan to expand in the ASEAN region is the relatively low cost of labour, especially in comparison to China, where wages are rising. Japanese car manufacturers have long been producing in Thailand but the political situation there – a military government – makes investors cautious. Instead, Vietnam and Indonesia are seeing heightened Japanese investment interest.

Mr Abe has committed Japan to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which is primarily expected to enhance Japan’s trade with the United States. Four ASEAN members – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam – are also TPP signatories and others, including Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, are considering joining. This could create a good trade environment for Japan.

The ten countries of the ASEAN region have another ambition: to become a single market. The impression I got from the meeting at Asia House is that this will be a slow process. Yet if a single market increases prosperity in the ASEAN region, that would be welcomed by Japan, which also stands to benefit from its neighbours’ economic progress.

Clinton and Obama split on US-Japan trade deal

japan-rice-2009-8-19-22-10-0Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe hailed a trade deal with the US and other countries as a major political victory. The deal has been welcomed by Japanese exporters like Toyota but Japanese farmers are worried about its implications.

The Tran-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aims to make commerce easier between twelve countries, including the US and Japan. It removes many restrictions on imports and exports and should sweep away tariffs and bureaucracy. Because the major players, Japan and the US, enjoy such a large share of the global economy, the media’s attention has been on them rather than the other signatories, such as Peru.

For Japanese exporters seeking greater access to the US market, it presents an opportunity to compete more vigorously with their international rivals. Car makers such as Honda and Toyota expect to benefit. Therefore TPP has the backing of the powerful Japanese business group, the Keidanren.

For Japan’s farmers, TPP is a potential problem. They are worried that Japan will now allow imports of large quantities of rice, which is cheaper than the home-grown crop. Up to now, Japanese farmers have received subsidies from the government and there have been heavy tariffs on some types of imported rice. The leading Japanese newspaper the Nikkei asserts that the Japanese government has managed to exclude five agricultural products from the TPP deal; rice, wheat barley, dairy products, sugar cane and beet and beef (except organ meat).

Still, many Japanese people are concerned about the longer term implications of opening Japan up to this rigorous international competition.  Will it mean that rice farmers lose their livelihood? Or can they adapt to cope with the competition?

However, for the international journalists, the Japanese farmers are not the main story about TPP. The reporters are more interested in a disagreement between Hilary Clinton and President Obama.

Mr Obama – like Mr Abe – hailed the deal as a success. He told business leaders: “I wanted to get the best possible deal for American workers and American businesses, and that is what we have achieved.”

However Mrs Clinton said she cannot support the agreement. The Republican party in the US is not supportive either, which could mean it is not ratified in Congress. The Financial Times says Mr Obama hopes to get TPP passed by Congress before he leaves office in January 2017 but the political process is complicated. 

China – which is not part of the TPP deal – reacted cautiously. China’s Ministry of Commerce called TPP “one of the key free trade agreements for the Asia-Pacific region”, according to the Xinhua state news agency website.  “China hopes the TPP pact and other free trade arrangements in the region can boost each other and contribute to the Asia-Pacific’s trade, investment and economic growth,” it said.

Abe’s ally urges women to have more babies

20150905_asp501What is most important for Japanese women? Getting ahead at work or having babies? These are questions raised in the international media this week, following controversial remarks by a male politician.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga encouraged women to “contribute” to the nation by bearing lots of children. Speaking on a Fuji TV news show, Mr Suga expressed his hopes that a recently announced marriage between two Japanese celebrities would encourage more women to marry and have babies.

Mr Suga is a close political ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The international press generally presented his comments as old fashioned and patronising. For example, the British newspaper The Guardian, which supports gender equality, reported the comments under the headline Sexism Row. It went on to explain that Japan performs poorly in international gender equality comparisons. In the World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index, it ranked 104th out of 142 countries. The Guardian also highlighted Japan’s low female participation rate in the labour force.

At the recent World Assembly for Women in Tokyo, Mr Abe declared that “Abenomics is Womenomics”. The Japanese parliament recently passed a law calling on companies to find ways to promote more women. Previous initiatives do not seem to have gone well. For example not a single Japanese company has applied for a government subsidy to encourage firms to promote women.

This could undermine efforts to create more jobs for women to compensate for a shrinking workforce. Around 60% of Japanese women leave their jobs for childbirth and many find it difficult to resume their careers. Japan’s business newspaper the Nikkei suggests this is because they lose touch with new technology. The Womenomics plan includes support for mothers to regain workplace skills as well as help for companies that let fathers take time off to care for children.

Japanese women fascinate the international media, which often suggests they have a strange attitudes towards sex and romance. For example, the artist Megumi Igarashi has gained enormous attention for making a boat in the shape of female genitals. And this week  many websites reported a new service in Tokyo to send a handsome man with tissues to wipe the tears from distraught women in their offices. Hiroki Terai, creator of Ikemeso – the firm advertising the service, said: “Japanese women are under tremendous stress at the office here in Tokyo, which often ends in in tears. We are here to provide a kind word and brush the tears away by one of our seven lovely men on call.”