TIME China

China Fires Back at U.S. Criticism Over Asia-Pacific Instability

From left: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens to Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, China's deputy chief of General Staff during the start of their meeting on May 31, 2014 in Singapore.
From left: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens to Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, China's deputy chief of General Staff during the start of their meeting on May 31, 2014 in Singapore. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—Getty Images

The gloves came off between the U.S. and China during a defense conference in Asia over the weekend, following Beijing’s forays into disputed areas of the South China Sea early last month

Diplomatic platitudes took a backseat to tough talk in Singapore over the weekend, as Beijing slammed Washington for investing in a “containment fantasy” after the U.S. accused China of overseeing “destabilizing” maneuvers in the South China Sea.

On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel laid into China for allowing a state-owned drilling rig to drop anchor in the heart of heavily contested waters off the Vietnamese coast. He was speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims,” Hagel told the conference. “We also oppose any effort — by any nation — to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation, whether from military or civilian vessels [or] from countries big or small.”

Beijing did not take kindly to the forceful criticism.

“Hagel’s speech was full of hegemony, full of words of threat and intimidation,” said Lieut. General Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, on Sunday.

“It was a speech to abet destabilizing factors to create trouble and make provocations. It was not a constructive speech.”

China’s stated-backed Global Times on Sunday railed against the Obama Administration’s renewed diplomatic thrust into Asia, which Beijing derides as a thinly veiled effort to contain China’s rise.

“Strengthened military alliance against China does not contribute to regional stability that the United States has touted for, but rather constitutes a provocative and hostile move that stirs up regional tension,” read an editorial.

This year’s Shangri-La Dialogue came at an increasingly hostile time in the region. Just four days before the meeting commenced, Hanoi accused Chinese vessels of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat near the controversial oil rig in the South China Sea.

The incident was the latest flash point between the countries since the drilling platform entered waters claimed by Vietnam last month.

During a keynote address on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered to supply both the Philippines and Vietnam with patrol boats. Japan has its own bitter territorial disputes with Beijing.

“Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies,” said Abe, according to the BBC.

Wang later dismissed the Japanese Prime Minister’s comments as “provocative.”

TIME Photos

Motorcycle Stunt Riders Soar Past a Gorgeous Japanese Pagoda

They're training for the Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour

TIME Japan

This Japanese App Is Literally Just a Girl Staring at You 

Never be lonely again, or is it too late?


Forever alone? More like never alone! “Watching Cute Girl” is a free Japanese app that’s pretty much what it sounds like. Launch the app on your iPhone, and a cute girl looks out at you from the screen, periodically saying something charming or offering to give you a (virtual) hug.

Watching the demo video, it’s clear that the app is the latest in a long line of Japanese inventions that attempt to solve the enduring problem of social isolation. These range from anime body pillows (often used as “girlfriends”) to the hugging coat that automatically hugs its wearer and the ramen bowl with an iPhone mount (actually a great idea for anyone).

It’s another step toward the technology featured in Spike Jonze’s Her: virtual people that we can interact (and possibly fall in love, or at least obsession) with. It also brings to mind Japan’s hostess culture, in which women are paid to idly flirt and spend time with solo businessmen. This app seems slightly less exploitative, but still more than a little strange. Do you really want a spruced-up Tamagotchi to be your girlfriend?

Reviews of the app show that the answer is actually, yes, people do. “It makes for good company for whenever I’m busy studying or doing work on the computer,” reviewer Moylan writes. “And it runs very smoothly!”


Abe Moves a Step Closer to Easing Restraints on Japan’s Military

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a speech during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo on May 15, 2014 Kazuhiro Nogi—AFP/Getty Images

Japan's Prime Minister makes an explicit connection between China's territorial ambitions in the South and East China seas and Japan's ability to defend itself and its allies

Against the backdrop of violent clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese patrol ships in the South China Sea last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced plans to change the interpretation of the country’s pacifist constitution to allow Japan’s armed forces to engage in “collective self-defense.”

That means Japan’s potent but currently low-profile military would be allowed to fight alongside the U.S. or other friendly forces — even if Japanese troops or territory do not come under direct attack first.

In a live, televised speech, Abe made a direct connection between the Sino-Vietnamese skirmishes and the tense standoff over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The outcrops are claimed by both Japan and China, which refers to them as the Diaoyu Islands.

“In the South China Sea, as we speak, conflict among nations continues as a unilateral action against the backdrop of force and coercion,” Abe said. “This is not a fire on the other side of the shore of the river. In the East China Sea, the Japan Coast Guard [and] the self-defense forces — under high tension, on a 24-hour, around-the-clock basis — are engaging in patrol activities [against] intrusions in Japanese territorial waters.”

Abe says the new constitutional interpretation is necessary to strengthen the U.S.-Japan security alliance and deal with an increasingly hostile security environment in Asia.

Easing restraints on Japan’s military and instilling a sense of “patriotism” among the Japanese has long been a goal of Abe and his conservative, if not nationalist, supporters.

Under the new interpretation, Japanese troops would be able to defend U.S. ships at sea, shoot down ballistic missiles headed toward U.S. territory, protect U.N. troops on peacekeeping missions, rescue Japanese citizens overseas and engage in similar activities.

“What Abe is saying is that to play the global role that is expected of Japan, given its size and its capacity, they should be able to assist the international community in certain situations where peace and stability are in danger and in joining the defense of other countries. This is something the Americans have been asking Japan to do for decades,” says Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu.

When the new policy will go into effect is still unclear. Although a national referendum is not required — as it would be if Abe had proposed changing the constitution itself — the Diet will have to amend laws regulating the self-defense forces, peacekeeping operations and related issues.

That may not be easy. Opinion polls show that roughly half the population is opposed to the new interpretation. Article 9, the foundation of Japan’s 70-year commitment to pacifism, expressly renounces “war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

Although Abe’s ruling coalition holds a solid majority in both houses of the Diet, even some members of his Liberal Democratic Party have expressed reservations about the change. Debate on the issue began on Tuesday, though a final resolution is not expected until later in the year.

“People are worried about three major things: the risk that this revision will lead to the Japan Self-Defense Force being more actively engaged in overseas military operations, that this will lead to Japan’s policies under Abe being increasingly militarized and assertive, and that this will be the first step toward a new Article 9, which would not only dilute but destroy Japan’s image as a country of peace,” says Garren Mulloy, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s Daito Bunka University and author of a forthcoming book on Japan’s postwar military and security.

Abe insisted during his speech last week that Japan remains committed to peace and that the new policy — issued in the form of recommendations from an advisory panel — would not be the first step on the road to remilitarization.

While Japan’s right to defend itself independently from attack would not change, “collective self-defense” would be invoked only under a specific set of conditions and only after careful deliberations by the Cabinet, Abe said.

According to panel recommendations, “collective self-defense” would be invoked only when requested by a foreign country “in close relationship with Japan” and would involve “minimum necessary” use of force.

Abe said Japan would not be dragged into American-led multinational operations like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although he was not clear in how distinctions would be made.

Unsurprisingly, the new policy was viewed with suspicion by some of Japan’s neighbors.

“China, as well as the Republic of Korea, have been critical and vigilant about this for a long time. Abe’s stance on such issues as Japan’s role during World War II and comfort-women issues make most of the people in these two countries more doubtful about the reinterpretation of Japan’s right of collective self-defense,” says Tiejun Yu, assistant president at the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University in Beijing.

Not to worry – Japan will not be dispatching troops at every opportunity, counters Kuni Miyake, research director for foreign affairs and national security at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo.

“Collective self-defense is a right — it’s not on obligation. The government will make decisions based on each situation. We have to show that we can behave — that under our democracy, we can control ourselves and that we have self-discipline and restraint,” Miyake says.

But what if the standoff in the South China Sea were to escalate and Vietnam were to ask for Japan’s help in defending its interests from China? Would Japan invoke the right of collective self-defense and come to Vietnam’s aid?

“I think it’s unlikely. There are many, many ifs involved,” Miyake says. “But, I would not completely rule it out.”

TIME Japan

Report: Fukushima Workers Defied Orders and Fled Plant After Accident

A new report challenges previous account of events surrounding the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl

Panicked workers at the Fukushima power plant in Japan fled in the aftermath of a crippling earthquake in 2011, according to a new report, despite receiving orders to keep working in a last effort to avoid a meltdown.

A previously undisclosed record of the accident reported in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun on Tuesday reveals employees abandoned the nuclear plant after being ordered to keep working. On March 15, four days after the plant was hit by a tsunami, managers and workers fled the plant as they feared the core of the plant’s No. 2 reactor could melt through the containment vessel, releasing massive amounts of radioactive materials into the environment, the New York Times reports.

Based on a series of interviews conducted by government investigators, the report quotes Masao Yoshida, the manager of the Fukushima plant at the time of the incident, describing how the workers had gone to the still-functioning Fukushima No. 2 power plant, 10 km. away. “Actually, I never told them to withdraw to 2F,” the newspaper quoted Yoshida as saying. “When I was told they had gone to 2F, it was already too late.”

The March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster was a failure at the power plant resulting in the meltdown of three of the six nuclear reactors. The accident was caused after the plant was hit by a tsunami caused by a powerful underwater earthquake, and it became the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Yoshida, who died of cancer last year at the age of 58, is widely regarded as a hero in Japan for defying the order to pour seawater on the reactors. In his account, he described how 650 workers and midlevel managers fled to another nuclear plant six miles away and left him and 68 employees to try and regain control of the plant’s runaway reactors.

If true, the account challenges the way the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) recounted the day’s events. The company says it evacuated almost everyone except a small team of dedicated workers risking their lives to try and contain the crisis. The new report, coming out three years after the fact, could stoke new criticism of the government and of Tepco. The government didn’t challenge the veracity of the report, and a spokesman said the report hadn’t been disclosed because it wasn’t intended to be seen by the public. But a spokesperson for Tepco disputed the report, saying Yoshida issued an vaguely worded order to retreat to “low radiation areas,” which could have meant the neighboring plant six miles away.


TIME Music

Paul McCartney Cancels His First Budokan Appearance Since 1966

The 71-year-old ex-Beatle says he was "really looking forward to playing in Japan again" but a South American tour has left him feeling unwell

Paul McCartney has canceled the remainder of his Japanese tour, including a much awaited appearance at Tokyo’s Budokan.

The legendary musician has yet to recuperate from an unspecified virus that had already caused him to miss two concerts.

“I was really looking forward to playing in Japan again after we had such an amazing time here in November,” McCartney said in a statement, which mentioned that the cancellation was “unavoidable.”

The 71-year-old arrived in Japan on the back of a strenuous tour in South America, and had three concerts planned for the coming week.

One of them would have been his first appearance on the Budokan stage since the Beatles became the first pop band to play there in 1966 — a set of gigs that led the way for a host of famous Budokan live recordings by the likes of Bob Dylan, Deep Purple and Santana.


TIME movies

‘Godzilla’ Means ‘Gorilla-Whale’ and 7 Other ‘Zilla Things You Didn’t Know

With 30 feature films, Godzilla's movie resume is almost as tall as he is.


Godzilla, the King of Monsters, has amassed quite a bit of canon over 60 years of film. From Japanese pop-duo The Peanuts summoning Mothra in Godzilla vs. Mothra, to the comic relief character Godzooky in the 1980s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Godzilla’s lore extends far beyond his nuclear origins. Before Godzilla terrorized San Francisco in 2014’s iteration of the film, he fought King Kong, found a replacement and even tempted North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to kidnap the ones behind the monster movie magic.

Watch the above video for more ‘Zilla facts.

TIME Japan

Japan Is Desperate to Rescue Its Economy from an Early Grave

General Images of Economy Ahead Of Nationwide Quarterly Land Price Data Release
Pedestrians cross an intersection in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Kiyoshi Ota—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Any less than 100 million people would spell doom for the nation's economy, officials warned, while neglecting one glaringly easy fix

Japan’s battle against gray hairs took an unusual turn this week when the Ministry of Commerce set the very lowest acceptable bound for its aging population: 100 million people. Beyond this point, there lays a “crisis.”

Or so warned Akio Mimura, head of Japan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Mimura urged the government to make 100 million the official population target, backed by policies that would promote childrearing. “If we don’t do anything, an extremely difficult future will be waiting for us,” Mimura said.

His concerns are well founded. Japan has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, with each woman bearing an average of 1.4 children. At that rate, demographers project a plunge from 127 million people today to 87 million by 2060, sapping the workforce of its vital young workers and putting an enormous strain on state finances.

The shrinkage has already begun. In 2013, Japan’s population declined by a record-breaking 244,000 people.

All of which has led to some rather creative policy proposals from the Chamber of Commerce, such as retaining 70-year-old’s in the workforce, doubling government expenditures on childcare and encouraging men to ask working women out on a date.

But once again, policymakers dodged the quickest fix, namely to import workers from abroad. The island nation has an outstandingly small number of immigrants. They form less than 2% of the population, compared with a wealthy country average of 11%. Japan could triple the number of foreigners and still not approach the norm among wealthy nations.

Source: UN Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Of course there’s a reason for policymakers’ skittishness around the issue. Immigration reform consistently takes a beating at the polls. One recent survey by Asahi Shimbun newspaper asked respondents if they would accept more immigrants to preserve “economic vitality.” Even with the positive spin, 65% opposed.

Japan Immigration Bureau’s motto is, “internationalization in compliance with the rules.” A simple rule rewrite could alleviate Japan’s demographic fix. It certainly would be easier than prodding the nation’s families to have another 13 million babies. But judging from this week’s presentation from the Chamber of Commerce, it remains politically stillborn.


TIME marketing

Japanese Sports Drink Headed to the Moon

Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co.

Because why not? Obviously

Rejoice, astronauts of the moon landings to come. A Japanese sports drink company has a treat in store for you.

Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. announced Thursday their plan to land a can of their sports drink Pocari Sweat on the moon in October 2015, making it the first commercial beverage to reach the lunar surface, according to the company.

Otsuka says it hopes people who land on the moon in the future will mix the Pocari Sweat, which ships to the moon in powdered form, with lunar water to make the sports drink. The powdered drink mix will be accompanied in a Pocari Blue-shaped time capsule by messages written by thousands of children around Asia.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Otsuka declined to reveal the cost of shipping a can of Pocari Blue to the surface of the moon.



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