TIME Japan

Japanese PM Abe’s Security-Policy Shift Blamed for Local Poll Loss

Japan's PM Abe delivers an address to both houses of parliament in Australia's House of Representatives chamber at Parliament House in Canberra
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers an address to both houses of parliament in Australia's House of Representatives chamber at Parliament House in Canberra July 8, 2014. Lukas Coch—Reuters

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces backlash just weeks after reversing Japan’s security policy

The first signs of a backlash against Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have appeared since he dramatically changed the country’s defense policy earlier this month.

Abe’s party, the Liberal Democrats, lost a gubernatorial election in Shiga prefecture in what is perceived as a protest vote against the July 1 ending of the country’s ban on “collective self-defense,” reports Reuters.

The pacifist policy has defined postwar Japan, but Abe argued that the nation needs a new security policy in the current political climate, hinting at territorial disputes with China. In response, however, voter support for the 59-year-old Premier has already dropped below 50%, according to a recent public-opinion survey.

Abe is not up for re-election until 2016, but three other prefectures will elect governors later this year. Japan will also have several more polls next April.

The ballot also revealed divisions within the Japanese electorate regarding the East Asian nation’s nuclear policy following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

Many voters in Shiga prefecture are wary of the Prime Minister’s plans to restart nuclear reactors in neighboring Fukui prefecture. By contrast, Shiga’s new governor, Democratic Party member Taizo Mikazuki, called for Japan to reduce its reliance on nuclear power.

[Reuters]

TIME Pentagon

U.S. Stepping Up Scrutiny of China’s Military Moves

Uotsuri Island
This is one of the disputed Senkaku islands, controlled by Japan but sought by China. The U.S. has a treaty obligation to Japan to defend the islands. Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

Seeks status quo in region without “containing” Beijing

Sometimes, the delicacies of diplomacies require lying. Or, as the foreign-service set puts it, diplomacy.

“Let me emphasize to you today: the U.S. does not seek to contain China,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday at the two-day China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing.

That was hard to square with the headline atop a story in Thursday’s Financial Times newspaper: Pentagon plans new tactics to deter China in South China Sea. U.S. officials say increased air and sea patrols in the region should be expected as part of President Obama’s “pivot” to the Pacific.

Neither Washington nor Beijing can get all it wants.

“The U.S. has carved out a limited number of steps that it is willing to take to signal the Chinese that the U.S. has an interest in preventing coercion, and in trying to compel a peaceful resolution of disputes,” says Bonnie Glaser, a Chinese military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The U.S. wants to keep playing the key cop in the western Pacific, a beat it has sailed since World War II. It wants to preserve the status quo. Many nations in the region appreciate the U.S. military presence, given their bloody histories with the Middle Kingdom.

But China has made clear it has expansionist aims, as its economy grows and it seeks small islands, reefs and atolls long claimed by Japan, the Philippines and other neighbors. Any one of these claims could spark shooting that could trigger war.

Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former Pentagon official and now the chief analyst at the private Wikistrat intelligence firm, says the U.S. needs to raise the price for such Chinese mischief. “Every great power goes through its reckless `teenage years,’” he says. “Beijing will persist in these 19th century behaviors for some time, but it needs to be educated—as unimperiously as possible—that such tactics come with great costs in the 21st-century interdependencies that define globalization.”

The Obama Administration has been making that clear. “In recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Singapore in May. “It has restricted access to Scarborough Reef, put pressure on the long-standing Philippine presence at the Second Thomas Shoal, begun land reclamation activities at multiple locations, and moved an oil rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands…we firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert those claims.”

Yet despite Kerry’s claim that “the U.S. does not seek to contain China,” the U.S. has made clear it is willing to go to war to keep China from gaining control of what Japan calls the Senkaku islands, known in China as the Diaoyus. The stakes, in terms of geography, could hardly be smaller: the Senkakus consist of five uninhabited islets and three barren reefs in the East China Sea. But they’re surrounded by waters rich in fish, natural gas and oil.

The Chinese claim Japan stole the islands from them in 1895, based on ancient texts and maps suggesting the islands were theirs; Japan says they were unclaimed by any nation when it took them over. Nationalists in each country insist they belong to their side. Tensions over the islands’ fate have been steadily rising, and spiked in 2012 after Japan’s government bought three of the islands from a Japanese family.

U.S. officials repeatedly stress they have no opinion on the islands’ “ultimate sovereignty.” China is well aware of such American ambiguity. But Hagel said last fall the U.S. is willing to go to war to preserve Tokyo’s control over them: “Since they are under Japan’s administrative control, they fall under United States treaty obligations to Japan.”

Given that U.S. pledge, it may be easier to understand Beijing’s leeriness toward Kerry’s claim the U.S. doesn’t seek to contain China.

TIME Japan

This Is What Supertyphoon Neoguri Looks Like From Space

Supertyphoon Neoguri seen from space, July 7, 2014.
Supertyphoon Neoguri seen from space, July 7, 2014. Alexander Gerst—ESA/NASA

Typhoon Neoguri left at least one person dead Tuesday as it pounded Japan's southwestern islands

TIME Japan

Japanese City Urges ‘Smartphone Curfew’ on Teens

Teenagers in Kasuga are facing lonely nights after education authorities advised a nightly ban on smartphones between 10pm and 6am

The education board of a Japanese city has said junior high school pupils should stop using their phones after 10pm, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In the city of Kasuga, education authorities have encouraged students to surrender their phones to adults between 10pm and 6am Though the board has support from local schools, there are no penalties in place for those who disobey.

A survey conducted by the Japanese cabinet office in November and December of last year found that over half of students aged 13-15 owned a cell phone.

Of the 52% that did, nearly half owned a smartphone. This is a staggering leap from 2010 when only 2.6% of those with cell phones had smartphones.

The Japanese government has voiced concerns about excessive internet use amongst children. Their website warns of the risks of such use, citing cyberbullying, leaks of private information and use of pay sites as possible examples.

This latest campaign by authorities in Kasuga came after discussions with parent-teacher associations concerned about smartphone use amongst teens.

Posters and leaflets have been sent to the city’s six junior high schools asking them to observe the ban.

Kasuga’s campaign follows the city of Kariya who started a similar campaign, with a curfew of 9 p.m., in April.

[WSJ]

TIME Japan

Typhoon Neoguri Barrels Toward Japan

Typhoon Neoguri, the first super typhoon of 2014 heading towards Japan on July 7, 2014.
Typhoon Neoguri, the first super typhoon of 2014 heading towards Japan on July 7, 2014. NOAA/EPA

"This is not just another typhoon"

A “once in decades” storm is approaching Japan’s southern islands with winds up to 150 mph, the country’s weather agency said according to Reuters.

Typhoon Neoguri was south of Okinawa on Monday afternoon local time, but moving northwest with sustained winds of 110 mph. The Japan Meteorological Agency has issued high sea warnings and storm advisories for the Okinawa island chain and other parts of southern Japan, forecasting that the super typhoon will grow into an “extremely intense” storm by Tuesday.

“In these regions, there is a chance of the kinds of storms, high seas, storm surges and heavy rains that you’ve never experienced before,” a JMA official said at a news conference according to Reuters. “This is an extraordinary situation, where a grave danger is approaching.”

The state minister in charge of disaster management canceled a planned trip to the United States.

Okinawa is home to most of the U.S. military facilities in Japan, and Kadena Air Force Base, one of the largest, was taking measures to prepare for the storm.

“I can’t stress enough how dangerous this typhoon may be when it hits Okinawa. This is the most powerful typhoon forecast to hit the island in 15 years,” Brigadier General James Hecker, the base commander, wrote on the Facebook page. “This is not just another typhoon.”

TIME Japan

Japan Is Planning to Resume Whale Hunts

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Visits New Zealand
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to the media after a traditional Maori welcome at Government House and talks with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on July 7, 2014, in Auckland. Fiona Goodall—Getty Images

Trade talks turned to whale rights in New Zealand as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touted a revival of his nation's "scientific" whaling program

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, during trade talks in Auckland that Japan intends to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Key said he was told of Tokyo’s plans to build a scientific whaling program that is in line with the International Court of Justice’s recent guidelines, but made his position clear that all whale hunting should cease, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “New Zealand’s view is there is no place for whaling, scientific or otherwise,” said Key.

In March, Australia and New Zealand won a legal case against Japan’s government-subsidized whaling program in Antarctica. The court found that the scheme was carried out predominantly for commercial purposes, instead of scientific research as claimed.

Abe dodged reporters’ questions on whether or not Japan will resume whaling. “We will abide by the verdict of the International Court of Justice, but in any case there are different positions in regard to whaling,” he said.

[Australian Broadcasting Corporation]

TIME China

On a Wartime Anniversary, China Steps Up Its Anti-Japan PR Campaign

CHINA-JAPAN-WAR-BRIDGE
A woman reads from an inscription on the Marco Polo bridge, or Lugouqiao, in west Beijing on Sept. 3, 2013. Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

Generous coverage of the 77th Marco Polo Bridge Incident anniversary comes amid simmering geopolitical tensions between the two Asian powers

On the evening of July 7, 1937, and into the next day, Japanese soldiers began making their way across the Marco Polo Bridge in Beijing, beginning a ruthless eight-year occupation that ceased only with imperial Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II. As far as anniversaries go, 77 may not be a particularly iconic number. But the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, announced that it would be conducting rare live coverage of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident commemoration.

First up in the morning was a “grand gathering” at the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in Beijing, which was attended by China’s President Xi Jinping. “We firmly take the path of peaceful development and safeguard world peace,” said Xi in a speech, according to Xinhua, the Chinese state media agency. “History is history and facts are facts. Nobody can change history and facts. Anyone who intends to deny, distort or beautify history will not find agreement among Chinese people and people of all other countries.” Xi also unveiled what Xinhua called an “anti-Japan war sculpture.”

The generous coverage of the 77th Marco Polo Bridge Incident anniversary appears to be part of an effort by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to highlight Japan’s brutal wartime past, at a time when geopolitical tensions between the two Asian powers are simmering. Last week, Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed through a controversial reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution that allows the nation to engage militarily in order to defend its allies should they come under attack. The notion is known as collective self-defense.

Abe’s administration also issued a report last month that reviewed the process by which a 1993 Japanese government statement was made apologizing for the systematic sexual enslavement of Asian women by the Japanese military. While the review did not result in any overturning of the Kono Statement, just the fact that a reappraisal was conducted enraged both the Chinese and South Korean governments, who have accused Abe and his conservative cohorts of diminishing Japan’s wartime abuses.

Amid a territorial spat over uninhabited isles in the East China Sea, a July 7 Xinhua editorial on Japan opined, “War is hell, but there are always devils who try to spark war and trample peace under foot.” (The editorial did also concede that “Japanese people are respected for their diligence and energy-saving awareness.”)

Last week, the Chinese State Archives Administration announced that it would begin releasing confessions by Japanese who were convicted as war criminals by China’s Supreme People’s Court. The full texts of the 45 confessions are being released daily online. China is also applying to UNESCO to have documents related to the Nanjing Massacre and Chinese comfort women (as the women forced to sexually service Japanese soldiers are called) added to the Memory of the World Register — a move that has gained popular support on Chinese social media. Earlier this year, China’s rubber-stamp parliament designated Dec. 13 as a national remembrance day for the Nanjing Massacre.

Earlier this year, I visited Nanjing to tour the Memorial Hall of the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, which ensures that the six-week slaughter that began in late 1937 is not forgotten. The museum welcomes 6 million visitors a year with a permanent exhibition called “A Human Holocaust.” Photos and videos show women disemboweled after they were raped, along with piles of Chinese corpses. A vast graveyard of pebbles represents the lives stolen by Japanese soldiers.

Museum director Zhu Chengshan was scathing in his appraisal of Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, whose grandfather directed industrialization efforts in Manchuria, the northeastern Chinese region that Japan turned into a puppet regime and where imperial soldiers carried out horrific crimes, including biochemical experiments on civilians. “Japan has consistently denied its mistakes and says it loves peace but [these are] empty words,” Zhu said. “A lot of serious criminals were let go and some became the Prime Minister of Japan, like Abe’s grandfather. Abe is taking Japan to the right but there is not just one Abe. There are many other people in Japan like him.”

But Chen Guixiang, 91, a survivor of the Nanjing Massacre, was more forgiving. She recalled, through tears, how her grandmother was murdered by Japanese soldiers. Fearful of being raped or killed, Chen, then 14, hid in a hole for three months, her legs atrophying from the confined space. She shared museum director Zhu’s antipathy toward Abe but didn’t hold an entire nation accountable. “I think the Japanese government was pro-war and evil,” Chen said, “but the Japanese people are good.”

After we talked, Chen shuffled out of the museum, past massive sculptures representing anguished figures brutalized by Japanese soldiers. The number 300,000, which China estimates as the death toll of the military rampage, is emblazoned repeatedly on an outdoor wall of shame. On July 7, People’s Daily posted a picture of this wall on its home page. The day before, a new website was launched to publicize the Nanjing Massacre, a joint effort by the Memorial Hall and official news agency Xinhua. Those who visit the website will be able to light virtual candles to honor the massacre’s victims, so they will never be forgotten.

With reporting by Chengcheng Jiang / Nanjing

TIME East Asia

The Chinese President’s Visit to Seoul Says Much About Shifting Alliances

SKOREA-CHINA-DIPLOMACY
China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are welcomed upon arrival at Seoul Air Base on July 3, 2014 Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

The two-day trip is the first time a Chinese leader has chosen to visit South Korea before calling on the North

South Korea is a good neighbor. North Korea, not so much. That’s the message China sent this week as President Xi Jinping stopped by Seoul for a two-day visit. It is the first time a Chinese leader chose to visit South Korea before meeting with the Kim clan first — a deliberate slight to North Korea and a sign of shifting alliances across Asia’s northeast.

South Korea and China are not natural allies. China backed the North in the 1950–53 war that split the Korean Peninsula. Since then, Beijing has been North Korea’s greatest ally, serving as patron and protector to Pyongyang — a closeness Mao Zedong once likened to “lips and teeth.”

But the bonds of authoritarian brotherhood have frayed of late. Beijing is rather tired of the North’s nuclear theatrics and increasing unwillingness to prop up its sluggish economy. The North’s bold young dictator, Kim Jong Un, has yet to meet with Beijing’s top brass. As news of Xi’s Seoul trip broke, he was busy lobbing rockets into the sea.

Shared frustration with the North has given democratic South Korea and authoritarian China some common ground. They have since discovered they share much else, including a thriving trading partnership and an old foe: Japan. Amid ongoing territorial disputes, the legacy of Japan’s 20th century imperial expansion and the country’s wartime record have become a focal point for East Asia, particularly Seoul and Beijing. They recently collaborated on a museum that pays tribute to Korean man who, in 1909, assassinated a Japanese colonial official.

Not wanting to be outmaneuvered, Tokyo has made a quiet overture to Pyongyang. Sitting within range of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, and an ally of the U.S., Japan is hardly a North Korea fan. But, on July 3 as Xi flew to Seoul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would lift some economic sanctions on North Korea in return for its pledge to investigate the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Japanese and North Korean diplomats have already met in Beijing.

TIME Japan

Japan Ends Ban on Military Self-Defense

JAPAN-DEFENCE-SECURITY-POLITICS
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo on July 1, 2014. Kazuhiro Nogi—AFP/Getty Images

But the public worries that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is turning his back on the country's post-WWII pacifism

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a major revision to Japan’s pacifist postwar defense policy amid wide public protests Tuesday — but don’t expect to see Japanese troops sweeping across foreign battlefields anytime soon.

Under the new policy, Japan’s powerful but low-profile military would be allowed to defend friends and allies under attack for the first time, even overseas. It’s part of a new interpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that Abe has pushed since taking office 18 months ago.

But ending the ban on so-called collective self-defense comes amid widespread public opposition. Thousands of protesters ringed Abe’s office during his televised announcement. A middle-aged man in a business suit set himself afire in protest in downtown Tokyo on Sunday — a shocking event in normally docile Japan.

But in many ways, the new policy merely formalizes the linguist sleight-of-hand that has allowed an officially pacifist nation to maintain a military of 250,000 well-trained and well-equipped troops in the first place.

“This is not a game changer,” says Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu. “The Japanese have always been able to find a way to do whatever was needed to defend their interests and meet their obligations under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. What this does is allow them to do things more openly.”

At issue is Article 9 of the constitution, written in the early days of the U.S. occupation of 1945–52. The article formally renounces Japan’s right to wage war or maintain a military:

Article 9

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of forces as a means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Various interpretations over the years have allowed Japan to develop robust air, land and sea forces and maintain the right to defend itself against attack, should that ever be necessary (so far, it hasn’t). Until now, however, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces have operated on the premise that they could not come to the aid of friendly countries — like the U.S., for example — unless the Japanese were directly attacked as well.

Abe says that has to change. North Korea’s development of nuclear warheads and long-range missiles, and China’s growing defense spending and military assertiveness, means that no country in the region can defend itself on its own, according to Abe. If Japan wants to count on its friends, its friends must be able to count on Japan too.

“The most important thing is that this makes it possible for us to work more closely with countries in the region to maintain the balance of power and deterrence vis-à-vis China. Unless Japan can exercise the right of collective self-defense, we can’t even participate in joint training exercises, even in peacetime,” says Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

Abe has been pushing an aggressive defense agenda even as he’s struggled to right Japan’s ailing economy. He has organized a new National Security Council, rammed through a tough new state-secrets law and ordered a small but important increase in defense spending.

But ending the ban on collective self-defense has been a hard sell, even to Abe’s own ruling block. Resistance from within his coalition forced a milder version of the policy than recommended by a handpicked advisory committee earlier this year. Abe has attempted to placate concerns by vowing Japan would never abandon its pacifist ideals. Under no circumstances, he said Tuesday, would Japanese troops be sent to fight in wars like those in Iraq or Afghanistan, even if the new policy permits.

“We shall never repeat the horror of war. With this reflection in mind, Japan has gone on for 70 years after the war. It will never happen that Japan again becomes a country which goes to war,” Abe said.

The public may need more convincing. In a Kyodo News poll over the weekend, 55.4% of respondents expressed opposition to Abe’s plan, up from 48.1% just a month ago. Thousands of well-dressed, mostly middle-class citizens protested overnight Monday and Tuesday in front of Abe’s official residence at the perceived shift from Japan’s pacifist post-WWII constitution. “The current constitution is the result of the sacrifice of more than three million Japanese and more than 20 million Asian victims of war,” Yoshihiko Murata, a 74-year-old protester, told the Guardian. “We should value it more.”

On Sunday, a man spoke calmly for 30 minutes against the new policy from a pedestrian bridge near the busy Shinjuku train station, then doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. The man survived, though his current condition is not known. Although the incident was largely ignored by Japan’s mainstream news media, the incident lit up the country’s busy social media and scores of videos were posted on YouTube and other sites, garnering more than a million views.

The U.S. welcomes the new policy, as have leaders in Australia and the Philippines. The reaction in China and South Korea, which suffered mightily during Japan’s era of wartime and colonial expansion, has been less sanguine, of course. Michishita says the new policy is unlikely to make much practical difference. Japan has not had to invoke its right of individual self-defense since the end of World War II. If deterrence works, the same should hold for collective self-defense.

“People might expect us to do more now that we have the right to exercise collective self-defense, but we might end up doing not much more, and that might actually undermine the confidence of people in the region in Japan,” he says. “They could end up saying, ‘Well, after all this fuss, Japan is not going to do anything significantly different.’”

TIME Tech

These Human Robots Will Haunt Your Nightmares

Japan hopes lifelike robots will be as common as laptops

Meet Otonaroid and Kodomoroid, two eerily lifelike robots who can read fluently, recite tongue twisters, blink, move and twitch their eyebrows (natch).

Japanese android expert Hiroshi Ishiguro unveiled the female cyborgs on Tuesday at the National Museum of Merging Science and Innovation. The two will be on display at the Museum for visitors to interact with.

Ishiguro’s robotics are the latest confirmation of the uncanny valley hypothesis, which posits that humans find discomfort when robotic and animated humans approach a natural human appearance.

With Softbank’s commercialization of robots, Ishiguro—who’s previously designed his own doppelgänger robots—hopes that robots will soon become a part of everyday life in Japan.

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