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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, pressed by China and seeking to strengthen ties with the U.S., is considering Japan’s biggest change in military engagement rules since World War II.
Barred by its interpretation of a pacifist constitution from protecting other nations’ troops, Japan needs broader deployment abilities, according to Abe, 59. Having increased defense spending two years running and set up a U.S.-style National Security Council, Abe is now seeking to allow Japan to come to the aid of its allies, telling parliament yesterday that “it’s about whether we can exercise this right that every country has.”
China’s escalating challenge to Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea played into Abe’s plans to strengthen the military, said ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Katsuei Hirasawa. The initiative, which requires backing by Abe’s coalition partner, faces public opposition and risks further straining ties with China and South Korea that soured in December with Abe’s visit to a war shrine in Tokyo.
“Abe is determined to do this now because otherwise it is very difficult to get support,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, senior fellow at The Tokyo Foundation research center. When regional tensions are low “people don’t see the need for it.”
Abe has shown a willingness to expend political capital on national security. His approval rating dipped below 50 percent after he passed a bill in December to stiffen penalties for leaking state secrets that was favored by the U.S. but opposed by a majority of Japanese. His popularity is back above 55 percent and there are no national elections before 2016, giving him some protection from the fallout of loosening the rules on collective self-defense.
Fifty four percent of Japanese are against the change, according to a poll by Kyodo News on Jan. 25-26. “This is partly to do with postwar pacifist sentiment in Japan, given that Japan was engaged in a very atrocious and damaging war of aggression,” said Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Such a change would also escalate tensions with China and South Korea, where memories of Japan’s occupation resonate almost 70 years after the end of World War II.
“Japan should build mutual trust with countries in the region, including South Korea, China and Southeast Asian ones, rather than pursue collective security now,” South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung Joo said, according to a Nov. 6 ministry statement.
Enabling collective self-defense could help ensure the U.S. backs Japan militarily if China asserts its claims over the islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. In November, China set up an air identification zone over part of the East China Sea covering the islands, increasing the risk of confrontation with Japan and the U.S.
“What is lucky for the Abe administration is that China set up the ADIZ,” said the LDP’s Hirasawa, who tutored Abe as a child. “That proves that what the Abe administration has been saying is correct. China is taking a stronger and stronger stance.”
Japan was stung by accusations of “checkbook diplomacy” after the country contributed $13 billion and no troops to the U.S.-led 1991 Gulf War, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The government then began changing policy, allowing the first substantial contribution of troops to a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Cambodia in 1992. Still, the 600 troops sent to Iraq in 2004 to support the U.S.-led war were limited to non-combat duties and had to be protected by Dutch and Australian soldiers.
The move comes as part of Abe’s policy of contributing more actively to international security and seeking a higher profile on the world stage, with a busy diplomatic schedule taking him to 30 countries in his first year in office.
“Abe is more of a globalist than just about any of his predecessors,” said Alan Dupont, a professor of international security at the University of New South Wales. “He sees a new role for Japan commensurate with its economic and political weight.”
Yousuke Isozaki, a special adviser to Abe on security policy, is spearheading the effort on collective self-defense and says the change will deepen security ties with the U.S. and allow Japan to reach out to other allies.
“We want to be able to discuss security with friendly countries other than the U.S.,”he said in a Jan. 17 interview. “If we are bound hand and foot, we cannot talk. We cannot even say we will protect one another if something happens.”
Isozaki guided Abe’s unpopular secrecy bill through parliament while thousands of protesters chanted outside the building.
“There’s no time to sit around,” he said. The process will accelerate once an advisory panel of mostly academics submits its recommendations in April. Isozaki is looking for the LDP and its pacifist partner New Komeito to adopt a joint position by June, and expects bills related to the change to be presented starting in autumn.
“Japan will be a more effective alliance partner if its Self-Defense Forces are able to help defend American soldiers or sailors if they are attacked,” U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy told the Asahi newspaper in an interview published Jan. 23.
Securing the reinterpretation will be complicated by the need for Komeito’s support. “Until now, we haven’t done a single thing without the agreement of Komeito,” Isozaki said. “Getting their approval is a must.” Komeito backed Abe’s on the secrecy bill and the NSC legislation.
Isamu Ueda, deputy head of Komeito’s policy panel, said he favors Japan’s pacifist policy, while being open to possible exemptions such as allowing troops to protect other countries’ forces during peacekeeping work.
“We believe Japan should keep its military power to a minimum,” Ueda said in a Jan. 21 interview. “Japan should not be involved in international conflicts outside the country.”
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Japan approves new state secrecy bill to combat leaks
The lower house of the Japanese parliament has approved a state secrecy bill that imposes stiffer penalties on civil servants who leak secrets and journalists who try to obtain them.
The move had been criticised by reporters and freedom of speech campaigners as a heavy-handed effort to suppress press freedom.
But the government says the move is needed for national security reasons.
The bill now goes to the upper house, where it is also likely to be passed.
Critics say the new law could allow the government to withhold more information and ultimately undermine Japan’s democracy.
Security informationThe bill was approved by the lower house – the more powerful of the two chambers in the Japanese parliament – after it was delayed following hours of protests by opposition lawmakers.
The bill’s supporters in the government confidently expect it to be approved by the upper house next month.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party says the law is needed to encourage the US and other allies to share national security information with Japan.
Correspondents say that it is part of Mr Abe’s efforts to strengthen his country’s role in global security.
“This law is designed to protect the safety of the people,” Mr Abe said, promising that people’s concerns about the bill would be addressed through further parliamentary debate.
The bill allows heads of ministries and agencies indefinitely to make secret 23 types of information related to defence, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism.
Under the law, public servants or others cleared for access to state secrets could be jailed for up to 10 years for leaking information.
Journalists and others in the private sector convicted of encouraging such leaks could get up to five years in jail if they use “grossly inappropriate” means to solicit the information.
Opponents of the legislation say the new rules fail to address basic concerns on civil liberties and the public’s right to know.
They say that the regulations will adversely affect freedom of information and block critical reporting of the government.
Campaigners have also warned that reporting on a wide range of sensitive issues will be affected by the changes, which will also have a dampening impact on whistleblowers.
The Japanese move has been welcomed by the US, which wants a stronger Japan to offset China’s military rise.
But correspondents say it has also raised fears that Japan could be edging back toward its militaristic past, when free speech was severely restrained.
Some experts say that the new legislation eases the way for Mr Abe’s campaign to revise Japan’s US-drafted pacifist constitution.
Testosterone Pit – Home – Japan’s Most Hated Outfit, TEPCO, Reports Fat Profit (From Taxpayer Bailout Money)
TEPCO, the utility that serves 29 million households and businesses in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and that owns the Fukushima nuclear power plant where three melted-down reactors are contaminating air, soil, groundwater, and seawater, an outfit famous for its lackadaisical handling of the fiasco and the parsimoniousness with which it doles out information – the most despised and ridiculed company in Japan reported earnings today. It was a doozie.
Instead of sending it into bankruptcy court to make bondholders and stockholders pay their share, the government has bailed it (and them) out lock, stock, and barrel. And it’s still on taxpayer-funded life support. So it was good news that revenues jumped 11.8% to ¥3.2 trillion during the fiscal first half ending September 30 – blistering hot growth for a utility with 49,000 employees in a slow-or-no-growth market!
But that was about it with the good news. It wasn’t even good news. It was based exclusively on electricity rate hikes that regulators had approved to compensate the company for the costs of running fossil-fuel power plants instead of its nuclear power plants, which remain shut down. It then inflicted those higher rates on already struggling businesses and squeezed consumers.
Sign of a booming Abenomics economy? Nope. Electricity sales volume fell by 1.7% in the first half. Among the reasons, ominously: a “decrease in production activities.” Commercial use fell 1.7% and industrial use 0.5% from the already depressed levels last year. Among large-scale industrial customers, electricity sales to ferrous metals companies suffered the most, down 6.7%, followed by sales to machinery producers, down 3.8%.
Net profit for the first half soared to ¥616.2 billion ($6.2 billion), up from a steep loss last year. But the rate hikes alone, big as they’ve been, couldn’t accomplish that. So cost cuts?
TEPCO is certainly trying to cut costs in dealing with the Fukushima fiasco, mostly by cutting corners. Efforts that produce curious results. A few days ago, for example, when it didn’t put enough pumps in place to deal with the rains from the typhoon, water contaminated with highly radioactive and toxic Strontium-90 leaked once again into the ocean. Despite all these valiant efforts at cutting corners, its “ordinary expenses” rose 1.2%.
So where did that big fat profit of ¥616.2 billion come from? Turns out, “ordinary income” was only ¥141.6 billion, up from a loss last year. Those were the rate increases. The difference? “Extraordinary Income.”
A lot of it! So TEPCO sold some fixed assets for a gain of ¥74.2 billion, fine. But then there was an interesting, and huge entry: ¥666.2 billion ($6.7 billion). It was the amount of taxpayer bailout money TEPCO had received during the first half. Booked as income!
After some extraordinary loss items – ¥22 billion for “extraordinary loss on natural disaster” and ¥230.5 billion for “nuclear damage compensation” – net disaster-related extraordinary income amounted to ¥413.7 billion ($4.2 billion), every yen of it from taxpayers. It became part of its net profit. What a way to make money!
These kinds of shenanigans have impact. TEPCO’s stock, which traded above ¥4,000 in 2007, skittered down during the financial crisis to land at ¥2,000 by the end of 2010. After the disaster in March 2011, the stock collapsed entirely and a few months later approached ¥100 yen – a technically bankrupt company with 49,000 employees. But since the bailout funds started pouring into TEPCO’s pocket, the stock has quintupled to ¥523.
Today, the government offered a view into the future. A panel composed of lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party issued a draft report that recommended that the government, and therefore the taxpayer, step in and take control of the Fukushima cleanup and decommissioning efforts. It will be expensive and take four decades – unless the spent fuel rods in their destroyed pools ignite when the next big earthquake hits or when TEPCO screws up again, which would alter the hemisphere and eliminate any need to worry about the site.
The panel said that TEPCO must implement major internal improvements, including cost controls, and it suggested that the company may have to be broken up, partially or fully – with the good part likely going to bondholders and stockholders, and the bad part, that is Fukushima Daiichi and all associated costs and liabilities, being hung around the neck of the taxpayer.
There was urgency, the panel said. TEPCO could not manage the large amounts of groundwater that were getting contaminated daily by the reactors, and at the same time manage their decommissioning. The government would also have to figure out what to do with the nuclear waste from the site – and then pay for it as well.
The true costs of nuclear power are thus getting shuffled from the industry to the taxpayer – while bondholders and stockholders benefit.
Not a coincidence. Earlier this year, it was leaked that TEPCO had paid ¥1.8 billion ($189 million) in annual membership fees to a nuclear lobbying group in 2011, weeks after the melt-downs. The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, which lobbies for Japan’s ten mega-utilities, keeps its budget secret. This was the first time the fees seeped out, offering an idea of its annual lobbying budget – whose magnitude explains in part the overwhelming power the nuclear industry has over its regulators and governments.
That power is now being exerted on the Abe administration and the legislature – not only to slough off the costs of dealing with Fukushima but also to restart the 50 surviving reactors, against strong local and national opposition.
As the Fukushima fiasco hobbled from cover-ups to partial revelations, TEPCO always pretended the situation was under control. But days after Tokyo scored the 2020 Olympics, that pretense fell apart. Read…. After Snatching Olympics, Japan Suddenly Admits Fukushima Not “Under Control,” Begs For International Help
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- Japan panel ‘wants Tepco break-up’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Fukushima operator returns to profitability, faces uncertain future (dnaindia.com)
- Japan ruling-party panel to propose break-of Fukushima operator: media (chinapost.com.tw)
- TEPCO, US to cooperate in Japan nuke plant cleanup (kansascity.com)
Testosterone Pit – Home – The End Of Nuclear Energy In Japan?. (FULL ARTICLE)
“I’m calling for zero nuclear power,” said Junichiro Koizumi, the hugely popular former prime minister of Japan, on Tuesday at a lecture in Nagoya.
He’d served from 2001 to 2006. In 2005, he’d led the Liberal Democratic Party to win an extraordinarily large parliamentary majority. Then he groomed Shinzo Abe to become his successor. By September 2006, Abe was PM – only to get kicked out a year later. Now that Abe is PM again and is trying to restore the scandal-plagued nuclear industry to its former glory, Koizumi’s words ripped into his policies at the perfect moment.
Though retired from politics since 2009, Koizumi remains influential. He was pro-nuclear throughout his career. But on Tuesday, he said that the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 and the subsequent nuclear fiasco in Fukushima should be used as an opportunity to build a resource-recycling society. And he called on his former protégé to abandon nuclear power…