Opinion

The Great Debate

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Nothing pacific about it: Japan pushes back on China

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces' airborne troops stand at attention during the annual SDF troop review ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka

China is on the march. Or, to be precise, China has made a strong push, militarily and otherwise, into seas nearby, setting off alarms among its neighbors. Now Japan has pushed back, announcing it will “reinterpret” its pacifist constitution so it can be more militarily aggressive in responding to China’s persistent territorial expansionism.

Japan’s actions, however, have also raised alarms. A century ago, Japan set out on a destructive path of conquest, and many still remember firsthand the brutality with which Japanese troops occupied the region -- from Korea and the Philippines, through Manchuria and China, Vietnam and Thailand, all the way to Singapore. Though China is now threatening peace, the memory of Japan’s savage adventurism adds to the general unease.

If Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is to persuade countries nearby that his intentions are honorable, there are actions he can take to show that Tokyo has learned the lessons of the past and truly reformed. If he does not, his latest political maneuver is likely to set his neighbors’ nerves on edge, adding to the prospect of warfare between two or more of the nations on the East and South China Seas.

Japan's PM Abe looks at a prompter as he speaks during a news conference to wrap up the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting at his official residence in TokyoYou may have seen the photo of Chinese vessels pouring thousands of tons of sand onto a reef in the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. It is perhaps the most startling evidence of how aggressively China is pursuing the resources it needs to maintain its extraordinary rate of economic growth. The creation of a new island out of a coral reef, on which it can build a strategically important air strip, shows how determined Beijing is to grab the land and raw materials it feels entitled to, whatever international law may say.

It is no surprise that the Philippines, which disputes ownership of the Scarborough Shoal, welcomes Abe’s abandonment of 60 years of pacifism. But other neighbors view Tokyo’s change of heart as more sinister. The South and North Koreans, at loggerheads since the end of the Korean War in 1953, share bitter memories of the Japanese occupation. They are less convinced that Abe’s first step toward a return to militarism is necessary.

Is Iran being victimized by sanctions it doesn’t deserve?

A security official stands in front of the Bushehr nuclear reactor

Iranian officials met this week with their six-power counterparts to try to hammer out the outlines of a comprehensive nuclear deal set to last for several years. But its precise duration remains undecided.

Reaching an agreement will be a monumentally challenging task because all the parties have veered away from international law and are trying to make ad hoc arrangements. They should instead aim for a permanent, straightforward and legal solution whose basis already exists. Successfully sealing a deal with Iran may also help Western efforts to stabilize the situation in Iraq, where Iranian and Western interests align.

Late last year, the United States, Britain, China, Russia, Germany and France reached an interim deal with Iran to freeze and roll back some of its nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from sanctions. These interim arrangements are set to expire July 20. According to the agreed “Joint Plan of Action,” another six-month stopgap deal may be signed after the first one expires. But a comprehensive long-term agreement should be reached within a year, by late January 2015.

Let Japan help defend America — and itself

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces' airborne troops stand at attention during the annual SDF troop review ceremony at Asaka Base in Asaka

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now following through on actions laid out in his recent bold speech calling for Japan to defend allies who might be under attack.

But wait, you may ask, hasn’t the United States had a mutual security treaty with Japan for more than half a century?

Well, not quite. Yes, Washington has had a mutual defense-security treaty with Tokyo since 1951. But Japan is not committed to defending the United States or any of its armed forces. In fact, Japanese forces are prohibited from helping Washington in time of war — even if the war is in defense of Japan.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Japan as the crisis next time

Which major economy is most likely to disappoint expectations this year, and perhaps even cause a financial crisis big enough to break the momentum of global economic recovery? The usual suspects are China and southern Europe. But in my view the most likely culprit will be Japan.

While Japan no longer attracts much attention these days, it is still the world’s third-largest economy, with a gross domestic product equal to France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal combined. Its industries still pose the main competitive challenge to U.S., European and Korean manufacturers, and its regional weight is still sufficient to trigger financial crises across the whole of Asia -- as it did in 1997.

To make matters worse, the Japanese government bond market is in an enormous financial bubble that could burst catastrophically if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s audacious economic program is seen to have failed.

China’s air defense zone: The shape of things to come?

China’s announcement of an air defense identification zone (AIDZ) that covers substantial portions of the East China Sea has unleashed a storm of concern among China’s neighbors — as well as in the United States.

For China’s action reflects the deeper challenge now posed by its growing military capability and international activism. Vice President Joe Biden was on solid ground when he objected strenuously to this new air defense zone during his recent trip to the region.

Washington and Beijing each insists it wants to build a “new kind of major power relationship.” If they are to succeed, however, and enhance peace and stability across the region, they must develop new strategies to manage their growing tensions.

Casting doubt on Japan’s new economic experiment

Almost exactly a decade ago, Ben Bernanke visited Tokyo as a member of the Federal Reserve Board – he was not yet the powerful Fed chairman – and gave some shocking advice to his Japanese counterparts. Surveying the country’s abysmal record of deflation, Bernanke recommended that the Bank of Japan set an explicit inflation target and embark on a massive program of buying government debt to help achieve that goal.

It took a perplexingly long time for the advice to be heeded. Last week, Japan’s new central bank governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, announced that he hoped to achieve 2 percent inflation within two years from the current deflation of -0.70 percent.

To accomplish this, the BOJ will double the size of the money supply to $2.8 trillion in two years by buying long-term government bonds, increasing its balance sheet by 1 percent of gross domestic product a month this year and 1.1 percent next year.

from Ian Bremmer:

Why the U.S. is not—and never will be—Japan

By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.

Though I’ve already written about the recent Munk debate in Toronto elsewhere, it’s worth taking some space to expand on my position, and why the U.S. truly is not going to experience a Japan-style lost decade of economic stagnation.

(The debate was on this resolution: Be it resolved North America faces a Japan-style era of economic stagnation. I joined Larry Summers in arguing the Con side against Paul Krugman and David Rosenberg.)

Let’s start with the political realities: Japan experienced 50 years of single-party rule. In the last 22 years, the country has had 17 prime ministers. Recently, the Democratic party there defeated the long-time incumbents, the Liberal Democrats, only to find that they had no idea how to govern the nation. They had no idea how the ministries worked, no relationships with industrialists or financial institutions, no grasp on the levers of power in society, and no strong policy apparatus. If the U.S.’s political situation looks bleak, consider that alternative.

Why donating to Japan can do good

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By Larry Probus, the CFO of World Vision, U.S. The opinions expressed are his own.

Felix Salmon’s blog, “Don’t donate money to Japan,” appears to make a compelling argument for not donating to charities responding to the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Salmon says, “Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other place.”

There is an element of truth to this argument, but as often is the case, simple answers to complex questions are usually wrong.

The cantankerous effects from Japan’s radiation

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Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, president of Environmental Health Trust, is an award-winning scientist and writer on environmental health issues, author of “The Secret History of the War on Cancer,” and “Disconnect” who served as the founding director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 1983-93. The opinions expressed are her own.

The discovery of ionizing radiation at the turn of the nineteenth century revolutionized science and society. Within two weeks of their being created at the end of 1895, the stunning x-ray images of his wife’s bejeweled hand that physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen had taken appeared in major newspapers around the world. From Paris, to London and Tokyo, scientists and celebrities engaged in a world-wide medical vogue with fashionable x-ray parties featuring popular demonstrations of moving skeletons.

This extraordinary discovery in fact came with extraordinary risks. The same technology that could light up lurking solid tumors of the lung and stomach and save lives on the battle field also damaged the ability of bone to make healthy red blood cells and induced an array of crippling deformities. Girls who worked hand-painting clock dials with luminescent radioactive paint and wet their brushes with their tongues to craft fine lines lost their jawbones years later.  Men who chipped uranium out of the earth eventually grew pale as their blood became swamped with white blood cells and bereft of iron by aplastic anemia and leukemia.

Japan shows another side of the press

JAPAN-QUAKE/LEAKAGE

By Anya Schiffrin
The opinions expressed are her own.

Sitting in Japan in the days after the Friday earthquake and watching the official broadcaster NHK cover the disaster has been an unusual experience. There has been the typical blanket television coverage of this tragedy but the flavor of the reporting is different than it would be in the U.S. “Restrained” is how one friend described it. Over and over we’ve seen the same awful footage of the enormous dirty wave sweeping up cars and houses as it inches slowly along the land.

There are the inevitable interviews with displaced people and experts in their offices. But there are very few graphics or charts, no catchy logos and certainly no dead or injured on the screen. Just as U.S. presidents take off their ties when they visit the troops, Japanese officials appearing on television wear the blue uniforms of someone doing physical labor but with their logo of their ministry or office sewn on their pocket. “It’s theatre” a Japanese friend said dismissively as we watched television last night. But the purposefulness and determination of the government officials were evident — and even my skeptical friend agreed that this commitment would be well-received by the electorate.

At Columbia University we recently began a study with Professor Jairo Lugo in the UK comparing the New York Times and UK Guardian’s coverage of natural disasters. One thing that was immediately clear is how quickly newspaper coverage of natural disasters becomes coverage of the state. This is so even in the US where there is long standing skepticism about the state, and — these days — a widespread view that the government should play a limited role.

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