Govt too late in disclosing radiation data from H-bomb tests at Bikini Atoll
Can a recent lawsuit help uncover the damage caused by U.S. hydrogen bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll, which are still surrounded by so many mysteries?
The tests were conducted in the Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific in 1954. A group of 45 people − including former crew members of fishing boats that were operating in waters around the test site and members of the families of deceased former fishermen − have filed the suit with the Kochi District Court to seek compensation from the state.
There were more than 270 cases in which fishing boats from Kochi Prefecture alone were operating in waters near the site when they were exposed to radiation from the six hydrogen bomb tests conducted from March to May that year. The government conducted surveys of the damage but did not disclose the results.
The plaintiffs claim that the government’s reluctance to disclose these records deprived them of the opportunity to seek compensation, and are demanding \2 million per person.
It is widely known that 23 crew members of the Fukuryu Maru No. 5, a tuna fishing boat from Shizuoka Prefecture, were exposed to radiation through one of the hydrogen bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll. One of the crew died half a year later.
However, the actual damage to other Japanese fishing boats remains unclear.
Regarding the Fukuryu Maru No. 5, the Japanese and U.S. governments reached a political settlement in January 1955, in which the United States agreed to pay $2 million in compensation to Japan, regardless of Washington’s legal responsibility.
The plaintiffs accuse the Japanese government of releasing the U.S. government from legal liability through the settlement. However, Japan reached the agreement very soon after regaining independence and the deal certainly reflected a high level of political judgement. There are elements of this settlement that do not allow us to judge it casually.
The problem is that the government did not disclose the records of its investigations for decades. It only made them public in September 2014 following a request for disclosure from a support group for the plaintiffs and other parties concerned. We can only describe the disclosure as too late.
The government’s documents, which were used by the plaintiffs as evidence of the harm they suffered, detail the investigations into 556 cases of the radiation exposure of fishing boats and their crew members.
It cannot be overlooked that the government had long denied the existence of those documents, most notably when it said these records “cannot be found” in response to a question posed in the Diet in 1986.
Asked why their whereabouts were suddenly known, the government said it discovered them “at a repository following an exhaustive search.”
The government cannot help but be suspected to have intentionally concealed the documents. It is understandable that former fishermen and bereaved relatives of deceased former crew members feel that way, because they could not even know whether they were exposed to radiation.
Most of the former crew members who have joined the lawsuit are now over 80 years old, and many of them say their health is deteriorating. More people could claim they were harmed as more details are discovered about radiation exposure from the hydrogen bomb tests.
According to the government’s documents, the doses of radiation experienced by former crew members and others from the hydrogen bomb tests were much lower than the permissible level set for accidents by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Even so, the government has a responsibility to provide convincing explanations.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 15, 2016)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Normal is wonderful
香山リカのココロの万華鏡 : ふつうってすばらしい ／東京
Among the people who come to see me at my office, sometimes there are those who complain that their daily lives are too uneventful and boring. Of course, they come for some other reason, like insomnia or irritation, but the cause of those symptoms seems to be in their "uneventful" lives.
Once, a woman who was approaching her 50th birthday had this problem.
She told me, "Both my children are adults, and my husband is hard-working, but our conversations lack a little in excitement. After five years he will retire, but he apparently has no plans for after that. When I think that maybe my life is going to end like this, I feel suffocated. Every day is just a repeat."
I suggested she find hobbies or volunteer, but she turned those down, sighing and saying there wasn't anything in particular she wanted to do. To other people it would hardly look like the woman had something to complain about, but she was serious.
This "every day is the same" complaint, though, can easily disappear. People who were affected by the recent Kumamoto Earthquake are saying on social networking services how they wish they could return to "a normal life." I have seen an online comment that said, "I'm not asking for something special. I just want to wake up in my house, go to work, come home, eat and sleep. While living at an evacuation shelter that kind of lifestyle seems like a dream."
If the people writing things like that saw the complaint of the woman who came to see me, they would probably want to say to her, "What are you talking about? There is nothing as wonderful as regular everyday living."
However, people are troubled creatures, and while in times of disaster they may think "I would be thankful for a regular everyday life," once their situation settles back down, they quickly start wanting this and that again.
Of course, it can be said that it is because people strive so much that our society has come this far, but the problem is that we feel dissatisfied when our wants aren't met. The woman who complained that everyday life was boring thought that a life full of change was more valuable than what she had. Dissatisfied with her life, she was stressed.
I hope that, even if people desire more, they will be able to convince themselves that the regular life is wonderful and that there is satisfaction to be found there. This is obvious, but we are quick to forget it.
(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
Hibakusha praise Obama Hiroshima visit, but fear history will go unquestioned
米大統領・広島へ ／下 被爆者、訪問の意義評価 謝罪なき「和解」に懸念も
It was fall of 2009, about six months after U.S. President Barack Obama made his historic speech about seeking a world without nuclear weapons, that U.S. Ambassador John Roos, who had just been posted to Japan, visited Hiroshima with his family. The purpose of the visit was to meet with then Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, to sound out a possible visit to the city by President Obama.
"We want President Obama to come to Hiroshima," Akiba told Roos over lunch. "We are not seeking an apology. We will welcome him." On Aug. 6 the following year, Roos attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, marking the first such visit by a serving U.S. ambassador. There were no strong objections to the visit from American politicians or the American public.
The Japanese government has since sent out the message that it would not demand an apology if Obama were to visit Hiroshima, and both the governor of Hiroshima Prefecture and the mayor of the city of Hiroshima have told press conferences that they are not intent on getting one.
Has the White House's announcement that Obama will make a visit to Hiroshima later this month resolved the bad blood felt by those who lost their families to the A-bomb and continue to suffer the effects of the bombing?
Sunao Tsuboi, 91, co-chairman of Hiroshima Hidankyo, a confederation of groups of Hiroshima A-bomb survivors, admits that deep down, he still feels enmity toward the U.S. However, he adds, "I've started to realize that we must use the power of reason to overcome such loathing."
According to Kazumi Mizumoto, deputy chief of Hiroshima City University's Hiroshima Peace Institute, anger toward the atomic bombings was more visible 10 to 20 years ago compared to today. When the 9.11 terrorist attacks took place in the U.S. in 2001, one hibakusha -- or A-bomb survivor -- told a newspaper reporter, "I shouldn't say this, but I feel as though I've had a weight taken off my chest." Mizumoto says there were other hibakusha who felt the same way.
Meanwhile, an 85-year-old hibakusha who lost family members and friends to the A-bomb has a different take.
"Until Obama's visit was announced, I wanted an apology. I would be lying if I said I didn't feel anger toward the U.S., but I've come to think that the very fact that he is coming to Japan amid widespread public opinion (in the U.S.) that the atomic bombing was justifiable, already implies an apology," he said.
Japan took to the stand when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, held an inquiry in November 1995 on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. Then Hiroshima Mayor Takashi Hiraoka and then Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito declared that nuclear weapons were inhumane weapons of mass destruction that killed indiscriminately, and that their use violated international law.
However, a Japanese senior Foreign Ministry official who made a statement just before the two mayors did not address the legality of the use of such weapons, and said that anything that was subsequently expressed by the two mayors that were not factual were not necessarily views held by the Japanese government.
Hiroshi Harada, 76, a Hiroshima A-bomb survivor who was the director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum at the time of the ICJ hearings, said that efforts were made to coordinate testimony with the Foreign Ministry prior to the hearings.
"I stood my ground that as a city that experienced the atomic bombing, we should declare that the use of nuclear weapons was illegal, even if the government avoided saying so," he recalled.
In the years since then, Japan has failed to be a leader in discussions within the international community on the elimination of nuclear weapons. The paradox lies in the fact that at the same time Japan has advocated for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons, it has been protected by the U.S. "nuclear umbrella," relying on its deterrent power against North Korean nuclear armament and other threats.
At the U.N. General Assembly in December 2015, a Japanese-government-sponsored resolution encouraging world leaders and youth to visit the A-bombed cities was formally adopted. The Japanese government also, however, abstained from voting on a "humanitarian pledge" resolution that would strengthen legal frameworks for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, which passed with 139 votes. The abstention was a decision made out of consideration for the U.S., which opposed the resolution.
The Japanese government has repeatedly claimed that it wants to serve as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear states. However, its inconsistent behavior on the international stage has generated a sense of distrust toward it from both sides.
Former Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum director Harada is concerned by the emphasis on forging a "forward-looking" relationship between Japan and the U.S.
"I fear that the shaking of hands by President Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in front of the cenotaph for A-bomb victims in Hiroshima will be made into a symbol of reconciliation that ignores historical accountability," Harada said. "As long as people continue to justify the atomic bombings, the complete elimination of nuclear weapons will not become a reality."
Seventy-one years have passed since the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a visit to Hiroshima by a sitting U.S. president is finally about to take place. The big question is whether or not the visit will spur bridge-building between the A-bombed cities and the Japanese government, as well as between nuclear and non-nuclear states.
Take all possible steps to protect marine resources of Japan’s EEZ
Japan, as a maritime nation, faces the crucial challenge of how effectively to protect its interests in its vast exclusive economic zone. The government must make all-out efforts to come up with concrete steps to protect the zone.
Taiwan authorities have protested the seizure in late April of a Taiwan fishing boat by the Japan Coast Guard in the Japanese EEZ around Okinotorishima, the southernmost islands of Japan, and have sent three vessels, including patrol ships, to the area near the islets, which are part of the village of Ogasawara, Tokyo. The vessels are likely to remain inside the EEZ, for the time being, under the pretext of protecting Taiwan’s fishing boats.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida protested the dispatch of patrol ships, saying, “It’s extremely regrettable that Taiwan sent patrol ships into the Japanese EEZ despite our request that they remain outside.” It was quite natural for Kishida to call on Taipei to have the ships leave the EEZ.
Japan’s combined area of territorial waters and EEZ is the sixth largest in the world. Okinotorishima has an EEZ of about 400,000 square meters, which is slightly larger than Japan’s land area, and is blessed with abundant fishery and seabed resources. These are very important marine interests.
Japan takes this stand: “Okinotorishima has been recognized as isles under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Thus, an EEZ exists around them.” Japan has contended that two of the Okinotorishima islets remain above sea level even at high tide and therefore are not “rocks” around which an EEZ cannot be set.
Sudden change of stance
In the wake of the JCG’s seizure of the Taiwan fishing boat, the Taiwan administration of President Ma Ying-jeou suddenly began to claim that the Okinotorishima islets are nothing but “rocks.” We cannot accept this one-sided view.
Since around 2004, China has asserted that the Okinotorishima islets are “rocks.” So has South Korea. Taiwan, on the other hand, had not clarified its position on the matter.
Taiwan's abrupt move to change its position ahead of a change of administration on May 20 is questionable. We suspect that Ma is seeking to maintain his influence after leaving office by inciting Taiwan’s public opinion on the matter.
Japan must try to resolve the issue by holding talks with Taiwan’s incoming administration led by Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, which attaches importance to relations with Tokyo.
From the viewpoint of China, the Okinotorishima islets are located at a median point between what it calls the first island chain ranging from Japan’s Nansei Islands to the Philippines and the second island chain extending from the Ogasawara Islands to Guam. The Chinese Navy is trying in full scale to expand its maritime activities into the western Pacific. This has elevated Okinotorishima’s geopolitical value.
The Japanese government has installed concrete revetments for Okinotorishima to prevent erosion from ocean waves and storms. It should increase its efforts, such as building port facilities, to further safeguard the islets.
This will lead to the effective administration of Okinotorishima’s EEZ and serve as a check on China’s expansionist maritime advances.
Taking advantage of the characteristics of remote islets, Okinotorishima should be used as bases for weather observation, marine research and other purposes. This would help buttress their legal status. Government ministries and agencies concerned must join hands and work out measures from a strategic standpoint.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 13, 2016)
Panama Papers underscore need for greater scrutiny of tax havens
The publication of the Panama Papers can be used as a clue to clarifying the real situation regarding secretive tax havens.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has made public the names of more than 210,000 corporations using tax havens in various parts of the world, along with the names of related individuals. The electronic data was leaked from a law firm in Panama, and was arranged to be listed according to country.
In April, the ICIJ made it clear in the Panama Papers that political leaders from around the world, as well as their relatives, were using tax havens. This time, it proved that companies and wealthy people were widely making use of tax havens.
It is vital to use the disclosure of the lists as a stepping stone to strengthen international cooperation to prevent tax evasion.
With regard to Japan, the list contains the names of about 20 corporations, including general trading companies and telecommunications operators, and about 230 individuals, including the founders of major firms. In many cases, these individuals were listed as shareholders or board members of companies established in tax havens.
A number of companies denied that they were trying to avoid paying taxes. Some repelled the publication of their names was regrettable, as they could lose social credibility.
Indeed, use of a tax haven is not illegal per se.
However, it is a fact that many companies and individuals are trying to reduce their taxes by taking advantage of the nature of tax havens − extremely low tax rates and high anonymity.
International cooperation vital
Even though using tax havens is lawful, public confidence over tax impartiality would be seriously affected if there are loopholes that major companies and affluent people can easily use. Since the publication of the Panama Papers, a more discerning eye has been turned toward tax havens.
Transferring funds to the bank account of a dummy company to intentionally conceal profits could amount to constitute tax evasion. It is reasonable for Finance Minister Taro Aso to say that if there are problematic transactions, the nation’s tax authorities would carry out a tax investigation.
The tax authorities should minutely determine how tax havens are really used. They also must keep an eye out for criminal proceeds and money laundering.
It is difficult for a single country to cope with tax evasion beyond its national borders.
Japan has concluded treaties and agreements with about 100 countries and regions to exchange information on accounts. It is important to make these pacts function effectively and to bring wrongdoing to light.
Last year, the Group of 20 major economies and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development compiled international rules designed to prevent tax evasion via dubious transactions that are far from reality.
At the Ise-Shima summit meeting of the Group of Seven major powers this month, taxation measures are a major item on the agenda. We hope the summit will strengthen international cooperation to that end.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 11, 2016)
North Korea cannot maintain regime with anachronistic idolatry of leader
The North Korean leader has made it clear that he will reign over the country with an anachronistic approach − setting himself up as an icon and maintaining his unifying power through fear of a purge.
The ruling Workers’ Party of Korea has ended its first congress in 36 years following the decision to bestow a newly created title on the first secretary, Kim Jong Un, of “party chairman.” The chairman thus unveiled his political intention to shift his power base from the military to the party.
The change in Kim’s title is aimed at not only showing North Koreans the start of a new era, but also making them realize that the leader will follow in the dictatorial footsteps of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, who served as the chairman of the party’s Central Committee.
For personnel affairs, the party gave important positions to Kim Jong Un’s close aides, including Hwang Pyong So, director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean People’s Army, and Choe Ryong Hae, secretary of the party, both of whom were named to the Politburo, the country’s top leadership.
An aging Kim Yong Nam, head of the presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, was kept as a standing committee member. These personnel appointments indicated the party preferred to avoid a generation shift that could destabilize the regime.
In his speech on the achievements of the party during the congress, Kim Jong Un mentioned the so-called byongjin policy of pursuing the parallel goals of building up the economy and developing nuclear weapons, declaring that the party will “maintain this permanently and strengthen nuclear weapons programs.” This cannot be overlooked.
This policy was included in the party’s platform. The young leader also announced a policy for improving the investment environment. Does this, however, not contradict his pursuit of nuclear weapons development?
The international community has not recognized North Korea’s attempt to make possessing nuclear weapons a fait accompli. It is important for the rest of the world to strictly implement sanctions to urge Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear development.
Kim also described North Korea as a “responsible nuclear state,” emphasizing that his country “will sincerely work to realize the denuclearization of the world.” It is ridiculous for him to promise his country’s “efforts” even though it has repeatedly ignored international agreements and resolutions from the U.N. Security Council.
Kim urged the United States to convert the Korean War armistice into a peace accord. While militarily confronting South Korea, Kim also called for talks to be held between the militaries of the neighbors to improve relations. There is no way Washington or Seoul would take the proposals seriously.
The congress was also made to serve as an opportunity for Kim to promote his cult of personality.
TV coverage showed senior party members hailing the young leader’s achievements, in addition to a massive parade to celebrate him.
The party’s paper described Kim as “the great sun of the 21st century,” based on the figurative expression used to compare his grandfather to the sun.
The young Kim failed to present any concrete measures to improve the economy, which is a pressing issue for North Koreans. He announced a five-year strategy to boost the economy by 2020, yet only listed issues such as “solving electricity problems.”
Kim has established his power base by executing or purging many party executives, most notably his uncle Jang Sung Taek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission. During the congress, the leader announced the party will maintain efforts to “fight corruption,” issuing an apparent warning that he will show no mercy to anyone who challenges his authority.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 11, 2016)
Obama to visit Hiroshima on May 27 as 1st sitting U.S. head of state
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- U.S. President Barack Obama will make the first visit to Hiroshima by a sitting U.S. head of state on May 27 to renew his resolve to seek a world free of nuclear weapons, both governments said Tuesday.
Officials from the Japanese and U.S. governments said the purpose of Obama's planned trip to the atomic-bombed city will be to promote a future-oriented stance on nuclear disarmament rather than for the U.S. leader to apologize for the nuclear attacks 71 years ago.
The U.S. president's visit to Hiroshima with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will "highlight (Obama's) continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," the White House said in a statement.
Abe said he welcomes the U.S. president's visit to the Japanese city devastated by a 1945 U.S. atomic bomb in the final days of World War II "from the bottom of my heart" as a big step toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.
"I believe that President Obama making a trip to Hiroshima, seeing the reality of the consequences of atomic bombings and expressing his feeling to the world, will be a big force toward a world without nuclear weapons," Abe told reporters.
One of Obama's close aides, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, said the president is unlikely to comment during his visit to Hiroshima on whether the atomic bombings of Japan are justifiable.
Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, dismissed the view that Obama's visit to the city could be tantamount to an apology for the nuclear attacks.
"If people do interpret it that way, they'll be interpreting it wrongly, so I don't think that there's much risk in that," Earnest told reporters.
Survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and local government officials generally welcomed the announcement but some said he should have visited the atom-bombed city earlier, rather than in the final stage of his eight-year tenure. Obama leaves office in January 2017.
Obama will make the trip on the day a two-day Group of Seven summit in Japan ends.
The U.S. media have reported Obama could give a speech similar to his 2009 Prague address calling for a world without nuclear weapons if he visits Hiroshima.
Obama will visit the Peace Memorial Park near ground zero, where the arch-shaped cenotaph is located, Earnest said. A Japanese government source said the president may visit the Peace Memorial Museum, which displays artifacts of atomic bomb victims and survivors, such as a charred tricycle.
It is not yet decided whether Obama will meet with some atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima, Earnest said.
In mid-April, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited memorial locations in Hiroshima such as the museum and the Atomic Bomb Dome, skeletal remains of the only major building partially left standing after the explosion. He did so on the sidelines of a G-7 foreign ministers' meeting in the city last month.
Obama, who took office in January 2009, was awarded that year's Nobel Peace Prize for his stated intention to seek a world without nuclear weapons, a commitment he made in the high-profile speech in Prague three months after inauguration.
A visit by a serving president to Hiroshima is expected to stir controversy in the United States due to concerns it could be construed as tantamount to an apology for the attacks.
There is widespread belief that the atomic bombings were necessary to make Japan surrender earlier than it would otherwise have done and save the lives of many U.S. soldiers as a result.
During his first trip to Japan as president in 2009, Obama told a press conference in Tokyo that he would be "honored" to have the opportunity to visit the cities.
The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 and another on Nagasaki on Aug. 9. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, bringing the war to an end.
The number of people -- most of them civilians -- who had died by the end of 1945 from the bombings is estimated at 140,000 in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki, according to the cities.
The highest-ranking U.S. official so far to have visited Hiroshima is Nancy Pelosi, who did so in 2008 as speaker of the House of Representatives. The House chief stands behind only the vice president in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency.
In 1984, Jimmy Carter, as a former American president, visited the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima.
Obama has sent U.S. ambassadors John Roos and Caroline Kennedy to the annual peace ceremonies in the atomic-bombed cities since 2010. Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, also attended the ceremony in Hiroshima last year.
China’s military base-building in South China Sea totally unlawful
China’s lawless conduct in the South China Sea, which continues to heighten regional tensions, is hard to ignore. It is indispensable for the United States, Japan and other nations concerned to persistently point out the illegitimacy of China’s conduct to the international community.
China recently had a military aircraft landing and taking off from a runway on an artificial island it built through land reclamation of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Beijing claimed that, with the aim of transporting construction workers who had suddenly been taken ill on the island, it had dispatched a maritime patrol aircraft on missions over the South China Sea.
The incident came after China said it had conducted an operational test of the runway in January, using what it called “civilian aircraft.” This is the first case in which China’s use of military aircraft on the island has been made public.
The top Chinese general has inspected the facilities built on some islands in the Spratly chain. Although China did not state the locations covered by his inspection, the general is believed to have visited man-made islands. Media in Vietnam, which has a territorial dispute with China, have reported on a huge radar facility constructed on one of China’s artificial islands, and accompanied its report with a photo of the equipment.
The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping is escalating its deceitful conduct, as illustrated by accelerated efforts to turn its artificial islands in the South China Sea into military bases, while making a far-fetched argument that its behavior does not constitute militarization.
What cannot be overlooked is that China’s forceful actions aimed at displaying its “sovereignty” have become conspicuous not only in regard to its man-made islands, but also in reefs and sea areas in the South China Sea that are not subject to extremely bitter territorial disputes.
U.S. patrols vital
Close to 100 Chinese fishing boats were recently seen sailing around reefs within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone, accompanied by a Chinese government vessel. In an area near an Indonesian island, a Chinese government ship took possession of a fishing boat that had been detained for illegal fishing activities, after ramming an Indonesian patrol boat.
The Philippines has brought a case before The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration over China’s self-justified territorial claims. The court is expected to hand down a judgment disadvantageous to China this month or in June.
The Xi administration may try to ensure that its effective control over the South China Sea becomes fait accompli before that ruling.
It is essential to make sure freedom of navigation, a principle based on international law, is realized through continued patrols by U.S. warships in areas China insists constitutes its territorial waters. This will be necessary to discourage China from acting unilaterally.
Late this month, U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Vietnam for the first time, with the intention of strengthening bilateral ties in the field of maritime security. Under a military pact signed between the United States and the Philippines, U.S. forces are set, in effect, to start stationing some troops in the Philippines.
It is necessary that the United States build a framework in order to exert constant pressure on China through increased cooperation with Vietnam, the Philippines and other pertinent nations.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has told Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries that Japan will fully cooperate with them to ensure that the rule of law prevails in the South China Sea. Japan must share its anxiety over China with these nations while also affirming the importance of preserving maritime order.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 9, 2016)
Can new Japan-Russia approach break deadlock on northern territories issue?
Can the latest talks between the Japanese and Russian leaders serve as the first step to a breakthrough in negotiations over the northern territories off Hokkaido, which have remained deadlocked over the decades?
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, southern Russia, and the two leaders agreed that they will vigorously proceed with negotiations on the issue using “an approach based on a new concept.”
“I got the sense that we can achieve a breakthrough in the stagnated situation,” Abe told reporters following the talks.
Even though details are unclear, the new approach is described as taking into consideration a global perspective − not just bilateral relations − and holding negotiations from a future-oriented standpoint.
It is not easy for Japan and Russia to make concessions on the territorial issue, as it concerns the sovereignty of each country. It is understandable that Tokyo and Moscow will look for compromises on this issue as they develop deeper cooperation on security, economic and many other issues based on a broader perspective.
The two leaders also agreed that they will have another meeting when Abe visits Vladivostok, Russia, in September. The two countries are said to further examine the timing of Putin’s visit to Japan.
It is extraordinary for a Japanese prime minister to make successive visits to Russia, which suggests how resolved Abe is over the territorial issue.
Political decision needed
Abe apparently believes that the issue cannot be solved unless he urges Putin, the most powerful figure in Russia, to make a political decision. Holding more bilateral talks with the president, including those to be organized on the sidelines of international conferences, is important in itself.
During the latest talks, Abe presented a plan comprising eight areas of cooperation, including energy development and building infrastructure in Russia’s Far Eastern region.
The Russian economy has remained sluggish mostly because of the fall in oil prices and the weaker ruble. Putin has put priority on promoting investment from and technical cooperation with Japan, in addition to the development of the Far East. Abe apparently aims to use his plan to pave the way to move the territorial issue forward.
Of course, economic cooperation alone cannot immediately achieve a breakthrough on the issue. We instead believe that the key will be for Japan to create a situation in which Russia puts real effort into boosting bilateral relations with Japan as Russia faces Chinese influences.
Putin is said to have become more concerned that China has been encouraging a large number of companies to start businesses in the Far East while expanding its military presence there.
During his talks with Abe, Putin expressed his hope for security cooperation between the two countries. It is of not small significance for Japan to improve cooperation with Russia to hold China and North Korea in check.
Concerning the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, it is appropriate that Abe urged Putin to play a constructive role by exercising his influence in maintaining ceasefires in those countries.
Abe will host the Ise-Shima summit meeting of the Group of Seven major powers on May 26-27. It will be important for the prime minister to elaborate his policy on pushing Japan-Russia relations forward without disrupting cooperation among the G-7 countries.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2016)
EDITORIAL: NHK must not serve simply as the government’s mouthpiece
Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) is not the government’s public relations agency.
It cannot accomplish its mission as a news medium if it only reports the government’s announcements as its sole source.
This is the most basic of the basics of broadcast journalism. But NHK President Katsuto Momii still doesn’t understand the core mission of the organization he has been heading for two years and three months now if his recent remarks are any indication.
During an April 20 meeting of senior officials at NHK, Momii said the public broadcaster’s reporting on the recent destructive earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture and surrounding areas and the disaster’s possible effects on nuclear power generation should be “based on authorities’ official announcements,” according to informed sources.
NHK should focus on airing the official views announced by authorities, he reportedly said.
“If various assessments by experts were broadcast, it would only end up unnecessarily raising concerns among the public,” he was quoted as saying.
Momii expounded on his comments in response to a question about them during an April 26 session of the Lower House Committee of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Momii said the official announcements he was referring to were information released by the Meteorological Agency, the Nuclear Regulation Authority and Kyushu Electric Power Co.
As for Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, which is immediately south of Kumamoto Prefecture, Momii said he believed his organization should broadcast, without any additional reporting, announced information such as data provided by the radiation monitoring posts installed for issuing evacuation orders around the Sendai plant.
“If the NRA believes that the nuclear plant is safe or can remain in operation, we will just report it like that,” Momii told the committee.
During natural disasters, news media should, of course, strive to provide the public with accurate information as quickly and carefully as possible.
Announcements made by the central and local governments and various companies are, needless to say, important elements of news reports on such events.
At the same time, however, it is also a vital role of the news media to examine and fact-check such announcements and report them along with views based on expert knowledge and responses from citizens.
Momii’s instructions to senior NHK editors can be interpreted as a demand that only official announcements should be treated as facts.
What he said is tantamount to an order that NHK should stop performing its most basic function, which is examining things from various angles and reporting facts from multiple viewpoints.
Momii’s rationale for demanding that reports on these topics should be based on official views and announcements seems to be the necessity to reassure local residents.
If so, he is underestimating viewers’ ability to understand and assess news and information.
In a survey conducted last year by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, 85 percent of the respondents said they wanted to select the information that suits their needs on their own. Moreover, 61 percent of the people surveyed said they were confident about their ability to grasp reliable data from a sea of information.
The survey shows that many viewers want not only information officially provided by the government and companies, but also multifaceted reports on various topics so that they can make their own evaluations and judgments.
Momii has a history of making comments that raise serious questions about his editorial stance and journalistic ethics.
In his inaugural press conference in 2014, Momii said, “We cannot say left when the government says right.”
Last year, when he was asked whether NHK would deal with the “comfort women" issue in its reports on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, he replied, “The government’s policy is the key.”
Each time the NHK chief made remarks indicating loyal support for the government, he faced bitter criticism. But he is showing no signs of mending his ways.
The very credibility of NHK’s entire news reporting could be destroyed unless Momii stops damaging it.