EDITORIAL: Seoul should end impudent case against Japanese journalist
A South Korean court on Dec. 17 acquitted Tatsuya Kato, a former Seoul bureau chief for the Sankei Shimbun, who was indicted on a charge of defaming South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
The ruling was all too appropriate considering that South Korean law guarantees freedom of speech.
It was extraordinary in the first place for prosecutors, who exercise public authority, to indict a journalist just for writing an article that displeased the president.
The Seoul Central District Court handed down a totally reasonable ruling by saying, “It is clear that freedom of speech should be respected because our nation has adopted a democratic system.”
Prosecutors should swiftly accept the court decision without appealing it.
The case concerned an article written by Kato that ran on the Sankei website in August 2014. It referred to a “rumor” that Park was with a former male aide and could not be reached for seven hours on April 16, 2014, the day of the Sewol ferry disaster.
The presidential office reacted angrily to the article, pledging to “pursue the responsibility.” Prosecutors then started an investigation into the defamation allegations in response to a criminal complaint filed by a citizen organization and indicted Kato. He was long banned from leaving the country.
Under South Korean law, Kato would not have been indicted if President Park, the alleged victim of defamation, had said she didn’t wish for punishment against the Sankei journalist.
But the fact is that the trial following the indictment lasted for as long as 14 months, leading to the Dec. 17 ruling. That leaves little doubt that Park herself wanted to see the journalist prosecuted.
Didn’t she give any thought to how badly South Korea’s democracy would be damaged by the prosecution of a reporter for a news organization just because of the wishes of the person in power?
Unsurprisingly, journalist organizations of not only Japan but also other countries voiced strong concerns about the South Korean government’s legal action against Kato.
Before the verdict was read out, the presiding judge revealed that the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs had asked the court to give consideration to Japan’s request for “appropriate handling” of the case.
It was an unusual move that can be interpreted as an attempt by the South Korean government to end the case, which has further strained bilateral relations and provoked international criticism.
The Park administration should do serious soul-searching on its misguided move to prosecute a case that should never have been brought to court in the first place. By doing so, Seoul unnecessarily created a sticky political issue with serious diplomatic consequences.
Even without the case, relations between the Japanese and South Korean governments have soured badly in the past few years, casting dark shadows even on grass-roots exchanges between people of the two neighboring countries.
Both Tokyo and Seoul should restrain themselves from any action that could generate unnecessary diplomatic friction.
The court ruling, however, acknowledged that the former Sankei bureau chief was aware that the rumor he wrote about was false.
The defense team stopped denying this allegation during the trial. This means the Sankei cannot claim to have fulfilled its responsibility as a news medium.
South Korea’s legal action against the Sankei reporter has been a festering sore in the relationship between the country and Japan.
This case should be brought to an end quickly so that the two governments can concentrate on diplomatic efforts to resolve really important issues, like the “comfort women.”
Set aside party interests to narrow vote-value disparity in lower house
Ruling and opposition parties should set aside party interests to narrow the vote-value disparity in the House of Representatives election and tackle the electoral system reform.
A research panel of experts tasked with reform of the lower house electoral system has compiled a draft proposal for redistributing seats allocated to each prefecture by using the so-called Adams’ method to rectify the vote-value disparity in single-seat constituencies.
According to the draft proposal, a total of seven constituency seats should be added in Tokyo and four other prefectures, while 13 other prefectures, including Aomori and Iwate, should lose one seat each. As a result, the maximum vote-value disparity at the prefectural level would be reduced to 1.621-to-1.
The vote-value disparity in single-seat constituencies would also likely be reduced to less than 2-to-1, as called for by the law concerning the establishment of the council on rezoning the electoral districts of the lower house.
The Adams’ method would be used in place of the current seat distribution system [which allots one seat to each prefecture and then decides, in proportion to the population, how many additional seats each prefecture should be allocated in the single-seat constituencies of the election]. The Adams’ method is said to be comparatively favorable to less populous prefectures and able to reduce the increase and decrease in the seats allocated to each prefecture to a narrow range. It also will be able to cope with a population decrease in the future to a certain extent. With the method, even Tottori Prefecture, whose population is the smallest on the prefectural level, would be able to maintain the two-seat allocation for the present.
The Adams’ method is a realistic one in terms of rectifying the vote-value disparity in consideration of local areas.
The Supreme Court handed down a ruling in late November that the lower house election in December last year, which had a maximum vote-value disparity of 2.13-to-1 in single-seat constituencies, was in a state of unconstitutionality. As the legislative body, the Diet must respond swiftly to the request from the judicial branch of government.
Not all will be pleased
What is questionable is that the draft proposed eliminating six seats in the single-seat constituencies and eliminating four in the proportional representation blocks. The proposed reduction would take the number of lower house seats to a postwar low of 465.
If the number of lower house seats is reduced, even just slightly, it would be difficult to reflect the diversity of public opinions in the election. Diet functions, such as lawmaker-initiated legislation and holding administrations to account through deliberations on bills, could be weaker. Originally, the number of legislators in proportion to the population was smaller in Japan than in the United States and European countries.
Furthermore, the fewer seats there are, the more difficult the correction of the vote-value disparity becomes.
Even within the panel, there were voices pointing out the negative effects of reducing the number of seats. It is regrettable that the panel finally had no choice but to incorporate the assertions of main political parties that seek a drastic reduction in the seats.
The panel is scheduled to submit its proposal to lower house Speaker Tadamori Oshima in early January. In June last year, each main party confirmed that they would “respect” the conclusion of the panel. However, some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who were elected from less populated electoral districts have already expressed their opposition to the draft proposal.
Electoral systems directly lead to the rise and fall of political parties. No plan can avoid every objection. The LDP should not cling to its own interests, but should play a leading role in drawing together the various opinions of each political party to reach a consensus.
Shifting to a new system requires revision of the Public Offices Election Law so that the content of the proposal can be reflected in the law. It also requires studying a new rezoning process. It will likely take more than a year to do so.
Ruling and opposition parties are urged to realize the electoral system reform with such a time schedule in mind.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 19, 2015)
Fed’s decision to increase rate ends unprecedented crisis response
The United States has put an end to the situation in which monetary easing on an unprecedented scale was used to deal with the extraordinary financial crisis triggered by the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.
We welcome the fact that the United States, the epicenter of the global financial crunch, has successfully met the challenge of reinvigorating its economy, to the point of being able to return to ordinary financial policy.
The U.S. Federal Reserve Board has decided on its first interest rate increase in 9½ years. Lifting the effectively zero-interest rate policy that was in place from the end of 2008, the Fed increased its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point to between 0.25 percent and 0.50 percent per year from between zero and 0.25 percent.
The expansionary phase of the U.S. economy has been continuing for a little more than six years so far, while the unemployment rate has shrunk to a pre-crisis level. Given the prospects for stability in the U.S. labor market and moderate price rises in the future, it is reasonable for the United States to break off the extraordinary monetary easing.
Emerging economies have served as locomotives for the global economy since the crash, as plenty of funds flowed into them as a result of the easy money policies in Japan, the United States and Europe. Due caution should be exercised about the possibility of the U.S. interest rate raise causing a major transformation of this paradigm.
There can be no doubt that the world’s investment funds will lean toward fund management in dollars, expecting higher interest rates. Fears are being noted that the “monetary easing cash” that has flowed into emerging economies will flow backward in large quantities into the United States.
Vigilance may be required against the risk of currencies and stock prices plunging precipitously in emerging economies, gravely shaking markets worldwide.
Dialogue with markets
The continuing drops in crude oil prices are also a matter of concern. Because the finances of oil-producing countries have been increasingly severe, they have been withdrawing oil money from the markets. Should this outflow be coupled with the back-streaming of funds into the United States from emerging economies, the danger of turmoil in the world’s economy could arise.
Markets have mostly reacted favorably to the higher U.S. interest rate policy, as shown by sharp rises in stock prices both in Japan and the United States right after the Fed decision.
While many investors had factored in the U.S. lifting of the zero-interest rate policy in advance, the statement made by Fed Chair Janet Yellen suggesting future hikes will be coming slowly has also had a favorable impact.
There is no justification for being unprepared for future developments in “exit strategies” out of the monetary easing.
The Fed should be as prudent as possible in steering its monetary policy. By engaging again and again in circumspect dialogues with the markets, it is imperative for the Fed to have the direction of its financial policy gradually spread through market players.
It is important for emerging economies to redouble their efforts to enhance their attractiveness as investment destinations, to ensure that no excessive outflow of funds takes place. We hope to see them accelerate steps for structural reform, such as easing regulations to encourage the entry of capital from overseas.
Regarding the effect the U.S. interest rate hike will have on Japan, Akira Amari, state minister in charge of economic revitalization, has stressed that higher U.S. rates “will be a plus for the Japanese economy in the medium to long term.” Further weakening of the yen and strengthening of the dollar are expected, boosting increases in Japan’s exports.
However, we cannot take our eyes off the danger of excessive depreciation of the yen causing import prices to increase so much they adversely affect businesses. The government must be sure to steadily put the economic growth policy into force, wasting no time in bringing about a self-sustained business recovery led by domestic demand.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 18, 2015)Speech
Ruling parties should consider lower consumption tax rate for publications
To boost economic growth, the government should steadily press ahead with tax system revisions that encourage investment and consumption.
The Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito have formally decided on an outline for tax system revisions for fiscal 2016. A pillar of this outline is the lowering of the effective corporate tax rate from the current 32.11 percent to 29.97 percent in fiscal 2016. This tax rate will be brought below 30 percent one year ahead of the original schedule.
This will be reflected in the government’s budget for fiscal 2016 and bills related to the revisions of the tax system.
Japan’s corporate tax rate is high compared with the rate in some European and Asian nations. We understand the aim of strengthening companies’ international competitiveness by trimming the tax rate and improving the business operating environment.
It is important for this to put the brakes on the hollowing-out of domestic industries, and lead to more investment from abroad.
The decision to bring forward the cutting of the corporate tax rate to below 30 percent was based on requests by business organizations and other groups. There will be no point in lessening this tax burden if all it does is inflate the more than \350 trillion in internal reserves held by companies. We expect each company to make positive efforts to boost wages and expand investment in plants and equipment.
One revision, made in preparation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement coming into effect, will halve the fixed asset tax on farmland leased out by farmland intermediary administration institutes created in each prefecture. Conversely, the tax burden imposed on fields and paddies that are no longer cultivated, despite being potentially usable, will be increased about 80 percent.
We welcome this creative use of the tax system to increase productivity by increasing the size of farms in the country. One issue to be addressed is how to accurately select abandoned farmland that would be subject to the higher tax rate.
Curbing ‘knowledge tax’
When the consumption tax rate is hiked to 10 percent in April 2017, the existing automobile acquisition tax will be abolished and replaced with a new automobile tax based on fuel efficiency. The more fuel-efficient a vehicle is, the lower the tax rate will be. More than half of all new vehicles are forecast to be exempt from this new tax, which will result in an effective reduction of \20 billion in the tax burden shouldered by vehicle owners.
We think it is appropriate that the ruling parties aim to alleviate the impact of the higher consumption tax rate and beef up measures to help the environment.
According to the outline, a lower consumption tax rate will be applied to food in general, excluding alcohol and eating out. In addition, the ruling parties decided the lower rate would apply to subscribed newspapers that are issued at least twice a week and home-delivered.
Newspapers provide a wide range of information and opinions to the public, so they can be considered social infrastructure that supports democracy and the culture of the printed word.
The LDP and Komeito attached importance to the benefit newspapers provide to the public, and decided to curb, as much as possible, the imposition of an additional “tax on knowledge.”
Newspaper publishers must remain fully aware of the significance of this step, and fulfill their duties as organs of news reporting and public opinion.
It was unfortunate that the parties decided more discussions are needed on whether the lower rate should be applied to publications such as books and magazines. While we understand it is difficult to draw the cut-off line, it is essential that consideration be given to the social role these publications play in supporting education and culture.
Most European countries impose a lower tax rate on publications as well as newspapers. The same step should be taken in Japan, and we urge the ruling parties to hold discussions on designing such a system.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 17, 2015)
China’s military reform could lead to heightened tensions with U.S.
China has started a structural reform of its military to enhance its readiness for modern warfare entailing the full use of high-tech weapons.
The latest move can be described as a new phase in China’s drive to build a strong army, the goal pursued by President Xi Jinping through rapid progress in his country’s military build-up. Japan and the United States must closely cooperate to strengthen their guard against China’s continuously evolving military.
At a recent military conference, Xi emphasized that deepening national defense and military reform are “requirements of the times” to be fulfilled in pursuing “the dream of a strong army.” He also said China would seek to build, by the end of 2020, a structure for the integrated operation of units from its army, navy, air force and 2nd Artillery (strategic missile forces).
The reform drive entails a plan to reorganize the current structure, which divides the whole country into seven major military districts, each mainly controlled by the army. The plan will rearrange these districts into four to five combat zones, followed by a measure to establish a joint operational command organization in each zone. The reform is aimed at ensuring that orders from the nerve center of the military are thoroughly enforced among frontline troops, thereby making it possible to flexibly respond to any situation.
The current military districts are so strongly influenced by the army that there is a serious degree of vertical segmentation in military management there. There is inadequacy of the army’s cooperation with the navy, air force and missile unit. Xi’s reform drive seems to reflect his belief that, if the current situation goes unrectified, his country will not be able to effectively implement its strategy − known as “anti-access area denial (A2/AD)” − for preventing U.S. intervention in a military contingency.
Xi in command
China’s military reform reflects Xi’s wishes. Since the launch of his administration in the autumn of 2012, he has striven to build “an army that can win a war,” a task necessary for transforming his nation into “a great maritime power.”
The prevailing view has been that it will be difficult to reorganize the military districts due to strong resistance from the army. However, Xi’s success in initiating his reform drive means that he has cemented his power base by removing all foes within the military through his policy of clamping down on corrupt practices. He may also have intended to further tighten up the military.
Earlier, the Xi administration said it would slash his country’s 2.3 million soldiers by 300,000. This seems to entail cuts mainly in the number of noncombatants in the army, a task that can be made possible through a reorganization of the military districts. Budgetary resources to be accrued from this will likely be used for selected purposes of high priority, such as those tied to state-of-the-art weapons to be used by the three arms of the military.
China is reportedly accelerating efforts to develop a next-generation stealth bomber and a new intercontinental ballistic missile while also building several domestically designed aircraft carriers.
We believe Xi’s decision to unveil his military reform plan at this point in time signifies he was keenly aware of how relevant nations have acted in connection with China’s recent movements. For instance, the United States sent a warship to the South China Sea, and conducted patrol activities in waters near artificial islands reclaimed by China in the region. Japan too has been trying to restrain China.
China is also increasing the frequency of naval exercises in the Western Pacific, with a view to advancing into the so-called Second Island Chain, which extends from the Izu Islands to Guam. China’s maritime activities have also been noticeable in waters around the Senkaku Islands. The country’s undisguised provocative acts against the Japan-U.S. alliance will only add to tensions in the region.
However, it should be noted that even the U.S. forces required many years to achieve integrated military operation. Our nation’s Self-Defense Forces are still halfway there in pursuit of a similar goal. China’s neighboring countries need to closely watch whether Xi’s military reform drive will proceed as he calculated.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 16, 2015)
Close global cooperation needed to achieve Paris accord emissions targets
The agreement by all participating countries to work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a significant step forward in dealing with global warming.
The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) ended in Paris on Saturday after adopting the Paris agreement, a framework designed to take effect in 2020.
The Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997 called only on developed countries to carry out emissions cuts, but this time all parties are obliged to make efforts to curtail emissions in line with nationally determined goals. The new framework does not make it mandatory to achieve targets and is a loose structure, but calls for reexamining them every five years to make further efforts to cut emissions.
The Paris agreement aims to hold the rise of the world’s average temperature to “well below 2 C above preindustrial levels.” It also mentioned a commitment to “below 1.5 C above preindustrial levels,” which was demanded by island countries, as a target for which efforts must be made. Both these goals will be hard to achieve.
The effectiveness of the agreement will be put to the test with regard to how each country can achieve its target and whether it can raise its target further.
Endeavors by emerging countries are key to cutting global emissions as a whole. China and India, among other nations, argued that “our per capita energy consumption is small and we are developing countries.”
The fact remains, however, that China and India are the world’s top and the third-largest emitters of greenhouse gases, respectively. To fulfill their responsibilities, the two countries must make greater efforts to curb emissions without limiting their efforts to nationally determined contributions.
During the Paris conference, developing nations called on developed countries to increase their financial assistance and technological transfers, arguing that they “became rich as a result of consuming huge quantities of fossil fuels.”
The agreement made it mandatory for developed nations to assist developing countries but did not put a monetary value on such assistance. Annual assistance of \100 billion in 2020 and onward was incorporated in a separate document of a nonbinding agreement. A realistic judgment by developing nations that placed priority on the conclusion of an agreement is laudable.
Using such assistance to carry out measures to fight global warming is important. It also is necessary to ensure transparency of this assistance and work out a system to verify its effectiveness.
Japan proposed a “bilateral credit system” under which Japan would assist in the energy-saving measures of developing countries, with portions of emissions curbed calculated as its own. The scheme, adopted as part of the agreement, was the outcome of diplomatic efforts by Japanese officials.
Japan has already agreed to apply the bilateral credit system to 16 countries, including Mongolia and Bangladesh. Assistance in the energy-saving efforts of developing countries has greater cost-effectiveness than measures taken domestically. The application of the system must be expanded positively.
Japan’s target is to reduce emissions by 26 percent in fiscal 2030 from the levels in fiscal 2013. Reliance on coal and other fossil fuels must be corrected. It is essential to promote the reactivation and new construction of nuclear power plants to lower the cost of renewable energy generation.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 15, 2015)