Depend on China at your peril

2010-09-30 06:10:45 | 英字新聞
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 30, 2010)
Depend on China at your peril
対日経済圧力 中国リスク回避へ分散化図れ(9月29日付・読売社説)

China is piling economic pressure on Japan following the collision this month between a Chinese fishing boat and two Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels in Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands.

China effectively has limited exports of rare earth minerals, which are vital for manufacturing hybrid cars, energy-efficient electrical appliances and other products. Some Chinese customhouses have reportedly cranked up inspections of other goods exported to and imported from Japan, resulting in delayed shipments between the two countries.

Officially, the Chinese government has denied ordering this crackdown. However, China is clearly attempting to unsettle Japan. China's actions make a mockery of international economic rules. We think China should immediately retract its retaliatory measures.

Japan imports 90 percent of its rare earths from China. Industries that depend on these minerals are increasingly anxious about the slowdown in customs clearance procedures.

Actions trump words

China has claimed that it has not banned exports of rare earths. However, officials at several Japanese trading houses said the issuance of customs documents needed to approve exports has been halted.

A China ban on exports of rare earths only to Japan would violate World Trade Organization rules. The Japanese government must immediately investigate this worrying situation and demand an explanation from China on why customs clearance procedures have been held up.

At the same time, the government must do more to secure other rare earths production centers to ensure this nation has a stable supply of the minerals, promote research and development of rare earths substitutes and find ways to recycle the minerals.

Many Japanese companies, mainly those in the textile, auto and electrical appliance industries, have shifted their manufacturing bases to China, where labor costs are a fraction of what they are in Japan.

China's 1.3 billion population has increasingly strong purchasing power; it is certainly an attractive market for Japanese companies suffering from lethargic domestic demand due to the declining birthrate and graying population.

Reconsider business model

Nevertheless, Beijing's hard-nosed response to the latest dispute has made it painfully obvious to many Japanese firms that they should not rely too much on China to protect their business and interests.

It is disturbing that allowing Japan's economy to become a "hostage" to China's whims could sway government decisions on foreign and security policies.

Japanese companies should take this opportunity to reconsider their business strategy of concentrating production centers and investment in China, and instead start exploring new markets as the first step to reducing business risks.

Japanese companies have helped China develop technologies in such fields as energy and the environment. Some Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores have opened their doors in China, bringing jobs and a wide range of goods to the Chinese public.

We hope the Chinese government will not overlook the contributions Japanese companies have made to that country.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 29, 2010)
(2010年9月29日01時52分 読売新聞)

Falling rice prices

2010-09-29 03:39:38 | 英字新聞
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 27
EDITORIAL: Falling rice prices

Lower rice prices may spell serious trouble for farmers but are welcome news for consumers.

The government's first response to the prospect of a sharp decline, compared with usual years, in the prices of rice to be harvested this year should be based on the viewpoint and interest of consumers.

The decline in rice prices is a product of an oversupply of the staple food in this nation. In addition to a massive carry-over of unsold rice from last year, when rice prices also dropped, an expected bountiful crop this year is likely to result in a sizable glut.

Even if depressed rice prices cause losses for rice growers, the income support program for farming households introduced this year by the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan will guarantee them a minimum level of income.

But the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (Zenchu), the national organization of local agricultural cooperatives, is lobbying the government to take steps to prevent rice prices from sinking.

Specifically, the organization is demanding that the government buy surplus rice by using, ahead of schedule, the new rice stockpiling system that the farm ministry plans to introduce next fiscal year.

But we find it difficult to support Zenchu's lobbying campaign.

The biggest factor behind declining rice consumption is the shrinking and aging of the nation's population. It is glaringly obvious that the government's policy to maintain rice prices by purchasing surplus rice will reach its limits sooner or later. This approach will not solve any of the structural problems within the Japanese agricultural sector that cause an oversupply of rice.

It should be remembered that the income support program for farming households was created on the assumption that rice prices would be allowed to decline.

For decades after the end of World War II, the government maintained rice prices through the so-called acreage-reduction policy to adjust supply. This system was designed to support the income of rice farmers by forcing consumers to buy rice at prices kept artificially high.

However well intended, this policy has had many undesirable side effects for the agricultural sector. Although the government spent a total of 7 trillion yen ($83 billion) over the years to finance the acreage-reduction policy, Japanese agriculture has remained in a steady decline.
The present serious shortage of young farmers who can become the future backbone of agriculture in this nation and the vast amount of abandoned farmland can be said to be a result of this policy.

Now the government should move in the direction of integrating efforts to aid the agricultural sector through a taxpayer-financed system that will allow rice prices to fall in the domestic market.

Such a move would enhance the international price competitiveness of Japanese rice and thereby make it easier to open Japan's farm market to imports.

This policy shift could bring huge benefits to the Japanese people as a whole by eliminating the biggest obstacle in Japan's trade negotiations with other countries for free trade agreements.

Lower rice prices at home would improve the prospects for Japanese rice exports. Reputed for its safety and taste, Japanese rice has the potential to gain popularity in markets in China and other rice-eating Asian nations.

The current system of propping up the income of farming households is seriously flawed, as it is still married to policies that trim rice production to maintain artificially high prices.

Since the program covers all farmers selling rice, including very small-scale growers, it is hampering consolidation of farmland into the hands of large-scale farmers.

The time has come for new policy efforts to solve these challenges and improve the competitive environment for domestic farmers, so that Japanese agriculture can develop, even if rice prices fall.

Don't overlook violence by younger students

2010-09-28 05:35:14 | 英字新聞
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 28, 2010)
Don't overlook violence by younger students
「キレる」子ども 暴力の低年齢化にブレーキを(9月27日付・読売社説)

There seems to be no end to the violence being committed by younger students. This serious situation at school is clear from a fiscal 2009 survey conducted by the education ministry.

The number of violent acts by students both at and away from school jumped to a record 61,000 cases, marking an increase for the fourth straight year, according to the survey of primary, middle and high schools across the nation.

Violence by high school students is declining, but that by primary and middle school students has continued to rise. Primary school students in particular racked up a total of 7,100 violent incidents, nearly double the figure recorded three years before. The number of cases in which primary school teachers were treated at hospitals after suffering student violence topped 100.

In the past, specific groups tended to commit violence regularly. But in recent years, there have been conspicuous instances of usually calm students who are suddenly triggered by something to commit violence.


New measures necessary

The situation has thus worsened to the extent that the problem of student violence cannot be solved merely by giving corrective guidance to the leaders of violent student groups. New countermeasures need to be taken after analyzing the current situation.

A common characteristic of children who burst into fits of rage is limited ability to control their emotions and express their feelings in words.

To help such students develop better emotional awareness, one primary school, for example, gives lessons in first- and second-grade classes in which photos of an angry child's face are shown and students are asked, "How does this student feel?"

Many experts say the problem lies with student's families. They say that in some cases students are not well disciplined because their parents tend to neglect them. In other families, overly controlling and education-obsessed parents subject their children to too much stress.

School authorities must make efforts to improve the situation by learning about the family environments of individual students and using that knowledge as the basis for serious dialogue with parents.


Bullying persists

The number of bullying cases recognized by primary, middle and high schools came to 73,000 in fiscal 2009, a decrease of 12,000 from a year before. Compared with 125,000 cases registered in fiscal 2006, the figure for fiscal 2009 shows a drop of more than 40 percent.

But it is premature to conclude that bullying at school is in fact declining. This is because some schools answered there was "no bullying" at their schools without asking students in questionnaires or individual interviews about whether that was actually the case.

A third-year middle school student in Kawasaki who had been bullied by classmates killed himself in June. Such tragedies happen repeatedly. The "decrease in bullying" shown by statistics should not lull those in charge of education into relaxing their efforts.

Bullying could happen to any child. Schools must recognize this anew and take care not to overlook even the small signs of bullying.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 27, 2010)
(2010年9月27日01時12分 読売新聞)

Ichiro\'s 200-hit milestone

2010-09-27 07:02:15 | 愛する娘たちへ
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 27, 2010)
Ichiro's 200-hit milestone due to technique, training
イチロー 技と鍛錬が生んだ200安打(9月26日付・読売社説)

The Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki has reached yet another milestone in Major League Baseball history.

On Thursday, Suzuki notched 200 hits for an unprecedented 10th consecutive season, breaking his own major league record of nine straight 200-hit seasons. We'd like to extend our warmest congratulations on this remarkable feat.

Ten years have passed since Suzuki joined the Seattle Mariners after a nine-year stint with the Orix BlueWave (now the Orix Buffaloes) of Japan's Pacific League.

Suzuki has exceeded 200 hits every year since moving to the United States, using his masterful bat control and natural speed on the base paths.

Commenting on his achievement, Suzuki said, "I know better than anyone that it's not easy."

His feat is a great record that can only be achieved through continuous training and good physical conditioning.

The Seattle Mariners have performed poorly in recent seasons, and the team is in last place in the American League West this year. With his team running in low gear, it must be difficult for Suzuki to maintain his concentration.


Pete Rose mark within reach

Former Major League player Pete Rose, who also is widely known in Japan, also had at least 200 hits in 10 seasons but not consecutively.

If Suzuki reaches 200 hits for the 11th consecutive season next year, he also would top Rose for the most 200-hit seasons. We hope he will break this record, too.

On Sept. 18, Suzuki collected his 3,500th hit in his major league and Japanese careers combined. However, since this statistic includes the hits he had during his Japan playing days, it does not necessarily garner much praise in the United States.

For that reason, the significance of the 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons he achieved only in the United States stands out.

Major league players praised Suzuki's achievement as a record that will be unbreakable for the next 100 years. Despite reaching the mark while his team was on the road in Toronto, the fans in attendance gave him a standing ovation.

Suzuki will turn 37 next month. When he is in a slump, some people say his abilities have declined due to age.

However, Suzuki's extraordinary speed has hardly diminished, as this season he reached the 40-steal mark for the first time in two years.


NPB knock-on effect

Suzuki's marquee performances also stimulate Nippon Professional Baseball. Norichika Aoki of the Yakult Swallows and other players who admire Suzuki are studying his technique and banging out the hits.

Japan won the World Baseball Classic championship both times the tournament has been staged, in 2006 and 2009. Japanese baseball will rise to an even higher level if more players follow Suzuki's example and achieve excellence in all three facets of the game--running, hitting and fielding.

Above all, the growing number of children who pick up bats dreaming of becoming baseball players like Suzuki will help spread the game even further.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 26, 2010)
(2010年9月26日01時11分 読売新聞)

Chinese skipper's release a political decision

2010-09-26 07:02:44 | 英字新聞
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 26, 2010)
Chinese skipper's release a political decision
中国人船長釈放 関係修復を優先した政治決着(9月25日付・読売社説)

Prosecutors decided Friday to release a Chinese trawler captain, who was arrested following collisions between his ship and two Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels off the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, without taking further legal action against him for now.

The Naha District Public Prosecutors Office in Okinawa Prefecture, which was investigating the captain, said, "The impact on the people of this nation and the future of Japan-China relations were taken into consideration."

The decision came soon after it was learned that four Japanese nationals had been taken into custody by Chinese authorities for allegedly filming "military targets" in Hebei Province.

"The impact on the people" was mentioned apparently out of concern over the possibility that the detention of the Japanese might be prolonged.

Beijing ties given priority

The prosecutors office explained that authorities were unable to prove the captain's action had been deliberately planned and that the collisions did not result in injury or serious damage.

But this is inconsistent, as investigative authorities cited the malign nature of the incident to explain the arrest and detention of the skipper.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku insisted that the prosecutors office made the decision on its own. But there is no doubt that the issue was settled in a political decision by Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other senior members of the government and the Democratic Party of Japan. It also is said that the decision came because the U.S. government called for an early settlement of the issue.

Since the Japanese government repeatedly said the incident would be handled in line with domestic laws, the decision gave the impression that the Japanese government had given in and failed to stick to its original stance. Many people in this nation likely share this critical view. The government needs to provide the public with a thorough and convincing explanation.

Needless to say, the Senkaku Islands are an inherent part of Japan. The government must assert this point repeatedly both at home and abroad.

Long-term effects

We also cannot disregard the repercussions the latest decision will likely bring about in the future.

It is possible that JCG patrols will no longer have a strong deterrent effect on Chinese trawlers that illegally fish in Japan's territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands. The organizational functions of the JCG and its cooperation with the Maritime Self-Defense Force should be strengthened.

Amid the dispute over the skipper's detention, China blocked exports to Japan of rare earths vital for the production of hybrid car parts and other items. This development serves as a strong reminder that China is a trade partner of unpredictable risk.

Regarding materials that are largely sourced from inside China, it is crucial to secure other sources of such materials.

China acted high-handedly apparently with anti-Japan hard-liners at home in mind. But the series of countermeasures successively taken by China over a short period of time--such as the suspension of youth exchange events and negotiations over a bilateral treaty on joint development of natural gas fields in the East China Sea--were obviously going too far.

Japan should not be simply lured to a "friendship" approach toward China. From the standpoint of seeking "strategic and mutually beneficial relations," Japan must pursue its national interests calmly and realistically regarding China.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 25, 2010)
(2010年9月25日01時24分 読売新聞)