「国防軍」 本質的な憲法論議に踏み込め

2012-11-30 04:35:56 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 29, 2012)
Step up constitutional debate on 'national defense force'
「国防軍」 本質的な憲法論議に踏み込め(11月28日付・読売社説)

The Liberal Democratic Party has pledged in its manifesto for the upcoming House of Representatives election that it will revise the Constitution to enable Japan to possess a national defense military force. This has emerged as a key issue in the coming election campaign.

At this juncture, each political party should wade into more fundamental discussions on revising the Constitution.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was quick to take a swipe at the LDP pledge. "I don't understand the significance of revising the Constitution to position the Self-Defense Forces as a military force, by venturing to change the name to a defense military force," he said. Noda's comments ignited a debate on this issue.

LDP President Shinzo Abe countered Noda's criticism, saying the problem is that the SDF are regarded as a military force under international law, but they are not a military force according to the government's interpretation of the Constitution. Abe went as far as saying that if the SDF are not a military force, SDF personnel would not be handled as prisoners of war if they are captured.

We think Abe's point is quite reasonable.


Defining the SDF

The first paragraph of Article 9 of the Constitution stipulates the nation's renunciation of war. The second paragraph says, "In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." Thus, it spells out that Japan will not possess military forces.

The LDP pledge mirrors a draft for revising the Constitution it announced in April when Sadakazu Tanigaki was the party's president. According to the draft, the first paragraph of Article 9 will be maintained, but the second paragraph will be deleted. The draft then stipulates the nation's maintenance of a "military force for defense," saying the preceding paragraph "does not prevent the country from invoking its right to self-defense."

It is only natural for the Constitution to clearly define the organization that will defend this country. We think it is time to end the ambiguity over the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

In 2004, The Yomiuri Shimbun proposed several revisions to the Constitution. One change we suggested was the maintenance of a "military force for self-defense."

When Noda's Democratic Party of Japan was an opposition party, he himself said in his book that the SDF are "a military force to the eyes of foreign nations," and they "have to be clearly defined [as a combat force] in the Constitution."

We cannot understand why Noda recently made a statement that flew in the face of his own argument.


Noda rejecting own theory

It is also problematic that the prime minister said such things as, "Does this mean Japan should transform the SDF into an organization that launches intercontinental ballistic missiles?" This is nothing but an electioneering tactic to affix a "hawk" label to the LDP under Abe and unnecessarily stir up voters' anxieties.

On the other hand, the previous DPJ manifesto's reference to planned discussions on revisions to the Constitution has vanished from its policy pledges for the coming election. This gives the strong impression that the party has retreated from its position three years ago, when it called for "free and unrestricted constitutional debate."

Given that the DPJ initiated the latest debate over the "defense military force," it must present its policy for defining the SDF and the right to self-defense in the Constitution.

We hope the election campaign will feature lively debate on whether the right to collective self-defense can be exercised, and how the SDF should conduct its international activities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 28, 2012)
(2012年11月28日01時23分  読売新聞)


韓国大統領選 対日・「北」政策を注視したい

2012-11-29 03:21:39 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 28, 2012)
How will S. Korea's presidential election affect ties with Japan?
韓国大統領選 対日・「北」政策を注視したい(11月27日付・読売社説)

South Korea's presidential election campaign has officially kicked off. Voting is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Under the current Lee Myung Bak administration, the country's relations with North Korea and Japan have become severely strained. Will the new administration be able to rectify this situation? The outcome of the race will definitely affect Japan's future.

The election, the first in five years, is expected to be a virtual head-to-head battle between Park Geun Hye of the ruling Saenuri Party and Moon Jae In of the main opposition Democratic United Party. It has become a straightforward conservative versus liberal choice after independent Ahn Cheol Soo, who was considered a powerful rival, dropped out of the race. The contest is expected to be a neck-and-neck race.

Park, representing the conservative camp, seeks to become the first female president of South Korea. Her father, Park Chung Hee, made the bold decision to normalize relations with Japan and paved the way for the nation's high economic growth during his presidency.

Moon, who represents leftists whose origins can be traced back to those who served in the Kim Dae Jung administration, was imprisoned for opposing Park Chung Hee's long authoritarian rule, and has served as a human-rights lawyer and chief secretary of former President Roh Moo Hyun--Lee's predecessor.

Although Park and Moon belong to the same generation, they have contrasting careers and their policies differ widely. We should pay close attention to their verbal battles.


Economic growth main issue

The campaign's main point of contention will be economic policy.

Lee has succeeded in significantly boosting South Korea's exports through economic policies based on free trade agreements with the United States, the European Union and other countries. However, his policies have also resulted in a widening rich-poor gap. Unemployment among the younger generation also has become a persistent problem. The South Korean public has strongly criticized Lee for only focusing on big companies.

As a result, both candidates have pledged to narrow the rich-poor gap under the slogan of "economic democratization." Moon, for example, is focusing on reforming chaebols--South Korea's conglomerates--and placing more emphasis on helping ordinary workers. The two candidates will be tested on whether they can come up with concrete measures to ensure the nation's economic growth.

The second issue will be North Korea.

Moon has said he will adopt the conciliatory "Sunshine Policy" that the Kim and Roh administrations used in dealing with North Korea, indicating that he was prepared to resume large-scale food and fertilizer aid to the reclusive country. Moon also has declared he wants to hold summit talks between Seoul and Pyongyang next year.

We would like to know how Moon plans to approach North Korea to have that country abandon its nuclear development program.

Park said she would not hesitate to hold a summit meeting if it led to better ties between the two countries. However, she is taking a gradual approach on the issue, which is to deter North Korea from taking provocative actions on one hand while working on confidence building on the other. We believe her approach is more practical than Moon's.


Concern over bilateral relations

The two candidates' policies in regard to Japan are also important.

Japan-South Korea relations deteriorated rapidly after Lee's visit to the Takeshima islands and his call for an apology from the Emperor. The two candidates are in favor of rectifying strained relations with Japan, as they have talked about building "future-oriented" ties between the two countries. Park has also referred to the resumption of FTA negotiations between Japan and South Korea.

However, Park and Moon both take uncompromising attitudes against Japan on certain issues, such as Takeshima. Moon's stance is especially worrying, as he says he will no longer allow Seoul to continue "quiet diplomacy" on the issue. He also suggested he will pursue Japan's legal responsibility on the issue of so-called comfort women if he becomes president.

We are concerned that if Moon takes office, he would emulate the diplomacy of the Roh administration, which took an unyielding hard-line stance against Japan and stalled relations between the two countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 27, 2012)
(2012年11月27日01時12分  読売新聞)


社会保障 持続可能な制度へ論戦深めよ

2012-11-28 04:07:05 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 27, 2012)
Parties must deepen debate on sustainable welfare system
社会保障 持続可能な制度へ論戦深めよ(11月26日付・読売社説)


Political parties must engage in policy discussions on how to build a sustainable social security system.

The nation's population is aging quickly amid a chronically low birthrate. The present "cavalry-type" society in which every senior citizen is sustained by 2.4 people of the working population will change into a "piggyback-type" one in 30 years in which there will be only 1.3 people for every retirement-age Japanese.

If nothing is done to prevent this, the collapse of Japan's welfare system will only be a matter of time.


To help reconstruct state finances while covering rising social security costs, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito joined hands to pass the bill on integrated reform of the social security and tax systems. The centerpiece of this bill was a planned doubling of the consumption tax rate.

People's Life First and some other parties, however, want the planned tax increase rescinded. Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), on the other hand, says the social security system should not be sustained with the consumption tax." This is a questionable argument.

The DPJ, the LDP and Komeito need to elaborate on the significance of the welfare and tax system reforms during campaigning for next month's House of Representatives election.

It is disconcerting that every party tends to trumpet only support for increasing welfare benefits and lessening the burdens on the public as they try to pander to voters during the election campaign.

If welfare benefits are expanded without a clear objective, the inescapable result will be an endless rise in the consumption tax rate.


Benefit outlays must be cut

Parties have a responsibility to explain how they will cap social security benefits.

The revised National Pension Law enacted during the recent extraordinary Diet session was aimed at reining in pension payments. This should be applauded. The law revision will ensure pensions that had been overpaid by 2.5 percent will return to originally set levels.

To ensure pensions can be stably provided, payment levels must be lowered further in accordance with the shifting demographics and changes in wages.

Given the declining working population and erosion in wage levels caused by the sluggish economy, workers who pay pension premiums are shouldering heavier financial burdens. This will widen the generational gap in pension payments and make it inevitable that younger generations will receive smaller payments compared with their contribution of premiums and taxes. This will make it difficult to maintain the pension system.

We urge the parties to also discuss how to expand the application of the corporate employees pension plan to nonregular workers, who have been increasing sharply, and what can be done for people who receive small pensions or none at all.

In its effort to overhaul the pension system, the DPJ calls for establishing a guaranteed minimum pension payment. If this minimum monthly payment of 70,000 yen is to be covered by tax revenue, the consumption tax will have to be increased by up to another 6.2 percentage points. The likelihood that this proposal will be implemented is low.

The draft of the DPJ campaign platform for the upcoming election does not mention any concrete figure for the minimum pension payment, apparently a reaction to the criticism it received on this issue.

On the other hand, the LDP and Komeito want the current system maintained, but neither has shown enough concrete steps to keep it intact.

We urge each party to present its vision for the public pension system and ways to improve it.


Health insurance facing crisis

As baby boomers will be 75 or older in 2025, demand for health and nursing care will rise. It can safely be said that the improvement of at-home medical and nursing care and the upgrading of nursing care facilities are needed urgently.

The DPJ asserts that the medical insurance system for elderly people 75 or older should be abolished, and people in this age group transferred to the national health insurance program.

But this medical insurance system has taken root, and there is little need to ax it.

The LDP claims "the current system will be the base" of its plans. But some points need to be corrected.

Due to the sizable contributions paid to the medical insurance system for the elderly, the finances of health insurance programs have fallen into a critical state. One such case is the National Health Insurance Association, which chiefly covers workers at small and midsize companies and their families.

Each party needs to think harder about how the current system can be reviewed.

Time is of the essence for abolishing a special measure limiting out-of-pocket payments for medical bills people aged 70 to 74 pay to 10 percent of the total, and raising the limit to 20 percent as prescribed by law.

Medical costs have been creeping up partly because elderly patients often have medical consultations and checks at more than one institution and receive duplicate medication, and due to soaring dispensing fees. These costs must be brought down to reasonable levels.

Nursing care services are also being provided to some people whose need for it is not so pressing. Issues that need to be discussed include whether the out-of-pocket burdens of nursing care service bills should be raised and making sure people who need these services most are given priority.


Roles of new council

Our society also needs to do more to rectify the low birthrate. The total fertility rate--the average number of children each woman has in her lifetime--was just 1.39 in 2011.

Under the comprehensive reform of the social security and tax systems, 700 billion yen of the revenue generated by the consumption tax increase will be allocated to child-rearing support. It is also important to consider how to find money for steps to boost the birthrate. The nation will still spend less on this than European countries do.


The soon-to-be established national council on social security system reform will have crucial roles to play. It needs to discuss how to build a solid social security system and to prepare ways to hold down benefit payments.

Unless the social security system is stable, people will remain anxious about their future. Regardless of which party holds power, it should maintain the current system while making modifications to accommodate the changing state of society. With this in mind, we hope each party will take part in constructive debates on this matter.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 26, 2012)
(2012年11月26日01時20分  読売新聞)


エネルギー政策 「脱原発」の大衆迎合を排せ

2012-11-27 05:27:25 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 26, 2012)
Parties should base N-policies on realism, not popular emotions
エネルギー政策 「脱原発」の大衆迎合を排せ(11月25日付・読売社説)


How should Japan achieve a stable supply of power, which is indispensable for people's livelihoods and economic growth? Energy policies will become a major issue in the House of Representatives election to be held Dec. 16.

Nuclear power policies by the ruling and opposition parties have come under the spotlight due to the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

It will be difficult to resolve many issues facing Japan, a country poor in natural resources, if the nation is divided simply between two camps--those seeking the abandonment of nuclear power and those wanting to keep it. All parties should hold in-depth discussions on the issue from various points of view, ranging from the economy and employment to the global environment and nuclear nonproliferation.


The Fukushima crisis has resulted in the public becoming increasingly anxious over the safety of nuclear reactors. The government has to take all possible measures to boost their safety and prevent a similar crisis from occurring.

Considering that Japan's self-sufficiency in energy stands at just 4 percent, it is unrealistic for the nation to immediately abandon nuclear power, which supplies about 30 percent of the nation's electricity.

The nation's system for supplying electricity--often described as the "lifeblood of the economy"--would be weakened if the government gets emotionally carried away by attempts to ditch nuclear power generation. Such a stance could create problems for the nation's economy in the future.

In campaigning for the election, each party should be aware that Japan stands at a crossroads in making an important choice--so should voters in casting their ballots.

It is a cause of concern that so many parties advocate denuclearization. We suspect they are just making policy promises that appeal to voters to win more support by taking advantage of people's anxiety over nuclear power generation.


DPJ's irresponsible pledge

When compiling its manifesto for the upcoming general election, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan reportedly will include a target of "zero nuclear power plants" operating in the 2030s--a policy stated by the government's Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment. However, this strategy is flawed, because it fails to take into account the serious blow denuclearization would have on the nation's economy, and it is troubling that the DPJ would base a campaign pledge on it.

Under the zero-nuclear power policy by the DPJ-led government, most nuclear power reactors' operations have remained suspended. Moreover, Japan's national wealth has been flowing out of the country at a rate of 3 trillion yen every year because of a surge of imports of liquefied natural gas and other fuel at a time when power suppliers are walking on a tightrope by operating aging thermal power plants at full capacity.

Japan's industrial hollowing-out is accelerating as more and more companies move their factories overseas. This has had a serious impact on the nation's employment. However, the DPJ has done insufficient soul-searching over its own political missteps in the electricity field.

Shinzo Abe, president of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, has criticized the DPJ as "really irresponsible" by proposing a zero-nuclear power policy. It is reasonable for the LDP--as a party aiming to return to power--to make clear in its campaign platform that an LDP government would take responsibility in reactivating nuclear reactors once their safety has been scientifically proved.

However, the LDP's election platform states that the nation's energy source structure for mid- and long terms should be mapped out in the next 10 years. This shows it badly lacks a sense of urgency.

The party must hammer out a clear-cut approach to effectively utilizing nuclear power generation. At the same time, it is essential to study ways to adequately dispose of radioactive waste.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which showed how eager it was to form a "third political force" to take on the DPJ and the LDP when it merged with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara's Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party), made the right decision by saying it would abandon its policy of "eliminating nuclear power generation altogether in the 2030s."

However, Ishin no Kai's new energy platform, which calls for nothing more than "building a new supply-demand framework of energy," is regrettably equivocal.


Renewable resources can't fill bill

Other parties, such as People's Life First and the Japanese Communist Party, have argued for the immediate or early cessation of the nation's nuclear power generation.

Foes of nuclear power generation have insisted this country's need for electricity can be met without nuclear power plants on the ground that there was no blackout during the peak power consumption period in summer. Their argument, however, ignores such adverse consequences as the decline in the nation's production and hikes in electricity rates.

The parties calling for the abandonment of nuclear power generation lack sincerity if they fail to explain to the voters the negative impacts that would accompany such a move.

As alternative sources of energy, most parties have stressed the importance of such renewable energy sources as solar power and wind power.

Although we would like to see the proliferation of such resources, renewable energy sources, with the exception of hydroelectric power generation, currently account for little more than 1 percent of the country's entire electricity output. It is far too optimistic to believe renewable energy sources would grow into a major source of electricity large enough in the near future to replace nuclear power generation.

The dearth of electricity, at least for now, cannot help but be addressed by the augmentation of thermal power generation using such fuels as coal and LNG.

It is nothing but an expedient, opportunist line of argument to advocate the abandonment of nuclear power while failing to mention such environmental problems as increases in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution due to an expansion of thermal power generation.

The lessons left behind by the two "oil shocks" in the 1970s and early 1980s, in which Japan, heavily dependent on oil for power generation, could have faced blackouts. It is imperative to secure a wide range of energy alternatives, including nuclear power generation.


Diplomatic, security ramifications

The zero-nuclear power policy of the government and the DPJ has puzzled the United States and European countries as it appears to contradict the government's stance of promoting at the same time the nation's nuclear fuel recycling program.

Washington, for that matter, has expressed strong concern that impediments may arise to ensuring the peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear nonproliferation.

This is because spent nuclear fuel, if unused for power generation purposes after being reprocessed, would continue to be amassed, meaning that Japan's stockpile of plutonium, which can be diverted for the production of nuclear weapons, would keep increasing.

There could even be a possibility of this country losing both the special right to stockpile plutonium as stipulated by the Japan-U.S. Nuclear Power Cooperation Agreement and the nation's status as a partner of the United States in its nuclear policy in Asia.

From the standpoint of the nation's diplomatic and security priorities, the irresponsible argument for eliminating nuclear power generation must be abandoned.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 25, 2012)
(2012年11月25日01時19分  読売新聞)


アジア経済連携 TPPテコに日本が主導せよ

2012-11-26 03:47:32 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 25, 2012)
Japan should take lead in regional trade pacts
アジア経済連携 TPPテコに日本が主導せよ(11月24日付・読売社説)

New initiatives have been launched to create two huge free trade blocs in Asia. Japan will face a test as to whether it can work out a strategy to expedite such moves to boost its economic growth.

In Phnom Penh, 16 countries--Japan, Australia, China, India, New Zealand, South Korea and the 10 members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations--announced the start of negotiations under a regional comprehensive economic partnership (RCEP).

The 16 nations are scheduled to begin the negotiations in early 2013 and aim to conclude terms, such as on tariff cuts and partial liberalization of investment in the region, by the end of 2015.

The combined gross domestic products of the RCEP nations total 20 trillion dollars, accounting for 30 percent of the global economy. This trade initiative is based on a vision Japan proposed. It would be significant to create a free trade zone that would include new economic giants China and India.

Hopes are high for the RCEP because the outcome of its negotiations could help Japanese companies expand their exports. The firms could also find it easier to develop international supply chains, which would link their production bases at home and in the RCEP region. This could pave the way for them to exploit Asia's dynamics to shore up their businesses.


Trilateral talks start next year

Japan, China and South Korea have also agreed to start trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations next year.

Japan and China remain in a state of confrontation over the Senkaku Islands, while Japan's relationship with South Korea has become tense over the Takeshima islands. It is reasonable for the Japanese government to separate such territorial rows from trade issues and enter the negotiations, giving priority to the economy. We hope the government will seek early trade agreements.

The launch of negotiations under these two trade frameworks was apparently prompted by China's concerns. Beijing appears to be wary about the strategy of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to increase his country's influence in Asia by promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership multinational free trade talks.

To counter the TPP framework, which excludes China, Beijing has made its stance clear that it will push for the RCEP and the trilateral FTA, which do not involve the United States.

Apart from these, China has also agreed to create a free trade bloc under a framework, called the Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which comprises 21 members such as Japan, China and the Untied States.


U.S., China rivalry to intensify

The FTAAP has no clear prospects. In the meantime, the tug-of-war between the United States, which is focusing on the TPP, and China, which is attempting to make the RCEP central to the region's economic activities, is expected to intensify.

Meanwhile, Japan has come under pressure over its trade policies. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has repeatedly said his government "will pursue the TPP, the FTA among Japan, China and South Korea and the RCEP at the same time."

First of all, Japan should speed up work to join the TPP talks as early as possible. The government then should use the TPP participation as a catalyst to proceed with negotiations for the RCEP and the trilateral FTA for the nation's benefit. We also hope Japan will win the terms it is seeking in the TPP negotiations.

Amid competition between the United States and China, Japan needs to take the initiative in forming economic partnerships in Asia while protecting its interests.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 24, 2012)
(2012年11月24日01時34分  読売新聞)