2012回顧・日本 再生への希望が芽生えた年

2012-12-31 06:24:35 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 30, 2012)
Positive events in 2012 set stage for nation's recovery
2012回顧・日本 再生への希望が芽生えた年(12月29日付・読売社説)

Many readers must have gained hope and courage from the bright news stories of 2012.

Among this year's top 10 domestic news stories selected by Yomiuri Shimbun readers, the awarding of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Kyoto University Prof. Shinya Yamanaka headed the list. The opening of Tokyo Skytree ranked second, followed by the winning of a record number of medals by Japanese athletes at the London Olympics.

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells developed by Yamanaka have contributed greatly to medical progress toward realizing the regeneration of damaged organs.

However, after it was announced he had won the award, Yamanaka said, "I haven't saved even one patient yet [with my iPS technology]." The professor's humble and sincere attitude favorably impressed many people.

Tokyo Skytree has attracted 28 million visitors in the six months since it opened to the public in May. The 634-meter Skytree is the world's tallest free-standing broadcast tower.

If Tokyo Tower, the second-tallest tower in Japan, is a symbol of Japan's past rapid economic growth, what will the popular Tokyo Skytree come to symbolize?


Good news in sports

Japanese athletes won a record 38 medals--including seven gold medals--at the Summer Olympic Games held in London. In women's wrestling, Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho grabbed their third consecutive Olympic golds. And many female athletes such as members of the Nadeshiko Japan women's soccer team and volleyball and table tennis players performed superbly.

In eighth place on the list of top 10 domestic stories was the Yomiuri Giants' winning of the Japan Series, marking the team's first championship in three years and its 22nd overall.

Meanwhile, Hideki Matsui, who had been a Giants slugger for many years, announced his retirement Thursday. Matsui hit a total of 507 home runs while playing for the Giants, the New York Yankees and other major league teams, and won the World Series MVP award with the Yankees in 2009. Fans will take his dynamic batting style deep into their hearts.

The general election held in December, which resulted in the inauguration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet, ranked fourth on the list of top 10 stories. Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promised the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito he would dissolve the House of Representatives "sometime soon" in return for their cooperation in passing bills related to the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems, which ranked 16th in the list of top domestic news stories. Noda kept his promise and dissolved the lower house, but his Democratic Party of Japan suffered a crushing defeat in the general election.


Change in government

The defeat ended the DPJ-led government's rule, which had lasted three years and three months.

The DPJ-led administration caused confusion in management of such national issues as the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, and its election pledges fell through. Many voters must have concluded the DPJ was not qualified to run the country. Prime Minister Abe is expected to draft and carry out realistic polices, and to stably run the government.

In fifth place on the list was the deterioration of Japan-China relations resulting from Japan's nationalization of some of the Senkaku Islands. For instance, anti-Japanese demonstrators rioted and stormed Japanese firms in China. Improvement of the bilateral ties is a priority issue for the Abe Cabinet.

The collapse of ceiling panels in the Chuo Expressway's Sasago Tunnel in December, which killed nine people, ranked 7th. Aging infrastructure in the nation should be revamped as soon as possible.

We would like to see 2013 become the turning point in the nation's steady recovery.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 29, 2012)
(2012年12月29日01時20分  読売新聞)


安倍外交 日米「基軸」で隣国関係改善を

2012-12-30 05:17:32 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 29, 2012)
Use pact with U.S. as linchpin to improve ties with neighbors
安倍外交 日米「基軸」で隣国関係改善を(12月28日付・読売社説)


A little more than three years of administration by the Democratic Party of Japan has knocked Japan's diplomacy into a serious tailspin. How can it get back on course?

This is a task of great importance that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must address with everything in its power.

Abe is scheduled to make a trip to the United States as early as January to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama. The prime minister's visit to Washington appears in line with Abe's belief that strengthening the alliance between Japan and the United States should be the first step toward reconstructing relations with its neighbors, such as China and South Korea.

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama threw the issue of relocating functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture off course, causing confusion and disruption in Japan-U.S. ties.

As though availing themselves of the mix-up, China, South Korea and Russia have each tried to knock Japan off balance over territorial problems.

Such is the common perception among people concerned with diplomatic issues regarding Japan's foreign policy situation.


Create a road map for security

The problem is how to hammer out and implement specific measures for beefing up the Japan-U.S. alliance.

In its platform for the latest House of Representatives election, the Liberal Democratic Party incorporated such pledges as enabling Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense and again revising the Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines.

Both are tasks of key significance that the Abe administration must accomplish. Setting an order of priority for steadily tackling them will help to resolidify the Tokyo-Washington alliance.

Expansion of the defense budget, which has been shrinking for 10 consecutive years, is a matter of urgency. The Abe Cabinet should take this into account in compiling a state budget for fiscal 2013.

Regarding the planned defense guideline revision for bolstering cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military, bilateral consultations should be started at an early date to jointly study specifics.

Under the divided Diet, in which the ruling coalition controls the lower house but lacks a majority in the House of Councillors, it will be hard for the government to pass the set of bills Abe envisions to create a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council.

However, given that the opposition DPJ also has an idea similar to Abe's, the government would be well advised to call for joint consultations on the matter between the ruling and opposition blocs.

But when it comes to solving the collective self-defense right issue, it will be difficult to bridge the gaps in views between the LDP, its coalition partner New Komeito and the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. It would be realistic for the government to place priority first on deepening discussions within the ruling camp by setting a goal of accomplishing the task after next summer's upper house election.

When Abe visits the United States, the issue of Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact will certainly be high on the agenda. To ensure Japan's national interests are not marred, the government must be determined to take part in the TPP talks as early as possible.

The Futenma problem, which has remained stalled for many years, is now heading into a crucial stretch.

Construction of an alternative facility for the Futenma Air Station can never be undertaken without permission from Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima for land reclamation required for the project.

It is of especially high importance for the government to obtain understanding from a wider range of local people to create an environment in which it would be easier for Nakaima--who has been calling for Futenma's "relocation outside our prefecture"--to change his mind in favor of relocating it within the prefecture.

Relations between Japan and China have been tense ever since the government decision in September to nationalize some of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

An abnormal situation ensued, with Chinese government surveillance ships sailing in waters close to the Senkakus day after day.


Seek mutual benefit with China

Of course, Japan should not make any concession to China on its territorial sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. Even so, it would be seriously detrimental to the interests of both sides if the entire bilateral relationship is kept in a stalemate by this issue alone.

When Abe visited China six years ago, he succeeded in reaching an agreement with China to build a "mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests" by refraining from making a definitive statement on whether he had visited or would visit Yasukuni Shrine. There must be a way to achieve a breakthrough even on diplomatic issues that are difficult to solve, if they are included as part of a wider scope of negotiations.

This time, for instance, the government could make the Senkaku issue a subject for continued discussion, while it seeks a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests. Through such an approach to negotiations, Japan can aim at reaching a comprehensive agreement with the Xi Jinping administration. The Japanese government must mobilize all of its wisdom to do so.

For that purpose, it would be realistic for the government to shelve for the time being hard-line measures such as the "permanent stationing of government officials" on the Senkaku Islands, raised by the LDP in its list of policy measures to be studied.

"Assertive diplomacy," the slogan Abe raised on dealing with issues including territorial problems, is far better than "unassertive diplomacy." However, it will be meaningless if making assertions becomes an end unto itself.

What the new administration should aim at is a "diplomacy that produces achievements" through both hard and soft measures, sometimes seeking ways to solve problems in a levelheaded manner.

The government must also hasten improvements of relations with South Korea.

The change in administration from President Lee Myung Bak, who defiantly set foot on the Takeshima islands, which are Japanese territory, to Park Geun Hye is a good chance to improve bilateral ties. We think it is quite appropriate that Abe is thinking about sending a special envoy to Park.

To effectively face North Korea, which has been continuing its nuclear weapons development program, and China, which has been pursuing the road to military superpower status, close cooperation with South Korea, in addition to the United States, is indispensable.


Seek progress on abduction issue

Concerning Japan's relations with North Korea, scheduled bureau chief-level talks were postponed due to the North's ballistic missile launch this month.

To end the deadlock over the problem of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea, it is essential for the government to convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the first secretary of the country's Workers' Party of Korea, that Japan is a country worth negotiating with.

With the opportunity presented by the transition from the DPJ-led administration, which had produced various kinds of confusion and turmoil, to the Abe administration, the government must strengthen its calls on North Korea along with a "dialogue and pressure" approach.

In relations with Russia, the government intends to dispatch former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who has close relations with President Vladimir Putin, to Russia around February, with an eye toward Abe's visit to the country later on.

Putin places importance on relations with Japan and has a zeal to solve the northern territories issue. It is important for Japan to advance both the territorial issue and cooperation on energy through repeated dialogues at various levels.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 28, 2012)
(2012年12月28日01時30分  読売新聞)


第2次安倍内閣 危機突破へ政権の総力挙げよ

2012-12-29 04:23:12 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 28, 2012)
Abe must work wholeheartedly to lead nation out of crisis
第2次安倍内閣 危機突破へ政権の総力挙げよ(12月27日付・読売社説)


Defeating deflation, continuing with post-disaster reconstruction, overhauling nuclear power policy, and rebuilding foreign policy--Japan is faced with many challenges.
However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's determination to resolve these issues was reflected in his choice of Cabinet ministers.

The second Abe Cabinet was formed Wednesday, making Abe the second politician since the end of World War II to make a comeback as prime minister, following Shigeru Yoshida (1878-1967).

"I would like to gain the trust of the public by producing results as soon as possible," Abe said at a press conference after being elected prime minister.

Abe's first Cabinet broke up five years ago after only a short period in office. Has he learned from the bitter experience? The spotlight is now on whether he can put his policies into practice.

Abe has said his Cabinet's reason for being is to "break through the national crisis." We hope the new prime minister can lead the nation out of the dead end it has found itself in.


Use bureaucrats to full potential

Political heavyweights including former Prime Minister Taro Aso, former Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki and former New Komeito Chief Representative Akihiro Ota gained spots in the Cabinet alongside midranking and junior lawmakers close to Abe, such as Takumi Nemoto, the new state minister for disaster reconstruction.

Abe built his Cabinet around a close confidant in choosing former LDP Acting Secretary General Yoshihide Suga as chief cabinet secretary. Hiroshige Seko, another Abe ally and former chairman of the LDP Policy Board in the House of Councillors, was appointed deputy chief secretary. Isao Iijima, who served as parliamentary secretary under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, was made a special adviser to the Cabinet.

His appointments in the Cabinet Secretariat show Abe's desire to strengthen the collective power of his administration based on the leadership of the Cabinet Office, as well as to enhance the office's crisis-management capabilities.

The administrations led by the Democratic Party of Japan sailed under the slogan "politics led by politicians," but they failed to understand the true meaning of the phrase. The Abe administration must make a clear distinction between it and the DPJ administrations by making use of the bureaucracy.
We ask Abe to exploit the full potential of the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats.

The Abe Cabinet's top priority will be reviving the economy. Cabinet ministers who are expected to play a central role in this include Aso, who is deputy prime minister, finance minister and state minister for financial services; Akira Amari, state minister for economic revitalization; and Toshimitsu Motegi, the economy, trade and industry minister.

All three are known as expert policymakers and have chaired the party's Policy Research Council. We hope they will swiftly draw up effective measures to jump-start the economy.


Govt bodies to revive economy

The new administration needs to steadily raise the consumption tax rate to obtain enough revenue to fund social security programs. However, the administration must first compile a supplementary budget large enough to buoy the economy, which is showing signs of further decline.

Abe has said he will revive the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, a government panel that was idled under the DPJ, and establish a new body tentatively named Japan's economic revitalization headquarters. The prime minister must steer these two organs effectively so they can play a leading role in economic policy.

The administration of former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda pledged to achieve "zero nuclear power" in the 2030s, a policy that endangers the stability of the power supply and will accelerate the hollowing-out of the domestic industrial sector. We urge the Abe administration to annul this policy and come up with practical nuclear and energy policies.

With our society graying, birthrate low and population decreasing, shrinkage of domestic demand is unavoidable for the medium term. Japan must join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework to spur economic growth.

We have high hopes that Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi will play a pivotal role in enhancing the international competitiveness of the agriculture industry, a necessary part of preparing to further open the domestic market.

It is also essential for the Abe administration to improve the nation's aging infrastructure and implement disaster-management measures. Keiji Furuya, state minister for disaster management, will be in charge of "strengthening national land"--one of the key policies of the new Cabinet.

Needless to say, it should not be forgotten that the nation's finances have been seriously dependent on borrowing. The Abe Cabinet has to come up with effective methods of public investment so that we will not pass on any further heavy burdens to future generations.

To make the nation's social security system sustainable, it is inevitable to cut benefit payments. Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura will be tested on handling the issue as a social security expert.

The post of foreign minister has been assumed by Fumio Kishida, a former state minister for Okinawa Prefecture affairs. Progress will not be made on the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in the prefecture unless Kishida can restore trust with the prefecture, a condition that was seriously damaged by the administration of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama from the DPJ.

It is reasonable for Abe to appoint Kishida as foreign minister, as he is knowledgeable on situations facing Okinawa Prefecture and is said to have a relationship of trust with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.

Named as defense minister was Itsunori Onodera, former parliamentary senior vice minister for foreign affairs.

Over the dispute on the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, China has sent not only its vessels to intrude into Japanese waters, but also an airplane to violate the nation's airspace. Dealing with China--which has been seeking to expand its economic and military might--is the Abe Cabinet's top priority in the diplomatic and security field.

The new prime minister has to establish a flexible, shrewd strategy by working closely with Kishida and Onodera.


LDP seeks to renew itself

Meanwhile, the lineup of the LDP's new party leadership is attracting attention as two of its three key executives posts have been given to women: Sanae Takaichi has been named chairwoman of the Policy Research Council, while Seiko Noda has been given the post of chairwoman of the General Council.

The appointments aim to make the two women part of the face of the party along with Shigeru Ishiba--who is being retained as secretary general and is especially popular in less urban areas--for the upcoming upper house election next summer. Abe said the changes in the LDP can be signaled by the two female members assuming the key posts.

However, such an image alone cannot help restore public confidence in the LDP. The party is urged to make further efforts and assume a humble attitude to move the nation's politics forward. Otherwise, the LDP could follow the path Abe warned of: "We'll become a cheap, old LDP as soon as we begin to rely only on party traditions."

The Diet remains divided until the next upper house election. The LDP, Komeito and the DPJ should maintain their framework of cooperation regarding the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.

We are fed up with political indecisiveness. We hope Abe will manage his government in a different way than previous administrations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2012)
(2012年12月27日01時09分  読売新聞)


自公連立合意 TPP先送りなら国益損ねる

2012-12-28 04:54:11 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 27, 2012)
Delay in joining TPP talks will harm national interests
自公連立合意 TPP先送りなら国益損ねる(12月26日付・読売社説)

If the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito truly attach importance to the nation's best interests, they must not delay in deciding to participate in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade agreement.

LDP President Shinzo Abe and Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi met Tuesday to sign an agreement on forming a coalition government. Their accord covers eight areas, including economic stimulus, diplomacy and security policies.

The agreement says the coalition government "will promote free trade more than ever," but on the TPP specifically it stipulates that the new administration "will pursue the course that best serves the national interests."

In their campaign platforms for the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election, both the LDP and Komeito took a cautious stance on the TPP issue. The LDP said it "opposes taking part in the TPP talks if they are premised on abolishing tariffs without exception." Komeito said it "will create an environment [in the Diet] where full deliberations can take place."

The coalition agreement is a positive development if it leaves some room for participating in the talks.

Eleven countries, including the United States and Australia, are trying to reach an agreement on the TPP by the end of next year. Japan failed to decide to join the TPP talks and fell behind Canada and Mexico.

Participating in the TPP talks would be an effective means to help the national economy grow through free trade, and strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.


No time for caution

Some LDP members are eager to enter the TPP negotiations, pushing for the incoming government to announce Japan's participation during a visit by the prime minister to the United States early next year. However, others remain cautious, calling for a decision to be delayed until after the House of Councillors election next summer out of fear that the party may lose the farm vote.

We understand the LDP wants to focus on "driving safely" at least until the upper house poll, but it must remember that inaction that could delay joining the TPP talks reduces the country's say in trade and investment rules, which could harm the national interests.

When it comes to a trade agreement, Japan can opt for pulling out of the negotiations or eventually rejecting the accord in the Diet if it is determined to go against the national interests. Assuming only bad scenarios even before joining the talks is not constructive. We urge the incoming government to announce at an early date that Japan will join the TPP negotiations.


Keep taxes simple

The coalition agreement states that discussions will be held on introducing reduced tax rates for food and other necessities as a measure to help low-income earners when the planned consumption tax hike goes into effect. This was a concession by the LDP to Komeito.

Such a system is simpler and clearer, as well as easier to understand than the Japanese version of the earned income tax credit proposed by the Democratic Party of Japan-led administraion. Applying the reduced tax rates to newspapers and books would help protect intellectual culture. We urge the LDP and Komeito to discuss and overcome problems such as how to decide what items should be subject to reduced tax rates.

On nuclear energy policy, the coalition agreement did not adopt the "zero-nuclear policy," which was in Komeito's election pledges, but instead called for the use of nuclear power for the time being. It said the coalition government "will reduce the nation's dependence on nuclear power plants."

We commend the agreement for its realism, which will allow nuclear reactors to be reactivated once they have been confirmed safe.

Abe has said he would review the DPJ-led administration's policy of not approving the construction of new nuclear power plants. It is essential to minimize negative impacts on the economy and employment, while also ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 26, 2012)
(2012年12月26日01時25分  読売新聞)


健保財政悪化 医療費負担の世代格差是正を

2012-12-27 04:45:15 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 26, 2012)
Intergenerational fairness in medical expenses needed
健保財政悪化 医療費負担の世代格差是正を(12月25日付・読売社説)

The fiscal conditions of public health insurance programs for corporate employees have worsened, resulting in an increase in insurance premiums. This is attributable to the huge expense in providing medical services for elderly people. The working generation should not have to bear an even heavier burden.

Medical expenses for people aged 65 or older are covered by premiums and medical fees paid by elderly people themselves, as well as contributions from public coffers, health insurance societies and other entities. The contributions rose sharply with the launch of a new health care system for elderly people in 2008, causing many health insurance societies to fall into the red.

Due to this dire financial situation, health insurance societies have no choice but to raise insurance premiums shouldered both by employers and employees. The Japan Health Insurance Association (Kyokai Kempo), to which employees of small and midsize companies belong, has raised the premium rate from 8.2 percent to 10 percent. Health insurance societies of larger companies also raised their rates from a range of between 7 percent and 8 percent to an average 8.3 percent.

Baby boomers began turning 65 this year, and medical expenses for elderly people are expected to grow. There are fears that premium rates will continue to be raised endlessly.


Heavier burden for elderly

This would impose a heavy burden on corporate managements and slash the net wages of employees, with the resulting adverse effects on the nation's economy and consumption.

To prevent this from happening, we believe it is inevitable to have senior citizens shoulder a more appropriate portion of the burden.

Fees paid at medical institutions by patients aged 70 to 74 are set by law at 20 percent of their medical bills, but in reality remain at 10 percent. This is attributable to the government response to harsh criticism from then opposition Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama and others on the newly introduced health insurance system for those aged 75 or older. The opposition at that time used the new system for their own political benefits, criticizing it as "ubasuteyama," a folklore term meaning abandonment of old people in the mountains.

Such criticism missed the point as the new system was designed to have the working generation bear much of the expense. However, then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's Cabinet, fearing a backlash from elderly people, took special measures to keep the level of the burden on those aged 70 to 74 the same as for those 75 or older.

We suggest the special measures be abolished, so those aged 70 to 74 pay 20 percent of their medical expenses at medical institutions as stipulated by law. Consideration also should be given to raising the current 10 percent of the burden paid by those aged 75 or older at medical institutions.

What is important is to curb the continuing rise in medical spending.


Introduce medical data system

A number of elderly people who suffer from more than one illness visit many medical specialists, resulting in a duplication in consultations, tests and medication in many cases.

We think information on individual patients that is maintained by each medical institution should be collected under a unified management system so overlapping medical services can be eliminated. We also suggest the early introduction of a new personal identification number system, called My Number. It is indispensable to nurture general medical practitioners who can treat a variety of diseases so that duplicating medical examinations can be avoided.

Drug costs also should be reduced by using, in principle, cheaper generic drugs.

The policy pledges of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, which are set to return to power, included such proposals as making medical treatment for young children free, which would result in further increases in medical spending. We are concerned these measures will make the current health insurance system unsustainable.

Given the graying of society, it is inevitable to increase public spending on medicine for elderly people. To secure fiscal resources, increases in the consumption tax rate must proceed as planned.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 25, 2012)
(2012年12月25日01時17分  読売新聞)