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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Rising Sun’

Leaders of Japan, China, SKorea agree to cooperate on NKorea

May 09, 2018

TOKYO (AP) — China, Japan and South Korea agreed Wednesday to cooperate on ending North Korea’s nuclear program and promoting free trade, two hot-button issues challenging their region. The agreements came at the first summit for the Northeast Asian neighbors after a hiatus of more than two years, bringing together Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Abe said they discussed how they can get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, but he didn’t provide any details. China and Japan, in particular, have differences over how best to achieve North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.

The meeting comes amid a flurry of developments on the Korean Peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Moon on April 27 and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this week, in a surprise visit to the Chinese coastal city of Dalian. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, early Wednesday to finalize details of a summit planned between President Donald Trump and Kim.

“We must lead the ongoing momentum toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and achieve peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” Abe told a joint news conference in Tokyo. Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said the three leaders also agreed to work toward two free trade agreements, a free trade pact among themselves and the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with Southeast Asian nations.

Trump has threatened all three countries with tariffs in a bid to seek trade concessions from them. His moves have raised fears of a trade war between the U.S. and China. Li, the No. 2 official in China after President Xi Jinping, said earlier that free trade is a good way to promote a global economic recovery.

“We are willing to work with Japan and South Korea to jointly maintain regional stability and push forward the development of the three countries,” he said before the meeting started. The leaders also agreed to hold trilateral summits on regular basis and set up a secretariat. The summits, which started in 2008, are supposed to be held annually, but Wednesday’s was the first since November 2015.

Analysts say Japan is trying to showcase improved ties and cooperation with China and South Korea so its views will be represented in any negotiations with North Korea. Abe reiterated Japan’s position that it would normalize ties with North Korea only if the latter took concrete steps toward abandoning its nuclear and missile programs and resolved the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents.

Japan’s leader was to hold talks separately with Moon and Li later Wednesday. Japanese officials said they plan to propose a free and peaceful East China Sea, but do not plan to raise contentious issues such as South Korean “comfort women” forced to provide sex to Japan’s wartime military.

Moon is to leave Japan after half a day. After that, Abe will host a dinner and lunch for Li and join him on the northern island of Hokkaido on the final day of his four-day Japan visit. Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said they want to improve Japan’s strained relations with China, with the eventual goal of realizing a visit by Xi.

While Japan, China and South Korea are closely linked economically, anti-Japanese sentiment runs deep in China and South Korea because of territorial and historical disputes dating back to Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula and invasion of China in the first half of the 20th century.

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‘Citizen scientists’ track radiation seven years after Fukushima

Koriyama, Japan (AFP)

March 11, 2018

Beneath the elegant curves of the roof on the Seirinji Buddhist temple in Japan’s Fukushima region hangs an unlikely adornment: a Geiger counter collecting real-time radiation readings.

The machine is sending data to Safecast, an NGO born after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster that says it has now built the world’s largest radiation dataset, thanks to the efforts of citizen scientists like Seirinji’s priest Sadamaru Okano.

Like many Japanese, Okano lost faith in the government after the nuclear meltdown seven years ago.

“The government didn’t tell us the truth, they didn’t tell us the true measures,” he told AFP, seated inside the 150-year-old temple.

Okano was in a better position than most to doubt the government line, having developed an amateur interest in nuclear technology two decades earlier after learning about the Chernobyl disaster.

To the bemusement of friends and family, he started measuring local radiation levels in 2007, so when the disaster happened, he had baseline data.

“The readings were so high… 50 times higher than natural radiation,” he said of the post-disaster data.

“I was amazed… the news was telling us there was nothing, the administration was telling us there was nothing to worry about.”

That dearth of trustworthy information was the genesis of Safecast, said co-founder Pieter Franken, who was in Tokyo with his family when the disaster hit.

Franken and several friends had the idea of gathering data by attaching Geiger counters to cars and driving around.

“Like how Google does Street View, we could do something for radiation in the same way,” he said.

“The only problem was that the system to do that didn’t exist and the only way to solve that problem was to go and build it ourselves. So that’s what we did.”

– Making informed choices –

Within a week, the group had a prototype and began getting readings that suggested the 20 kilometer (12 mile) exclusion zone declared around the Fukushima plant had no basis in the data, Franken said.

“Evacuees were sent from areas with lower radiation to areas with higher radiation” in some cases, he said.

The zone was eventually redrawn, but for many local residents it was too late to restore trust in the government.

Okano evacuated his mother, wife and son while he stayed with his flock.

But a year later, based on his own readings and after decontamination efforts, he brought them back.

He learned about Safecast’s efforts and in 2013 installed one of their static counters on his temple, in part to help reassure worshipers.

“I told them: we are measuring the radiation on a daily basis… so if you access the (Safecast) website you can choose (if you think) it’s safe or not.”

Forty kilometers away, in the town of Koriyama, Norio Watanabe was supervising patiently as his giggling teenage pupils attempted to build basic versions of Safecast’s Geiger counter.

Dressed in blazers and tartan skirts, the girls pored over instructions on where to place diodes and wires.

Watanabe has been a Safecast volunteer since 2011, and has a mobile Geiger counter in his car.

In the days after the disaster evacuees flocked to Koriyama, which was outside the evacuation zone, and he assumed his town was safe.

“But after I started to do the measurements, I realized there was a high level of risk here as well,” he said.

– ‘You can’t ignore it’ –

He sent his children away, but stayed behind to look after his mother, a decision he believes may have contributed to his 2015 diagnosis with thyroid cancer.

“As a scientist, I think the chance that it was caused by the Fukushima accident might be 50-50, but in my heart, I think it was likely the cause,” he said.

His thyroid was removed and he is now healthy, but Watanabe worries about his students, who he fears “will carry risk with them for the rest of their lives.”

“If there are no people like me who continue to monitor the levels, it will be forgotten.”

Safecast now has around 3,000 devices worldwide and data from 90 countries. Its counters come as a kit that volunteers can buy through third parties and assemble at home.

Because volunteers choose where they want to measure at random and often overlap, “they validate unknowingly each other’s measurements,” said Franken, and anomalies or exceptions are checked by Safecast staff.

The NGO is now expanding into measuring air pollution, initially mostly in the US city of Los Angeles during a test phase.

Its radiation data is all open source, and has been used to study everything from the effects of fallout on wildlife to how people move around cities, said Franken.

He says Safecast’s data mostly corroborates official measurements, but provides readings that are more relevant to people’s lives.

“Our volunteers decide to measure where their schools are, where their workplaces are, where their houses are.”

And he believes Safecast has helped push Japan’s government to realize that “transparency and being open are very important to create trust.”

“The power of citizen science means that you can’t stop it and also that you can’t ignore it.”

Source: Terra Daily.

Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Citizen_scientists_track_radiation_seven_years_after_Fukushima_999.html.

Heavy snow strands 430 people overnight on train in Japan

January 12, 2018

TOKYO (AP) — About 430 people were stuck on a train overnight in Japan because of heavy snow that blanketed much of the country’s Japan Sea coast, a railway official said Friday. The train started moving again shortly before 10:30 a.m., about 15 hours after it had been forced to stop the previous evening, said Shinichi Seki, a spokesman for the Niigata branch of JR East railway company.

The four-car train departed Niigata city in heavy snow Thursday at 4:25 p.m., more than an hour behind schedule, Seki said. As the snow accumulated, the train’s wheels couldn’t turn anymore, and it stopped between stations about 7 p.m. at a railway crossing.

Officials decided it was too risky to evacuate all the passengers because of the deep snow and darkness, Seki said. The train had electricity and heat and toilets. Five passengers who said they did not feel well were taken off.

Some passengers were allowed to leave the train after sunrise with the help of railroad personnel, if family members had come to meet them. Trains continued to be delayed or suspended on Friday. Seki apologized for the major trouble caused to travelers.

Japan sets Emperor Akihito’s abdication date for April 30, 2019

By Daniel Uria

Nov. 30, 2017

Nov. 30 (UPI) — Japan’s Imperial House Council set a date for when Emperor Akihito will step down and open a path for his son to succeed him.

The panel, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, announced Friday Akihito, 83, will abdicate on April 30, 2019, and his 57-year-old son Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed him on May 1.

The Japanese Cabinet approved a bill granting Akihito to power abdicate in May of this year, after he curtailed public appearances due to his declining health.

The Imperial House Council, which consists of politicians, the judiciary and Imperial family members, initially considered setting the abdication date for December 2018, but delayed it to April to avoid scheduling issues with important year-end and New Year Imperial events.

Akihito’s younger son, Prince Akishino, was replaced on the panel by the emperor’s brother, Prince Hitachi, because he will become first in line to the throne after his father’s abdication.

Japan’s constitution defines the emperor as “the symbol of the state” and the position holds no political power.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2017/11/30/Japan-sets-Emperor-Akihitos-abdication-date-for-April-30-2019/3261512101215/.

With tensions high, Trump, Abe strengthen bond on the links

November 05, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — With a round of golf, a custom cap and a hamburger of American beef, President Donald Trump’s first trip to Asia began with a taste of home. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed Trump to Japan Sunday with an effusive display of friendship that, in the days ahead, will give way to high-stakes diplomacy. The two leaders, who have struck up an unlikely but easy rapport, shared a casual lunch and played nine holes at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, joined by professional golfer Hideki Matsuyama.

The low-key agenda was a prelude to the formal talks, a press conference and state dinner planned in Tokyo Monday. Abe will be looking for a united front against North Korea and reassurances that the U.S. will stand by its treaty obligations to defend Japan if attacked.

Eager to forge a bond with Tokyo’s crucial ally, Abe was one of the first world leaders to court President-elect Trump. He was the first to call Trump after the election, and rushed to New York days later to meet the president-elect and present him with a pricey, gold Honma golf driver. The two men also met on the sidelines of an international summit in Italy this spring and Trump hosted Abe in Florida. White House officials said Trump has spoken with Abe by phone more than any world leader, aside from British Prime Minister Theresa May.

That bond was clear on Sunday. “The relationship is really extraordinary. We like each other and our countries like each other,” Trump said Sunday night before dinner with Abe, who for this meal did show Trump traditional cuisine with a teppanyaki dinner. “And I don’t think we’ve ever been closer to Japan than we are right now.”

Trump and Abe also exchanged glowing tweets about their golf. Trump dubbed Abe and Matsuyama “wonderful people,” while Abe called it a “round of golf with a marvelous friend.” Abe told reporters after the golf session that the two could talk frankly in a relaxed atmosphere while out on the course. He said they were able to “carry out in depth discussion, at times touching on various difficult issues.” A senior White House official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said the pair had discussed trade and North Korea — but didn’t keep score.

From the time Marine One landed on the Kasumigaseki Country Club’s driving range, Abe rolled out little touches to make Trump feel welcome. He presented a hat that had a version of Trump’s campaign theme, this time reading “Donald and Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater.” The two passed up the region’s famed Kobe beef in favor of the American version, which is favored by Trump, a famed picky eater.

When Trump hosted Abe in Palm Beach earlier this year, they played at one of Trump’s Florida golf courses. For that outing, Trump brought along pro golfer Ernie Els, so this time Abe matched him by bringing along Matsuyama, whom Trump described on the plane ride to Asia as “probably the greatest player in the history of Japan.” Abe was behind the wheel of a golf cart as the two men were spotted moving from hole to hole, Trump in the passenger seat smiling and waving at those they passed.

“From the point of view of Abe administration, the personal chemistry that exists between the two leaders is seen as an asset,” said Mireya Sollis, chair in Japan Studies for the Brookings Center for East Asia Policy Studies. She said that the Japanese believe it is already “seeing it pay off,” including when Trump agreed to meet with the families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North Korean regime, an important issue for Tokyo.

Ever since Saudi Arabia delivered a lavish welcome on Trump’s first international trip, leaders have tried to outdo themselves to impress the president, who has proven susceptible to flattery. Before the game, Trump delivered a speech in which he hailed Japan as a “crucial ally” and warned adversaries not to test America’s resolve.

“Japan is a treasured partner and crucial ally of the United States and today we thank them for welcoming us and for decades of wonderful friendship between our two nations,” Trump told American and Japanese service members at Yokota Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Though Trump did not mention North Korea by name during the speech, the spectre of its weapons program will loom large throughout Trump’s five-nation Asia trip. The president warned of the consequences of crossing what he called the “most fearsome fighting force in the history of our world.”

“Together with our allies, America’s warriors are prepared to defend our nation using the full range of our unmatched capabilities. No one — no dictator, no regime and no nation — should underestimate, ever, American resolve,” he told the troops.

And while there is worry in the region about Trump’s unpredictable response to the threat posed by Kim Jong Un, Trump made clear he did not intend to tone down his bellicose rhetoric — including dubbing Kim Jong Un as “Little Rocket Man” — even while in an Asian capital within reach of the North Korea dictator’s missiles.

“There’s been 25 years of total weakness, so we are taking a very much different approach,” he said, speaking to reporters on Air Force One. Trump will also meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of an upcoming summit in Vietnam.

The easy rapport with Japan could be strained if Trump takes an aggressive approach on trade or the two men disagree on how best to approach the threat looming in Pyongyang. During his campaign, Trump suggested Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons to defend itself, hinted the U.S. might not come to the nation’s defense, and accused Japan of “killing us” on trade. He has dropped that antagonist language almost entirely since the election, but tensions remain.

Scott Seaman, a director for Asia of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultant organization, noted: “everything is fine with Trump until you tell him no. So far, Abe hasn’t told him no.”

Colvin reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers Ken Moritsugu, James Armstrong and Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.

Japan PM Abe begins new term with vow to increase North Korea pressure

By Hiroshi HIYAMA

Tokyo (AFP)

Nov 1, 2017

A newly re-elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Wednesday pledged increasing pressure on North Korea to force the nuclear-armed country to the negotiating table, days before a visit by US President Donald Trump expected to be dominated by the threat from Pyongyang.

Kicking off a fresh term in office after he was formally re-elected by parliament, Abe hailed his recent thumping election victory as a means to further squeeze a North Korean regime that has alarmed the region with missile launches and a sixth nuclear test in recent months.

“A strong mandate from the people is a source of strong diplomacy,” Abe told a press conference Wednesday, adding that a tough line could persuade Pyongyang to ask for negotiations.

“When President Trump visits Japan, we will spend sufficient time analyzing the latest North Korean issues and discussing ways to deal with them,” Abe said.

Signs of any message by Trump to the North will be closely watched during his Asian tour, which begins at the weekend and will see him visit Tokyo from Sunday through Tuesday. Trump will also visit South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

During his election campaign Abe, a staunch conservative, stressed the need for strong leadership to deal with what he called Japan’s “twin crises”: a shrinking birth rate and the actions of a belligerent and nuclear-armed North Korea, which has sent missiles over northern Japan in recent months.

– Abe’s super majority –

Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) swept to a two-thirds “super majority” in the 465-seat lower house on October 22. He was reinstated as premier by a huge majority Wednesday and then reappointed all of his cabinet ministers.

The 63-year-old is now on track to become Japan’s longest-serving premier.

Abe now has the parliamentary numbers to start a process to change Japan’s pacifist constitution — an ambition he has long cherished.

But he told reporters he will move cautiously on the divisive issue, saying that he will first seek an open discussion on the subject.

Abe also said he will improve the nation’s productivity, offer free early childhood education and expand childcare support.

Despite his October poll victory, Abe’s popularity ratings are relatively low and most observers attribute his election success to a weak and fractured opposition.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Party (DP), effectively disbanded after Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike launched a new conservative group and vowed to do away with “old school politics”.

Several DP lawmakers defected to Koike’s new “Party of Hope” and the more left-leaning MPs formed a new party, the Constitutional Democrats.

In the end, Koike’s support imploded, mainly because she failed to stand herself in the election — confusing voters who did not know who would be premier if she won.

The Party of Hope finished with a mere 50 seats while the Constitutional Democrats won 55.

They were both dwarfed by Abe’s conservative coalition, which secured 313 lower house seats, obtaining the “super majority” required to change the constitution.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Japan_PM_Abe_begins_new_term_with_vow_to_increase_North_Korea_pressure_999.html.

Japan votes for lower house; Abe’s party seen headed for win

October 22, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Voting in a general election started Sunday that would most likely hand Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s right-wing ruling coalition a victory and possibly close to a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Abe dissolved the lower house less than a month ago, forcing the snap election. He judged the timing was ripe for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or at least better than waiting until the end of its term next year.

Up for grabs are 465 seats in the more powerful lower house, which chooses the prime minister. Media polls have indicated voters are passively choosing Abe’s government despite its railroading of unfavorable bills and cronyism scandals, seeing it as a safer choice over an opposition with little or unknown track records.

Scare over North Korea’s missile and nuclear development is also seen contributing to voters’ conservative choice. Media surveys also predicted Abe’s coalition to win around 300 seats though they said it could lose some ground from the current 318 due to scandals.

Hiroshi Yamada, 82, said his vote was based on “the issues such as (a possible) war and foreign affairs,” suggesting his support for the LDP coalition amid growing concerns over North Korea. “I am supporting the political party which presents feasible policies amid the current situation.”

Makiko Yamada, who’s unrelated to the other voter, said she was bothered by Abe’s cronyism scandals. “I saw reports showing people who would help (Abe) were given high positions. It made me think twice.”

Voters were casting ballots early, apparently worried by an approaching powerful typhoon. Vote counting at a few locations in southwestern Japan may be delayed due to the weather, NHK public television reported.

Abe says he is seeking a mandate on his government’s tougher stance to defend Japan against the North’s threat and his proposed increase in the consumption tax, but experts say it’s an election about securing his rule.

An election victory would boost Abe’s chances to head LDP for another three years at the party’s convention next September. It would extend his premiership possibly to 2021 and eventually achieve his long-time goal of revising Japan’s war-renouncing postwar constitution.

In a speech in Tokyo wrapping up the 12-day campaigning Saturday night, Abe said, “We will protect Japan at all costs for the future of this country.” Support for Abe’s Cabinet has recovered thanks to the absence of parliamentary debates over political scandals during a recess.

The main opposition force, the Democratic Party, was in more disarray after a leadership change and a key member was slammed by an extramarital affair. Holding off on an election would only give Abe’s potential rival, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, more time to organize a challenge.

Koike hastily launched a new party to contest the vote, though she ended up not running. Her Party of Hope attracted a slew of defectors from the Democrats who converted to her populist platform including phasing out nuclear energy by 2030, and freezing of a consumption tax hike due in 2019. The initial excitement for her party has waned as Koike’s nationalist stance and policies were seen similar to those of Abe’s LDP.

The Democratic Party had imploded and its more liberal members, led by former top government spokesman Yukio Edano, launched yet another group, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, whose focus on grassroots democracy, pacifist principles and calls for “decent” politics is now outpolling the Party of Hope.

Abe’s victory would likely mean a continuation of the policies he has pursued in the nearly five years since he took office in December 2012 — a hard line on North Korea, close ties with Washington, including defense, as well as a super-loose monetary policy and push for nuclear energy.

With a possible backing from the conservative opposition, he may get the two-thirds majority he needs in parliament to propose a constitutional amendment, though any change also needs approval in a public referendum.

Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu contributed to this report.

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