英字新聞 (読売、毎日、朝日、英字新聞の社説を学習研究 )


長期金利低下 マイナスに潜む不安

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 10
EDITORIAL: BOJ's negative interest rate policy positively ineffective
(社説)長期金利低下 マイナスに潜む不安

The benchmark 10-year Japanese government bond yield on Feb. 9 fell below zero percent on the market for the first time. Is this good news or bad? Many people probably don’t know, but they certainly must be feeling anxious.

In normal transactions, the idea of negative interest rates is absurd.

Just think about it: You lend money to someone and you have to pay interest to the borrower? That’s ridiculous. You are obviously better off not lending to anyone because you at least won’t lose any money.

The ridiculous situation surrounding Japanese government bonds was caused by the Bank of Japan’s negative interest rate policy announced on Jan. 29.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda stressed that adding this negative interest rate policy to his already substantial monetary easing policy “should make for probably the most effective framework in the history of the central bank.”

In a sense, the outcome has surpassed Kuroda’s expectations. Mortgage rates, which were already historically low, have come down further, and the near-nonexistent interest rates on time deposits have shrunk even more. Financial institutions have stopped selling low-yield fund products.

But will these developments improve the Japanese economy? We believe the opposite will be the case.

Even if lending rates drop further, it is unlikely that businesses will suddenly start investing more amid sluggish domestic demand. And even if banks further lower interest rates on savings and move on to negative rates, consumers probably will not start spending more so long as their future remains uncertain.

Switzerland and Sweden have already implemented negative interest rate policies, but their economy-pumping effects have been marginal at best. In fact, there are growing fears of “side effects,” such as people keeping their money under the proverbial mattress and banks losing their earnings.

It will soon be three years since Kuroda went ahead with a “new phase” of quantitative and qualitative monetary easing in keeping with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” theory that drastic monetary easing should jump-start the anemic economy.

Although Abenomics has raised stock prices and devalued the yen against the dollar, it has brought no significant changes to the nation’s economic growth rate and consumer prices. Because of this disappointing outcome, the Bank of Japan adopted the negative interest rate policy last month.

On Feb. 9, the Nikkei 225 index fell by more than 900 points, and the yen-dollar exchange rate closed in the lower 114-yen level for the first time in 15 months. These market reactions were the opposite of what all past monetary easing policies brought, and the central bank obviously did not expect this highly irregular outcome.

If this situation continues, the Japanese economy may well become trapped in a vicious cycle of having to rely on further extreme monetary easing, with no relief in sight. An urgent review of the central bank policy is called for.


北方領土問題 首脳会談で打開の糸口を探れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Abe should find way forward on Northern Territories in talks with Putin
北方領土問題 首脳会談で打開の糸口を探れ

Russia maintains a tough, inflexible position regarding the territorial issue over the northern islands it occupies off Hokkaido. We hope the stalemate will be broken as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds more talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking at a national meeting to demand the return of the four islands on Northern Territories Day on Sunday, Abe said, “Negotiations will be conducted tenaciously to work out a final solution through a dialogue of top leaders.”

Arrangements are being made for Abe to meet with Putin in the southern Russian city of Sochi during the extended holiday period from late April to early May. Tokyo and Moscow will also attempt to determine the most appropriate time for Putin to visit Japan.

Putin’s decision on the matter is indispensable to resolving the territorial issue. Abe’s desire to seek a solution by visiting Russia is therefore understandable.

But opposition can be expected from the United States and some European countries, which are at odds with Russia over the Ukrainian situation. To realize Abe’s visit to Russia ahead of the Ise-Shima summit of the Group of Seven major powers, which will be chaired by Abe, it is essential to secure the understanding of the other G-7 leaders.

Last month, the government established a new representative post on bilateral issues with Russia and appointed Chikahito Harada, former ambassador to Russia. Harada will represent Japan at vice-ministerial meetings with Russia instead of a deputy minister for foreign affairs. The appointment is believed to be aimed at more intensively tackling the territorial issue by establishing a task force for that purpose.

Abe apparently wants to bolster security relations with Russia, thereby checking China’s increased maritime advancement and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

No ‘token of goodwill’

Russia is also wary over China’s emergence. Due to the drop in crude oil prices and the weakness of the ruble, Russia’s economy has continued to deteriorate, with its gross domestic product falling to less than one-fourth of China’s. Some people have expressed concern about the widening gap in strength between the two countries.

Whether Moscow concurs with Tokyo about the importance of improving bilateral relations in Russia’s rivalry with Beijing could be a factor in making progress on the territorial issue.

A statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a news conference in late January cannot be overlooked. “Conclusion of a peace treaty is not a synonym for resolution of the territorial issue,” he said bluntly.

Concerning the return of the Habomai group of islets and Shikokan Island, based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956, Lavrov said these islands “would be handed over as a token of goodwill, not returned.”

But since the 1993 Tokyo Declaration on Japan-Russia Relations, both governments have confirmed repeatedly that they would try “to resolve the sovereignty issue over the four islands and conclude a peace treaty.” Thus resolution of the territorial issue and conclusion of a peace treaty are inseparable.

There is no mention of “a token of goodwill” in the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration. Lavrov’s self-serving interpretation cannot be accepted.

While attempting to explore the real intention behind Putin’s reference to resolving the territorial dispute “in a draw,” the government must proceed with negotiations prudently and strategically.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 9, 2016)


北ミサイル発射 地域の安定を揺るがす暴挙だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
North Korea missile launch needs strong UNSC response
北ミサイル発射 地域の安定を揺るがす暴挙だ


North Korea’s latest missile launch has further increased the threat from that country, which is shaking the regional peace and stability. The international community must unite in its efforts to deal with the threat.

North Korea has gone ahead with launching a long-range ballistic missile under the pretext of orbiting what it described as a “satellite.” It is an absolute folly.

In an “important special broadcast,” state-run Korean Central Television announced that the country had launched an Earth observation satellite and successfully put it into orbit.

U.N. Security Council resolutions previously adopted over North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile development prohibit Pyongyang from any launch using ballistic missile technology. The country’s latest missile launch, along with January’s nuclear test, was a clear violation of the resolutions.

Increasing concern

North Korea’s repeated reckless conducts, which pose a serious challenge to the international order, cannot be tolerated. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had every reason to emphasize his determination, saying, “We will resolutely take measures, acting in cooperation with the international community.”

The missile recently launched by North Korea is believed to have been a three-stage ballistic missile similar to an improved version of the Taepodong 2 missile, a model the country sent aloft in December 2012. According to observations by the U.S. authorities, an object detached from the missile is believed to have circled the Earth.

The fact that it reached outer space like in 2012, illustrates advancement in that nation’s missile technology. Some point out North Korea’s extension of a launchpad last year was part of an effort to increase the size of its missiles, thereby extend the range.

North Korea’s effort to develop missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and reaching the U.S. mainland is aimed at bringing the United States to the negotiating table.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, is inexperienced and rules his country through a reign of terror in which close aides are purged one after another. We feel the latest missile launch shows he has become even more incapable of making reasonable decisions.

The U.N. Security Council is to discuss the latest missile launch at an emergency meeting. It is essential for the council to hammer out effective measures. Japan, a nonpermanent member of the council, needs to proactively work to encourage other members of the U.N. organ to adopt strong sanctions against North Korea.

China’s responsibility

The problem is that China, which holds a lifeline that can determine whether North Korea can survive economically, remains cautious about strengthening sanctions. Although Beijing said North Korea’s missile launch was “regrettable,” it avoided any strong denunciation of Pyongyang.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama two days before the missile launch and confirmed the need for a coordinated response to North Korea’s actions.

Yet Xi insisted only on a solution through dialogue and consultation, indicating that it will not compromise with the United States, which called for stronger sanctions.

China’s lukewarm posture may have bolstered North Korea. Shortly after the U.S.-China phone conversation, North Korea notified an international organization that it was bringing forward the start of the window during which it would launch a rocket.

North Korea has repeatedly conducted nuclear tests and missile launches. It is obvious that previous sanctions are not sufficient.

China should no longer avoid imposing sanctions on North Korea, which would deal a blow to Pyongyang, and should cooperate with the U.N. Security Council to adopt strong sanctions.

In criticizing the launch, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said North Korea is trying to advance its nuclear technology and missile capability to deliver a nuclear weapon.

The South Korean government announced that it would begin official talks with the United States to deploy one of the most advanced U.S. missile defense systems in South Korea. Seoul’s decision, made in disregard of China’s opposition, can be construed as a decision to modify its tilt toward China.

North Korea is said to have deployed a large number of Rodong ballistic missiles that can reach Japan. If North Korea improves the accuracy of the missiles, they will, together with the country’s ability to develop smaller nuclear weapons, pose a more serious threat to Japan.

Immediately after the missile launch, the Japanese government held a meeting of the National Security Council attended by its four ministers, to analyze intelligence and discuss what actions should be taken in the days ahead.

Three minutes after the missile launch, the government reported the relevant information to local governments in Okinawa Prefecture and others, through the J-Alert instant warning system. The smooth transmission of this information was praiseworthy.

Bolster crisis control

Although the Self-Defense Forces had been ordered to intercept any incoming missiles from North Korea, no measures to intercept were taken, as the SDF judged that there was no possibility of the missile falling onto Japanese territory.

It was appropriate that the SDF, by responding promptly to North Korea’s advancing the start of the window for launching a rocket, had completed its deployment of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missile units and other preparations.

It is essential to examine the latest series of responses and beef up the crisis-management system for the entire country.

North Korea has also postponed its report on the reinvestigation of the abducted Japanese nationals. The government should consider in earnest the revival or reinforcement of its own sanctions that were lifted earlier.

As North Korea has continued taking actions that completely run counter to improving its relations with Japan, this country will implement harsh measures commensurate to the steps taken by North Korea. It is important for this country to adhere to the principle of “action for action.”

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 8, 2016)


地方の未来 移住促進へ文化力を生かそう

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Use cultural power to promote migration to provincial areas
地方の未来 移住促進へ文化力を生かそう

The excessive concentration of people and industry in the Tokyo metropolitan area continues. How can we create a flow of people to provincial areas where the population is decreasing?

Attracting people by utilizing their inherent cultures and uncovering alluring features unique to particular areas will be an important consideration.

According to a 2015 population migration report compiled by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, people who moved into the Tokyo metropolitan area numbered nearly 120,000 more than those who had moved out of it. For 20 straight years, the number of people who moved into the metropolitan area exceeded the number of those who moved out.

Among Japan’s three largest urban sprawls, however, more people have left the Osaka and Nagoya areas compared to those who have moved in.

In its comprehensive strategy for “vitalization of local economies,” the government aims to equalize the figures of those moving into and out of the metropolitan area by 2020. However, if nothing is done to change the current situation, it will be impossible to achieve this goal. Genuine efforts must be made to promote the migration of people to provincial areas.

How can the attractions of provincial areas be made to shine and conveyed elsewhere? First, the number of visitors to those areas should be increased by organizing sightseeing, homecoming and migration tours. In addition to migration, the return of people to provincial areas must be carried forward by aiming to realize “residency in two areas” — or the lifestyle of moving back and forth between urban and provincial areas.

The cultural powers rooted in each area should be used. There are various kinds of cultural resources — such as history, cultural property, traditional arts, customs, local cuisine and scenery — but some provincial areas have not yet identified their values.

Discovering hidden assets

Both the public and private sectors should unearth hidden cultural resources and disseminate information about them domestically and internationally in a variety of creative ways, including promotional videos.

Good use should be made of “Japan Heritage,” a system launched last year by the Cultural Affairs Agency.

Under the system, cultural resources scattered in provincial areas that are connected by a “story” are considered heritages. So far, 18 resources have been recognized following applications from local governments.

For example, the Shikoku Henro, straddling 57 municipalities in the Shikoku region, is considered a piece of heritage based on the culture of pilgrimage routes. Akari Mau Hanto Noto (Noto peninsula of dancing lights) is a piece of heritage focusing on the Kiriko Matsuri traditional lantern float festivals handed down in six Ishikawa Prefecture municipalities.
 四国の57市町村にまたがる「四国遍路」は、巡礼文化をたどる遺産だ。「灯あかり舞う半島 能登」は石川県の6市町に息づく伝統のキリコ祭りにスポットを当てた。

Such heritages should be developed as tourism resources. They are expected to have the effect of attracting not only Japanese people but also visitors to Japan from abroad.

Local governments must work jointly with local residents to find candidates for Japan Heritage. Such efforts would also help local people create a sense of pride in their regions, and nurture human resources to lead development of those areas.

It is also important to consider the increasing number of vacant houses and retail premises, and abolished school buildings, as assets, and try to reuse them as accommodations and operational bases for migrating workers and other people.

For example, the village of Higashi-Yoshino, Nara Prefecture, renovated a vacant house into a shared office last year. Working conditions in the mountain village became popular via the Internet, and five people have already migrated to work there.

According to a survey by the Cabinet Office, nearly 40 percent of urban residents in their 20s indicated that they wish to settle down in farming, fishing or mountain villages. The attractions of working in traditional village culture should be presented to young people wishing to live outside of urban areas to entice them into provincial areas.

The government should place importance on vitalization of local economies with cultural power. We expect the central government to help local governments tap their cultural resources and connect such efforts to a correction of the excessive concentration of people and industry in the metropolitan area.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 6, 2016)


首相の改憲論 あまりの倒錯に驚く

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 6
EDITORIAL: Abe’s perverse argument for rewriting Constitution
(社説)首相の改憲論 あまりの倒錯に驚く

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been aggressively signaling his eagerness to rewrite the Constitution, which potentially includes the revision of its war-renouncing Article 9.

He is apparently hoping to pave the way for realizing his long-cherished dream ahead of the Upper House election to be held in summer. His reasoning, however, is strikingly perverse.

Seventy percent of constitutional scholars have judged that, in light of the interpretation of Article 9, the very presence of the Self-Defense Forces may violate the Constitution, the prime minister told a session of the Lower House Budget Committee. “There is a prevailing belief that this situation must be eliminated.”

He made the remark in reply to a question from his close aide Tomomi Inada, chairwoman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council, who said, “Constitutionalism is being emasculated somewhat by leaving Paragraph 2 of Article 9, which no longer fits reality, intact.”

In an Asahi Shimbun survey of constitutional scholars last year, 63 percent of the respondents said they believed the presence of SDF troops either “violates” or “may violate” the Constitution. But at the same time, 98 percent of the respondents also pointed out that bills for new security legislation, which the Abe administration had submitted to the Diet after reinterpreting the Constitution to lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on the right to exercise collective self-defense, either “violate” or “may violate” the Constitution.

Abe’s Cabinet overrode the opposition of a majority of constitutional scholars and of the public by overturning the constitutional interpretation of successive Cabinets, which long held the view that Japan was not allowed to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

The right course for Abe would be to retract the security legislation if he takes issue with the disagreement between the existence of SDF troops and the views of scholars. He should also engage in serious soul-searching if he finds fault with constitutionalism being “emasculated.”

“Believing that even a finger should not be laid on the Constitution amounts to abandoning thought,” Abe told a lawmaker of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, who called Abe’s Diet responses into question, during a separate Diet session. “Instead of doing so, the LDP has presented a draft for amendments,” said the prime minister, who challenged the DPJ to present its own.

Abe simply steamrolled his reinterpretation of the Constitution in circumventing the process of amending it when he had his Cabinet lift the ban on the right to exercise collective self-defense. But he now proudly says his party has “presented a draft for amendments.” How can he be so opportunistic?

The LDP’s draft for an amended Article 9, which explicitly spells out Japan’s self-defense rights, calls for Japan to possess “Defense Forces,” an upgrade from the SDF.

Abe acknowledged, in the meantime, that amending Article 9 has yet to win the support of the public. Asked which part, then, of the Constitution he wants to see amended and exactly how, the prime minister only answered, “Discussions in the Diet and among the public will find a gradual convergence.”

The Constitution is the supreme law to protect the rights of individuals, defend peace and prescribe the status of power and authority. So yes, let the Diet and the public discuss it, including whether it should be amended at all.

But we never embrace an argument for rewriting the Constitution, wherein amendment has become an end in itself instead of what that amendment actually is.