Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Taiwanese academic: US likely to withdrawal from Taiwan’s immediate surroundings to placate China

July 17, 2018

US will withdraw from Taiwan’s immediate surroundings, accommodate China according to Kung Chia-cheng

Donald Trump waving, July 15. (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Former head of the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (國家中山科學研究院), Kung Chia-cheng (龔家政) said that the U.S. will withdraw from the first island chain and Taiwan should begin to plan for a new strategic context at a conference in Taipei on July 15.

Kung said that the U.S.’s pull-back from Taiwan’s immediate surroundings would weaken its strategic positioning and diminish Taiwan’s international importance during the “New Cross-strait Relationship” conference put on by the Democratic Pacific Union (民主太平洋聯盟) in Taipei.

The “first island chain” is a strategic demarcation from Japan’s southern tip, moving southward between Taiwan’s east coast and the Philippines’s west coast, and follows the southern boundary of the South China Sea around to Vietnam.

First and Second island chains. (image courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense)

The first island chain is followed by two more island chains which are progressively further east to Taiwan. The island chain concept is used by the Chinese military and U.S. military, as well as other regional actors.

Kung said that the decision by the U.S. to suspend its joint military exercises with South Korea, represents the U.S.’s military withdrawal from the first island chain to the second island chain, reported the China Times.

South Korea and the U.S. agreed to postpone scheduled war games for August 2018, as a sign of goodwill towards North Korea as talks about denuclearization of the Korean peninsula continue. It is unclear if a one-off postponement of military training equates to wholesale forfeiture of the U.S.’s strategic foothold in east Asia.

Kung speculates that China President Xi Jinping (習近平) believes the Pacific Ocean is big enough for both China and the U.S. and America will withdraw its presence from the first island chain as a sign of goodwill and to avoid conflict.

Since President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” speech in Canberra, Australia on 17 November 2011, the U.S. military has been fully committed to maintaining its current strategic footprint in the region through their public communication.

Kung said that the recent passage by two U.S. warships through the Taiwan Strait was not as meaningful as in previous times. For Kung, the move was to pacify U.S. Congress, rather than signal to China and the broader region of the U.S.’s intent to continue its presence in the Asia Pacific.

Pacific Fleet spokesman Captain Charlie Brown said the passage was routine. “U.S. Navy Ships transit between the South China Sea and the East China Sea via the Taiwan Strait,” he said, “and have done so for many years” to CNN.

Due to China’s growing military strength, Kung believes that Taiwan cannot rely on a security blanket provided by U.S. aircraft carriers, as it had done so during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis.

Kung said that the next steps depend on two factors. First, the political situation in Taiwan and potential moves towards Taiwan independence, of which China views as a precursor to remove diplomatic resolutions. Second, how the U.S. government’s Taiwan Travel Act and the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is interpreted by China and its so-called “one China” principle.


EU, Japan to sign massive trade deal as US puts up barriers

July 17, 2018

The European Union’s top officials arrive in Japan Tuesday to sign the single market’s biggest trade deal ever and present a united front as Washington upends the international trade order.

EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker land in Japan after talks in Beijing, where they urged global trade cooperation and warned against trade wars.

“It is the common duty of Europe and China, but also America and Russia, not to destroy (the global trade order) but to improve it, not to start trade wars which turned into hot conflicts so often in our history,” Tusk said Monday in Beijing.

“There is still time to prevent conflict and chaos.”

The “landmark” EU-Japan deal creates a massive economic zone and stands in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s “America First” protectionism.

© AFP/File | European Council President Donald Tusk and other top EU officials are to sign a massive trade deal with Japan

The deal, agreed last December, is “the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union,” according to Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.

“This agreement will create an open trade zone covering nearly a third of the world’s GDP,” he said.

The EU — the world’s biggest single market with 28 countries and 500 million people — is trying to boost alliances in the face of Trump’s protectionist administration.

The EU-Japan deal will send a “strong signal to the world” against US protectionism, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said recently.

Trump’s administration has angered traditional allies like the EU and Japan by imposing trade tariffs, while rattling international markets by threatening a trade war with China.

On Sunday, the US president fuelled rising rancour by labelling the EU, along with Russia and China, “a foe” of the United States, and repeating his assertion that the EU has “really taken advantage of us on trade.”

The EU officials and Japan will also look to present a united front against US tariffs on steel and aluminium, which Tokyo has called “deplorable.”

Under the trade agreement, the EU will open its market to Japan’s auto industry, with Tokyo in return scrapping barriers to EU farming products, especially dairy.

The EU is seeking access to one of the world’s richest markets, while Japan hopes to jump-start an economy that has struggled to find solid growth.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been scheduled to sign the deal in Brussels last week, but cancelled his trip after devastating floods that killed more than 220 people.



IMF warns of rising risks to global growth amid trade tensions

July 16, 2018

The global economy is still expected to grow at a solid pace this year, but worsening trade confrontations pose serious risks to the outlook, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.

The IMF’s updated World Economic Outlook (WEO) forecast global growth of 3.9 percent this year and next, despite sharp downgrades to estimates for Germany, France and Japan.

The US economy is still seen growing by 2.9 percent this year, and the estimate for China remains 6.6 percent, with little impact expected near term from the tariffs on tens of billions of dollars in exports the countries have imposed on each other so far.

© AFP/File | The IMF’s updated World Economic Outlook (WEO) forecast global growth of 3.9 percent this year and next, despite sharp downgrades to estimates for Germany, France and Japan

“But the risk that current trade tensions escalate further — with adverse effects on confidence, asset prices, and investment — is the greatest near-term threat to global growth,” IMF Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld said.

The fund warns growth could be cut by a half point by 2020 if tariff threats are carried out.

Although the global recovery is in its second year, growth has “plateaued” and become less balanced, and “the risk of worse outcomes has increased,” Obstfeld said in a statement.

– Addressing ‘disenchantment’ –

The report comes as US President Donald Trump has imposed steep tariffs duties on $34 billion in imports from China, with another $200 billion coming as soon as September, on top of duties on steel and aluminum from around the world including key allies.

China has matched US tariffs dollar for dollar and threatened to take other steps to retaliate, while US exports face retaliatory taxes from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

“An escalation of trade tensions could undermine business and financial market sentiment, denting investment and trade,” the IMF report said.

In addition, “higher trade barriers would make tradable goods less affordable, disrupt global supply chains, and slow the spread of new technologies, thus lowering productivity.”

The IMF said growth prospects are below average in many countries and urged governments to take steps to ensure economic growth will continue.

The fund said global cooperation and a “rule-based trade system has a vital role to play in preserving the global expansion.”

However, without steps to “ensure the benefits are shared by all, disenchantment with existing economic arrangements could well fuel further support for growth-detracting inward-looking policies.”

– Europe, Japan slowing –

The sweeping US tax cuts approved in December will help the economy “strengthen temporarily,” but growth is expected to moderate to 2.7 percent for 2019.

And while the fiscal stimulus will boost US demand, is also will increase inflationary pressures, the WEO warned.

China’s growth also is seen slowing in 2019 to 6.4 percent.

After upgrading growth projections for the euro area in the April WEO, the IMF revised them down by two-tenths in 2018 to 2.2 percent, due to “negative surprises to activity in early 2018,” and another tenth in 2019 to 1.9 percent.

The estimates for Germany, France and Italy were cut by 0.3 points each, with Germany seen expanding by 2.2 percent this year and 2.1 percent in 2019. France’s GDP is expected to grow 1.8 percent and 1.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Britain is now forecast to grow 1.4 percent this year, 0.2 points less than the April estimate, and 1.5 percent in 2019.

Japan’s GDP is seen slowing to 1.0 percent this year, two-tenths less than previously forecast, “following a contraction in the first quarter, owing to weak private consumption and investment.” It should grow 0.9 percent the following year.

India remains a key drivers of global growth, but the GDP outlook was cut one-tenth for this year and three-tenths for next year to 7.3 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.

Brazil saw an even sharper 0.5-point downward revisions from the April forecast, to 1.8 percent this year.


Japan strengthens cybersecurity cooperation with EU ahead of Olympics — U.S. 2016 Election a Lesson in Cybersecurity Ignorance

July 16, 2018

Japan and the European Union are strengthening their cooperation on cybersecurity ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, where the city is expected to face a significant cyberthreat.

Organizers of past games faced an estimated 500 million cyberattacks during the 2016 Rio Games and 200 million at the 2012 London Games.

Cyberattacks are no longer mere “hobbies” for attackers, said Susanna Makela, a senior director of European government affairs at Microsoft, adding it has become more like a “business” as attackers are “smarter, more serious, more organized and more funded.”



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Officials from central government ministries participate in an exercise in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on March 16, to prepare for the possibility of cyberattacks during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. | KYODO

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games already suffered a potential hack in 2015, making its website inaccessible for over 12 hours. Cyberattacks are said to be getting more complex and sophisticated as technology progresses.

According to the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology , which monitors cyberattacks on Japan, the volume of data subject to cyberattacks increased from 25.6 billion packets in 2014 to 150.4 billion packets in 2017.

“Infrastructure in general is a very appealing target for attackers because that causes many disruptions,” Makela said in a discussion open to some media organizations in Brussels in June.

In 2017, Japan identified 13 sectors of critical infrastructure in the fourth edition of its cybersecurity policy, and called for an all-out effort by the public and private sectors to protect them. The sectors included aviation services, government and administrative services, medical services and credit card services.

There are many “entry points” to this infrastructure, according to Gregory Blanc, an associate professor at Telecom SudParis, as many smart objects are connected to the networks and are widely used.

Blanc gave a hypothetical example of QR codes on Olympic Games tickets being crafted to gain access to infrastructure when they are read into a system.

To tackle such threats, Japan has been acquiring knowledge on cybersecurity through cooperation with the European Union.

In January, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Estonia — an EU member state and a global heavyweight in information communications technology — and agreed on bilateral cybersecurity cooperation.

Estonia was purportedly the first nation in the world to suffer a cyberattack in 2007 and has worked intensely on cybersecurity, leading to its hosting of the EU Agency for Large-scale IT Systems and the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence.

A political document adopted by the Council of the European Union in May urges further cooperation, seeking to strengthen EU security engagement in and with Asia in key areas including cybersecurity.

“The policy document (from May) is a concrete step forward for possible collaboration between Japan and the EU,” a Japanese diplomat to the European Union said.

Niccolo Rinaldi, head of the unit for Asia, Australia and New Zealand in the European Parliament, suggested exchanges of best practices and information will be crucial.

With the experience of having hosted the Olympic Games and soccer World Cups, Rinaldi said, sharing knowledge on how to set up a democratically open but simultaneously protected media center could be a key countermeasure.

This would include exchange of information on potential troublemakers or “possible targets of spy actions,” Rinaldi said.

The private sectors in Japan and the European Union are also making collaborative efforts to develop their capabilities.

With financial support from the Horizon 2020 project, an EU research and innovation program, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, universities and research institutes are sharing their knowledge through workshops.

It is estimated that the Japanese IT industry will lack about 190,000 experts on information security in 2020, according to research conducted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2015.



EU’s Tusk calls on China, U.S., Russia not to start trade wars

July 16, 2018

European Council President Donald Tusk said on Monday China, the United States and Russia had a duty not to start trade wars and called on the three countries to reform the World Trade Organization.

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European Council President Donald Tusk 

He said there was still time to prevent conflict and chaos. Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker are in Beijing to meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for an annual China-EU leaders dialogue.


EU takes anti-Trump trade show to China and Japan

July 14, 2018

The European Union’s top officials will meet the leaders of China and Japan next week to boost ties in the face of fears that US President Donald Trump will spark an all-out global trade war.

The trip by EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker includes the signing of a free trade deal with Japan, which was moved from Brussels last week because Japanese premier Shinzo Abe was dealing with deadly floods at home.

© POOL/AFP | EU Council President Donald Tusk (R) and Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker (L) will have plenty of Trump-related grievances to discuss in Asia

Their Asian tour comes as the EU — which, with 28 countries and 500 million people is the world’s biggest single market — tries to forge alliances in the face of the protectionism of Trump’s “America First” administration.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the “landmark” Japan deal was “the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union”.

“This agreement will create an open trade zone covering nearly a third of the world’s GDP,” Schinas added.

In China on Monday, the two leaders will meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang to discuss their shared tensions with Washington, having both recently announced new tariffs on US goods in retaliation for measures imposed by Trump.

They are expected to reaffirm their support for the rules-based international order, including the World Trade Organization , which faces unprecedented criticism from Trump’s administration.

The leaders will also discuss climate change — another area on which the EU is in disagreement with Trump after he pulled out of the Paris climate deal — and nuclear issues in North Korea and Iran, Schinas said.

– ‘Signal to the world’ –

But the EU and China will have to smooth over existing differences over Beijing’s own restrictive market practices including the “dumping” of cheap Chinese imports, especially steel.

Some of those concerns are shared by Washington.

The EU recently pushed through measures targeting China that were intended to offset the consequences of granting China so-called market economy status at the WTO, which will make it more difficult to prove and punish illegal trade practices by Beijing.

In Tokyo, talks will also focus on presenting a united front against the United States over its tariffs, with the Japanese government having slammed them as “extremely deplorable”.

The EU-Japan deal was hailed recently as a “strong signal to the world” against US protectionism by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who is travelling with Juncker and Tusk to Asia.

Abe was originally due to come to Brussels to sign the deal last week, but he called off the trip after flooding and landslides in Japan that killed more than 200 people.

Tusk had said that after the “tragic circumstances” they would move the summit to Tokyo.

Schinas confirmed that Juncker would stick to his “very demanding agenda” and go on the trip to China and Japan, despite suffering from a painful medical condition that made him stumble repeatedly at a NATO summit in Brussels this week.

The EU spokesman denied “insulting” suggestions that Juncker was drunk.


South China Sea: Albert del Rosario, Justice Antonio Carpio do not ‘fully comprehend the nature of arbitration,’ Philippine Government says

July 12, 2018

Does Philippine sovereignty matter? Is it meaningless?

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque says former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and other individuals do not ‘fully comprehend the nature of arbitration’

FRIENDSHIP FORWARD. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo following a bilateral meeting at the Boao State Guesthouse on April 10, 2018. Malacañang file photo

FRIENDSHIP FORWARD. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo following a bilateral meeting at the Boao State Guesthouse on April 10, 2018. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines under the Duterte administration continues to defend its rights over the West Philippine Sea even as he said there is no need to enforce the landmark ruling won by the country against China.

“I’m not sure what they mean by enforcing an arbitral decision because an arbitral decision is binding on parties thereto,” said Roque on Thursday, July 12, the 2nd anniversary of the historic Hague ruling.

DIPLOMATIC PROTEST. Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario urge the Duterte administration to file a diplomatic protest against China's bombers in the South China Sea. File photos by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario

Asked by Rappler if he means there is no need for enforcement, Roque said in a message: “Who will enforce? It’s self-executory as it’s binding on parties thereto.”

“We continue to assert our sovereignty and sovereign rights, but we have decided to move on on issues that are non-controversial,” he said in a press conference.

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He questioned the call of former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario for the Duterte administration to enforce the ruling.

“I don’t know what makes him an authority to give that view…. It clearly underscores the fact that some individuals, including the former secretary of foreign affairs, [do] not fully comprehend the nature of arbitration,” said Roque. (READ: How to enforce Hague ruling? PH lead counsel explains)

It was under Del Rosario’s watch as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) chief when the Philippines took China to court.

Image result for philippines, fishermen, photos

Roque, asked why he thinks Del Rosario does not understand the nature of arbitration, said: “Because he’s calling for enforcement when clearly arbitration is binding…. Whether or not China will acknowledge it, China is bound by it because that is the nature of arbitration.”

However, China’s refusal to acknowledge the ruling, coupled with the Philippines’ decision to shelve it for later, has made the ruling ineffective in changing the situation on the ground.

Despite the ruling, China continues its military buildup in the West Philippine Sea and harassment of Filipino fishermen in areas declared by the decision as common fishing grounds. –


Philippines should support freedom of navigation in South China Sea to protect own rights

July 12, 2018
In March, the French Navy announced that Floréal-class surveillance frigate Vendémiaire conducted a patrol in the South China Sea to assert French presence in the region.

French Navy, File
Audrey Morallo ( – July 12, 2018 – 6:12pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines should encourage freedom of navigation and overflight operations in the South China Sea as these could strengthen the enforcement of the historic arbitral ruling, Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said on Thursday.

Carpio explained that the operations enforced the core legal effect of the 2016 ruling of the United Nations-backed tribunal.

“In effect, these operations enforce the core legal ramifications arising from the Award- that there are high seas in the South China Sea, and aroud these high seas are the exclusive economic zones belonging to the adjacent coastal states, including the EEZ (exclusive economic zone) of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio said in a forum organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute in Makati City.

READ: US to continue operations in South China Sea despite China’s dissent — Pentagon chief

The acting chief justice said that China would not be able to transform the South China Sea into its mare nostrum with these operations.

Carpio said that immediately after the release of the ruling naval powers such as the US, the UK, Australia, France, Canada, India and Japan conducted their naval and aerial operations in the region.

The tribunal in the Hague invalidated in 2016 China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea, which was based on its so-called nine-dash line.

The ruling was released several weeks into Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, and after initial uncertainty he eventually chose to back burn it to court Chinese money and investments into the country.

He has since tried to forge warmer ties with China, a stark contrast to the frosty relations between Manila and Beijing under former President Benigno Aquino III, whose government filed the case.

“Thus, effectively the president has placed in deep freeze any enforcement of the (arbitral) award by the Philippines,” Carpio said.

According to Carpio, it is the responsibility of Duterte as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to ensure that the military was conducting regular naval and aerial patrols in the country’s exclusive economic zones.

He said that the 1987 Constitution mandated the military to be the protector of the State and was mandated to secure its sovereignty and the integrity of its territory.

He also urged the Philippines to campaign among Southeast Asian nations and the US to make the building on the Scarborough Shoal their red line in the dispute.

He said that the US should treat this as a trigger for it to invoke the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty which requires the countries to come to the aid of each other if it is attacked.

“I have always said that defending Philippine maritime zones in the West Philippine Sea is an intergenerational struggle,” Carpio said.

READ: France, UK sail warships in South China Sea


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

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China switches strategy to deal with Trump tariffs — China wooing support from other nations

July 12, 2018

Beijing rips up its playbook by wooing support from other nations

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© Bloomberg

By Lucy Hornby in Beijing

China is taking an unusual approach with its response to the escalating trade battle with the US, ripping up the playbook it has relied on in other economic disputes as it seeks allies in Europe, Asia and within America itself.

Previous trade fights with Japan, France, the Philippines and most recently South Korea have been accompanied by a ramping up of hostility in China’s state-run media and bruising “boycott diplomacy” against those nations’ corporations.

This time, however, China has cautiously parried the US measures as it seeks instead to present itself as an attractive investment destination, while President Donald Trump’s administration pressed ahead with tariffs on $34bn in goods. The US this week released a fresh list of $200bn in goods that could face tariffs in two months’ time.

China’s calm response stems from the importance of its bilateral trade and investment from the US — the two countries’ economies are entwined. “The US is larger-scale, and a different kind of economic power than Japan or Korea. That makes this quite unique,” said Max Zenglein, senior economist at the Merics Institute in Berlin. China’s trade surplus with the US limits its ability to impose tit-for-tat tariffs, he noted.

“When dealing with the US it is clear they [China] are more vulnerable and so that forces them to take a different approach.”

With this in mind, Chinese trade negotiators, led by Liu He, have focused on finding potential allies, including pro-business officials in Washington, who they hope can be won over with investment concessions.

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Liu He

Instead of targeting American companies directly — as it did with Korean supermarket chain Lotte — Beijing has offered better market access to their competitors. Chinese officials are pushing European and Japanese corporations to take advantage of a raft of long-promised reforms rolled out earlier this year, in a reminder to US companies that Beijing can divvy up the vast Chinese market as it pleases.

An offer of $15m in aid to the Palestinians was made at a recent summit in an attempt to woo Arab leaders. Even relations with Japan and South Korea have improved. Beijing has refused to link the trade dispute with Mr Trump’s nuclear negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“The challenge the Chinese are going to have is there is not much more room to respond in terms of tariffs,” said Kellie Meiman, trade expert at McLarty Associates in Washington.

Beijing does not want to scare off foreign investors or run the risk of reducing much-needed investment and loans. In the wake of the attacks on Japanese companies in 2012 and on South Korean companies last year, both nations adopted a strategy of deliberately diversifying their manufacturing bases away from China.

Even the dollar-for-dollar retaliatory tariffs China has levied carry some risk for Beijing, as they could have the effect of fuelling Chinese inflation.

“On the surface, China is trying to strike a blow at the US; in fact, the final result will be a blow to China. The three things we chose [to impose tariffs on], soyabeans, aeroplanes and chips, are the products we need the most,” said Shen Dingli, an international relations expert at Fudan University in Shanghai.

In public, Beijing has downplayed the potential impact of the tariffs. Trade war news has been relegated to the inside pages of the official People’s Daily for several days running. The reliably nationalistic Global Times has kept a restrained tone.

“We will hold public opinion at a good level without escalating it . . . and strike accurately and carefully, splitting apart different domestic groups in the US,” read a leaked memo giving instructions to the Chinese media on how to cover the trade tensions. It was published by the China Digital Times, a website that monitors propaganda orders and the Chinese media.

The intent may be to reassure the public that China can face down the threat. But it also reflects the broad exposure of the Chinese public to American culture and social values, that makes it much harder to mount a full-throated attack. At least 2m Chinese have studied in the US over the past 12 years alone. Millions more have emigrated or work for American companies and joint ventures in China. Strong Chinese nationalism is always a dangerous tool for the ruling Communist party to whip up.

“The US really has a big impact on China. The impact is 10 times bigger than that of Korea. The US influences Chinese ideology, China’s economy and it also affects lots of people’s personal interests. So lots of Chinese would not like to speak out” against the US, said Sima Pingbang, a blogger known for his leftist and nationalist views.

Indeed, Chinese “netizens” even cheered for a ship carrying soyabeans from the US, as it raced to get to a Chinese port before the tariffs kicked in.

Some Chinese officials, confident in Beijing’s strength, are impatient to strike a harder blow. For now, however, sang-froid has prevailed as the trade war is portrayed as an economic issue, not a political fight or an emotional national threat.

Additional reporting by Archie Zhang and Sherry Fei Ju in Beijing


Survivors of deadly Japan floods face uncertain future

July 10, 2018

As Tomie Takebe looked at the ruins of her flood-ravaged home in the Japanese town of Kurashiki, she struggled to say whether she would ever live there again.

Record rainfall that unleashed devastating floods and landslides has killed at least 156 people in Japan, and many of those who survived face an uncertain future in homes and towns transformed beyond recognition.

Takebe, 67, was in the Mabi district of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture, which was partially engulfed by flooding that has now receded, leaving a thick layer of silt as a sign of where the water once was.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said, as she looked at the damage to her two storey home, its contents jumbled together and caked in mud.

© JIJI PRESS/AFP | Record rainfall that unleashed devastating floods and landslides has killed at least 156 people in Japan, and many of those who survived face an uncertain future in homes and towns transformed beyond recognition

“My fridge, everything… It’s all covered in mud,” she said, as relatives helped her bring items outside.

She moved around trying to work out how to clean up, but with no running water or electricity, the task seemed impossible.

And with her life turned upside-down, thinking much further ahead was a struggle.

“Maybe I’ll move and live with my sister in Osaka,” she said.

“But I’m not sure. I’m focusing on cleaning the house for now. I’ll think about the future later.”

– Rumours of looters –

Emotions were running high throughout the tight-knit community, where some neighbours kept in touch with each other during the disaster, messaging constantly to check on each other’s safety.

Rumours circulated about looters or thieves targeting homes, and residents shouted at some outsiders as they moved around the neighbourhood.

On a main road, work crews had moved debris to either side of the street, lining the road with a trail of crushed and toppled cars and fallen trees.

Streams of water were still flowing like shallow rivers in some area, and everywhere there was mud left behind by the floodwater.

On one road, convenience store workers dumped expired drinks into a drain, while nearby a fish lay on its side, drying in the sun.

Hirotoshi Ohta, 50, a construction worker, was at work and said the company had lost more than a dozen trucks to the floods.

The firm had sent out some of its remaining concrete mixer trucks to bring ground water into the area to help the clean-up work.

But it was unclear how normal business could resume, Ohta said.

“We don’t know what to do,” he said.

“We are a construction firm, but we don’t have our trucks.”

“We’re freaked out and at a loss,” he said, as he cleaned a sand-covered parking lot.

– ‘I am not alone’ –

Fumiko Inokuchi, 61, was sorting through the ruined remains of the first floor of her home, carrying a picture of her children in baseball uniforms.

She was at home by herself on Saturday, after her husband went to work, when she realised flood water would soon trap her in the house.

She escaped across the road to a three-storey care home for the elderly, and watched in horror as the water gradually consumed the bottom floor of her house.

She and her neighbours were at the care centre until Sunday morning, when soldiers in boats rescued them from a second floor balcony.

Chatty and cheerful despite the tragedy, she nonetheless welled up as she described her home.

“I got married here, and we built this house two years afterwards. We raised our three small sons to adulthood here, there are so many memories.”

But she has resolved that any insurance money she gets for the house, which she renovated only a few years ago after taking out a loan, will not go to reconstruction.

Instead she wants to give the money to one of her three sons, so they can repair their own homes, and she hopes to move in with them.

“I am alive. I believe human beings are very strong. Resilient,” she said, tears filling her eyes.

“I am not alone in this situation. All of my neighbours are in the same position. All of Mabi is the same.”